FIERCECON – NOT ONLY EMBRACING MIDLIFE, BUT ENRICHING IT!
Last month I had the opportunity to combine work and pleasure by representing Walking Cradles at FierceCon.
WHAT IS FIERCECON?
FierceCon is a once a year gathering. “It’s not a convention, it’s a connection” of women who are determined to make their mid-life experience their best yet. It is a group of not only fierce, but kind, supportive, inspiring and all around uplifting women. Founded by Catherine Grace O’Connell three years ago, this group is as real as it gets.
Let’s start with Catherine’s story (the beautiful blonde stretched out in the front row). Four years ago Catherine almost lost her life to late stage Lyme Disease. "Dis-empowered from decades of trauma and abuse- I had no self-esteem, no passion, no purpose and no future,” is how Catherine describes this difficult period.
Believe me, you would never know this looking at her now. To see this stunning, vivacious, loving, inspiring woman you would think she’s always been this way. That isn’t the case. How did things change for Catherine? She says they changed because SHE changed. Her BELIEFS changed and from there, her life dramatically transformed.
Catherine’s loving and giving spirit wanted to share this passion with women everywhere. She started by creating “Modern Midlife,” which is a midlife vastly different than what we saw from our mother's and grandmother’s generations.
Through "Modern Midlife," a community of like-minded women come together day-in and day-out through blogs, newsletters, social media, video talk shows, and personal interaction. Bring about 100 of us together during October in Redondo Beach, CA and you have FierceCon!
HOW DID WALKING CRADLES BECOME PART OF FIERCECON?
During a trip to Colorado in July 2018, I received a message from fashion blogger Jodie Filogomo (Jodie’s Touch of Style). She invited my group to meet her, her husband Rob, and another blogger, Cindy Scurry for lunch during our trip. During that brief time, a friendship began to blossom. If you know Jodie, you understand how easy it is to become friends with her!
We continued to talk and she agreed to feature Walking Cradles in an upcoming blog post. Jodie’s enthusiasm and excitement is infectious, and soon we’d made plans for her to join us as a guest model and speaker for our Spring 2019 Shoe-Stravaganza (a twice a year fashion show and shoe shopping party held at our main offices and warehouse in Fenton, MO).
Because of our now established friendship, we invited them to stay at our home. They happily accepted (knowing we have 4 cats and a dog). This proved to be a great choice for a few reasons. 1) We got to know each other even better, 2) they not only tolerated but took a great liking to our pets, and 3) I got to witness first-hand just how much work and detail goes into being a blogger/influencer. Rob and Jodie would spend time day and night reviewing offers, brainstorming content and scheduling posts.
They both pitched in at Walking Cradles to help prepare for the event. Jodie was a total natural on the runway and her story of a dentist turned fashion blogger was fascinating to our guests.
Rob double-dutied as photographer and videographer (Facebook Live on Forever Fierce Revolution).
After a quick tour of St. Louis the following day and promises to stay in touch, Craig and I dropped them off at the airport. During this trip, however, Jodie and I had begun brainstorming about Forever Fierce Revolution and FierceCon. After a phone call introduction to Catherine by Jodie, things took off for plans to include Walking Cradles in FierceCon 2019.
ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO LOVE MY JOB
You know how sometimes you are just certain that the Universe has put you in the right place at the right time? Yep, that’s been happening for me!
As a 52-year-old mother of 5 who gave up a 25-year freelance gig to work for Walking Cradles, I’m constantly grateful for the opportunities I have as Creative Director at this company. I not only represent our company but also our target market: active, loves fashion, full of life and ambition; looking for the right shoes and clothing to fit (literally and figuratively) into our lifestyle.
So, when Walking Cradles decided to sponsor the luncheon at FierceCon and Catherine named our Orleans sneaker in silver and black glitter the “Official FierceCon Shoe,” I was on fire!
This was such a tremendous opportunity for this small shoe company to reach a tribe of women who all love to have fashionable shoes that fit and feel great.
Catherine asked if I would have a chat at the luncheon - not just about Walking Cradles, but also about my role in the company, how I got to this point and some of the challenges and achievements I’ve faced along the way. I enthusiastically said yes! Then... OH CRAP, I said yes! I’m used to speaking to a group or in front of a camera regarding work, but not about personal experiences.
This challenged me to look back on things in my life that have shaped who I am today. Not only did I pinpoint some pivotal moments in my life, but I was able to be grateful for things that I had previously taken for granted. I was also able to process and let go of some painful experiences that I had merely shoved away.
So, here I was, getting ready to embark on an entirely new endeavor – both for me and for Walking Cradles. What if this was a total flop? What if I was totally off-base during my talk? What if I felt like a complete outsider? I only knew Jodie. BUT... what if the women loved Walking Cradles? What if my talk resonated with them, even to only one person? What if I was about to make 100 new friends? I opted to focus on the latter group of “What If’s,” and I'm glad I did.
FIERCE CON WEEKEND ARRIVES
I had barely rolled my luggage through the entrance of the Crowne Plaza when Catherine came through the doors like a breath of fresh air. We hugged as if we had known each other our entire lives and the tone was set. From that point on, not once did I feel like a stranger or an outsider. People offered to help me unpack and set up my Walking Cradles area. We were making things happen! Up until this point, I had no idea where or really even when I would set up.
Earlier in the week, we had hired a new West Coast Account Executive and I invited her to join me. With no notice and no clue of what FierceCon is, Phyllis drove to Redondo Beach and jumped right in to help. Great thing she did, because women were drawn to the shoe table like moths to a flame. Unfortunately, Phyllis was flying out the following morning for a previous engagement, but her involvement that first day was incredibly helpful!
I was hooked from the very first FierceCon session “Finding Your Voice on Social Media,” with Laurel Mintz (founder of Elevate My Brand Digital Marketing), Kristen Fischer, Digital Media Strategist, and Courtney Paige Ray, brand photographer (who I would later be part of a photoshoot with)! I could already tell that not only was this going to be a beneficial event for me professionally, but personally, as well. The planning committee had done an excellent job of setting up the room to be intimate and engaging.
This session was followed by the “Shields Down Panel” with Dr. Shawn Horn, Anita Morris, fashion blogger at Anita by Design and Lana Lindgren, lifestyle blogger at My New Happy, moderated by Loretta Sayers, blogger, and author. I couldn’t believe that so much information, passion, and enlightenment had already taken place in only a few hours!
To say the last session of the day was enthralling is an understatement! “Projecting Confidence Masterclass” (sponsored by StriVectin) with Jacqueline DePaul (BS in Physics, worked in the IT world, then began modeling at age 38) had everyone laughing and clapping! Talk about relevant information overload! I was being given suggestions, inspiration, and tips for almost every aspect of my life - again both personally and professionally. If you were there, you know how “clavicle’s up” and “picking up the peanut” has become a part of our repertoire. If you weren’t there and you want to know, I’m happy to share!
(note that Rosie is wearing the Orleans in Black Glitter in the pic below!)
SATURDAY – PRESENTATION DAY – STAGE FRIGHT
After an early morning walk, I returned to the hotel, intending to attend the session with world-renowned meditation master, Michel Pascal for a rare private musical performance and book signing. However, after realizing that my nerves had kicked in and there was no way this mind or body was going to be able to reach any sort of peaceful meditation, I opted to meet Rob, Jodie and Amy Kennedy (Your Favorite Chapter) for breakfast. Regretfully, I did not get the opportunity to experience Michel. Thankfully, the time spent at breakfast did wonders for calming my nerves!
I did get the chance to pop in on the Beachside Chats that morning with Heather Anderson, fashion blogger; Michelle Gillette, brain health and wellness coach; Franne Golde, fashion designer, songwriter and Grammy Award Winner, as well as caregiver to her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease; and Eva Charlotte, a motivation and transformation coach and speaker who has survived a skydiving accident where her chute failed, Lyme’s disease, and heart failure. Each had their own wonderful stories and valuable information to share.
However, with all this great positive energy swirling everywhere, I was still definitely unsure of what to expect when it was my turn. All the women who spoke before me were so polished and didn’t need notes. I had notes.
Let’s just say, that we are all our own hardest critic, and while I can think of a lot of things that I could have done better, the audience was warm, receptive and have taken time to thank me for sharing my story. Shields down indeed. Proving, once again, that support, encouragement, and kindness prevail.
At the end, we announced the winner of the Walking Cradles free shoes, Trudy Callan (on my right), who was so excited and grateful. We were all crying! (Side note, Trudy is featured in a new documentary, coming out January 2020 called "Gray is the New Blonde," watch the trailer here.)
MORE INSPIRING WOMEN
After the luncheon, Loretta Sayers (pictured above on the left) moderated the Beachside Chats with Melissa Meyers, fashion blogger; Lisa King, author, blogger, pharmacist, and public speaker; Maria Leonard Olsen, lawyer, author and public speaker; and Jack Perez, creator of Keul Life – a company that promotes and supports women-owned businesses.
At this point, I am just in complete awe at the number of women who have brought the room to laughter, tears, applause and just plain joy.
BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAMERA
After the afternoon Beachside Chats, I had the wonderful opportunity to have my makeup professionally done by Jenni. This was a perk that I was unaware of, but Catherine and her group of planners think of everything. Jessica DeBen and Jenni have quite the portfolio of celebrities, TV shows and movies that they work with. I learned some new tricks and also found out that I could wear red lipstick - it just needs to be the correct shade of red!
Also available to Fierce sisters were two professional photographers. Makes total sense – most of these women are bloggers, influencers, public speakers, authors – all of whom need photos to submit on a regular basis. Rewind to when Lana interviewed me for The Spark (the Forever Fierce Revolution newsletter). She asked that I submit a head-shot. Hmmm… outside of needing to crop my family out of the remainder of the pic or the few selfies I have from the bathroom at the Vandivort Hotel in Springfield, MO (they have the PERFECT selfie mirrors – not kidding, look it up), I really had nothing. It was evident that I am almost always behind the camera.
So, I signed up for the photoshoot! Courtney Paige Ray took three of us (me, Dr. Shawn Horn and Cindy Scurry) outside at 4:00 Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t planned on this photoshoot when I packed, so I really had no idea what to wear. Selecting my outfit from the shoes up is normal for me, so I selected the Red Suede Samantha pump and opted to keep my clothing all black. This would complement the vibrant red lipstick that Jenni had selected (which was a bold change for me!).
We had so much fun outside the hotel laughing, posing, keeping our clavicles up, picking up our peanuts, shelling our peanuts, etc. (again, let me know if you need a peanut explanation) and I’ll admit, I was excited to see the results. (The results are that when you have a good photographer, good modeling direction and good light, the results are quite impressive).
Unfortunately, to be able to experience the photoshoot, I missed the great presentation “Midlife Rebel Masterclass” with Dr. Carol Parker Walsh, a truly inspirational speaker, author, women’s advocate, consultant – and the list goes on and on! Dr. Walsh’s goal is to help women in midlife find the things they were meant to do in order to be both successful and fulfilled. This is why her tagline is: “unapologetically be and do you.” I love it!
Saturday evening was the Gala! With so many of us having our makeup done and photoshoots earlier, it was a simple transformation to prepare for the evening! As women flowed into the beautifully decorated space, the love and admiration was embraceable! Never in my life have I been in a group of this many women who just didn’t stop complimenting each other. The evening was magical, and we all danced, laughed and continued to marvel over just how spectacular the weekend had been so far.
SUNDAY CAME TOO FAST
A group of new-found friends met early to walk to the beach for a “selfie” photoshoot. These were all women who are bloggers and influencers (except me): Cindy Scurry, Dr. Shawn Horn, Carmen Guerrero, Michelle Erickson, and Paula Griffin. They shared tips and ideas for photos, blogs, and posts. We splashed around in the surf for a while, took a quick pic on the lifeguard stand (Paula, where were you for this pic?), then walked back, refreshed and finished getting ready for the day!
Back at the hotel, we reconvened in the FierceCon room where we were inspired by the words and energy of Tamara Batsell, who encouraged all of us to go out, speak our truth and help each other along the way. Simple message. Wouldn't life be great if everyone heeded Tamara's advice?
Tamara's talk was followed by our lovely luncheon and a keynote talk with Jennifer Dulski, author of “Purposeful: Are You A Manager or a Movement Starter?” (purposefulbook.com) Jennifer is the former Head of Groups & Community at Facebook and President of Change.org. She gave a compelling example of a kid at a festival who started dancing all by himself, only to have everyone around him join in. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA8z7f7a2Pk). Jennifer reminded us that it takes one person to start a movement! She also encouraged us to find those who have given us advice or inspiration on our own path and thank them.
WHAT ABOUT THE SHOES?
So when Catherine suggested I set up a pop-up shop, I wasn’t really sure how this would work. With 60 sizes in every single shoe, there was no way I could have a pop-up shop! But, we did have the good fortune of being the 2019 Official FierceCon shoe! Over the months leading up to FierceCon, we offered the Orleans black glitter and silver glitter sneakers to the Forever Fierce Revolution group. Catherine and Jodie were awesome, posting pics and helping spread the word. However, I knew that probably many women still had never heard of Walking Cradles or what makes us so special. In order to fully understand this, we have found that the best way is to put them on your feet!
We decided to send an entire size run (60 pairs) of the Orleans in black or silver glitter out to FierceCon. However, we didn’t want women to think we only made sneakers, so we sent some display shoes of a few of our other styles. And, since we preach about making sure you wear the right size shoe, I also offered foot measuring (the best way is still with the Brannock device most of us remember from our childhood).
To say that women flocked to get their feet measured or try on shoes would be an understatement! On Friday, the women who stopped by the table to talk with Phyllis and I were mostly those who had read about the shoes and purchased them. On Saturday after the luncheon, women were excited to know more about us. Several even purchased the sample sizes we had sent! By Sunday, I can confidently say that all the women in attendance were aware of Walking Cradles and had been commenting on the glitter sneakers that were frequently spotted over the weekend!
HOW HAS MY LIFE BEEN TOUCHED BY FIERCECON?
Professionally: Jennifer Dulski has helped me realize that movements don’t happen overnight. They take persistence and patience. Our President, Mark Lemp, Jr., loves the saying: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.” To that, he has encouraged us to find new ways to get our brand and our message out to women. Working with bloggers and influencers and attending FierceCon was a big step in the right direction. Since starting this position I have believed that the power of like-minded women is tenacious and infectious. As a brand, if we can define our customer and then identify with them, then they will spread the word. Lucky for me, I personally love the shoes and wear them all the time. It’s easy for me to truthfully tout the benefits. I'm confident the movement is well underway!
Personally: Spending a weekend with women whom I had just met (except Jodie) was something I was looking forward to. I’ve always been ready to jump right into an opportunity to meet new people. What I had not expected was how life-changing this would be. Unfortunately, if you weren’t there, you won’t understand. But, if ever given the chance to be part of something that empowers, uplifts, encourages and embraces YOU (whoever YOU might be and whatever opportunity you are given) – do it!
THE BONUS SURPRISE
Among all the incredibly talented and inspirational women at FierceCon, many mentioned above is a stand-out artist who is deserving of her own shout out! Anne M Bray has such a flair for art, color, and fashion. Her fun personality and personal style make Anne a delight to be around. What she did for FierceCon is spectacular - she created fashion sketches of everyone who attended! She will then take each of these sketches and create a scarf which we will be able to purchase. But, outside of that, we were each gifted a card with our own personal sketch. Mine is below and I love that Anne used a pic of me wearing my favorite skirt and boots!
So, after this very detailed reflection on my experience at FierceCon, I can actually sum it up in one sentence. The Fierce Connection doesn't just touch your life, it becomes your life.
See you next year, Sisters!
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