The New Women’s Empowerment
April 9, 2013
I have attended other female-friendly events in my life (including over 50 Michael Bublé concerts), but never have I seen in one room so much shiny groomed hair, straight and tidy as chainmail. The overwhelming majority of attendees at this motivational seminar-women between 25 and 35-are white, conservatively dressed, slim, pert as daisies, and seated with the kind of posture your mother could only pray for. They look like a younger version of an Oprah crowd, except they're not in Chicago, they're here in Vancouver under the soft ambience of twinkly chandeliers in this otherwise nondescript ballroom of the Freemasons' Grand Lodge Hall on West Eighth Avenue.
Like moths drawn to light, we'd entered the foyer, greeted there by smiling women handing out copies of Gabrielle Bernstein's May Cause Miracles. It is, we learn once upstairs and seated in front of Bernstein herself, No. 5 on the New York Times bestsellers list. We accept this overtly generous gesture with characteristic Vancouver poker face, but inwardly we all had to be thinking the same thing: the book ($27) has paid for half the ticket price.
Through the power of the internet, 400 of us snapped up every ticket so we could hear Bernstein and Danielle LaPorte, two of North America's most popular female speakers, authors, bloggers, and all-around winning personalities in the personal development movement. Manhattanite Bernstein, 33 and tiny as a wood nymph, is an author several times over, entrepreneur, certified Kundalini yoga teacher, lecturer, and life coach with a hugely popular mentoring website called HerFuture.com. She is also a former nightclub promoter who once had a drug and alcohol problem, which she refers to throughout the two-and-a-half-hour talk she shares with LaPorte, 43-the superstar we're all here for, best known for her Amazon top seller, The Fire Starter Sessions.
We start with a relaxation exercise, which requires us to close our eyes, breathe deeply, and feel the gratitude. "Your life is a reflection of your internal conditions," says Bernstein. When you change your thoughts, you change your life. The little shifts in thinking add up to miracles.
"What can you do on a daily basis to feel joy?" asks LaPorte, tagging in. She walks as she talks, makes eye contact with the crowd. Don't ask what you want to do, she tells us. Ask how you want to feel. "Your feelings are indicators of how in sync you are with your true nature."
These two don't balk at materialism. They know that every girl deserves those shoes at that sample sale or that Dead Sea mud facial. We are nourished by good karma, but we can have the Kate Spade purse, too. The older generation were taught to put themselves last, but money is a symbol of celebration for this crew. There's a reason the New York Times called Bernstein "a new role model for New York's former Carrie Bradshaws." With her long wavy blond hair, tiny Coke bottle physique, and occasional propensity to curse like a trucker, she's a likable, slightly wrong Barbie. In minutes, the audience is smitten.
"This stuff does not happen in Britain," says Fiona Pook, 32, an exhibit designer and first-time attendee. Like probably everyone there, she follows LaPorte online. "I looked into that room and it was bursting at the seams with people obviously looking for something," she says. "Maybe I didn't feel these pressures in my 20s because I was a bit more happy-go-lucky, and now in my 30s I do want a nice house, bank account, and relationship. That is something that doesn't really settle into your consciousness in your 20s."
LaPorte and her ilk understand what it is to be in your 20s-or 30s, or 40s-and freaking out, comparing yourself to the girl on Facebook who posts self-aggrandizing photos, wondering if you'll ever meet your soulmate or have children, or flagellating yourself because your startup is languishing. They get it because they've been there. But now they are unabashed entrepreneurs on a mission, gleaning lessons from as far back as Aristotle and as recent as Eckhart Tolle, and adding their own modern-girl spice to the mix, without any creepy cult factor.
They themselves are the brand, which means authenticity is key. So we happily drink their cool Zen cocktail, share a few laughs, maybe shed a tear-and come away with a free book. Social media is the game-changer. Their websites are things of beauty designed to keep you coming back. They know that multimedia content marketing is the way, and they ingeniously give up a lot of free information knowing that they needn't resort to insulting shtick to get us hooked. A large part of their daily work is the insightful tweet, video interview, Pinterest pin, or reflective blog post. Most of them teach e-courses or seminars.
"I hang out with really successful authors and public speakers, and everybody has a story about being in the middle of a divorce and having to go onstage, and being riddled with self-doubt," says LaPorte, over peppermint tea in a Commercial Drive coffee shop near her home. "I think self-doubt is defining." She's wrapped in a thick woollen sweater that accentuates her green eyes. In her sultry soft voice, she says that since age six, she has felt that she had something to say. Raised in the town of Woodslee, Ontario, by young parents who'd let her hang out at their parties, she had a happy childhood, free of trauma. As an adult, without bothering with a university education, she just went for it, first as a bartender, then working her way up to an executive position at the Body Shop.
Her career morphed into a series of jobs around North America, in places like Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she worked for an "awesome guru chick" and then Washington, D.C., where she joined one of those famously wonky nonprofit think tanks. "We were writing scenarios about water wars and Y2K meltdowns for the Pentagon-totally weird. People would ask me what my alma mater was, and I didn't even know what that meant. And so they thought ‘If she didn't go to university, then she has something extra, extra going on.' "
By 2008, LaPorte was in Vancouver, starting over again after her own lifestyle media company imploded, a four-year-old in tow. As any good pupil of hers knows, failure is an opportunity. And so the Fire Starter group sessions were born, in 16 cities throughout North America. "I would go wherever anybody would have me. I had to make some money. ‘You want me to come to Minnesota? Talk to a living room full of chicks? Sure.' Charged 'em $100. I was there for three hours. I never knew where I was going. One time, I was in Minneapolis, waiting for my host to pick me up, and I thought ‘She could be a crazy cat lady.' I had no idea."
Soon enough, she was commanding $1,000 an hour for private coaching sessions and had a six-month waiting list. But she wasn't feeling it, so she wrote The Fire Starter Sessions after receiving a $250,000 advance, according to Forbes. Her blog has attracted a million views, she has around 70,000 subscribers (about 70 percent of them female), and she made another quarter-million in launch-date sales for her most recent, self-published book, The Desire Map, which is part of a multimedia online course. She is also starting a magazine.
Inside the Masonic hall during the Q&A, a woman asks the speakers to give her teenage daughter advice. LaPorte and Bernstein invite the girl to stand up. "My mom would drive me to things like this every day," says Bernstein, congratulating the mother for bringing her. Then she gives the daughter an impassioned speech and instructs her, "Step into your power. Show up in the world." The room bursts into applause-for Bernstein, for LaPorte, for the teenage girl and her mom. Isn't this really what everybody needs? Aren't we all wanting to get a little jacked-up about the hand we've been dealt?
"I think people are waking up," LaPorte tells me. "People are hungry. I think we always need guidance, and I think we are always really lost. You just need it at different times in your life, about different things.
"There are things I feel totally lost about," she adds. "But I'm feeling less and less lost.