Last week I was very blessed to see and meet and even hang out with some of my heroes at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. Among them are Arianna Huffington, Victoria Pynchon, Barbara Bradley, Alison Monahan, Judy Young and of course SPU’s own Susan Cartier Liebel. These women are icons in the business and legal worlds and I have long admired each of them.
I know – they say you should never meet your heroes because up close they won’t live up to your perception of them from further away. I have to respectfully disagree. My heroes more than lived up to my expectations.
The word “hero” comes from Greek mythology, where heroes were demigods that were worshipped by cult-like followers. In modern times, it has come to refer to people who are worshipped for sacrifice for the greater good or, lately, for mere celebrity. My heroes are women who have pioneered change in the worlds of business and law. They are women who changed the game, women I aspire to be more like.
While I was not lucky enough to be introduced, I loved seeing Arianna Huffington live. She was as funny, smart and witty in person as she is on The Huffington Post. More than that, she was real. She talked about failures and successes, about the need to get some sleep, about setting goals that matter to you and make you happy instead of living up to society’s traditional ideas of what it means to be a success. And she was not flawless – beautiful, yes, and ageless, but she has curves and the occasional line on her face. She was inspiring and refreshing and I still want to be like her when I grow up.
Another speaker who inspired me was Barbara Bradley. She was surprisingly down-to-earth for a style icon. While I’ve never been a huge fan of the Vera Bradley products, I certainly respect it as a business. To hear her talk about how two housewives started a $550 million dollar company with $250 a piece that they borrowed from their husbands was astonishing. And all because their Land’s End bags left them uninspired. She left the audience feeling that if she could do it, so could they.
And then there are my legal heroes. I got to hear Victoria Pynchon talk about the art of negotiation, and I got to have dinner with Alison, Judy and Susan. WOW. I felt downright giddy.
Victoria Pynchon was amazeballs. There is just no other word. She was funny and brilliant and communicated to a bunch of women about why we, as women, fail to negotiate for what we are actually worth and for what we really want. She was in person exactly what I would have expected after reading her articles for years. I must have taken four pages of notes. I waited in line to meet her after the seminar, but she got whisked away to do a book signing. Still, she took her time with everyone who came up to speak to her before the aforementioned whisking, dispensing wisdom like it was candy. So yeah – still one of my heroes.
Judy is, of course, The Pennsylvania winery and hospitality lawyer. I have been blessed to speak with her by phone a couple of times, and we formed a mutual admiration society. She has become someone that I can call and ask a question of if I need guidance, and I am always flattered when she reciprocates. Someone whose career I followed in the BigLaw days – someone whom I admired and respected from afar – and I have her phone number? Crazy. In person, Judy is even better – funny, personable, gracious and savvy. She has gone from being one of my heroes to being a friend (but still a hero!).
Alison, the founder of The Girl’s Guide to Law School, is another legal rock star whose career I followed from afar. How I wish that Girl’s Guide had been around when I was in law school and studying for the bar exam! The amazing thing is that, as cool as she seems online, she is even cooler in person. Down-to-earth, genuine and so intelligent, she even met me and my friends for dinner at a Philadelphia pub after the conference.
But of course, the highlight for me was meeting Susan. We have had a working relationship for some time, but she has never lost “hero” status to me. Everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing with my career, Susan has done and then some. I remember asking, hat in hand, in 2010 if Susan would mind writing an article for my local bar’s monthly magazine. When Susan called me to talk about that article, I was beside myself. And we clicked! Susan is still a legal celebrity in my eyes. Meeting her in person- seeing that beautiful, confident woman smile and reach to give me a hug just made my year. She is every bit as fabulous as you think she would be. Sharp as a tack, focused and brilliant.
Meeting these six women (or at least getting to see three of them up close) did nothing to take the shine off of the proverbial apple. Their accomplishments still speak for themselves. The hallmark of each of them was that they were each so very human, each still a work in progress. They are far from done accomplishing great things. And they are not so full of themselves that they don’t have time for those of us who aspire to go where they have blazed a few trails. Indeed – they were all very generous with their time and themselves, and they make you realize we all have it in us to do wonderful things.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.