I could easily go on for days about each of the amazing speakers at the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference…truly each one was exceptional. For time’s sake, I’ll share a few highlights. The first happened at the networking cocktail party on the first night of the conference. When I saw this event on the agenda, it sent chills down my spine…those types of events are basically an introvert’s worst nightmare. Sitting in a room listening to speakers and striking up conversation with a small group over lunch…this I can handle. Large group, don’t know anyone, multi-hour event after a full day of activity? Yeah, I’ll pass. But again, I realized this was an opportunity to force myself to face my fears. I told myself that I had to go for at least one hour and talk to at least two people. High bar, I know. And the first 53 minutes were pretty much torture, as I had expected. I was about ready to hit the hour mark and bail when I struck up a conversation with a few people. At first it was just us chatting, but before I knew it, another hour had passed and more people had joined our group. Eventually we made our way to the food/drink area, which of course only made the conversation flow even more. Somehow I ended up dancing (I promise I was not drunk), and our group basically closed out the party. Since there were only a few people still hanging around at this point, I had the opportunity to have a quick chat with the amazing founder of the Girls in Tech organization. Talk about inspiration! And of course I took a group selfie on our way out! An important lesson I learned from this all was that networking doesn’t have to mean meeting hundreds of people. Making fewer but deeper connections can be just as powerful.

The other moment that I won’t forget happened on the last day of the event. Jennifer Hyman was giving her speech in the afternoon, and I was pumped. I had been waiting months for this moment…to hear one of my role models speak in person. I remember listening to this podcast and being blown away by the clarity and passion of her vision for her company. And I was not disappointed. Her speech was inspiring, practical, emotional, and challenging all at the same time. When it was over, rather than sit and wait for the next speaker to begin, I decided to sneak out the back and see if I could catch her on her way out. It was a long shot, but I figured it was worth the chance. Well, about 15 other people had the same idea as me. At first I was disappointed, thinking that I wouldn’t get a chance to talk with her. But I decided to wait and see what would play out. When some of the conference organizers saw us all waiting, they pulled us into a back hallway. A few minutes later, Jennifer came out and we all sat on the floor in a small circle and got to ask her questions for almost 45 minutes. She is obviously incredibly intelligent and driven, but I was surprised by how normal she seemed. And at the same time, if there’s any woman out there who can break the glass ceiling, she’s one to do it (and basically already is). I feel so grateful that I got the opportunity to hear her speak, especially in the small group setting. It definitely gave me more courage to continue on my own journey. While I don’t know what my future holds, I certainly hope I can one day inspire other women in a similar way.

As my husband and I headed back home (after a long weekend taking in the beauty and wine of the Sonoma countryside), I realized that I had done it. Could I have talked to more people? Made more LinkedIn connections? Sure. But that wasn’t what this conference ended up being about. This week solidified my vision for my life, and gave me the confidence to keep pursuing hard things. To keep putting myself out there. To dream big and never give up on the idea that I can live my passion.

While I don’t know when, I do know that I’ll be coming back to the Catalyst Conference, and maybe one day I’ll be the one on stage…