When I first moved to Fort Bragg, I was lonely. Nobody really likes to admit it, but I was L-O-N-E-L-Y. As long time readers will know, I moved from my then-home of Baltimore, the first and only place I had lived since graduating from college, to join my then-boyfriend, now-fiancee at his first duty station. I was luckily able to bring my job with me, meaning that I would be working remotely from home, full time. Great, right?
The reality was that Casey was gone a lot, and I knew no one. I had a pretty negative experience at one of the first “spouse” things I went to. I rarely left the house, other than to go to the grocery store, and did not put on real people clothes if I wasn’t leaving the house. Like I said, I was lonely.
While I often scoff at Facebook, it was Facebook that enabled me to meet my first friend here at Fort Bragg. It was a Monday afternoon when the local Milspo Project meet up popped up on my feed. Ambitious women who are not willing to let their significant other’s careers destroy their own?! Sign me up!, I thought.
I headed out to Jumpin’ Java for that first meet up, I think, in July. That’s where I met Katy, who I am still friends with today. 😄
This post, though, is not about that friendship. Instead, it’s about how that meet up led to something much bigger than I could have expected.
The Milspo Project, through organizational changes, no longer has regular in-person meet ups. (I mean, with all the moving, you get it, right?) Instead, those meet-ups have transitioned online and, as a result, provide more bountiful resources than every before.
Into books? There’s a monthly book club! There’s a monthly workbook that guides you through an area of growth. There’s also monthly goal-setting meet ups at multiple times throughout the day! Most importantly, there’s a community of entrepreneurial women who are growing and building, shaking things up, and making a difference to the world by creating their own opportunities. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and those are the women I want to be surrounded by. [As an aside, you too can be a member by signing up here. It costs $28/year, which is LESS THAN one cup of coffee per month.]
Earlier this month, I was able to attend MilspoCON, the Milspo Project’s annual conference, previously known as EMBARK, in Wilmington, NC. The two-day conference gave me the opportunity connect with these powerhouse women in person. (Praise hands emoji here, amiright?)
I espouse the power of the web all the time. Heck, I make my $$ because the internet has allowed to create, perfect, and grow in a skill that didn’t really exist 10 years ago (data engineering) and empowers me to work from wherever in the world I may be. There’s still something powerful, though, about the value of an in-person handshake, a casual elevator conversation, and the small talk with someone helping you pick up the mug that you shattered when you forgot it was in hanging on your finger. (Not speaking from experience or anything…)
I should highlight that despite connecting with the Milspo Project over a year ago, I did not attend their conference last year. In fact, last year, EMBARK overlapped with FinCon. In retrospect, FinCon has more than paid for itself, so I’m glad I went, but I am even happier that this year I didn’t have to choose.
Wilmington is only two hours from my house. In fact, it’s where Casey proposed to me! In an effort to be budget-conscious, I decided that I would drive out to Wilmington on Thursday morning, stay there Thursday night, then return home Friday. To be honest, I wasn’t even going to stay on Thursday night- the original plan was to drive home Thursday and drive back on Friday- but my dad reminded me that my time is worth $$ and I decided it was worth he $50 hotel room.
Thursday morning, I woke up, got ready, swung my McDonald’s for a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese McGriddle, and was off! Unfortunately for me, I got stuck behind some serious traffic. I ended up getting to the venue right as things were kicking off (aka just in time), but I wish I had gotten the 30 minutes I had planned to last minute touch up things. At least I wasn’t late!
Actually, it was great I wasn’t late because I got the chance to sneak in right as the organizers were ready to get the day going.
The day was action-packed and I won’t recap all of it but here are some of my highlights:
- We did a “Break the Ice” exercise that asked audience members to stand or sit based on whether something was relevant to them. I was really struck to see a room full of inspiring, badass entrepreneurial women admitting their struggles around un- and under-employment. It. was. insane.
- Nick Smith, the CEO of Geo Owl, gave a powerful keynote address on the role of team in building his company
- I attended a workshop led by Shiang-ling Bissonnette and Miranda Perales of the Hive and Co called “SEO: Simplified + Integrated”. It was such a great presentation on a not-so-fun topic.
- The final presentation of the day was a panel on pitching featuring Eliza Whiteman (FlyDog Yoga), Cameron Cruse (R. Riveter), Erica McMannes (MadSkills), and Liza Rodewald (MadSkills) and moderated by Liz Marion. HOLY COW. Powerhouse women who clearly knew what they were talking about.
The day concluded with happy hour, headshots, and dispersement to our hotels. After a long day of mixing, mingling, and networking (and working on my elevator pitch!), I appreciated the opportunity to recover (especially since I had just come from Brasil).
As an aside, I always book my hotel rooms through Hotels.com. This is because for every ten nights you book through the site, you get one free. I’ve cashed in on this a couple of times and now swear by it. Pair that with the 6-7% I can usually get from Ebates and it’s almost always the best rate. Even if it’s not exactly the best rate when you’re digging into one use case, most of the time it is, so I don’t have to dig into the nitty gritty numbers every time.
Some Chik-fil-a in my belly, a book on my lap, and a comfy bed to sleep in- that’s all I needed and that was exactly what I got.
I woke up bright and early on Friday to get back at it. Excitingly the day was more of the same firehouse of information. Some more highlights:
- The EMPOWERMENT PANEL! Lauren Hope (Hope Design Ltd), Megan Hall (Megan Hall Motivation), Brittany Boccher (2017 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year), and Tammy Meyer (Life Coach) were amazing. These women shared the nitty, gritty details of their lives, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in their room.
- I attended the “Start With (Who and) Why” presentation by the incredibly talented Nikki James Zellner. Understanding your audience is something that I’ve been working on and her workshop was a guided exercise I’ve been iterating on ever since.
- The Keynote address by Rachel Luna was another not a dry eye in the room talk. Rachel actually did an on-the-spot coaching session and it was phenomenal. Confidence, especially feeling good selling, is not something a lot of women are particularly good at. Actually, the socialized caregiver persona that most of us take on in our lives keeps us from being good saleswomen. Of course, if we sell, we can have more of an impact but we tend to not think about this. Rachel is definitely someone to be following.
- Holy community, Batman. Community is real. At MilspoCON, I connected with a community of phenomenally inspiring and powerful women who are crushing it. They are the movers and shakes of the MilSpo community and connecting with them was amazing.
- Your elevator pitch is important. I haven’t had the experience of answering “what do you do?” since leaving my last role and it wasn’t until after the conference that my pitch started to actually come together. I definitely need to have that better prepared.
- Doing your homework makes a difference. I had done my research on presenters and was able to ask them about things they didn’t talk about in follow up questions and small conversations afterwards; that, I think, allowed me to connected with them in a new way.
- Take more pictures. I only took two pictures the whole time- and onewas there was a bathroom mirror selfie at the McDonald’s where I stopped to pee on the drive TO the conference on Thursday morning. Clearly I need to get better at this. The other was with Liza Rodewald of Mad Skills ’cause she’s a badass developer and I love that.
Tickets and the location for the next MilspoCon have not rolled out yet. As of now, the answer to Will I go next year? is Probably. You see, without location and dates, it makes it hard to plan. (After all, we are planning a wedding next year.) That being said, I will absolutely do my best and certainly plan to be there if possible.
Emilie is an Army Wife, Data Engineer, and CrossFitter with a love for working through her thoughts in this space on the internet. She lives with her husband Casey and their pup Bo in Savannah, GA.