Friday, September 26, 2014

3 Life Lessons from INBOUND 2014

A week ago, I was fortunate to attend my first marketing conference ever, and I was lucky enough to attend with my bosses and coworkers. I've always said that I have the best job ever, but this conference did a great job at proving it.

I'm still fairly new to the world of inbound marketing, so it was amazing to be able to attend the INBOUND conference that's hosted by HubSpot. Throughout the conference, I had the opportunity to listen to some amazing keynote speakers including Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Martha Steward and Shiza Shahid.

I started this blog back in 2009 for myself. Writing has always been my escape. I started this blog as a way to write about my journey throughout this crazy life, which to me has always felt crazy and unreal, kind of like wonderland (hence the name of my blog). I never imagined that my blogs would be shared across social media or that people would tweet me, email me and send me letters saying that my posts inspired them. I've always known that sharing your story mattered, and deep down, I always hoped that someone would read my story and feel like there was hope. But it was never my intention. It was never why I started blogging.

So why do I bring that up? Although this conference was all about inbound marketing, I left learning a little bit about inbound and a whole lot about myself. I left the conference inspired. I was also reminded that our stories matter. The things we go through and the struggles we face all matter. I was reminded why I started this blog in the first place.

You are stronger than anything you are afraid of
My favorite speaker at INBOUND was Shiza Shahid, the founder of The Malala Fund. The talk she gave moved me to tears...literally. If you haven't heard of Malala Yousafzai's story, read it here. Now. The purpose of the Malala Fund is simple: to empower girls through education and to make them positive agents for change. But for all of that to happen, Shiza needed to take a leap of faith. She left her dream job to become an advocate for what she believed in. She knew that everyone deserved an education, and she set out on a journey to make that a reality for anyone who wanted to learn. During her keynote Shiza said, "we are the ones we have been waiting for." It was a reminder that we all have the power to make a difference, and we shouldn't wait for someone else to make the change for us. You don't need to have everything figured out, and it's okay to be afraid. But at the end of the day, you are stronger than anything you are afraid of. It's important to take your passions seriously because you never know where it may lead you.

What if I never fail? 
Another favorite speaker was Dan Pallotta. During his bold talk, he talked about fearlessness. He reminded everyone what I always remind myself: it's okay to be afraid. The more terror you feel, the more likely it is that something amazing is about to happen. I believe many people avoid doing things because they are scared. I've done it before, and it has led to many missed opportunities. When I was still working at ITVantage and was looking for new jobs, I was terrified. So terrified, in fact, that I almost didn't apply for the job at Impulse Creative. I saw them posting all over social media and thought it would be an awesome environment to work in, but I didn't think I was smart enough or qualified enough to work there. So for a few weeks, I didn't apply. And then one day I said, "the worst thing that could happen is that they say 'no.'" So I applied and eventually interviewed and got the job. But what if I was so afraid of failing that I never took the risk?

A lot of people always worry, "What if I fail?" I don't know anyone who's never failed. At some point in our lives, we all fail at something. The real question is: What if I never fail? What if I never take a chance? What if I'm so afraid that I never take a risk?

Leaders eat last
Simon Sinek rose to fame after his TED Talk, Start With Why. At INBOUND, his talk was on a different subject - leadership. The concept "leaders eat last" came from watching Marines eat at mealtime in the chow hall. He noticed that the officers went to the back. He was told, "officers eat last."

When you apply this to work, it's true that the best leaders eat last. They put their employees before themselves and when they do, their employees are my loyal because they feel that their leader will defend them when things get tough. The best leaders share their vision with their team and encourage and coach them to reach that vision too. The best leaders don't sit on the sidelines and watch us succeed and fail from afar - they're right there with us every step of the way. All of this leads employees to feel comfortable and secure. Ultimately, employees perform better when they believe that they're safe and that they're not at risk for losing their job.

I know this to be true. I've had a job where I didn't feel like my boss had my back, and I was constantly on guard. I kept a list of all of my accomplishments because I felt I would need to use it when my boss told me that I didn't do anything for them. I felt disposable and insecure in my role with the company. But now, I'm in a work environment where I feel safe. I don't have my guard up, and I can focus on doing remarkable work instead of worrying about if I'm going to get in trouble tomorrow. I feel safe because the I believe the people around me have my best interest at heart. It's incredible what happens when leaders are willing to share the same burden and risks as the rest of the team.

I can't say enough incredible things about this conference. It was truly an incredible experience, and I'm so thankful I was able to attend. A HUGE shoutout to my amazing bosses, Remington and Rachel, for taking all of us up to INBOUND. It was exactly what I needed in that moment to feel the value in my role at Impulse Creative and to feel confident that I knew my stuff. THANK YOU SO MUCH for everything you two do for me. Seriously, I'm forever thankful.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Does it Mean to be Fearless?

What does it mean to be fearless?
One of my graduation pics from U of Alabama.
In August 2012, I moved to Alabama on my own.
We live in a world that tells us we should never give up - that no matter how hard things may seem, we should keep going.  This world also tells us that we need to overcome our fears in order to live a happier, more fulfilling life.  But what if those things aren't true?  What if it's okay to give up or to still live in fear?  And what if those things do in fact make us better?

I like to think that's the case.

We give up because we're scared.  Maybe we're trying to lose weight and nothing is working, so we go back to our old ways because it's easier that way.  But why did we give up?  Was it because it wasn't working or were we scared that it never would?  It may be a little of both, but in my life, I've noticed that more often than not, I give up because I'm afraid.  I'm terrified of seeing the results if I give it one more day.  So instead, I give up.

We all have fears.  Some people are afraid of heights, small spaces or falling.  Others are afraid of snakes, sharks and even pickles.  We hear all the time that we have to face those fears in order to be happy.  I don't know about you, but I'm perfectly okay with not coming face to face with a shark.  In fact, my life will be perfectly content if I never encounter one.

I believe fear is okay.  Maybe even great.  I believe that fear pushes us to be better and to do more.  However, people let fear consume them instead of drive them.  When we look at fear from a different perspective, it can change the way we live our lives.

When I was in college, I realized that fear wasn't such a bad thing.  So I made a decision to be fearless. Before you say, "Wait, fearless means the absence of fear, but you're saying we should live with fear. What gives?"  Let me explain.

To me, fearless is not the absence of fear.  To be fearless means to do things despite how much they scare you.  I've always believed that the more fear you feel, the more amazing the outcome will be.  When you live your life being fearless, you're committing to go out and do something that scares you every day.  Whether that means making a phone call, moving to a different state or trying something new, being fearless means doing the things that scare you to death.  It's not always easy, and sometimes, even for me, it causes great discomfort and anxiety.  Stepping outside of your comfort zone is terrifying.  But the best things in life happen when you step outside your comfort zone.

So here's my challenge to you: This week, do something that scares you.  Talk to your boss about that raise, share your story on a blog, start a new workout program.  Whatever it is that scares you, do it anyway.

What have you done today that scared you?

Friday, September 12, 2014

We All Have a Story. This is Mine.

We all fight battles that no one else knows about, and we all have a story to tell.  Some of us choose to keep our stories private, while others share them with the world in hopes that our struggles and our recovery will inspire someone else.

For me, I choose to share my stories with the world.  I know the power a story of hope and recovery can have.  For myself, the stories of others has played a significant role in my long journey with depression, anxiety, self-injury and suicide.  I wonder where I would be if I hadn't heard the stories of others.  But then again, I try not to think about it too much.

My story started when I was 13.  I had just moved to Florida, and almost instantly I felt my world falling apart.  On my first day of 8th grade, I was pushed down the stairs just because I was the new girl.  Throughout the year, I was bullied and harassed.  I went home every day just wishing I could end the pain.  I turned to self-injury to try and numb the pain.  I replaced my emotional pain with physical pain and scars.  I tried to escape the bullying, but it just never seemed to end.  Eventually, the year ended.  But the bullying never did.

I started high school hoping for a fresh start and an escape.  I chose to go to Gateway because the school was just opening, and I figured that there was less of a chance I'd be bullied.  Within a month of school starting, cliques had formed, and I somehow found my way right into the hands of the bullies.  When you're being called names are told that you should die, you begin to feel like there's something wrong with you rather than with the people around you.  I once again turned to self-injury, and by Thanksgiving, my entire arm was covered in cuts and scars.

Things continued this way all throughout high school, and when I was a junior, I reached my lowest of lows.  Up until that point, I felt that I had reached rock bottom so many times before.  I guess I never really knew what rock bottom was.

March 23, 2007 was the day I decided my life wasn't worth living.  That the pain I was dealing with was too much to handle.  It was day I attempted suicide.  If you've never sat in the back of a van on the way to the hospital and listened to your sister cry and scream while you thought "I don't want to die this way," then you have no room to judge the decisions that led to that moment.

As much as I try to forget that day and the days that followed, I've never been able to.  Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night crying because I have a nightmare where I re-live the entire thing.  Other times, I find myself wondering what life would be like for everyone if I had died.  The days and weeks that followed were the hardest and most trying days of my entire life.  It felt impossible to keep going when all I wanted to do was to give up.  It felt like I would never be able to smile or laugh again, and I forgot what it was like to be happy.

What I know now is that my best days are ahead, and that this is not the end of my story.  I know now that I'm not alone and that people need other people.  I know that I'm loved more than I'll ever know.  I know that hope exists and that hope is real.

I still suffer from depression and anxiety, even though I try to convince myself that I'm better.  Even on the worst of days, I remind myself of where I've been and where I am now.  My struggles, my pain and my rock bottoms have all led me to this moment.  Sitting here on my couch writing this blog for you.  Suddenly, it all seems to have a purpose.

No one else can play my part because only I know where I've been and where I want to go.  No one can be a better version of me than me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No One Else Can Play Your Part

Yesterday, a husband and wife were found dead in their trailer in Fort Myers, Florida.  They were apparently the victims of a murder-suicide.  A call was made by the male stating that he and his wife "could no longer stand the pain and that they were leaving."  What led them to this point?  What dreams did they have that they never accomplished?  Who are they leaving behind?  What stories do they have that will never be shared?

I don't know this couple, but their deaths happened where I live.  They are unknown to me, and yet they both faced a struggle I know all too well.  It's a struggle that I faced for many years, and one that will follow me throughout my life.

On Monday, To Write Love on Her Arms launched their campaign, No One Else Can Play Your Part, for National Suicide Prevention Week.  The couple who died on Monday in Fort Myers represents thousands of others who die by suicide each year and the millions of others who suffer from depression.

We live in a world where we're told to play it off like everything's okay.  We're told to "fake it 'til you make it" and that if you try hard enough, everything will get better.  We're led to believe that depression and mental illness are something to be ashamed of.  We're constantly told that we shouldn't be unhappy because there's someone else out there who has it worse than you do.  But those are all lies.  Here's the truth: You matter.  Your story matters.  The pain you're feeling is real and it's validated by the things you've been through.  Your struggles are nothing to be ashamed of, and they're all part of your story.

The pain of your past is not an indication of what tomorrow looks like.  Your pain is only part of your story, but there's so much more to you than that.

This week, I'm joining thousands of people around the world to talk about depression, suicide and mental illness.  These issues are very real to me, and anyone who has read through my blog knows that.  If there's anything I've learned from my struggles and my journey, it's that I am important, and that no one else can play my part.