How I'm Skirting the Rules

I’m Helping Women Learn We Don’t Need to Play by the Rules We’ve Played By All Our Lives

Michelle Patterson, Founder of Women Network, believes the key to feminine success is creating a collective body of women to support and empower one another. She teaches us that by being transparent and asking for help, we can reach our goals much faster.

After 15 years in corporate America, Michelle Patterson made a professional pivot and embraced her “inner connector” by becoming CEO of the California Women’s Conference. Its the largest, longest-running conference for women in the world, created to unite women and give them all the tools they need to succeed. This career move also included heading the Women Network, a 100-million women strong community designed to support the ongoing conversations sparked by the event. Now a celebrated speaker, Michelle has taken the stage at the United Nations and is a regular media commentator for The Huffington Post, CNBC and hundreds of other television and radio companies. As with almost every success story, she has had to overcome some significant challenges along the way, including raising more than $1.8 million in less than a month to keep the event afloat in her first year, a period she calls the “17 glorious days.” To balance her career with her role as mother to two teens and make sure she’s maintaining her commitments to all her priorities, Michelle swears by the “Five to Thrive,” which calls you to create a best-life blueprint based on a combination of life areas including physical, community, social, career, and financial. Learn how Michelle leads by example and knows when to ask for the help to achieve her purpose.

I’m Skirting the Rules by going at things candidly and asking for help. I think a lot of times people come in and say, “I’ve got it all figured out.” We often think we have to know all the answers and we don’t practice self-love. We doubt ourselves and we’re so quick to beat ourselves up. I’m about separating through the noise and asking how we can support one another and work collectively to quickly get to the heart of what the goal is. I’m able to say, “Okay, this is what we need and this is where we have to go,” rather than coming at it with a façade.

A time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) was during the “17 glorious days.” We had a more than $1 million deficit 17 days before the California Women’s Conference the first year that I took it over. And everybody from investors to my dad was saying “When are you going to get a real job?” But I just knew down in my core that I had to do this. And thank goodness that I stayed on track: We raised 1.65 million in those 17 days.

During that time, I definitely had fear. It’s part of being human. One of the best ways to get over fear is to go into action mode. I was literally making calls to everyone I’d ever met from seven in the morning to 10 at night. I didn’t give myself enough time to be afraid. It’s really when your passion and your purpose are in alignment that you’re able to override your fear.

An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when I stuck to my best-life blueprint. I had missed stuff with my kids because of my career—soccer games, recitals. So five years ago I sat down and asked, “What personally makes my heart sing?What is it that’s important to me?” I wrote all this out. One key thing was that I wasn’t going to miss important dates like my kids’ 16th birthdays. But when push comes to shove, you have to be willing to hold yourself personally accountable to your values.

Fast forward six months and I get my dream call from the United Nations asking me to be a speaker for my about-to-be-released book, Women Change the World. Then they told me the date was February 26, which just happens to be my daughter’s 16th birthday.  I had to tell them I couldn’t go. Two days later I got another phone call and they said, “Michelle, bring her with you.” So that’s what we did.

My daughter and I ended up having this amazing experience in New York. My daughter was sitting in the second row at the UN, and I opened with the story of my daughter’s 16th birthday and said, “I want to thank the UN, because I didn’t have to opt out. I didn’t have to make a decision between being a mom and pursuing my career.” Then this woman in the audience stands up and starts singing “Happy Birthday” to my daughter at the top of her lungs. And the entire UN joins in. There’s not a dry eye in the place. Then the Ambassador stands up and says, “In my 30 years of being here I’ve never heard someone sing “Happy Birthday” at the UN. This is why we need women involved, because they create moments.”

Had I not been true to my values and what I wanted for my family, I would have missed her 16th birthday—and my daughter wouldn’t have been with me at the UN. We wouldn’t have had that life-changing experience. As women, we’ve got that feminine trait deep down in our core and we know. But what happens is we don’t trust it. We don’t trust our intuition and we think we’re going to find the answer from somebody else. What that experience did is built up my confidence for trusting my inner knowing and going for it.

My secret talent is I’m able to quickly identify people’s gifts. I meet people and I can see it sometimes before they can see it.

I believe my most powerful feminine strengths that helped me get ahead are—I hate choosing! My feminine trait is my strength and my weakness all rolled into one. So the strength is that we’re great collaborators. We are naturally gifted at creating community and going in and bringing people together. And the negative is that overwhelming sense of wanting be liked. We constantly ask, “Am I enough? Am I doing enough?”

What I wish I had told my myself when I was starting out is to remember that the mission is far greater than any one of us. I once put on an event for over 25,000 people—it was spectacular. Out of 25,000, one person complained and it really bothered me. My husband looked at me and said, “Michelle, seriously? You’re always going to have somebody who is going to say you should have done it this way or gone this route. You’re never going to be able to please 100 percent of people.” It was a wake-up call for me. I thought, “You’re not able to help a significant group because you get distracted by the one squeaky wheel that you think defines you.” It’s really about staying true to your mission and not letting your ego get in the way.

My favorite skirt (a.k.a a life hack or life rule) is that I made a place in my house that’s my own little retreat on my balcony and I have candles and a couch. Family members can get invited, but it’s my safe haven. I go there and I meditate, I play fun music, I plan. It’s outdoors—I love being outdoors. I recommend this for everyone because it’s a way to practice self-love and carve out something special just for you.