One of my biggest lessons (of which there are many!) from attending ALT Summit last week was that when I relax and let things FLOW, my world is a much better place. Things happen, chance meetings occur and all of a sudden I am getting photographed by Karen of Chookooloonks. It was probably the most thrilling thing that happened to me while I was there, and it happened completely by chance, when I was supposed to be somewhere else. 

I first discovered Karen's work after the 2010 Mighty Summit. I saw that she attended and began reading her blog. Her fantastic mix of photography and inspiration was exactly what I needed. Her story inspired me to re-focus myself on my photography and to work on building that part of my creative life. Last fall, she offered an online course called Pathfinder, and I signed up right away looking for some guidance out of the intensive, early years of parenting and into a potential career in photography and writing. The course was awesome and I threw myself into it, fully engaged in all the projects and interacting heavily with the other people taking the course. It was just what I needed. I also attended Camp Mighty, which continued me on the path of self-discovery and inspiration and now all of the ideas that began emerging last year have begun to grow with the knowledge and experience that I gained at ALT Summit.

ALT Summit. A place I had been dreaming of going for a year. It was the morning of the round-table discussions and while there was plenty of information to gather from all kinds of talented people, nothing was jumping out at me. I wandered around and finally sat down at a table where I was comfortable, but where I already knew everything the speaker had to say. I listened for a bit, but finally drifted off and chatted with Melanie Biehle of Inward Facing Girl and Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother. Both are fantastic ladies and I loved chatting with them, but something was still pulling me out of that room, so I left.

It was strange. I knew all the action was there in that conference room, but I wandered into the break room. Immediately, before I even looked around the room, Karen said "Hi Leslie!" and asked if she could take my picture for her 1000 Faces project. We had officially met two days before and had chatted the day before, again in the break room after I had escaped from an intense panel, so we had already established a face to face rapport. I said that it would be awesome if she took my picture and tried to remain calm but inside I was doing cartwheels and giggles and feeling like a stupid school girl when the boy she really likes asks her out for ice cream. Seriously. On the outside I thought I was being totally cool, until I saw my picture.

Have you ever seen anyone look happier? Just look at me. Every single molecule on my face is smiling. ALL OF ME. I was so thrilled in that moment and it just totally shows. You guys, you can't hide enthusiasm, nor should you. It's contagious and people love to see it.

You see, I didn't know this was going to happen and I don't think I could have planned it. Maybe Karen did, but more than likely she was just letting things flow too, and seeing who might appear. These kind of chance encounters is what thrills me about life. When things seem to line up and just happen, when it seems like the universe is talking to you. There is a lot of work you can do to cultivate these kind of moments, but they can't be forced, they just have to be. I had built a relationship with Karen through her course, I had decided to attend ALT, I wore lipstick that day. All these things add up to an environment in which great things can happen, but then it's the randomness of deciding to leave a lecture or turning a different corner or trading a gift box for another one that can make all the difference in the magical things that happen in our lives.

So, in addition to creating the most thrilling moment of the conference for me, Karen also gave me a reality check. While we were chatting I mentioned, with a little thrill, that I showed my business cards to Amy Butler (who is tall, lovely, kind and generous) and she told me that I was a talented photographer. Karen immediately said, "Well, you don't need Amy Butler to tell you THAT! Just look at your pictures!" It sort of surprised me, the conviction with which Karen declared this, but of course she is absolutely right. The truth is that I might not really NEED Amy Butler to tell me that I am a good photographer, but it certainly feels super good to hear it and it's something that I kind of WANT. Especially at this beginning stage of things. Obviously Karen is right, we really shouldn't look for outside validation of what we do, but I also reminded her that this was literally my first blogging conference and stepping into the water with all these super talented people can leave a new participant like myself full of doubt. Unless Amy Butler tells us that we rock, and then we feel awesome.

Maggie, from Camp Mighty, said a similar thing to me. First of all, I had entered one of the mini-parties alone on Friday night to take some pictures and I saw her on the other side of the room. She did this cute little wave in my direction, through the sea of people, and I literally had to look around to see who she was waving at before I realised it was me. Me! Of course I went over to talk and she told me that she had read my post about being nervous before ALT and was like "Wha...?" all exasperated with me. She didn't understand how I could be nervous, presumably based on my behavior at Camp Mighty where I was doing my best to put it all out there, all the time.

I thought it was just so interesting that these two people whom I really respect, and who are well established in this community, were surprised to learn that I was nervous and had some self doubts. Apparently I am very good at checking that stuff at the door, which is a good thing, because really the last thing people want to see is a lack of confidence. Still, everyone is human and it's normal to feel these things, but it's just so important to breathe and work through the fears so that you can put yourself in fantastic situations.

I suppose it will come, with more conferences, with more experience. I do know that I have found a place where I THRIVE. I love going to these kinds of events and I... gulp... want to be a part of them in a bigger way. I have TERRIBLE stage fright, but something is telling me I need to start leading more. I think I would like to be on a panel or teach a class someday and even though the thought of it almost terrifies me to the point of paralysis, there it is. 

Before I left to head home, I walked over to say thank-you to Gabrielle Blair and Sara Urquhart, the sisters who plan and run and make ALT Summit happen. I blurted out that I was thinking of submitting an application to speak at next year's conference. My ambitious fearless side said that. After I left, my self doubting, nervous side was screaming at me: You're not ready! You'll be too nervous! You won't be able to speak! You don't know anything! and for a moment I regretted saying that I wanted to do it. But I took deep breath and I reminded myself that I might not be ready right this second, but I have a year or two to figure it out. This fear I have, I can overcome it. The first step is saying these things out loud.

So there. I said it. I can go put it on my life list now and start planning out how to make it happen. Because when it happens, I am quite sure that I will be full of nerves and self doubt, but the important things is that IT DOESN'T MATTER, you can't let those things lead your life. You have to set aside all the things you think you should do and all the things you think you can't do because otherwise, how will fabulous unexpected things happen? How will you be great and do great things if you don't leave those things that aren't working for you and walk into the unknown?