You get what you give

For a long time, I worked on a theme park account. Which sounds like the greatest thing in the world–or the absolute worst. It all depends on your perspective.

Every so often, a cynical LA colleague, new to the account, would receive a brief, and roll his eyes at the prospect of spending time there. I explained that you could embrace the idea that you’ll be drinking margaritas out of giant plastic cups, posing for pictures with guys dressed like superheroes, and waiting in line alongside tourists wearing branded everything from their college team shoelaces to their Dr. Seuss hats; or you could spend the weekend whining that it’s not Paris.

The former was always way more fun.

That’s how I felt this weekend at the Blogher conference. It wasn’t a trip to Paris; it was a conference for networking, community building, and professional development.

It left me convinced of one thing: people got back as much as they put in.

Commit to fun, and you will have fun. Commit to learning, and you will find yourself enriched. Commit to drama and…stay away from me. I’m too busy learning and having fun.

On the plane Sunday night, coasting over wispy white clouds, with the half moon glowing in the still bright sky, I was experiencing that odd feeling I always do after Blogher; that thing where half my mind  is processing the weekend behind me, and half my mind is anticipating the hug of tiny arms that I missed so much.

But one thing I felt that I haven’t for a while is inspired. Wildly inspired.

Once again, the community keynote had me marveling at what a community of creation the blogosphere is.

Kathryn Tucker, an new friend who is not a blogger herself, kept turning to me between presenters and whispering with surprise, this is really heavy. This is really amazing. It was a treat to watch her discover that it’s not all about diaper giveaways and marketing connections round these parts. Although I did adore my panel about forging better connections with PR folks (transcript here) and I hope it was valuable to the people who attended.

Still, I think the thing we give away best of all are our stories.

Our words.

Our voices.

Absolutely free.

Simply for the chance to be heard.

I realized that I spent the weekend in the company of writers like Eden Riley, who blew me away with her poignant Every Little Thing. So much so that I chased down during a party, nearly knocking over 6 glitter-clad women, just for the chance to shake her hand and give her a hug.

Kate Inglis eloquently encouraged us to suck less in our writing, by giving ourselves permission to suck more. She and Bon Stewart make me want to be a better writer, and I doubt I’m the only one saying as much.

There were few dry eyes when Cecily K described being sober for 15 years. Or Lori OHara’s terribly sad yet inspiring post about her best friend’s mother, who encouraged her to wear red underwear.

And then there was my dear friend Kristen Chase, who does beautiful prose as well as she does snark, speaking for every mother when she closed the event with a stunningly personal observation about the one thing she can’t even say out loud.

How could I not walk out of that session wanting to be a better writer?

How could I not walk out of that session wanting to be a better person? To support the community better? To not just listen more, but to hear more?

Thank you to all of the readers that night. You gave us a gift.

liz gumbinner and indra nooyiThe next day, I was privileged to spend an hour that may have been the culmination of all that I was feeling on Friday.  I was invited to join a very small group of bloggers for a chat with Indra Nooyi, the remarkable CEO of Pepsico and one of the most powerful women in corporate America, who I truly believe is helping to change the way the world does business.

I had seen her speak at the White Ribbon Alliance dinner I attended in 2009, also known as the Night of 10,000 Supermodels and Liz. When I reminded her of the evening she offered a funny anecdote about being asked by the press about what dress she was wearing.

“Does it matter?” she responded.

My kinda woman.

This hour together, before her Blogher keynote speech, wasn’t the corporate hand-shaking roundtable you might expect. It was a safe, warm space in which we shared our inspirations and our challenges as women and mothers. Everyone who spoke did so beautifully, but a few really stand out to me today. Stephanie Nielsen was candid,  in a room full of working mothers, about her commitment to family and her faith beyond all else.  Niri captivated us with her coming to America story from a difficult life in South Africa.

Audrey McClellan spoke with such conviction about wanting to be a role model for her boys so they know what a strong working mother looks like. Jaden Hair told us about her passion for food politics which inspired her to start a small farm on her own property.  (Chickens, people! She’s going to raise chickens!) Jill Johnson Pattee spoke so lovingly about her husband and his essential support of her work that I haven’t stopped thinking about how lucky she is. Let’s just say Nate and I would kill each other if we worked together.

And  then I shared my challenges as a working mother, my need to connect with others through my blog, and my stalwart belief that whether you start a foundation or simply share your stories, one person can make a difference.

Indra nodded soberly, “I believe that too.”

Again, my kinda woman.

Then, she went on—her own lovely daughter by her side— to impart her own challenges and struggles and sacrifices over the years as a busy working mother.  I was reminded again that no one does it all. And when we’re not afraid to say it out loud, we can start to get past our own issues.

Afterwards, Lindsay confessed that she was holding back tears through the entire meeting. No one disagreed.

This year, what I took away from Blogher was far more valuable than any coupon or freebie; any gift bag at any swanky party. If you’re not hearing a lot about swag this year, maybe it’s because so many of us felt the same way too.

What a community this is, friends.

I’m so honored to be a part of it.


47 thoughts on “You get what you give”

  1. Liz, this post gave me the chills. You’re so right. Great post and great insight. There was SO much inspiration this weekend; it’s both humbling and empowering to see so many amazing women out there and how much they are positively influencing others.

  2. I’m pretty sure this was BlogHer’s finest hour yet. What an amazing conference. I am certainly proud to have had the chance to attend. And seeing you didn’t suck, either. 🙂

  3. And holding back tears out here (and I didn’t even attend)… beautifully written, Liz. And just so you know, writers like you make me want to be a better writer, too. Some day I’ll have to get over my issues and start my own blog.

  4. Lovely post, Liz. I’m sorry I didn’t get to attend that roundtable. Having seen (and been so impressed with) Indra speak at the Women’s Conferences a few years ago, I was so pleased that she really seemed to find the same connection to the BlogHer community.

    But you know, the community is so awesome…how could she not?

  5. Imma thinking I’ll just close up blogshop and leave a sign pointing to Mom101, saying “What Liz Said.”

    I, too, came home feeling like my romance with blogging and bloggers was renewed. And I don’t know about you, but the shared sense of history was especially intense. Blog years are like dog years. One counts for at least seven. It felt like I was among my oldest and dearest friends.


    1. Your session was one of the things I regret missing. Hooray for the professional transcription people this year.

      Loved seeing old friends and new. I know you how you feel.

  6. I have probably 20 tabs open in my browser to check out all of the stories you’ve mentioned. That was probably the best write up of the conference I’ve read and the one that most made me excited about possibly attending next year and the amazing community we’re in.

  7. Such a treat to see details of some of the things I missed. Totally was looking forward to meeting you to tell you a story, but I’ll email it instead. I felt like BlogHer was a completely different conference this year than last year, and I think in part, it’s because of what I put into it. You’re so right.

    1. The great thing is…you may have missed those events but you don’t have to miss those bloggers. They’re on their blogs every day, sharing the same wonderful stories and thoughts that they did at the conference.

      I know my RSS reader is about to get a makeover.

  8. This is the only post I’ve read about Blogher so far that actually makes me want to go. Every other post has either been a litany of complaints, or a retelling of stories that make it sound like everyone is a) plastered b) covered in glitter and c) squealing like teenagers 24 hours a day. Which is fun, but not worth the cost, you know? The Blogher you attended sounds like it was worth every penny.

  9. This was my first BlogHer and I finally, FINALLY, get it. I wish I had been in some of the places to hear the women you mentioned above, but I had my own experiences, each one more important than any piece of swag or cake pop (oh the cake pops were delicious though).

    And of course, I finally got to meet you and Kristen, albeit a brief encounter. Still a major highlight of my weekend.

    Can’t wait until next year!

  10. Exactly. BlogHer gives attendees the opportunity for so many different varieties of experience. I came to see old friends, meet new ones, and have my heart ripped out at Voices of the Year. And that’s exactly what I got. It was perfect. Had I wanted to pursue other avenues a bit more vigorously, those would have been available to me as well.

  11. Liz, this sums up beautifully what I’m reminded of each year thanks to BlogHer, whether I’m able to attend or not: the personal connections I’ve made through writing that enrich my life in ways I never imagined writing could.

  12. This was my 5th BlogHer and it was my favorite one for all kinds of reasons. San Diego was gorgeous and everyone I ran into had a huge smile on their face and lashes so long it was hard to blink. I felt so much love & support from everyone who came by my booth in the expo – and then got to end every night dancing with girl friends….

  13. Hi, I was at BlogHer. I saw you and recognized you from your blog. I wanted to say hi, but the “I may seem creepy” person on my shoulder did didn’t allow me.

    I love this post … I think I came home with hot pink flip-flips and a small box cereal in terms of swag. It was my first conference, and I was there to learn. I too left inspired … I really had no idea that blogging was changing the face of communication. I have a blog, but really did not know what to do with it. What to say. This last weekend changed all of my fears of writing (and sucking). It’s like I was given permission to be free from all the blockers in my mind.

    Anyway, next time, I see you at a conference, I will say Hi. Thanks for this post. It is true, you got out of it, what you gave.

  14. Perfect!

    What I like most is how many attendees whose recaps I’ve read or with whom I’ve spoken who feel equally inspired and filled with encouragement and love after BlogHer11. Was it the sea air? Was it the California vibe? The lack of humidity? Or has the blogging community as a whole come to the same conclusion you have, that the best way to exist & prosper is to focus on the good in everyone and everything? Whatever it was, I loved it.

  15. Sometimes BlogHer gets criticized for trying to be all things to all people but honestly, I felt like this year, it seemed more relaxed and that people were realistic about going to what they wanted to and not feeling guilty for not doing it all. The balance of networking, listening, learning and ‘squee-ing’ set in the oh-so-perfect climate and beauty of San Diego, made it really satisfying for me personally and for those I connected with. Maybe that’s just being a ‘conference’ veteran but I feel great about my BH11 experience. (ok, so I am a little green about your round table with Indra – what a great opportunity that long-time BH sponsor Pepsico provided.)

  16. Liz,

    This post is so perfect and wonderful and lovely in so many ways.
    I was lounging on a beach with my family, thinking nothing could be better while y’all were experiencing all of this.

    Your post, makes me wish, just a bit, that I’d been there, too.


    Proud to know you.

  17. Loved this. It is exactly what you put into it. I had fun. I had a better time last year, though, and for me, that was just because it was my first time, and this year, I spent too much time worrying about being so far away from my kids, and wondering if I’d last three nights away from them. I did, and now, I wish I had relaxed more. It’s overwhelming, really. But in a good way. Kristen Chase had me sobbing during the keynote, Bon as well. That’s my favourite part of the conference. And just talking to friends. So worth it. So glad I MET you, too. Even though we just kept saying ‘hello!’. 🙂

  18. This was my first BlogHer conference so I had no idea what to expect. Plus, I’m not *really* a blogger; I blog as a way to update my customers about my business. However, since BlogHer was in my own backyard, how could I not attend? At first it was so overwhelming. I had this vision of meeting new people and this is exatly what I did. Once I got over the “deer in the headlights” feeling, I started talking to people. It was great! I was there by myself and everyone was so friendly and had so much energy. I attended a few sessions and became inspired to start blogging. (Still trying to get the nerve up to do that.) I made some great connections and was super excited about my experience!

    Plus, I got to meet you and some other bloggers that I totally love!

  19. This was my first time to attend, and as I sat around with all of these wonderful women that I had only met online I thought, “this is why I do this. I love these people and I love interacting with them and I love being a part of this.” I may be a very tiny fish in a very big pond, but I’m so glad to just be here swimming along with everyone else.

  20. BlogHer is exactly what you make it. Totally so bang on. I had a good time. I saw friends I wanted to see, I talked to everyone I wanted to talk to, and I had a good time. I had a better time last year, though, but that’s because I was way more worried this year about missing my children, and being so far away from them… for three nights, not just two nights, like last year. It’s such a wonderful community, one that I’m so happy to be part of. The VOTY – especially Kristen – had me sobbing like a baby. Seriously. It was wonderful. And! I’m glad I finally met you in person. Even though we just kept saying “hello!” 😉
    See you next year!

  21. I only caught a glimpse of a Liz-shaped blur and wished so much I’d spent more time with you. Never enough.

    Nodding and smiling and so happy to be a part of it all. I felt just the same way. Always have. xo

  22. Liz – this is just perfect. I have been mulling this year’s BlogHer experience over and over in my mind, trying to put the words to paper that best resonate with my experience. And you have done it. This year was peaceful. I didn’t feel rushed as I have in the past – I had beautiful, meaningful connections with many people I adore and many more I am newly experiencing. I had been attributing it to a shorter experience this year since I had to leave early, but you are right: it was the people, it was the location, it was the community, it was my CHOICE to make it so. My one regret is missing the panel with Indra… but leaving early made it so. It was wonderful to see you… I will now spend the next hour reading through each link from this post 🙂

  23. This was my first BlogHer. I was accompanied by a nursing 14mo. Even though I heard “she’s too cute to be fussy” I was intimidated by having her with me and thus didn’t go to many sessions. I did attend the Verizon Wireless private lunch on Friday and it was amazing. On saturday, I attended the MilBloggers session. Even though these were the only two sessions I attended, I still left feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to show the world me…the no frills me. I did meet some great people in passing and regret not having a chance to chat more with them. I struggle as an upcoming Blogger, starting the blog secondary to my business and not really knowing what to do with a blog. BlogHer did help me realize that all things come I’m time. Having readers and comments aren’t going to POP up overnight. I feel most inspired to go back next year and learn even more…sans kids.

  24. EXACTLY! This is how I approach all conferences, theme parks and LIFE!

    I had an incredible time at BlogHer this year like every year. Any swag or drama nonsense is invisible to me because I am fixed on the fabulous!

  25. The community keynote is truly worth the price of admission. And I’d already read at least half of those posts before hearing them read aloud!

  26. I couldn’t agree more. This was my favorite of any BlogHer I’ve attended (and I’ve attended a lot). I’ve been describing it just as Danielle was peaceful. And inspirational. I just felt so lucky to be there with so many smart, talented people. That’s a lot of good energy in one space.

  27. You know what? I went out there to see friends and chill for a bit. You know what I did? I saw friends and chilled for a bit. It was perfection.

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  29. Great to see you, even briefly. I think it’s all about expectations. My expectations were fairly inline with what I actually experienced, so I walked away quite happy.

    I always leave wondering, “How can I get more involved?”

  30. What an amazing experience to just sit and chat with those women and hear what they really have to say from the heart.

    And Lori and Kate left me breathless. Their words and speaking voices had me memorized.

    I’m so happy I attended this year. It was a truly great experience. Thanks for sharing a part of yours with us.

  31. Thanks for sharing.
    I’m holding back tears just reading this-can’t wait until I have more time to visit every link.

  32. I have been admiring you from afar for so long … it is extraordinary to see myself up in your space.

    You’re a bloody spunk, Liz. See you next year.

  33. Wasn’t it wonderful? It was my first conference, and I kept saying, ” I found my mothership.”

    Such a wonderful experience.

    I will look for you, and say hi, at BlogHer 12.

  34. Oh my goodness! I just opened approximately 6 dozen tabs in the browser so I can read all these amazing links. See you in several hours…



  35. I’m still walking around wondering WHY no one is asking me my twitter card or asking for my business cards.

    The VoTY night may have been one of the very very best of my life, it was so magical to share my words with such an incredibly supportive community. I have not been so proud or so honored in…I can’t even remember when.

    I wish we could all – every single one of us – have a night like that. We all deserve it, and I’m still not sure how come I was the blessedly lucky one to have it.

    Thank you for celebrating with me.

  36. Totally agreed. I’m always amazed at the force with which the community keynote hits me and inspires me, every year. You’d think it would wear off, but it never does.

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