Yesterday morning, I drove for half an hour, got a bus for forty minutes then hopped into a taxi at 8:50am. I was running late. I was excited and eager but running late! On my way to the Aviva Stadium, the taxi driver asked was I on my way to work? I said, no, I’m heading to a conference. Ah, a different kind of work, he replied. I smiled, because I have attended my fair share of conferences, workshops and meetings in my past life as a medical librarian and yes they felt like work. What I was eagerly anticipating was not the same. While it was a networking event, it was so much more than work. Yesterdays Women’s Inspire Network (WIN) Event was inspirational. #win18dublin
You may remember in 2016, I wrote a blog post called On Confidence: Believe Yourself. It was written after I attended my first Women’s Inspire event. On that day, I allowed myself to blur into the walls, glued myself to my seat. I avoided networking at a networking event. Clever. But I had a revelation that day. I was six weeks pregnant with our second daughter. I dreamed about quitting work and writing for a living. It was on that day that my ideas started to take shape. After that event, I wrote:
“If I am ever to be successful as a writer the world has to be told. I will find that confidence thanks to Women’s Inspire. I will keep that confidence thanks to my daughter. Chances are at the next event I may run my fingers along the wall for comfort for a while but I promise that there will be a day when I am standing in the centre of the room.”
Standing in the centre of the room terrifies me and yet oddly excites me because I know I’m getting myself out there. In the summer, I joined the network and I booked my ticket. I chatted in the group and on twitter. I joined Twitter chats and got lost a few times amidst the friendships that have blossomed within the group. I gained new clients and wrote more. And more and more and more. As the days ticked down to the event, my nerves rose but the excitement and anticipation of what might be or who I may connect with was stronger.
As an introvert and someone who appreciates a large pillar to hide behind, I knew it was going to be difficult for me. But I am absolutely not the only person who is nervous or suffers social anxiety in situations like this.
When I became self-employed and felt lost in what I was selling – me, essentially – I realised that certain characteristics of my personality had the potential to hinder my growth in business. Stepping out of the shadows is almost essential if you want to build your empire. Women’s Inspire is the perfect platform to help me challenge myself and grow.
The network is headed by the incredible Samantha Kelly aka The Tweeting Goddess. She has an amazing team behind her and with Sam’s dynamic enthusiasm for supporting women in business, WIN has grown. The network provides so much to women like me, and you if owning your own business is your dream. From weekly webinars, support and training, to the incredible events like yesterday, Women’s Inspire is there for every woman who, like me at times, feels a little lost and is trying to refocus, discover and empower themselves. For me, with the isolation of working from home, being an introvert and finding it difficult to step out into the limelight, the practical support comes second to the emotional and wellbeing support which the network provides.
I had forgotten how bad morning traffic on the quays was considering it’s 17 months since I took that journey into the centre of Dublin. I was late and eagerly wanted to catch Sara Taskers talk on Instagram. Sara contributed to an article with me in the Irish Examiner on the Filter of Parenthood. I was so excited to actually see her! She’s the Instagram queen! By the time I got to the Aviva, Sara was mid talk. I found an empty seat on the third row. I’m not one to sit down the back. As the final talk for the first session wrapped up and the coffee break was looming, the nerves crept through my body, flowing out from my chest, reaching every limb.
As it happens in Women’s Inspire, the support I needed at that very moment sat down beside me. It was only Sam herself who managed to sit down for five seconds in between her energetic running around amidst making sure everything was going to plan and that everyone was getting value from the day.
As the session wrapped up, Jacinta from TheSocialNetwork.ie made her way to Sam and both of them turned to me and said “We don’t know you!” And they wanted to know me. Introducing myself as the one on Twitter and Facebook who says they want to blend into the wall was perhaps not ideal but gave Sam the opening to introduce me to WIN members who were walking past. I have never felt so welcomed and positive in my life. As I talked to one person, they wanted to introduce me to another and another and that is how the day panned out.
For someone who has always found networking to be difficult… more than difficult, terrifying would be better, this is the start of something new for me.
I made the effort. I did my best not to shy away.
As I said in 2016
“For too long, I have sat on the sidelines and listened, blended into the walls and left the path open for others to make the good impression. What good is it for me to blend into the crowd and not be remembered?”
I listened to my 2016 self. I bought the ticket and I knew I would be walking in there on my own. But I was not alone. In a room of 250 passionate, positive, creative and energetic women, and a handful of men, it’s impossible to be alone. Putting those words from 2016 into practice often needs a little push and that is what Sam and the network are, that little push. That big push.
There is a very human element to the network. At the end of the day, it’s a group of women who have a common goal – to achieve their dreams, be successful and to support others in the same boat. There’s no corporate element, no strict control. With a holistic and appreciative approach, the network is the most welcoming group I’ve ever known.
When I spied one of my favourite women, Jen Hogan of Mamatude, my day was made. When I started writing for newspapers and magazines, I didn’t have a clue where to start, who to pitch to, how to write that pitch. I needed someone to ask these questions. I needed to know that others started at this point too and found their way. Jen has been there for me from the very beginning. She always took the time to talk to me. She encouraged me and helped me find a confidence I needed to put myself out there.
The event itself was not simply about networking. There was learning, inspiration and encouragement. The entire programme of events was well planned out, organised and diverse. From listening to Sophie Spence detail her rugby career and future prospects, to Jacinta Dempsey sharing her Facebook Ads advice. From Carmel Seery encouraging us not to be afraid of our accounts to Victoria Mary Clarke interviewing Imelda May. From Anna Daly interviewing Miss Universe Ireland, Grainne Gallanagh, who is working in support of Women’s Health to Grainne O’Donovan of Douglas Law Solicitors keeping us all in check. The day was jam packed with an energy that buzzed around the venue.
Thank you so much to Sam, Jacinta, Helena, Dolores and everyone else I met at Women’s Inspire yesterday. Thank you for the hugs, the smiles, the warmth, the genuine interest in what I do, the encouragement, the laughs, the interesting conversations, the commitment, and for helping us recognise the positive future which is out there for all of us.
If this connection is what you have been missing in your journey to being self employed, your own boss, then I recommend joining the Women’s Inspire Network. You will get real value from the network because that is what Sam and her team aim to give us as members, as women, as entrepreneurs.
You are no longer alone. And neither am I!
I promised myself to be “standing in the centre of the room” at this event. And while I may not have have overtly highlighted myself, I most certainly did not blur into the crowd. I will write a different, brand new story about a glowing confidence for next years WIN event!
Check out the hashtag on Twitter to see just how amazing the day was #Win18Dublin