I couldn’t believe that I was finally in Chicago. The Chi. In SUMMERTIME Chi at that. Traveling four hours from Vegas, I had butterflies thinking about the weekend that was ahead of me.
Not only was this my chance to find my bae Chancellor Bennett but it was also a crucial time for me to redeem myself.
Because the last time I had an opportunity like this I bombed it.
Exactly a year ago, I went to a conference in LA called BlogHer. Surrounded mostly by the people of non-color, I found a tiny group of black girl magic influencers that were loud, natural and dipped in bad and boujee goodness.
When I saw how much love they showed toward each other, I wanted to be in the squad BAD.
So I made the number one mistake of networking:
I tried to be, well…impressive.
I tried to be too funny and asked them all the wrong questions.
It was awful. I’m sure nobody even noticed but I felt ashamed because I had abandoned my authenticity to try and fit in with this group of women who were thriving in their uniqueness.
I made no connections. No friends. And no progress on my blog after BlogHer. Ya’ll know I can be raggedy.
Why We Hate Networking So Much
When I made it to Chicago for #EmpowerHer17 (hosted by Blavity’s 21Ninety brand) I made a promise to myself that I would try to be as Alaina as possible.
The #1 reason we hate networking so much is because we try to take people’s time and popularity before we give our own value away. It’s forced.
STOP going to these things ready to use people for your personal gain.
You have to find ways to bring value to the people you want to connect with. When you understand what you bring to the table, you can give yourself away without an expectation back.
At BlogHer I was doing it all wrong. I went in the event expecting to finally get “discovered” but I honestly didn’t even have my stuff together to be noticed.
It was like I wanted those relationships to pull me into success without the work.
#EmpowerHer17 was different though. I had genuine conversations, ab-hurting laughs, deep inspiration and a Chi-town deep dish pizza ya’ll.
I loved my experience at #EmpowerHer17. Here are the top seven gems that pushed me to be myself while I was there:
#1. “Distractions are enemy of progress”
This was said by Travel Noire founder Zim Ugochukwu and it’s been on my heart ever since. I instantly connected to Zim because she loves Jesus (yasss girl) and works hard AF. It wasn’t any by the book networking skills that created the opportunity to work all over the world, but it was her dedication to Travel Noire.
Truth bomb: We are lazy.
We want things now without putting in time and effort into what we believe in. I realized that my distraction was the finish line when it should have been the marathon. It’s a struggle I fight with daily but seeing how calm and grateful Zim was inspired me to be more open to my roller coaster journey.
#2. SWV will always keep the party jumpin
There was this special moment where all of the speakers got together in the back of the room for photos. The DJ was truly bumpin the hell out of SWV and they couldn’t help but to wine it up one time. I thought to myself, is this really happening? Am I in a room full of bomb black women currently getting our life to SWV? Issa dream.
It hit me how important it was to remember exactly who I am. Being in a predominantly white environment makes it easy to forget the things I love like old school OOO-yea Jodeci music, box braids, shady Mariah Carey or doing the electric slide to Candy.
I was full blown authentic at this point in the conference. And loved it.
#3. Most people are just as nervous as you
After the first conference day, #EmpowerHer17 hosted a happy hour sesh. Rolling up to this thing alone, every table was full of chattering and laughing. I immediately got intimidated but decided to force myself to find a seat. I ended up picking a table with these two other girls (who I found out were sisters).
We clicked immediately and they started talking about how hard it would be to come to this alone.
Literally everyone gets nervous about these things. When you come up to them to break the ice (in your authentic self remember) it puts things at ease for them too.
#4. Support other people
So I love me some Luvvie Ajayi and had met her last year at BlogHer. (She was apart of that crew I wanted to roll with but of course)
She is my blogging shero indefinitely and will my friend one day; so I decided to buy her book while she was there and got it signed.
During her talk she mentioned how it was the support of black women that elevated her career to where it is now. It helped me see that if I chose not to support people I would give up the right to be supported. Stop looking at everyone like it’s a damb race (had to use Luvvie’s vocab). There can be more than one winner. You won’t lose your power points by embracing other projects. Stop that.
#5. Be ten times as better as everyone else
At least that’s what Lena Waithe (Master of None) said.
First off, I just want to recognize Lena’s aura. She instantly gives off this confident vibe that nobody could touch. She had everybody church shoutin’ in that room but I really connected to her acknowledgement of the hard work.
Her opportunities have come because of her belief, work ethic, consistency and constantly learning.
It showed me that time is key here, people. We sleep on our ideas and procrastinate on our destinies. Everyday that we get in our way is another day we lose. Commit to your work if you truly bout that freedom life.
#6. Sometimes starting over is absolutely necessary
Another shero of mine is Necole Kane. I pretty much know her story better than she does at this point haha. She’s always transparent and open and it hit home for me at the conference.
Her talk showed me that pushing the reset button can be even harder than starting. I’ve jammed that damb button by now.
There were many times I’ve had to reset this blog. I even had to reset my mindset at the conference but it was all to stay true to who I am.
Don’t be afraid to start over when you’ve veered off of your course.
#7. There is only one shot so make sure you take it
I think I ace’d it this time.
Moral of the story: Never compromise yourself to try and fit in with others. Just kill that ish like you already won.
BONUS: Get chu some business cards. Ain’t nobody got time to be looking unprofessional.
You never know what opportunity is on the other side of that nice to meet you. Practice some of these tips and it will change the way you view networking.
#EmpowerHer17 was really amazing and I thank CEO Morgan Debaun and the Blavity/21Ninety team for allowing me to experience a new yet clearer version of myself.
P.S, is a full list of all the speakers from that weekend!
- Fireside chat with Blavity’s Morgan Debaun and Zim Ugochukwu, Travel Noire founder
- Young creators panel including Ronnie Dickerson Stewart of DigitasLBi,
Nickecia Alder of Black Girl Fly Mag, Autumn Merritt of Sir & Madame and Brienna LaCoste of Flowers Communication Group
- A candid women’s entrepreneurship panel with Nikisha Brunson of Urban Bush Babes, Alex Wolf of Boss Babe Academy and Darian Symoné Harvin of Buzzfeed
- Black women in media exchange between Kyra Kyles, former Editor-in-chief of Ebony and multi-platform media executive, and Lilly Workneh of HuffPost Black Voices
- Entertainment Q&A with actress and producer Lena Waithe and Robin Thede, host of BET’s The Rundown with Robin Thede.
- Legal business and entrepreneurship lesson by Bari A. Williams of Stubhub
- Dreambuilding workshop presented by Danielle Leslie
- Fireside chat with Necole Kane, Editor-in-Chief of xoNecole.com
- Power talks with Luvvie Ajayi of Awesomely Luvvie and Erika Bennett of Allied Moxy