Most of us have been to professional conferences. Maybe you’ve been to a conference as an attendee, or maybe you’ve gone because you worked for one of the sponsors or at an expo booth. Not all conferences are created equal. Some have great programming, some don’t. Some leave you inspired and wanting to get to work, while others make you wonder why you didn’t just go back to work.
While I consider myself a professional blogger, it’s not my primary profession. Four years ago when I started blogging, I heard of a conference where women bloggers gathered to learn from other bloggers. Brands came to this conference to learn about these women who sit at their computers and type out their thoughts, insight and advice. It was called BlissDom, and it was in 2010 in Nashville that I found “my people”.
This year, I headed to Grapevine, Texas for my fourth BlissDom. For the third year I was invited to be a speaker. Truth be told, I love speaking at BlissDom. Even though I get so nervous, I love sharing legal information with bloggers so they can be knowledgeable professionals. It gives me so much joy to know that hundreds of women walk out of a room knowing how to do their job better. So, I go to BlissDom and speak to my fellow bloggers and get all geeked out talking about legal stuff. Clearly, I’m not normal (although you probably already knew that).
Each year I’ve come away with different feelings and takeaways from Blissdom. Last year, as the first time speaking on my own with a stage and a full audio team I felt like a super star. The year prior, I united with my friend Laura to create BlissMitzvah, a gathering for Jewish women who blog and are involved in the online space. My first year, I walked away having met so many extraordinary women, a few of whom would become very dear friend.
I’ve never gone to a legal conference and met anyone with whom I would create a deep bond. I don’t think anyone has. Probably the same thing for doctor conventions, tech, insurance, or accounting. But blogging is different. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s different. I went to that first BlissDom looking for people I had something in common with. I went to that second BlissDom connected to a few people on a level that was deeply personal. The third BlissDom was an opportunity to look inside myself and find more of me while making room for others. My fourth BlissDom, well, I wanted more. I couldn’t put it in to words, but the talented and encouraging Lisa Leonard did. In my speaker bag I received a necklace that summed up why I was there – follow your bliss.
The best way to explain why BlissDom is the starting line for this “follow your bliss” philosophy is for me to share with you my key moments.
1. People – With over 700 women (well, there were about 10 guys there) there was no way I was going to meet everyone. I had my core group of friends that I talk to almost daily on social media. Comfort is good. But BlissDom isn’t about good, it’s about great. So I push my quiet introvert to step up and meet new people, to go up to total strangers who don’t need me to explain what blogging is or why I do it. I gather my courage to say hello, just like I did when I didn’t know who was a big name blogger and that I should be nervous. I start conversations with people I’ve never met. I risk rejection. It’s not really rejection though. We don’t become friends with everyone we meet, but we find something to appreciate in each other.
2. Inclusion – I was invited to meet with about 5 other bloggers to talk with Johnson & Johnson Cares about their Global Mom Relay program. I sat in a suite, as a special guest. I felt important. I was waiting for the moment when they realized I didn’t belong. Clearly, these other women were invited because they have proven themselves as influential within their community. Me? I don’t see myself as being in their same league, but I was there. I belonged. I listened as global partners spoke passionately about a program where everyday people can read about women who make a different and by sharing the article a $5 donation would be made to one of four charities. I wiped tears as I sat among women who’ve clearly made a difference as video played about a program where women in developing nations were provided pre- and post-natal information via cell phone messaging. Information that is life saving to them and their baby. I highly encourage you to get involved in the Global Mom Relay and read to give. We are the change. We are the women who will educate the next generation. And I was included in that discussion on how we will make a difference. It set the tone for Blissdom. We were all there because we belong. Because we will make a difference.
3. Fear – As an ambivert (part-time introvert, part-time extrovert), I’m like a fear whisperer. Keynote speaker Jon Acuff got people tweeting about punching fear in the face, which might work for him and many others. I don’t think I’m one of those people. Have you ever punched something in the face? I haven’t but I’m pretty sure if I did they (or it) wouldn’t like it. Fear seems like it would punch me back like I was in a UFC bout. And fear would probably win. I like neat and tidy kernels of information like that. They’re easy to digest and often make you think. I have lots of fears, we all do. The key is to keep them at bay. Fear motivates me sometimes, because I don’t like to fail. Which is why I’ll have to pass on the punch fear in the face part and instead let fear know it’s not the boss of me. Fear isn’t going to stop me from meeting people at BlissDom, because I refuse to equate fear with rejection. I might not be able to kill fear but I can surely fear less. And while I couldn’t
bring myself to say hello to Susan Cain (she’s got one of the top TED Talks!), I did manage to spend time talking to Chris Mann (he’s famous, was on The Voice, and took a picture with me!) and getting my super-friend Mary-Anne (famous blogger who gave up blogging because she’s too busy creating marketing and promotion programs for huge companies) to take a picture with me that looks like we were going to prom.
4. Learning – That should also include teaching, too. My job as a speaker is to give useful information that bloggers (and PR people and Brand reps) can use. I know that no one wants to listen to a lawyer drone on about random legal nonsense. Every year I dread doing my Continuing Legal Education because there are few lawyers who are passionate about their topic. I take my job as a speaker very serious and want those who choose to attend my session to leave the room feeling my talk was worth the price of admission. I want the women attending BlissDom to go home and raise the bar on the blogging profession. I want the people who choose my session to know that as they follow their bliss they’ve got an arsenal of information to keep fear at bay. I’m also there to learn. I attend sessions. Sometimes I end up in a session I have no business being in. This year, I sat in a session about photography. Not “how to become a better photographer”, because that would make sense since I’m still learning. No, I sat in a session with professional photographer to the stars David Molnar and iPhonetography goddess Alli Worthington about becoming a professional photographer. So, (1) outside comfort zone and (2) outside my ability. But I was there and I was going to learn something. Could I have got up and left? Sure. And it would have been quite obvious since this was an intimate group. So I stayed, partly out of professional courtesy to my fellow speakers but also to see what concerns were roadblocks for these women in finding their bliss and if I could, in some way, encourage them. So despite having no business being in that session, I was there because I was following my bliss.
5. Comfort – When you think of a conference, you rarely think of comfort. A conference almost always is about discomfort. With so many people, I do have to push beyond my comfort zone. If bloggers stayed in their comfort zone we’d all be in yoga pants hiding behind a keyboard. But there are people who break down the barrier and welcome you to the table. For me, I found that in Dedra Herod (photo at left). She was the speaker coordinator. Juggling flaming batons might have been easier. As a third-year speaker you’d think I would be comfortable. But I’m not. I am humbled to be invited to speak. I’m keeping the fear at bay. And I’m trying to fit in. There were others, like Alli, Barbara, and Paula, who all made me feel like I was visiting with dear friends. And Malia Carden, community manager for the One2One Network, sat down and chatted with me in the One 2 One Network suite as if we were long-time friends. There was Megan Francis who, despite being big time, took time to chat with me and laugh with me. I spent hours talking to Heather Solos, a best-selling author and techy extraordinaire. There was Danielle Smith, Megan Jordan, and Doug French. Angela England and Chrysula Winegar. And Tonia, with whom I learned I have so much in common. I can rattle off more names, making me realize how many women are there making others feel welcomed and comfortable.
6. Photos – My only camera was my iPhone. I took about 8 photos. I’m afraid to ask people to take a photo with me. I feel awkward. I’ll whisper fear into submission to go up to people and talk to them. I’ll laugh and cry and eat cupcakes with them. Last year at BlissDom I think I took 4 or 5, so I see this as an improvement. But, honestly, you can only take so many photos of food, shoes, and flowers. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but the connection made by talking with someone is lasting. They can go together, don’t get me wrong. So while I lament not taking more photos I’ll be happy with the fact I took this photo of Amber Riley, which she retweeted.
7. Gratitude – BlissDom doesn’t happen with the wave of a magic wand. Conferences of this size and caliber are often out of reach for most of us. I am thankful for the companies who see us as a worthwhile investment. Not to hawk their product or service, but to support a community of women who are making a difference. Not everyone who attends BlissDom is looking to partner with brands. There are brands I’d love to work, and others that don’t fit my lifestyle and I can’t be me if I’m hawking something that just doesn’t feel right. However, I am thankful these brands step up and subsidize my attendance. I’m thankful they believe in the power of my voice to share what I feel is important. Products like Duck Brand tape, which my daughter loves, were at BlissDom to promote their brand but also encourage us to be creative and help our kids to be creative. Pedia Care wasn’t slingin’ freebies but, instead, provided us with a sneak-peek of new product packaging that I believe will revolutionize the pediatric OTC medication industry. The National Honey Board was there to provide information, learn how we use honey, and offer recipes on how to include honey in our cooking and baking. As someone who has sleep problems, I was glad to see National Sleep Foundation supporting moms and women by bringing in experts to provide information to make our lives better but also to share with our readers so they, and their families, can have good sleep. Then there’s ConAgra Foods, with the Child Hunger Ends Here program. Child hunger in the US is a very real problem, with 1 in 5 children not knowing where their next meal is coming from. ConAgra has chosen to return to BlissDom, not to sell their brands but to connect with a community of women who will mobilize their communities to be the solution to a fixable problem in our country. With over 40 brand partners, BlissDom has brought together companies who see value in bloggers, who are willing to partner with us so we can follow our bliss, and who realize gratitude doesn’t come from a suitcase full of freebies but rather from an appreciation of what we do for others.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. I got a bit long-winded. I wrote this because it helps me feel like I belong. I hope it helps others to see that they belong too. And I hope that those who made me feel like I belong know how grateful I am. We all have different experiences, but we all have the opportunity to find our bliss no matter what our path is.
Disclosure: As a speaker I received non-monetary compensation for my participation at the BlissDom Conference. All thoughts and opinions are mine, and may not reflect the views of any person or organizations included. My thoughts and opinions were not influenced by this compensation. This article was not reviewed or edited by a third-party, nor are there any affiliate links used. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”, although I’m most likely not required to do so. Why do I put these disclosures in my posts? Besides being a lawyer and writing about this stuff, sometimes they’re required by consumer protection laws, and you deserve to know.