Forefront — What I Learned At My First Conference

I had no desire to go to a conference. My PhD friends go to conferences all the time and I just didn't see the point. It sounded boring and also terrifying to spend that much amount of time with strangers. 

I touched on this in my latest blog post but my sister suggested I apply to volunteer at a conference her company had put together called Forefront. I knew very little about it but I did know she worked for a really cool company lead by Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I had been on his mailing list for a couple of months and had taken his online class How to Make Money at Creative Live and loved it—especially when he gave his students the Okay to keep buying lattes because, well... I do love lattes

Was I nervous?
Yes. So freaking nervous.

Did I want to go?
Yes. And I also knew that I'd leave the conference happy that I did it. It would be just like camp—I'd fight the idea of it but cry when it was over.  

The result?
I loved it!

What Is Forefront?

It's a weekend-long conference and this year it was held in Chicago, Illinois at Navy Pier. It's an event for entrepreneurs who follow Ramit (who most of which are students of IWT programs such as Zero to Launch, a course aimed at teaching people how start their own businesses) to learn and meet like-minded people—weird people, as Ramit would say—and hear from experts on how to grow their businesses. 

Now I don't have my own business and I never thought about having my own business until I started this blog. When you're too close to a skill, don't you find it hard to step back and see its potential? For example, I love blogging and I think it comes fairly easy for me to write. When people kept telling me I had something good here and could expand on it, I couldn't comprehend the idea. My blog wasn't work, I enjoyed it too much! I read more about self-development and met more people who are happy and successful, I've realized I can really do something here. 

I told myself that the reason I needed to go to Forefront was to find the answer to what I should do with my blog, but the real reason is that I needed to prove to myself that my anxiety cannot hold me back. 

Now, here's what went down. 

Thursday

My sister, Heather, and I flew into Chicago and spent the day exploring the city. My nerves were heavy in my stomach at the anticipation for what was to come this weekend. After 10 years of anxiety, I know me well. I know how I react when I'm anxious—I get angry and shut down. As I said "I'm not ready for this", I knew it was just my anxiety talking. When I stopped, took a breath, and observed my stomach ache and my negative thoughts, I was able to calm down and accept that it was just nerves. Nothing bad would happen. I wasn't going to throw up in the Chicago River no matter how many times I imagined it. 

*Quick shout-out to Whole Foods* When things seem scary, it helps to go somewhere familiar, even if that means closing your eyes and imagining it. Luckily there was a Whole Foods nearby and being inside, walking down the well-known aisles, and digging into the salad bar, I felt calmer. Maybe this is why there are Starbucks and McDonald's dotted around the world—for us to feel calmer. 

IMG_E2663.JPG

friday

I woke up and went to the gym—an automatic stress-reliever. 

At 2:30 PM it was time for the volunteer meeting and preparation for registration at 4. Meeting new people is always strange, especially when you've only seen them on Facebook. Slowly my nerves went from jitters to full-blown panic mode. As the head volunteer led us through the registration plan, I could hear my heart speeding up and the blood draining from me. I was panicking about having a panic attack, it's very meta. I managed to calm down a bit until I was assigned the one job I didn't feel comfortable doing. Luckily the head of the volunteers was easy to talk to and accommodating. I asked him if I could switch roles and he said it wasn't a problem. Funny how I felt more comfortable greeting and chatting to strangers than handing out programs and checking off names. 

Why does that scare me, you ask? It's the feeling of restriction in social settings. If I needed to step away from registration, the entire registration process would be royally fucked up. If I needed to step away from chatting to people, it wouldn't be a problem. 

The initial coffee-bar meet and greet was my favorite part of the night. It was my job to make sure everyone felt comfortable and that meant going up to the wallflowers and striking up conversation. I can't even count how many people I met (at least 20 in an hour and a half). After the coffee-bar, we went into the ballroom for a cocktail party and dancing. I met people from all over the world who had started their own businesses and were crushing it. I met people who were there to get inspired and break out of their shells, just like me. I met people who were there to make friends.

I went to bed happy to have survived the first day but nervous for what was to come. 

SATURDAY

Ramit gave his welcome speech in the morning and got personal in front of 500 people. I was so impressed by Ramit's ability to talk comfortably in front of a large crowd of people who were there because of him, who all look up to him as their mentor. Not only was he engaging, but he was down-to-earth and spoke to us like we were his close friends.

I only met Ramit on the Thursday but he was so easy to talk to that I felt as if I'd known him for years. I guess it doesn't hurt that I am somewhat of a clone of Heather, who works for Ramit. I've got to say, I knew my sister was cool but it was nice to have it reiterated this weekend when I met Heather's coworkers. It was as if being her sister automatically made me cool too. I'm so proud of Heather. (Thank you big sister for teaching me all of your ways.)

Gretchen Rubin spoke next about her latest book The Four Tendencies. She spoke in detail about the four personality profiles and explained why each has us act a certain way, and how to react to others with their specific tendencies. 

I'm a questioner. What are you? Take the quiz. 

IMG_2706.jpg

During lunch, I told everyone I was shivering because of the AC but it was really my nerves. My teeth were literally chattering. The workshops were up next which meant an hour in a small room, performing whatever tasks asked of me, like holding a microphone for Q&As. You see, small rooms full of people where I have to stay still makes me uncomfortable. 

It's where the What If's come out. "What if I throw up? What if I faint? I'll disrupt the entire workshop. These people spent a lot of money to be there. I can't ruin it for them!" *Cue the shakes, the cold flashes, the stomach ache* 

But the weird part is, I never faint and I never throw up. No matter how many times this has happened, my mind still likes to convince me that this irrational worry will become reality.

I worked myself up so much that as I sat in the back of the room during the workshop, I was so worried about having a panic attack that I needed to step outside and take a breath of air. Whenever I can take a step back from a situation and breathe, it makes a huge difference. If you're ever feeling panicked, step outside and take some breaths. It's crazy how much it helps. 

At night, we partied it up at the Museum of Science and Industry. The entire museum was closed just for us. It was pretty epic. 

IMG_E2724.JPG

sunday

I wasn't anxious on Sunday at all. I was just a little tired from a night of dancing.

Shawn Achor did a fantastic keynote on the science of happiness. He explained how people have a tendency to predict a person's happiness levels based on their external world.

This made me think about my own life—many times I'd say to myself: "Kelly, you have no right to be sad. You live in Scotland, you have an amazing family, you have an incredibly supportive boyfriend, and you're living the dream." But this pep-talk never made me happier, it just made me feel worse. How can I change my attitude? Well, I needed to change my mindset. Moving to Scotland wasn't going to fix my problems for me, nor was getting a Masters Degree. I had to change my way of thinking and find happiness in even the smallest things (like getting a good deal on chicken at Tesco!) 

Sunday flew by and when it was suddenly over, I found myself asking: "Wait, it's Sunday already?" While I didn't actually cry, I was sad to say goodbye and pack up my things.  

Thank god for the Internet because I now have access to all of these inspirational people I met and can continue talking to. We can share our businesses there and help each other out. While this post isn't particularly business-related, I hope Forefront attendees experienced the personal confidence boost similar to mine. 

 Goofy picture of the volunteers and Ramit

Goofy picture of the volunteers and Ramit


Take-aways: 

I learned a few things this weekend.

First, I'm an adult. Being 11 years younger than Heather, I feel like her kid-sister in many situations. This weekend I was welcomed and respected by everyone and felt more like an adult that I ever had before.

Second, I'm merely scratching at my potential. Fear is the only thing holding me back and this weekend taught me to let go of fear. It's impossible to say I'll always let go of fear from here on out but I now know how to identify it and work with it.

Third, there are good people all over the world. The world has been a weird place these past few years and I've become pessimistic about human nature. This weekend I was forced to meet people—a lot of people—and I enjoyed meeting every single one of them. People are fun, people are inspiring, and people are caring.

I've been a hermit since I moved to Scotland but I am going to make an effort to put myself out there more often. To get started, I went to Meetup.com and signed up for Edinburgh Expat Americans and Edinburgh Meet-Up for Female Entrepreneurs and Businesswomen. I'm so excited for the first events!


Now let me ask you this—are you holding back from meeting new people? 

If the answer is yes, what is ONE thing you can do right now to get out and meet more people?

Let me know in the comments!