Approach life with a beginner's mind. Easy enough if you're doing or trying something for the first time.
A little more challenging when it's your fourth time attending a conference. Last week I headed back to Salt Lake City for my fourth Alt Summit.
Alt Summit is "the premier business conference for pioneering and rookie bloggers and creatives. It's a community of exciting, experimental and expressive thinkers, makers and entrepreneurs." For two and half days, depending on the event, among a hundred to seven hundred people come together to inspire, to share, and to learn from each other.
Approaching a conference that I've been to three times before without expectations and with a beginner's mind is challenging. While a challenge, I still try to actively practice adopting a beginner's mind. And the practice, always yields new insights. Once again I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had (not one I had imagined I would have).
What were your key takeaways?
Over the past couple of conferences I've attended (Women 2.0 and Alt Summit), I've begun to realize that my key takeaways aren't nuts and bolts (for example, how to use Google Analytics to measure what you're doing), but insights into how I'm approaching my life and my business. (Don't worry this post is not an Alt Summit recap.) This post is about finding your voice and owning your story.
Because this is a really long post, here are my four key takeaways from my experience at Alt Summit:
- (Re)discover who you were meant to be.
- Ignore the negative voices.
- Keep seeking your community until you find it.
- Apply your talents.
(Re)discover Who You Were Meant to Be
I haven't talked about my participation in the Bold. Brilliant. Beautiful. You. project lately. The prompt in May was "to think about who inspires you to be bold."
My inspiration was my four year old self. (And admitting this seemed a little narcissistic.) I chose my four year old self while taking Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection eCourse this past Fall. She wanted us to look through photographs and find a photo where we were last "ourselves" and articulate what defined "us."
For me, the photo I chose was one of me at four years old. I'd been unwrapping gifts and had created a hat from the ribbons. I was smiling and dashing around the house carefree. My joy was contagious. My four year old self didn't care what others thought. She wasn't afraid to stand out, to follow her passions.
I've been carrying this photo around with me since the class to remind me of who I was meant to be. Whenever I'm unsure what to do next, I've been taking a look at it. At Alt this past week, I decided to channel my inner four year old. I tried new things. I walked into every room with confidence (whether I felt confident or not). I let down walls and shared my story.
Ignore the Negative Voices
I have now been to four Alt Summit conferences: two of the flagship January conferences, the SF conference last year, and now the first Salt Lake City summer conference. Each Alt I have an A-HA moment. My first Alt Summit conference in 2013, my A-HA moment was around how I defined myself. My second Alt Summit in SF, I examined embracing my fears. And, my third Alt Summit this past January, I thought about whether I had a lifestyle or a business and began taking steps toward a business.
This past week, I got over myself--my current forty-five year old self. I stopped thinking about what other people might think or say, and tried something that scares me to death: being center stage. (Thankfully, the first time I took center stage, I did before I ate anything.) I seriously don't know what came over me at this Alt Summit. Not once, but twice, my hand launched itself into the sky before my brain could short circuit it.
Getting Out on the Dance Floor
Wednesday night, they asked for volunteers. One woman raised her hand and moved forward. I looked around and didn't see anyone moving forward to join her. In my mind I thought: she shouldn't have to be on the dance floor by herself.
My body started moving forward toward the dance floor. I handed my purse to one of my roommates, Emily of Jetsetting Fashionista, and took a place on the dance floor. Others were also getting into the moment and joining us.
There are more than a few photos of me (as well as others) trying to get in sync, and then it happened. I just gave in. I stopped trying so hard, and just decided to have fun. And, in that moment, I was in sync. And Justin Hackworth captured that magical moment.
I didn't dive in to the dancing because I thought it was a good photo opp, and I don't live to be on camera. But, I am incredibly grateful for the role photographers play. When the movie reel in one's head doesn't match reality, the camera helps readjust the thinking.
Asking Martha Stewart a Question
When I found out Martha Stewart was going to be speaking at Alt Summit I got chills. For the past two years, I'd been envious of those at Alt Summit New York who had gotten to hear her speak.
Let me back track a little. Martha Stewart has been a huge inspiration to me for almost two decades. Martha showed that it was possible to embrace your femininity and still be an entrepreneur. Martha proved you didn't have to emulate a male to succeed as a female. (Marlo Thomas was also an early female entrepreneur, but I wasn't aware of how she shepherded her television show until recently.) As the only female or one of a handful of women at any company I worked at, there were few role models.
Most advice to women in the workforce recommended they pretend to be somebody else. I like the 1950s paper doll silhouette full circle dresses, florals, and ruffles. Instead of embracing who I was, I wore the boxy power suits of the 1980s (as a high school intern). I like baking and cooking and feeding people. Instead of sharing cookies I'd made with coworkers, I'd pretend I'd never learned to cook and compliment the cookies wives of coworkers made or bring in store bought treats. (I didn't subscribe to Martha Stewart Living, instead I'd pick them up from the magazine stand when no one else was around. I even went so far as hiding my stash of magazines in a box on a shelf in the back of my closet.)
Martha was the exact opposite of career advice I received. She threw amazing dinner parties. She lived in the kitchen and had created a flourishing business teaching others how they could do the same. (The only turkey I have ever made has been by following pages torn from one of my Martha Stewart Living Magazines.)
So when I heard Martha was speaking I daydreamed about what I would say if I met her. How I would thank her for being an inspiration to me. For showing it was ok to embrace being a woman and still be an entrepreneur. And if I got the chance I'd ask her how in today's world she'd encourage young girls to be entrepreneurs and makers.
Then it happened. The floor was opened to Questions and Answers, and my hand shot up towards the ceiling. Another woman was chosen first; relief flooded over me. That relief was short lived as Sarah of Sarah Hearts came over to me with a microphone. I was shaking as I took it.
Luckily for me I sounded more confident than I felt. I thanked her for inspiring me and asked how she would encourage future entrepreneurs/makers, especially those who were girls. Her advice captured by Jeanette of Ringmaster Mom (I was shaking too much to be able to write anything down): "Let young children touch, feel, and see in the kitchen. Teach them where their food comes from and pick carrots and gather eggs."
After the keynote, I had to take a break from the non-stop stimulus that is Alt Summit. In my hotel room, as I reflected on the experience, I realized I was no longer the unsure, timid introvert who almost didn't get on a plane to Salt Lake City in 2013. Yet, I was still viewing myself as that version of me.
Then it hit me, I needed to embrace the person I truly am, the person everyone else has been seeing for awhile. Who we are today is because of who we were yesterday. Our history is our past. Our future depends on us owning who we are today, embracing the person others see and interact with.
Keep Seeking Your Community Until You Find It
Square pegs don't fit easily into a round hole. It can be done but it requires a lot of forcing. Growing up teachers instilled in me the belief that brains were wasted on girls. I spent my childhood trying to outrank the boys--not for the love of knowledge, but to prove sisters and priests wrong. I firmly believed their god wouldn't have given me a brain if he was all knowing and all powerful and didn't make mistakes; he must have had a plan when he gave me a boy's brain.
Setting out to prove others wrong means you're always on the defensive. You may be great at what you do but because you're starting from the weaker position (driving up the hill rather than taking shots from afar), you don't appreciate your natural talents--your natural strengths.
I love connecting people and seeing ideas blossom and come to fruition. I love feeding people and being there when someone needs a shoulder or a hug. I like being "Mom:" the Marketing Operations and Management Guru. I downplay my ability to remember a myriad of details. To seemingly always have an answer or get a community together that can help one another find the answers. And as many at Alt pointed out, I shouldn't.
To everyone who sought me out over the past couple of days, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don't do what I do because I'm looking for acknowledgement or for recognition. And I thank you for helping me realize that everyone needs to continue searching for their community.
Apply Your Talents
We all have valuable talents--talents and skills when applied in the right community help members grow and thrive. I threw myself into the Alt community in August 2012 when I secured a ticket to my first Alt. (And I was over the moon when I won a lottery for a ticket to Alt SF last July. I literally sat and cried with relief when I got the email notification.) I've absorbed knowledge from so many wonderful mentors: Jenny Batt, Natalie Bowman, Susan and William Brinson, Rachel Faucett, Alison Faulkner Robinson, Susan Petersen, Hilary Rushford, Laurie Smithwick, and others.
It is easy to get on a path of always taking in inspiration and information. To keep waiting until you feel ready, until you believe you know enough. That is a fallacy. We'll never know everything we need to know. We can only know by doing. So, map out your path to success with concrete actions and complete one today. Complete another tomorrow (or next week depending on your scope). Wherever you want to go, just start.
But as you go, remember to look at who you are right now. Who you were yesterday helped you get here. Who you are today will help you get to where you want to be. But, you'll only know if you've become who you want to be by letting go of past visions of yourself. As you grow, make sure you're seeing who you truly are.
Many people last week at Alt helped me realize I wasn't seeing who I truly am. Conversations I had with Emily of Jetsetting Fashionista and Carly of Ever Clever Mom were just what I needed. Thanks to them and so many other people, I know I'm where I need to be.
DISCLOSURE: I recently started consulting with Altitude Summit as Social Media Director and did not pay for my ticket to this event.