Time to Lean In?

As the deadline to submit an idea for BlogHer ’14 fast approaches, I keep opening and shutting the tab with that link over there. The days are passing quickly, and if I don’t get my idea out there, it will be December 3 and the big idea will hit me.

First, I should say that I haven’t bought my ticket yet. I know. I feel like a small fish in a big sea of bloggers.

Many times, I’ve said I don’t do it for the stats or the popularity. I don’t think my writing is that poignant, funny, or even worth stopping by; however, time and again, at least 50 of you a day come for a visit. (Thank you.) In the scheme of things, the views per year on this ‘lil blog are slightly more than the number of women (and men) who attend a conference like BlogHer.

And maybe that’s why I haven’t bought my ticket yet. Truthfully, it has nothing to do with anything except for my own nerves about why I do what I do.

But maybe that’s why I need to dig my heals in, buy my ticket, submit my proposal. Talk about being a small fish in a big sea and how I can’t let that drag me down from telling my story.

Because you see, I have a lot of stories to tell. Like this one. Or this one. Or that one. Stories that have made me me. Stories that bring readers here (from I don’t always know where). Stories I want my kids to know, but stories I may not have the courage to verbalize to themYet.

Maybe it’s time to do what a fellow strong woman, Sheryl Sandberg suggests and Lean In. Submit that proposal for a panel of women who do well at telling their stories while staying small…and how that’s okay. That it’s how we keep our balance and cool.

And even if my leaning in doesn’t work out? It will be okay, because I tried. Because I pushed my self. And because I’ll still make BlogHer ’14 a thing and still have an adorable ‘lil man who’s willing to cuddle up in my lap and make me smile.

#BlogHer13 Taught Me

A ‘lil over a week ago I went off to Chicago to meet some of my blogging friends and 5,000-ish of our peers at BlogHer ’13. It was a conference I’d been looking forward to for many personal reasons. I love blogging, and I love the community. I just needed it all to come together. And that it did. #BlogHer13 taught me a lot about myself and why I do what I do.

Arriving in Chicago, I was full of hope and excitement. My plane landed early, so I assumed I’d get some time to meet up with my roommates (Jen and Kayla) before the weekend was in full swing. GPS on my (crappy) phone had other plans. I got off the train at the right stop, but then saw it was another 1.6 miles to my hotel (it wasn’t). Not wanting to drag my luggage all over town, I got back on the train and headed north–the wrong way–then south too far. Finally, I gave in and called an Uber Car. BlogHer 13 taught me to plan ahead when traveling in a new city–know your route ahead–and to have a reliable GPS if possible.

I was able to take some time to brush my hair (one of the few times I did all weekend, oops) and freshen up before finally meeting Jen in real life. We headed to our room and started to plan the evening and weekend. BlogHer 13 taught me that sometimes people who you meet online can really be as awesome in person as they are online…and don’t wait two years to actually meet.

Thursday evening took me to the Expo Hall (where I won a Verizon Wireless Blackberry z10, review to come). My loving relationship with my FitBit began, too, as I met up with BestBuy to prep for the next day’s 5k (review to come). After I had a cup of coffee from Folger’s, it was time to hail a cab (my first actual hail) and go to two parties (of which I may review in future posts). During the in-between of parties, I got the tweet about winning the phone, so I had to rush back to the Expo Hall. BlogHer 13 taught me to be prepared for anything.

Friday morning started bright and early. (Jen called me crazy.) I woke, stretched, and got dressed for the BlogHer/Best Buy 5k. When I got to the registration table, I learned that not everyone is a morning person and that the 5k was not at all organized in the fact that the route map wasn’t marked and the start was unofficial (we all started at different times). I didn’t tweet to Danni Allen hard enough to get her to run with me, which was a sad fail because I ran it alone and got lost in the levels of Chicago (and later I found out she was at a blogger lunch with Walgreens, boo!). My run ended up taking me up and down a lot of steps and an extra 0.15 miles. I did, however, PR the 3.1 miles. BlogHer 13 taught me I do love to run and that when I am scared, I do run a bit faster than I realize I can.

My PR

I returned to shower and get ready for my day, but ended up missing Ree’s keynote and Speed Dating (next year). I did, however, make it on time for some more coffee then “Shedding the Facade“, a session on blogging about the things that make us vulnerable. (You know, like this or this.) The tears that met my eyes affirmed that I am blogging for a reason and that the stories I tell, even if only a few read them, are worth it. I got to finally meet Kristi (a fellow runner) and ran into a Pittsburgher, Brittney, from The Motherhood, too. BlogHer 13 taught me that telling MY STORY is the right thing to do, even if it hurts from time to time.

After lunch, I carried my bags of swag to a session including Pittsburgh’s own Michelle (of Burgh Baby) and prepared myself to get “tsk tsk’ed” because of my swag–the session was on UnMarketing and why we are not a brand. Again, my heart was hit–I am doing the right balance for me. I don’t write about things my family doesn’t use. I donate things we wouldn’t (like a huge bottle of Lubriderm in the ladies’ room…because we have a ton of lotion here at home). I share other people’s do-good efforts. I am not a brand. BlogHer 13 taught me that I am allowed to work with brands (within reason), as long as the fit is right for me (and my readers).

Michelle and I walked around the Expo for a ‘lil bit and then I went back to my room to just have a moment. To be honest, BlogHer is a lot to take in. Smiling, connecting, telling my story over and over. Remembering whose business card matched with what product. I was in serious need of some pampering, so I went off to get some pampering and ended up just having a cocktail and a generic tarot card reading. BlogHer 13 taught me that sometimes not everything is what it’s cracked up to be.

(However, Jen and I did have a fun time making this video.)

Michelle, who is amazing, told me I had to be at the Voices of the Year Keynote (and Greg did, too–Queen Latifah was the emcee). I got there just in time to hear that The Queen was in traffic, perfect timing! I was treated (with all the other BlogHer’s) to the readings of some funny, sad, and deep readings from the women who won Voices of the Year. I fell in love with blogging all over again, and had my heart warmed by the words I heard (and just maybe asked Greg to check us all for pinworms when I got home, you’d have to be there to understand). BlogHer 13 taught me that one day I just might find the right words to be honored like these women were.

I later met up with Jen, but getting a cab from Hailo was a fail. It took me 45 minutes to get a cab then another 10 to meet her. By the time I met her, it was time to go back where I came from. BlogHer 13 taught me that sometimes you should just hail your own cab and not pinch the damn pennies as much.

We headed to the Sheraton to meet some of my new blogging connections, but I had to call it a night early because I was starving (literally–I didn’t eat a real dinner, fail!) and dehydrated (from only drinking 150 ounces of water and putting in over 10 miles on Friday). BlogHer 13 taught me to eat and drink and not to forget about myself.

Saturday morning was breakfast (when, sorry, I had to split and go to a new table because I do not like when people talk over the whole table about how awesome they are–must not have read this). Luckily, Michelle again came to my rescue and I got to actually enjoy the conversation. I stuck around a while to think about what I’d do if I weren’t afraid. BlogHer 13 taught me to not be afraid.

Next, I went to two sessions on pitching brands and making a media kit. I loved the lessons learned in these ones, but you’ll all just have to wait and hear what happens because of the lessons. BlogHer 13 taught me that all you have to do is ask…and have supporting data to show why.

Lunch–I briefly sat in the keynote and listened to Lourdis Lane talk about “fessin’ up to messin’ up” and how we are all superheroes. BlogHer 13 taught me that I am stronger than I think.

I headed back to the Expo Hall to get a ‘lil touch-up in the way of Kiss Lashes and hair/make-up (thanks to Windex) and then to network. Blogher 13 taught me that yes, I can look beautiful and it’s not that hard to achieve.

My hair done and lashes on!

The evening consisted of packing my swag, taking in a movie (can’t wait to tell you about that), enjoying Chicago with my roommates (in ways I never thought I would), partying at CheeseBurgHer, meeting some of my bloggy crushes, and laughing oh, so hard. We got back to the room after 3, and I had to be up and out the door just after 6 for an early flight (that ended up delayed, of course). Every second of it was worth it. BlogHer 13 taught me to let loose, enjoy, and laugh lots.

BlogHer ’13 Roommates (How could we NOT have fun?)

If I Weren’t Afraid #BlogHer13

I’ve been absolutely positively addicted to Sheryl Sandberg since the day almost four months ago when the Women’s Business Resource Group talked about Lean In. I’ve shared a few things with you on this here blog, and many of you know I got to listen to Sheryl speak in person at BlogHer 13 last week. And some of you have been dying to know what in the world I thought of it.

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Well, of course I loved every moment of it, even if I had read the book and heard a web version of the speech before. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of my ‘lil girl and Sheryl said that “the next time someone calls your daughter bossy, take a deep breath and say ‘my daughter has executive leadership skills”. And I thought about myself, and how my parents primed me to be a leader and how I have all these dreams and things I’d love to do if only I could just Lean In.

This is what I wrote. Sure, I’d love to do it, but I’m not really afraid of doing it (minus the fact I’d have to quit my job and Greg would have to start one just to keep us afloat):

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I even took a picture of myself with it, then posted it in a few places around BlogHer.

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But, is it really what I would do if I wasn’t afraid? No. It’s not what I really and truly want to be doing. Instead, I should have written any of the following:

* Manage a customer call center.
* Manage social media and blogger outreach for a company or a sports team (large scale, do you hear me, Pittsburgh Steelers?).
* Zipline!
* Join a CrossFit gym.
* Write a book about being a pastor’s kid.
* Write a book about losing Wendy.
* Tell the guy across the way that he shouldn’t talk to his wife and daughter like he does.
* Forgive myself for the past.

If you want details on Sheryl’s interview, you can read the transcript here.

Your turn. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? You can share below, or at the Not Afraid Tumblr.

NaBloPoMo July 30: Timely Connections

BlogHer July NaBloPoMo

BlogHer.com July NaBloPoMo

This post is brought to you by the NaBloPoMo July prompts from BlogHer. This month, I am writing about connections. 

Today’s Prompt: Do you connect the most with the past, the present, or the future?

This is another easy one. I connect most with my feelings from the past simply because we cannot know the future, we aren’t sure what impact the present has on us, but we know how the past formed us. Right?

Since I like to not talk too much about the past, I think I’ll just move on…one more day of NaBloPoMo!

NaBloPoMo July 29: Feelings

BlogHer July NaBloPoMo

BlogHer.com July NaBloPoMo

This post is brought to you by the NaBloPoMo July prompts from BlogHer. This month, I am writing about connections. 

Today’s Prompt:  Can you connect easily with your feelings and understand where they come from?

My feelings. Ah. Evan and I are so much the same with our feelings. We easily get hurt and pout and cry. I’m learning to accept my emotions and not internalize everything, but it’s been a long journey of learning. I wouldn’t say I connect with my feelings, nor do I understand where they are coming from.

Do you ever question your feelings? Do you think that feelings are genetic? I see a lot of me in my kids, and I know Greg sees himself. It’s tough to know how one ‘lil thing will impact us when we can’t connect with our feelings, isn’t it?

NaBloPoMo July 25: Seemingly Unconnected

BlogHer July NaBloPoMo

BlogHer.com July NaBloPoMo

This post is brought to you by the NaBloPoMo July prompts from BlogHer. This month, I am writing about connections. 

Today’s Prompt:  William Plomer defined creativity as “the power to connect the seemingly unconnected.” Discuss.

Creativity surely brings the least likely pairs together for connections. Today, for instance, I am off to Chicago to celebrate creativity bringing people together. While I am at BlogHer, I will be connecting with women who are creative like me, but that we may not have otherwise have been connected.

It is going out on a limb, especially before going to a conference where people are social media addicts like me, but I will just say it anyhow. Creativity expressed through blogging and social media gives otherwise introverts an outlet to connect with others like them. I will admit, I am a bit socially awkward when it comes to meeting new people. But, get me comfortable and I chat away. Blogging and social media will give myself and others a means to connect.

I am grateful for the ways creativity helps us connect, aren’t you?

BlogHer
Source: blogher.com

30-Second Pitch #BlogHer13

In April, I attended a conference for work (HDI). The first session I attended was about having a 30-second Pitch. You want to be able to capture your audience in the brief time you might have with them and make yourself stand out among the crowd. I’ll be using tips learned in that session to help me while I am at Blogher ’13 this weekend.

The strategy I used was put together by Dana Olson, IT guru. Her method is powerful, and I highly suggest you reach out to her if you want to hear the fine print details (she has a GREAT worksheet). No worries, if you are going to BlogHer (or any other conference for that matter), my description should give you the basics to put your own pitch together and be ready to meet and greet then start networking your way to meet your goals.

The first thing you have to do is consider your audience. In my case, I’ll probably have two different audiences this weekend—fellow bloggers and companies/brands that I could build a relationship with for reviews, promotions, and fun for this blog. For the purpose of this exercise, I’ll be sharing with you my strategy for talking to the brands (because if you’re a fellow BlogHer attendee, I want to meet you and wow you in person versus you knowing what to expect). So, who is your audience and what do you want to get from that audience? Be ready to include that in your pitch.

As story tellers, the next part should be easy—you tell a clear story. In that story, be sure to include your who, what, and why. Bonus points for including some stats and powerful words. Just choose carefully, don’t come off as bragging.

You want your message to be brief—that’s why this is called a 30-second pitch. Brands have thousands of bloggers waiting in line to get some swag, make a connection, or just be thanked for the last year of sponsorship. They don’t have time for every single 5 minute conversation. Make the pitch, prepare to just leave your card, and let them take the connection from there. (By the way, if you have a great hook, take the opportunity to ask if now’s a good time to spend some more time talking, and always thank them for their time and feedback.)

So now that you have the basics, here’s the example of how I’ll be introducing myself to brands, giving them my “who, what, why” and setting the tone of the next steps in our relationship.

Hi, I’m Becky Willis, working mom when the suns up and blogger when the sun goes down. My blog, ‘lil Burghers, is about how preserving the memories as I attempt to keep my kids, husband, and self happy and healthy. Readers come to my site to hear about parenting, weight loss, and life in Pittsburgh. In the last year, my blog readership has gone from a few readers here and there to 600 uniques a month. Since I clearly love to keep busy, I’m not done there–I am looking to double my readership in the next year, form brand relationships, take my kids to at least two new states, and run another half marathon. Through my blog, I hope to preserve the memories made while meeting these goals. Would now be a good time to talk to you about how you can help me meet some (or all!) of these goals?

What do you think? Does it describe me? Should I go back to the drawing board? I am sure I will not get this whole pitch in every time—there are some brands where it will make sense to talk about weight loss and others where it would help to talk about how travel and experiences are important to my family. It’s going to be a “feel it out” approach, and the best part of networking is that you have that opportunity to give them a little and keep the conversation going.

If you’re at BlogHer and want to see how this works for me, tweet me @mrsgregwillis to check in. Also, on the meeting other bloggers side—you will probably have a few 30-second elevator rides. Give your new friend 15 seconds of you, get 15 seconds of them. This isn’t all about you this weekend. Now let’s go network!

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#BHBC Review: “You Have No Idea” #spon

One of the things I often wonder is, “How would my life have been different if I would have just…” (listened to my mom?). Sure, some things would have been a lot different, but maybe some things turned out the way they did because I chose not to listen.

Helen and Vanessa Williams (from BlogHer)

One of my childhood idols, Vanessa Williams, and her mother, Helen Williams, teamed up to write “You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)”. The two tag-team Vanessa’ biography…Helen sprinkles in the advice that she gave Vanessa, and Vanessa gives her take on what the life moments around that advice. From as simple as not riding with someone else on the back of her bike to not posing nude, they tell it all.

While I am not normally one for biographies/memoirs, I have to tell you, “You Have No Idea” had me captivated from the beginning. As a child, I loved singing along to “Save the Best for Last” and “Colors of the Wind”, and we all know the story about the photos that ended her reign as Miss America. But, there are so many things I didn’t know about Vanessa, like that she has four children and was married twice (Rick Fox was one of her husbands). Oh, and Vanessa and I connect on a level–traveling with a breast pump and no baby. You’ll have to read the book to hear about the time she was in an airport and got called out by security…oh, do I know the feeling! Vanessa and Helen each gave their own side of the story (there’s always two sides, right?) and this makes the biography feel light–something I appreciate.

Helen and Vanessa write about the pageants, the music, the Broadway dream. Through it all, the theme of surviving what life hands you sticks out. While reading Vanessa’s story and hearing Helen’s advice, I laughed, I cried, and most of all, it made me connect with my past on another level. I can look back at things my mom has told me and say, “Oh! She was so right”…and it makes me think of things that I will have to tell my daughter.

This book was a fun read, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy of it. It is almost Mother’s Day, after all, so perhaps pick up a copy for your own mom and pen a note about some of the advice she gave you in life.

Want to join in on the fun that BlogHer is having around the release of “You Have No Idea”? Head over to their Book Club page. You’ll be able to hear more about the book, and join in the discussions, and even read an excerpt from Chapter One. There will be a new question each week, and I encourage you to share your thoughts. The first question will be, “Did you follow your mother’s rules? Did you listen to her advice?“. So what are you waiting for? Go share!

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Disclosure: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

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Want to hear more from Vanessa? Follow her on Twitter (@vwofficial) or like her on Facebook.