For some reason—the mark of success for a lot of people is the ability to leave—to make it on your own in a different and new place.
Maybe it’s the rural, corn-field-cladded, bicentennial-farm-painted reputation that Ohio carries in some people’s mind. Maybe it’s just the fact that we’ve just been here and seen this and done this city, this state, our whole lives. I know, for me, when I was 17 and everyone started wondering what my plans were for my life… they always included GETTING. OUT. OF. OHIO.
But as I strutted into Strongwater Food and Spirits—a hidden gem on West Town Street that I had never seen in my 23 years in the city—it dawned on me that I had been taking Columbus for granted my entire life. Everything I wanted out of my life, everything that marked true success for me, was right here in my own backyard. I had just been too close to see it… or maybe too close to appreciate it.
With a grateful mindset and a pair of very sassy, charcoal, high-waisted Limited pants (Shout out to Les!) I met my counterpart (and fellow #BadBish) Tonnisha and we headed into the Columbus Young Professional’s #BeU event.
I scribbled my name with a lime green sharpie on a CYP name tag and slapped it to my right breast. I was handed a drink ticket and headed to the bar. Nish and I ordered some Jack and Cokes as we surveyed the opportunity before us. Strongwater is the coolest venue I’ve been in, in a HOT minute. Exposed brick, exposed duct work, tall ceilings, and an avalanche of natural light—the industrial/modern/vintage/but-never-trying-too-hard feel was literally sucking me in like a vortex. And so was the diversity of the faces of young professionals like Nish and I who were well dressed and ready to mingle!
Before we were halfway through our jack and cokes, the bar top that Nish and I had settled at had blossomed into a networking supernova. We spent the cocktail hour making friends with young professionals from Honda Manufacturing, L Brands, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and more. But before long, a tap at a microphone called us to the main stage to get what we all really came for.
So… I’ll admit—when I realized there would be seven speakers, each with a seven minute allotted time, I did some very quick, very rudimentary math and let out a heavy sigh of “this-is-gonna-take-forever” frustration. But I caught the eye of a peppy blonde on the stage that I recognized from Good Day Columbus and decided to keep my mind open. Very glad I did…
The first speaker was Amy Avery – a former triathlete, coach, and business owner. She was outfitted in a zip-up hoodie and athletic pants and my first thought was that I was about to be lectured on how many calories were in the jack and coke I just drank. I immediately got defensive as I prepared for her to speak.
Amy opened her mouth and disarmed my judgments immediately. She spoke gently but with experience and power. She told the story of her decision to become a triathlete, the training she went through, and the tragic accident during her triathlon that led to a serious hospital stint. She shared the true victory she found in overcoming her accident and ultimately training other athletes to be successful in chasing their dreams. I applauded when she finished and immediately scolded myself (internally, of course) for judging her before she spoke.
Next up to the mic was DJ Dimepiece, who I recognized and was extremely interested in hearing from. DJ Dimepiece (for those of you who only listen to your iPhone in the car or are actually paying for satellite radio… whaaat?!) is a DJ for Columbus’s original hip hop and R&B station, Power 107.5 – the station I grew up listening to in the car with my parents, the station that was first programmed in the Ford Escort ZX2 I got when I turned 16, the station that supports my friends who are trying to further their music careers in our great city! The theme of her speech was turning your negatives into positives—which seems like a simple concept, but when she put it in the context of her life story (moving out of her home state of California to pursue a career in DJing, losing both of her parents within the same year, moving to Chicago to further her career, etc.) it held some serious weight and grit. It’s interesting in a field such as hers—when you hear her voice everyday on the radio telling you about your favorite song or what’s going on in the city—but in that same excited, passionate, lively tone, hear the pain and triumph she experienced in her own life. I was captivated by DJ Dimepiece and more than inspired by her story!
Cool… so we’re cruising through the speakers. I’m feeling good about it. I’ve still got drink number 2 in my hand and Nish and I are live tweeting everything that we find worthy of sharing with the world.
The peppy blonde I mentioned before steps back up to the mic, as she has been emceeing the entire event. I expect her to introduce the next speaker but, instead, she simply introduces herself: Katie Garner, host on Good Day Columbus. I’m struck by how calm she seems on stage and how connected I feel to her endearing demeanor. She adjusts the microphone to fit her short stature (something this 5’3” girl can relate to) and begins to speak on the power of positivity. I feel like she and I are at a coffee house on a Friday afternoon and she’s telling me what she did specifically to get through this week. Katie gives simple advice that contrasts well against the myriad of complex ideas and tips for success we’d all been hearing during the event. Smile at someone. Choose to think positively. Laugh. I write this advice on the walls of my heart as Katie wraps up. I’m reminded of the simple quips of wisdom my mother would drop on a daily basis. Treat others the way you want to be treated. These, I believe, are the true markers of success: your character.
Following Katie is Eric Pennington of Epic Living. He is in a very well-tailored suit and I am immediately drawn to his inviting, relaxed manner. His offering to us is a little more intricate and therefore a nice contrast to the speech he is following. He gives advice on how to effectively balance our work and personal lives – and after him is a very inspiring speech from the one and only Megumi Robinson on behalf of Experience Columbus. She encourages us to all become ambassadors for our beloved city and “become vocal champions of our beloved city!”
Next is a speech from Daniel Tackett that literally sweeps us all off of our feet. He takes a volunteer (one of the connections I made during the night, Kelli! Hey girl!) and literally teaches her how to RUMBA on stage! Crazy, right? The metaphor was worth noting, though. As Daniel sashayed with Kelli on the stage, he patiently repeated the first steps on the dance and gently guided Kelli to the technique of the dance. He noted that he could’ve been forceful and aggressive in showing her the dance—but that that would not have cultivated success. I slipped his advice in between all the business cards I received that evening.
Finally—wrapping up the evening is Debra Penzone. I’m going to be honest—I’m tired at this point. I’ve absorbed all I can absorb in every facet and sense. I’ve networked in my heels, I’ve sucked down some drinks, the natural light is starting to dim and I’m wondering if this petite, blonde woman is going to be longwinded or not.
She stands up to the microphone and opens her mouth to smile, instead of speak. My heart is warmed. It’s a genuine smile. Not a “I’m about to talk to you about how to get a raise” smile. It’s a “I want to be here” smile. 18-year-old Kelsea probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference, but 23-year-old Kelsea has better lenses.
Her tone is soft and gentle but her stance evokes power—a balance I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to master. She begins to tell us about a young girl she mentored that had special needs. The story evolves into her reconnecting with this young girl later in life, when the girl is about sixteen. She connects it to sowing seeds and persevering, even if the results aren’t immediate. But the point she made that stuck with me the most was to never be satisfied. The event was called #BestU, but Debra spoke about never achieving your best—and when you thought you were your best… moving forward and beyond that.
The event ends and everyone is so excited that we finished in a timely manner. Nish and I look at each other and make a “plan of attack” to show these speakers how grateful we were for sharing their beautiful minds with us. We spend some one-on-one time with almost all of these, snapping pictures and hugging. The most memorable encounter during this end period, for me, was with Katie Garner. She evokes nothing but gratitude and sincerity in her off-stage conversation. I feel thankful to have connected with her.
All in all—I left the event feeling pretty proud of my city. I was so motivated and encouraged by everyone I met at the event—from the speakers, to the young professionals I networked with—that it was absolutely impossible to feel disconnected or “sick of” Columbus. The city is thriving, is vibrant, and is generous with its resources and I’m ready to take it over!