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18 June 2010

Live your best life

Bonjour all,

Vous allez bien?  I know summer has officially arrived in Belgium as I only had to wear a light trench coat yesterday.

Below are a few nuggets I gleaned from Oprah’s Live Your Best Life Weekend, which took place in New York City recently. I’ve tried to cull the content that links to women and career. 

For those of you outside the U.S. and South Africa, let me clarify why I admire Oprah.  Her magazine is one of the few periodicals mass marketed to women that does not insult our intelligence.  It covers politics, spirituality, careers, food, health, volunteering, literature, and culture with both an international and female lens.  Fashion and celebrities are footnotes, not focal.  It’s a magazine that expects more of us (watch this space for a blog on how expectations shape self-belief and performance).

I first read interviews with two of my own role models – Nelson Mandela and Richard Branson – in O Magazine (side note on Richard Branson – I also read his hilarious and informative book of life lessons, Screw it, Let’s Do It after watching him on a BBC segment last year.  He was leaping around the camera frame with great alacrity as he discussed Virgin’s development of environmentally-friendly airplanes.  In other words, he was fired up about the work he was doing.  That is one man that I would definitely follow into battle – but that’s a whole other blog on inspirational leadership).


Back to LYBL.  Not since the Women’s Forum have I seen so many women in one aesthetically sumptuous place.  No detail was overlooked.  The stages were illuminated in neon pinks and purples; luscious murals abounded.  Regular columnists for O Magazine held both plenary and informal sessions in which they shared wisdom and engaged us in Q&A; there was a discovery hall featuring interactive booths where you could be filmed sharing your point-of-view (on anything) for Oprah’s Network, join a live Wii Fit training session, get made over by L’Oreal cosmetic experts, or do some book shopping (I bought Ken Follett’sThe Pillars of the Earth for my summer beach read).

The LYBL weekend focused on empowerment and authenticity.  Here are a few morsels to chew on.

Oprah on work, passion, and vision

“Let passion drive your profession.”

Oprah shared a childhood story with us about her grandmother teaching her to do the laundry in rural Mississippi (for me, the vignette invoked my favorite short story, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid).  Oprah says she remembers even at that young age, thinking: No, grandma, this isn’t going to be my life.

Elizabeth Gilbert on women, choices, and self-forgiveness

“Every day, women live their lives as if it’s a final exam for their entire grade.”

Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, framed the conundrum of modern day females by pointing out that:

we are the first generation of women who have had an education, freedom, autonomy.  We have more choices than the women who came before us.  That’s why we live in the age of memoirs.  We’re trying to seek role models, see how other women have ‘solved it’. 

Gilbert’s grandmother lived through the U.S. depression.  She had an absence of choices, was a ‘pioneer of continuing on’ – she was in a constant struggle for survival.  “But,” Gilbert pointed out, “she wasn’t neurotic like me.”

According to Gilbert, these neuroses come from an embarrass de richesses of sorts.  Gilbert believes these abundant choices can lead to women harshly beating themselves up in the manner of: I should have [taken that promotion/not taken that promotion; married Bob/not married Bob; spellchecked the email before I sent it; gotten my PhD in Shakespeare; learned to speak Spanish; bought the red not the blue; moved to the country instead of the city….]  You get the idea.

“I am not often kind to myself when I fall short,” Gilbert said.  She encouraged us to mitigate our high aspirations with a little self-forgiveness. 

I can get on board with that.  I’ve discussed women and perfectionism in this space before.  It’s something that I struggle with.  This blog is one antidote to my own perfectionism.  Sometimes, you’ll see grammatical errors and inconsistent British / American English spelling because…wait for it…I’m not perfect.  Sadly, writing this blog is just one small and fun part of my job, so I can’t spend hours perfecting it.  I have to let go.  I practice self-forgiveness.

Gilbert closed by saying that there are four types of women in modern society:

Those who choose career over family
Those who choose family over career
Those who choose both
The Mystics – those who listen to a deeply resonant inner voice and follow it wherever it takes them


Suze Orman on women and money

Money isn’t the most important thing in life.  “Oh, yes it is,” said Suze Orman (after marching on stage to Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life”).  When mothers show her photos of their children (the most important thing in their lives), she reminds those women that they must nourish, clothe, and house those children.  With money. 

Research shows that (despite making up 50% of America’s workforce and 40% of its primary earners) one of the reasons women still make less money than men is because women don’t ask for what they’re worth in salary negotiations (check out this toolkit for women seeking a raise). 

Orman said, “You undervalue who you are, so the world undervalues who you are.”

Donna Brazile on taking risks

“I’m from New Orleans where Santa Claus rides an alligator, and we cook with grease and spices.”

Brazile told us to “cook with spice” – to take some risks.  “Your attitude determines your altitude, “ she said.  “Don’t let anyone put you in a little box…and never take NO for an answer.  When people say it won’t be done, I say: It shall be done.  And done well.”

Martha Beck on the voice within

“Whatever you’re supposed to learn, your soul will latch on to.”

(Love that.  It rings true, n’est-ce pas?)

Beck also had wisdom to share on decision-making.  “Are the animal and the angel inside of you leaning towards the decision or against it?  Your body gets stronger as you move towards your inner truth.”

She had us do an exercise where we laced our fingers together and tried to pull our hands apart.  We had to state a lie about ourselves (this made pulling our hands apart very easy) and then a truth about ourselves (this made pulling our hands apart very difficult – our muscles and joints ostensibly cooperating with our inner truth).

The “animal and angel” in me were FULLY in favour of me throwing caution to the wind, taking a vacation day, and flying across the Atlantic for LYBL and a visit with my best friend (see Carolina and I with our “O Glow” and SWAG bags, below).  And yes – it was worth it. 


à bientôt,


P.S. – Have you been watching the World Cup in South Africa?  Europeans take football/soccer very seriously (“Football, Vacation, God – in that order,” a European once told me).  Whether or not I watch the game, I always know who won by the large, impromptu mob that congregates outside the Brussels Bourse, afterwards, which I can see (and sadly, hear) from my living room.  So far, the Brazilians have been the most coordinated – they had a marching band AND a choreographed fan dance.  Very impressive, indeed.


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