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The Creative Process

The Creative Process - Angela NazarianCharles Bukowski, who is one of my favorite poets, was adamant that the writing should burst out without coercion or commercial ambition.

His advise to writers was simply: “Don’t Try”He went on to say, “That’s very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.”

Well, I have taken his advice to heart. When I finished my book tour in mid May, I personally gave myself a self-imposed sabbatical for a few months. This decision was primarily because I wanted to give myself the space to be creative without the added pressure of being productive. How many times have we all felt so guilty of spending time on a hobby or doing what we love because we feel that we need to be “working” on a project somehow?  I am certainly guilty of that!

In many ways, the past few months have been a real gift as I have the luxury of reading so many books, going to galleries and talks,  and letting my natural curiosity lead me in creative process.

Although I have had no specific agenda in my readings, I seem to keep reading biographies.  This is not done out of habit for my work, but because I am endlessly fascinated by people’s lives.  Interestingly enough, I am piecing together interesting overlaps and coincidences in the lives of the people I am reading about….  Yes, yes, I think to myself that these discoveries will somehow percolate into a definitive book of some sort, but for now, I am letting the creative process take its course.

Indeed, if there is one thing I have learned about myself during this time is that the real joy in my work lies in the process of discovery itself. The rest is the by-product!

Happy Summer to everyone!

Cherish Life and Live in the Moment

The months of March and April are a flurry of activity for me as I go on a self-imposed, and much-awaited break during the summer months.

I was asked of my views around work-life balance in a recent interview in Toronto. And plain and simple my response was: “I think the whole notion of balance is overused, lacking any substantiate meaning.”  You see, What I would subjectively refer to as a balanced life may be too overs-stimulating  or who knows–maybe someone else in my shoes would pack more things in their schedule yet!

The past couple of months though, I feel I have been doing double duty both at home and work—a remodel, a major move, some health issues with older family members, plus doing work, and organizing events on the two nonprofit boards that I have co-founded and traveling for my book tour to boot. 

Would I in any way, change anything about my life.  The answer is a resounding “NO”.  What I am beginning to understand through experience ( And yes… it seems like theory and other people’s wisdom are not as impactful as true-life well-earned experiences) is that life has its own ebbs and flows. Some days, I feel I am handing everything smoothly, while at other times, I feel I am overwhelmed.  But that is the reality of life, isn’t it?   

But in the midst of all this, I have come to see how much I cherish all the fullness in my life—the time spent with friends, husband and my two boys; how I get filled with so much energy when I come out of a talk or a book signing.  Each and every of these moments, when I was completely focused on experiencing that moment was fulfilling and nourishing.  

Reflecting on my speaking tour this past month, I can tell you had 3 real highlights that I would love to share.

I had been invited to be the keynote speaker for the Pepperdine University Women’s conference earlier in the month, hours before I was due to fly out to Hong Kong.  A day earlier I thought I was utterly out of my mind for keeping both of these events on my calendar.  But when the day came, I surprisingly enjoyed every single moment of the day.  I absolutely loved speaking to a group of intelligent and ambitious professionals and graduate students, who had so much to share with me as well.  I also discovered that a part of me is still that Psychology Professor of yesteryears, and I revel spending time with students, deans, and researchers.

No sooner when I returned from my trip to Hong Kong, I was on a plane heading to Austin, Texas.  Neiman Marcus was hosting a book signing and talk for me and my dear friend, Suzanne Deal Booth, was chairing the event for me.  I spent the day having girlfriend time with Suzanne, catching up over lunch and great hike near her home.  The next day, I met with so many incredibly talented women over lunch at Neiman Marcus… I met an incredible woman by the name of Megan, who had essentially organized a fundraising group to save her all- women liberal arts college from closing down.  Would you believe this core group of 8 women raised millions of dollars in the course of a month?  It is even more fascinating that they raised such a huge sum mostly through interfacing over the internet!  Now that was incredibly inspring!

And finally, I am just returning from the heals of a very special book event in Toronto. (As a matter of fact, I am writing this blog on the plane.)  Suzanne Cohon, a brilliant and exceptional executive in Toronto, had graciously organized a cocktail reception celebrating my latest book.  My friend, Ruth Mandel, who also is a member of Women Moving Millions had also invited some friends too, which brought the total of attendees to 90 people. What I loved most was the diversity of the women present.  The guests ranged from corporate executives, directors of foundations and non-profits, to moms and teachers and community activists.  There was a special electricity in the air last night as women were discussing ways in which they want to give back and also bring in the new generation of girls into the leadership fold.   Now this was the true meaning of what I wanted to accomplish with my book.

And now, as I am heading home and preparing to host our family Passover dinner, I think how lucky I am to have packed all these experiences in the past three weeks.

Who knew when I was a little girl living in Iran, that I would one day go around the world, have a meaningful and exciting vocation, and meet so many people along the way? Who knew? And the icing on the cake is that I have these loving, incredible men in my life (my boys and my husband of nearly 28 years) supporting me.  Now it makes all the madness of the days all worth it and then some!

Want to Bridge the Gender Gap? Mentorship & Strong Role Models Work, A 1st Person Success Story

The first crack that widens to a gender gap begins long before women enter the workplace. Mine began opening when I was 11, a girl from Tehran, enjoying a two-week visit to see my older brothers in Los Angeles.

Seemingly overnight, I went from delighted tourist to startled refugee. On television, we watched the footage of familiar buildings of my home city being set ablaze. It was December 1978, and the Iranian Revolution was gathering momentum. With the worsening political situation, my parents decided my siblings and I should remain in the U.S. and study.

Initially I was entranced, taking in the sheer plentitude of California. Six months passed, and the shock of adjustment set in. It would take five and half years until my parents escaped Iran to join us. I began navigating this new culture, one that seemed in constant collision with the one I had left.

I admired the women in my family for their resilient spirit and their orientation toward keeping a strong, tight-knit family, but it was always at the cost of not having a viable outlet for their own personal ambitions. Around me, few women in good financial standing worked outside of the house.

I had always assumed that I shouldn’t entertain too lofty goals for myself, fearing that I was veering out of my restrictive cultural mandate; however, I was shocked and strangely fascinated by how the American girls who had become my friends were mapping out their target universities and career plans. These girls were direct. They articulated their goals with confidence and enthusiasm.

I grappled with a feeling of “doubleness”–not fully belonging to any culture. Could I build a life in America while retaining my Iranian values? Would I be deemed too self-centered by my family if I chose to work?

Looking back, I see that I longed for a mentor to help me navigate this rocky terrain. I remember casting about for role models, but none were readily available. So, I found my mentors by reading biographies of bold people who challenged the status quo. Their journeys, their stories, opened a larger framework of purposeful and meaningful possibilities for me.

Today, young women in every country are in need of mentors to spark their first visions of wider options. They need help creating personal connections with inspiring women, for support, motivation and encouragement. We need to build access to achievement.

The World Bank Group’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2016,” released in early September, studied 173 world economies and found that 90% of them had at least one law that discriminated against women, limiting their individual—and by extrapolation—their countries’ economic prospects. This is sobering news, especially coming 20 years after countries pledged to work toward gender equality at a United Nations conference in China.

Although a growing number of organizations such as Best Buddies International, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and MENTOR have formal mentoring programs and networks, the playing field remains far from level.

According to National Mentoring Partnership, 17.6 million young Americans today are in special need of mentors. Of that number, only 2.5 million are in mentoring relationships, while the remaining 15.1 million are left in a mentoring “gap.” Surveys of upper-level American managers find that almost half of women of color and close to a third of white women cite a lack of influential mentors as a major barrier to advancement.

Emerging research shows that girls’ social and emotional learning is most impacted through group mentorship. Developing more formalized links with girls’ associations and girls’ groups and enrolling young women in an afterschool peer and mentorship groups is one way of making quality mentorship scalable and available to a larger population. Those enrolled can then participate in skill-building programs, corporate visits, be introduced to women leaders in various industries and take part in internships and conferences, to pass the invisible boundaries set by narrowly conceived possibilities.

At most conferences that I attend, women leaders are usually addressing other well-established women. When do we ask young women, or disadvantaged youth to join the conversation?

Given my personal story, when I organize a salon, I provide a bus for inner city high-potential girls, who might feel like “outsiders” themselves, to attend. My colleagues and I have found that some of the most interesting questions and memorable interactions have come from this group. Many of our panelists and speakers make themselves available to offer guidance to these girls through email, a phone conversation, or one-on-one chats.

We might close the country’s mentorship gap effectively and avoid duplication of systems by bringing together public and private sector organizations and leaders across each state. Such collaborations can facilitate statewide, centralized mentoring services.

In Canada, for example, the Alberta Mentoring Partnership launched the #8000Mentors recruitment campaign in 2014. The Partnership is a coalition of government, business and community groups whose mission is to provide a mentor for every youth in care in Alberta. Certainly this campaign has brought mentorship to the forefront of priorities.

Women “lean in” in different ways, one of which is becoming a champion for other women and girls. Anyone who has had a success has had people, programs and personal experiences that bridged the gap between their present and future selves. Our young girls and women, especially those of minority and lower-income backgrounds, deserve the opportunities that mentorship can provide.

Empowering the Next Generation of Female Leaders

My husband David and I, through our Social Innovators in Residence program at Wharton, were so pleased to have had a stellar woman — Diana Ayton-Shenker come and speak. Named one of “25 Leading Women Changing the World” by Good Business New York, this social-impact strategist came to inspire the next generation with her insights. This is one of the other ways to empower female leaders and reach the next generation. I hope you will read and enjoy her article:
Big Ideas That Matter: Reframing Philanthropy in 2015

Visionary Women’s “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon

Victor Hugo once said, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” I wholeheartedly agree.

An idea, a focus, and an energy to build a community of visionary and empowered women is something that has been stirring in me for many years now.  I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of women who have broken ground in their fields – and shared a passion to know and educate others on what is it exactly that gives some that spark to create change.

For me, February 26, 2015, marks a special moment in my life. Together with the help of my talented co-founders and executive board members: Mayor Lili Bosse, Veronica Smiley, and Ambassador Nicole Avant, and committee, we launched Visionary Women into the stratosphere with the “Women at the Forefront of Technology” Salon.

Three hundred and twenty inspired women leaders and fifteen girls from Communities in Schools Los Angeles’ Ladies First program joined us for a panel discussion at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills to hear some of the top women leading technology today. Our panel lineup featured Dawn Ostroff, President of Condé Nast Entertainment (CNÉ), Pauline Fischer, Vice President, Original Content at Netflix, Julie Uhrman, Founder and CEO of OUYA and Doris Kim Sung, Founder of do| SU Studio Architecture.  Five-time Emmy Award winning journalist, Giselle Fernandez moderated the discussion and the attention from the audience was palpable.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from the day – although there were many:

“Listen to your inner voice. Trust your intuition. It’s important to have the courage to trust yourself.” - Dawn Ostroff

“Understand yourself enough to know what you are most passionate about. Don’t compromise on that because you are going to have to work hard no matter what.” – Julie Uhrman

I know that Visionary Women is an idea whose time has come, and I’m so grateful to have the support of so many friends, family and community members.

It’s an incredible feeling to be doing the work that you love with others whose heartbeat echoes your own.

I’m also grateful to our event sponsor NET-A-PORTER.COM, whose passion for empowering women mirrors our own.

Thank you to those of you who have supported me on all the twists and turns of this exciting journey.

~Angella

My Adventures in Mexico City at the WOBI Conference

Poster Art by Twitter fan @CFMEDIUM

When I had accepted to speak at the WOBI conference in Mexico City, I had no idea how hectic my life would be that week. I was gearing up for the WOMEN ARE Summit that my partner, Beth and I, have been organizing for the past year, I was due to speak in New York at another women’s conference a few days later, and to add more excitement to my life, my husband and I had accepted to host a speaker from Stanford the night before.

But truth be told, that week was one of the highlights of my work. It isn’t easy to be in constant movement, and I for one, cherish the times that I have a set schedule of uninterrupted writing.   But, what I have realized is that what I love even more than the process of writing is connecting with people.

Needless to say, at the WOBI conference I got the opportunity to connect with 2,500 top leaders and executives from Latin America. The thought of walking into a big expo center and seeing rows and rows of seats and stage twice the size of anything I have ever seen made me chuckle. How did a girl from Iran ever end up coming to the conference and have the opportunity to do interviews with Forbes, Televisa, and Martha Debayle, and do a Vogue photo shoot for their “Power Women” feature?

Besides, at the conference I had the opportunity to listen to other truly exceptional speakers such as: RED BULL’s Stratos pilot, Felix Baumgarter (who jumped from the Stratosphere in free fall, breaking the sound barrier as well as many other records), Xavier Sala-I-Martin (the Spanish economist who is a leader in the field of economic growth), Magnus Scheving (the Icelandic writer, producer, entrepreneur, and athlete who is also the creator and co-star of the children’s television show LazyTown), and Lorenzo Servitje, the founder of Bimbo Corporation (the largest Mexican owned baking company, with brands in America, Asia, and Europe).

Each of these experiences were incredibly gratifying and exciting at the same time. The saying is true: when your work is your passion, it can really be the most fun of all and my time working in Mexico was a perfect example. What I truly sensed was the warmth and hospitality of the people I met—the wholehearted way they reached out to me.

Angella Nazarian with CNN Host

 

In the few hours I had free, I was able to visit the Tomaya Museum and Carlos Sims art collection.  The only thing that was on my mind as I was leaving for the airport was, I need to come back to Mexico—and very soon.  I guess Latin blood really runs through my veins.

Danica Patrick: One Fast Woman!

Cheers to fast women! Usually people snicker when they hear the words “fast” and “women” in one sentence, but this fast woman is no joke. I saw her on CNN just this morning sharing her news with the entire world. Danica Patrick, race car driver, just won the poll position of the 55th Daytona 500 time trials, posting a lap of 196.434 mph making her the first female to do so in history. You may recognize her as the beautiful brunette from the website company GO DADDY’s advertising campaigns. If being a beautiful racecar driver, model and spokeswoman wasn’t enough now she’s making national headlines.

For those that aren’t familiar with the sport, the poll position she just won is the strategic leading position to earn on a racetrack. To start on the inside edge, first row – gives the driver a logistical advantage over all the other stock cars. Although she’ll have a starting advantage during the “Great American Race”, history shows that it doesn’t guarantee a win. No poll winner in over a decade has won the Dayton 500 – not since Dale Jarrett in 2000, said NASCAR spokesman Scott Warfield. But she will have the fans cheering for her.

Danica’s love affair with racing started early. At age 10 she began go-kart racing in 1992 in Wisconsin not far from Roscoe, Illinois where she grew up. She never looked back. Along the way, both of her parents have been supportive of her career, and today are involved in the daily operations of her businesses. A media darling, she has been acted in TV shows, been featured music videos, and commercials. Now with this new poll-win under her belt, all eyes will be watching. Regardless if she wins the Daytona 500 or not, she is a winner. Her drive, focus and passion is a lesson for us all.

[Here’s a racy picture of her — no pun intended!]

Enlightened

Before heading to the Grand Hall for my speaking engagement at Rice University, I had to make one stop! I simply could not visit the majestic Rice campus and not stand underneath James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace.  James Turell medium of art is light, and he has always said, “light itself is a form of revelation and a source of contemplation”. Of course as I watched the light show in the skyspace pavilion, I was filled with a sense of expansiveness that was indescribable.

James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany”

As lifelong learners, we also hope to experience those “light filled” moments where we gain new insight on life and people. One of the ways in which we all can play a part in transformation is by sharing what inspires us. Given my natural curiosity and my training in psychology I have always been fascinated by visionaries, who have been at the forefront of change, who have led the way to a broader way of perceiving the world.

This fascination led me to write “Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women of the World”. In the book, I offer a personal and psychological narrative of the most trailblazing women around the world.  My quest to connect and have meaningful conversations about this topic has led to a yearlong book tour, which is why I was invited to come and speak at Rice University.

It is one thing to go to an institution and talk about what I am passionate about, but it is another thing to see that an institution can so thoughtfully integrate a talk and link it to their students’ passion.  For my speaking engagement, The Center For the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality brought together 20 non-profit organizations (AssistHers, YWCA, Girls Inc., The Women’s Home to name a few) to its Grand Hall so that students could sign up to volunteer for these organizations following my talk.

If there are two messages that I can impart about my book, it would be that effective leaders 1) build a life around their strengths and 2) visionaries commit themselves to a purpose that is larger than themselves.  The idea of service is pivotal in one’s growth and transformation, and how appropriate it was for an educational institution to facilitate growth in such a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Perhaps the Turell piece that I so wanted to visit is just another symbol for what the campus does already.

Meet me at the Frankfurt Airport

It doesn’t matter that I have not been a student for two decades. Still, when summer rolls around, I feel like I have been let out of school and it is time to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunny days. No doubt, summer is also about travel and exploring new places. This past month, my travels took my family and me to Berlin, Israel, and South of France. Each country has such a different flare for living. Berlin to me is the center of what is up and coming in the art world—a young and vibrant city. Israel, on the other hand, feels ancient and spiritual. And what can I say about the sunny beaches of Cot d’ Azur—the beautiful coastline, the marvelous food, and the medieval villages are feasts for the senses.

But the most exciting part of my travel actually took place in transit—on a short layover at the Frankfurt Airport. Well, you might say, she has lost her mind! How can an airport terminal be more exciting than the list of places I had just mentioned? Comes to show you that people are the essence of what makes something truly memorable.

You see, from the time I was eleven until the age of 22, everyone thought I had a twin. Well she didn’t look like me at all. She had light brown hair and fair skin and she was half German and half Persian—A very exotic combination, don’t you think? Shirin was my dearest friend all through my growing up years. We did everything together! No one would see one without the other and when we were 13 years old, we went to a store to get our BFF charm for each other.  She was my maid of honor at my wedding as well.

Shirin happened to fall in love with a dashing guy in Germany and permanently moved there 18 years ago. She came and stayed over a couple times with her family over the years but for the last decade we lost touch. That is until this past year! We have been updating each other through facebook and once she learned that my family was traveling to Berlin she wrote, “we have to find a way to see each other.” These were my sentiments exactly!

Shirin took off work and met me during my transit at the Lufthansa gate in Frankfurt. Words cannot describe the avalanche of excitement in both of us. Laughter broke out as we both rushed to hug each other. The next hour and a half was spent over coffee, catching up with each other.  It was uncanny, it seemed like no time had gone by. We talked and laughed and cried as if we were those two eleven year old girls joined at the  hip in grade school. Only difference is that we had this illusion that everything around us is older—older kids, parents, siblings, and spouses. It is really hard to pluck yourself out of yourself to see who you are after some odd 25 years. But most definitely the core of who we are really remains the same.

Oh, by the way,  there was one other thing that was different between us. We both had premature gray hair in our twenties even. I started highlighting my hair and she started dying her hair a deeper shade. To think that I now have lighter hair than her is quite amusing! What a truly heart-warming hour we spent together, and it was so hard to say good bye.

Wishing you a sun-filled and beautiful month of July!

Strong Women of the Week

For those of you who follow my blogs, you know that I had been in NY for another book event last week. It really is one of my favorite things to do—to connect with my readers and create a dialogue about topics that have meaning to me.  I was lucky enough to plan some meetings with some exceptional women during my stay in NY.  Pat Mitchell, who is a pioneering woman in every sense, (she was the first woman to become president of PBS and she also organizes TED Women Conferences) extended an invitation for a lunch and an interview at the Payley Center. I had the distinct pleasure of watching Pat interview Nancy Pelosi. Who would have ever thought that a mother of 5 kids decides to run for office in her 40’s and later become the first female speaker of the house? Her story was really inspirational!  I did also get a chance to chat with Pat and talk about the many projects that I am working on in the coming year.

Dina Powell, the director of Global Corporate Engagement for the Goldman Sachs Group, is another dynamic woman that met with.  First of all, when you meet her, you think she should be on the cover of some magazine! She is absolutely stunning and at the same time brilliant. What a combination. Dina leaders the 10,000 women program at Goldman Sachs which helps women start up their dream business all around the globe.  As a matter of fact Dina had just come back from a trip to Delhi and was energized by all that was happening in women’s start-ups.

I guess you can see that the theme of the week was about strong women. And to cap it off, I made sure I visited Cindy Sherman’s exhibition at the MOMA, which is a must see! For years I have been following Cindy’s work, but I have to admit, I didn’t get some of her photographs. It was only last week, when you see decades of her work, side by side, that you truly grasp the evolution of this gifted artist. And speaking of gifted artists, I paid a visit to the new studio of Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari.  Shirin is indeed a good friend of Cindy’s and I am proud that we have such a prolific artist representing Iranian Women today.  Shirin was excited about her upcoming project with Natalie Portman and LVMH for Dior. Her idea for the short film is provocative and insightful. Can’t wait to see it!

With all that was happening all around me, my heart was with a dear friend in Los Angeles.  Desiree Kohan was a dear friend of mine who had been struggling to stay alive in the face of stage IV cancer for the past seven years. I knew she was not doing well, and I made frequent calls to LA to check in with her.  I came back to LA on Wednesday evening, and Thursday morning I was at her side.  It pains me to think that such a vibrant and wonderful human being is no longer with us.  I hold her deep in my heart for her courage, her relentless grace, and for the light of her soul.  These past few days have not been easy to say the least and this Sunday I will speak at her memorial. I am holding her memory close to my heart as she was a spectacular woman.