BLOGHER 2015 – PARTY IN NYC
Originally published July 20, 2015
This past weekend, I made a solo trek to New York City – equally exciting and nervewracking, as I had never traveled anywhere major completely by myself before – for the 2015 BlogHer conference. I was wearing two hats: Representing my place of employment as we embark upon creating a blog when we launch our new website in August – learning everything I could about how to start it successfully and keep the momentum going, and also representing this blog – which is unfortunately beginning to wane again and something I don’t want to fail. I feel like so many of my projects fizzle and die, and I am devoted to keeping Captain Optimist alive. So I had two major goals this weekend: 1.) Learn everything I could, 2.) Meet as many bloggers as possible. I succeeded in both, but I also left the conference with something else, something equally (possibly more) valuable: Inspiration and the motivation to accomplish incredible things.
I had two million dollar ideas sparked by my experiences this weekend, and (this is unusual) I am still 100% pumped about them and know exactly how to make them work. I’ve never felt so excited, so filled with confidence, in my working life. Without the lessons I learned at BlogHer, and the incredible women (and men!) I met this weekend, that wouldn’t have been possible.
BlogHer was also the first major conference I’ve ever attended, and I was blown away by the opportunities awarded to attendees. I had experiences at this conference I would never have been able to have had I not attended. I have to echo a sentiment that I heard several times throughout the weekend: at this conference, I truly found my tribe.
I arrived Thursday morning after a night of very little sleep, having left for the airport at 3:30am. I grabbed a Lyft from La Guardia, which I highly recommend and will use again in future travels, for a comfortable ride into the city and lovely conversation. I checked into my hotel, rested for a minute, and then set off to find a non-touristy off-the-beaten-path place to eat. A brisk walk and a few turns later, I arrived at a cafeteria serving various types of cuisine cooked by people who knew what they were doing. Settling on something I (as an, apparently, somewhat sheltered Midwestern girl) had never heard of but looked and sounded delicious – chicken bibimbap – I took my lunch back to enjoy in my room and relax a bit. When I was done, I still had a bit of time before my evening event, so I walked the 1/2 block from the hotel to MoMA and indulged in an afternoon of artsy bliss. After picking up some souvenirs (of course) I headed back to prepare for dinner, which (as a foodie) I was VERY excited about.
Dinner – sponsored by Canadian Lentils – was to take place at Ginny’s Supper Club, located in the basement of Red Rooster Harlem. This is the restaurant of chef Marcus Sammuellson, part of an initiative to revitalize Harlem. Chef Sammuellson himself was preparing the five course dinner, each course highlighting the incredibly versatile lentil. For those who don’t know who I’m talking about, you may have seen chef Sammuellson on Chopped or other Food Network shows. It’s 2015, you have Google, go learn. I’ll save the complete recap of the dinner for my new food blogging friends, but suffice it to say it was delicious and I’ll be incorporating lentils into my regular menu planning from now on.
Friday started early with yoga, sponsored by Depend (but not salesly at all…in fact I can’t remember them really talking about the product at all). I was not thrilled to get up at 5:30am after already lacking sleep, but it was so restorative and I felt wonderful after. I have friends who I know will be thrilled at my newfound love for yoga, and I suppose I’ll have to start making this a regular thing now. After yoga, I headed over to the Staples Back to School Live event, which was – I believe – filmed for OK TV. I tweeted/Facebooked/Instagrammed like a mad woman through the whole event – and won a backpack full of super-cute supplies from Staples Me to We line.
The highlights of the breakfast keynote session were learning about the Hatch kids videos, produced by SheKnows Media, and the presentation of the Starfish Foundation by Soledad O’Brien. (The videos were, by the way, the catalyst for one of my million dollar ideas.) The videos – addressing social and gender issues – are “made by kids” but 100% for adults, and they’re fantastic. What the Starfish Foundation does for young women who are doing everything they can to achieve their dreams and just need help is remarkable.
I attended a much-needed Focus and Organization workshop, which is going to be so necessary when we get the blog going for my employer – since I’ll be managing the blogging and deadlines of multiple contributors. Then it was off to a lunch keynote featuring a presentation by Veronica Arreola – founder of the #365FeministSelfie Challenge– followed by Gwyneth Paltrow (who was certainly a draw, considering the crowd, but was largely uninspiring). Paltrow didn’t answer a single question in a straightforward way, and I didn’t feel like she had anything particularly insightful to add to the experiences of any of the bloggers in the room, but I can’t speak for everyone. She was more down to Earth than I thought she’d be, but she’s still very unrealistic about life from a normal person’s perspective.
A very insightful branding session in the afternoon was the perfect end to my day – I opted to skip the evening keynote in favor of dinner and brainstorming in my room, before heading to an exclusive prescreening of “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (opens July 31 – go see it!) and Friday was done.
Saturday morning, the breakfast keynote was highlighted by The Pitch, where six amazing female entrepreneurs gave :60 pitches on the projects they’ve initiated and received feedback from a panel of five incredible, successful women. Pitches included an investment website teaching kids to value saving and investing, giving them the opportunity to do so, over “things”(iSow), a keyless lock system for landlords (Keasy), a visual mobile network for street vendors (Vendedy), an initiative to reduce the stigma women dealing with HIV/AIDS suffer by educating and raising awareness (The Red Pump Project), a youth mentor program to reduce the school to prison chain (The Respect Institute), and (the winner and my favorite) a program to outsource entry level technology jobs to low-income urban populations (StartUp Box). Six incredible, inspirational women who are truly making a difference in this world are as much motivation as anyone should ever need to go forth and do amazing things.
Following the morning keynote, I attended a session about turning your content into a product, and got some great ideas for ways we can utilize the content from my employer’s blog. The lunch keynote featuring Christy Turlington Burns and an introduction to Every Mother Counts was enlightening – and if you weren’t aware of this documentary series, you need to look it up because the information is staggering, and largely unknown to most of us, I would wager.
A final session, focusing on finding people to actually read your content (important…) and a fantastic evening keynote by Ava Duvernay (the director of “Selma”) was the end of my conference. I opted to trek over to Times Square and take in a performance of “Finding Neverland” to sate the theatre major side of me, rather than take in the closing party. The show was stunning, my seat was amazing, and I had tears streaming down my face during the last 10 minutes (which is exactly the experience I want to have at the theatre). Matthew Morrison puts on a hell of a show.
Back to the hotel, prioritize the vast amount of swag I’d collected over the weekend so I could attempt to take it all back home with me (I still left quite a bit behind…), then another night with very little sleep and I headed back home.
This weekend was, without a doubt, one of the most incredible experiences – both personal and professional – I’ve ever had. If it’s up to me, I’m definitely going back – and I encourage anyone who writes for a living to make the trip to BlogHer 2016. You absolutely won’t regret it.