It’s been a little over a year since I gave a keynote speech at TBEX Florida. As far as my speaking career goes, keynoting at TBEX was a highlight for me. The topic, where I shared with the audience a very vulnerable experience during a press trip, had more to do with confronting my own insecurities, realities of the stereotypes I face regularly as a plus-size woman, and finding the courage and strength to move on to my goals, rather than specifics about the press trip itself. It was so well received and touched so many people who felt I had spoken to their own realities that comments and feedback were coming at me for many months afterwards. Giving this speech was therapeutic and empowering because I opened up and spoke about issues that I face and struggle with as a professional travel blogger and as a member in a space that doesn’t really acknowledge people like me and instead rewards and celebrates limited beauty standards, youth, and sex appeal over quality of content, experience, and knowledge. It was incredible to come off that stage having exposed all my vulnerabilities while simultaneously sharing how I overcame them and triumphed, and then to be surrounded by men and women of all ages, shapes, and walks of life who told me their own stories and thanked me for sharing mine – it was, to say the least, an incredible high.
Then, just a few months after, I went to an event where I met up with the brand representative who had invited me on the press trip where the experience I had shared had taken place. She shared with me how, after my talk, other members of her profession had called her to warn her about my talk. How I had negatively portrayed the experience (or her client – I don’t recall now) and how they advised her to call me and give me a talking to. I sat there and listened to her share how other agency members, not her own, walked away from my talk with such distaste for my words, such apprehension for my message, and such a negative experience, that they felt it necessary to warn other members in their profession about me.
It contradicted every feedback I had received to that point. I was embarrassed because as a former public relations professional I am so hyper-aware, or at least I like to think so, of the difficulties others in those positions face when working with media, and specifically with bloggers and I try to be fair and balanced so as to not make it harder for them, while also being respectful and honest with my audience. In other words, I don’t like to stir up drama. I was also shocked. Shocked that others missed my message entirely and felt defensive simply because my experience – which again had nothing to do with the press trip specifically, but with the realities of who I am and what I have to face regularly because of it – didn’t fit into the narrative they felt was appropriate to share with anyone. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have shared the specifics of where my experience took place, or named the rep as a dear friend in my intro, but only did so to clarify that my experience had nothing to do with anything done wrong on her part, or a fault of the destination itself which I consider one of my favorites. This detail, however, was lost on the messengers.
After a few days, I was neither embarrassed, nor shocked. After a few days of processing it all, I was angry, so angry in fact that it has taken me a year to even write about it. I felt angry because that moment, this idea that I, as a grown woman, a professional, a consumer of travel, and a storyteller, needed to be talked to because there are those who feel that because we work with them – or they offer us opportunities to travel to their destinations, or they provide us with access to information that we can share throughout our platforms – that it entitles them to control our voice, what we say, how we say it, how much we should share, when, and to whom. That if we don’t fall in line or stay in our lane that we should thus be reprimanded somehow, or punished, or threatened with a black list.
My friend, the rep who was warned by her peers and told to sit me down and give me a talking to, shared what she was told and suggested that she didn’t contact me or tell me anything sooner because she trusted I would never say or do anything to intentionally hurt her, personally or professionally – and I wouldn’t. I gain nothing from doing so to anyone – brand rep or fellow blogger. And this story, my story, my moment, my vulnerably intense, emotionally draining, physically challenging, gut crippling moment, had nothing to do with any one person, any one brand or destination, or any one partnership. It had to do with me, as a woman, a traveler of the world, an human going through life trying to live it to its fullest potential despite what others might see when they see me.
That entire experience, that conversation, that Aha moment changed me.
For weeks after, if not months later, I grabbled with what I wanted to do next. For a while I wanted to close down shop and stop writing all together. My blog slowed down. A spark in me died.
There is nothing more damaging to the inspiration of a human soul than the feeling that its ability to fly is limited. That the availability of its opportunities are dispersed under conditions and approval of those who feel they hold the key.
It was difficult to get back to that first high I had felt coming off that TBEX stage. Instead, I felt resentful and angry. I felt distrustful and bitter. I felt sad to have lost my moment to the negative impacts of gossip and ill-intentions. I am not an overly sensitive person, but this was not just your average situation. These were people who felt in control enough of their position to want to control me. I couldn’t find my way back to a good place.
So I stepped back, limited my interactions with brands/agencies, and hit the road.
I kicked-off our travels with a self-funded road trip to Italy. I refused all offers for partnership because I felt I no longer had control of my voice. It was the first step towards regaining my sense of freedom.
I started 2016 changing a lot of things in my life. I started by working with brands and partnering with them in different ways where I wasn’t always traveling for them, but still collaborating and consulting. I became even more aggressive on being paid my worth and walked away from more opportunities than I care to admit, some I wish I didn’t have to walk away from when I wasn’t paid my worth or we couldn’t come to an agreement. However, it was this practice that has enabled me to increase the funding of my own travels. I turned down almost every press trip invitation I received, or sent a writer in my stead and filled up my schedule with travel that was controlled by no one. I also stopped putting the needs of my children to the side and took them on whole-heartedly and began homeschooling them and planning travel itineraries that included them, and because they were all my trips, I didn’t need to ask or negotiate my family in. I just did it.
I felt in control again. I feel like the whole experience saved me and my freedom to share my stories without anyone in the room feeling like they could stifle me for it.
I played my keynote speech over and over again in my head. I questioned and doubted myself. I allowed others to make me question my own intentions, the professional standards I have always been so proud of and have advocated for in our space as writers, as bloggers. Funny that a keynote that advocated for the embrace and empowerment to tell our stories would lead to so much conflict in myself.
A year later, I am confident in my truth. If asked to share my story again I would, because it matters, because people need to hear it. Not because it’s my story as much as it is so many of our stories – the ones we are ashamed to admit to, or share, or show about ourselves. The ones that acknowledges that we are different, and sometimes scared, and not always the prettiest, or the bravest, or even the strongest, even though we so want to be. Because we are human and we want to be all these great things and see others like us doing these great things too.
When I started blogging in 2008 no one knew who I was, no one cared. I didn’t get invitations to go on a trip for years later. Life didn’t become this surreal right away. While I thought about writing this post, I wondered how those with the ability to offer us opportunities for trips and work would feel about it. Would I come off as a threat? A loose cannon, perhaps? It’s hard to tell someone whose job is to control the message that they can’t control the message.
When I think back at my talk, at my moment on that stage and of what followed, my feelings are mixed but not so angry anymore. It is, however, still a work in progress. I vet more. I am more cautious and very protective of myself, my brand, and my reputation. I want to make it clear who I am and who I am not. I never, ever want to make anyone feel confident in feeling like they can tell me, or tell anyone else to tell me, to sit down, shut up, and know my place. There are people who are good at that. But I want people to know, I am not that girl. If that means I am overlooked for certain things, so be it. I deserve better, my readers deserve better, and no one has that right. As professionals, our responsibilities as such don’t mean we relinquish the right to our voices, or our stories. The two can exist together, and I am proud to have always adhered to those standards. Our stories may not always be pretty or might not always be delivered in pretty packages, memes or soundbites, but they are ours and we are human, not things to control, and we have real feelings and thoughts, just like our readers and consumers.
I am constantly reevaluating my priorities, and they consistently bring me back to a place that have nothing to do with who others think I should be.
I found my way and I think I freed my voice, at least I am willing to take whatever cost comes with that freedom. Not sure that it will change how I share on my blog as much, I have always been outspoken and true, but I felt this was something I needed to write out as a reminder not only to my fellow blogger friends and professionals, but to anyone out there who feels intimidated or inhibited in being their full self. I hope to continue to share my full self with you and that it remains the reason you continue to come back to the site.
Looking forward to more adventures to come. Thank you for reading.
To read some of the feedback on that Keynote, and what it was really about, check out these awesome words below:
Without a Path with Joe Bauer
Thank you to those who continue to shower me with support, love, and encouragement.