Architects of buildings work with precise numbers, codes and laws to create structures that will withstand the test of time and nature. Architects of change work with instincts and ideas to rebuild our thoughts and perceptions. While one architect uses wood and stone, the other employs creativity and energy. Yet both seek the same goal — to positively affect our world.
Last month 25,000 architects of change came together at The Women’s Conference: Architects of Change, in Long Beach, California. Most of them were attendees, others were speakers — major newsmakers and opinion leaders from all walks of life and industry. Yet all had the same goal — to positively affect our world.
For the past five years, the conference has been produced under the guidance of Maria Shriver who “inherited” it when her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became Governor of California. It was then called the California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women, but until Shriver came along, it languished with no clear direction. Through her efforts and vision, it has now become the nation’s premier forum for women. Along the way, Shriver has been helped by a team of talented people in her office along with a dedicated team of conference producers led by Carl Bendix, Creative Director of JupiterPx. Carl, a longtime friend, has invited me to attend the conference for the past two years.
Over that time I’ve come to discover that what makes this conference so unique and attractive to such a large group is the fact that it is a true manifestation of Shriver’s diverse interests and passions. They fuel the topic, the mood and the spirit of the event. Some years it bristles with energy. Other years, such as this one in which Shriver grappled publicly with the loss of her mother and uncle, are more reflective in nature.
No matter the tone, the seminar lineup is always brave, fearing no topic. For instance, I don’t know of any other “feel-good” conference that would have a conversation on grief, healing and resiliency. The session brought together well-known women who had experienced the loss of a loved one. It brought tears to the audience. Yet despite its sad topic, it was clear that this was an important conversation to have. In fact, one could go so far as to say that it was the highlight of the conference.
For me, watching Shriver during this conversation was a revelation. It wasn’t what she said as much as it was the way she listened. She did so actively, leaning in toward each woman as she talked, getting as close as possible and focusing intently. You could feel she was hungry for their words, thoughts and energy, looking for answers and guidance herself.
When I told a friend about this session, she shook her head, not understanding why anyone would include it in an event supposedly about empowerment. My answer was that empowerment comes through all change, not always the noisy raise-your-fist-in-the-air type of change. There is equal importance in quiet, personal and internal change. But noisy or quiet, we all know that change is sometimes — no ALWAYS — difficult. And change is always unavoidable.
In the end, being an architect of change has a lot of similarities to designing a skyscraper. Ultimately our ideas, and the building, will soar into the air. But before one shovel breaks ground for the foundation we need to have those tough conversations. We need to discuss worse-case scenarios. We need to examine and expose vulnerabilities. And we need to give up our attachment to the final outcome so we can move ourselves and others forward and skyward.
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