Washington, D.C., has always been a place people go to tell their stories, advocate for change and find inspiration from those who have gone before. It was only fitting that the first ASAE women’s leadership event, The Exchange, was staged at Omni Shoreham Hotel, a grand, chandelier-bejeweled venue that has been welcoming changemakers since 1930.

Last week, 200 association leaders of all ages joined together to voice the truths that too often go unspoken. “In a world where women’s voices have been marginalized or overlooked this is a platform to lift women up by bringing top women together to have frank conversations,” said ASAE President and CEO Michelle Mason to open the gathering.

Quit With Joy

two women smiling
Michelle Mason and Carla Hall

When does “no” mean “yes”? When you are saying no to one request for your time in order to put that energy toward something more important to you. Author, celebrity chef, artist, restaurateur and vigilant advocate Carla Hall shared her lifelong story of quitting with joy. “Much of life’s forward motion happens when you quit something that is not working so you can put energy somewhere else,” she said.

Learn More: A Sneak Peek at ASAE’s The Exchange Women’s Event

Why you are quitting matters, however. When you are young, sometimes you quit out of fear of failure, fear of success or imposter syndrome. If you are motivated by anxiety or fear, that means there are lessons there you still need to learn, she explained. “You have to turn your angst into something you can use so you can move on. The gift of struggle is that it gets you where you need to go,” Hall said.

When you quit with joy, intention and confidence to focus on something else, then you know that chapter of your life is complete. “Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to stop doing something for a short period of time to free yourself to enjoy it again,” she said.

“You also need to make room to say ‘yes’ to things that you have no idea how they will turn out,” she counseled. “Remember, just because things don’t turn out the way you planned it in your head, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success.”

And sometimes, you have to be a little older to know yourself better, so you can act more authentically you when you are in touch with your emotions.

Say the Thing

One gift of filling a ballroom full of leadership women of all ages is that they feel more comfortable talking about the real challenges they face. A panel called for the normalization of talking about menstruation and menopause, baby brain and aging. These are all natural, physical realities and being embarrassed into acting as if they are not happening just puts the burden of hiding the truth of their lives on the woman experiencing these seasons. Once they are out in the open, more resources can be put toward researching and managing the symptoms.

Learn More: What One Thing? Empowering the Next Generation with Michelle Mason

five women posing for image

In the panel, “Women Supporting Women—a Multigenerational Discussion,” each panel member had different touchstone events and expectations, but they also shared many of the same challenges.

“We worked so hard and suffered so much but that may not be necessary anymore,” reflected Dawn Sweeney, a board member and former president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. She said she learns as much from younger people she mentors as she teaches. What is most difficult to impart is that as she has gotten older, she has learned to care less about what people think. “I am relaxing into that and pursuing a more horizontal life, doing many things with a growth mindset.”

Erin Fuller, CSO of MCI USA, looked back on her career and agreed. “Just because this is what I experienced, that doesn’t mean it is the right way for the next generation.” The new reality may be an understanding that companies merely rent time from employees and are not entitled to 24/7 devotion.

The younger members of the panel felt they still had a lot to prove.

Maisha Hoque, an associate of chapter strategy and program development with the American Society of Interior Designers, has found that in order to overcome intrinsic bias about being too young, she has to lead with her credentials, which include being an ASAE NextGen Scholar.

Learn More: Memory Games

Mariel Solomon, another ASAE NextGen Scholar and associate director for the practice portal at The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, shared that her challenge is overcoming internal biases. Her solution? “Volunteer experiences are something to brag about. I own that expertise,” she said.

All agreed that sponsorship, in addition to formal and informal mentorship, particularly for minority women who may need someone—men and women—to promote them when they aren’t in the room because there aren’t a lot of people who look like them in leadership roles in many companies. Creating a personal advisory group of inspiring, positive people to surround yourself with is one way to intentionally build confidence and connections.

“We have come so far, but every time we go around a bend, we see we still have a ways to go,” concluded Sweeney.