Stop Thinking and GO! / by Sabria McElroy

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado. According to the festival website it is “the nation’s premier, public gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to present and discuss the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.” I was invited to attend the festival as an Aspen Ideas Scholar, which provided me with an unlimited pass to all events. (Don’t be too impressed: my husband, Andres, nominated me. He attended last year’s festival as a scholar and wanted me to be able to experience it too.)

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The festival certainly lives up to its billing. Speakers from this year’s festival included Mark Zuckerberg, Valerie Jarrett, David Brooks, Cecile Richards, Common, and many others. Topics discussed included restorative design, women defining leadership, data privacy, fostering educational excellence, extremism, antiracism, and much, much more.

Sounds great, right? So when it came time to book travel and pack, it should have been an easy decision. And yet, I started to doubt whether I should go.

Why? Some deadlines at work had been moved which would make it impossible for me to disconnect and enjoy the festival. I had a sinus infection coming on. I’d be away from my kids for four days. And, although the scholar program provided me with a free pass to the festival itself, I still had to pay the travel and getting to Aspen, Colorado from Florida isn’t cheap and takes forever.

And, if I’m being honest, there was also this: I was apprehensive about going somewhere where I didn’t know anyone. Of course, I’ve been in that situation many times in my life before but the idea of networking for days sort of terrified me.   

After I got into my head and started thinking about all the reasons I shouldn’t go, I started to wonder, had I ever wanted to go?

I even had a moment where I was mad at Andres for nominating me. But, after spending far too much mental energy overthinking the decision, I went. I had to remind myself that going would expose me to an incredibly diverse group of leaders and thinkers. Maybe I’d even meet someone who would be a resource for Born To Be or come up with some creative idea to fast track our launch.

As it turns out, I didn’t make any groundbreaking connections or have some amazing a-ha moment where I realized something transformational about myself or figured out how to launch Born To Be overnight.

Still, going turned out to be a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience.  

Among the “big” names, an event featuring Valerie Jarrett was my favorite. I was inspired by her discussion on the challenges she faced and overcame in making her voice heard. I also met a lot of lesser known people doing really cool things, including writing a book on leadership for women of color, supporting efforts to economically empower women in Egypt, and running an educational non-profit that connects students around the world through technology.

But the best part about being in Aspen was just enjoying the outdoors. I live near the beach but, at heart, I think I’m a mountain person. While there, I went for a guided trail run and a hike to see the Maroon Bells mountain peaks, which were absolutely stunning.

Aspen’s Maroon Bells

Aspen’s Maroon Bells

There were also some fantastic fringe benefits. The food at the festival was delicious. And if you have kids you’ll appreciate the beauty of this next part: I got 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep 3 nights in a row.

Overall, it was a privilege to travel to Aspen and attend the Ideas Festival and going should have been a no-brainer. I ended up taking plenty of work calls and reviewing a number of documents, but I did all this in a vibrant, bustling environment, with tons of good snacks, and a beautiful mountain backdrop. I felt a bit sick the first two days, but I would have had the same sinus infection if I had stayed home. I missed my kids, but I know that sometimes getting away and taking time for myself ultimately makes me a better mom.

Certainly going was far better than staying home and wondering what I was missing. For me, this was perhaps the biggest take away. I know I’m not alone in often overthinking, analyzing, weighing the pros and cons, reweighing the pros and cons, hesitating. It’s a habit that not only wastes precious mental resources, but it can also stifle our successes and keep us from having valuable experiences.

Sometimes the easier and better approach is much simpler: stop thinking about it and just go.