While I’m a native Austinite, I’ve never officially been to SXSW. Sure, I live and work downtown, and therefore typically get caught in the hustle of increased traffic, daily parties, and free food. But I’ve never actually had a badge. So today, as I walked over to the Austin Convention Center for a series of sessions, I basically had no idea what I was doing. That became extremely clear very quickly.

 

I had big plans to attend Maria Shriver’s featured session—a panel about women and Alzheimer’s. I made sure to get online the day before the session to grab an SXXPress pass, reserving my spot at the front of the line. I arrived early and ended up being seated in the center of the second row. I had an amazing vantage point—I was totally going to make eye contact with Maria. The lights dimmed and a blonde woman with a nice accent come on stage. Was she there to introduce the panel? No. She was there to give a keynote. This was her stage, and I was in the wrong room.

 

Let me pause here to say that this instance pretty much sums up my entire personality. I do my research, I come prepared, I arrive early—but to the wrong location. But sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself and go with the flow, knowing that nothing is a mistake and that you are where you are in the moment and that you are there for a reason. I told myself this as I was locked in my chair, unable to leave out of fear of being disrespectful to the speaker, who turned out to be Esther Perel, famed psychotherapist and expert on human relationships.

 

It’s true that you end up exactly where you need to be, regardless of how much you meant to be in the room across the hall. I stuck it out with Esther and was able to gracefully excuse myself halfway through during transition to the Q&A session. I jumped into the room down the hall just in time for the Q&A portion of the Maria Shriver panel. She made eye contact with me as I slid, half an hour late, into the third row. Oops.

 

While I won’t be reporting my “top 3 takeaways” from each session (feel free to gather your own takeaways as SXSW streams nearly each session), I will share with you something far more interesting. You may not think that a keynote address on relationships in the workplace would have much of anything to do with a panel discussion around women and Alzheimer’s disease, but that’s where you are wrong. The underlying themes of self-care and empathy played a huge role in both of these sessions.

 

Obviously, I did not mean to attend two sessions during the same time block. But boy am I glad I did. This was an incredible reminder that so many learnings are universal. Taking care of yourself first and practicing empathy toward others can make a world of difference in nearly any situation. During my time in each room, I scribbled down a few notes, not realizing they would complement each other so much. Have a look at some of what I jotted down below, and think about how these might apply in your own life. I know these two broad themes are something I will be chewing on for days to come.

Esther Perel:

  • We take the best of us to work and the rest of us home.
  • Empathy goes a long way.
  • If you want to change someone, start by changing yourself.

 

 

 

Alzheimer’s Panel Discussion (Ashley Ford, Maria Shriver, Alexandra Socha and Farida Sohrabji):

  • When I stopped correcting my father and instead joined him, everything changed.
  • You always need patience and support.
  • You can’t give the best version of you when you are not the best version of you.