Whoa, guys. Just whoa. Last weekend I went to my first Creative South conference in beautiful Columbus, Georgia. Through accounts from folks who have attended in the past, I knew I was in for something special, but I had no idea just how inspiring and empowering those four short days would be for me. I expected to learn. I expected to have fun. I expected to meet some cool people.
What I didn't expect was to party all night on a bridge with five hundred creative all stars, while a fast-paced drawing competition took place under spotlights, booming music and drones yielding cameras. And I didn't expect to win a prize for dragging the most the day after said party. (Woo-hoo, hangover for the win!)
I didn't expect to feel my heart race as I competed with another amazing designer to create one letter of the alphabet, in a boxing ring with announcers and spectators, in under an hour.
I didn't expect to meet, laugh with, and share a drink with the speakers and leaders of this event who I can now count as friends, not just people I admire.
I didn't expect to stand up in a crowded theater full of people and belt a line from The Little Mermaid at the top of my lungs to win a sweet Creative South messenger bag. (I mean really, how else am I gonna carry around all my whozits and whatzits galore?)
I expected to be filled with pride, but I did not expect to be brought to tears when one of my dearest friends spoke on stage about the struggles and triumphs he's faced along his creative journey, or to be filled with a renewed sense of purpose as another dear friend shared how we as designers can use design thinking methods to literally change the world.
I didn't expect the reassurance I now feel after hearing that so many designers who are household names have faced the same devastating professional stumbles that I have, and lived to tell the tale.
I didn't expect to see a fearless designer from the land down under gracefully leap into the arms of a burly gentle giant to win a closing dance-off championship all Dirty Dancing style. While dancing to Celine Dion. (Oh my God. I cried.)
I didn't expect all the love from new friends and connections who have blown up my Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and email in the days after the conference. (Did we just become best friends?)
I didn't expect to bring home enough amazing (and mostly free!) artwork and knick knacks to fill all the walls and shelves in my house, or enough soft graphic tee shirts to clothe me for an entire week.
I did not expect to come home and find that some one has hit (and likely totaled) my beloved Mini Cooper where it was parked as I was gone. That one kinda sucks. But as a whole, I can honestly say that this crazy weekend has meant more to me than any professional gathering I've ever attended, and I will go back every year as long as they keep throwing it.
So big thanks to Mike Jones and all the amazing people who pull this event off each year - what an incredible service you're providing to the creative community. What you do makes our community feel much smaller and tighter than I've ever imagined it to be - just a group of people who like the same stuff, who face the same struggles and who rejoice in each other's success.
To my AIGA Raleigh family - I enjoyed every moment I got to spend with each of you over the last week - even the ones that involved long walks or "hangry" spells. You truly are family to me and I'm so glad to have had the chance to grow our friendships.
Hug necks, y'all. <3