What If 2015

Dear Nicole,

What if you take a leap and sign up for this conference your friends are always raving about?

What if your plans change and you end up giving up as a photographer by the time the conference rolls around?

What if you weren't concerned about the lack of money you have in your checking account?

What if you know you need this?

What if it makes you scared shitless? No, not literally. Stop it. 

But what if it will change your life?

What if you leave Cancun with sixty new friends that you wish you could roll up into a tiny ball and stick in your fanny pack to take home with you? I know, you don't own a fanny pack but I imagine that's what you would use to carry them with.

What if I told you that you will laugh harder than you have in a long, long time?

What if I told you that by the end of the conference, you will be sharing some of your deepest, darkest fears along with your incredible dreams in a room full of six dozen people that were strangers just four days prior?

What if I told you that you are loved beyond measure?



I left my fear on top of a cliff in Mexico.

I don't know how I did it, I just did it. I didn't even think about it. I knew if I hesitated, it would all be over. That I would make the walk of shame back down the stairs to the water and I would sit there with anger for not having had the guts to just take the leap. Five years ago, I floated in the water below the very same cliff - and I told myself no, over and over again. I told my family no, over and over again. It was perfectly safe. A lifeguard was there. Dozens of people had gone before myself, and still, I declined without hesitation... over and over again. 

This time... weeks before I even stood on the edge of that fifteen foot cliff, (I know some of you are laughing here - I am myself) I told myself there was no other option.

I was jumping off that cliff.

My first day at What If was rough. I even texted Ronnie and said, "I'm afraid I'm not going to fit in here." The attendees started arriving one after another, and although there were more smiles and more laughter with every new face, I started feeling more alone the bigger our group became. I remember explaining my uneasiness to Heather Krakora (reppin' Madison, Wisconsin) and I still remember her exact words. 

"You get back what you put in."

She said it so matter-of-factly. And at first, I must admit that it frightened me. I knew it was the truth, but it was terrifying. Truly terrifying. Most of my close friends and family don't know this about me, but I am a succeeding introvert. The kind of introvert that couldn't even make it to half of her 8:00 AM college speech classes on time. And not because I wasn't an early-bird type of person, but because I was literally throwing up in my bathroom at the fear of speaking in front of a classroom full of fifteen people.

A day passed. And another day passed. And that family of people I met the day I arrived was welcoming me into their tribe with open arms. Putting in requires being vulnerable. It requires saying your fears out loud and talking about the dreams that you think might be ridiculous or unrealistic. It requires loving others and doing good in your community. Putting in is jumping off of that cliff that you're so afraid of. And that's exactly what happened. The moment I put my phone down and stopped being an onlooker (and let's face it, we had no wifi anyway), I started having amazing conversations with all of these beautiful human beings that were standing right before me. People who have failed and succeeded. People who have jumped off the cliff to a world of so much beauty. A world where you don't have to pretend to be someone else. A world where it's okay to fail - because you just get back up to that ledge and you try something different. If at first you don't succeed (and most of us don't succeed on first tries - in fact, I'd really like to talk to you if you have) there's always a different route. Always. Just stand at the ledge and take the leap.


What If is a community of artist entrepreneurs whose relationships have been built over the last five years, and will continue to be built for years to come. A community that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Full of dreamers and doers. Full of failed dreams and success stories. A group of friends striving to do good in this world. Family that supports you practically 24/7 and lifts you when you can't lift yourself. A community that has made me incredibly excited about what's in store for not only my future, but for all of us involved. A community that loves you for you. What If is full of extremely educational classes + super-inspirational speakers, don't get the wrong idea. But what's amazing is that on top of all that awesome-sauce of a combination, we also support local organizations that need our help through Doing More projects, we participate in team-building exercises, we eat our meals together, we end our nights with good drinks and even better conversations, and last but not least... we explore the world together.

So there I was, rushing to the top of the cliff, anxiously waiting to get to the front of the line. As soon as the lifeguard pulled the rope back, I was already in mid-air before I knew my feet had even left the ledge. Enough time for me to say to myself, "Well, there's no turning back now." And the worst thing about this fear I was so terrified about?

The major wedgie that was created by my bright red, mid-rise swimming suit bottoms. That's it.

I left my fear on top of a cliff in Mexico and fell deep into something extraordinary. I fell into What If.

Nicole Lender2 Comments