Recently, I went to a national conference of a professional organization to which I belong. I generally really look forward to this conference because I usually get to catch up with folks from the Master's cohort and former coworkers. There are generally lots of socials and fun parties too, which is a huge bonus. Over the years, I've also picked up a tip here or a new idea there to take back to my home institution.
This year, I expected to come to the conference, see some old friends, attend some educational sessions, eat too much free food, and return home, tired, but energized. While these things happened as I expected, something completely unexpected happened too.
No- seriously- this isn't some After School Special, all wrapped up in a nice package blog post about stretching and growing. This is more like a brain dump because today is the day that I figured out that this growth has begun to take place. So, buckle up because this roller coaster ride may get a little wild.
Some back-story for you: I'm painfully shy and introverted. I like to chill out by myself, or with one or two other people. I've never had a huge number of friends. Frankly, looking back on my life, I've generally had one or two close friends at any given time and, that's it. But, that's how I operate best. I like to really get to know one person and form a connection.
The other side of that coin is that I am really, really, really terrified at the prospect of the conference atmosphere. I don't do well when I'm in a group of strangers and the expectation is that I mingle. I'm the world's worst mingler. I can approach someone easily enough, but after the requisite "what's your name" and "where do you work" get exchanged, I freeze. Now what?! What in the world do I have to say to this person?! Nine times out of ten, my typical mingling experience ends in a freakishly long awkward silence and then the other person "sees" their coworker/partner/friend/supervisor/dentist/dog walker/whatever across the room, and they just must go say hello. AH! And so I've done it again- I'VE FAILED AT MINGLING.
On the plane trip from Denver to Louisville (the conference location), I decided that this year, I would have the conference of "Yes!". I would stretch myself and introduce myself to more people. I would have a few topics of conversation on reserve in case I ran out of things to say to new acquaintances. I would accept any invites to socials or receptions so I would have to practice and refine my mingling skills.
So, guess what happened. I didn't even get ONE CHANCE to lean into the discomfort of having to make small talk. I'm not sure how this all unfolded but I spent most of my time conversing with my roommate, a friend and colleague from my graduate program. She shared some struggles that she was working through and, with me as a sounding board, she developed some action steps. She even took a few of those steps while we were in Louisville.
And while she was working on her "stuff" I started to become aware of some "stuff" that was coming up for me. I realized that I was in dire need of having a long overdue conversation with a former colleague. And, since it's a well known fact in my (small) circle that I really value my time and abhor "chatting," this person would know when I presented the invite for coffee that something was up. Instead of letting that deter me (because it once might have), I went ahead and made the call. We would meet for coffee on the last day of the conference.
If you've ever read my blog and also talked to me in person, you probably are aware that I'm better in writing than I am in person. As such, I decided to write down everything I needed to say to my friend and took my notes with me to the coffee shop. After exchanging a few pleasantries (AH! So scary!), I got down to business and began having what turned out to be an amazing and much needed conversation. My soul somehow felt lighter but more whole at the same time. My relationship with this person is on the mend and on its way to greatness. Also, I spoke from my heart with confidence, calmness, and care. In sum, I took a big step towards becoming a better person and a better professional.
While my initial goal of expanding my professional network didn't get met, I did, for lack of a better term, deepen my network. I saw some surface friendships get transformed into real relationships. Some of my fractured relationships are on their way to repair and some of my true friends are now more like family.
This amazing feeling and energy has followed me home too, where I've opened myself up to forming deeper bonds with some of the women in my community. While I know myself well enough to understand that these relationships might take a long time to develop, I'm excited about the prospect of making authentic connections with some these amazing women.
I'm also still running- never fear. And, I'm growing. And, it's awkward. And I'm ok with that. I think...