In case you haven't noticed, I went to a blogging conference.
What? You HAVE??
Sorry about blowing up your Facebook newsreels with giddy pictures of me with new friends, famous people, and funny statuses...I don't get out much.
Before I went to BlogHer, I thought I had this whole blogging thing figured out. I thought I had a nice little following, a good grasp on technology, and was pretty darn confident that I was a pretty good writer, and lots of people wanted to read what I had to say.
From the first lunch with the "Ag Girls" (as we were referred to by BlogHer's CEO) where I didn't know how to eat with chopsticks, and there was NO FORK TO BE FOUND, to my fumbling introduction about how I really didn't know anything about agriculture as I sat with executive directors, women who made their livelihoods and had college degrees in agriculture, and even were actually...gasp...the FARMER in their operation, I realized I didn't have a CLUE with this group. And these were supposed to be my peeps! Yikes!
So I decided to shut up and listen, interjecting humor when needed, and glean from their expertise in ag-vocacy.
It was like my Psych 100 class in 1996 all over again. Everyone who went to college has a story like this: crying to the Teaching Assistant about getting yet another D on yet another quiz, and having aforementioned TA say, "Too bad. Study harder."
The women I was grouped with via Illinois Farm Families are good at what they do, and although I deem myself a confident person generally, in this situation, I was just a dime a dozen. Just another blogger with just another story to tell.
But that's okay, because we all need a gut check now and then. We all need to be challenged to up our game, see who's out there doing what we think we do well, better. It's healthy for a person's confidence to be knocked down a notch here and there. Plus, these ladies were really nice and kind and gracious, offering me help with everything from chopsticks and marketing for my blog, so that helps.
I'm not saying this to get "Oh Emily, you're great at what you do" compliments. I am reflecting on my previous over-confidence and am going to learn from this.
I do have a story to tell, and generally, I do tell it well. However, in a situation such as BlogHer, it's best to be just one of those "dime a dozen" bloggers, and listen to the amazing stories and good advice from the gals around the table. I mean, some of these people had just returned from livestock management trips in Europe, trips to Japan (where chopsticks are the norm...thanks Janice for teaching me!), and have worked at the state level of government in the agriculture sector.
I think I stared in awe most of the time.
And that was just lunch.
On the first day.
I could have spent the rest of the time at the conference following these women around like a Freshman follows a Senior during high school. I also could have sulked back to my room, lamenting on my little number of readers/followers, embarrassed by my lack of tweets in the past year.
However, I did not.
I have a story to tell. I have a voice. I know my audience.
Enter in the BlogHer Voices of the Year writers. It's like the Oscars for blogging. Queen Latifa (which was pretty cool) was the MC for the night, and with each blogger, I realized what was the common thread between them all.
They weren't cramming their agendas down my throat like a Pilsbury doughnut (which I did enjoy at the expo, and gladly had crammed down my throat a few times, or more).
They weren't trying to necessarily change my viewpoint on gun control or being gay or the welfare system.
They were just telling their story, from their point of view. And what I took away from just that two hour time frame as woman after woman took to the stage is that just as I have no idea what it's like to be a single mom on welfare, conversely, that woman has no idea what it's like to be a mom of four on a cattle farm. So who am I to tell her what's right or what's wrong?
As I sat at this event, I realized why I loved Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, and it wasn't just her onion string recipe or her cinnamon rolls. She is real. She is just one of us, telling her story, and being accessible. After she spoke, I was not intimidated at all to ask her for a picture, to gush over the fact that she had changed my life as a cook, and that's because she was real. Just a mom, in Chicago, hoping to cut out and hit the Magnificent Mile, just like we did.
At the Voices of the Year event, I realized that even though I disagreed with a lot of the bloggers when it came to the social issues they wrote about, I didn't feel ill will towards them because they were doing what I am trying to do with this blog.
They're just trying to get their story out. They're writing about their life, and while "Life" blogs are a dime a dozen (BlogHer did a poll, and that's what like 95% of us were writing about), no one's life is a dime a dozen.
We all have a story to tell, and I need to do a better job not only telling mine, but just to listen.
Conversely, I would hope that she would listen to me, too. I hope that the women who I came in contact with from the vegan animal rights activist to the blogger from San Francisco who held a sign against GMOs, but really has no idea why they are supposedly bad, will associate me with a positive view on agriculture. I am hopeful that even if I don't change a vegetarian into someone who enjoys a ribeye as much as I do, that woman would at least respect my lifestyle enough to maybe ask a question about how we care for our animals before speaking out against American agriculture.
It is not my job to change someone's mind. I can't do that. We're all human and have brains and lifestyles and choices and experiences that have defined us and helped make our decisions.
However, I would hope that through an experience such as BlogHer or any of my other interactions as an advocate for agriculture that I could at least be less than a dime a dozen blogger, and more of a face for who is producing food and fuel for our country.
Although I sat with eight other ag bloggers, my story is completely different from Leah, and Katie, and Janice, and Stacy, and Emily, and Jenny and Nancy and Aimee. Our stories together can tell a great tale of American agriculture, but it is lofty to think that we can change the world, one blog at a time. Instead, I took away from BlogHer that if I continue to try to just meet people where they are and keep telling my story in an accessible, readable, and funny way, I can walk into BlogHer next year feeling less like a Freshman, and maybe more like a second semester Sophomore.
I have so much to learn when it comes to this blogging gig. I have so much to spruce up, and figure out and for the love of Pete would someone tell me why I also need to tweet and Facebook and Instagram???
However, I am proud of the fact that I am true to my original voice. I am happy to tell my story and not cram it down your throat. Our life is our life, and while I may get snarky here and there in regards to folks telling us what to do and think, when they have little to no understanding of our life as livestock farmers, I want to be one of those meet in the middle, under the umbrella of peace advocates. Not the scary, don't cross me, I hate everyone but those who think like me advocates.
Telling your story is important. That's what I learned at BlogHer, and I hope to keep plugging away, telling our story, to keep reminding the American public that we are the face of American Agriculture.
So my take away from BlogHer was more of a personal epiphany, not a set of notes taken on how to monetize my blog or how to do this or that for the blog itself. Maybe it's because I was essentially alone and able to complete a thought without the distractions of diapers and laundry and work comittments.
My hope is that I'll remember that even though I'm one of thousands of "Life" blogs, I am not a dime a dozen. I have a story to tell, and if I continue to tell it well and listen and respond correctly and respectfully, I will have more people listen.