Three years ago, on a whim two weeks before the opening keynote, I registered for the BlogHer '13 conference and bought a ticket to Chicago. I'd never heard of BlogHer before but needed to learn more about blogging and take a step toward something bigger. So I went west and my world grew bigger.
This weekend was my third BlogHer conference, and on the train home today, I thought a lot about all I've learned from and the evolution of how I experience each.
Random introductions have turned into friendships, and meeting in real life women I've gotten to know online never gets old. We recognize each other from profile pics and Facebook feeds and hug immediately as if the geographic distance that's prevented us from actually meeting never much mattered in the first place. Community has taken on an entirely new, infinitely more expansive meaning.
In this huge, diverse, pulsating scene, domain names and handles become pals. People I've respected from afar come to life. Learning is still critically important but this year took a bit of a backseat to spending time with people I really like and want to know better.
The kick-ass Amy Byrnes, of A My Name is Amy, and I sat next to each other in a session at BlogHer Chicago two years ago, and though I hadn't seen her since, when we laid eyes on each other last Thursday, it was seamless.
Through her, I reconnected with the wonderful Brooke Lefferts of Carpool Candy, who I'd also met in Chicago but lost touch with. On Friday, they introduced me to the very fabulous Jesse Torrey of Smiles and Duct Tape and the lovely, we've-lived-in-so-many-of-the-same-places Christine Carlisle of Chew, Nibble, Nosh. The five of us laughed uproariously at a memorable dinner last night where Christine and I nearly cried over this perfect burrata. In all sincerity, I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.
Likewise, the no-adjective-is-quite-enough Jenny Kanevsky and I met in person as above -recognize, hug, gut-buster laugh- and later sat next to and took much comfort in each other during a powerful, important session on Storytelling and Mental Health.
I was able to tell Susan Maccarelli, of Beyond Your Blog, in person that I simply don't know how she manages two blogs, two kids and being a font of submission-oriented information every single day. And Kristi Rieger Campbell, of Finding Ninee, and I got to meet and take a selfie even though we live not 20 miles from each other but have never crossed paths here. I got to tell A'driane Nieves how much I admire her.
It's funny how many hours over just a couple days can forge lasting connection. How truly fond of someone you can become after jumping in, shaking hands, sharing a meal and conversation and laughter. I mean, two days ago, Jesse and I were total strangers and last night I introduced her to facial-oil blotting papers as we shared a cab to dinner. It's really something to go from a basic handshake to comparing the aftermath of a long day as shown on a Clean & Clear blotting sheet in just 24 hours.
One thing I think the BlogHer conferences do so well is offer bloggers an empowering environment in which we can push ourselves out of comfort zones, shove fears aside and be ballsy without apology.
As you might remember, I was hellbent on meeting the tremendous Elan Morgan of Schumtzie last year and so swallowed my nerves and walked right up to her. Then I asked if she'd do my website redesign, and this year I hoped to get to know her better, did so and and am deeply happy about it.
It's all too easy when you really admire, are intimidated by or in awe of someone, to shy away. To think, "She wouldn't want to talk to me. He is so successful." The cool kid thing. And you know what, not everyone does want to talk, some do think they're better. But more often than not, others are also nervous, and a friendly face or a word of gratitude or even a bit of fan-love breaks the ice like nobody's business.
BlogHer reminds attendees of that constantly: to stretch, ask, reach, grab. To make opportunity happen when the door opens, even if it's scary.