I spent the last few days in New York City with about 4,000 other bloggers attending the BlogHer12 conference. On the train ride home, in a rare moment of quiet, I started wondering what my blog topics would be this week. I figured I was so exhausted from the conference, I just couldn’t think clearly, because I was drawing a blank.
Then over dinner that night, I relayed so much of the conference to my family, specifically the keynote speakers.
Then I got a good night sleep and woke up still thinking about the keynote speakers. When it hit me like a ton of bricks…girl was tired because OBVIOUSLY I am blogging about Martha Stewart and Katie Couric, two of the keynote speakers at the conference. You know, the ones I keep thinking about and talking about.
Remarkable that it took me a few days to realize it, isn’t it?
So, much overdue, today I continued the Wired Momma Working Mom Hero Awards and instead of drumming up lots of articles and interviews with these two women, I will instead relay to you what they spoke about that really struck me over the weekend.
Let’s start with Martha because she spoke on Friday. Look, I went into that lunch knowing that I absolutely respect Martha Stewart but didn’t expect to like her. I came away from it standing in applause, wanting to hear more from her. Over a crowded ballroom lunch with my closest 4,000 friends on Friday, Martha sauntered on stage in beautiful reddish orange pants, a white and beige button down and extremely high orange wedge sandals that matched her orange pants perfectly. She looked chic, stylish and relaxed. Immediately the Twitter-sphere was exploding over her mere presence, which frankly is to be expected when thousands of social media obsessed women gather together.
Fringe details aside, let’s cut to the point, what did I like about Martha? What did she say that resonated with me and has me thinking days later? Here’s what – she repeatedly wove a theme of the need for constant curiosity in life. She said countless times that without curiosity, you lose your creativity. This is a business tycoon who can speak eloquently to the importance of social media to then discussing Japanese knives, floral arrangements and which pregnant staffers will and will not return to work after maternity leave (apparently she has a 100% accurate prediction rate of who will and won’t return after having a baby). There seemed to be no topic she couldn’t discuss with ease and she oozed confidence. When asked what she isn’t good at, she replied, “Only what I haven’t tried yet.”
She oozes confidence, she’s funny and she is unabashedly curious. It was clear from how she spoke about social media that Martha might run a media empire but she doesn’t rely solely upon staff to handle her personal social media – she is knee deep in social media herself and appreciates its importance to growing her business and brand. In other words, she does not rest on her laurels and she addressed the importance of doing the big picture strategic thinking and the mundane parts of daily life – every day.
What might be mundane in Martha’s life, you might wonder?
She mentioned brushing her horses hair every day, as an example. So while the rest of us might not be in our horse stables every evening brushing our their hair, there are plenty of mundane tasks we do have to do every day (I can think of a few in my day that I’d trade for instead brushing horse hair on a farm in Connecticut. You?)
While I hoped for more questions about getting through the peaks and valleys of her life (oh, I don’t know, doing hard time comes to mind), and unfortunately those didn’t come up (note: the WM Hero Award Recipients all share this in common: they all have faced low dark moments, some failures, and they powered through and rose above), she was asked about balancing career and family. She breezed through that topic fairly quickly but pointed out that her life has seen tremendous business success but her marriage failed. Then I actually thought she was going to cry on stage because it seemed her voice cracked when she noted the failure of her marriage was a difficult year. Then she corrected herself and said “a difficult few years.”
I really do respect brutal honesty above almost anything else.
The other question I really appreciated was what piece of advice her current self would give her 20-something self, if she could. She said “encouragement.” Then she went on to reference that scene in “The Help” when Aibileen, the nanny repeats to the little girl “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” She said this is what we should tell ourselves, those we are mentoring and our children, every day. We all just need encouragement.
And let’s not forget, she repeated the importance of curiosity in cultivating creativity again.
Finally, she commented that the two grandchildren she now has are the best things that ever happened to her. She didn’t leave the stage without demonstrating her business savvy first-hand when she gave all of us a one-year free digital subscription to all four of her magazines (thank you, Martha!) and asked us to visit her up in the Exhibit Hall where she would be staffing the Staples booth displaying her new line of Office products on sale now (I checked them out, they are fabulous).
Next, on Saturday, I eagerly arrived early to the lunch to hear Katie Couric. Obviously I knew I would love Katie, I already have seen her speak in real life a few times in the past and looked forward to hearing from her since she’s anchored the evening news and interviewed Sarah Palin.
Katie clearly was savvy enough to accept the invitation to speak because she wanted to promote her new daytime talk show debuting next month. She walked onto stage in a black halter dress and killer camel strappy sandals and opened with “I love the smell of estrogen in the morning!”
The crowd went wild.
It already was a different experience than with Martha. Katie is so skilled at reacting to the audience and engaging the audience. You can’t help but feel like she is your friend and wants to hear from you, she makes it seem so effortless and honestly, it is a tremendous skill.
After giving us an overview of her new show, which frankly I hadn’t thought about before Saturday but does sound like it will be interesting and topical (and she asked Sheryl Crow to write and sing the opening song for her show), she was asked some excellent questions. She spoke candidly about the difficulty of becoming a widow at the age of 41, about losing her sister to pancreatic cancer not long after losing her husband and about the need for more cancer research and funding. She sadly noted that her sister was running for Lt. Governor of Virginia when she fell ill and passed, and her professional dream had been to interview her sister in office. You could still feel her profound sadness and it’s been over a decade since she faced this horrible loss. Her willingness to share with us these personal and dark moments is disarming and something I really respect about her.
She was asked about infamous interview with then-Governor Palin during the 2008 election, specifically how she felt during that interview and she very honestly said you would have to have ice coursing through your veins to not have felt sorry for the Governor during that interview. She said “I just felt bad for her” but she noted she had to ask her the questions she would ask anyone running for the second highest office in the country, notably with the oldest presidential candidate running for his first term.
When asked about the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on “Having It All,” she noted that the piece started an important conversation but every woman needs to do what is best for her and her family and “move past the BS mommy wars.” The crowd erupted in response to that question. She also elaborated a bit on the “Having It All” subject to raise an important point about the Slaughter piece, which was that women like Slaughter and herself have tremendous help. She spoke about her nanny who was there to do everything that she didn’t have time to do and felt that what we need to discuss more are all the women who can’t afford this level of support and help because most women don’t have “high-class problems.”
When asked “How do you do it all?” her response was “Brian Williams never gets asked that question!” and again the crowd erupted. I have mixed feelings about powerful women objecting to being asked questions on how they manage their career and family when men of the same power don’t get asked such questions. Frankly, I think it’s a legitimate and fair question. I think we ask these women this question because there are so few women that reach such levels of professional success and we ask it because we all spend countless hours complaining, venting, writing and talking about how much more work we do at home than our husbands – so OF COURSE we are going to ask this question of other women.
About her two daughters, Katie noted they are her greatest achievement. And about her amazing figure, specifically her toned legs and biceps, she claims she is inherently lazy but works out in spin classes because it is such an efficient calorie burn, then starts every day ON Weight Watchers and ends every day OFF Weight Watchers.
Again, the crowd erupted in applause and laughter.
In the end, as I think about both keynotes, it was Martha’s words that stuck with me more than Katie’s, despite Katie’s warmth and honesty. But both women are remarkable working moms who have shattered glass ceilings and paved careers and opportunities for the rest of us. And both commented that their children and grandchildren are their greatest accomplishments.
Katie & Martha – I anoint you this week’s Wired Momma Working Mom Hero award recipients and appreciated your time at BlogHer 12.
To keep up with the ever-constant dialogue about work-life choices and all the other fun snark I toss in between, “Like” the Wired Momma community Facebook page.