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We run like Olympic sprinters from the plush black buses into the Ann Taylor store in Rockefeller Center, still abuzz after the previous evening’s invigorating night of shopping and pizza. Our feet, 100 strong, descend the stairs and we are greeted by the sight of an elaborate breakfast. The energy of the room increases ten-fold as we notice the gift bags located under our seats. Then, the panelists arrive and the day begins in earnest.

This second full day of the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum has been beyond extraordinary. The morning commenced with a panel of inspiring women with impressive media backgrounds. Although they all shared interesting and compelling stories, I was particularly intrigued by Casey Lewis, the co-founder of the CloverLetter, an online journalism platform and newsletter for girls. I’ve been a loyal reader of Clover since its debut and dreamed of writing for them. As an aspiring journalist, it was a thrill to meet and speak with an innovator and entrepreneur in the journalism space. Casey and the other panelists reminded us to trust ourselves and our abilities, but to be open to feedback and advice as we continue on our journeys. 

The morning became even more exciting when we returned to the Summit Room at the ANN INC. offices and had the opportunity to participate in incredible discussions with Kay Krill, the former CEO of ANN INC., and Anne Fulenwider, the Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire magazine. Although Kay’s success as a female executive proved highly motivational, given Anne’s journalistic focus and rise from editor of her high school paper to editor of a top fashion magazine, I was thrilled to hear from her. She reminded us to shed our doubts because they will only hold us back, and encouraged us to take risks and pursue new endeavors. She said that opportunities arise at unpredictable times and you have to be ready to take bold leaps to benefit from them. This was a consistent theme from speakers throughout the day. They encouraged us to push the limits of our comfort zones and embrace failure. As a perfectionist, typically fearful about any form of failure, this advice encourages me to reconsider some of my own priorities and challenge my preconceptions of success.

We also heard from Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, an organization that aims to close the gender gap in technology and engineering by teaching girls to code. Given her background in law and politics, Reshma is living proof that someone can excel in both the humanities and STEM. Her story transformed and empowered me. I’ve all-but-abandoned my attitude that I can’t conquer math and I’m now open to possibilities in the world of STEM. Her motto resonated with me, “Embrace not being excellent.”

In the afternoon, we had a second work session with Kathleen Friery, this time focusing on honing our projects into a 30-second elevator pitch. She reminded us to be concise and provoke emotion. I later had the opportunity to give her my pitch and receive feedback on my idea. Given her background in television and media training and the journalistic focus of my project, I felt incredibly grateful to be able to get the advice and counsel of someone who truly understands and believes in my project. She helped me think of ways to explain my concept more clearly, use emotion more effectively, connect my work to the work of the other girls at the conference, and take my proposal to new heights.

Overall, the day emboldened me and galvanized my commitment to pursue and grow my idea. The experiences and advice of the mentors demonstrated to me that I need to follow my heart, focusing on activities that give me joy. Motivated by the female journalists and executives, it’s clear to me that I want my project to be centered around journalism – that’s the force that has shaped my life and I want to use it to help those around me.

After an evening that included attending a Broadway play, we returned to the hotel we now call “home.” Though tired after a long day, we chattered happily, our conversations reflecting the energy that emanates from the streets of New York. Our glee after a day of revelations and fun tinged with a note of sadness as we realize the Forum ends tomorrow morning. Still, we all know that the doors opened over the last few days will change our lives forever. Thank you ANNpower!