Exceeding Expectation: My Alt Summit Experience

exceeding expectation, altitude summit recap, oh my handmade goodness

This month I intended to let go of my expectations and comparisons so I could lift off for Altitude Summit feeling confident in myself and the story that lives under my skin. It worked! I flew to Los Angeles for a few days of talking and dreaming with Dyana Valentine on the beaches of Santa Monica and laughing in her kitchen while stirring up food to feed her genius. I spent my time soaking up the smells, sounds, and tastes of summer. Those days rooted me in all the things I believe in: community, kindness, creativity, gathering diverse stories around a table, sharing conversation, exploring the unknown, caring for each other, the luxury of simplicity. When the day came to head to Salt Lake City almost all my panic about speaking and being ‘good enough’ had left me. After the lushness of California I felt rich and abundant! That feeling carried me into meeting my roommates and long time internet collaborators- Arianne (the exceptionally brilliant mastermind behind Aeolidia) and Lauren (design mistress extraordinaire) who immediately felt like old friends…and by the end of the trip, like family.

exceeding expectation, altitude summit recap, oh my handmade goodness

All my confidence whomped out of me in a big cloud as we entered the lobby of the Grand America. I have never stayed in a 3 star hotel let alone a 5 star diamond hotel…the extravagance of everything, the over-the-top opulence, stunned me and left me breathless, feeling like a street kid. Not the breathlessness of being on the beach in LA watching dolphins leap beside surfers at sunrise but the “I do not belong here” kind of breathlessness that catches in your throat and makes you feel small. That feeling sucks. So while everything around me was outside of my comfort zone I focused on what I know best-finding the beauty in the person in front of me. This trick kept me from running away to do some art with the street kids of Salt Lake City…

exceeding expectation, altitude summit recap, oh my handmade goodness

The first night was easiest-we had our choice of intimate sponsored dinners so I of course, picked the one sponsor I knew Lauren of Umba Box, who was one of OMHG’s contributors in the long ago. I got to sit across from the lovely Sarah of CHILDish who I’ve wanted to meet since we started chatting year(s!) ago, and beside Lana who advertised in our Guide last year. After dinner I met up with my new friends and panel collaborators Mina, Emily, and Mariah then we all piled back to the hotel to stuff goodie bags and chat with Arianne and Lauren about our panel and take a few deep breaths.  The next morning I had no time to look around since we were the very first panel! I woke up and flew through getting dressed, registered, and ready to speak. I did not think about the epic size of the room-I looked at each beautiful face that walked in and breathed a bit easier. Then I read the flurry of tweets, comments, and messages from all of you that reminded me that my expectation of myself was to talk about why community is the only thing that really matters. At the end of our panel there was a line of people stretching into the hallway that hugged and thanked us for our presentation. For the rest of the event people pulled me aside to hug me and say that my words made them feel confident and energized about building their own community. That feeling? My definition of abundance. Praise makes me feel squinchy but knowing that I was able to share my love of community with so many diverse people felt amazing!

Image by Brooke Dennis


{photo credit: Brooke Dennis for Altitude Summit}

For the rest of the event I focused in on individual faces and having conversations with people one-on-one or in small groups, making connections with online friends I’ve always wanted to hug in real life (like Dannielle Cresp from Australia!), and following my own advice of starting with one. This was tricky because time at Alt is highly scheduled-there are panels, lunches, keynotes, followed by parties, all styled to the highest degree-no expense spared. Throughout all this I tried not to look around too much…at the marble bathroom, the $17 granola on the breakfast menu, the tally of howmuchitallcosts running in my head. I wanted to write you a post just about the beautiful connections I made, how the three classes I went to led by Amy Turn Sharp, Karen Walrond, and Matt + Julie of Tiger in A Jar blew my mind, or that I left the event with new friends for life-all of these things are true. I should probably just post all the gorgeous business cards I collected and leave it there (I will still do a few pretty posts so if you are looking just for the sparkle come back next month). But that isn’t the whole story and I have always been honest with you and myself in this space.

The excess and extravagance of the event left me wanting and feeling hungry. I haven’t stopped thinking about how a meal of rice cooked with love and shared with friends is a feast and a banquet of delicacies eaten in luxury can feel like famine. The affluence of Alt was so much sensory overload that at times it felt aggressive. I wanted to turn all the background off so I could just enjoy the people and our time together. I wanted more time to collaborate and more opportunities to connect. I wanted more calls to action that led us to work together. I wanted more sustainability and less styling and stuff. If most of the excess had been stripped away I would be home now raving about the event and feeling far less conflicted. After having time to decompress and look around at my simple, abundant life while looking back on the affluence of Alt these two questions keep nagging at me:

exceeding expectation, altitude summit recap, oh my handmade goodness

1. What is the difference between abundance & affluence?

Abundance makes me feel rich and able to share what I have while affluence makes me feel small and competitive. The moments of connection I felt with the beautiful people gathered at the event made me feel abundant. Wearing the gifts that were sent to me with love from this community made me feel rich beyond measure. Looking around at all the displays of wealth and status made me feel like there was something wrong with me for being upset by it instead of excited. It seemed like there was so much invested in dressing up the outside of the event that the real value of bringing so many creative people together was lost. Imagine if all that collective wealth had been focused on creating an event that fed back into the local community? Boutique hotels! Food sourced locally! Parties themed around connecting people with the resources they need! Collaborative art projects! Keynotes that reflect the diversity of our online space! Projects to collaborate on and send out into the world! Scheduled casual time where we meet and play! So much of the best kind of goodness was missed while we were being dazzled.

2. How do we separate what we desire from what we deserve? 

The one main question I took away from Alt is: do we deserve to have everything we desire? I know we cannot have too much of the things we deserve-a sustainable life, the love of family, friends, and community, work that has meaning, simple beauty, moments of connection…but I think we can become glutted with desire. Just like I don’t believe you can spoil a baby with too much love but you can hurt a child by substituting love with luxury. A gathering of people is the same. I think if Alt was less desire (sponsors, readers, luxury, things) and more about what we deeply deserve (creativity, connection, inspiration, support) that it could change the world of blogging and online creativity forever. Instead I was left feeling like there was potential for something extraordinary but what happened was mostly extravagant instead.  I wanted more Kinfolk style gatherings, more engagement with the speakers, more of the things that sustain us and less of what leaves us feeling hungry. The fact that the air in Salt Lake City was so polluted during our time there that we were warned not to go outside or, get this, breathe the air-drove the point home that while we may be able to have it all the costs are always higher then we intend.

So while I loved having the chance to speak on community and every single second of connecting with so many creative and lovely people, many of my fears about Alt were true. I did feel awkward and uncomfortable-not with the people like I had feared, but with the event itself. I did compare my insides to the outside that surrounded me and was left feeling wanting in a different way then I had imagined. But I also exceeded my own expectations about staying true to who I am, what I care most deeply about, and what I am capable of. Speaking was amazing and I can’t wait to do more! But you can bet I will be carefully thinking through the events I choose. Writing and publishing this post might be the worst career move ever but I can’t sit with this feeling and post a recap that glosses over my biggest takeaways.  And if I ever go back to Alt (though after pouring all this out I’m not holding my breath)? I’m planning on an art party with those street kids after all. I know I met a lot of awesome folks I could have convinced to come and join me!

This post might not meet your own expectations of me and I know I am pulling up all sorts of topics here that might not be as positive as our usual conversations. But how can I talk about the importance of knowing we are enough, or defining success on our own terms, or the ethics of entrepreneurship, and then not raise these questions? I know I sure don’t have the answers but if this decision keeps me on the fringes then I intend to be okay with that. I hope you’ll join me on the outside to have this conversation! This space might not be opulent, but it is open to you all.

I would like to turn this over to you now-have you ever felt like you were trying to squeeze your ethics into a place where you didn’t fit? How do you feel about abundance vs. affluence and desire vs. deserve? Did you attend Alt and feel the same-or are you coming away from the event with a totally different experience? I’ll meet you in the comments to talk it out!