Sunday, February 10, 2013

Recap: With Alt Summit, It's the Journey that Matters

It's easy to think Alt Summit is about the clothes, the free stuff, or the photo booths. On the outside, it might look like just another social media, blogging, or marketing conference. That would be the equivalent of saying Burning Man is just a gathering of hippies in the desert. But like Burning Man, Alt is more than its outward appearance. Alt, like Burning Man, is more about the journey than the destination.
It is The Journey
I can best describe my first Alt Summit like my first day at Michigan State. One slightly humid Fall day in August 2003, just over a hundred of us arrived from all over the world to study. Our paths that lead to East Lansing, as well as later our paths away from, were very different. We were all nervous. Would we get along with our teammates? Would we be able to keep up with the assigned reading? And then we settled in. We made friends. We learned. We grew. We made memories. We left.
Before I arrived in Michigan, I prepped. I wanted to make the most of my opportunity. (I took two years off from my career to study full time.) I completed all the basic business classes at The University of Texas at Austin, statistics, accounting, finance, and more. I took economics, international business, and consumer behavior classes at various Austin Community Colleges. I prepared for luck.
It is Not the Destination
Before I arrived in Salt Lake City, I prepped. I took every single Alt Channel class that would work with my schedule. I went into each with a beginner's mind. I stopped putting off changes to the blog; I wanted to put my best foot forward, so I finished the redesign. I created memorable business cards. I figured out my personal brand. I worried that I was a fraud. That someone else would benefit more from this opportunity (the tickets sold out in less than thirty minutes and I was lucky to get one) more than me. Then, with butterflies in my stomach, I got on a plane.
Welcome! Alt Registration This Way
Alt was the place where I finally heard and internalized what so many people had been telling me over the years. What was my stunning realization?
"Don't define yourself by what you're not."
I know what you're thinking, well duh that's obvious. You spent all that time and effort preparing for Alt, and that's your brilliant insight? Yep, that was my key takeaway from Alt.
For me it was earth shattering. Saturday morning at breakfast I started to tear up, and was almost a complete, emotional wreck when I ran into Sandra, Jennifer, Melanie, Leslie, and others as I was leaving the Garden Cafe. As I was rushing out to find a quiet spot, someone said 2013 was going to be great, little did they know how true those words were for me at that very moment.
The Courtyard at The Grand America Hotel
My entire life I have defined myself by what I'm not. Throughout school, not a boy. (For this, I thoroughly blame my second grade teacher.) Throughout my career in tech, not a developer.
I have spent most of my life trying to show others that I deserve good things. That what I'm suggesting will work. That I have a right to be wherever I am, that I got here through hard work, not short cuts.
How could it be that I've done this? Easy. When I talked to college students about roles outside development at tech companies, many would ask me what is it like to be the only female or one of a few females? As I shared my experiences, I told stories. Tiffani Jones Brown of Pinterest said it best in her Alt session:
"We rely on stories to create meaning.
And there's a danger of subsisting on canned meaning,
especially if we don't know we're doing it.
Follow your own story.
Know that it doesn't always appear to you,
and it's often nonlinear."

In my Alt Summit recap post, I purposely left unanswered a question that I'd asked before I left for Salt Lake City. Will Alt, like Burning Man, change my life?
It already has. One way was releasing me from what ifs. I missed Alt last year because I was pregnant, and I was advised not to fly and to avoid altitude. As I was preparing for this year's Alt and seeing all these amazing things start to happen, I what if'd I'd been at Alt last year, where would I be now. Last year I wouldn't have been ready to see what is obvious now. In 2012, I hadn't reached where I needed to be in my journey. In 2013, I had. I'm sure Alt will also change my life, my attitude, in ways I won't fully know or appreciate until months, maybe years, from now. I'm looking forward to seeing where my story goes next.
Did you also have an A-Ha moment at Alt?
Ciao Bella!
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.