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The point of Maria Shriver's The Women's Conference is to inspire women to be Architects of Change, and the roster of speakers filled with stars and CEOs like Oprah Winfrey, Jessica Simpson and Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, certainly lived up to that credo.
First, there was host Maria Shriver's refreshing confession that she does not know what's next for her after life as California's first lady ends in January. "It's time to make a decision in my life and I'm afraid because it's the first time I need to make one without my mother," she told the crowd, speaking of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who passed away in August 2009.
Michelle Obama, the nation's first lady, admitted a similar dilemma of the unknown as she talked to the crowd about the importance of supporting military families. "These women have far less support and far fewer resources than I could ever imagine," she said. "I'm someone who always thought of myself as knowledgeable about women's issues and I had no idea" what military families endure she said.
Then there were the moments of true sisterhood between the speaker and the crowd, as when Vagina Monolouges author Eve Ensler gave a touching and at times ferocious account of her battle with cancer. Women nodded with empathy when Jessica Simpson (who looked great, by the way) admitted that sometimes the media's focus on her weight drives her to tears. And few will forget Matt Lauer's surprise ask of Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, California's contentious gubernatorial candidates, to end their mud-slinging campaign to uproarious cheers.
The Women's Conference surely left many wishing -- wanting -- to be more, to do more. It's hard not to be inspired by Minerva Award winner Sandra Day O'Connor's I-won't-let-the-man (literal and figurative) get-me-down attitude, or the perseverance of fellow award winner Carolyn Blashek, who when told she too old to join the army, founded Operation Gratitude.
In her Minerva Award acceptance speech that closed the conference, Oprah said, "It's been a profound and beautiful thing watching what happens when women get together." But I have to admit, at the end of the event I was overwhelmed. I was so inspired by the conference, I didn't know where to start. Would I one day be able to found a nonprofit for girls, like Nike CEO Phil Knight's Girl Effect? Could I turn my career around to be a female Nicholas Kristof, another "moral conscience" for the next generation of journalists?
Then I remembered what Maria said during her opening speech, where she talked about the uncertainty of the next chapter of her life. "I don't have to fill anyone else's shoes, it is enough to fill my own." And I realized I needed start small. I could put more effort into my current volunteer project for instance, and change the world simply by voting in the midterm elections this November 2.
Those efforts may not be on par with what any speaker at The Women's Conference has accomplished, but, however small, they still make me an Architect of Change.
What makes you an Architect of Change? Chime in below!