It’s funny how a week can either feel like a flash or an eternity.

A couple of weeks ago, I left behind my TEDWomen experience in La Quinta, CA, clinging fiercely to not letting it go emotionally, too.

This. Was. Epic.

TEDWomen 2018

It’s hard to boil down into words, so I’ve let the experience steep in my brain for a bit. I have a gazillion pages of notes, a lifetime’s supply of inspiration and I refuse to settle back into the status quo. At the time, it felt life-changing. I owe it to myself to do something with it.

But where to start? Just start.

I don’t have much of a bucket list. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to follow many of my passions along the way. Speaking on a TED stage is one of the few remaining items.

2018 was my year to attend TEDWomen. I thought about applying last year and watched the deadline slip away having taken no action.

As the early-bird deadline this year came and went and the deeply personal application loomed over my head, I was struck by determination one day to power through. And then wait…

Do I have a chance? Not have a chance? How exclusively curated is this? I have big plans and ideas for life, but so far, have been too afraid to execute on any of them. I was aTEDx volunteer. Would that help? Did I make the right call in mentioning my two miscarriages?

I Showed Up Monday evening with an open and courageous heart. I can sometimes seem like an extrovert, but at my core, I’m an introvert. Social interactions give me anxiety. I stress about connecting with people and put a lot of pressure on myself to find the perfect connection. Every few years or so, I am fortunate to meet someone where we just seem to immediately get each other. I feel free to be myself. So much of the time, that is not necessarily the case. I don’t feel free to bring my whole self to work, only a mere sliver.

The crowd started to build at the Monday night meet and mingle. In a circle of chairs, there was an open one, so I asked if I could sit there. I was warmly welcomed and quickly met a woman from a city in India in which I had spent several weeks photographing more than a decade ago. Though by no means a small city, it’s not one that travelers and tourists frequently visit, so that we had this in common was a gift from the universe. Soon after that, I met another woman I just clicked with. We bonded on having Moo cards and later connected through music – a favorite band of mine from my teenage years shaped her life philosophy. Another gift from the universe. Shortly thereafter, I met an outgoing woman from Italy who was studying in Finland. Another easily flowing conversation. When conversations don’t flow easily, I get paranoid. The people I connect with most deeply – those connections seem to come fast and furiously. And when we can’t find common ground quickly, I might look for an out from the conversation. I’m not sure what any of this means.

Going into this conference, I had no idea what I might encounter on the ego front. All of the attendees have been picked for a reason. They are making great contributions to this world. What am I contributing, really? Would I meet a bunch of wealthy snobs? People too good to associate with me, the woman with a mid-level job title from a small company?

While I felt inspired all week, I never felt inferior. Perhaps I was too busy being present to worry about all the things that I’m not. I realized there was an entire ecosystem of change makers that very much mirrored the lush landscape of the valley we inhabited for a few days. There were the palm tree attendees, already standing tall making incredible contributions and providing nourishment for others…and the ground plants just starting their journeys of contribution, and everything in between. Fertile, to say the least…

Another metaphor for the conference experience was plants that grow out of the cracks in concrete (so eloquently described by TED Fellow and speaker, Kotchakorn Voraakhom of Bangkok) . Our current political climate feels like a giant and suffocating cover of concrete. There are small glimmers of global hope – of plants breaking through the concrete to reach the sky. I feel like one of those small plants slowly finding my way to the sun.

plant growing from the cracks
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