This last weekend I headed back into Chicago for a chance to meet with and learn from the folks at Social Fabric at the SoFabUOTR conference. The single day conference turned out to be a great opportunity for gaining new knowledge, making new friends and even sightseeing Chicago. But it was what I learned about myself during this trip that really surprised me.
Lately I’ve started to feel like a Chicago transplant – two trips back and forth from there in the last three weeks and I’ve started to become comfortable in the city and have even come to adore it. However, this last trip I took completely solo. That’s right – driving, train, taxi, meals, hotel stay – all by myself. This was actually my very first long distance, solo adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I loved it!
As my train bumped along down the tracks into the city, I felt empowered – here I am all by myself and I didn’t even feel scared. I am woman – hear me roar! After a few hours of watching the scenery fly past me in a state of calm chaos, we entered the underground platform. It was dark, with only a couple of dim orange lights here and there. The train squealed to a stop. I could smell the weird, unfamiliar smell of the tracks. This was it? This is where we stop? This place didn’t look at all like the nice platform I got on to enter the train. This was dark, unfamiliar and dirty. As I peered uncomfortably out the window the entire inside of the train went dark. I felt my stomach take a quick jump up into my chest to hide. This is what I wanted – I kept telling myself. This doesn’t scare me. This doesn’t scare me. . . This doesn’t. . .
I stood up and grabbed my suitcase from the overhead bin – almost crushing under it’s weight. Still, with all of my travels under my belt, I have yet learned how to pack lightly. Some day I might know better. As I made my way to the light filled doors I saw a nice looking man standing there. Can I help you with your bags, mam? – he said reach his hand out towards me. I smiled, grabbed my bag in my hand and said “No thank you, I’ve got this”.
The first thing I did after getting into the city was grab a bite to eat. Eating comfortably by ones self is the first step you need to accomplish in order to be a solo traveler. As a mom that normally ends up eating while standing up as I refill drink glasses, get a towel to clean up spilled drink and subsequently refilling the drink – this meal was a welcomed break.
At the end of my meal at a cute little street side diner, I stood up and confidently stepped out to the side of the street, lifted my arm and hailed a cab to take me to my hotel. I bent down to peer inside the window. The man driving the cab looked nice – he smiled as I opened the door to get in. Within moments of taking off from the sidewalk, however, he placed a small earbud into his ear and began speaking very softly to someone on the other end. As I watched him in his rear view mirror I would see him peer up at me- squinting as if to study my appearance. He continued to speak softly into his phone. I began to look around me to verify with myself that I had actually entered a real cab. After all, I wasn’t paying that much attention in the first place. I was just so excited that I had hailed my own cab. How could I be so stupid? I really should have paid more attention. I began to plan my exit plan just in case the cab took a turn down a road I didn’t recognize. I held on to my luggage a little tighter and prayed.
Either I wasn’t what the cab driver was looking for or I was just being way to overly paranoid, but moments later we pulled up in front of my hotel – he stopped the car and once again smiled. I paid my fare and pulled my bag out of the cab with a big thump as it hit the sidewalk. For a moment I just stood there, looked up, took a deep breath and sighed. I had made it. I rule the world.
After getting into my room, part of me wanted to hibernate and call it a night. It was only 1pm and I had nowhere I needed to be until morning when I was scheduled to meet up with the other SoFabUOTR conference attendees. But I wasn’t about to let myself waste away my day because I felt uncomfortable. I was going to get out there and do something. I had to. So I booked a boat tour of the city and pushed myself out the door. The boat tour was really cool, BTW. If you’re ever in the area, definitely check it out.
When morning arrived I made my way upstairs and into the conference room full of other women and a couple of men. Breakfast was being served, so I grabbed a plate and walked into the room full of tables and chairs. Flash back to high school – where should I sit? Again, I took a deep breath. “Hi, is this seat taken?” The two ladies at the table looked up at me and smiled, “No, go right ahead”.
The single day of learning went like a whirl wind. Throughout the day I challenged myself, made new friends, and felt the reward of gained confidence with every added obstacle. All around me I heard similar stories of fellow writers who were also pushing themselves down an unpaved path as I was. There were uncertainties, fears and accomplishments felt as a whole. Each one of us was on our journey alone, but together this day we found camaraderie. This is what it is all about, I thought. Finding our unique place in the world and sharing it with others.
As the day ended with a fun ride on a double decker tour bus and a happy hour at 52Eighty, I too felt happy. I felt the internal reward of challenging myself to step out of my comfort zone and open myself up to a new experience. I laughed with new friends, swapped business cards and promised to keep in touch. Then I grabbed up my bags and headed back towards to train station alone – after all, my next adventure awaited and I wasn’t about to miss it!
Check out this fun video I made during my short time in Chicago with #SoFabUOTR. It was such a great experience. And if you want to check out SoFabUOTR writers conference for yourself – you can do so by clicking here.