“What brings you joy?” “Umm…Robert Pattinson.” photo by: @jamimilne

Imagine going to a paradise city where creative people gather for a week to learn from one another.

Well, you don’t have to imagine, because that’s what Alt Summit did for me and thousands of others last week.

In my second year as a speaker and attendee, I kind of thought I knew what to expect:

  • Knowledge about particular aspects that will help grow my business.

  • Another year of speaking under my belt, this time on diversity and inclusion in branding

  • Nice sunny weather that would have me outside from the moment I woke up to the moment I fell asleep.

All of these things are great and lovely, but I didn’t realize there was more I learned not only as a creative and business person, but how I view myself.

Being an introvert doesn’t mean hiding.

I do declare myself an introvert. No, I don’t hate people, but my energy comes from being alone for a while until I’m prepared to be around people.

For example, I have to be around people at work, so I spend time doing activities by myself like running or working out at the gym (as long as it’s not crowded and I can focus, I’m good). I knew Alt Summit would mean being around people at the conference and sharing a house with 8 other women. Alone time as I knew it wouldn’t be for a week.

But that was OK. I looked forward to this for a year. I worked my butt off until I stepped on the plane to make this moment happen. When I got off the plane I was all smiling. I knew I’d see my friends again and lay by the pool (not layout though; in shade. I don’t like skin cancer).

I knew there were moments I could sneak away from people, put in my headphones, and regroup, so I wasn’t too worried. Plus I knew what to expect.

It was second nature to strike up a conversation with someone on the shuttle or ask what someone did right before asking if they have Instagram and if they wanted a postcard I made for the event. I knew how to mingle and meet new people without it being overwhelming. Balancing my introvert/extrovert self helped me make new connections and introduce myself to lovely people.

Stop saying sorry. You don’t need to apologize for existing

“Sorry. I’m sorry. Oh, I’m SO sorry.”

I could write an entire post about saying sorry, which I will one day, but let’s talk about this in terms to Alt.

There are so many people around, so “being in the way” will just happen. Running into someone will happen. It’s called existing.

And yet, I found myself saying, “sorry” all the time for:

Not getting out of the car fast enough

For looking for my badge and holding my housemates up for 30 seconds

Not being able to make a presentation or class because it conflicted with my schedule

I said, “sorry” a lot for existing. I didn’t realize how much of a habit I made it out to be until someone asked me, “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything,” when it came out to me getting out of the car.

Huh. Yeah, you’re right. It’s a horrible habit I’ve developed over the years that I need to STOP doing in general.

You’re allowed to take up space. You don’t have to be perfect. You’re here to EXIST. Stop apologizing for it.

Why don’t you see your beauty? Get on that.

Whew: OK, this is a hard one but I need to speak my truth.

I signed up to do the fashion show because a) it would motivate me to lose weight before Alt and b) give me confidence.

Well, the weight loss never happened (thanks PCOS), but Bollie Brand is size inclusive and I didn’t worry too much.

Fast forward to the day of the show and I’m with some of my friends watching our friend participate in a show. The people are beautiful, working the runway like no one’s business.

And I felt myself panic.

A break for irony: earlier that day I spoke about how much I HATE crying. Hold on to this.

So I’m panicking watching everyone strut their stuff. They’re gorgeous and confident and I’m…not.

I found my chest tightening and the self-destructive thoughts flooded in at once.

“You can’t do this.

You’re going to ruin their brand.

You’re fat. Who do you think you are?”

And as I try to excuse myself from the show properly, I let my friends know trying to hold back tears.

It didn’t work. I broke in the middle of the room (luckily there wasn’t a show happening at the moment) went into the hallway. Following me, I knew my friends were concerned because that wasn’t the Clarissa I put on. I try to be funny and overly nice because I feel people will ignore the fact that I’m the fat Black girl. Mind you, I’m the first to tell someone there’s nothing wrong with being fat, Black, or a self-identifying girl, but for me it was wrong? We’ll discuss how long it takes trauma to leave your psyche later.

My friends hugged me and calmed me down, telling me I was beautiful and awesome and all the compliments that make me squirm. People I met two days earlier were giving me a pep talk to help me remember who I am. Rad.

I went downstairs to clean up my face and call my mom when I broke again. “I’m ugly! I can’t do this to them!”

Break: If you’re wondering how old I am, I’m 33 3/4 years old, but my brain goes back to some dark times I went through when I was 11. Yes, I’m in therapy and on medication. I’m trying.

My mom also calmed me down, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to hear your offspring cry saying they feel ugly.

Pulling myself up by my bootstraps (or sandal straps), I walked upstairs, hopped in the makeup chair, and asked for false lashes. If I was going to do this I was going to have the lashes I deserved.

I felt my heart beating out of my chest all the way until it was time for me to walk.

What if I fall?
Walk weird?
What if they hate what I have on?

But the spirit of Tyra and Naomi came to me and I made it without falling and my people cheering.

Maybe I was overthinking this entire thing and I just needed to have fun? Maybe?

For me it’s hard to accept, but why? I know why, and it was time to change my patterns and embrace all the greatness that I am.

One day at a time.

You’re still doing too much—narrow your focus

The art of doing too much has always gotten the best of me and it’s a constant struggle to not say yes to everything.

I thought I was fine where my business was headed. In general, I am, I like the projects I’m doing and the people I meet, but it’s interesting for me to realize I’m doing too much when I explain who I am and what I do. Or maybe that’s my brain running at a rapid pace as it’s doing now.

One of the things I realized was putting what I do for my 9-5 in with what I do for FIVE12 STUDIO. Granted, yes, I am a designer, a creative director, design director, what have you. And I love what I do, but I had to ask myself, “What do you want FIVE12 STUDIO to be known for?” I spoke about Diversity and Inclusion in Branding, which is where my heart and soul is. That may include actively being creative with it or helping out with strategy and development. For me, saying I’m a brand strategist works for me for this reason. It’s less mouthy and easy for others to understand.

Some people really are that nice. Let them.

Second-guessing people’s niceness is a weird thing, but ya girl has done it for a while. A defense mechanism, my therapist calls it.

Everyone at Alt was so complimentary about whatever. Funny how society paints a group of women to be catty and bitchy yet everyone I encountered was everything but.

And yet, I doubted their niceness at times without reason. No one said or did anything to make me question them. I saw people being invited when they were sitting alone, people willing to strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat on the shuttle, and spontaneous lunch gatherings, combining tables to make said groups bigger.

I’ve honestly never been around such a group of inclusive people and yet here I was doubting their authenticity. Lame.

If you’re wondering if Alt Summit should be something you put on your calendar next year, the answer is an absolute, “Yes!” Here’s why:

Stranger Danger isn’t a thing.

You’re gonna hop in cars, Ubers/Lyfts, hotel rooms, and live with people you don’t know. It’s fine. Everyone is nice and friendly and so far not a serial killer.

You’re allowed to exist.

Go, blossom, find your true self.

Having a bad day?

Feeling down about yourself? No worries, you’re a bad bitch and at least 1000 people will remind you. Who doesn’t want to be around that energy?

You’ll find who you are in this creative space.

If you’re scared to try something, to take the leap, or to identify yourself as (fill in the blank) Alt Summit gives you the confidence to do that. I can honestly say the reasons why I started making changes in my business is because a talk, workshop, or round table discussion from Alt Summit pushed me to the next step.

Alt Summit Founder and Queen: Design Mom AKA Gabi Blair

Make new friends.

Even if you connected with someone for five minutes or five days, you’ll meet lovely people you want to stay connected with. The app allows you to connect with others and I always ask for Instagram handles since that’s my choice of social media/connection. Plus I’m trying to get the swipe-up feature so I have to work my magic (if you’d like to contribute to that, simply follow here please).
Have I convinced you to come to Alt next year? Let me know if you plan on attending or if you attended and what you took away from it.
Love you. Mean it.