So, How Was Big Omaha?

“So, how was Big Omaha?!”

I’ve answered that question three and a half dozen different ways since returning from a conference that brought together 600 passionate people to talk innovation, startups, entrepreneurship and life. But the word I’ve used in all of my answers to that question? Transformative.

Big Omaha group photo, thanks Sillicon Prairie News

I can confidently say Big Omaha transformed me. And I will swagger out onto a limb and venture that the conference was transformative in one way or another for its attendees, organizers and speakers, too.

It sounds audacious, right? That this conference actually transformed me. But it did. Because it pushed a lot of my personal+professional boundaries. It connected me with heart-embiggening people. It challenged me to step into my skin. It made me think—lots—about my life-work.

Eenie, Meenie, Miney Moe — What Do I Do, Again?

Oy. When people ask me what I do, I often laugh and respond tartly: “I do awesome things.” “I’m a gater!”

Which doesn’t actually help people understand what I do.

At Big Omaha, I thought about dancing when people asked me what I do. I thought about fluidity. And so depending on the tone of our conversation, or what I knew about the other person, or who it was that introduced us, I chose from a variety of answers: I’m a copywriter. I’m a community builder. I’m working on a thesis in social entrepreneurship. I cofounded Reverb.

And it felt good to be flexible in my answers. Rather than shirking the question with a tart response, I answered genuinely. Instead of only talking about what I do that earns me money (copywriting & community management), I let the context inspire my response.

So all those people I met? They each have very different ideas about who I am and what I do. That’s kindoftotally awesome.

Owning “what I do”? Transformative.

Hey! People Think My Thesis is COOL!

WOWZERS. In Boulder, I catch flack about being in grad school (i.e., it’s a waste of time, waste of money, you should be out there shipping!).

At Big Omaha, someone asked, “Um, can I pay you to have a copy of your thesis when you’re done? I need that.” And they weren’t just being funny.

I now have someone who’s offered to pay to read my research (of course they’re getting a copy of my thesis priority-mailed to them when I’m done…I’m looking at you, Andy). Another amazing person offered to read drafts (thanks, Greg!). Someone else suggested (and then suggested several more times) that I publish (thank you, Jen!). I’m humbled.

Dust-covered masters’ theses on bookshelves across the country high-fived each other each time someone showed excitement about my work (I just know it).

Being reminded that my academic work is parallel to and as important as my non-academic work? Transformative.

About as Comfortable as a Cheap Wool Sweater on Bare Skin: My Comfort Zones

Know what I really found out? That I prefer one-on-one or small group connections. The happy hours and parties were so well-done and a blast, but I tended to shrink in those environments. No matter how many people describe me as bubbly, outgoing or uber-social—well, it doesn’t always stick. At Big Omaha I often chose to have an intense, super-connected conversation with one person versus a light conversation in a big group.

If this lands me in the “too serious” or “too intense” pile, that’s cool. I’ve discovered that the one-on-one connections are where I thrive. It’s an awesome discovery.

Acknowledging my areas of insecurity? Transformative.

I wouldn’t have had this transformative experience without Zaarly. I won their Twitter contest for a ticket to the sold-out conference. The resulting “SQUEEEE!” defied all squees.

Zaarly free ticket to Big Omaha winnerNo one from Zaarly asked for anything in return—they didn’t ask for a mention on Twitter, nor a blog post highlighting the start-up—nothin’. I connected with founder & CEO Bo Fishback after Big Omaha, and he simply said: “We couldn’t have ended up with a better person to have there with us.” The people behind Zaarly are the real deal.

I think Zaarly has a fantastic launch story (really, how did they create such an amazing national grassroots support base?!). Check out or the iPhone app.

Hey Zaarly — THANK YOU. <3

  • Alicia

    Cali – this experience sounds amazing. I think it’s funny that you didn’t exactly say that you ‘defined’ yourself, but contextualized it as embracing yourself and finding a bit of a reason to love what you are doing – in this moment. Love it!

    • Um, Alicia?

      How about you just write my posts for me? Because you just stated it so succinctly and elegantly. EXACTLY!

  • That is awesome. It’s amazing when you realize things about yourself and about others and you can take action and feel better about who you are. I prefer one-on-one as well – even though I love big parties – but I think I can really get to know someone on such a deeper level when others aren’t around.
    Congrats on your thesis excitement! It’s so important to surround yourself with people who are excited about you and for you – and who support your every move.

    • I agree! I love the big parties and events (I feel like I attend so many of ’em on a regular basis)…but it’s the more intimate conversations where I REALLY connect with people. I have oodles of respect/envy for those big personalities that truly thrive in the big party setting. But I’m okay with acknowledging that it just ain’t me. :)

  • I really need to work on attending more conferences.

    • Yes! It’s like docc/bocc–but all day and better! :D Ha. What type of conference do you think you’d want to attend?

      • Not sure! I think it would be really beneficial for me to attend something completely outside the industry I’m used to.

  • YEEESSSSSS!!!!! I love this!! I need to write a recap blog, as well, but you just did the most fantastic job putting it into words! Transformative it was. I am SO SO happy I was able to meet you and join your small group connection. I can’t can’t can’t wait for the next time we all get together! Reunion party is a future MUST. <3 you, my little Caligator!

    • Oh man, I can totally feel the awesome Liz energy from a few states away :D

      You betta write a recap post! I wanna read it.

      Yes, reunion must happen soon. I unfortunately can’t make Lollapalooza, but we’ll all have to figure out somewhere else to go. Perhaps the ASK Summit? :)

  • Sounds like a great event. Are you getting tired of all of these amazing, transformative, life-changing, mood-altering, soul-shifting, perspective modifying and otherwise always in the present events!? *phew* So when does the transform just become form? ;)

    I too enjoy connections one on one or in small groups. I would not exactly call it “insecurity” re: groups (and that word hardly seems like a word that applies to you much anyway!) as much as an area in which you excel.

    It is just such a different vibe and more importantly people are almost ALWAYS more willing to be honest in small groups. Big groups bring out the mundane conversation, the trivial, the…weather! *grin*

    So tell me, why did you choose this one and why Omaha of all places?

    • Ha. “[W]hen does the transform just become form?” — that’s a really fair question. I see my life as wholly iterative. The transform IS the form. ;)

      Why Big Omaha? I wanted to go last year, but chose to go to SXSWi instead. I planned to go this year…and tickets to the conference sold out in a hot minute. My gater heart was broken that I wasn’t going to make it. But, 4 days before it started, I got a call that I won a ticket! So…technically, I suppose I went by default. But I really, really wanted to go.

      As far as why Omaha? There is some seriously _amazing_ innovation happening in the “Silicon Prairie” ( The conference seeks to put the midwest on the innovation/entrepreneurship map…but that’s certainly not its sole goal. The conference has an incredible line-up of speakers (listed toward the middle of the page: and the venue/amenities are some of the classiest I’ve seen. And, just plain amazing people attend. So, that’s why.

      Whew – a mini-blog post. :D Ha!

      Thanks so much, Kendall. Your point about people’s honesty in small groups really resonates — so true.

  • Hi there!!

    I loved reading this and so happy that you had a Transformative experience AND are stepping into that gorgeous skin of yours. :)

    Can so relate about the one-on-one intense conversations vs. big crowded events. I really need to be in an exceptional mood to enjoy the latter. Else it’s just a major pooper. And yes, people say/think I’m super social to. But the intimate conversations? Count me in anytime.

    Btw, when do we have coffee??


    • “Exceptional mood” is right!

      Perhaps I should visit Ecuador y entonces podemos tomar un cafe. :)

  • Oh Cali. You make me smile. Love the pic. Here’s me waving “hi” to all of those peeps! Because I loved meeting each and every one of them (and if I didn’t meet them I want to!), and especially you.

    • Likewise, Wendy! So happy we were ticket-winning buddies. SO glad we connected.

  • Big Omahearts.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s to the “serious,” “intense,” and meaningful (and sometimes themselves transformative) one-on-one conversations!

  • Sounds amazing! Your energy is both inspiring and contagious; I want to get up and go after reading this post (which is no small feat since I’ve lost 2 night’s sleep caring for sick children)! I fall into the one-on-one/ small group category too, although everyone thinks of me as outgoing. Connection (and transformation) is where it’s at for me as well! Thanks for sharing your experience and good luck finishing your thesis.