Before October 25th, 2012 I’d never traveled to a new country by myself before. I’d been to the US, but never by plane and never alone. I’d certainly never been further south than Minnesota or New York. Atlanta, Georgia may as well have been St. Petersburg, Russia – though, at least they spoke the same language. But I understood the history and culture of the former a lot more.
This is all to say that BarkWorld was a brand new experience for me in more ways than one. It was my very first blogging conference and my very first solo travel challenge. As much as I was thrilled with the opportunity to go, I was terrified by all the things I knew could go wrong. As a self-confessed coward and shy introvert, the days leading up to the big event were filled with as much anxiety as excitement. I spent the same amount of time worrying about navigating my connecting flight in Toronto as I did about what my fellow bloggers would think of me. See: a disproportionate amount of time.
The thing is, my worrying saves the world. I knew if I was calm, disaster was sure to happen. So I stressed and stressed and stressed and somehow, after only a brief panic attack when I ended up at the wrong baggage claim, I made it to the Atlanta Airport unscathed. This was where my plans derailed. I had forgotten to stress about getting from the airport to the hotel. The kind souls at Bayer has sponsored a limousine ride for conference attendees and I stupidly thought this was the end of my troubles.
Major Worrying Fail.
Now I have been to many large international airports in my time. The Atlanta Airport was a whole ‘nother ball game. There are trains, people. Trains inside the airport. That’s how insane this place is. It is too large to get around by walking or even hopping on a moving sidewalk. You have to take a train. It didn’t help that the international terminal is in a different city than the domestic.
Cue to me having to make a string of miserable phone calls to the one contact number I had – thank dog I had saved the email – while trying not to cry. Several times I thought about giving up and just taking a cab. It would have been much simpler and would have saved me the awkwardness of speaking to people I didn’t know, but I also would have missed out on a chance to meet some wickedly stellar people.
When I used the word miserable above, it certainly did not apply to anyone I interacted with over the four days. More to my own fears of talking to people who might snicker at me if I say something stupid. From the cheerful airport security to the warm greeting from my limo buddies (Hi Amber! Hi Lisa! Hi Karen!) I was thrown by how friendly every single person was. I shouldn’t have been, of course. The kindness of the pet blogging world has been proven to me every single day since I stumbled in, hanging out in the shadows. Why it took me so long to dip a toe into the light, I’ll never know.
Luckily, I kept myself together and didn’t let my nervousness hold me back from jumping into the experience. It helped that every where I went I was met with a welcoming smile. Whatever fears I encountered came entirely from my own imaginings. Not once was I made to feel that I didn’t belong. Not even during the anxiety-ridden speed-dating with mega brands like Flexi and Iams. I admit, I was tempted to bail at the last minute. But sitting in my hotel room after my arrival from the insanity that is the airport, I reasoned I could either stay there and hide or I could head down and see what was what. If it was awful, I could just leave, right? No pressure.
Of course it wasn’t and I continued to meet even more wonderful people.
Nevertheless, the most anticipated moment was yet to come. Speed-dating over, I tried to shrug off the rest of my nerves and prepared myself to meet two of my biggest pet blogging heroes. In person. With bad airplane hair.
Stupid. I should have realized that Amy Burkert and Kim Clune are my heroes for a reason. Sure, they have accomplished amazing things, but they are also just incredibly awesome and supportive people. So even though I felt self-conscious when I heard Amy yell my name and saw her walk down the hallway toward me, all of that melted when she stood in front of me. In a way, it was almost as if we were longtime friends, meeting up for the millionth time. This same feeling was repeated with Kim several minutes later. All of my misgivings faded and I was just one of them. Part of the circle.
The rest of the conference is still pretty much a blur, even a month later. So much to learn in such a short time. So many new faces and friends (Hi Katherine! Hi Vicki! Hi Diane! Hi Jessica! Hi Everyone Else I Feel Awful for Leaving Out!). I’d be lying if I said it was all good times. There were a few moments I felt my energy lag and wondered if I’d make it through. But session after session, party after party, make it through I did. There are even the pictures of me socializing to prove it!
I did hit a pretty big wall Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting outside the elevators wondering what the heck I was doing and almost wishing I was at home. Everything felt like too much and I was tired of putting myself out there.
“I need my puppy”, I recall texting to my practically husband.
However, I allowed myself to indulge in these low feelings instead of fighting them. I gave myself permission to just take a walk if I needed to, to skip a session if my brain started to wither. Ultimately, I think that was the smartest way I could have dealt with my emotions. If I’d tried to force it, I am sure I would have just felt worse. Maybe then I really would have ended up peering out from under the table. But by giving myself the choice, I found I eventually chose to participate and my spirits lifted in pretty short order.
Who’d have thought? Maybe there is an extrovert lingering somewhere in my depths after all.
It wasn’t easy, but I am so so so glad I went. If you are reading this and wondering if BarkWorld might be something you want to check out, just know I highly recommend you do. And I am not just saying that because BarkWorld was kind enough to help pay my way there.
Actually, maybe I am. Because gifts like that are representative of the entire experience. BarkWorld is made up of the kind of people who work their butts off to make sure all pet lovers and pet bloggers feel like an important part of the community. It’s so easy to feel isolated as a blogger, especially here in Canada when most of you are in the US. And blogging is such a solo activity in itself. Events like BarkWorld remind us we are part of something bigger, something pretty dang cool.
So thanks to everyone for their kindness and thanks to BarkWorld for giving me an opportunity to grow as a blogger and as a person. I hope this is only the beginning.
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