I'm restless. I have this frustrating feeling of being lost and just going round and round in circles, or worse yet being completely stuck. And not just "I'm having a bad day" stuck but like the "Holy crap I'm sitting in quicksand and I'm sinking and have no idea how to get out of it so I'll just sit here quietly and hope for the best" kind of stuck.
I work in a corporate setting. There are perks to that. Good benefits. Stable job. No need to secure my own clients or income. A 401k. That's all well and good but there are also drawbacks. I am in marketing during the day—sounds exciting, right? Unfortunately I can assure you it's not. Don't get me wrong, there is NOTHING wrong with a corporate job but lately it's got me feeling stagnant. I don't feel challenged or excited about any project I work on and between you and me I resent some of the work that comes across my desk. I spend my days trying to communicate with people who do not speak the same language as me. As a designer investigating and deciphering people's needs is part of my job; a huge part actually. I believe very strongly, however, that it only works successfully when respect goes both ways. I fully acknowledge and will admit to anyone that I am no financial expert and I'm totally ok with that because I look to the expert to gain an understanding of the materials I'm working with. All too often, however, I'm finding that the same respect is not being given to me. I fear I have fallen into the role of "decorator." If I were decorating homes would be a wonderful description but sadly I am not. I am drowning in a sea of icons and design by committee. It's hard. Some days it's really, really hard. I don't fault my employer for this, but I have to acknowledge that a shift is happening internally for me. If I'm truly honest I think that shift has been happening for the better part of the year but what can I do? I just keep plugging away and trying to convince myself that this is enough. Except I know it's not. I know that there is something else out there for me but I have two big questions... 1) What the hell is it? and 2) Where the hell is it at??
Enter Yellow Conference. I stumbled on Yellow by accident. I can't even remember exactly how; maybe Facebook or an Instagram rabbit hole...who knows. Regardless, I saw an ad for an upcoming event in LA specifically for women. Business women. Women who wanted to do good. Women who wanted to do more. Do better. Do bigger. I swear I felt like I was reading an appeal written specifically to me. It was like a beacon but I was still on the fence. Is this really for me? I'm not a business woman. I don't have a do-good, non-profit establishment. I have no goals. I have no idea what I'm doing. All the typical self-doubt questions that usually plague a creative person crawled through my head and I put off purchasing a ticket for a while but kept my eye on the event. After a week or two I was scrolling through Instagram and saw another post. I pulled it up and read through the agenda again, fretted over the money (I'd be putting up my own cash for this), fretted over the why-not-to-gos and the who-do-you-think-you-ares. I decided to share the idea with my boyfriend to get his take and his immediate response was, "You should go." Flat and plain and just right out there. It was so simple and so sincere and so obvious. I SHOULD go, dang it. So I bought a ticket.
I was extremely excited about this conference as I flew out to LA. I was also a little scared. I'm not afraid fof traveling alone, I've done it often before, but I still didn't know anyone in town or at this event. I'd have to network a little, probably talk to some folks and hope to come up with interesting things to say. Ugh. I love people but that's the hardest part. I feel like a fraud when people ask me what I do sometimes. Like I need to clarify that I do a lesser job at design because I'm in the corporate world. Nonsense, I completely 100% totes know that, but I still find myself feeling that way. Having to push that aside was definitely going to be part of this weekend. I was nervous this whole thing wouldn't be relevant to my life. A whole host of worries were plunking around in my brain but once I boarded the plan I had to let those things go. I was on my way and what good would it do me to freak out over things like that now? Technically I was on vacation and headed for some serious enlightenment so it was time to embrace that energy. Bring it on LA!
You guys... The first day, the first MOMENT, of the conference when I walked in the doors I knew I'd get something out of this because of what I saw on the floor in front of me. "Your journey awaits..." What an uplifting, jump-start-your-life kind of message, right!? These three days might not solve all my problems, they might not teach me everything I need to know, but I was going to take away an amazing feeling. That was a certainty that I was banking on.
It was time to acclimate to the surroundings. The swag bag was killer. The encouraging messages plastered on the walls were beautiful. The vendors were wonderful. The atmosphere was inviting. And there were women EVERYWHERE. Talking, laughing, just getting in and exploring like me, walking around and mingling, shopping and snapping selfies left and right in front of the "rad" (a phrase that was used a lot the entire weekend that I assume has come full circle in LA and it popular again) decor. There were all shapes and sizes and ages and so much style! Seriously jealous of SO MANY SHOES...but I digress. The feeling of being surrounded so many women gives me a kind of infectious happiness. Knowing I was in a place meant to inspire and encourage and welcome is big enough, but tapping into that energy that only a room full of women can generate is difficult to ignore.
image by caca santoro
The light filled room itself already had me feeling creative and ready to take on the world. This hip, urban place felt like a safe zone where I knew that my quicksand sentiments would be nurtured and not dismissed. I had no idea what to expect when the MC get up to kick off the conference but I settled in and opened myself up to whatever came my way.
You guys, I'm not even kidding you when I saw that within the first thirty minutes I was crying. The first speaker, Jessica Ekstrom of Headbands for Hope had me choking up and so inspired that I could change my life and make a difference. She found a thing that called to her and now runs a crazy successful business and does something that she loves. Bonus: she helps thousands of kids with cancer feel better about themselves. Yeah, if that doesn't get you jazzed up to change the world I don't know what will.
Then there was a flash-mob that has forever changed the song "Wild Things" by Alessia Cara for me. I've declared it to be my anthem. I should set my alarm to play this every morning and I KNOW the day will start off right! I wish I could share the video I took on my phone so you could get the full effect of the ladies movements but I'm not techy enough to figure out how to get the file type to post so instead here's the original. Give it a listen if you're needing a kick-ass, take-over-the-world, pick-me-up!
I was all jazzed up on awesome-sauce and looking forward to my new chapter. This literally felt like the start of something for me even though I had no idea what that was. The speakers were amazing. Every one had a different story to tell, some of them resonated with me more than others, but they all made an impact. Kierstan Dickerson of Raven + Lilly, Jessica Hische (a lettering god in the design world) and Jedediah Jenkins, my personal favorite of the day all imparted their very real, very approachable, very relatable words of wisdom. Jedediah had such a quirky, fun, down-to-earth outlook on life. He's also adorable and infectiously jubilant and I totally want to be his buddy. The guy has lived a lot, tried a lot, and at one point found his life lacking so he changed it all in a crazy big way.
A proclaimed slacker who found himself curious about the challenge of law school, he changed tracks and was very successful academically. He was working as a law clerk when he had an epiphany one afternoon. Jedediah told us about a habit he had of adding exclamation points in his memos. Co-workers had given him a little grief about it but he didn't think anything of it. Then one day his boss called him into her office and asked him to sit down because there was something they needed to discuss. The exclamation point. In that moment he realized that this job would kill him; would literally suck his soul dry. He could not survive in a world where a tiny punctuation mark warranted such an intense amount of scrutiny and concern.
I had never connected with a story more. It felt like he was telling relatively the same story I could have told on eight separate occasions in the last two weeks alone. I'd spent the Tuesday before leaving for LA moving dashes two pixels at a time and debating the merit of whether the pie chart icon has more value with three or four slices. It was the truest, most revealing moment I'd heard in a very long time and I immediately knew that I was on the same path he had started down. But he and I were different. He escaped his creativity-crushing life. And when I say escaped, he did it big. Jedediah went on an epic cross continent journey—on his bicycle, no less!—and has since become a travel writer. He lives his AUTHENTIC life now doing what makes him happy. Doing the thing that he would choose to do for 10,000 hours, not the thing he does because it pays the bill.
The first day was exhausting but so, sooooo good. I took in a ton of inspiration and wonder and had more questions than when I started. Yellow was putting on a dinner for the attendees that evening. I waffled back and forth about going. I didn't know anyone, who would I sit with? It was like your first day at a new school in the cafeteria at lunchtime. I headed back to the hotel and took a little nap, called a few people to check in and they talked me into going. I'd flown all this way, after all? What kind of a waste would it be if I didn't go? So, I called up my Uber and headed back to the space.
image by caca santoro
The room was just beautiful after dark. The soft light streaming in from the windows and the magic of the draped lights in the rafters made the whole room feel alive and welcoming. In spite of that welcome, I quietly took my place in line. I'd gotten there a little earlier than a lot of ladies so I was pretty much the front-runner of the food—delicious soft-shell tacos from a local vendor. I was secretly starving but didn't wan to look over-eager so I conservatively filled my plate and headed to a table. Because I was alone and it was so early I figured my table would simply fill in with friendly people so I just grabbed the first chair I came across. After ten minutes or so I started to worry that I would actually be the last kid picked at dodgeball and be having dinner alone but then a wonderful, warm woman named Kim with a big infectious smile came over and asked if I'd like to join their table. I gladly accepted and found a seat at the end of the table. Introductions were made and I found myself at a table with five incredibly funny, different, interesting women.
image by caca santoro
I was so pleased to be sitting with someone, to not be the odd-man out in a sea of people. It's not that I'm anti-social or even have trouble talking to people, but that icebreaker moment is always tough. You'd think being at an event full of people would give you plenty of opportunities to make fast friends but I find that I do the opposite and shrink in those situations because there are so many ways to blend into the background. I'm working on this, though, because I actually do love meeting people and there is no reason to hold back. In this case, I am so glad that this kind woman took pity on me because we had such a wonderful dinner together. There was a lot of laughter as we found that there was a hefty dose of sarcasm in our bunch; a language I speak very fluently. We got to learn about one another and talk about the day. Some found it inspirational and others were still hoping to get some real-life, actionable advice from the event but there were still a couple days left. As we gabbed and chuckled I realized that this was the reason I'd come to this conference. I wanted to be surrounded by real people who were searching for something and wanting to connect just like me. Not just network but really get to know and learn from each other. It turns out that I didn't realize what I was looking for but I found it anyway. These amazing women were not only the ones I was trying to connect with but also my audience. Driven, inspired, social, eager-to-make-change, beautiful dreamers—these were my people. The folks I want to build relationships with. The folks I want to work with. To use my skills to help them achieve their dreams.
At the end of the dinner I was feeling wonderful about my new friends and the first day. I was hopeful we'd find a chance to connect again the next day. As I rode in the back of my Uber to the hotel I thought that if I got nothing else from this then I had already gained enough to take home. There was a momentum to ride. A hum of encouragement and connection and spirit and empowerment was buzzing all over the place and my brain was going bananas with what COULD be. I couldn't wait to see what was in store for us the next day.
Stay tuned for Part 2!