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The best advice from Diane Keaton & other leading ladies

Respected female leaders agree that one word — fear — is the difference between women succeeding at their dreams or sitting on the sidelines.

While it's easy to assume that Diane Keaton, Jane Pauley, Robin Roberts, Jill Abramson, Gail Sheehy and other women who spoke at last month's Pennsylvania Women's Conference are fearless super women, it turns out the opposite is true. With refreshing candor bordering on pure bravery, they spoke about how they face their fears, or resistance, as Pauley puts it — not once but over and over.

Here is some of the best advice I heard from those women:

Diane Keaton: It takes balls

Diane Keaton
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Diane Keaton

When asked, "What does it take to be a strong independent woman"?, keynote speaker Diane Keaton, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and reading from her upcoming book, "Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty," said without missing a beat, "Balls. You have to keep trying." She then gave her delightful laugh.

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It is utterly clear that Keaton doesn't mean the balls one can strap on, or the balls women acquired by wearing power suits during the Gloria Steinem era. It's also clear that Keaton's balls come from a magical, authentic place — from her heart.

The day-long conference drew 8,000 women of all ages and walks of life. "A lot of estrogen," said one woman behind me on the escalator.

Inside reigned heartfelt, inspiring dialogue such as Jill Abramson saying "We owe teaching the powers of resilience to women younger than us," when talking candidly about her firing. The air was thick with optimism as a result.

Perhaps it's why Keaton said at one point, "I just love being a woman. Don't you?"

Robin Roberts
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Robin Roberts

If I was at a men's conference, would the same heart gong strike? Maybe. More likely not. Think of corporate meetings, business lectures. What percentage of meetings are filled with the goobly gook of marketing speak? How often are they balanced by real talk? And imagine what impact personal expression would have on the high percentages of American employees who recently reported to feel unappreciated, isolated, and disengaged.

Secure leaders are confident enough to tap into their largest muscle — their hearts — in order to speak authentically. The beauty of the heart is that it's not gender specific. There's no glass ceiling, and it's an equal opportunity muscle. When tapped, it is sure to deliver the most compelling of messages.

Robin Roberts, the "Good Morning America" anchor, admitted to feeling the jitters before coming on stage.

Jane Pauley: Reinvent

Jane Pauley
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Jane Pauley

Former "Today" show anchor Jane Pauley spoke in human terms and with great humility about her coming to grips with a mental illness, her love of sitting on her couch, her proclivity to being resistant and her push to reinvent herself and succeed anyhow.

As it turns out, fame doesn't lessen one's fears. You get to feel it anew sometimes daily. One way or other, these female leaders say they admit to their fears, at least to themselves. And, then they move forward.

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Jane Pauley is especially refreshing in her candor about the inner strength it takes. The author of the recent "Your Life Calling," Pauley spoke about the arc of her career and admitted to having had a bipolar episode that taught her to take good care of herself. In an uncommon and moving show of compassion she turned to the audience and asked, "What if you don't know what your gut is saying?" She wanted participants to know a lack of clarity today doesn't mean they will always be sidelined. Don't give up, stay on the path.

Gail Sheehy: Be daring

Gail Sheehy
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Gail Sheehy

I am one of those women. I haven't always known what my gut was saying. A single mom of two boys, one of whom has special needs, my first novel is nearly finished (yes I know the phrase, don't give up five minutes before the miracle), and I am on the hunt for a full-time PR position to replace my previous one while working freelance.

I know about fear. So did Gail Sheehy, who has written for many publications in her career, from New York magazine to Vanity Fair. She took us through the tense moments when she crossed over the newsroom from her spot with the other female journalists covering cooking to the other side where the men reported on politics — becoming the first female journalist to do so.

Patty Chang Anker: Let go of the past

Panelists agreed that to go forward, one has to let go of the past. The potential we haven't yet reached. The mistakes we make. The bosses we disappoint. Those who disappoint us.

Patty Chang Anker, author of "Some Nerve," spoke about trying to end her "decade of" feeling like a failure. She hired an organizer to help her dig out from her office clutter. The organizer honed in on the one precisely-kept box of files. It was from her previous job at the New York Times. While she hadn't had this job in years, she held onto it as her career identity. The organizer said, "Let's start here." She was petrified to empty it. But over a period of time, she began to fill it with her present writings, which became her book and a new career chapter. As the song goes, "Let it Go."

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Gail Sheehy called for a new revolution of women coming together to make child care more affordable and accessible. No more bra burnings, please. I'd say the best movement is to be ourselves. Speak candidly. From the heart. It'll infuse courage in others. And, as a result, more people will move forward with less stress, depression and with more joy.

Candy Chang, the creator of the "Before I Die" project, which started when she stenciled the words "Before I Die I Want to ____" on a chalkboard on an abandoned house in New Orleans, knows the power of personal expression. She said there are now 425 "Before I Die" walls in over 25 languages and over 60 countries.

Now if we can just get our female politicians to speak from the heart.

Commentary by Raina Grossman, a media relations/public relations specialist. She is currently completing her first novel, "Free Will." Follow her on Twitter @rainag18.