I am a true believer in a good gathering. A place where like-minded people get together to learn, exchange and encourage one another. Conferences are interesting, but they are not gatherings. Not in the way I mean. Gatherings are meant to inspire. Gatherings leave you feeling powerful and heard. Gatherings are meant to break you open.
In November 2019 I attended Gather North, an annual event put on by Avery Swartz that is a professional getaway for people of marginalized genders in tech. I was uncertain of what exactly to expect. Were we going to learn about tech? Talk about work? Explore new realms in digital? No, no we weren't. Not even close actually.
What we did talk about was far more human. Speakers touched on issues that so many of us feel, but would never, at least not in public, ever choose to address, or far worse, admit to. This gathering was the safest of spaces that allowed people to open up, ask questions, seek compassion, and be vulnerable. And how often are you encouraged to do that? What it created was a warm, non-competitive environment where people were listened to, heard, encouraged and supported.
Sessions were far from what I expected and included everything from using your voice, learning from failure, trusting your intuition, taking care of your mental health, and even embracing being average. How many people believe that if they are not the absolute best at something, it must mean they are simply terrible at it. The middle ground, being good at something, doesn't seem to carry much weight anymore. And it should. All of our skills and talents come from a lifetime of building our foundation brick by solid brick, and there is great value in that. There is great strength.
One of the most fascinating talks was on Imposter Syndrome (raise your hand if you've felt it). In a room full of people, the speaker (very successful in her own right) asked how many of us had come face to face with Imposter Syndrome. Almost everyone raised their hand, including me, including the speaker. I was stunned to see how prevalent this feeling was. The talk was incredibly honest and generous. I believe the goal was to shatter this need that so many of us have to pretend that we know it all. What remains is the freedom to allow ourselves to be who we are. And to trust that we are good enough.
Gather North was like a weekend-long therapy session. One that focused on our souls but pointed us toward greater success in our chosen careers in tech. Digging deep into who you are, what you're covering up, what is keeping you from being your best self can only lead to a more honest and powerful version of yourself. And that is when you thrive.
Not long after returning from Gather North, I moderated a panel in Montreal for YES (Youth Employment Services) interviewing four very successful women on the lack of female entrepreneurs and business owners in our city. Emulating my Gather North experience, I asked my own question of the panel, as well as of the audience, on Imposter Syndrome. Once again, the results were astonishing, especially among women. Hands went up all over the room and I have no doubt that there was relief in seeing strength in numbers, comfort in knowing that you are not alone. I encouraged all those who attended this panel to seek out safe spaces, and to gather with those who can instill inspiration and encouragement. We all need it.
Many people I met at Gather North have already formed long and meaningful relationships. Each year they look forward to making more. And this community doesn't break apart once good-byes are said. They stay in touch through Slack (a messaging platform) that allows for ongoing conversation. Since my return I have often thought back to the lessons I learned over those 2 days. I will make every effort to pass them on to those I meet moving forward.
I also have to take a moment to rave about the on-site childcare. I had been to two conferences not long before Gather North, and each time had to kiss my little one goodbye. But full-time childcare was included in the price of a ticket, which meant my son came with me. And did he ever have fun. This is a radical shift in thinking, and in my opinion something that every conference organizer should consider. It is a gesture that opens doors, creates freedom and eliminates friction. Bravo to Gather North for setting the standard for parents. I for one, was immensely grateful. If you need a getaway from your children, then by all means, take it. But if you want to bring them, you can, and that is a gift.
Another gift is the one I received from Plank - my ticket to Gather North. Finding a company that you enjoy working with and for, was another important discussion topic. The fact that Plank founder Warren Wilansky encouraged me to attend is a testament to who he is, and how he treats and values his employees. Warren encourages us all to be our best selves, and believe me when I tell you, he sets the standard in his own right.
There were many take-aways from my time at Gather North. As we close out another year, and another decade, these are mine: discover what brings you joy, believe in your greatness, take care of yourself and give back. Perhaps one of these might strike a chord with you, and if it does, I encourage you to gather with those who can help you grow.
Happy Holidays. From all of us at Plank, have a safe and happy 2020.