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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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!)

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!