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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.

When Visions Come to Life

Marina Abramovic

There are moments in life when dreams and ambitions become realities, when we are thrust from the ordinary rhythms of life into the extraordinary. These moments serve as reminders that while the work may be long and hard, the journey is worthwhile. While writing my second book on women world changers titled, Visionary Women, I started to see one of my life-long dreams manifest.

Sandra Day O’Connor

Over the last several months, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some of my all-time favorite women leaders first hand (or those in their close inner circle) to round out my research. My interview list reads like the who’s who of the last century. For someone like me – interviewing these truly great individuals is a dream come true! So far, my list of interviewees includes: Katharine Graham, news magnate of the Washington Post, Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court Justice, Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, the niece of Carmen Amaya, the world’s most famous Flamenco, Asha Kowtal, General Secretary of the National Dalit Women’s Movement, Leymah Gbowee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel laureate, the grand daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire, and newest and youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai’s partner and co-founder of the Malala Fund, Shiza Shahid.

Malala Yousafzai

My adventure continues — in the coming weeks I am flying to New York and look forward to meeting and interviewing the world famous performance artist Marina Abramovic in her studio. There is so much to glean from these amazing women, and my new book will be full of new revelations, insights, personal stories and ideas to stimulate our own growth. I look forward to sharing this incredible journey with you! So, stay tuned…


Powerhouse Women Connect at the WITW Conference

Every year I look forward to going to NY to attend the Women in the World Conference. Tina Brown packs the two and a half days at the Lincoln Center with the most compelling stories and women change makers. For someone like me, who writes, lives, and breathes these topics, it is one of the most interesting venues to attend.

I want to share with you some of the highlights from the conference:

I had a chance to meet two Syrian women (Hiba Sawan and Rania Kisar) who are activists in their war torn country. Their story of saving victims of bombing and war was incredibly touching and I had a chance to sit next to them at lunch.

Who can forget the in-depth conversation between two of the most powerful women—Hillary Rodham Clinton and Christine Lagarde. The moment where they high-fived one another was caught on camera and was in the news the very next morning. Funny enough, I ran into Christine Lagarde at the Carlyle hotel and enthusiastically went over to congratulate her on her inspiring talk. She is not only brilliant and fearless, but chic and approachable.

The list of impressive presenters continued: Lorene Powell Jobs moderated a panel on education; Jimmy Carter made a passionate case on behalf of women and girls in his new book, “A Call to Action”; the comedian, Sara Silverman and her sister, Susan, who happens to be a rabbi talked about their shared spirit of activism (by the way, Susan is as funny as Sara); the list went on.

Of course, one of the highlights was listening to the experiences of Masha Alekhina and Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot. To think that for months we were following their trial and tribulations in Russia and they were onstage talking about their new NGO, Zona Pravda.

I came back to LA brimming with ideas and thinking about the women who I would like to write about in my next book. Stay tuned: I will have a surprise story of a brave-hearted “untouchable” woman that I want to showcase in the near future.