From the moment I landed in NYC in August 2010, I was eternally grateful that I would “know” (in that we’d exchanged approximately 3,000 tweets and blog comments) 4 or 5 people at my first Blogher. When I was with at least one of them, I felt safe. I had a wing lady.
Even if we just stood in the corner of a busy party and had a quiet conversation about “OMG, I don’t know anybody here… do you want to go get a drink… maybe we should move to a different corner of the room… is that who I think it is… nah, I’m not going to introduce myself… I feel ridiculous,” we at least looked like we were being social and not awkwardly standing off to the side, eyeing people and desperately searching for familiar faces.
But, trust me when I say I did that. A lot. I mean, I couldn’t go everywhere with the handful of girls I knew. We wanted to attend different sessions and were invited to different parties.
There were several times I can remember standing in a sea of strangers and feeling so very alone.
I had no idea who anyone was. Nobody looked anything like their Twitter avatars. There were large groups of women, dancing in circles, hugging each other until they fell to the floor. They obviously had bonds that went way beyond anything I could have with them. What was I going to do? Interrupt their hug-fest to say, “Hey! You look like you might be someone I follow on Twitter, and I think I left a couple of comments on your blog. Let’s get a drink!”? That just seemed so… not appropriate.
The core of it was I was afraid I’d be shunned, which I will fully admit was 99% based on my own insecurities and not anything these other women did or said.
It was an odd experience for me. I’m normally a very social being. I really don’t have a hard time making new friends or introducing myself to people. So it was doubly unnerving when I started to feel this way at a conference full of women who I admired and who all seemed so friendly and happy. What was wrong with me?
Elevators were the worst. Forced to sit in silence with people, trying not to let them see you examining their name badge while simultaneously trying to make sure yours was noticeable, you know, just in case they were doing the same.
On one of my first (very long) rides up the elevator, I ran into Susan and Janice from 5 Minutes For Mom, but I didn’t recognize them… had no clue. They said hi first, as they stepped onto the elevator.
“Oooh! Friendly faces!” I thought.
“Hi! I’m Jill. Is this your first conference?” I naively asked.
“Oh, no! We’ve been to many,” they sweetly replied and then introduced themselves. I felt like a total tool, and NOT because of anything they did or said. Just because, well, how could I NOT know who they were… and to imply this was their first conference? I wanted to melt into the floor before my 45 minute elevator ride ended.
I’ve since had the joy of getting to know Janice and have done a couple Spreecasts with her. I even got to chill with her at Blissdom. She’s seriously super nice, and I can’t believe I let myself feel that way in NYC 2 years ago.
Then there was that time in the elevators, the day after SocialLuxe (which I was over-the-moon happy to get an invite to as a blog awards finalist), when I ran into Allison (Petit Elefant) and Jane (This Week For Dinner), 2 of the SocialLuxe hosts. I was confident it was them because I’d seen them the night before, and they were toting a bunch of SocialLuxe stuff with them.
Just tell them you had a really good time. Just smile, and introduce yourself, and tell them the party was great. That’s it! You can do this…. OMG WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
That was the conversation in my head for about 90% of the time I shared the quiet elevator with them. Finally, just as we were about to arrive at their floor, I squeaked out, “Hey! Y’all’s party last night…. um the social lounge… I mean, you know, Social Luxe, was great. You did a great job with it! I had a really good time.” They smiled and thanked me, were beyond kind, and then they stepped off the elevator. I kicked myself for not speaking up sooner, but was proud of myself for saying something before the opportunity passed.
There were a lot of instances like that- opportunities that passed because I was too afraid to seize the moment. It certainly didn’t help that I couldn’t rely on any social lubricant in the form of alcohol because I was 20 weeks pregnant with Leyna at the time.
(I’d really like to never go to another Blogher pregnant again if I can control that.)
I’m an optimist to the core. I believe life and situations are what you make of them. Believe me when I say I had to really WORK to make my first Blogher a positive experience.
It wasn’t about working to overcome anyone else’s negativity or unfriendliness. It was about working to force myself out of my shell, away from my safe group of friends, into situations that made me feel like the last girl to be picked for kickball. I had to work to overcome me and my insecurities.
And, to a degree, I had to do that last year. I suspect I will have to this year, too, despite “knowing” so many more people now, and being able to recognize quite a few of them at Sparklecorn even though they don’t look anything like that cartoon character they use for their Twitter avatar.
I write this for 2 reasons.
Obviously, if you’re going to Blogher for the first time in August, I think it’s important to know that it will likely be incredibly overwhelming, but that doesn’t necessarily have to equate to a bad experience. Blogher is what you make of it. You’ll read that line on countless Blogher advice posts because it’s just that true.
Generally speaking though, to apply this to everyday life, some of the best connections and experiences can come from when you work your way through awkward situations and force yourself out of your comfort zone. Think playgroups, parks, you spouse’s office party. When you’re feeling left out or ignored, recognize how much of that is stemming from your own insecurities, and then think about how much of it is coming from another person’s insecurities.
Sometimes all that’s needed is for one person to just smile and say hi. Sometimes that’s all it takes to bring another person out of their shell when they need it the most.
Last year at Blogher, I made it my goal to smile and say hi to at least one person whenever I started to feel isolated. I did it everywhere I went- the halls, breakfast tables, the bathroom. Every. Single. Person. I smiled at smiled back. And I’d say at least half of them smiled a smile of relief. Their shoulders relaxed a bit, many times we’d have short conversations and even exchange cards. All because someone just said hi.
That’s not me saying I was doing it purely to make others feel better. It was certainly self-serving because I needed to see smiles and hear hi’s so that I wouldn’t let myself feel as alone as I had the year before. It just happened to have a wonderful side effect for all involved – friendliness and an open door.
Be the person who makes others smile. Even when you’re feeling insecure and ignored, be the one to step out of your shell, smile and say hi. At least, you’ll get eye-contact and a half-smile from 99% of people (because there is the one percent who may disappoint, no matter how kind you are). But possibly? You’ll score a great friendship out of it. You just never know.