By: Mary Fran Bontempo

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MP900386060Last Friday, I joined 7000 of my closest female friends at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, celebrating its tenth year of inspiration and education at the Convention Center in Center City Philadelphia.

That’s a lot of estrogen.

The conference, a day long event originally initiated by former Governor Ed Rendell, features an amazing array of high-powered women offering insights and perspective on a wide variety of topics. This year, keynote speakers included TV celebrity judge (and very cool lady) Glenda Hatchett, game-changing Strawberry Mansion High School principal, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, and…wait for it…former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton.

Talk about star power. Politics aside, Albright and Clinton are arguably two of the most influential women in the world, and with good reason. As I sat listening to both women discuss their incredible lives, detailing their world travels and experiences with world leaders and people from other cultures, I was truly moved by their achievements. These are impressive, courageous ladies.

In fact, the entire roster of speakers was impressive, which could lead one to feel a bit, well, underwhelmed, when holding up one’s own life for comparison. Not that that happened to me. Well, okay, it did happen to me.

When faced with the magnitude of the accomplishments of great women, it’s easy to feel your life doesn’t measure up. Especially when your major triumph for the day was finding your way to and from the event without getting lost.

I am cursed with intense travel anxiety. No matter where I’m going, even if it’s to the grocery store to pick up milk, I worry about the whole getting there and getting home thing. Is the car going to start? Will I have enough gas? Where am I going to park? Will there be traffic? and on and on and on.

So with a crowd of 7000 converging on Center City Philadelphia, not the most easily navigable of cities under the best of circumstances, I decided to take the train.

Several days before, I checked the train schedule, deciding an early, 7:12 train would get me there in plenty of time. But when I checked out the parking at the lot, the availability was listed as “Full,” which made no sense as there are 562 spaces at this particular train station. Still, what if I got there and wasn’t able to park? What if I took someone’s reserved spot and not only made an enemy, but got towed, leaving me no car and no way home? What if I missed the train and then had to drive? It was all too much.

Enter my son, who has dealt with my various neuroses since his birth, who offered to drop me at the station. (Funny, he never said a word about picking me up. Hmmm….) Anyway, drop me he did, but only after waiting until the train had pulled into the station so I wouldn’t be waiting alone on the platform, bless him.

Just before boarding, I ran into a lovely women I know from a local networking group who was also headed to the conference, another coup, as she clearly knew where she was going and I didn’t. So I followed her around like a lap dog until we arrived when another friend magically appeared, heaven-sent, to pick up the slack of dragging me around through the morning.

Then, lunch, more speakers and finally, the prospect of finding my way home, which I somehow managed to do, after again surreptitiously following a throng that seemed like they had a clue about where the trains were, then studying the schedule not once, not twice, but three times to be certain I wasn’t going to end up in Canada, and finally boarding and settling into a seat. I even managed to alert my husband that I was headed home and then get off at a different stop at his request.

So, I didn’t travel to Bolivia or Moscow or negotiate a peace treaty. And I’m not a celebrity judge, nor an inspirational school principal. But I got myself there to see those fabulous ladies and just maybe pick up a little of their courage in the process. I even managed to get home again. A weird sort of a win, but a win just the same. And I’ll take one of those any day.