*disclaimer* this is going to jump forward, backward, front ways and sideways and is just barely held together in some sort of chronological order of events. Prepare yourself. 

I didn’t want to go. I’d already spent a not-so-little chunk of my savings on tickets, packed my suitcase to the brim, bookmarked café after café on yelp in anticipation and yet here I was, hours from my departure and I didn’t want to go. Not one bit.  

I can’t explain the feeling but I’m pretty sure everyone gets it at some point or another. I don’t get it often but when I do, it hits me pretty hard. It feels like there’s a void in me that absolutely nothing can fill. I can eat the best food in the world, spend hundreds of dollars on things I’ve been lusting after, spend time with my closest friends and family and not feel a single thing. It doesn’t make me happy or sad or anything in between. It’s an incessant emptiness that comes when I’m overwhelmed by anxiety. 

I’ve been following the create & cultivate company for years (if you don’t know who they are or what they do, follow them on insta @createcultivate, you won’t regret it). They’re my dream company to work for. I’ve swooned over their ever so aesthetically pleasing events from the moment I first laid eyes on them. This was my chance to finally go to one and leave my mark, to make an impression that no one would forget and land a job working for the best company out there. Expectations were obviously super realistic. After surviving all the ups and downs this year had brought me so far, I figured this was well deserved. I bought the ticket, hopeful this would be the defining moment where this year shifted from being one of the worst to one of the best. 

Working every day to be able to afford the trip, I was already wearing myself pretty thin. I’m sure most of us know how exhausting the customer service industry can be. I was too busy to do anything to plan for the extra time I would have in San Francisco (which, as many of you know, is usually my favorite part of any trip). I liked a few things here and bookmarked a few things there but nothing even close to my usual work. Honestly, it looked like frickin’ amateur hour in comparison. I guess I was just going to have to wing it… *shiver shoots down spine*

 It was five days before my trip. I got a phone call about midnight, just as I was wrapping up a shift at work. My cousin called, told me my grandfather was in the hospital, that he had just had a major heart attack. 

“He’s doing okay, he just got out of surgery,” my cousin explained. The next two days he spent running them around from appointment to appointment, sleeping on waiting room couches, getting them whatever they needed. To say I felt awful that I wasn’t there to help is the biggest understatement. 

It was two days before my trip. I got a text from my cousin. “They found out he has cancer. It’s stage four. I don’t want to scare you, but he’s not looking good. I think you should come home”. I threw whatever I saw first into a bag and started the four-hour drive. I very rarely cry. I cried the whole drive home. 

I stayed with my family for the next two days, stayed until my grandfather regained the coloring in his cheeks a little bit, stayed until his sense of humor (describing the doctor as “prince charming” and trying to slip him my number) came back. He finally got to go home after spending almost a week in the hospital. It was less than a day until I left. I drove the four hours back to my apartment. 

I didn’t want to go. I was in the uber to the airport to get to my 6 am flight to San Francisco and I didn’t want to go. The feeling of incessant emptiness combined with exhaustion, both physically and mentally, left me with absolutely nothing. I couldn’t fully appreciate the opportunity that was in front of me, no matter how hard I tried. The only thing I felt was guilt. Guilt for not being with my family enough, for going on this trip instead of making sure my grandfather was comfortable at home, for having to call off of work that one day last week to go home and leaving my team down a person.  

I spent my time in San Francisco in a daze until it was 9 am the morning of the conference. I had to remind myself this was the reason I was here, to try and be present, to try and enjoy the jam-packed day I had in front of me. The first guest speaker was Giuliana Rancic. To be completely honest I didn’t know anything about her except for the fact that she was a host on E! news.  After some chatting about her experience in the industry and her product line that she had launched, she was asked about her experience dealing with breast cancer. It was at this moment that my attitude was changed. 

She explained how there were times where she would be sobbing on the floor while thinking about what was happening to her and then she would stop, gather herself and think “I’m the only one who can do anything about this”. She explained how she was the only one in control of the situation, how she was the only one who could change anything about what was happening to her. Her ability to pull herself out of that state of mind, to have that perception on such a consuming entity, was absolutely incredible.

I spent the remainder of the day listening to story after story of incredible women beating the odds, making things happen that they never thought possible. I heard versions of what I was feeling in every woman that spoke. I heard hardships and heartbreaks. I also heard recovery after recovery. 

I didn’t leave the mark I was hoping to on everyone at this conference. I didn’t make the most connections or get a the most job offers. Maybe that wasn’t the reason I was supposed to be there. Maybe the sole reason I was there was to hear that one piece of advice. To hear that one person share their story and allow it to resonate with myself.

I’m so deeply and sincerely grateful for my opportunity to have attended this conference in San Francisco. Even though I was not able to turn it into what I wanted, it was exactly what I needed. 

Thank you Create & Cultivate (as well as all of the incredible keynote speakers) for everything that you do.