What to expect when you go to a conference

I recently came back from BlogHer 2013, and I feel like I am still recovering from my time there. As an introvert, I use a few tried-and-true coping methods to make the most of my conference experiences. That means:

1. Not trying to meet EVERYBODY but trying to meet a few awesome people.

2. Taking little mini-breaks throughout the day so that I don’t start to look like I’m thinking about ways to end it all in the middle of a plenary.

3. Breathing. A lot.

But sometimes you go to a conference and you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, because you think it’s going to be a magical experience that gets you motivated to write and introduces you to lots of progressive, intelligent minds, and it ends up being a corporate sponsored frenzy where mom and lifestyle bloggers physically react in the negative when you say you blog about things like “women’s health.”

One of the lovely women I connected with has already blogged about this ordeal so I am just going to link to her and tell you to go read it.

And when you’re at those types of conferences, you’re reminded of a few things:

1. Conferences are jam-packed and exhausting – good luck trying to have meaningful conversations and build deep relationships with people. Unless it’s scheduled in, you’re going to have to work to create that space

2. Panelists can suck! – Pitching a panel for a conference is really different than presenting at one. Sometimes, great ideas are lost to a poor presenter. Sometimes they ramble. Sometimes they downplay their achievements and make you wonder why they’re up there and you’re listening to them. Sometimes they go way over time. Sometimes they read off the powerpoint with a look that says “I can’t wait to be out of here.” It’s hit or miss. Do your research on presenters if you haven’t already. A panel topic that mildly interests you may still trump one you’re dying to attend if the presenters are better.

3. For many, conferences are isolating and just not as fun as everyone says. By the time all the evening happy hours have started, all I want to do is crawl into my hotel bed and watch Friends reruns. Conferences are an energy sucker for those of us who don’t find joy in networking or making hundreds of new best friends. It does NOT mean we shouldn’t go to conferences. It does NOT mean we can’t have fun. It means that people’s experiences look and feel different. It’s taken me a while to accept that I just can’t be “on” 24/7. While a part of me wants to be out late drinking wine with potential new friends, I am just not that person. I need recovery time so that I can smile and shake hands at 6:30 AM without looking like a zombie.

4. No matter how much you think it makes sense to pack workout clothes before you go, there is just no way in hell you’re going to run on a treadmill after 12 hours of networking. To be fair, there were a group of women who ran a 5K before the first day of the conference. The sour-grapes part of me says that they must all be fitness bloggers.

Any conference expectations I’m forgetting? Comment away.

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Stop whipping out your phone to instagram things

I’m developing an aversion to Instagram. I still love the photos, I still occasionally post and I still double tap like the ship’s going down. But being around people who use Instagram are driving me crazy.

It feels like every conversation, every meal and every outing is getting interrupted by selecting filters and later, goofily smiling at a screen with one’s head hunched over. It happens automatically, mid sentence, the transformation from friend to photographer. Just take the damn picture already so I can eat these scrambled eggs.

Don’t get me started on the lull in conversation created by the launch of Instagram videos.

It’s getting easier and easier to make our present – well – less present. We want to do cool things now because we’ll get to show people we are doing cool things. We’re trying to capture our experiences and share them with others so that people know we’re happy or sad or hungry or funny. I’ve already had to make allowances for people who have to tweet something right away or respond to a text right away or check their email right away (the result of a boyfriend who works in the media). But isn’t it getting out of hand? We have developed so much etiquette about what to post and how to do it correctly. Will we ever have etiquette about when to do it (ie. not in the middle of a conversation?).  I’m 27 – the looks I get asking people to put away their phones during overdue dinners or intimate brunches makes me feel about 80. It’s uncomfortable and also totally understandable.

I’m not even above this habit. I’ve had the dreaded millennial thought pass through my mind more than once: Does this matter as much if no one knows I’m doing this? I have to post this. Right. Now. Brewery tours, days at the beach, rainy days at home – Sometimes it isn’t enough to just do those things. I want people to see it and react to it – like it or not, it tends to add to my experience of doing those things. I’m cringing just writing that out, but there we are.

So why is it suddenly making my skin crawl?

I struggle with a lot of anxiety – which at its root is about losing the ability to be present because you’re frantic about all the possibilities of events in the future. And I’ve come to realize that managing my anxiety is about trying to stay present, and allowing myself to feel all the feelings as they are happening. Fretting about the future strips away my ability to enjoy all the things that are happening right now. I end up missing a lot of things because I’m worrying about the next thing. Trying to move away from that means enjoying what’s happening now – sans worry, sans documentation, sans social gratification.

People Instagram for a lot of different reasons and I’m sure most of them aren’t all about inherent narcissism. But it won’t stop me from thinking twice about our habit of interrupting the present in order to document our memories –  not for ourselves, but for other people.

The perks of journaling

Originally posted at Honey with Tea

I had been putting off searching for my childhood journals. It’s a strange feeling, reviewing old journals – some parts are funny and embarrassing (who knew someone could have so many crushes in the course of one week). But other parts are vulnerable and a bit sad. Realizing that your fears haven’t changed or the things that held you back when you were 12 may still be holding you back. It was a bit overwhelming.

I’ve been journaling for much of my life, though the notebooks eventually gave way to blogs. And blogs eventually became more about traffic and sharing parts of my life with strangers out in the internets. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve returned to journaling, as an addition to blogging. And here’s why:

1. Journaling helps us become ourselves: journaling helps us process our feelings, it helps us cope and self-soothe, it helps us notice our patterns and dyanmics, it helps us know ourselves better. As our world gets more external – as we get more focused on how we communicate with the people around us about the minutia of the day to day – journaling can help anchor us, back into who we are. And, unlike so many other therapeutic outlets, it’s free.

2. Journaling gives us perspective: Journaling helps to see how things have changed and grown. Sometimes I think we are prone to adjusting and adapting, that we take for granted all the amazing ways we have grown and matured. Nothing makes you feel like you’ve matured over time more than reading a page filled repeatedly with the words “Mrs. Justin Timberlake.” Just sayin’.

3. Journaling helps us carve out quiet time: When I’m journaling, I’m not watching television. I’m not on Facebook or Tumblr. I’m not pinning things. It’s just me, and the journal. It’s probably the quietest part of my waking day. This wasn’t true 100 years ago, but it is now, and I think that makes journaling even more special now. It’s a sacred process, and frankly, even if you’re typing it out into a word document, I think it’s a particular kind of quiet that we don’t access as much as we used to.

Any journal-lovers out there? Tell me about your first journal, your process now, and what’s it done to help you. I’m always interested in what feels best for folks.

(My first was a Little Women journal. I was so obsessed with it being consistent and pretty that I kept tearing out page after page and “starting over”. Looking back, this is of little surprise to me. I’m a sucker for a blank slate!)

No one wants your advice

Does this sound familiar? Your friend comes to you, angsty and infuriated over a recent fight with their partner. You don’t really like their partner. So when she

Here's what that fight sort of looked like. They asked sad questions. I got venty from my high horse.

Here’s what that fight sort of looked like. They asked sad questions. I got venty from my high horse.

tells you it isn’t working out, that she’s filled with self-doubt and isn’t sure what to do, she asks you that question you can’t resist answering honestly. What do you think I should do?

Flash forward three weeks later. You’re getting snubbed by your friend because guess what? She and the love of her life are back together, stronger than ever. And she hasn’t forgotten all the things you said about how her man is a jerk who wouldn’t know sensitivity if it punched him in the face.

It’s really hard for me to resist giving my opinion to someone if I have one. Especially if they ask me for one. I’ve used all the excuses in my arsenal to justify this behavior. I care about them! I want them to be happy! They’re reaching out to me for help! I can help fix this!

But over time, I’ve realized that though people may ask for advice, and though you may think that people surely need your unsolicited advice, giving it isn’t often the best way to go.

Now that I’ve expressed just how little people need advice, I’m going to advise you about it. Welcome to the blogosphere – we’re an opinion-filled bunch of hypocrites sometimes.

These days, I’m trying to ask myself these questions before I open my mouth.

1. What does this person really want from me right now? No, like really. Their mouths may say “what do I do?” Their body language may say “please have a reaction about this.” But it’s likely that they are asking for something else. Sometimes people just want you to listen to them, and nod and be like “that sounds really shitty.” Sometimes people just want you to agree with them and whatever they are saying. They want to feel understood and heard.

No need to try to climb into their mind and see what they’re really thinking. I’m just saying it’s fine to take a pause and ask yourself – are they really looking for my ten point plan on how to turn this situation around? Or are they just looking for some compassion and a nod and some affirming words?

2. What am I really saying with the advice I want to give? When I told my friend that her boyfriend was a cheating jackass who completely disrespected and mistreated her and would never leave his other girlfriend for her, I was making a mistake. I didn’t think so at the time. At the time I really thought my words of tough love would get through to her and she’d thank me for it later. She never did. They did eventually break up, but my words formed a rift in our relationship that has never fully healed (and this was nearly ten years ago).

What was my point of saying all those things to her, that so many people had already told her before? Did I really think that one more “he’s a douche” speech would change her mind about her relationship? Looking back, what I really wanted to say was this: I love you and am worried about you because you seem really sad right now. I feel for you. I also can’t talk to you about this for hours every day like we have been. I need to set some boundaries and can we talk about something else right now.

I’m not sure being honest about that would have helped our friendship at all. But it would have been more of the truth than I gave her, and I think it would have alleviated some of the build up that led to my blurting out unsolicited advice.

3. Why the hell do I like giving my opinion about everything? This is more of an ongoing question, and I doubt I have an answer to it. I think everyone has their reasons for loving to give advice. For me, it makes me feel needed and appreciated, which I love. I’m insecure in a lot of my friendships so I want to provide instant gratification. And also, I like feeling right. I like feeling like I know the answer to something when I so often feel like I have no answers to problems in my own life. Giving advice is distracting and it feels good. It’s much harder to practice compassionate listening and mirroring and asking questions free of judgment. That ends up being better in the long-run, or so I hear.

I toss it out to you, readers from the internet. What are the opinions you just can’t help but blurt out? Or have you mastered the biting of the tongue and have some words of wisdom to share?

The best ways to make a Life Plan

I’m really into making life plans. As a procrastinator who wants everything to go right, making multiple life plans is the perfect way for me to avoid actually executing the plan. When I was young, I was that tween who bought a lot of journals and planners and stationary. I’m going to write and plan and correspond! That didn’t happen. Instead of focusing on my plan, I became focused on my tools.

I wish I could do all my life planning from here.

I wish I could do all my life planning from here.

Thankfully, over time, I’ve discovered the best ways for me to actually help me life plan. Sometimes they involve tools, but they usually just take some time and some tough questions. Here’s what works for me:

1. Monthly resolutions – My best friend S and I began a tradition of spending New Year’s Eve together. Two years ago, we did what we inevitably always do – vent about the parts of our life that aren’t working out and lament about the things we wish we could improve. A bottle of wine later, we’d returned to our childhood tendencies of making resolutions. But this time we really wanted to have resolve! So we each made a list of pie-in-the-sky resolutions. Then we narrowed them down to our most important ones.

Here’s the twist. Each month, we would write out some monthly goals that would help us reach our resolutions. We emailed each other regularly about the progress of each goal.

We celebrated each other’s achievements. We cheered each other on. And when we didn’t meet a goal, we told each other why. Sometimes it was because we realized we didn’t really care about the goal as much as we thought (eg. giving up social media). Sometimes it was because it was too scary (eg. visiting the dentist). We pushed each other.

It’s a tried and true method for many, which I didn’t realize until I’d read The Happiness Project. As any good resolution-related blog post will tell you, it isn’t enough to make an ambitious set of goals one day out of the year and hope to follow them. You need to break each goal down into manageable steps. You need support from your friends and loved ones. You need to keep track of your progress. You need to celebrate the small wins. You need to examine what’s holding you back from the things you want to achieve. It’s harder than a day spent making lists, but it’s also much more rewarding.

2. A vision board – I was a couple of years out of college, trying to think about a real career path, when I read about the concept of a vision board. I have to admit, it sounded ludicrous. Especially because a lot of the so-called “testimonies” I’d read were a bit too hoaky for me. Just draw or collage together the things that you want and then ten years later, you’ll pull it out and realize it all came true! I’m hopeful but not naive.

Here's where I try to life plan/where my vision board goes.

Here’s where I try to life plan/where my vision board goes.

Still, I liked the idea of setting aside an afternoon to do something I hadn’t done since I was a kid – flip through magazines and cut out stuff. It felt silly, but I pushed passed my judgment, and ended up with a half poster board of aesthetically pleasing words and images that resonated with the life I’m working towards. When I looked it, I felt calmer somehow. It doesn’t always help me to articulate everything into clear cut goals and resolutions. Sometimes I need to just look at something visual. I don’t stare at it for hours, but when I catch a glance of it above my desk at home, I’m able to think about what things I’ve achieved and what things I’m working towards.

I recommend it. No one has to see it or know about it except for you!

3. A vision statement – My biggest problem with life planning is this – how can you life plan if you don’t have any sense of what you want or what you like? What if you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up? What if you aren’t sure what kind of relationship you want to have with your future partner or friends? Life planning gets bogged down by a million questions that often feel too overwhelming – leaving you with the perfect opportunity to just give up planning altogether. For those who aren’t into crafts on poster board, I recommend the vision statement.

Every stable nonprofit has a good vision statement. Unlike a mission statement, that outlines what an organization does, a vision statement outlines what an organization ultimately wants to accomplish. Get rid of poverty. Provide safe housing for everyone. Eradicate illiteracy.

Sometimes we get caught up in the goals and the resolutions, we aren’t even sure where we’re trying to go. Stepping back and really owning the big picture can be valuable.

I avoided writing a vision statement for a long time – it really freaked me out and I hated the idea of not knowing exactly what I wanted. But like any process, you don’t need to get every single thing right the first time. Just start typing about what kind of life you want to have. Who are you hanging out with? What kinds of stuff do you do to fill your days? What makes life feel worthwhile? Really get in the details as much as you can.

The most important takeaway I learned from this process is that you don’t need to know exactly how you will get there. Just focus on how you feel and what makes you happy. My vision statement ended up being 3 pages of run on sentences. I wasn’t able to identify a career, or the city where I lived, or what kind of house I live in, or anything like that. But I was able to focus on the details that I knew I wanted – a life filled with good food for example. A solid and stable relationship. Good friends that live close by. Work that makes me feel important and efficient.

So there you have it. My three life planning methods. Let me know if any of these have worked for you, or if you’ve hated them all, or if there’s an even better way to plan your life that I haven’t yet discovered. Looking forward to it!

Birthdays, social media, and the sweater syndrome

I turned 27 in October. I didn’t handle it well. I don’t usually handle birthdays well. They are for me what the new year is for many – A time to reflect on life. And by

Here's the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

Here’s the Mens Wearhouse sweatshirt I wore a bit too long when I turned 26.

that I mean, a time to go on Facebook and lament about all the things I haven’t done yet.

How come when you’re in a slump, everyone else’s life seems so incredible? Suddenly everyone who dreamed of getting married is married and all the people who you thought would have boring lives are publishing books and living in Los Angeles. Social media has really capitalized on my comparing tendencies.  The irrational side of me takes over, telling me that the sliver of life I see on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter is a reflection of someone’s entire life. It feels terrible, but I have trouble looking away.

I don’t know what I thought my life would be like at 27 but it wasn’t this — I get caught up in my own expectations. I thought it would feel different. I thought I’d feel more mature or have more insight on my career or my relationship, or have that tight-knit group of six friends that people base television shows on.

I thought I’d be happier. I thought I’d be less afraid. I thought I’d be more secure. I guess if I was more secure and less afraid, I would be happier.

I’ve processed milestone birthdays in a pretty similar way each time. I find the most comfortable sweater or sweatshirt I can find and then I wear it randomly one day. Then the next day I don’t really want to wear anything but that sweater. And the next day. Then every day. For like a month. To school and work and at home. I hate putting it in the washer because I don’t want to not wear it. I develop a blind spot for how ratty it starts to get. Then one day it just feels ok to take it off, throw it out and get on with my life. Sometimes that day arrives as the result of close friends saying “take that damn thing off.” That’s what friends are for.

I didn’t do that when I turned 27. Maybe I should have. Instead I just cried a lot and thought about who I am and who I’m becoming. My level of twenties angst was at an all time high. It was embarrassing. I kept obsessing over that hopeless question: What kind of person am I? I’m someone who gets overwhelmed by birthdays. I’m afraid to ask for what I need and want from people. I’m even more afraid of being vulnerable and being open with people. But then I look at the up side. I’m pouring more effort into my self-growth than I ever have before. Three years ago I was living with my parents. I was a person too filled with grief to leave my house much or secure a full-time job. Things have changed since then – so that means, I can change. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.

But if I can change, what’s reasonable? I always associated adulthood with having a better grasp on my limitations. What are the qualities about myself I can actually do something about? And what do I have to just accept?

And then once I identify my limitations, then what? We have to accept them, right? That’s what people tell me. It isn’t enough to just recognize them. We have to make peace with them being a part of who we are.

I’m not so great with that.

I really, really wish I was different in some ways. I wish I was more social and extroverted – it seems easier. I wish I was more comfortable asking for what I want or need. I wish I trusted people more. I wish I was a morning person. I wish I was better at managing  my time. I wish I was more “into” wine.

But I’m none of these things (right now). And I may never be some of these things ever. For now, I’ll try to focus on the accepting part instead of becoming frantic over fixing everything at once. That method of coping has worked most of the time. And when it doesn’t (as I suspect will be the case this October), I’ll keep a sweater close by.

I’m fine. I’m just an introvert.

Introvert time 10.16

Being an introvert is tricky. Traditionally, introverts are defined by the quality of gathering energy when they are alone, rather than when they are around other people. I need a lot of alone time. Taking in my alone time is like that first sip of a cold beer after a long week – it’s relaxation and relief and restoration. I no longer have to perform for or socialize with other people. There’s a natural algorithm that my introversion follows – the amount of alone time I’ll need to feel reenergized depends on how much time I’ve spent with people, the number of people, and how much I like those people. If I catch up with a close friend over a long dinner, I like to follow up with some streaming Netflix (Freaks and Geeks anyone?). If I’ve scheduled back-to-back dinners and a large party filled with strangers, you can bet I’ll need the next two nights to silently peruse my Google reader, read books and blubber through episodes of Doctor Who.

I’m an introvert, but contrary to what many assume, I don’t dislike being social. I just don’t want to be social all the time. I also don’t want or need 100 friends. I need 2 best friends and maybe 5 really good friends. I don’t like big parties. I hate small talk. I need time to process before presenting my thoughts on something.

I was an only child so my introversion was always mis-characterized as other things i.e. quiet, independent, anti-social. At big parties, I carried a book with me or some paper for drawing. When I was exhausted from making small talk – and yes there’s small talk when you’re a kid, too – I turned inwards. My father is a textbook introvert, who, when his social timer runs out, promptly stands up at whatever social gathering he is at, and politely leaves. So my parents didn’t mind my behavior. But everyone else sure as hell did.

The – let’s call it “feedback” – I get from others can usually be categorized into the following phrases:

1. “You’re just shy.” I heard this more as a child. There was no question in teachers or family friends’ minds that I didn’t have a million friends or participate in group activities or sports because I was simply shy. The reality was, I was  a bit shy. It takes me a while to warm up to new people, and even more time to feel a real connection. But guess what? I was also introverted. I loved nap time. I loved quiet reading time. I loved study hall.

2. “You’re not introverted!”  Like many introverts, I’ve developed a temporary skin. It’s a social, more extroverted layer that I can peel on and off at Thanksgiving dinners and networking events and parties filled with strangers. I used to have much more control over it. Now it’s more like Cinderella’s carriage: At a certain point, I’m turning back into a pumpkin who needs her Kindle and some pajamas.

When people meet me for the first time with this layer on, they’re shocked to find out weeks or months later that this is not my natural state of being. This reaction comes mostly from co-workers and acquaintances.  People assume that as a person who works in fundraising, I must love interacting with people. First off, I’m a grant writer (all the introverts are nodding insightfully now), which  should, if anything, show that I do not like interacting with people. I like writing to people. Did I mention I’m also a blogger? (The internet was an amazing invention for the introverts.) There are parts of my job that require extroversion. That’s how it goes. It can be draining and it’s certainly an important part of what I do, but it definitely does not make me an extrovert.

Also, I really like to talk. Deep, long one-on-one conversations fill me with insight and satisfaction. Sometimes people confuse this with being extroverted. Note that I did not say I enjoy making chit chat with 20 people at a party.

3. “What’s wrong?” It’s always been a challenge to feel authentic in this, the extrovert’s world. If I’m too quiet or don’t say hi to people at work, I can seem rude or arrogant. If I have to cancel plans because I’m exhausted from back-to-back social events, I seem flaky. And when I’ve turned my thoughts inwards, turning over things quietly in my mind, I get a lot of cocked heads and sympathetic “Are you ok?”s. I am ok. No, I’m not sad.  Yes, I’m fine. I’m just an introvert.

But every label has its challenges. Years of people assuming that my being ok alone was the same as being ok with being lonely has creeped into my mental hardwiring. Now, when I feel sad or hurt, my instinct is to reach out and find connection. But the rest of me suppresses this instinct, telling me that introversion means I should be fine handling things on my own. Why would I rely on people when I’m not doing well? Aren’t I an introvert?

Being an insecure introvert also has its downside. If I say no to too many happy hours, will I be edged out of my co-workers’ circle? If I tell people I’m not up for a party, will they think I’m a loser? It’s difficult for me to stay authentic when I’m trying to manage my fear of being disconnected from others.

The reality is, most people take comfort in connections with other people, regardless of where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. That feeling of belonging and understanding that we feel when we connect with another individual is such a wonderful part of the human condition. But how and when we get to that feeling varies. I find my connection in intimate dinners, small social gatherings and reading books next to my bestie – plans that are bookended by recovery time. Yes, recovery time. No, I’m not unhappy or anti-social. I’m just an introvert.