Nearly eight years ago, when I was raising a fledgling writing career alongside three children – and pregnant with a fourth – I boarded an Amtrak train for the five-hour trip from Lansing, MI to Chicago, where I would be attending a conference for magazine writers.
For three nights, I would sleep in a hotel bed. Alone. I’d go to dinner with adults and eat lunch unencumbered, never having to cut another person’s meat into easy-to-chew pieces.
It would be one of a very small handful of times I had spent more than a night away from my kids; one of an even smaller number of times I had gone into the big city to hang out with another adults since becoming a parent.
I couldn’t believe my luck.
I also felt an intense level of responsibility. We were cash-strapped, and coming up with nearly a thousand dollars to cover the hotel, my train ride, and the conference fee had been no small feat.
I showed up at the conference as soon as the doors opened at 8:30 AM, and sat for the full eight hours, madly scribbling notes. I sat up late coming up with good ideas for the writer-editor pitch sessions.
And within a week after returning home, I’d sold a $2,000 story. A 100% return on investment within seven days? I called that a success, and from them on I vowed to regularly invest in conferences.
These days, I do a lot more travel – both business and personal – than I used to. Our family budget is looser, I earn more money from writing and blogging, and the kids have gotten older, making it easier to get away (and possible to actually pay for the trips). I attend about four conferences a year, usually including Mom 2.0, Blissdom, Bloggy Boot Camp, and BlogHer. (I don’t do as much magazine writing anymore, so have chosen to focus on blogging and social media conferences.)
I don’t feel quite as much pressure to link each conference to a specific dollar amount these days. Blogging is a bit less transactional than magazine writing; it’s not always easy to link this specific conversation or pitch to that dollar-amount outcome.
But I definitely get something out of every conference I attend. Building my resume as a speaker, connecting with brands I admire, meeting and sharing ideas with other bloggers, finally figuring out why and how to use Google Plus (thanks, Lynette!)…while some have been better than others, I have benefitted from each and every one.
Heck, in this space, even just being visible and showing up is invaluable. Blogging is all about relationships, and building them is much easier when you can meet people in person.
So like many bloggers, I was irritated with this week’s Wall Street Journal article titled “The Mommy Business Trip” which highlighted the, shall we say, more vacation-like aspects of blogger conferences. The parties and decor. The dinners out and the mini-bar. The flawless, spotless hotel beds that we get to sleep in, all alone. (Except when you’re on a budget and stacked four to a room.)
The article implied that a lot of us are really attending conferences for the perks and the parties, and especially to get away from our pesky families. The subtitle? “Conferences Appeal to Women With a Guilt-Free, Child-Free Reason to Leave Home.” The accompanying graphic shows women dancing, lying on the floor eating out of the minibar, and watching TV on a hotel bed. Not, you know, attending sessions, speaking, or handing out business cards.
I won’t get into the sexism of implying, even if by omission, that only women dare to have fun at business conferences, though, come on. I was mostly offended because of the implication that my colleagues and I would spend thousands of dollars and leave our families at home for weeks every year based on a lie. That we would pretend to be going off to work somewhere, using “business” as an excuse when what we really want or need is a vacation.
And then I read the last few paragraphs of the article again:
Andrika Langham, 35, hooked up with Rodan + Fields last fall because she wanted a part-time job that was forgiving of a mom’s schedule…Since the arrival of her children, ages 7 and 5, she hasn’t traveled without her family.
She has taken to her new gig with such gusto that she has earned a spot on a company trip in October to San Francisco and California wine country, where she will meet with her peers, learn more about new products and tour vineyards.
“I would kind of feel guilty as a mom, but this is different than someone planning a girls’ trip,” she says.
I would feel kind of guilty as a mom.
For going on a trip just for pleasure.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SEVEN YEARS.
And it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, the article wasn’t quite as off-base as I’d initially thought.
Is it possible that many of us really feel so guilty about doing anything for ourselves, spending money on ourselves, going away by ourselves, that we have to fly cross-country and pay hundreds of dollars for entry to a conference in order to justify it for ourselves?
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself on business travel. Not at all! There’s nothing wrong with reveling in the solo hotel bed, a full night’s sleep or being wined and dined by sponsors. It’s one of the perks of being a grown-up businessperson (and by the way, any luxury is offset by the utter exhaustion I feel when I return home from business travel).
I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with heading to a conference just to have a good time, by the way. But do it for the right reasons. Do it because you love hanging out with bloggers more than anyone else in the world (and I do!), or because Mom 2.0 throws a heck of a party (and, oh, they do.)
Not everyone has a personal travel budget. I get that.
But if the idea of getting a full night’s sleep or having an uninterrupted conversation with another adult is so foreign to us that we’d be willing to fly thousands of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to get it, we might want to look at ways to incorporate breaks into our lives in smaller, less expensive ways. For a frazzled mom, a road trip to a cheap hotel with a friend – or even just a responsibility-free sleepover at a girlfriend’s house – can seem like heaven.
I’ve Pricelined rooms at bargain hotels for $50 when I desperately need some quiet time to think and write. Considering the free breakfast and the amount I can get done, it’s a pretty good deal.
We, as bloggers, also need to be more honest about whether and how blogging can be a viable way to make a living (especially for those of us who aren’t Ree Drummond.) I recently went on the record about my business revenue last year. If more of us did, we’d be in a much better position to figure out whether, for most of us, this blogging thing is a hobby that makes a little money, or a business that has some very fun perks.
Let’s just be honest. Conferences aren’t cheap. We owe it to ourselves, our businesses, and our families to be realistic about why we attend. If we say we’re doing it to help our businesses grow, then we need to take the “business” part of the conference seriously.
And if we just really, really need a vacation, our families owe it to us to give us a break – and we owe it to ourselves to ask for it and make it happen.
That way maybe fewer of us will be chewing our legs off in anticipation of the next conference ‘escape’.
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