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Felice Shapiro and Meredith VieiraI had to pinch myself to the point of bruising when I realized I was about to be face to face with Meredith Vieira. I’m not talking about as a contestant on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire (I would have been the “Biggest Loser” on that anyway), and not with my nose pressed up against the window of 30 Rock peering into the TODAY Show.  I’m talking about sitting down with Meredith Vieira in the same room on her panel, as her interviewee, in the “hot seat” as her guest.  I’m still pinching myself that this actually happened.

It’s a good thing I went into this somewhat clueless. I hadn’t looked closely at the details of the day until it was upon me.  I got to “Yes” pretty early on without a lot of info about exactly what I had agreed to.   When I received an e-mail six months prior about whether I would be willing to talk about Betterafter50.com, about the launch, about the business itself, about myself–I readily agreed.  All the requirements at the time seemed doable – the topic, the timing in October, the location – NYC at the New York Palace Hotel – and the audience — I would be speaking to women business leaders, both corporate and entrepreneurs. Great! That was enough info to put it on my calendar.

However, the day of the “panel conference call” a month prior to the actual event, I got a jolt of reality. I casually clicked through to the bios of the other panelists before jumping on the call.  OMG — there must be some mistake.  Meredith Vieira would be on this call — SHE would be interviewing me in one month’s time  – WHAT?!? And one of the other panelists was Rachael Ray – REALLY?!? I re-read her bio to make sure it was really her – YUP!  Oh, and then the darling of the start-up world, Alexa Von Tobel, Founder & CEO of LearnVest.com (just thirty years old and already over $40 million of venture funds behind her genius unique personal finance platform), and Molly Ashby, Founder & CEO of Solera Capital and CEO of Annie’s (you know the macaroni and cheese we fed our kids).  Oh, and then me – Felice.  Shouldn’t I tell them they made a mistake?

Well, I made it through that call – Meredith and Rachael had their handlers on the call (I had just learned the term “handler” and I knew I didn’t have one).  We were all given the skinny on what the panel format would look like and “poof”–call over.

Next stop – NY Palace.

Morning of, I slipped into the fifth outfit I’d modeled the night before for my husband and was still unsure about my selection (not edgy enough, too conservative? Did I look like “me” – what does that mean anyway?) I was super excited/nervous about meeting Meredith and the other three panelists (and seeing what they wore).  Plus, I couldn’t wait to meet the women at this conference — the Committee of 200 https://www.c200.org.   My entire career in publishing has been focused on women and entrepreneurship – publishing to women – the parenting niche and now, mid-lifers, teaching entrepreneurship and living it…and on this day I would get to speak to and meet 300 top women leaders in business who have made their mark! Our panel was a “closed session”– not open to the press because this was to be an open “safe” dialogue for everyone in the room. Our panel’s topic was “Advancing The State of Your Empire.”  The “Empire” word had me a bit twitchy but I was already knee deep and wading.

And then I walked into the “back room” where the panel was gathering. There was Meredith in a striking royal blue suit. Smiling, warm – easy to be with. Rachael Ray was in a v-neck sweater and pants – energetic, bubbly and warm – Alexa, our 30-something, was striking in a red felt fabric that was playful and confident, and Molly, elegant and poised in a zippered long sweater jacket. (Oh yes, I picked the black pants, black suede knee high boots and the gray wool short jacket–I played it safe.) It took no time for us all to start gabbing– we talked about our dogs, our workouts, and of course – The Red Sox/Cardinals World Series. I could have done this all day.

And then we were mic’d-up and lined up, and we all filed in.  Meredith was funny – and lit up the room. And then she ran through our bios and started asking questions. I went second, and from the very first question I was in the “zone.”  “How did you start betterafter50.com after having been through such a difficult time period?”  As I told my story I felt the support of a room full of women who do what women do best – listen, relate and encourage.  There were so many powerful women in that room, yet it was not intimidating – their look was warm and welcoming – and it made it easy to talk. Meredith questioned away – I responded – It was a dream – I was having such fun. Then I listened to the other panelists tell their stories and before I knew it–it was over.

A rush of women came up to me and thanked me for sharing my story. We exchanged cards – talked about finding a time for coffee – women shared their stories with me right there – pieces of their lives.  And I realized at that very moment –this is the essence of women – the heart of what makes us tick and makes us connected and feel alive – what women do best is share their stories –and then they listen – and then they try to be supportive, helpful and compassionate and that’s why – we keep coming back for more.  And, at that moment I felt better than ever about www.betterafter50.com and what we do on-line–we share, engage, connect and inspire.  It happened that morning with Meredith and the wonderful panelists, and it happens right here every day on BA50.

Meredith Vieira, Alexa Von Tobel, Mindy Meade, Felice, Beth Bronfman, Molly Ashby

Meredith Vieira, Alexa Von Tobel, Mindy Meade, Felice, Beth Bronfman, Molly Ashby

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