I love my work.
I love to travel.
But when opportunities arise that allow me to do both at the same time, that love multiplies exponentially and as a result the space is created for all manner of unplanned and unimaginable magic to happen (the very best kind!).
This was indeed the case on the afternoon of November 5th, 2016 as I prepared to conduct my session, “The Wisdom, Purpose and Power of Self-care: Creating a Lifestyle & Personal Practice for Women of Color,” for Las Morenas de Espana’s inaugural THRIVE Conference in Madrid, Spain.
LMDES is “a digital platform and community that shares resources, knowledge and cultivates connections for expats based in Spain, and worldwide.” With a mission “to empower and inspire others to take the leap and create a purposeful life without bounds,” LMDES is “redefining the Black experience in Spain” through information dissemination, resource development and networking events. Established three years ago by founder, Sienna Brown, LMDES organized its first conference, which took place in Madrid a couple of weeks ago. The THRIVE Conference attracted attendees and speakers from all across Spain, as well as other countries including Great Britain, Italy, and the United States. THRIVE offered attendees information-rich and engaging workshop sessions on a diverse array of topics covering a broad-range of expat-life interests, including: how to start a purposeful business; female leadership in the arts; engaging activism and politics while abroad; navigating Blackness in Spain; Black women in art; entrepreneurship in Spain; office life in Spain; learning Spanish through immersion; Black masculinity; cultural immersion through the kitchen; achieving Spanish residency; and my session on self-care.
As a speaker, I feel the best conferences I present to are those that allow me to participate as an attendee, as well as a speaker. I learned so much from the sessions I attended at THRIVE, as my fellow speakers were amazing both in the relevance of the content they shared and in their effective presentations. I also learned so much from, and made powerful connections with, my fellow attendees – those I met and talked with as we sat next to each other in our sessions or as we passed in the halls between sessions or during breaks.
The value, quality and power of a conference is not just in the quality of the speakers and the information they share, but also in the quality of the conference attendees. Whether entrepreneurs, creatives, expats/aspiring expats, teachers, or some combination of all – the THRIVE conference attendees were an inspirational and motivating group of global citizens dedicated to sharing, connecting, creating, and manifesting their ideas and dreams (individually and/or collectively). And by being at THRIVE together, we all participated in advancing the LMDES purpose of “redefining the Black experience in Spain.” It was so personally rewarding, and an incredible joy, to see so many magnificent and beautiful people of African-descent in one space in Spain: people (men and women; older and younger) all representing diverse backgrounds and cultures, personal histories, goals, dreams, ideas, ways of being and showing up in the world all by their very existence redefining the Black experience in Spain. And yet, we wanted more – to learn more, to grow more, to share more, to dream more, to create more, to do more, to be more. One autumn Saturday afternoon in Madrid, LMDES’ THRIVE Conference allowed us all to do exactly that!
When you arrive at the conference space and the first new person you meet has specifically sought you out to tell you how much she is looking forward to your session; and, in introducing herself, she tells you that her name is “Radiance!” — you should recognize this as a tell-tale sign of the unplanned and unimaginable magic your session is about to create!
This was how my day started when I arrived at the THRIVE conference space. No pressure, right?! But to be honest, while I was humbled indeed by Radiance’s excitement for the session, I didn’t feel pressure. I did, however, feel even more motivated to offer a session that would speak to the hearts, minds and spirits of those in the room; and encouraged to know that the topic of self-care was, at least for Radiance, both resonant and important. I would soon find out, Radiance was by far, not the only one.
My session was scheduled right before the two-hour lunch break. But as it happens at many a conference, we were running a bit behind and started about 30-minutes late. I immediately went into presenter mode; determined to make every reasonable effort to end my session on-time (no speaker wants to be the one standing between conference attendees and their lunch!). That of course meant trying to fit a 60-minute presentation into 30-minutes. I wasn’t 5-minutes into my presentation when a soft but powerful voice from the back of the room made a request that would end up providing, in real-time, a powerful example of the very topic we were there to discuss: self-care; and a real-life lesson that self-care is one of the most unselfish things one can do because when you take care of yourself/your needs, you inevitably put yourself in position to serve others.
LaMesha’s request was that, since our session was right before the 2-hour lunch break, we be allowed to have the full 60-minutes for the session rather than rush through it because, as she put it, “This is just too important!” LaMesha’s request made me pause, take a deep breath and reminded me of a key component to self-care and that is about creating space – creating space for ourselves in our own lives; creating space to allow our needs to be met; creating space for unplanned and unimaginable magic! LaMesha’s request did all of that – not just for herself but for everyone in the room including the speaker! Given the go ahead from the conference chair to go as long as we wanted, we started over and what ensued was 90-minutes of that very unplanned and unimaginable magic! (yes we went an extra 30-minutes beyond the planned 60-minute session – the engagement and conversation around self-care was that powerful…even more powerful when you consider that extra 30-minutes cut into their lunchtime)! The session attendees were so fully engaged in the self-care discussion and session activities; sharing questions (and answers); and offering ideas to keep the self-care support, encouragement and conversation going as a group after the conference. Their energy and spirits were absolutely electric. And they transformed what could have been just your standard conference workshop into a powerful, standing room only, sacred space experience in which we talked some real talk; dispelled some real myths; and started some real healing, self-reclamation and personal and collective commitment work all in the name of the wisdom, purpose and power of self-care!
Now while I consider myself an excellent speaker (self-care is about self-acknowledgement!), I am not being unnecessarily modest when I tell you that in this session the excellence certainly went both ways. What the attendees brought to the session, their energies and spirits, was just as important to the session’s success as anything I brought as speaker. We truly worked together as a team, speaker and audience, for the benefit of all as we learned about and committed ourselves to the wisdom, purpose and power of self-care in our own lives! The result was beyond anything I, as the speaker, could have planned or imagined. And I am so very grateful to each of the session’s attendees for all that they did to make ‘our‘ workshop such a success; and deeply grateful to LMDES for creating the opportunity by organizing this first THRIVE Conference! THIS is when you know, as a speaker, you have spoken to the minds, hearts and spirits of your audience – mission accomplished! Mission further accomplished when, at the end of the session, you distribute the session evaluation and accountability forms for attendees to complete and return; and you leave with 90% of the forms you handed out returned to you – fully completed!!
If this one session on self-care, on one autumn Saturday afternoon in Madrid, is any indication … self-care is truly the journey forward … and we’re just beginning!