We Move Forward Conference in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

I dug into my huevos rancheros with gusto during my last morning on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Five days earlier I had arrived, tired and dispirited, with little appetite and less energy. Of late, I’d been struggling with the question of whether I should be doing something more with my life – something grander that would help huge numbers of people. Looking back, I sometimes find my life wanting. Certainly, I wish I had been more generous with my time and money during my years in the corporate world. Over the past year, the difficult loss of my father, the fact that I am growing older and achier, and dealing with a world that seems to be in continual crisis had become a perfect prescription for depression. Frankly, I was floundering, thus the invitation to attend the We Move Forward Conference for women could not have come at a better time.

Founder Janeen Halliwell writes down the things we share as women on an easel during an exercise at the We Move Forward Conference

Founder Janeen Halliwell writes down the things we share as women on an easel during an exercise at the We Move Forward Conference

Janeen Halliwell, who hails from Canada but has a second home on Isla Mujeres, started the conference five years ago after suffering the loss of her father, Scotty, to pancreatic cancer. After his passing, she and her mother came to the island to rest and recuperate. “It was March, and International Women’s Day was coming up,” Janeen told us on the opening day of the event. “I was out for my morning walk…and I got thinking how cool it would be to host an IWD conference here on the Island of Women. I shared my vision with my mom, Mary, and for the first time since my dad’s death, her eyes lit up. She said, “I think a conference would be a wonderful thing Janeen – I think you should do it!””

MIA Reef Hotel, venue for the We Move Forward Conference

MIA Reef Hotel, venue for the We Move Forward Conference

Janeen formed a team, hired a website developer, and stated recruiting speakers. Unable to afford the pricey fees that good speakers command, she called in favors and soon had commitments from a successful actress, a foreign correspondent, and a woman with a cooking show called Spice Goddess to speak at that first conference. She met with officials on Isla Mujeres and arranged to rent the Casa de Cultura, a large community hall that was under construction but scheduled to be completed well before the event. But despite advertising, social media promotion, and speaking at women’s groups, registrations trickled in painfully slowly. Then, two months prior to the event, she got word that the government of Isla Mujeres had run out money and the Casa de Cultura project was on hold. She had to find another venue – fast!

Beautiful beaches at the MIA Reef Hotel on Isla Mujeres, the "Island of Women"

Beautiful beaches at the MIA Reef Hotel on Isla Mujeres, the “Island of Women”

MIA Reef Hotel came to the rescue, but the cost of their meeting room was significantly higher than the community center would have been. Janeen crunched the numbers and realized she was nowhere near the number of attendees she needed to break even. “I had to make a decision – do I move forward with We Move Forward, or do I admit defeat? It is a moment I will never forget. I sat with my calculator in my hand and decided to figure out not how much I could “lose” on this venture, but rather how much I was willing to invest.” She began hitting the keys again, this time with a mindset of how many participants she would need need to make her dream come true. The magic number was 45. It didn’t sound like so many. She rededicated her efforts and forged ahead.

Some of this year's participants in our closing circle on day three, all dressed in white to symbolize renewal

Some of this year’s participants in our closing circle on day three, all dressed in white to symbolize renewal

In mid-February, all three of her keynote speakers dropped out. The actress got a television role as Ted Danson’s ex-wife on CSI (fair enough, Janeen thought). The foreign correspondent got an assignment in the Panama jungle. And the Spice Goddess – well, she just flaked out. “I slipped into poor me mode for (a few) seconds, then pulled on my combat boots and went into action. In a matter of three days, I had three new speakers.” On March 8, 2012, 71 people sat in the same seats where I attended this year.

Over the three days of the conference, I let go of all my preconceived notions about what constitutes a life worth living. With the assistance of some remarkable women, I was able to gain clarity. What I want most in life is to change the world, to make it a better place, with less fear and hate. My in-depth articles and photos of cultures around the world do that on a small scale, but I had begun to think that it just wasn’t enough, even though many people have told me in emails how I have inspired them or given them hope. After the conference I was entirely clear that making a difference one person at a time doesn’t make my work any less valuable.

A Kodak moment at the We Move Forward Women's Conference on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

A Kodak moment at the We Move Forward Women’s Conference on Isla Mujeres, Mexico

There is no longer any doubt in my mind that I am on the right path. I don’t need to create some grand foundation or retreat into a Buddhist monastery for a year (both things I was seriously considering). In addition, We Move Forward helped me to set my intention as I move forward, so I am recommitted to finishing my memoir, and I will also be pursuing some public speaking engagements. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and while I agree, it is difficult to find answers in a vacuum. Women need other women – to listen compassionately, to bounce ideas off of, to help us see ourselves as others see us. That and much more happened for me at this year’s We Move Forward Conference. Each of us had different issues and came away with different solutions, but the event was life-changing for all of us. I was a little sad to leave Isla Mujeres, but not too sad, for I knew I would be back again next March.

22 Comments on “The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

  1. I too read your posts and find such inspiration and that “way to go” feeling! I can tell that a lot of work goes into each post. A job well done!
    Your words describe each place and event well. Enjoying reading them from British Columbia, Canada.
    Irene Palmer

    • Thank you Irene – your comment really means a lot to me, especially since I know you’ve been a long-time, loyal reader.

    • What a nice thing to say, Izy. I do my best to help others, but wish I could do more most of the time.

  2. I love the authenticity and heartfulness of your posts. The conference sounds rich and wonderful and I join the others in asking that you post about it in advance next year so that we can consider going too. Thank you so sharing yourself via words and photos.

    • Hi Jane: Thanks for your kind words. Unfortunately, the articles on my blog are always after the fact, however I do post in real time and ahead of time for things like conferences and such, on my Facebook Page, so if you don’t follow me there, you might want to do that. Alternatively, the conference is always held around International Women’s Day, in March., and you can sign up to receive the We Move Forward newsletter by going to their website at http://wemoveforward.com.

  3. Barb, I want to add to the comment I wrote yesterday. I’m in the middle of a five month solo trip around Europe plus a tour of Morocco. You inspired me to do this after my husband’s death. I’m not brave enough to go to all the places you go but I’m braver than many of my friends. So you made a difference in my life! And maybe together we’ll make a difference in the life of someone else.
    Libbie

    • My gosh, Libbie! Thanks so much for sharing that. I has just made my day. We never really know what kind of an influence we might have on someone, which is a good argument for trying to be it e kindest, nicest, most caring souls we can be.

  4. Thank you! I struggle with the same thoughts and sometimes have to remind myself that every life we help matters. We can’t all changed the world in one big grand action. The world truly needs all of us making a difference when and where we can. It’s just easy to lose sight of that. Sounds like a wonderful conference, I’m glad you found what you needed. Love your posts!

    • Thank you so much Jan! Makes my heart happy when folks tell me they love reading my blog, because I put a LOT of work into it. Hope to meet you next year at the conference.

  5. I would love to attend next year as well. Sounds like just what I need right now. Thanks for your posts. I really enjoy them.

    • You’re welcome Kim – I think you’d enjoy the conference. It certainly was helpful to me.

  6. Hi Barb,
    Next time, please post on your blog well in advance the information about this conference and how to sign up for it. I would love to attend. I feel as you do and I’m wondering what an “older woman” can do that is meaningful.

    • Hi Libbie: All my articles on the blog are written after I visit a destination, but I write in real time, and often notice upcoming events on my Facebook Page, so that would be a good place to watch. But you can also go to http://wemoveforward.com and sign up to get their newsletters, or just mark your calendar for next March, as the conference always happens during International Women’s Day.

  7. Thank you Barbara! Words like yours make us keep on going on, one step at a time “pasito a pasito” -like a wise Bolivian told me when I was struggling to walk fast on the streets of La Paz. You are an inspiration. Let me know about your next conference.

    • Thanks Aida, for taking the time to leave your comment. I’m planning on attending next year, if you think you’d like to join me. 🙂

  8. Barbara,

    I\’m glad you are figuring it all out! Love you and miss you . Don\’t forget….. the laundry machines at the Cape Pines Motel are calling (C-A-L-L-I-N-G!) you. Much love, Bill. On a side note… Angie & I stayed at that hotel (another name back in 2003). Just beautiful there on the island.

    • Hi Bill and Angie: Hoo hoo – they’re going to be waiting a LONG time if they expect to see me. Un uh – one day was enough. I canot believe yo do this all day, every day. Love and miss you guys too 🙁

  9. I really needed this today. I thank you for reminding me that I can move forward and I should.

    • You’re so welcome, Robbi. So glad I could help in some small way.

  10. This was an inspiring post. The We Move Forward Conference sounds great. I don’t know if I would have the perseverance and faith to continue with the obstacles Janeen faced that first year. It is often hard to know if we are on the right path. Making a difference one person at a time is a valuable gift and calling.

    • Thanks so much, Donna. It was absolutely one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. Definitely helped me push the restart button and got my head straight about the work I do being valuable.

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