Four Ideas From ATL

I just got back from three days in Atlanta for Plywood Presents. The conference was one of my favorite events last year and I knew I had to go back. Few events demonstrate as much care for their community as this one.

While the speaker lineup was a great, diverse mix, I really appreciated the orientation around community. I met so many people who were in different stages of turning their idea into reality. The line between presenter and attendee was often blurry, and I thought that was great.

I filled up a little notebook with lots of ideas and quotes I wanted to remember. I noticed certain messages seemed to come at me from multiple angles- and when that happens I try to pay them special attention. Here are four takeaways from three days in Atlanta, and four actions they call for right away.

Some challenges persist no matter where you are on your journey.

As inspiring as an event like this can be, it can also be intimidating. You meet and listen to people who are steps ahead of you on their journey. Their advice is valuable, but it can also remind you of the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

That gap often feels frustrating, but this time I learned that everybody has this gap. Even people with an organization three times the size of mine and an audience ten times as large feel the challenge of being patient while still striving for growth.

It’s helpful to remember that you never “arrive,” and that you only grow by appreciating and tending to whatever season you’re in. This is also pretty good parenting advice. As a side note- the fact that we’re expecting our first this year came up in a lot of conversations. That led to some much appreciated tips on integrating parenthood with the pursuit of goals.

Action: Remind yourself what is better about the season you’re in now versus to where you were two years ago.

Look to see who is missing from the picture

One of the best conversations I had at the event was with a woman who wasn’t part of it and didn’t know what we were doing. Much of it took place around a brewery and distillery that was open to the public at certain points. I started talking to a woman enjoying a beer on a Friday night and discovered she was local. She told me all about the neighborhood we were in. Atlanta’s West End. She told me all about its history, it’s beloved eateries, and their rich tradition of porch parties. “Remember that when certain people tell you about this neighborhood,” she advised me.

Certain people? The gathering was predominantly white and millennial in a neighborhood struggling with gentrification. And to be honest, I’ve always had a hard time understanding gentrification and if there are any good alternatives. I live in a neighborhood in San Diego with similar challenges. But this conversation and the conference helped provide helpful ideas.

While the attendees were mostly white and millennial, others were included and integrated. The speaker lineup was fairly diverse and it included Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. The author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria used the analogy of a photo where one in every six people had been removed to explain why inclusion mattered. “This is what America is like for many people.”

Action: Identify a group often left out of the day-to-day processes of your work.

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Community is worth the struggle

One of the events I went to was a mentorship round table on filling up a room with enthusiastic people. One of the most helpful things I heard from most people was an acknowledgement that, yeah, it’s hard. Hard but worth it.

This was backed up by so many conversations that also acknowledged how hard but necessary it is to have people around you and to not do your work in isolation. Even when gathering people is a struggle- and it truly can be a lot of times- don’t give up doing it.

This is true in both my professional and personal worlds, to be honest. And it’s a challenge in both areas! I did learn from some helpful ideas, like making sure to have people in your corner personally, not just professionally. Or not being afraid to ask for people to help you fill a room. Or by always looking to serve other people. But the number one takeaway I got? Don’t give up pursuing people.

Action: Find some way to gather people in the next two weeks- if for no other reason, for practice.

Dig deep to find your core message

Writer and writing guide Joe Bunting led a session on storytelling. Right up front he reminded everybody to find their core message- the one that shows up in all the work they do.

In theory, this is something I understand well enough. It’s the very first thing I suggest organizations do when I work with them on branding. In my own creative life though, having a consistent core message is something that often gets neglected.

Joe helped explain why this happens. Over time, you not only develop the core message, but you develop your craft. Your craft is your toolbox for sharing your message. It includes specific skills like wordsmithing, editing, and design. Craft is important, but it is no substitute for your message. In fact, it is often in tension with your message. While mountaintop moments define your message, day to day work often keeps you engaged at the level of craft.

Action: Write down your core message. Make something in ten minutes to express it. A drawing, a chorus, anything.

Thankfully, weeks like this one are helpful in reconnecting me with my core message of hope and heart. Events like these leave me with a pretty full bucket, excited to get back to work in front of me.

Philippe Lazaro