My day at the Women’s Dream Conference

On Friday, April 13th I had the great fortune to attend the first ever Women’s Dream Conference in Chicago, IL.  The brainchild of celebrity fitness trainer and best selling author Andrea Metcalf, the conference was created to bring business professionals, bloggers, aspiring career seekers and those needing a rejuvenating change in their lives together to help inspire participants to create their dream life.  In partnership with JMP Global and hosted by the Centered Chef, the agenda for the day was filled with amazing speakers, moving personal stories, networking opportunities, tons of information and amazing food.  I heard of the conference on Twitter as I am a follower of Andrea’s.  Just the name intrigued me – Women’s Dreams.  Who doesn’t want to spend a day learning about ways to make your dreams come true?  As soon as I saw the agenda, speakers and topics for the day, I hesitated about five seconds before I registered for this event.  I would have loved to have a friend go with me, but since this is the year of me doing things that scare me, I didn’t worry about going by myself and committed to having a fabulous day!
The Centered Chef is the city’s first 100% health-minded catering company and culinary school that uses only whole foods in the kitchen to create heathy AND delicious food.  Located in the West Loop, the space includes a loft, training kitchens, and spaces for break-out sessions.  We had an entirely vegan menu for the day and it was amazing!  After an optional yoga session beginning at 7am (which I did not participate in), a breakfast of fresh fruit, juices, teas, and the most amazing oatmeal I have ever eaten in my entire life was served.  We headed upstairs to the Loft with our breakfast and sat down to listen to our beautiful hostess and morning Keynote speaker, Andrea Metcalf, welcome us and begin to share part of her amazing story.

Andrea Metcalf

For those of you who aren’t familiar with her extensive career, Ms. Metcalf has made over 1,000 media appearances in her career (on everything from Today, GMA Health, Chicago NBC and Better TV).  Her brand of “healthy lifestyle coaching” reaches magazines like Shape and Fitness, morning radio talk shows, and she has been a contributing blog writer for Oprah.Com and  After sharing some of the highlights of her career, Andrea shared her experience of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and the lessons she learned along the way.  Every challenge in life (not just mountain climbing) requires these things:

  • Have a Plan
  • Meet with Others
  • Follow Your Plan
  • Ask for Help
  • Learning
  • Appreciation
  • Duration
  • Persistance
  • Doubt
  • Seeing the Peak
  • Reaching the Summit

She reminded us to ENJOY the peak when we get there – and always have a Plan B to achieve our goals.  My favorite things she said were “Have a voice bigger than where you are at!”, and “Why be afraid of something you don’t know?”  She implored us to DREAM because we can do anything.  It was an amazingly motivational way to start the day!

Mary Amons and Angela Rose

There were a few women there that I was either familiar with from Twitter or had met previously at other social media events around Chicago.  I made it a point to reintroduce myself or go say hello to those I tweeted with but hadn’t met in person yet!  Networking during breaks doesn’t always come naturally to me, and I have to force myself to get up from my space and move around.  (For those who know me this may come as a surprise to you, but it’s sometimes a challenge for me to be as social in person as I would like to be!)  I started chatting with a women sitting directly behind me and her personality was so vibrant it nearly knocked me off of my chair!  She was Angela Rose from PAVE and, although I had never heard of her or her organization (and didn’t realize at the time that she would be one of our panelists later in the morning), I wanted to sit and chat with her for hours because she was just so upbeat, positive and PRESENT.  Isn’t it amazing when you meet someone like that?  With a warmth and personality that just speaks to you?  An hour or so later, she would be standing in front of this room sharing her unthinkable story of being kidnapped from a suburban Chicago shopping mall parking lot at 17 years old, being sexually assaulted, and the journey from there to here. Angela is the Founder of PAVE – Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment – and she speaks all over the country and on a national media platform about her experience and how we can educate others and make a difference.  Angela – you are amazing and I can’t wait to speak to you more on this important topic!

“Owning It”
L-R Metcalf, Ellis, Dimakos, Ruske, Thomas, Knee, Grubesic

All of the panelists and topical discussions throughout the day were absolutely phenomenal.  You felt the strength, courage, determination, and most of all LOVE in the room as one by one, panelists shared their stories of personal trials, their experiences in business, life and social media, and made us laugh with tales of their “teachable moments”.  Some of their stories, in fact, were so powerful and moving that we ran out of time quickly during the first session (entitled “Owning It”) because we were too busy learning about the fabulous women that had come together for this “Dream Day”!   A few of the panelists (whom I’ll list below), moved themselves and others to tears (including me) with their heartfelt stories of loss and motivation and how they turned those times in their lives into their “calling”.  There was a great discussion about what “callings” can be defined as.  All of the panelists agreed that people don’t necessarily need to experience a “divine intervention” (so to speak) to find their calling but can stumble in to it.  We were reminded to find our passions – the things that consume us – and own them, embrace them and make those our personal callings.  In addition, there were some fantastic business tips that came from that session.   Kerry Knee, owner of FlirtyGirl Fitness, suggested finding a mentor partner that’s been successful in the business you are interested in opening – someone who has made the mistakes and learned the lessons already and is willing to share their experience with you.  And she also suggested doing Powerpoint slides with bullet points instead of a business plan.  (In her experience, a formal business plan is outdated and she never received money from any investor with a traditional business plan).  Finally, Elizabeth Ruske from Tiara Consulting reminded us to be mindful of the cash flow in our businesses and remember to pay ourselves first – a very important point!

JustJen and Mary Amons

After an amazing lunch (OMG Chef Ryan Hutmacher I need that tofu recipe!), I walked over to Mary Amons and introduced myself.  I was familiar with Mary from her time as a cast member on the Bravo reality show, “The Real Housewives of D.C. (RHODC)” and had followed her on Twitter since the show aired.  I admired what a REAL woman she seemed to be – balancing her FIVE children, a successful marriage and philanthropy – all with grace and humor.  I was excited that she was a part of the day, and was looking forward to hearing what she had to say on keeping the balance.  What an incredibly warm and gracious woman!  We spent a good 20 minutes chatting, most of it just the two of us, and she was amazingly open about her dreams, goals, and her time on RHODC.  After asking her how she felt about forever being “labeled” by a 9 week reality television show (It’s Mary from RHODC, as opposed to Mary from Labels of Love or anything else that she had done prior to the show airing) and she was very open about how she felt.  She had a dream at 8 years old that she wanted to be an actress.  When she was approached by Bravo to participate in the show, she felt it was her time to step in to that dream and she went for it (despite her father and the rest of her family thinking she was insane!)  Mary said that she is more than the sum parts of what was she was edited down to be so that she fit around the storyline of a crazy couple who’s illegal antics 80% of the way through filming changed the entire course of their show.  She is glad that she went through the experience, and it has been a mixed blessing that their show was not continued because it has allowed her the freedom to do other projects without being bound by a Bravo contract.  Mary is free to be Mary – something that you can tell she relishes in.  She comes from a legacy of philanthropy and has continued that with her own extensive charity work at Labels For Love and others that bring fashion and art unique to DC.  Mary said something very profound – she has discovered a passion for being her authentic self, and while acting is still something that she would like to do, she feels more comfortable being just Mary.  Loved it!!!  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable just being themselves? It was such a great conversation, and I was thrilled to be able to talk to her like she was another one of my girlfriends.  Thank you Mary – you are a class act!

JustJen and Andrea Metcalf

The afternoon sessions and Keynote speaker were also amazing and packed with practical and inspiring information that I’ll be detailing in other blogs (along with the remainder of the morning sessions), broken down by specific topic.  Towards the end of the day, I had two opportunities to speak with our hostess, Andrea Metcalf.  First, during one of our afternoon networking breaks, I approached her and introduced myself.  Andrea and I had been “Twitter Buddies” and while I had been at the conference almost 6 hours at this point, we had not met in person yet.  When you introduce yourself to a women (and tell her your Twitter handle because that’s what we do now in the world of social media!), her face lights up and she immediately gives you a hug, you KNOW there is a genuine person standing in front of you.  All I could do was say WOW inside my head and try not to be completely blown away by this wall of warmth and love that came from her.  I thanked her for an amazing day, that I was loving every minute of it and was thrilled to be a part of it.  We had a quick moment for a couple of pictures, and then the next session needed to get started.  Once the conference had wrapped up, I went to thank her again for organizing such an incredible conference.  Andrea took time to chat with me, ask me questions about myself and what my story was.  I gave her the “Readers Digest condensed version” (as I call it) and while I was talking my eyes filled with tears, trying to find the words to tell her what it meant for me to be standing in front of her given what I’ve been through personally in the last few years.  Andrea held my hands tightly and her eyes were teary too.  She listened.  She got it.  Because she had been where I was, she told me, and it took her 20 years to figure out who she was and wanted to be.  She hugged me tightly and told me that I could do anything, and to never forget that.  Trust me, Andrea, I wont.

Thank you to all of the wonderful women I had the opportunity to chat with that day.  I hope that I added as much to your experience of attending the conference as you did to mine.

Thank you to the amazing panelists for their courage, honesty, and invaluable words of wisdom.  I am looking forward to putting your practical advice to good use.

Thank you Andrea.  For your words of wisdom.  For sharing your heart with us.  For following your DREAMS and letting us be along for the ride.  Words can not adequately describe what the day meant to me, but I am forever grateful that I took the leap.

For more information on Andrea Metcalf, go to or find her on Twitter @Andreametcalf

Angela Rose will be sharing her incredible story on the A&E BioChannel Show “I Survived” premiering Sunday, April 15, 2012 at 9:00PM EST. For more information on Angela Rose and PAVE, go to or find her on Twitter @angelarosepave

For more information on Mary Amons, go to or or find her on Twitter @MaryAmons

Panelists for “Owning It” and where you can find them:

Cynthia Ellis – The Nicole Ellis Foundation,
Laurie Dimakos – LD Sports Marketing, Twitter @LDSportsGroup
Elizabeth Ruske – Tiara Coaching, Twitter @bethrusketiara
Tressa Thomas – The ThYck Troupe, Twitter @ThyckTroupe
Kerry Knee – Flirty Girl Fitness, Twitter @FlirtyGirlFit
Audree Grubesic – Colorado Petacular Events & Magazine

Photo credit:  JustJen


  1. Sounds like a great conference!

  2. What an amazing group of women to learn from!