I went to BlogHer 14 with my awkward self and I totally bumped into all of the other awkward people like a ping-pong ball trapped in an arcade game. I was just joking about clapping your hands if you’re awkward because that would be, well, awkward, and maybe a little hilarious, at least to all of the non-awkward people playing it cool, which are probably far and few between at a technology driven conference like BlogHer. Thank God. Awkward people of the world, unite!
So, I’m a recovering shy child trapped in an adult sized body. By recovering I mean I have learned the tips, tricks, and tools necessary to fake it as an extrovert when I need to. I’ve given talks, taught classes, and even performed on stage where I had to memorize and say actual words while wearing a bathing suit in front of a large crowd of people. These are the things I do to stretch and grow and face my fears, either that or I am a complete masochist. The jury is still out on that one. Anyway, I can be social and speak in full, articulate sentences and even be funny at times. Of course, when I get tired and stressed and have a couple of uncomfortable social encounters I sometimes lose my mojo and cycle down into the pit of social anxiety that is my birth right.
That happened on my first day at BlogHer 14. It was day one, with a plate full of convention food. I was sitting there talking to a blogger when she whipped out her cell phone, mid conversation, and started texting or sexting or checking her Facebook messages. So, I finished my sentence and then without looking up she responded in a way that was totally off-topic to our conversation with an annoyed tone of voice, as if what she thought she heard me say offended her, but since her response didn’t make any sense really, because it was off-topic, I figured her offense taken wasn’t based on actual events. So I just kind of mumbled something benign like, “Well, everyone is different…” and sat in silence wondering where everything had gone wrong.
I blamed it all on technology. Well, I blamed it all on the technology after my friends bolstered me with things like, “No, you are not boring” and “It probably wasn’t personal, she was just awkward and felt safer talking to the people on her phone than to the people in front of her.” My favorite was when my friend Molly declared, “It’s not you. It’s them.” I didn’t know for sure though because my anxiety was in full throttle and I was busy ruminating about every mistake I had possibly made in the conversation. I wondered if I was boring, or offensive, or if I even belonged at the conference at all. If you don’t have anxiety issues, let me explain, anxiety is a beast. It turns the smallest thing into a mountain of a problem. I mean, who wants to go home after one negative encounter that lasted two minutes? Anxiety does, that’s who. I had to really do some reframing of my thought process. Why was I letting this moment ruin my good time? Tiny-Small patted me on the arm and declared, “You are a famous blogger like me, Mom!” Who could feel bad after that? Eventually I was able to let it go and get back to having fun.
I know blaming technology makes me sound like a cranky, old lady, but seriously, phones make some of us rude and distracted. Not all of us. I mean, some people seem to have mastered the skill of having two conversations at the same time. They can talk, make eye contact, and still type out some witty statuses to their fans. These people are clearly the Alpha bloggers among us! They are going places, you guys.
After my awkward lunch encounter it took me a while to get my confidence back. I was kind of tiptoeing around people. My anxiety was in full force. I was afraid to speak, because I was getting tongue-tied and I couldn’t get my thoughts out clearly. I wanted to hide. I didn’t though. I just kept putting myself out there and I started having lots of positive interactions. I started having fun again. I also started getting really picky about who I sat next to.
At lunch, on Friday, I sat at a table where nobody was talking to each other. So, as soon as I finished eating I moved to another table. I realized I had a ton of control over who I chose to interact with and I didn’t have to sit at a table with the unfriendlies. I could just get up and find someone who looked open to a conversation.
I met lots of awkward people like me who were putting themselves out there even though it was uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking, and we got to know each other and we had a really good time. Being awkward is not the same as being rude. This is a lesson I learned quickly. There is a difference between not knowing the perfect thing to say and not saying anything at all. it’s rude to pretend not to see someone or to not answer them when they speak to you. Yes, that happened a few times, but mostly, people were just nice and warm and friendly.
Technology might be contributing to our awkwardness at times, but it doesn’t stop us from having good experiences with the people right in front of us. Not if we don’t want it to. Not if we don’t let it.
There is hope for future generations, but at the same time, put your phone down once in a while and talk to the people sitting right next to you the next time you attend the BlogHer conference. If you don’t, you are really missing out on some gems. I promise, if you take the time to look at someone and have a conversation, you will not be sorry. Plus, you are putting out some good vibes into the universe and making our blogging community a place people want to be a part of. Think about how your response to someone might impact them and always choose kindness. ALWAYS.
So, just to do a quick recap on BlogHer 14 here are a few of my observations:
1. Sometimes you are sitting right next to your blogging hero or a blogging rock star and you have no idea, so be nice and be prepared to stare with your mouth wide open as the quiet woman at your breakfast table gets up on the stage in front of you later in the day and delivers one of the most impassioned monologues you have ever seen or heard. Also, be ready to kick yourself in the butt for not spending more time talking to her at breakfast. You will also discover new bloggers that you have never heard of, but that rock your world, and you will be counting down the minutes to get back to your computer so you can read every post they have ever written. I am not kidding. I have a list of blogs three pages long in my notebook. If someone asked a great question in a session, I wrote their blogs down. Sometimes you just know you have a lot in common and are going to connect on a visceral level. If they read a story they have written that moves you deeply there is a good chance their blog is full of all kinds of good stuff.
2. You will cry and laugh…sometimes at the same time. More than once a day. Bring tissues. Do not wear mascara.
3. You will learn things you never expected to learn about yourself and your blog. I attended as many sessions as I could and I learned something in each of them. Sometimes learning what I didn’t want to do was extremely valuable. Do not leave sessions before people start asking questions. Sometimes you learn more from the audience than from the panel!
4. Do not miss Voices Of The Year. Just don’t. I get chills still when I think about the way those women told their amazing stories. It was a highlight. Like I would go just for that. It was that good.
5. Find your tribe and do it quickly. If you meet someone nice, hang out with them. Having a buddy with you makes it all seem less scary. Joules from Pocketful of Joules took me under her wing at the Exhibition Hall and I had such a great time. It wouldn’t have been as fun on my own. Plus, if Joules is at the conference you should find her. She seems to know everyone, is very funny, is easy to talk to, and is super nice. She’s like a BlogHer super hero. I am totally picturing her in tights and a cape right now. If that’s not awkward I don’t know what is. I’m totally clapping right now. I don’t care what the cool kids think.
6. Make more time to hang out with your blogging friends. This is a mistake I made, mostly because I was tired and battling anxiety. Nothing saps your energy quite like anxiety does. I wish I had spent more time with my friend Quirky Chrissy. If you think she is funny and nice online…multiply that by 100 in person. She’s just amazing. I was so nervous meeting her that I couldn’t really just be myself and relax until Saturday night when the whole thing was almost over. Next year will be different! I don’t think the negative encounters I will likely have (Hello, we’re all awkward people bumping into each other) will put me into a tailspin so much because I know how to create more positive encounters now. Plus, next time I won’t be so anxious before I even get there because I will be a veteran, right? I’m banking on it.
7. If you can go to a minicon that fits your blog…do it! I went to the “Personal Blogging” minicon and it was life changing. I wish it had been the very first session I had gone to. It would have made the whole experience better because I would have found my tribe immediately. These women, both on the panel and in the audience, were amazing. I felt so at home and I learned so much about where I want to go with my blog. You may see some changes coming soon. It was a very affirming session and I truly felt like I belonged. Which just felt good in general. I think that session alone was worth the ticket price to BlogHer.
8. If you have a moment where you feel excluded and like you don’t belong at the conference, just wait it out. I guarantee in a few minutes you’ll find yourself in a group, laughing and feeling completely included and like you totally belong there. This was the roller coaster ride I was on Thursday and Friday. By the time Saturday rolled around I was feeling really good about being there…even when I was sitting at a table alone. There was just a shift inside me and I felt like “I’ve got this. This is awesome.”
9. Try not to get start struck. I mean, it happens at the weirdest moments. There were famous people ay BlogHer 14 giving keynotes and signing books, but they didn’t make me nervous when I thought about approaching them. It was the bloggers I admired most that I was terrified to talk to! I wish I could go back and tell myself to get over it. I missed out on talking to a few bloggers that I really wanted to meet because I never mustered up the courage to go introduce myself. I could beat myself up over it, but I figure there is always next year!
10. There will be things that happen at BlogHer that don’t make sense. You will learn about strategies and ways of doing things that won’t work for you or your blog. Don’t get grumpy. Don’t complain. Just put it in the category of “what not to do” and move on. As many people on the panel stated, there are many ways of doing things and many different paths to success. Don’t be afraid to experiment, but also stay true to what you believe in. Sometimes following the crowd is the worst thing to do. For example, the title of this post is not exactly SEO friendly. It’s even too long for Google. I am OK with that because today, the title of this post is more important to me than ranking in some magical place on the Internet.
This is a really long post. If you made it to the end, let’s get married because we are obviously soul mates.
P.S. I don’t have a lot of selfies or a lot of selfies with other bloggers because I cannot take a selfie to save my life (see above), but I do have a lot of great memories that will keep me riding the blogging train until next year…yes, I already want to go back!