A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to join a few North Highland coworkers in attending Dreamforce. It's Salesforce.com's annual bonanza that brings together (at least this year) over 170,000 people that work in the technology, sales and marketing space to learn what's ahead for our industry. And of course, how Salesforce's products will help ;)

It's a massive conference. They bring in big name speakers and brands to not only talk about what's new in our industry but other topics like equality, trafficking, etc. Names like Michelle Obama, Mark Cuban, Ashton Kutcher, Mark Hamil, Natalie Portman, etc. 

Truly, if you've never been, it's an overwhelming experience. I hadn't been in seven years and it still took me a day or two just to adjust to the crowds and the magnitude of everything. Looking back on the week, it wasn't the sheer size of the crowds or the gravitas of the speakers I got to see. 

It was my morning walk to the conference. 

When you have 170,000 people coming to the same square mile of one city like Dreamforce does, booking hotels gets tricky. When you do what we did and decide to go to Dreamforce somewhat last minute, finding hotels is even trickier. We were fortunate to be able to at least stay in San Francisco without having to stay across the bay. However, it was about a two mile trek to the main conference venue from our hotel. 

In the mornings, I took the opportunity to walk instead of calling an Uber. Getting up a little earlier, throwing a podcast in my ears and enjoying some of the solitude was really the perfect way for this introvert to hit the internal reset button before being surrounded by thousands of people all day. 

A two mile walk motivates you to find the most direct route to your destination. Especially a two mile walk in a hilly city like San Francisco. My particular route took me straight through the heart of the Tenderloin. 

If you don't know, The Tenderloin is considered one of the worst parts of San Francisco. This article from Vice accounts a police ride-along through the neighborhood. It contains 7 of the 10 most violent crime plots in the city and is estimated (as of 2013) to have an average of three major crimes per hour. It's ripe with homelessness, drug use and everything else you would imagine finding on "the wrong side of the tracks." 

Granted, I discovered all those stats after I got back home. That trek was routinely made with some naivety. 

So imagine this:

  • Waking up in your hotel and having a hot breakfast, being picky about the muffin being too dry or the coffee being maybe a little more bitter than I like.
  • Then going for a walk to your event, transitioning from a normal city landscape to the smell of urine, people asleep on the street, some yelling at themselves or other people, some you could smell a block away, and the line to a shelter you walk by wrapped around the block.
  • Also, you're wearing "business casual" clothes, clean-shaven(ish) and stick out like a sore thumb, garnering more than one look from folks on the street. 
  • Walking out of that stretch of road and then into Dreamforce, where vendors are giving away Porsche's, there's free food and beer everywhere and the most inconvenient thing you deal with is hoping your coworker was able to grab the team Starbucks before you have to go through a metal detector....to see the former First Lady of the United States. 

Walking through a scene of poverty to a scene of over-the-top excess was quite the juxtaposition to experience every morning. 

I'm thankful for that walk every morning. It put every single day in perspective for me. 

I had the opportunity to have access to more food, drink and other little luxuries in my first three hours at Dreamforce than any of the people I walked by in the morning may get that whole week. 

While I was worried about my phone dying before my Uber got to me, someone else was worried where they may sleep that night. 

While I had the option to pick "do I get lunch at Dreamforce or expense lunch at one of the many great food places in the area," someone else was happy they got something to eat that day. 

The thing was, with all these resources at all of our fingertips that week, none of the other attendees around me seemed all that much happier. Everyone on both sides of the tracks were stressed out about something. Both sides felt like they didn't have enough. The only difference was, one side really may not have enough and the other side is still trying to define what "enough" meant for them. 

That morning walk made me really appreciate everything that I had. It made me realize how truly lucky I was to not only have the options I did that week - but to also have the options I do every single day. Those walks taught me to not take anything for granted. 

Those walks also put a bit of a burden on me. If I'm this lucky, how do I help bring others up who may not be as lucky? Where do you start? It's something I have a clear answer on now but it's definitely more top-of-mind than it ever has been. 

Dreamforce taught me a lot. I learned best practices on Pardot, account-based marketing, artificial intelligence and other social issues from some of the top minds in their field. It was an awesome event.

That said, while not directly, my time at Dreamforce also taught me a lesson in gratitude. That there's a bigger world than the bubble I live in. It's a lesson I hope I don't soon forget.