Are you someone who just loves conferences and workshops? Or do you have mixed feelings about attending them?
For me, it’s definitely the latter. When I’m with large groups, overtired from travel or stimulation, over-networked and over-stuffed with information, my demons and default tendencies emerge.
One of the ways I bring my personal leadership to conferences and workshops, after I map out why I am going and what I want to get out of them, is by viewing them as a play with five different acts. There is the Anticipation phase, which shows up as a type of jittery, anxious excitement beforehand; Immersion, which is being engrossed with the people and/or content and hopefully provides some sort of revelation; Expansion, the state after the revelation when you are filled with new possibility, and Contraction, when your expanded being boomerangs back into itself, which usually takes the shape of some sort of a freak out. Often, there is another round of Expansion. The final “act” of workshops and conferences is Integration, which often doesn’t fully happen till you go home.
Preparing for these conference stages helps me stay centered and ride through them with greater grace and ease. It got me through the 2012 World Domination Summit (WDS), a whirlwind of an inspirational conference for people who want to live remarkable lives, and who share the values of Community, Adventure and Service.
It was a great event in which I met some inspiring peeps, heard some incredible talks (including the heart-blowing Brene Brown), received a $100 investment to make a difference in the world (and launch this blog), and felt complete. Secretly I fantasized that one day I would be invited back as a presenter or speaker, but otherwise, I didn’t feel the need to attend again.
And then I discovered that all five amazing members of an accountability group I started, WDS attendees who I had met regularly online for eight months but not in person, were going. I simply could not miss the opportunity to meet them all face to face, or let them meet without me.
I bought a ticket for 2013. And I am so glad I did, even though I certainly didn’t feel that way every moment.
In fact, some moments were excruciating.
I loved hearing a few great speakers (Nancy Duarte, Donald Miller and Tess Vigeland were my favorites), and once again studying the phenomenal leadership style of the Summit founder and leader, Chris Guillebeau, which I wrote about here.
But I did not expect, some 30 minutes into the first speaker of the event, to have a revelation that would turn me upside down. During Nancy Duarte’s powerful speech on effective speeches, when she asked what we were most passionate about, I discovered that my present focus on leadership and love, which I am very passionate about, is trumped by a deeper calling, one even more authentic for me, which has to do with growth. I heard a voice deep down pointing me in that direction. “This is what you will be speaking about.”
The study of growth, in its yearning, cycles, and impact on leadership, relationship and life in general, has been a lifelong journey for me that I could not articulate clearly until that moment. I envisioned how I might interact with people and teams as a sort of “growth specialist.” And in tandem with the excitement of this new discovery, a kind of panic ensued. Would it mean the destruction of what I have just recently created? Will what I have to offer be of interest? Will I have the funds and following necessary to grow the business? And what will happen with my new ideas about love, leadership and the connection between the two, work that I have been developing and excited about?
One thing I know about growth for sure, it sucks for branding.
As I continued to listen to some great and not so great speakers, the demons awoke. The Contraction phase set it. A sense of self-derision, shame and envy bubbled up and spilled over.
I felt behind. I felt inadequate. “Why wasn’t I up there on stage?! What am I really trying to do anyway? Why is it taking me so long to become whom I need to be to effectively deliver my messages? Will I ever follow through on writing one of the many books I have started?” And on.
During the breaks, as we milled amidst thousands of happy-faced people, my chest hurt. I felt like hiding. I felt like crawling into my comfy hotel room and never coming out. Squirmy worms of self-doubt were eating me alive as I tried miserably to focus on what interesting new people were saying. And then I took a deep breath, and fought to remember myself. I realized the Contraction phase had hit me fast, hard, unexpected. That realization, and this phrase, seemed to calm everything down.
“Hang tight. Your ego is on fire.”
When you are up against your edges and your ego is on fire, you need some water to put it out. A good cry is an excellent extinguisher. Thank god, back in the hotel, and with the presence of a dear friend, I was able to have one.
And then I decided firmly I was going to love myself for exactly who and where I was. No more compare and contrast. No more diminishing of myself. I dusted myself off, smoke still emerging from my head, and faced the crowds for more connecting, learning and exchanging ideas with people both less and more accomplished than myself, but equally human.
I felt connected again. I was ready for more Immersion and Expansion. There was power in being my forever unfinished, in-process, growth-oriented self.