What inspires successful women?

It’s always nice watching successful people on stage. You get to sit back, relax and wallow in their glory as if it were your own, laugh knowingly at anecdotes and congratulate yourself on being impressive enough to be in such a select audience. 

But last night’s WACL gathering of suitably impressive women (more MBEs and CBEs in one place than anyone can cope with – I can barely manage my ABC) was actually more about us than about them. Through life stories intertwined with tips on where to find inspiration and how to follow your passion, we were asked to consider an uncomfortable question: are we doing what we love?

Merry Baskin, chair, kicked things off by asking us to take a deep breath, push our shoulders back and stick our, er, assets out, doing nothing to assuage the male fantasy of the sort of thing that goes on at these women-only events. I believe there was a point to this exercise, but I’ve forgotten it.

Camilla Batmanghelidjh, CBE, the vibrant founder of Kids Company, campaigned for the crucible of LOVE and EFFECTIVENESS as the ultimate recipe for success. Audiences, when presented with someone who has dedicated her life to making other people’s lives better, never know quite what to feel – a simultaneous guilt and respect manifesting in seat-shuffling and plenty of applause.

Cilla Snowball, CBE (and AMV frontman) proclaimed her inspiration as her love for work and family – kind of essential, since, from the sound of things, she doesn’t have much time for anything else – and the joy of developing other people.

Jo Kenrick, an ex-RAF fighter pilot (what was I saying about being suitably impressive?) reeled off a list of to-the-point pointers, two of which particularly resonated: ‘It’s ok to change your mind’, and ‘avoid performance management programmes’. Why? They make you miserable. Focus on what you’re good at, instead.

And Annabel Karmel, MBE, spoke about overcoming trauma and how necessity (and opportunism) were the mother of invention for her baby nutrition business.

Part executive inspiration, part group therapy, my first WACL Gathering left me slightly more convinced about my own direction, relieved that it’s ok to learn what you love, and accepting of the fact that misery may be part of the journey, but, as pat as it sounds, doing what you love truly is what makes the journey worthwhile.

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