What you can't possibly know from this photo is that just days before it was taken, I was curled up on my couch and crying, cocooned in what felt like a heavy, burdensome shroud made of the dark, difficult mess that had suddenly become my life. You don't see that putting pretzels and peanut butter sandwiches in my children's lunch boxes each morning took all the strength and presence I could muster; that turning on the shower and standing under it required a pep talk.
I was barely holding on in the week or so leading up to this moment, so even the thought of showing up at a place with palm trees and sunshine for a conference, let alone networking with successful, smart, accomplished women AND THEN JUMPING INTO THE AIR was, quite honestly, ridiculous. Honestly, I laughed (laced with bitter sarcasm - I remember distinctly hearing the edge in my voice and feeling a jolt of shock at my own darkness) to a friend the week before, saying, "How could I possibly go? Look at me. I'm a miserable mess. There's no way I can show up there and talk about my business, hand out cards with a smile, and come up with interesting things to say that even resemble something remotely positive. I can't go." The friend neither agreed nor disagreed, just responded lovingly, "You don't have to decide that today. That's next week. Just get through today."
So that's what I did, because I simply didn't have the capacity to consider my life beyond the day (sometimes the thirty minutes) in which I was living. And one day at a time, I did get through, until I found myself putting clothes into a suitcase and business cards into a bag and pulling out of my driveway with a tentative plan to drive to Georgia. I was timid, tired, and fragile, but, deeper still, I knew I was going to be okay; that in making the decision to show up, rather than stay where I was, I would find my footing. My faith told me to move forward - even at a snail's pace - and with every mile toward the coast, I felt myself becoming stronger, slowly shedding that dark and heavy shroud, leaving behind a bit of the sadness and despair that had lingered so closely in recent weeks.
What I failed to consider when I first balked at the idea of going back to The Summit after such an amazing first-time experience last year was that The Southern Coterie does not bring together a group of self-involved, business-only robots with 900,000 Instagram followers who elbow people out of the way for a selfie or a promotional pitch. Nor is it a marathon of endless uninteresting meetings and presentations during which you're wishing you were just sitting by the pool with a drink. Or sitting anywhere else, for that matter. Not only is every panel relevant and entertaining, the people are warm, inviting, and open. There's a reason they call any past attendee an "alum" because, when brought together, it is truly the feeling of a homecoming. The phrase that continues to run through my mind - even since last year's Summit - is "a rising tide lifts all boats," and I recalled that during my drive to Sea Island in February. The Summit generates such encouragement, support, authentic connection, inclusion, and genuine kindness in and through its presenters, speakers, attendees, and, most of all, its founders and team.
I went this year with two dear friends (Lori and Joy Robyn, I miss you two roomies!) who knew my recent struggles and likely noticed my shakiness at showing up, and they were my wing-women in every way. They, along with plenty of other amazing women who know who they are, stepped in to speak up when I shied away from introducing myself. (Which was often.) They handed out business cards FOR me. (One instance literally goes down in history as THE most awkward business card exchange ever, and they totally saved me from looking like a crazy person.) They grabbed me by the arm, leading me across the room, saying,"Come with me - so-and-so just needs to see your beautiful necklace!" They facilitated connections I could not, with my not-operating-at-100%-ness, have made on my own. And the beauty of wonderful, incredible friends and a gathering like The Summit meant I didn't have to. I allowed myself to be carried and lifted by the tide, and it was such a wonderful feeling. I even jumped in the air for a fun photo op, despite all that heaviness that had, only days before, threatened to drag me down.
I am so grateful for the joy I found in showing up at The Summit; I'm so glad I didn't ditch it and miss out on the beauty it offered. Those few days were such a turning point for me, and I'm hopeful (and certain) that more is to come from the experience and these friendships old and new. Stay tuned, friends. The tide continues to rise.