Tara Westover on How We Lead the Way Forward

Tara Westover Tara Westover, the best-selling author of Educated, reflected on how women lead the way forward—the theme of the 2020 Pennsylvania Conference for Women—and suggested it may begin with recognizing what we don't know so we are able to restore meaningful dialogue in these highly polarized times. "As the author of a book called Educated, I am supposed to know what it is like to know things, to be certain about things," Westover said. "But as I thought about this difficult period, I thought it is not so much about education and certainty and facts; it's not just about what we know but about what we don't know." Using her own experience as an example, she observed that she once thought "feminism" was a dirty word, had wrong and hurtful thoughts about race, and was homophobic. But education—and the opportunity to express her opinions, however objectionable they were -- allowed her to think through what she really believed, adding that many in our nation require that same opportunity now.

More excerpts from her talk follow:

  • "Sometimes I wonder if what has gone wrong with our political process is that we have forgotten what we don't know. We are so bombarded with caricatures of each other that we've started to think just because we know one thing about a person, we think we know everything we need to know about them."
  • "What we've forgotten maybe is the difference between ignorance and humility. It's OK not to know everything. And there are some situations where approaching it knowing what you don't know is probably the best thing you can do."
  • "I have to believe that it is worth arguing with people who disagree with you—even on really important issues. Even on important moral issues, things you feel strongly about. It is still worth arguing with those people and explaining your ideas. That is the original idea of what politics is: It's persuasion."
  • "And I have to believe in that because I was someone who at various points in my life was wrong about almost everything—things that now are really important to me, I had the opposite view when I was younger."
  • "I was raised in a household in which feminism was a dirty word. I don't think I ever said it aloud until I was in graduate school. I grew up with really strange ideas about race. And I was lucky enough to be able to be given the opportunity to change my mind and learn more and understand experiences that were different from mine."
  • "I was homophobic. I was raised with strange ideas about that. And strange is a euphemism. They were not correct, they were hurtful."
  • "I am grateful I was given the opportunity through the education system to learn more, to say my views no matter how objectionable they were, and be given a chance to think through what I really believed."
  • "So important as I think all of these issues are and as important as it is to stand up for people, I am so grateful I was given an opportunity to change."
To go forward as a country, she concluded, may mean we need to give more people a chance to change, to have a meaningful dialogue, and for us all to know the things we don't know.
About Tara Westover Tara Westover is the best-selling author of Educated, reflected on how women lead the way is the author of Educated, which was on The New York Times bestseller list for more than 130 weeks. Born to survivalist parents in the mountains of Idaho, she never attended school and, instead, spent her childhood working in her father's junkyard or stewing herbs for her mother—until, at 17, she decided to escape a violent older brother and isolated home life to carve out a new life for herself. She taught herself enough to get into college—having come to believe, as her parents taught her, that you can teach yourself anything better than someone else can teach it to you. Then she went on to graduate magna cum laude from Brigham Young University, earn a master's degree in philosophy, become a Harvard University fellow, and complete a Ph.D. in history from Cambridge University. The experience transformed her; and her brilliant telling of it has been inspiring millions. It has also been sparking important conversations, at a time when millions of young people are suddenly engaged in remote learning, about education, gender roles, and societal divisions and how we might overcome them.
Check out more highlights from the 2020 Virtual Pennsylvania Conference for Women!

3 Ways to Develop the Emotional Agility to Help You Thrive

Susan David

Despite the difficulties of our times, many people squash what Susan David, award-winning Harvard Medical School psychologist, refers to as “so-called negative emotions,” such as grief, sadness, and frustration.

But people who are open to the reality of human experience are better able to foster innovation, creativity, and the wholehearted capacity to be themselves, says David, author of the number-one Wall Street Journal bestseller, Emotional Agility.

And given the enduring challenges in both our work and our family lives, emotional agility may be more important than ever.

David defines “emotional agility” as a process that enables us to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind.

It is the opposite of emotional rigidity, which she defines as getting hooked by thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that don’t serve you.

Emotional agility, she says, makes room for all thoughts, stories, and emotions, including the so-called negative ones.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong or damaging about having a so-called negative thought like I’m an imposter,” says David. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a so-called negative emotion like grief, stress, anxiety, or frustration. And there’s nothing inherently damaging about having a story about who we are and what we’re capable of.”

The danger comes, she says, when we allow these thoughts and emotions and stories to dictate to us what we should do next.

Using the pause between stimulus and response

Victor Frankel, the late psychologist, and Holocaust survivor, famously wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

When we are emotionally rigid, there is no space between stimulus and response, says David. But when we are emotionally agile, we can move into and stay in that space.

“Our emotions are designed to help us address and adapt to stress,” she says. So, when we experience thoughts, emotions, and stories, we need to know these are just normal ways of being. They are the way our bodies prepare us to respond to the world appropriately. There’s nothing wrong with them no matter what social media tells us when they implore us just to be positive.”

How to cultivate emotional agility

  1. Show up to how you and others feel with acceptance and compassion.
  2. “One of the great myths about self-compassion,” says David, “is that it involves being weak or lazy or letting yourself off the hook. But what we know is that people who can be this way with themselves are more honest, courageous, and risk-taking.”
  3. As leaders, we also need to show up with acceptance and compassion for others, according to David.
  4. But when we feel stressed, we often harden our expectations of ourselves and others. So at times like that, David recommends trying to soften the edges. Of course, this doesn’t mean not having expectations of others. But it does mean seeing what people are genuinely experiencing.
  1. Develop the ability to step out of your emotions.
  2. “Emotions are data. They are not directives,” says David. “Just because I feel a strong emotion doesn’t mean I’m right. Just because you feel undermined doesn’t mean you have to shut down. We own our emotions; they don’t own us.”
  3. To step out of your emotions, David recommends using more precise language to describe what you are feeling.
  4. “Often, we use very big labels to describe what we’re feeling,” she observes. “‘I’m stressed’ is the one I hear most often. But there is a world of difference between ‘I feel stressed’ and ‘I feel depleted.’ ‘I feel stress’ and ‘I need more support.'”
  5. So, try to label your feelings with greater accuracy. This will help you better understand the cause of your emotions and what you need to do about them.
  6. She also recommends not defining yourself by your emotions. Instead, just notice your thoughts and emotions and stories for what they are: thoughts and emotions and stories.
  1. Recognize that your emotions contain signposts to who you most want to be in the world.
  2. “Life is always asking us, ‘Who do you want to be?'” says David. “Emotional ability is about having a lifelong correspondence with your values and heart.”
Posted in Speaker Articles, Health & Wellness Tagged |

Readers Write: About Work-Family “Balance”

Mom distracted by small children while working from home

Thanks to our readers for sharing their experience of work-family issues this month. Here are some positive ideas from two of our readers.

Next month, we will explore how to fight fear. If you have a story to share, please send it to lbennett@conferenceforwomen.org.

Employees Finally Have the Power to Choose by Mboone Umbima

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and my thoughts over the years have evolved. I am now at a place where I believe there is nothing such as work-family balance. The secret lies in employers and employees creating an environment of fluidity, industry withstanding.

The world of work (“post-COVID”) has changed, and the pandemic created space for deep reflection on how we work in addition to how we tend to our children and families.

For me, one thing is clear: For the first time in many years, employees finally have the power to determine what kind of working experience they want. Especially if you are good at what you do, you truly have the power and can choose the employer that will meet your needs.

Women will need to use their voices, level up, and ask for what they need because it just won’t be handed over on a platter. This is the time to do so.

Balance is Elusive. Focus instead on Your Top Three Priorities –Sohee Jun

I’m allergic to the word “balance.” It’s an ever-elusive goal with an end-post that keeps moving.And as a leadership coach to high-performing women, I see most of us trying exhaustively to attain work-life balance; it keeps us tired, trying to spin all of the plates in the air perfectly and simultaneously.

It wouldn’t be such an overwhelming task if the ‘plates’ were true priorities in our lives, grown out of our values.But, instead, we spin the plates of obligation, shoulds, perfectionism, shame, and the biggest one of all: the plate of comparison.

Ready to drop those plates and spin ones that are authentic to you? Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Reframe how you think of work-life balance to one of work-life integration. Integrate only those activities, projects, tasks, events, etc., that align to your top three priorities.
  • You can identify the priorities that matter to you by getting clear on your values.Once you have your top three values, all priorities start to shift and become clear in terms of what matters most to your work and life.
  • Then, look at your weekly calendar.What can you integrate more of and take away from your day-to-day that will help you align your days with what matters to you most? For example, if creativity is one of your core values, look at your weekly and daily schedule to see if you’ve made room for it.

This is a continuous practice in aligning your life to make it authentic to what matters to you most! Start, learn, iterate, and most of all, love the process!

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life Balance

How to Build Mental Strength in 2021

Amy Morin

What do mentally strong people do—and not do? This question became a burning one for Amy Morin after she suffered a series of personal losses early in her career as a psychotherapist.

It also led her to write several books, including the international bestseller 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, and 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do.

We caught up with her recently for a conversation (from her houseboat) about how developing mental strength can help us meet the unique challenges of living through a pandemic.

Morin—the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, the largest mental health website—will speak at the Texas Conference for Women on October 5th.

Q: You distinguish between mental health and mental strength. What is that difference, and why is it important?

Think about the distinction between physical health and physical strength. Becoming physically strong might help prevent health problems, but it doesn’t guarantee it. We also know that being healthier and stronger are interrelated. The choices we make every day can prevent and reduce symptoms of existing problems. But it doesn’t guarantee we won’t get health problems. As a therapist, some of the strongest people I’ve ever met battle depression.

Q: We’re facing a staggering growth in mental health issues due to the pandemic. What practical steps can women take to address this when there is still no clear end in sight?

First, research says that when you are struggling with a tough time, just remembering it’s tough can give you a huge boost. Second, it helps to have something to look forward to. Put it on your calendar: Watch this movie on Friday at 7. Most people think that’s ridiculous. But research shows it gives a boost. A third strategy is to schedule time for worry. Tons of studies say that putting 15 minutes on your calendar to worry helps. It takes two weeks. But people notice a huge difference in mental well-being.

Q: A recent report suggested that businesses are sleepwalking into a mental health crisis, because many employees feel they have to disguise what they are experiencing. Why is it bad to hide their struggles, and what can employers do to create healthier workplaces now?

We do tend to hide mental health issues. There is still a stigma that it may be a sign of weakness. Or that if you’re struggling, it means you have a lack of mental strength. People worry they may get penalized. They won’t get a promotion. The truth is that mental health affects everything we do: how we stay on task, perform, and perceive things.

But it’s OK to talk about it. To come back to the office now and pretend you’re fine, pretend all of this didn’t happen is bizarre. Many people are distressed, and substance abuse is rampant. It doesn’t do any good to hide it. Employers can provide access to free screening tools from Mental Health America, so employees know that struggling and talking about their struggles is OK.

Q: You’ve written several books about what mentally strong people don’t do. What are some recommendations you’ve found most helpful in your own life since the pandemic?

Through the pandemic one thing I have appreciated is the strategy: Don’t focus on what you can’t control – on what the government or other people are responsible for. Focus on what you can. And you can control whether you wash your hands, mask, where you go, how you spend your time, who you spend it with, even how much news you want to consume and how.

Q: There are some misunderstandings about mental strength. For example, you’ve written that it doesn’t mean acting tough or ignoring your emotions. Can you explain that?

I see the memes: I’m tired of being the strong one all the time. This doesn’t make sense. We don’t get tired of having big muscles. But people get tired of being tough. Mental strength is about being courageous enough to say you could use a helping-hand or acknowledging that you are in pain.

Q: You’ve also said mental strength is not about positive thinking. What is it about then?

Positive thinking says it’s probably good you didn’t get the job because something better will come along. It’s a way to avoid being disappointed. But mental strength isn’t positive thinking. It’s about being realistic in your thinking rather than assuming everything will turn out well. If you’re overconfident, it can be more detrimental than having a lack of confidence.

Q: Some people have suggested if there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is that more people are choosing mental well-being. Do you agree?

While this has opened the door to considering mental health for many people, and the stigma is decreasing a little, I also realize how fragile mental health is now And, there is a need for coping strategies. There are plenty of struggles, and they won’t magically go away. I hope that, coming out of the pandemic, we will have more tools and strategies for working on mental health.

Posted in Speaker Articles, Health & Wellness Tagged |

How Yoga Can Help You Find Your Balance (or Accept Your Imbalance)

Jessmyn Stanley

Jessamyn Stanley—who describes herself as a fat, queer, Black person—is refreshingly honest and self-accepting. She also has a lovely way of bringing self-acceptance out in others. We had a conversation with her this month about the transformative possibilities of yoga—even if you start with a free three-minute video.

Stanley is the author of Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance and EveryBody Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body. She will speak at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on November 10th.

Q: You’ve shared that you came to self-acceptance and wellness during a dark period in your life. Do you see a parallel opportunity for good to come from the challenges so many are facing now?

There is much suffering in life. It’s a constant we can expect. However, most people are drawn to a specific wellness practice –distance running, Tai Chi, yoga, for example –invariably come to a commitment through some struggle.

We are collectively going through intense struggles now. We’re being forced to accept the struggles that have always been and those from climate change and COVID. But if you can acknowledge that you are struggling or have any source of sadness, that is always the space on which to build a wellness practice.

Q: Your new book is Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance. What is “Yoke,” and how can yoga help us develop self-acceptance?

Yoga means to bring together. Yoking is the same idea – joining together. I have found I yoke not just when I am doing Downward Dog but when I am accepting internalized racism or remembering what it is to be sexually assaulted. So, ultimately yoga is truly the practice of acceptance—acceptance of everything as it is. The book’s goal is that anybody who reads it can find the confidence to accept themselves through the example of another human being.

Q: We live in a time when so many challenging things are happening; it can be hard to hold both the dark and the light, as you say. Why is it important to try, and how do you recommend doing it?

Yoga offers the opportunity to practice this on a practical level. You have to think about where you put your weight, where your hands go, and where your feet go? What do you do when you experience struggle? How do you stand, knowing it is not always going to look pretty and happy? All any of us can do is the best we can. Submission is the hardest part. We are so thoroughly trained to wear armor and stand strong for other people. The ironic twist is true power is in submission, in putting down your shield, in standing with the power given you on your first day of life.

Q: Many of us feel we don’t have the time to slow down enough to practice something like yoga. What do you recommend?

It’s very hard when you’re going a million miles a minute to stop. So, just start wherever you are with whatever you have access to. If you can do a free yoga video for three to five minutes, that’s perfect. Take small incremental steps, and don’t beat yourself up about not following a specific schedule for 30 days. Be easy on yourself, go slow, and find something that fits you right now.

Q: Many women struggle with perfectionism. How do you deal with that?

A couple of things are helpful for me. One is letting myself feel whatever I feel whenever I feel it and not scolding or chastising myself or falling into a perfectionist loop. Also letting myself get tired and feel all of the perfectionist sadness. I beat myself down, and from that place, breathe and practice the postures. From there, I start to move forward sometimes without even being aware of it.

Q: You’ve said that yoga is the perfect container for us to deal with systemic racism and other systemic issues. What do you mean?

Yoga is the base on which we can have all these hard conversations. What is needed when talking about systemic racism or any systemic problem is compassion for everyone. You can’t experience compassion with other people if you are not experiencing it yourself. That is what practicing does. When you accept yourself, there is no other thing to feel but compassion. And when you practice compassion for yourself, you have to practice it for other people.

When we say we want to dismantle systemic racism, everyone plays a different role in that—all people of all colors on all stages. As a fat queer Black person, I have a lot of feelings about this. It makes it hard even to hear someone else. But I know they experience strong feelings too. The person who is taught to hate Black people is also someone I can have compassion about. I don’t have to agree with them. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is to hear each other and know that every other person is deserving of life and goodness. Then we can come to a place of creating a different world.

Q: Your first book, which came out before the pandemic, was Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love your Body. What is the most important new thing you learned about letting go of fear lately?

If fear is there, I know it is good. I know it is something I need. Every good thing in life is scary because it is unknown. Fear is also an incredible motivator, the stimulus of so much. We think life would be so sweet if you never felt sad or afraid, but I don’t know if that is the case. I think life is sweet because of fear. It challenges us and allows us to see ourselves.

Posted in Speaker Articles, Life Balance Tagged |

How to Raise an Adult in Times of Crisis

Julie Lythcott-haims

Is it more challenging to raise a child during the pandemic than at other times?

On the one hand, the answer seems obvious: Of course!

But on the other hand, it is also easier—and an excellent opportunity for parents and children alike, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success.

“This crisis is allowing us to step back and give kids more responsibility and more accountability—what they need to develop into whole, healthy, happy adults,” says Lythcott-Haims, who is also a former corporate lawyer and Stanford University dean.

Put another way, the pandemic is an opportunity to stop overparenting—which research increasingly shows contributes to anxiety and depression among young people and deprives them of developing a feeling of self-efficacy.

Types of Overparenting

There are three types of overparenting, according to Lythcott-Haims:

  1. Being overprotective. Parents tend to do this when they feel the world is scary, unsafe, and unpredictable. Therefore, they think they need to prevent anything from happening to their children and protecting them at every turn—thereby depriving their children of learning how to deal with difficulties they will inevitably face on their own.
  2. Being fiercely directive. When a parent attempts to orchestrate a child’s life, the child does not feel unconditionally loved. Instead, they think a lot of stress and worry that they may not live up to their parents’ expectations.
  3. Holding kids’ hands for too long. Lythcott-Haims this kind of overparenting as behaving like a handler for an A-list celebrity. This kind of parent might, for example, know when all homework assignments are due and bring in ones a child has forgotten. They are trying to make their child’s life easier, but they are robbing them of the ability to learn from experience.

While overparenting may come from a good place—the desire to love and protect our children—it prevents them from developing the confidence that they will be able to figure things out independently, as they will eventually need to.

So, what’s the solution?

Three Core Competencies Children Need to Develop

To grow into capable, healthy, happy humans, children need to develop three core competencies, says Lythcott-Haims. They are: agency, resilience, and character (ARC.)

  1. Agency: Agency is the sense that I can do the task in front of me. I am capable. To develop this, children need to do things for themselves. Picture your child learning to walk, for example. You didn’t walk behind with your hands under their armpits, Lythcott-Haims says. Instead, you cheer them on while they fall and get up and get stronger.
  2. So, figure out what skill kids are on the verge of learning and provide them with learning opportunities. Maybe it’s making their lunch or learning to wake to an alarm, or helping with dinner.
  3. Resilience. Resilience is the sense that I can cope or handle things when they go bad, as they will. But when you are curating the perfect childhood, things never go wrong, and children are deprived of developing resilience.
  4. “We’re supposed to let them have their feelings. Our instinct is to take bad feelings away,” says Lythcott-Haims. “But we need to let them have their feelings and let them know we care.” It’s not about fixing things, she says. There’s a lot we can’t fix. It’s about letting them have their feelings, letting them know you see they have feelings and letting them know you are there if they want to talk about them.
  5. Character. Character is knowing there is more than you in this world, knowing that others matter, as well. In the pandemic, parents can teach that because there are many people in need—perhaps including you. So, ask your child to pitch in, Lytcott-Haims says. “When a child handles something that isn’t their chore or job, that is a perfect time just to smile and nod and say I saw what you did. Nice job.”

“This is a tough time, but so much is actually under our control, says Lythcott-Haims, including how we show up in our children’s lives, exhibit confidence they’ve got it, and model good character. So, this pandemic is an opportunity to stop swooping in and therefore an opportunity to get a little bit of healthy adult life back.”

In short, says Lythcott-Haims: “When you stop making children the center of the universe, watch how they thrive—and you thrive, as well.”

Julie Lythcott-Haims spoke at the 2021 California Conference for Women. This article is based on her session, How to Raise an Adult in Times of Crisis.

Posted in Speaker Articles, Transitions Tagged |