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My SXSW in Review: Self-Doubt, WESTWORLD, Wonder Women in Media, and Military Veteran Talent

· Events

Sometimes when I get invited to speak at different events, I never know what to expect. It could be a quick swap of the business card here, or a random e-mail sent to me there, or even the fortuitous connection made all because I happened to be at a certain place at a certain time.

To be honest, I didn't know what I was getting into when I was first asked to join Comcast NBCUniversal on a panel featuring, "Veterans in Entertainment." I had met David Gaulin, the Director of Military and Veteran Affairs a while back at a Fleet Week event in the incredible Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. It was a chance meeting, an exchange of business cards, and sometime later a random e-mail that got me here.

At the time, the last six months or so had been challenging for me mentally. I felt a bit like a fraud in my own constant questioning of my professional direction or my self-imposed scrutiny of what the point was to my life's work. When one thing didn't go my way, I let it get in my way of everything else. I became that person who was difficult to get a response from when you wanted to ask how they got from being in the military to working in television (and I'm sorry).

The one thing I was doing more of was making excuses and retreating into myself. It was an odd form of depression of going through all the motions that give every indication of a functioning life, but internally it was like drowning in a pool where my own hand was tied to the plug and all I had to do was pull to get out.

When it was revealed that our panel application was picked up by SXSW, but turned into a Meet-Up (a less formal, more interactive panel-like discussion), I told a few people in my close circle about it while I was trying to figure it out all in my head.

"That's a pretty big deal. You basically got invited to speak at SXSW, when others would kill to go," I would hear.

Or there was, "Make sure you bring business cards, and extra ones after that."

And then came the one thing I needed to hear. It was something along the lines of, "You have to be the reason you move forward, and that's one thing you're actually in control of."

Oh. Okay. Time to rally.

My event was scheduled for a Monday so after working out some coverage at work, booking last-minute flights with terrible itineraries to and from Austin, stupidly missing my check-in calls with Comcast because of my schedule, and not exactly sleeping the night before, I was up at 4 a.m. and off to Austin without a full understanding of what SXSW really is.

It was basically up from there. I don't care how this sounds, but I was impressed from the beginning at my check-in and badge pickup process to how friendly my Lyft drivers were and all the amenities they seemed to have stocked their cars with. Forget just water bottles or a phone charger. They had candy, hand sanitizer, a LINT ROLLER, and a steady stream of helpful tips of things to check out in Austin. Every driver had a "The last time I worked SXSW..." story the way veterans talk about their experiences in previous wars.

Here's what I ended up attending in addition to some great food and comedy shows:

  • CNN's Jake Tapper in Conversation with Bernie Sanders
  • Women in Visual Arts Meet Up
  • Women in Creative Industries Meet Up
  • Informal & Candid Conversation with Female Leaders in Television
  • Luvvie Ajayi's "On Doing Better: A Convo"
  • Real Fake News Never Stops: Convo with The Daily Show
  • Unique Veteran Employment Strategies
  • How Documentaries Can Rise in the Web series World

Going from event to event was reminiscent of sprinting between classes back in college, coupled with always trying to make sure you feed yourself and have a place to charge your phone. My schedule only allowed me to be there from March 9-12th, and I was determined to make the most of it and see what comes out of it. If I had brought highlighters, I would have gone into the full undergraduate mode and end up with a well-loved notebook and color-coded handwritten notes to review later.

So here's a bit of what I learned:

I love what women are doing in media right now. If I was lacking inspiration, then I'm glad I came here. Being able to meet with and listen to other women in creative fields made me realize the value there is in storytelling from a woman's perspective.

I met Angel Giuffria, who after being born without her left arm now sports a battery-powered bionic one, and she was at SXSW to speak about the disabled community and their representation in the media.

I had the opportunity to hear amazing women in television from the creators of The Alienist and Claws speak about their struggles and triumphs in telling women's stories on screen. Luvvie Ajayi, an amazing internet personality who's event I stumbled upon, ended up giving advice that I wish I had heard or told myself my entire life.

The Westworld park was nuts. There's already a lot of media out about this experience, and I'm just so grateful to have been able to see it as a fan of the show and to even come back with a few souvenirs, to include my very own black hat. Can't wait for season 2.

We still need to put forth an effort in hiring veterans. When I was leaving active duty, it was at a time when veteran employment programs and campaigns seemed to be everywhere. Now that I'm employed, I feel a bit detached from that place of anxiety, so I was surprised to learn that veteran employment had taken a downturn recently.

While there is no frictionless way to go from a military life to a civilian life, there is no question to the potential value that hiring a veteran can bring to an organization. Perhaps we've reverted back to simply thanking a veteran for their service when in reality veterans are still in need of resources, mentorship, and programs with tangible values.

Comcast NBCUniversal, Facebook, and LinkedIn embrace the value in this concept and are great examples to other companies out there looking to do the same.

As for my event, it went better than I ever could have expected, but I plan to share that in a future post.