Five Takeaways from Plywood Presents

This past month, I’ve been struggling to sit down and write, mainly because my inspiration tank has been reading empty. I found myself at a dead end because of my own fears — fear that my ideas will be rejected, fear that my work is not original, and fear that my story isn’t worth telling. I really needed a boost in confidence and inspiration, and I’m happy to say that my tank has been fully re-loaded after attending the Plywood Presents conference this past week. Not only did I come back feeling energized and inspired, but I also came back engaged to my boyfriend! It really feels like the stars have perfectly aligned these past few days. I’ve never felt so certain that I’m in the right place, with the right people and with the right mindset. I’ve learned so much during Plywood Presents, but here are just five things that really hit home with me. I hope you will take away some inspiration from these stories as well!

1) “Knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to will shape who you become and what you’ll be known for.” — Jeff Shinabarger, Plywood People

Jeff, the Executive Director of Plywood People, explained that as problem solvers, saying ‘yes’ all the time can actually be counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish. Saying ‘no’ can be hard, but it might actually create more opportunities at times. This reminded me of Peter Greer’s talk about his book Mission Drift during the last Plywood SWAP event, where he posed the question “Mission or Money?” He was offered a big investment but with one caveat — the mission of his organization would be jeopardized. He was faced with a difficult decision to make, but by saying no, he was able to help his organization stay true to its mission and identity. As a problem solver, Jeff’s talk reassured me the importance of making decisions that would protect and represent the values that I stand for.

2) “Rejection is just a number, just an opinion. But somehow we take them as an objective truth of who we are. We take it so personally.” — Jia Jiang, FearBuster

Jia Jiang’s humor wasn’t the only part of him that was unexpected. It was his message about fear of rejection that raised my eyebrows. Jia shared his story about how he worked to overcome his fear of rejection and somehow along the way, found a way to embrace it. His 100 Days of Rejection project showed me that rejection is a concept that we make up in our heads and the only thing that stands between us and our dreams is us. This is something I’ve been dealing with recently and his encouraging message, “Just Ask!” helped me rid my doubts and fears. I thought to myself, “If he can get a random pilot to let him fly a plane, I can probably do anything, right?”

3) “Live as though you only have six months to live.” — Jenny Hidinger, The Giving Kitchen

It’s when we are faced with a dire situation that we realize what is truly important to us. For Jenny, it was the death of her husband that led her to establishing The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit organization that provides crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s restaurant community. Last year, her husband had been diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer and found out he had only six more months to live. She posed a really powerful question to all of us at the conference: “If you learned that you only had six months to live, what would you do?” I did not know how to answer that question. I have a tendency to push things off at times. I pushed the launching of my website because it wasn’t perfectly ready. I decided not to apply to the Plywood idea competition because I didn’t think my idea was good enough. But what I learned from Jenny’s story was that we cannot expect tomorrow to come. We need to live life to the fullest, as though we only have six more months to live.

4) “The city of Atlanta exudes hopefulness and helpfulness, which is one of the reasons we chose to move here.” — Sid Mashburn

Since I’ve moved to Atlanta six years ago, the city has progressively grown on me. At first, I was frustrated by the limitations and the slower pace of the city. But the longer I lived here, the more I came to appreciate the people and the culture. Sid Mashburn is an amazing designer and entrepreneur that opened his own line right here in Atlanta. His love and passion for Atlanta is something I admire and share. Atlanta may not be as mature or advanced as other major cities but it offers an opportunity for us to be proactive and be at the forefront of change. I’ve felt a movement of innovation in Atlanta that has been building up in the past few years and Plywood Presents was definitely proof of how talented, driven and creative the Atlanta community has become. I’m excited to be a part of this community that will help shape Atlanta’s future.

5) “To stand out in this world of distraction we really have to load up on ammunition of creativity.” — Johnny Earle, Johnny Cupcakes

Johnny is one of those people who are true to who they are and what they want to do. He had an idea and despite how silly it might’ve been to others, he had made it a reality. Even when he came up to our table to say hello, he approached us with a toy cockroach in his hand. His brand, Johnny Cupcakes, lives and breathes this quirky and extraordinary personality of his. From packaging to the in-store experience, Johnny finds a way to differentiate his brand. In fact, he suggests you should have at least 12 things that sets you apart. I believe that it’s almost impossible to produce an original work in this day and age. Everything is a byproduct of outside influences and the most creative work is largely shaped by a personal twist. Johnny’s talk definitely inspired me to think about how I can find a way to set myself apart from others and most importantly, have fun doing it.

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