Why I left the Ivy League Vegan Conference

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Harvard University.  A place many students dream of attending, is where I found myself on a dreary weekend in March while attending the 2017 iV: Ivy League Vegan Conference. The prestige of my surroundings didn’t quite sink in until the students and speakers started talking.  Eloquent deliveries of prepared speeches, full of robust vocabulary and grammar that I certainly didn’t use on a daily basis pervaded the atmosphere.  Suddenly I opened my eyes and realized I wasn’t just on any college campus, I was in the presence of Ivy League phenomenons.

At first I was inspired, so eager to get out of my car after a 5.5 hour journey to learn from them, ready to fill my cup to the brim with their knowledge and expertise.  But after the first day I realized that this may not have been the experience I had hoped for...

First let me back up and explain that I identify as plant-based.  This means I choose not to consume animal products in my diet, which is different than the definition of “vegan”.  Vegans strive to abstain from any form of animal exploitation and cruelty in their lives, which goes beyond the plate to include clothing choices, cosmetics, bath and body products, etc. When I was packing for this event I started to get nervous.  My workbag is suede, most of my heels are leather.  Fear began to set in as I thought about what to wear that wouldn’t cause offense at this conference or for someone to judge me.  

I have been criticized by vegans in the past for not being completely cruelty free in my lifestyle choices.  It is a large reason why I removed myself from the vegan community for many years.  Only recently with the launch of Plantie did I decide to immerse myself back into the community to network and meet like-minded people. 

I was hopeful that the vegan scene had changed and had become more supportive of our collective efforts, but Day 2 of the conference revealed several vegans seated in front of me making negative remarks about the conference and how it wasn’t making a big enough stance to promote the end of animal consumption.  Another was caught leafleting pamphlets that criticized one of the event sponsors, Wholefoods, for supporting animal cruelty practices.  When Harvard asked her not to hand them out this person then took to the stage to make a speech about how her rights were being violated.   Here I was at the Ivy League Vegan Conference, and vegans were criticizing each other.

Those who know me know that I do not do well with negativity or confrontation.  My spiritual evolution has amplified this intolerance to the point where my body will actually feel physical symptoms from the energy associated with negativity.  My head began to hurt after the first two talks, which I thought was due to dehydration.  I drank water hoping it would subside but it persisted, and got worse as the day progressed.  In addition to the headache, my emotions were getting very heavy.  Out of nowhere I was sad, depressed, ready to cry at the drop of a pin.

I was also feeling insignificant compared to my Ivy League neighbors.  On my right was my friend at Lighter, whose vegan tech startup is now being utilized in 131 countries - amazing!! On my left an investor who just invested money in Plant Pure Nation to support their pre-packaged meals that will be soon available on Amazon - double amazing!!

Plantie certainly didn’t measure up to those levels of success.  Suddenly I felt that maybe my business was useless, I mean how much of a difference was I really making?  My baby company seemed like just a drop in the pond compared to these other companies.  I was starting to question if Plantie was a stupid idea...

At 3pm I decided to leave the Vegan Conference. 

I cried as I drove to my hotel, wondering what the heck I was doing with my life.  In just 16 days I will be turning 31.  I’m single, in debt, currently living below the poverty line, and struggling to get a business off the ground that I know in my heart is desperately needed by so many.  I just want to help people heal.  Was this a mistake?  Maybe I should just throw in the towel and go get another job. Life would certainly be easier.  I mean I brought this on myself, didn't I?  I made the decision to leave a life of financial security to follow my dream.  But was it really worth it?

As I pulled up to my hotel and dried my tears, I heard the voice of Baron Baptiste whisper in my ear, “In moments of difficulty, in moments of adversity, find serenity.”

Serenity.  That was the lesson after all.  I realized in that moment that I was meant to attend this conference to come home with a few more life lessons under my belt.  The first was to further test my strength and confidence as an entrepreneur.  It is very easy to feel small when you start comparing yourself to others around you, measuring your success against theirs, especially when you only ever see the highlight reel.   People love to share the happy and inspiring moments, aka "highlights" in their lives on social media.  Not often do you see the darker side - the struggle, the pain, the despair that lurks just behind the highlight reel.  Like the “negatives” from film photography, not many people want to look at those, they just want the pretty pictures.

The second lesson was in acceptance, of myself and others.  To be more accepting of the fact that I am a plant-based health coach who is not entirely vegan with my lifestyle, and that that is perfectly ok.  I am not a bad person because I own a few leather accessories.  The lesson also extended to acceptance of the attendees around me and their viewpoints, which all deserve to be heard and honored.  Freedom of thought and speech is important, so the vegans that I had previously judged as “angry” were not that way at all.  What I had perceived as anger was just  their unwavering passion for a better world.  We need passionate people, of all kinds, if we are going to affect real change in this world.  

Did I have a miserable time at the conference?  No, not at all.  The Universe simply had an agenda in mind for me that I did not see coming.  The most valuable lessons in life usually come packaged in the ugliest boxes.

As I finish writing this the sun is about to set here in Boston, the perfect time to take myself out on a nice date.  I’m going to treat myself to a delicious plant-based dinner out on the town.  

I also just received a text from a prospective client interested in my cleanse program.  Maybe Plantie isn’t so stupid after all :)

Alicia UhlComment