I just returned from three days at the Women in the Pet Industry conference in Portland, Oregon, where I communed with other crazy pet ladies.
Now, please understand that I use the word “crazy” in the most affectionate and loving sense. Crazy in this context means crazy passionate, crazy energetic, crazy inspiring. They are a force of nature, these women. Entrepreneurs. Executives. Writers. Speakers. All driven by the common goal of improving the lives of animals around the world.
I’m still absorbing everything I learned and experienced over the last few days. But here are a few of the most valuable things I took away with me:
1. Bitchy Resting Face Syndrome (BRFS)
Popularized by this fake PSA, BRFS makes certain people look hostile or unhappy when their face is at rest, giving the impression that they’re uninterested in or ticked off at you. One attendee had the great fortune of explaining BRFS via microphone to a room full of conference attendees, some of whom had never heard of the concept.
It immediately became a running joke over the next few days, but it occurred to me that there’s actually a valuable lesson here. We never really know what’s going on with someone else beneath the surface and we shouldn’t be quick to make assumptions. And we should definitely not assume that their mood (or the appearance thereof) has anything to do with us personally. Maybe their cat just peed on their bed. Maybe they have gas. Or maybe they just have bitchy resting face.
2. Women Are Better Than Their Stereotypes
We’ve all heard about (and may have personally experienced) women who undercut other women. Shows like Real Housewives of Podunk Holler (or something) and The Bachelor gleefully reinforce this stereotype. As women, we almost come to expect that sometime, somewhere, another female will stab us in the back.
But what I saw at the WIPIN conference was the best of who we are as women: supportive, giving, encouraging, nurturing. Ideas flowed freely, collaborations were formed, connections were made. As Michelle Maskaly noted in her Pet Age article about the conference, “I have never been to a conference where so many people, whether it be men or women, were willing to share their business and life experiences — and not in a bragging way, but instead to help others. It was truly impressive, surprising and, quite frankly, refreshing.”
3. The Best Connections Are Made Over Donuts
For lunch Friday afternoon, the WIPIN conference organizers brought in the Voodoo Donuts food truck. (No, they didn’t just feed us donuts but I’m pretty sure that’s all any of us remembers.) Apparently, Voodoo Donuts are kind of a big deal, but not living in the Pacific Northwest, I had no idea how big of a deal until the truck arrived. One of the ladies at our table volunteered to go out and bring us back a selection. When she returned, I was somewhat speechless at the sight and half wondered if they came with a side of insulin.
We cut the donuts into smaller pieces so we could all sample the different flavors. Between “yums” and exclamations over the sheer ridiculousness of these sugar bombs, we told our stories, bragged on our pets, exchanged ideas and marveled at one another’s accomplishments. As an introvert who works from home, I tend to freak out a little (okay, a lot) at the thought of “networking.” But chatting with these women over a Cap’n Crunchberry-topped pastry, it hit me that networking is just a bloated word for connecting, and being present and open in the moment is really all it takes.
4. Giving IS Better Than Getting
When Shawn Schuh, WIPIN’s President and Queen of Fabulosity (just gave her that title, by the way), called to invite me to speak at the conference, I was thrilled. Thrilled and somewhat terrified. Although I have a theater background and am typically comfortable performing in front of crowds, it’s shockingly different when speaking your own words. Not only that, but I felt an enormous responsibility to present my topic (copywriting, obviously) in a way that A) didn’t result in attendees falling asleep and B) gave them useful information they could act on.
As it turned out, that presentation was one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done. Since I started this freelance journey o’ mine, I have been helped time and time again by others who have unselfishly shared their knowledge, wisdom and advice. It was such a privilege to have the chance to finally give a little back.
5. Gratitude Is Everything
Over and over and over again throughout the conference, I heard the words, “Thank you.” I deeply believe that being genuinely, sincerely thankful to those who lift you up is the best thing you can do for both yourself and others, and I was reminded of that yet again last week. And so I say to everyone who was involved in this conference — organizers, attendees, speakers — thank you. You make me proud to be a crazy pet lady.
Your turn: What is the best conference you’ve ever attended? Tell me in the comments!
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