Every year, Austin, Texas initiates spring with its diverse 10-day festival, SXSW. Thousands of people gather in the state’s capital to enjoy the experiential marketing, assorted music acts and interactive sessions that take over the city. Though I spent February planning and organizing my SXSW trip and had seen previous coverage of the event, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. My experience exceeded my expectations and equipped me with valuable knowledge and lifelong memories.
Here are my main takeaways from the festival:
1. A change in routine can benefit your mental health.
Get out of your routine and do something that gets you excited about life. As someone who works remotely, I can get into the same pattern, often working from my desk-bed (various bar stools surrounding my bed topped with tea and sticky notes) and straying away from side projects or bigger goals. Having ambitious dreams can be overwhelming at times and can seem far from achievable when your routine keeps you in one place.
SXSW was quite the opposite of a routine. My mid-SXSW self laughed at my pre-SXSW self’s plan to stick to a schedule. I spent more than a week stopping by theatrical activations, going to random interactive talks and wandering into exciting music events. Though there were certain events I planned out, every day had a new dynamic and was far from repetitive. Yes, there are people who need routine to be content. But there are also people, like myself, who need constant inspiration and movement in order to feel centered. SXSW reminded me that letting loose and going with the flow can provide a much needed mental cleanse.
2. Networking needs a new name.
Maybe tribe building or just… like… having a conversation.
When you think of traditional networking, there can be so much pressure to say the right thing or come off qualified and polished. SXSW affirmed the fact that you don’t have to be in business casual attire at a glitzy event in order to network. You can have conversations at anytime that lead to a business connection. During SXSW, I met CEO’s who were wearing T-shirts and shorts at concerts. Most of the connections I made started with a conversation with someone I didn’t even know I needed to talk to. Cue the next thing learned…
3. There’s power in having one conversation.
The excitement of the festival fueled me to talk to every single person that I came across. Whether it was with someone I was standing next to at a concert or someone who asked a great question during a panel, I was ready to start a conversation. This came in handy during my first night of the festival when I was attending a launch party at Latitude 30, SXSW’s British Music Embassy.
I walked into the event after the first band had already begun playing. I asked two guys in front of me if they knew the band’s name and they said they didn’t know them too well but that they were about to go on next. I then asked them what type of music they play and where they were from. They then told me they were one of the artists on the label of the launch party we were at. This led to a great conversation where they eventually introduced me to various team members of the label including the CEO and founders. All of this came about simply because I started one conversation.
4. Shoot your shot.
One of SXSW’s goals is to foster networking by connecting you with industry leaders through events like meet ups, mentor sessions and round table talks. Even if you don’t attend one of these events, most of your idols are hanging around after a talk or in the crowd at a venue. From celebrities to trailblazers, you’ll most likely come across someone you’ve always dreamt of chatting with. I am here to tell you to shoot your shot. Don’t be discouraged by fame or status. The worst that can happen is your conversation gets cut short. This is a small risk when there’s the possibility of having a meaningful conversation and exchanging contact information with someone you admire.
I saw one of my favorite bands, Big Joanie, at Cheer Up Charlie’s during SXSW. After their set, I noticed them off to the side of the crowd watching the next acts. I was hesitant at first but decided to introduce myself. I told them how inspiring they were and that I wish I had their music for my younger self. We had such a great conversation and they ended up giving me their contact information and told me to reach out if I ever needed anything. I was in shock after but I was so thankful that I took that leap to approach them.
5. Successful people are legit just people.
SXSW was a week of listening to people tell their stories and share their trials and tribulations. Arlan Hamilton, founder and CEO of Backstage Capital, spoke about starting her company from her car while she was homeless. Lance Bass talked about having imposter syndrome during his NSYNC days. These talks helped me remember that my idols were once in the beginning stages of their careers too. Constantly hearing success journeys will make you realize that you are in the middle of yours.
6. A good tribe can keep you motivated.
I met people during my first day of roaming around SXSW and we instantly connected and bonded. Though we were all in different fields, we had similar views, ambitions and energies. We were interested in the same talks, liked the same music and hyped each other up when each of us had something work related to do. This experience reminded me of the power of connecting with ambitious peers who are working toward amazing things. It’s important to be around people who have inspiring paths, support your work and motivate you to keep achieving greatness.
7. It’s important to get involved with things outside your field.
SXSW is a playground of experiences with something new to offer almost every hour. There were events that taught me about important issues, compelling topics or refreshed my interest in old subjects. It’s the perfect place to dabble in something that you wouldn’t normally incorporate into your daily life.
I met someone who informed me on the serious issue of food waste. She shared jarring statistics with me that motivated me to attend a panel on the subject. This is how you stay informed, connected and inspired. Throughout my SXSW experience, I was introduced to new issues, organizations and businesses that I hadn’t known about.
8. Comfort isn’t everything.
I can be a perfectionist and I often need things to be organized and comfortable in order to have a good time. SXSW helped me stray away from this notion. Once you dance at concert with a tripod in your hand or attend an event alone that’s outside your field, you tend to lose the need for comfort. I had to adapt to certain situations by embracing the uncomfortable and focusing on the positives. Things don’t have to be perfect and comfortable in order to be successful.
9. Your Uber can double as a travel guide.
I had conversations with 90 percent of my Uber and Lyft drivers and they all gave me the local tea: where to eat, what places to avoid at certain times, nicknames for parts of the city, local issues. Rideshare drivers really know what’s up and can help you in more ways than one when navigating a new city.
10. You can actually do whatever you want.
Your dreams are attainable as long as you keep an open and determined mindset. Imposter syndrome can often creep in and convince you that you don’t have enough qualifications to make progress toward your goals. SXSW was a reminder that there are many diverse methods and outlets that people use to achieve what they want. Spending 10 days experiencing creative ideas and messages motivated me and revived my own dreams.
It is also refreshing to know that SXSW can be used as an outlet to aid your aspirations. Whether you’re going there to meet like-minded people, organize a talk or set up an activation, the festival has various opportunities for you to share your message and execute your goals. SXSW is definitely a tool that needs to be added to everyone’s professional bucket list.