Girl Powered: My Five Career A-Ha! Moments From SXSW

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Those freakin’ Girl Scouts. They know just how to get you. And no, I’m not talking about Thin Mints. I am maybe one of the biggest girl’s girls you’ll ever find. I live for uplifting other women, and forming sisterly bonds is a sacred act to me. I had the kind of 48 hours this past weekend that left me breathless and gave me five A-Ha! moments I know I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. Since you were all there with me in spirit, I knew that this week’s WANT post needed to bring that back around so it could maybe change your life, too.

I thought I was going just to speak on a panel. A panel with five other powerhouses, at the place for all biz-minded girl’s girls, the Ipsos Girls’ Lounge at SXSW.

Instead, I went and got my life changed for the better -- on and off mic.

Here were my five biggest career A-Ha! moments of the weekend -- plus one extra for good luck:

1)True success is inclusive. The thing that blew me away most about everyone at The Girls Lounge was how open and down-to-earth they were. It was truly like talking to close girlfriends, aunts, cousins, sisters, etc. The breadth of success in the room every single day was nuts -- we’re talking major VCs, CEOs, CMOs, experts in their field -- it was like a real-life love-child of one of those 100-most-influential-women-in-business lists and one of those 30-under-30-up-and-coming-entrepreneurs lists.

And yet there was no ego or hierarchy. I realized that success doesn’t put you above anyone else. It allows you to connect with others on a very deep level. When you’re not trying to prove your worth or status, it’s really attractive to others – and, moreover, it fuels your own self-respect. No matter where you are in your career, if you’re inclusive and not exclusive, you’re already succeeding … even if you don’t realize it yet.

2) Forget networking -- focus on friend netting. I spent almost all of my time at The Girls Lounge because the women I was meeting were people I was bonding with on a very real level -- about things that barely had to do with business. Like really does attract like.

I’ve got to be honest: I don’t attend a lot of typical “networking” events. No, I don’t stay home and play Friends roulette** with a bowl of kettle corn in my lap (at least not every night), but my time and freedom are two of my most valuable assets. And it’s because most of the time, I don’t feel like my time is best spent faking-it-till-I-make-it on a purely superficial level. It reminds me of the times I would want to get “in” with the popular girls at school, but they ditched me once they found out I was, you know, human.

My boyfriend Jeremy is my same personality type and is a whiz at what I used to think of as networking. One day I commented, “You’re a genius at this! How do you work this magic of yours?” And that’s when he introduced me to the world of friend netting: viewing “business”-related conferences and events as a place to discover new friendships. Instead of focusing on talking to the “right” people or “enough” people, friend netting is about having those one or two really authentic conversations with people you feel like you’d actually hang out with in real life. Because, surprise -- good people like to do business with other good people, not with their good business cards or resumes.

3) Its okay to stay in and recharge -- even if everyone else is out and about. SXSW is kind of like that week before you start college and all the events, organizations and parties are happing simultaneously and at full force. Imagine that, but bigger. Much, much bigger. There are panels, conferences, workshops, concerts, screenings, happy hours, dinners and things I don’t even know how to start to describe going on until, like 3 a.m.

When you find yourself in situations like this, when seemingly everyone is socializing and there seemingly is opportunity everywhere, it’s so easy to pressure yourself into running around like a banshee (banshees that run) to attend every single point of interest and meet as many people as possible. I’ve fallen into that trap before and was determined not to let it get the best of me this time around. Turns out, staying in, reflecting, and getting a full nine hours of sleep made it possible for me to bring my A-plus game to every interaction I had over the weekend.

When you take the best care of yourself for you, you can be your best self for others. Everyone is different; the trick is being honest with what kind of self-care you need to bring your game-face to the world. You will meet who you are supposed to meet and be where you’re supposed to be.

Net-net, there’s nothing wrong with spending the night with a Whole Foods salad bar box on your bed and a Kevin James movie marathon on TV.

4) Authenticity is work-life balance. The very first question Amanda asked all of us was, “What is the one quality that makes you your most authentic self?” A deceptively tough question. What is it that makes Katie Katie no matter where she goes or what she does? What is my personality’s through line?

My most authentic quality is that my soul is 72 but my spirit is 7. My authentic self is unbridled, deep-reaching enthusiasm. I’m playful on the outside, soulful on the inside. Young in my heart but old in my blood.

I’ve been told in many instances I “need” to tone down my enthusiasm or play it cool -- but by navigating those instances and tapping into the nuances of why I’m the way I am, I’ve developed a life I love that feels balanced to me, at least at this point in time. I say yes to where I can be me and no to where I absolutely can’t.

Some people might define work-life balance by the external things: working a job and being a mom, having time for hobbies and taking care of your health, stuff like that. But what I realized this weekend is that no matter what your external looks like, if you’re acting from your authentic self at all times, your own personalized version of work-life balance will fall into place.

5)Share and share alike -- success isn’t built on being stingy. The mastermind behind this entire shindig? Shelley Zalis -- one of the most well respected women in business today. I got to bond with women I’ve admired for ages, meet new sources of inspiration and friend-net all kinds of new, genuine friends. No matter how incredibly successful these women were, they were all open about their process, at the ready with advice, and took others’ words of wisdom to heart. Everyone had something to teach, and everyone had something to learn. The more externally “successful” the person, the more of an open book they were.

Of course, we all have a threshold and I’m not in any way advocating being without boundaries. The main point is: Success is built on collaborative generosity. We are all so uniquely different, and if we can help lift each other up, then that’s when we can make real change. As Shelley said on one of the panels: “If we’re all the same, then why does there need to be so many of us?” We can all fight for a collective cause, yet it’s the nuances we bring to the table that are actually going to change the world.

Oh, and the Girl Scouts? Well, at the very end of our panel, a troop of Austin Girl Scouts hung around to chat. Out of the blue, one of them stopped me on my way out and exclaimed, “Ok, I just gotta say -- you are, like, really beautiful! Really, really beautiful.”

Besides my heart melting right onto the floor (hello, emotional puddle of love), what struck me was how eager she was to compliment me. If she’s instinctively uplifting others at fourteen years old -- imagine what she’ll be doing once she’s twenty. Or thirty. That, to me, was the biggest A-Ha! of them all: That change is happening right here, right now. The more we give, the more we get.

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