Treasures to keep
Leadership lessons from the NWA Business Women's Conference
Monday, October 12, 2015
This post is part of a series from the 2015 NWA Business Women's Conference with guest blogger Sarabeth Jones.
“I’m going to tell you a few things about how I got here,” she said. The speaker was an older woman, familiar to much of the audience, but not to me. She was onstage accepting the ATHENA Woman of the Year Award at the Northwest Arkansas Business Women’s Conference. I readied myself to jot down her tips for success, or maybe familiar leadership slogans. After all, the Woman of the Year at a business women’s conference would have to be full of inspiring and possibly irritating advice on how to be successful. We’ve all heard them, the kinds of things to file under How She Got There, So Maybe I Can Get There Too (Only I Probably Won’t).
And then she took a shaky breath and continued: “…how I got to be 60, I mean. And it doesn’t have anything to do with what you’ve seen or read about me. These are from the heart.” I smiled, immediately disarmed. I knew from those few sentences that I liked her already.
The conference had just begun, meaning that for the hour or so before I had been pre-conferencing: checking my outfit, navigating the event center, registering, picking up a giant goody bag, making sure there was no lipstick on my teeth, and finding coffee and my seat in a room of 1,300 women. And, I was on my own, having come to the event from a different part of the state. I don’t know about you, but walking into a situation like that does not bring out my easiest, most confident self. Rather, I usually find myself slightly on guard, a little tense and nervous. It’s easy for me to let the impressive become intimidating.
And then this woman, Dr. DeAnne Witherspoon, broke right through that veneer. She blinked back a few tears as she shared things she’s learned in her life – a life full of professional success and service, to be sure – but also full of a few things that she holds even more dear. They were all good: she talked of helping those who can’t help themselves, finding your own balance, and teaching your daughters well, but the one that called out to me was the thing she started and ended with: Keep your girlfriends. Treasure those friendships; they will be the most rewarding relationships as you age. They will make you stronger and wiser.
That truth is already clear in my own life. I thought of my own circles of women: the small groups at my church, dear friends who have known me for years, blogging relationships I have all over the state, the woman who has been a steadfast mentor. Each one strengthens or encourages or challenges me in her own way, and I can’t imagine the arc of my life without them. And yet? It is hard work at times to be a friend. I love that Dr. Witherspoon used the word “keep;” sometimes it’s easier for us to start a friendship than to stay in one.
However, women in particular possess the ability to work collectively and to lead with the strength of a group. We are good at it, and we need it, and the evidence was all around me. I looked around the room again, this time seeing what was truly impressive: a crowd of women joined together in an effort to better themselves and their community, committed to leading and serving in all kinds of areas. Potential girlfriends, if you will, and I was thrilled to be among them.