I live in New York but I was in Chicago this past weekend for the 20 Something Blogger Summit. I met people from all over the country but nearly everybody I met from Chicago asked me the same question:
What do you think of Chicago?
They asked me as though embarrassed or ashamed, anticipating that I was going to say it disappointed me or paled in comparison to my far larger and more impressive city. This really surprised me because I am in love with Chicago and have been for some time now.
I fell in love with Chicago the way 12 year old girls fall in love with teenage pop stars. I gush about it. I am effusive to the point of obnoxious. I shout out "I LOVE THIS @#$@IN CITY" while cool breezes tousle my short brown locks as I stand on the bank overlooking the river.
I love the layout, and the restaurants, but most of all I love the architecture. I also love the perspective and space between streets and buildings which allows me to appreciate the architecture. I'm not going to argue that New York or Chicago has better architecture than the other. For arguments sakes let's say New York did. You wouldn't be able to appreciate it as much because the buildings in New York are so close together that it is challenging to fully absorb their presence and their footprint.
It's like seeing a person in profile only. You don't get the full picture of what they really look like.
Chicago gives you perspective, you have space and room to look and absorb and ingest and love.
The other thing I love about the Chicago architecture is something I found out on the boat tour I took from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The buildings of Chicago are not insular as so many of them pay tribute to each other in one way or another. By referencing elements from the buildings next to them or mimicking a similar element or just stopping at the same height. The buildings aren't just independent individuals, they are a part of a community. It sounds silly to say that about inanimate structures. But it is true. The buildings don't compete for your attention. They reflect, and feed off, and truly support each other.
I went to Chicago for this summit not quite sure what to expect. I was excited that I was a panel moderator, but outside of my sole duty from 2:15 to 3:15 pm on Sunday afternoon, I wasn't quite sure what else to would come my way. I didn't know anybody, I had never really interacted with any of these people before, and this would be my first blog conference.
When I arrived the first night for the cocktail party (a situation which I thrive in) I was caught a bit off guard that so many of the bloggers seemed to know each other already, had been to conferences together, or fostered relationships before meeting in person. There weren't a tremendous amount of people there, perhaps less than 100, but yet I couldn't help but feel a bit like an outsider.
An outsider with a Fancy Pocket square mind you, but still, an outsider.
The next day brought sessions, speakers, forums, and a tremendous sharing of knowledge and experience. While I do (still somewhat reticently) refer to myself as a blogger, I really had no idea or concept of people in the same space. You see blogging is a lot like dancing alone in your bedroom in your underwear. You might do it every day, you might tell people about it , but it's very easy to think that you are the only one who does it, and CERTAINLY the only one who does it the way you do.
By the time it came for sessions I fully expected to be listening to speakers with hundreds of thousands of followers who would tell me just how backwards and misguided my approach to blogging was. But instead what I found, were men and women who I had far more in common with than I could have imagined.
They weren't talking about numbers, and in fact, numbers rarely came up. They talked about love, they talked about passion, and they talked about sharing who they are.
That first day, I actually showed up to the first session without a pen and paper, not really expecting to take notes. My half assed brain apparently thought that if I really needed to take notes I could just write them on my phone.
But I immediately regretted my decision to fore-go a pen. I found myself grabbing my phone every couple of minutes, writing down jewels and gems that I just wasn't quite expecting to hear, but was fully committed to remembering.
And as the weekend went on and one session turned into two and then six, every speaker used different words but essentially said the same thing.
Do what you love to do. Find a way to do it more often. Open yourself to the people who love what you love and you will see a windfall of the unexpected.
Speakers constantly referenced other speakers, and then eventually when it came my turn to speak, I did the same. What everybody had said was true. Maybe these positive inspiring quotes and stories were brand new. Maybe I had already heard them in some form before. Or maybe they were things I had already believed in my heart of hearts. But hearing those things out loud from somebody who had found success, reaffirmed those beliefs in a way that might have never come naturally.
On my best days, I tend to think nobody else does what I do, the way I do it. On my worst days, my thinking is far more self destructive. Leading up to the summit I kind of expected there to be an air of competition.
Oh what platform do you use to blog?
How many followers do you have?
Etc. These were all things that I had never concerned myself with before I started blogging but had somehow regularly obsessed over since.
But there was none of that in Chicago. There was talk of a whole lot of social media, mentions of tools I had never heard of, and tweeting beyond what is probably healthy. But there was a genuine interest in furthering and helping not just selves, but others. I left every session having learned something, even if it wasn't something I was going to pursue. Even if it wasn't something I necessarily was interested in learning more about, it still helped frame, contextualize and and support the beliefs and ideas I was building and developing.
People rarely asked about what I did for a living, they asked what my blog was about. They asked how I ended up there. They asked me questions I rarely get asked in my daily life. Questions that felt kind of refreshing.
And that's when I realized that the 20SB Summit was a perfect fit for the city of Chicago. Just as the buildings paid tribute to, reflected, and supported each other, so did the bloggers of this conference. Whether you were there to talk or learn, whether you cared about photography or monetizing, there was an interconnectivity you could not deny.
I was inspired by the things other bloggers were doing, but also humbled by their warmth and their openness toward each other. At times it made me feel like a self centered narcissistic coot, somebody who wasn't nearly as open or supportive as he claimed to be. And yet by the time I actually had to physically walk away from the last remaining group at the conference, I felt sadness. Sure there had been awkward, frustrating, or uncomfortable moments, but when searching for adjective, incredible was the only one that felt appropriate.
There are millions of bloggers that can exist in this same space and not compete. Nobody needed to defend Chicago just as nobody needed to defend being a blogger. This particular weekend in Chicago, everything was working together rather than trying to outdo.
There's no limit to the amount of words a blogger can use, nor the amount of bloggers that can exist in the world. Indeed, there is enough love, passion, and support to keep everybody loving and blogging for a very long time.