A Women’s Salon Like None Other

65: # of women who gathered last week at an event hosted by Acumen founder/CEO, Jacqueline Novogratz. Women shared their stories, insights, lessons, fears, and hopes.

50: # of years fell between the youngest and oldest guest.

20: # of seconds you had to unfold from a reflective sitting position and stand up strong in front of everyone to express your answer to one of the two questions posed prior to the event:

For the older generation:

If you could go back and change one decision in your life, what would it be?

For the younger generation:

What is your biggest fear?  What’s holding you back?

Guests responded with written answers to these questions, and this “word cloud” reveals the variety of answers.

There were Wall Street executives. High profile lawyers. Young artists. Entrepreneurs. Writers. Recently engaged professionals. Mothers. Daughters. Friends. The single room that housed everyone provided an unintentionally symbolic space. The older generation sat in a nearly complete circle of chairs and spoke openly and freely about their lives, regrets, and things they would have done differently, if…. The younger generation was enveloped by this collective wisdom and honesty, forming the inner circle of cushions on the ground, from which they spoke about fear, hope, and uncertainty.

As the sun set, answers to the questions started flowing:

  • “My greatest fear is that I’ll arrive at a place in which I think that ‘I’ve arrived’ – I do not want to feel like I have stopped learning and feeling challenged.”
  • “My greatest fear is that I will not give the right amount of myself to those I love – I fear that I will give either too much or too little.”
  • “I regret that I didn’t embrace entrepreneurship in my 20s. Everyone told me to go work for someone, learn what I need to know first, then do my own thing. They were all wrong.”
  • “I regret that I spent my entire life rushing – to that next appointment, to that next dinner…”
  • “If I could change one thing, it would be to have had more frivolity and fun …”
  • “What I would do differently: Listened, learned, and laughed more – less PowerPoints, meetings, or not following my gut….and I would have made every decision through the lens of never accepting the unacceptable”

Inspiring advice followed too:

  • “As you move to different stages of your career, look behind you and be a mentor for a woman who can learn from you. Take your growth and as it propels you forward, help others propel themselves forward.”
  • “I have had a very successful, very happy life. Unfortunately I remember very little of it because I spent decades worrying! For the worriers out there, take time to seriously think about your worrying – and stop. It’s a destructive habit which saps your energy and hurts your soul.”
  • “I have finally learned that to rely on a team is actually not only smart but efficient and effective. My message is, ‘you do not need to do it all yourself. There is no shame in not knowing how to do something. What is important is having the talent to find people who either have the information you need or the skills to help you reach your goal.’”

Five women, in different stages of life, each told a longer, more personal story to the room. From these stories, we reflected on what it means to own our voices and diversity, to redefine our expectations and flexibility around motherhood and career development, and to embrace the women around us. The storytelling was interspersed with beautiful, soul-moving music, performance, and dance. The energy was nothing short of incredible.

Guests left the evening with their hearts swirling with the thoughtfulness and honesty of each story. The focus on leadership, living a whole life, and embracing choices made (and to be made) allowed for a safe and intimate space that differentiated this evening from so many other “women in business” events. Rather than being “talked at”, the guests were learning and growing along with each speaker.

Maybe the night is best described in a tweet from one of its guests, the wonderful @swissmiss, Tina Roth Eisenberg:

“I think I am attending one of the most exciting evenings of my 12 years in NYC.”

Tina captured a photo from the evening and shares her answer to the first question on her blog.

This was the first salon hosted by Acumen Fund. We have a sneaking suspicion it will not be the last!

Clare Hunt and Carissa Vados are Acumen Fund Summer Associates in New York.


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