The topics presented at the conference were rather moving. The very same topics such as diversity, inequality, disability, privilege, etc. often come up in my scholarly conversations in America, although I find it always extremely valuable to take a look at such matters cross-culturally. It is rather amazing to compare these topics from country to country, and although there are several differences, the origin of the issue in each place remains very much the same.
Last semester I enrolled in a 'Women in Leadership' course, which very much transformed and opened my eyes to several injustices I fall victim to as a women, but was not entirely aware of at the time. We read out of several texts in this class, but one that particularly stood out was "Sex and World Peace', written by Valerie. M. Hudson, which very well brought to light the inequalities women face across the globe. I mention this reading and course I completed because as a young, woman both sources have placed a significant role in bringing forth the concerns discussed at The Power of a Woman conference.
The conference was incredibly inspiring to see how Diann's humble efforts brought together so many strong, intelligent and vulnerable women. Vulnerability - one of those 'key terms' that often targets women, as if it is frowned upon that we are willing to openly share our emotions and our stories without feeling like we are failing the expectations society sets out for us. What I mean by this is that although men certainly have the capability to be vulnerable, it often seems to be drowned by the normative societal effects which masculinity brings.
I had quite a few revelations throughout the entirety of the conference; one being how honoured I was to be amongst a group of women whom shared very similar outlooks as I do, an opportunity which doesn't necessarily come about every day. Hearing about hardships, frustrations and compassion to change only inspired me more to continue my initiative for change in the area of leadership and gender inequalities. Another quite significant – and reoccurring – revelation I had was concerning finding my voice.
To share a bit of my own story, I am the youngest of three sisters, raised in a rather comfortable upbringing in the Northwest of the United States. The town I was raised in, in which my family has resided for nearly four generations, although adventurous, welcoming and very much a ‘safe haven’ never provided me with a whole lot of exposure to diversity. As the youngest sibling, I looked to my older sisters as examples; not necessarily to be like (I have always taken pride in my authenticity) but certainly to measure up to. My parents were quite supportive in all of my endeavours and never forced me into anything that wasn’t my choice, but somehow I began to fall into a cycle of perfectionism. This “addictive behaviour”, I will call it, lead me to eating disorders, lack of socialization, several leadership positions, and a beyond exceptional grade point average when I graduated high school. I will say it wasn’t until I reached college when I finally began to question my predispositions, my perfectionism and my standards to do the very best at all times, which had only ever been initiated by me. In regards to my self-image, intelligence, social skills – you name it – I created this ‘illusion’ that I could not present myself as too confident, for with my blonde hair, blue eyes, great academic and athletic skills, I did not want to be perceived as an intimidating, pompous, over-achieving girl. This ‘illusion’ I created completely on my own drowned my self-confidence, due to the fact that I am a people-pleaser, as most women tend to be. Yet, deep down inside I knew I was worthy of very meaningful endeavours. Long story short, after unravelling about eight years of suppressed thoughts, I am finally trying to find my voice and use it – and let me tell you, it is not easy, but it is 100% doable.
I have created the mission statement below, in an effort to further find my voice, remain true to my values and commit myself to the practice of leadership:
I will offer my knowledge to this world, in order to create opportunities and connections with others. I will first seek to understand, for understanding is the key to finding value, and value is the basis for respect, decisions, and actions. The purpose of my life journey is to make an impact on each and every individual that I meet. In order to pursue these aspirations I must do the following: connect, inspire, lead and desire. I must excel in making GLOBAL feel LOCAL. I will unify this world, for no human deserves to exist in isolation.
I believe when we are talking about anything, we must be inclusive in our conversations. I will use feminism as an example. I strongly align with Emma Watson’s words that “we must include men in the conversation as well.” Feminism is often misunderstood due to its linguistic predisposition. Feminism is humanism, and I believe it will take collaborative efforts in order to conform the denotation of this term.
At this point in my life, I am still tracing my story – as are we all, eh? An idea I very much parallel with, stated by the owner of Tom’s shoes, Blake Mycoskie, is “When you go back to your core motivations, you affirm your authenticity. When you discover what passion is, you will have found your story as well." In order to achieve happiness and ultimately, 'my story', I wish to live freely, without attachment, greed or wanting for more. I wish to find a sense of fulfillment, a sense of empowerment, which I am able to transcend into others.
Although this piece has turned in to a bit more of a 'self-confession” than a ‘conference reflection’, I believe it very well represents the impact women and individuals whom empower change can have on the younger generation. Diann, thank you for opening your arms to me and welcoming me into the promising world of opportunity through leadership.
"Courtney Windju is currently completing her Bachelor's in Behavioural Neuroscience with a minor in Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego in San Diego, California, USA. Over the past few years of her undergraduate degree, Courtney has placed a strong emphasis on interacting in leadership initiatives in and around her University. Whether it be taking up leadership positions in clubs and organizations on her campus, assisting in leadership endeavours overseas, or volunteering her time to empower all individuals to reach their fullest potential, Courtney clearly takes great pride and passion in this field of study.
Whilst having the opportunity to travel to 5 continents in her undergraduate career, Courtney has also combined her passion for leadership with travelling. She wishes to pursue a Masters in Leadership Studies, as well as a PhD, in order to further share her knowledge and love for leadership with others. She one day sees herself as a Professor in Leadership studies and would like to pursue her interest in writing and travelling as well. Over the years, she has learned putting forth good into this world will, more often than not, produce positive results thus that is what she persists in doing."