VidCon Australia: Defining Influence & Working With Influencers

When I flew to Anaheim last June, I wasn’t simply escaping a cold, wet, dreary start to winter in Auckland. I was on the hunt for sun, surf, summertime…and, something else entirely. Exactly what that ‘something’ was, I hadn’t a clue – but I knew I’d know it when I saw it.

I knew a few things. I knew that the something I was searching for wasn’t as tangible as a cold cocktail in my hand whilst sitting on Santa Monica Beach. Though, when I look back now, there are definite transcendental qualities inherent in beachside cocktails. But I digress…

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When I got to California, I wanted something awe-inspiring. Something surprising. Something enlightening, even.

Is that too much to ask? You see, I’ve been living in New Zealand now for nigh on 15 years, and while I absolutely love my chosen homeland, I sure do miss the diversity & sheer size of home. California stands fairly sturdily on a foundation of desert-heartiness & beachside industriousness. It drips in cool-factor, geekiness, and social awareness. It’s a home to most, a religion to many, and a dreamy fantasy to a chosen few who go through life with rose coloured glasses always on. California, to me, is interwoven into the fabric of my soul. My body and aura react to my home state – a native child grown near the sea.

It was California’s all-encompassing bigness that taught me from early on that I could dream and do anything – as big or as small as I wanted to. But I would have to work hard for what I desired. I’d have to learn to take the hard-knocks with the soft, salty smooches.

Growing up in San Diego was an absolute trip, though. We played lots of sports, studied a lot & spent every stolen moment we could at the beach. But, beyond the sunshine, butterflies, beaches & tanned bodies of adolescence, there was always something in me that yearned for more. Never happy with the somethings in front of me. As to the above – I needed something. More.

Though, I should be clear here from the outset: I didn’t ever need more stuff.

Stuff has never appealed to me – and I don’t think it ever will. I didn’t need more money. I didn’t need more praise. What I needed was more of life. I needed more small moments of joy. I needed more opinions that didn’t quite jive with mine. I needed to discover more. See more. Learn more. Experience more. Be more. And so it was that through this quest for moreness, I developed a very strong sense of curiosity. And, because of this sense of exploration, I’ve been able to consistently see the world through different lenses & experiences.

In fact, it was the curiosity for discovering more that led me to New Zealand in the first place.

And now all these years later, that same curiosity is what keeps leading me back home.

img_5979-1Over the past decade, I’ve been very lucky to attend some amazing world conferences & gatherings that’ve changed who I am. Even in small increments, I’ve begun a huge pivot toward a more fulfilled life. A life of value derived from helping others and telling stories. I’ve also rubbed shoulders with some of the most amazing storytelling minds on the planet, & in doing so gleaned as much knowledge as I possibly could over the course of a workshop, an hour-long session, or a cocktail (the cocktail lessons tend to be the best for gleaning!).

So it was one of the greatest pleasures of my professional and personal life, to have been able to experience VidCon in Anaheim this year from an industry/professional standpoint. If you don’t know what VidCon is, simply put, it’s one of the biggest most inclusive events on the planet. It is a celebration of differences, technology & ideas. It’s also the place to be to watch a beautiful coming-together of different communities and fandoms. For a professional storytelling-social media-strategist-OG, VidCon brought together creative tips & tricks, channel executions, marketing strategies, trends, algorithms, and talk around the morality of modern media.

Geez Louise, I ran around like a nerdy kid in an awkward adult candy store for the entirety of the event! Three jam packed, fun filled, and awe inspiring days turned me into a major VidCon fangirl in California. I met so many amazing people, learned a lot about the media industry vertical that I work in, and found that thing I was looking for all along: my spark.

At a huge convention center filled with 36,000 people, I remembered exactly who I was and what made me tick.

Storytelling. People. Inclusion. And, passion for what we do professionally and personally. Talk about finding ‘something’ in exactly the place you weren’t looking! Magic!

I should also mention that, whilst at VidCon, I realised how much of an important part geography plays in the kind of content we consume. We really do tend towards common, comfortable stories that reflect our cultures, countries, and social groups. Many of the featured creators, while HUGE in the USA, were & still are fairly unheard of here in New Zealand. So, yay for VidCon, I found some new fave creators.

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Fast forward four months from VidCon in Anaheim, and here comes another opportunity to find something else.

VidCon Australia, the inaugural event, was happening…and there was no way I was going to miss it! In fact, after getting to know some of the people from for the industry track, I was beyond stoked not only attend the event in Australia, but to be asked to speak on adapting global storytelling trends to local markets. Talk about excitement!

Taking place in my favorite Australian city, my fiancé and I flew from Auckland to Melbourne on a Thursday night – and we stayed through Monday afternoon.

I was literally so excited that the mood of our trip was nothing short of celebratory.

We splashed out & stayed at a fairly swanky hotel (which always helps set the scene for a good time) and woke up early Friday morning to explore the city a bit.

We wandered down Degraves Lane for our ceremonial avocado on toast breakfast – washed down with the most amazing coffee on the planet. After breakfast we headed to AC/DC Lane and took in all of the beautiful colors and portraits on the graffiti-laden walls there. From there, we spent some time in the National Gallery of Victoria looking through amazing exhibits and getting all cultured – n stuff. All of this before lunch!

At about noon we headed to the Melbourne convention center to check in to VidCon. I was an absolute ball of excitement and nervous energy. Luckily my friend Jim (who I met in LA) was heading up the industry track in Australia, so I knew there would be at least one familiar face in Aus for this conference.

Check in was super easy, and the staff and volunteers were gorgeously friendly. Even before the actual convention started (it took place over the weekend) everybody seemed amped for fun times ahead. And, let me tell you, fun times were had!

Saturday was wickedly fabulous. Like LA, but smaller in scale, VidCon Australia packed a fun-factor punch.

I, of course, was early. If there’s anything I’ve ever been in my life – it’s early. For work, for school, for parties, for planes. Early is my bag, baby! The great thing about being the first person to places is that you see things magically come to life. Empty spaces are transformed into thriving events & memorable moments in time. And I love to watch magic unfold.

Most of the day Saturday, I spent up on the Industry Track floor learning all that I could from the speakers, and networking with friends both new and old from across the world.  Every now and again I’d hop down to the Creator Track or the Community Track events to take in some of the pure rocket-fuel energy of fandom that comes dripping from VidCon. The day flew by, literally. And we closed with drinks and networking with others from the Industry Track – all of us well excited and exhausted in equal, beautiful parts.

Sunday was a big day. Day Two always is!

I really enjoyed digging into all of the tracks on Sunday – running around the convention centre like an over-hyped dici-geek on a cotton candy and pure coca-cola drip. My talk was at the end of the day, and, to be honest – I wasn’t sure anyone (save for my fiancee & New Zealand crew) would turn up. Sunday evening is usually when I’m in my Smurfette Onesie watching Harry Potter with my family. Anyone who came to hear me waffle on would be a wee legend in my book.

Luckily, people showed up! And, kept showing up during my 45 minutes of fun & sharing. On a personal level, I was able to really enjoy the moment & take it in. I laughed with the crowd in the room (who knew Betty White dabbing could be such a crowd-pleaser?), answered some great questions & have been in touch with most of the folks who were present in one way or another since. That’s the beauty of attending things like Vidcon Australia, you meet all kinds of people who will be in your life in some way or another from that point on. Some you’ll throw ideas around with, some you’ll help out with a challenge (or they’ll help you), and some you simply meet for a coffee and to spin yarns with.

Talk about a gift, right? Memories, people, & stories to keep for a lifetime. Yep, sign me up for more.

img_0539After VidCon finished up (soon after my session on Sunday afternoon), we celebrated in style by hitting up an amazing restaurant in the central city, Cookie. My fiancee, my buddy Jim & I sat chatting, re-hashing the three days just gone by, and drinking amazing red wine & cocktails. We lol’d, we pontificated, and we ended the night at a rooftop bar nearby with yummy Australia red wine.

Beautiful times with beautiful souls – that’s what I’ll take away from VidCon Australia. After Cookie & our rooftop tipple, we bid adieu to Jim with warnings of Drop Bears nearer to the coast (he was headed off adventuring, while we Kiwis had to head back to NZ for work on Monday.)

All in all, the first VidCon Australia was an experience of a lifetime – not just for me, but for a lot of people.

I think it was quite a gift to see the conference in its first year, the heaving throngs of fans and creators that are in Anaheim will be on the horizon. But for 2017, I can honestly say that I loved it all. The people, the vibes, the fandoms, the city and learning. It all added up to an amazing event that I can’t wait to return to in 2018.

The best part? Just as I had found in Anaheim in June, I found so many somethings I never expected in Melbourne.

And, if you need more convincing, here are my TOP FIVE REASONS to head to VIDCON MELBOURNE in 2018:

  • Location, Location, Location

    Melbourne is an amazing city. For art, culture, food, wine, sports, music… you name it. I’ve been to Melbs so many times for both work and play, and still cannot wait to get back. The Convention Centre in Melbourne is perfectly placed for an event like VidCon – it’s in walking distance to the central city, scarily near to an amazing shopping complex, and literally steps from great restaurants that sit right on the water (perfect for sunset-gazing.)

  • Access

    The access you get to amazing global speakers and content that’s world-class is second to none from an Industry perspective especially. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the Creator & Community floors in Melbourne, but I’m sure those tracks were superb as well. The secret sauce to VidCon Melbourne is literally access. Whether it was the ABC, Instagram, or Influencer agency leads – access to information was off the charts. And, right now, the conference is in growth mode, which means that this is the time to get in and listen/talk/network/geek out with world thought leaders on a more personal level.

  • Networking

    The networking is strong with this one. No, really. It is. Some of the most magical moments of the conference for me were the quiet times in between sessions when speakers or attendees would simply sit together and pontificate on subjects in depth. Getting to know people from countries, backgrounds, and industries is very important when it comes to being able to compare notes and bounce ideas off of when you’re in smaller places like I am here in New Zealand. I also love just walking the exhibition hall floor, too, to see who else is down there curiously looking into the experiential aspect of VidCon.

  • Fandoms

    Fandoms are the backbone of VidCon. I’ve never seen so many diverse, engaged, and passionate people when it comes to influencers/creators/YouTubers and their communities. I find it absolutely fascinating to just sit and watch how the young people who attend VidCon act and interact with each other – and, on the other side of the coin, interact with their online heroes IRL. There’s literally no better place to get right to the heart of how Gen Z and younger generations are creating content – and consuming it. The fandoms are powerful. They’re fascinating. And, they give me so much insight and hope for the future of storytelling. The kids, team. The kids just want a great story.

  • Inspiration

    Inspiration. It’s something I know I’m always chasing. I’ll keep this point very short-and-sweet: just go. If you can, go. Grab an Industry pass. Go to sessions across each of the three tracks. Do the meet-and-greet hall and feel the buzz of meeting a creator (and being surrounded by their fans!) Magic is all around, as is inspiration.

For photos, vids & stories of my travels to VidCon & beyond, follow me here: www.instagram.com/cassieroma

My Top Sixteen in 2016

Let’s be honest. From the moment Bowie died, the wheels started to fall off for 2016. The fact that the universe began tilting askew only ten days into the year should’ve been worrying at the time. And, with the beauty of hindsight to look back on, the passing of such a gargantuan icon so early meant more than many of us could’ve known at the time. 

Whether it was Bowie or just some kind of fu*ked up aura, from very early on in 2016 it was apparent that the highs were  going to be seriously high, and the lows were going to be the lowest many of us had ever known. For me, and I think for a lot of folks out there, I’ve been left with a calmness, a feeling of relief, that this year is over and a new year is beginning. This trip around the sun was mixture of saccharine sweet happiness, rotten milk, all wound up with a kick of vinegar and spice just to keep us honest.

January was celebrated, sun-drenched, and full to the brim with friends and family. A big ‘ol Californian contingent spent time vineyard hopping on Waiheke Island, and then played at being tourists around the North Island. A great start to a year that, with the gift of hindsight, was to become a superbly confusing, but beautiful, one.

We celebrated the birth of our beloved Sloane in February. Enjoyed Auckland Pride in Ponsonby. Played in the sunshine as often as we could. And then, we rocked through March. We became engaged in Melbourne. We celebrated. And then, spent time with our loved ones in April back home for a blink-and-your-missed-me moment, while I ticked a professional-bucket-list-item off in heading to San Diego to speak at the Social Media Marketing World Conference.

May and June were a blur. Of work, of life, of finances. I bought a house. Mended fences. Fell deeper in love. And, pushed buttons – challenging the status quo. Attempting to get others to believe in the value of Common Sense.

Together with family and friends, I stayed standing even when the world shook around, below, and above me. Sometimes I wondered if it was all worth it – it was, and is.

July was bliss. Home. California summer. Love. Las Vegas nights. Hollywood birthdays with new friends. Old friends rediscovered randomly on Santa Monica Blvd cross-walks. Wow, July. My favourite month became even more superb.

August came and went quickly. Which was a blessing in the end. Because, as I would find out, the meaty part of the year was still ahead of us – and, let’s not confuse this meaty bit with a prime cut of filet mignon, it was a dry, stinky jerky I’d soon be chewing on.

September and October brought uncertainty. Pain of loss. Loss of a belief in the goodness and fairness of others. Loss of trust. Loss of confidence. Loss of self. Had I not had my stunning fiancee, adoring baby girl, and friends & family who continually reaffirmed that ‘you are fine, you are capable, you are better than this time…’ I’m not sure I’d be writing this right now with any semblance of a positive spin.

A light in the darkness, our beloved nephew Oscar was born on the eve of another trip home to California to see my best friend of over 30 years marry her amazing Eddie. California was kind, gentle, loving, and soaked in sunlight. The trip home in October restored my faith in me. In my capabilities. In the solidifying of what matters most in life (hint, it’s the people you love most – not any of the other noise).

Late October, it was back to New Zealand, where I began a new adventure professionally. Meeting new people with big ideas, sparkling with passion as a business, and married to doing world-class work as a true team – I’d found my place and my people!

November, you were a superstar – save for a certain American presidential election which I have almost completely erased from my mind for the sake of keeping my sanity in check. If I ignore it, it’s not really real – right? My darling and I had an amazing birthday getaway on our beloved Waiheke Island and we spent the entire month laughing and dancing in the kitchen. Seriously! November, you’re my Boo.

But, all good things (I’m learning) must come to an end. Early December brought unexpected change. The wheels looked like they’d fall off. The ride got wobbly. Tears. Loss. Disappointment. But, after just having had a lot of change, I shook it off. And… joy, sunshine, happiness, thankfulness, and more were restored to my head and heart.

Looking back on 2016, it’s been a mixed bag. Not just for me, but for all of us. While I greeted each new day with energy and hope, I also felt an omnipresent wariness of life-lessons yet to be learned (or, learned again).Because of this, and keeping in the tradition of lists at the end of years, I’d like to share sixteen things I learned (or had reaffirmed) in twenty-sixteen.

In no particular order, here’s what I’ve got for you! Take the gritty, the pretty, the optimistic, the not-so-positive, the uplifting and mix them, mould them, and meld them to suit.

More than anything though, remember this one thing: 2017 is coming.

Sixteen lessons I’ve learned in 2016

1) Sometimes kindness will be echoed with deception, disappointment, and deceit – be kind anyways. Yep, some people are just dickheads. Plain and simple. No matter how kind, hard-working, loving, helpful, or patient you are – they’re only out for themselves. I learned this (again) a few times this year. But, ya know what? I decided it’s more important to cut loose the bad eggs without letting them cool my fire, calm my passion, or temper my kindness. Everyday is another day to practice being kind. If you can be one thing, that’s the one thing you should be. It’ll ensure you a life full of love, friendship, and strong connections with those who matter most.
2) Work is work – spend time in the office, be passionate, be firm, and always learn… but remember that family & friendship is everything. This one is pretty self-explanatory. In a world where we’re all ever-connected, and trying to climb that proverbial ladder, we often put our friendships, marriages, and important relationships last. If this year has taught me anything, it’s this: work is work. While you can be passionate and proud about what you do, it shouldn’t replace your time with family and friends. Finding a good work-life balance (or, rather, integration) isn’t always easy – you have to work at it. But, believe me, the important stuff is your time and your people. Invest there, too.
3) Saltwater is the best salve. Beaches, tears. The beach has been my saviour for many years. Whether on a Californian shore, swimming in the Mediterranean, or looking out across the Pacific attempting to see home on the other side – the ocean and the sand beneath my feet have always been the best way for me to find silence, and calm. There’s a quote about seawater and tears both being the most healing things in this world, and I for one can say this isn’t far from the truth. If you can find a beach, go sit near the water. Watch the power of a gentle tide. The ebb and flow – like the heartbeat of the earth itself. When you feel small, you’ll find your centre. Promise.
4) 3am is the perfect time of day to restart. And, to sweat. When I tell people I go to the gym at 3am (not everyday!) the answer is always “Oh my god, you’re crazy!” Well… nope. I’m not crazy at all. In fact, I know myself well enough to be able to damn any clock or set metric of time if it means I get to prioritise my health. One constant in my life has always been athletics. Dad had me catching pop-flies by the ripe old age of two. From there, my life was full of sports, of teams, and of learning to work with and alongside others. Exercise for me is more than just physical, it’s the clearing of the mind while the body takes over. A sweaty, sometimes uncomfortable type of meditation in motion. The time at which I do it? It’s not important. Doing it is what matters. And, right now as a mother, colleague, friend, fiancee and more… 3am is the time I can have for me. Just, me.
5) Taking time to think deeply, to feel immensely, and cry recklessly is important. We’re all so damn busy. All. The. Damn. Time. One of the most healing, balancing, and strengthening things you can do in our connected age is just stop. Smell the roses, if there are some, or just look out a window and think. Let your mind and your body ‘just be’ for a while – and you’ll be amazed at the clarity that comes with small, meditative moments to yourself. I find my silence in motion. Exercise, walking by the beach, hiking outdoors… just me, the breeze, and an hour to feel. A lot of the time I’ll take time to recognise and allow emotions to overwhelm me. Yucky, ugly crying. Loud, rowdy thoughts. Chilled, calm soul. Whatever you need to balance, do it.
6) It’s okay to ask for help. This one seems simple. In fact, it’s a piece of advice I happily delve out to friends and family alike. Often. But, when it comes to treating ourselves as well as we treat others, the rules oftentimes don’t apply. When it comes to asking for help though (be it financial, emotional, or otherwise), it’s important to allow yourself the ability to do so. Weakness is not inherent in realising you need extra hands to carry the weight of your world – it’s strength that comes with allowing others to help. For me, asking for help has gotten easier with time. Just as I love helping my friends, I’ve realised that my friends love helping me. So… in 2017, when you need a hand up, ask. It really does take a village.
7) It’s okay to trust other people at first glance – and keep trusting them – even if you’ve been burned before. Right, so this is a hard one for even me to swallow. This year’s come-to-Jesus moment happened all at once, when people I trusted broke our shared trust irreparably. After this happened, I found a voice inside my head whispering (sometimes shouting!) ‘DO NOT TRUST ANYONE ANYMORE!’ My head and my heart were trying to keep me safe. And, if I’m honest, I listened to both for a while. But, I found that not trusting people caused me to be completely unhappy. Completely un-me. At the heart of who I am lies a happy human. A person who believes in the good of people and the world. So, not trusting means not moving forward. And if you know me well, you know that sitting still + Cassie = not possible for long. A turning point for me came when I started a new adventure – and found a safety net in new plans, new adventures…and new people. People whom I trust completely. The moral of the story? Just because you’ve been burned before, doesn’t mean you can’t safely stand (or dance) next to the fire again. Be bold. Be brave. And, trust in the goodness of others. 
 
8) It’s also okay to change your mind. Often. Yep. It is. Believe me… I’ve changed my mind more times in the past year than I had in the previous 33.5 years combined. Why? Because I am a grown-ass adult woman who is allowed to consistently learn, evolve, change and mould myself into a better version of who I am now and will be in the future. Just because you feel like pizza for dinner on Wednesday, doesn’t mean you can’t have Thai on Thursday and Japanese on Friday. I highly recommend getting comfortable with recognising moments in which you might just need to suck up a bit of ego, and flip-flop on a choice. Be it a big or small moment, allowing yourself to change your mind also allows other people to see a bit more of your genuine self. Holding tight to outdated beliefs – or even just being hard-headed for the sake of it, won’t get you very far down the road of life. And, it won’t find you happiness. That’s for certain. So, in sticking with a theme I see materialising now, go easy on yourself. Allow the winds of change to carry you where they may – just adjust those sails when and where you can.
9) Justin Beiber really is a mastermind musically (yes, I went there #Belieber) – so are Gaga, Adele, George Ezra, Keith Urban, and Christine and the Queens. Music is a language unto itself. Transcending languages, cultures, and experiences – it’s the one thing that can serve to glue us silly humans together as one. That said, it seems like (this year in particular) there are a lot of music snobs about. How about this, snobs… why don’t we just let people like what they like, and spend time not hating on Beliebers, country music fans, hard-house aficionados, et al. This trip around the sun, for me, was one made amazing when we talk about music. I discovered a lot of new artists (new to me), and really went back to the soul of what I love in music – storytelling. Think about Queen’s lyrics. Bernie Taupin’s. George Michael’s. There’s a new revolution happening, and it’s luckily favouring singer-songwriters who can yield both a pen and electric/acoustic guitar. No matter the moment, there’s a song for it or memory to be made through music. So, whether you love Slipknot or Bach, just do you. Turn it up. And, soak it in.
10) Shit is going to happen. When it does, roll with the punches and start your hustle. Shit is, well, shitty. And, it happens a lot. But, so too do good times. This year has been a decisively weird one because it seems like most people had a rough year, but not many of us can really say why. I mean, good stuff happened. A lot of good stuff. Probably more good than bad, really. But, the bad just seemed to be omnipresent. More like someone constantly poking at a bruise than an occasional sprain or broken bone. Does that make sense? What I’ve learned from the universe constantly prodding at ouchy bruises this year is this: complaining doesn’t help any situation. Neither does sitting still and wishing anything bad away. It’s perfectly normal and okay to rage and mourn when bad shit happens – but only for a little while. After the fall, you stand up. And you hustle. What do I mean by hustle? You stop feeling sorry for yourself – at least outwardly. You start smiling (again, outwardly). You start believing in yourself – wholly. At 35 years old, I’m fairly adept at the old bob-and-weave when life throws a punch or two at me. But, when a punch lands squarely between my eyes, I wait for the little cartoon birdies to clear, and then get on with it. Because, motion begets motion. And, moving forward makes me happy.
11) Putting yourself first must always come first. True story. This one, though seemingly simplistic in theory, is a hard one. Especially if, like me, you’re a mom, wife, colleague, boss, friend, cousin, daughter… etc etc. Modern life is, as we all know, BUSY. And ohhhhhhh, how I detest the glorification of busy. Oftentimes it takes just as much intestinal fortitude to take time for oneself as it does to take on a big project. I had learned over the years, but especially in the past year, to never ever apologise for taking time to myself. For taking time to work on myself. To better myself. To find my centre and learn. I found out the hard way (almost burning out completely) that being the best me that I can be is the best way to give to others. As cliche as it sounds, putting me first some of the time, helps me put others first the rest of the time. And, I’m a much happier human for it.
12) Binge watching YouTube channels (erm, hello Hannah Hart and Lacie & Robin) is a perfectly apt use of time. I never really was in to YouTubers. Never binge-watched channels. Never really consumed shows on YouTube voraciously… until 2016. This year was a year of discovery for me (in more than one way, on more than one channel and platform), and in that I have learned a lot from simply binge-watching funny, interesting, insightful, silly, crazy, in-depth shows online. My two fave channels, are above. Hannah Hart, a newcomer into my realm of knowing, is a big star on the interwebs. She’s got millions upon millions of followers, has a new book out, and a movie, too! But, she’s just Hannah. And, I love that about her. Her content is refreshingly funny, self-deprecating, and genuine. Check her channel out if you have time – she’s constantly creating new stories and shows. Something’s bound to tickle your entertainment fancy with her. And, alongside Hannah, I love Lacie & Robin. Though they may not have millions upon millions of followers, they’re just as amazing storytellers and content creators. Gorgeous women through and through, I am more than proud to call them friends. And, am more than okay admitting I binge-watch their content when they release it like a true fangirl should. 🙂 People always say ‘use your time wisely’ and I reckon watching all of the ladies listed above is as good a use of time as any.
13) Getting out there on a limb means you’ll gather more fruit… or something like that. Simply put, you’ve got to put yourself out there every once and a while if you want to learn, grow, and move up in life. Staying comfortable is okay if your goals in life are centred on comfort. But, if you’ve got goals that’s bigger than where you are right now (or, by rights, smaller), then you need to do something different that what you’ve always done before. That means getting used to being uncomfortable. And learning how to mask discomfort with confidence – until confidence is all you know (I’m still working on this bit). Just putting yourself out there for a new job, a relationship, a friendship… anything… is difficult. But, once you take the first step or make the first move, you’ll find that things usually end up for the better.
14) Being the most genuine version of yourself is the only way to really find happiness. Really! This year was the year when I stopped giving a flying f*ck about the opinions of people who have no discernible effect on my life. And, in doing so, have become the happiest, best version of me I’ve ever been. Ever. Living in the most genuine, unapologetic, open, and giving way possible has been healing. Epiphany after epiphany has happened. And, I’ve connected more deeply than ever with people I love on more levels than I ever knew possible. Moral of the story: just be. Happiness follows suit.

15) Find a happy place – a consistently healing place – and go there, often. My happy place is the beach. Any beach. But, particularly, a beach on Waiheke Island near vineyards, restaurants, and endless hiking trails for long meditative walks while sipping strong coffee. When I feel lost, down, out of energy, or otherwise just in a funk, the ocean heals me. A few times this year, when I thought I was at breaking point, I simply got into my car and drove to the ocean. Most of the time I’d sit in my car, windows down so I could hear the waves crashing on the shore…and think. Just think. Most of the time I’d lose myself in feeling small. And a part of something larger. And then, quickly, realise that whatever worry was tugging at my heart wouldn’t stay forever. From that point on, I would start working through solutions to whatever problem needed solving. Emotional, financial – whatever it was, it could be built up, torn down, or sewn up securely at the beach.

16) Call your parents (and your grandparents, if you still are lucky enough to have them) regularly. Just chat. Connect. Love them. The more time that flies by, the less you have to spend on the people who love you best. Call Mom and Dad. FaceTime. Skpe. Text. Remember to let them know you’re thinking of them as much as they’re thinking of you. You’ll never regret taking the time to chat about everything and nothing at all. I promise.
2016, you’ve been a frenemy to many of us. Just this week my childhood crush, George Michael, was taken at 53yrs old. Along with Bowie, bookends of a year than can also now be put to rest with sadness and genuine adoration in equal parts. 
Here’s to a new trip around the sun. To balance, to you. To all of us.
Love and light.
Cass 

This is an ALBUM REVIEW: Kenny Chesney’s #TheBigRevival

Oh, Kenny. You just always know how to cut right to the heart of things, don’t you?

After taking a year off from his hectic touring schedule to simply slow down a bit, enjoy life, travel, and record his newest album, Kenny Chesney has proven (once again) that he is the reigning King of Country Music.

At first listen, The Big Revival moves me. I mean, REALLY moves me. Visions of Baptist preachers, rattlesnakes, and drinking the Cool-Aid rocks-and-rolls us into a state of mind that’s akin to a musical reawakening. And to magic. And, I’ll just put it out there right now: Kenny sure brings the magic on this album from the first note he sings to the last chorus he croons.

This album feels fun and fluid. Genuine. And, it sounds like summer should sound – which is Kenny to a T. The Big Revival is a revival of the man himself. The Kenny Chesney music I first fell in love with as a sophomore in high school is back, but with a maturity that bridges all of the summers, lessons learned, and lost loves in between.

No longer care-free and 16yrs old with my feet on the dash-board catching a tan and singing along with my BFFs as we head to the beach, I close my eyes and the weight of adulthood and the years in between falls away. My own FloraBama isn’t anywhere near Kenny’s fave bar geographically – but emotionally, they’re the same place. The memories, the dollar bills and bras nailed to the walls…

And, I am one of those American Kids still bopping along to Little Pink Houses and remembering MTV on the RCA. Talk about a gritty snapshot of a generation in song.

Of all the tracks on this album, I have fallen head-over-heels for Wild Child – Kenny’s ode to women and girls who dance to their own beat, and live life on their own terms. Grace Potter joins him on the track – and the blending of their voices, the lyrics, and the melody make me melt into another place and time when and where the music in my ears is sweeter than anything I’ve ever tasted. In this song I see myself, my daughter, my nieces, and all of the men that love wild girls like us.

Beer Can Chicken, Drink it Up, Til It’s Gone, and Save It For A Rainy Day are fresh rides down memory lane. I can’t wait to welcome the summer sun with these blasting in the background – cold beer in hand, sunscreen all around, friends gathered, giant smiles and cannon-balls into a blue ocean. These songs are a rallying cry for every member of the #NoShoesNation.

Kenny closes this album with a biopic look back in If This Bus Could Talk. Always so good at making his fans feel loved, this song is his little slice of gorgeous selfishness. Hints of doubt, youth, football, Momma, and everything else that got him to where he is today are there to take in and digest. For an artist as private as Kenny, this song really offers a touching look into his life over the years. And while it may feel a little voyeuristic, I’m glad he closes out the album with 4 minutes of introspection.

Because, at the heart of The Big Revival, is a revival for all of us. A maturation of years, but a joy from having survived them all.

Well, done, Kenny.

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