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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blissdom: the best & worst for anxious introverts

Blissdom 2012 was my first fancy pants social media and blogging conference. I bought my early bird ticket months ago, based on the hype surrounding the 2011 conference. Learn! Network! Hug! Chat with big Canadian brands! Everything that I'd hoped to do at a social media conference wrapped into 3 fun filled days in Toronto. I went in expecting to learn inside tips from the biggest names in Canadian blogging, which would transform me and my writing. I'd leave with 6 figure sponsorship deals and hundreds of new friends.

But I didn't.

What I realized when I got to Toronto is that I'm a socially awkward country girl prone to panic attacks and really don't care for schwarmy marketing tactics. Here's how I figured that out:

1. Arriving in TO, I immediately hopped into the Blissdom Road Rally. A scavenger hunt through 3 city neighbourhoods, I was teamed up with my favourite bloggers. I pictured myself tweeting at the speed of light to lead my team to the win. Instead I choked back my anxiety and watched in awe as my new friends took on TO. And read inappropriate tweets aloud as our hashtag #roadrallybliss trended #2 in Canada. I'd still do the road rally in a heart beat.

2. Our breakfast was sponsored by Dove. First thing in he morning we were asked to fill out surveys about body wash. Really? Then instead of hearing about all of the great work that Dove does for women's self esteem, we were made to listen to what was essentially a lame science project about lipids and body wash. And then if we were kind enough to tweet their campaign to 1000 of our followers, we'd get a coupon for a free bottle of body wash. Brutal. I know I'm not alone in feeling insulted by Dove and I am sure it will not happen again.

3. The microsessions, 3 45 minute chats with the industry's brightest were the highlight for me. Smaller groups, real takeaways to help my blogging made it work. I sat in with Jen Reynolds to learn how to pitch to magazines, Haley Overland to learn how to set up a writing practice and Ali Martell to learn how to write about the everyday. My only complaint is that I wished there were more sessions! Brilliant work by the organizers to pull this together.

4. Speakers from 2pm - 6pm was something I dreaded going into. It didn't matter that the headliner was Jian Gomeshi, Canada's sweetheart story teller. I sat that one out, knowing it was the very un-Canadian thing for me to do. Amber Mac was amazing, Susan Cain made me feel bad about being an introvert, Bon Stewart I ate Starbursts through for a sugar rush to stay awake and Ami McKay was heartbreaking. Of all of the speaker, Ami was tops in my books.

5. A costume and karaoke party. I also dreaded this. I'm shy. I don't like dressing up. I DO NOT do karaoke. But it was fun. I loved seeing the other costumes - these ladies take dressing up seriously.

6. Sunday was a day of excursions. I joined a bus of wine loving lasses on a trip to Niagara for a day of wine tasting and food. Wine Country Ontario outdid themselves as thoroughly spoiled is. We visited Flat Rock and Good Earth, two very different vineyards. At Flat Rock, the owner's love of wine and the land is contagious and the wines are amazing. At Good Earth, the food is top notch, but the wine, though pleasant, couldn't touch how fabulous the Flat Rock wine was. I fell in love with the story behind Flat Rock, and for me, that held more meaning.

But back to why I'll likely never sell ads on my blog and why I may not attend Blissdom 2013:

What stuck with me the most all weekend is the theme of story telling. I started this blog seven years ago to tell my story - as an overweight casual runner living in Canada's coldest city. I started this blog because I was inspired by other women just like me. As I lost weight, had babies, gained weight, ran more, lost more, got depressed and got happy, all I wanted people to know is that everything will be OK. That is is OK to have unbearable chub rub - you're still a runner. It's OK to hate being pregnant and not love breast feeding. Being depressed sucks. That you can be knocked up and an athlete. That you can be a milk machine and an athlete. That being dead freaking last is OK too. That we're all a little messed up and scared but this kick ass community of bloggers and athlete (parents or not) have got your back. They'll boot you in the pants when you need it and be the first to congratulate you on a middle of a pack race finish when in your eyes, you shit the bed, but in reality, crossing a finish line is a big freaking deal. Because it is.

Surrounded by big brands on the weekend, all schlocking their bread or body wash or processed food snacks didn't excite me the way I thought it would. I get that sponsors are a key part of putting on a huge conference and I am ever so thankful that they were there. But as a very small time blogger I worry that being powered by Wonderbread and scented by Dove makes my stories less authentic. And that's what I want to give you - the nitty gritty on life as a back of the back stay at home mom trail runner.

And I suck at crowds. Seriously. If there is PTSD for introverts stuck in huge cities with hundreds of strangers, then Monday and Tuesday I suffered. Tired, quick to tears and anger, Blissdom took a lot out of me. I thought by filling my weekend with noise and activity I'd miss my family less. I still missed them, and paid the price for being busy every second. That is the biggest reason for being on the fence about attending next year. And if I do change my mind, I know what I'd do differently: take more time to myself, talk to the brands and people that matter most to me.

I'm still new at this gig, and thankful that Blissdom gave me a chance to learn from the best.

About Jen Pinarski

Jen is a mother, freelance writer, runner and cyclist based in Ontario. She is a popular blogger with Today's Parent, where she shares the challenges and triumphs of being a stay-at-home mom. Find her on Twitter.


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per head said...

It is a pity that you didn't enjoy your trip there. but at least you went there and probably with more experience in that kind of thing. You will be less shy.

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