• Architects of Change

10/26/10 | Astrid Sheil | 2 Comments

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Astrid Sheil, Ph.D.





This is the last Women’s Conference that Maria Shriver will organize as First Lady of California, and she saved the best for last. While the morning line-up was extraordinary and included First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Nike CEO Phil Knight, Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz, NBC Anchor Brian Williams, and New York Times journalist and Pulitzer prize author, Nicholas Kristof, the moment truly belonged to Maria Shriver, the architect and driving force of the largest women’s conference in the world.

In her farewell address, Maria shared her journey from reluctant candidate spouse to empowered organizer. She recognized the family and friends who helped her along the way, and paid tribute to her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a larger than life woman who inspired her and her siblings to take up the good fight and do good in the world. Maria recounted how one of her proudest moments in her life was when she had the privilege of presenting her mother with the Minerva Award in 2008; and one of her most poignant moments was sitting in the garden by her mother’s grave and waiting, waiting, and waiting for her mother to speak to her.

When her mother did speak to her, it was not from above, but from deep inside her. Maria shared her fear of the unknown—what comes next?  And what she heard and felt inside came in a moment of divine clarity. Her inner voice said, “It’s okay to not know what to do next.” For the thousands of people watching and listening, Maria gave all of us an unexpected gift of emancipation. For those of us who can feel overwhelmed and overscheduled on a daily basis—she gave us permission to, “Let go” and just be okay with ambiguity and a messy life.

Out in the Village after the presentations, several women commented on how inspirational and moving Maria’s speech was, and how special the First Lady of California has made this event for all of the viewers and participants.

Sandy Hoffman, an HR specialist with Cisco said, “Maria brings such a human dimension to her insights—she touched everyone with her speech. I’m not sure how anyone can follow up on this next year.”

Tricia Baker, an engineer with Cisco, agreed. “This is my first time to come to this conference and I have found it amazing. Maria is inspiring on so many levels—this speech alone was worth the trip down from San Francisco.”

Nikki Corbett, who works for Intel in Sacramento, echoed a sentiment that many women share: “I really liked her message that it’s okay to not have a plan…and it’s okay to be scared. So often, we feel like we have to have it all figured out. It’s nice to know that a woman as accomplished as Maria Shriver doesn’t have it figured it all the time.”

Amanda Balint, a public affairs officer for BP in Alberta, Canada said she was blown away by Maria’s speech. “It was inspirational, sad, funny, empowering, and quite memorable.”
First time attendee Alyssa DeSantis summed it up for all of us when she said, “Maria needs to start her own conference. This is the best thing I’ve ever attended.”

From all of us who have had the distinct privilege to attend, volunteer, or present, thank you, Maria, for seven years of expansive thinking and empowerment. Thank you for the great speakers and the wonderful opportunities.

Most of all, thank you for your humanity, humor, and honesty.



Heck of Day…Wish You Were Here

There is something about The Women’s Conference that is different from any other conference I have ever experienced. First of all, there’s energy throughout the convention center that is simply electrifying.  You can see it in the participants’ faces—joy, anticipation, hope, and openness. You pass a woman and exchange a look that asks, “Do I know you?” Everybody feels so familiar here…like we are already friends; we just haven’t been formally introduced yet.

This is the only place I have ever been where strangers want to make eye contact with you—and engage you in conversation!   I got on the elevator after lunch and in the short ride from the exhibit hall floor to the balcony floor, five of us discussed 1) how inspiring the opening session with Deepak Chopra and her Holiness Shinso Ito was; 2) how the boxed lunches were really good, but would have been better if they had included chocolate for dessert, and 3) and how excited we all were to hear Dr. Martha Beck speak.  In a 45 second ride-up, the group went from being total strangers to sorority sisters. The elevator doors opened, we smiled at each other and scattered like marbles on a tile floor to find seats in the large auditorium.

Once seated I turned to the woman next to me and asked her to complete the phrase, “It’s time...” (since that is the theme of this conference.)  She thought for a moment and replied, “It’s time for me to take what I’ve learned and experienced and put it to use helping women.”

I followed up quickly, “So what does that look like?” Surprised that I was interested in knowing her thoughts, she said, “Well, when I was in Africa last February…”

“Wait a minute,” I said, “you were in Africa last February?”

“Yes, I was there to help the women of Mali…and then I spent 8 days in Haiti in April.”

Now, I was really impressed. “What did you do in Africa and Haiti?” I asked.

She said, “I listened. I empathized. I offered my knowledge and experience to the women in Mali, and I offered my labor and my heart to the people of Haiti.”

I was speechless. She continued, “I’ve been a therapist for years. I help teen girls with self-esteem and I’ve worked with kids for a long time.” I nodded, spellbound.
“I feel like I’m living out my name—Phyllis—which means the bough of a tree or tenderhearted.”


Phyllis from Chino Hills, California
Phyllis from Chino Hills, California



Still amazed at the responsibility that Phyllis from Chino Hills, California had assumed for the women of Africa and the families of Haiti, I headed to the last session of the afternoon, featuring the amazing Tony Robbins, life coach extraordinaire. It would be impossible to describe this man’s personal wattage and charisma, but he had 3,500 women jumping, hugging, dancing, and hooting.

I think I have the best job at this conference. I get to walk around with notepad and pen and ask people basic questions, like, “Why are you here?” and “What do you do?” This year’s theme: “It’s Time” is resonating with everyone. What is it time for you to do?

Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.

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  • Maria Shriver not knowing what's next makes one realize how much we have in common.We've all been there.In limbo.Between projects,
    careers or life altering events.It's comforting to know that even
    Maria Shriver goes through this. I think it's during those moments that we really need to be still.It's scary but at the same time wonderful! It's a blank canvas.Not empty,just blank.To me that represents possibilities.
    So yeah,What is Next?
    Thanks for keeping us connected to the conference

    Posted by salsera, 28 October 2010.

  • I wish I was there too! Your insightful blogging and the live feeds make it possible to at least share the experience. Appreciate that you add the dimension of your exchanges with women you met around the conference. There's nothing like empowered women! Endless thanks to all.

    Posted by Debra Cummings, 26 October 2010.