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.
I appreciated this post, both for the tips and your candor. I think we can all relate to that “joyful frustration” of connecting with our deeper calling and, in almost the same moment, criticizing ourselves for not being further along with it! I heard the phrase “self-compassion” this morning and feel like it perfectly relates to what you’re describing here – and seems like a timely message for me, too.
Thanks for sharing!
So glad it resonated, Christi. I like the phrase “self-compassion,” too. Thanks so much for your comments.
Blair, you (brilliantly) wrote a description of my own experiences here. And I LOVE the “ego on fire” phrase/image. Perfect. Thank you.
Ah, another who is conference challenged! Thanks for reading and commenting, Karen.
I wish I had been able to read this before WDS. I found my mood and attitude shooting all over the place; I attributed part of this to the overstimulation of trying to meet a small liberal arts’ college worth of people in 3 days. Normally, I’m an extrovert, but I just couldn’t reach out on a consistent basis.
Yet the takeaways were profound for me, and I see myself digesting and using them for a long time. One is that fear and death (and of course, fear of death) are my key topics. Another is that I know how to tell stories, and I’ve learned a lot about the Hero’s Journey in the past year, so Nancy Duarte’s presentation hit me where it counts.
Whether I’d return to WDS is really up in the air for me (though I too imagine that one day I’ll be on stage there, or someplace similar, if there is such a thing). My instinct is no, especially not if it’s going to get bigger, which I imagine it is.
I’m grateful for your insights.
Pearl, I wish I had posted it before WDS! Thanks so much for your comment and sharing. Fear and Death . . . in some ways the keys to life, right? Nancy’s talk was huge and will impact me for a long time as well.
Maybe one day you and I will be backstage somewhere before our talks and remember this interaction. And laugh.
Such a beautiful post, Blair, made from the pain and release…almost like the discovery of growth propelled you into its path right then and there. Big fires seem to have always been the path of the Phoenix.
I honor your candor here as well as that very useful model of five different acts. Thank you for such elegance and honesty — from which we all can learn and grow.
Thanks, Dan. I so appreciate your thoughts and reflections.
I love hearing about your journey and exploration. Thank you for sharing this “ego on fire” piece. As much as it feels painful in the moment, how wonderful to have the capacity to be mindful of exactly that, this tender place of turmoil and suffering. When we learn from it, we can help others do the same. Much love from a traveler on a different yet similar path.
Hey Navah, Thanks for so much for stopping by and reflecting. And reminding me that we can be inspired by the universality of personal pain, different paths and all.
Blair, FANTASTIC post. I am ‘conference challenged’. I love going to conferences, making new connections, being inspired… but, just as you described I feel overstimulated and the demons of self doubt and inadequacy jump out – unexpectedly.
I found your description of the 5 different acts to ring true for me – however, I didn’t have clarity about these stages until I ready your post.
I am preparing for conferences (presenting) and your post is exactly what I need to hear right now. I will reread this post on the flight down and in my hotel room to remind me that I am not alone in these feelings, to name the feelings for what they are, and to love myself for exactly who and where I am.
Thank you Blair for opening yourself up and sharing this. You are a beautiful soul.
Jo, I really felt the risk in putting this one out there. Comments like yours and others make me feel grateful that I did! I am so glad the stages might be useful and I hope you have a great time at the conference – yeah for presenting! I would love to hear how it goes.
Hey Blair –
Thanks for helping me understand some of what I’m experiencing! I think I’m still stuck in the Contraction phase, and I’ve been having a hell of a hard time grappling with that. Last year I left WDS on such a high, and this year… this year so the opposite. So much self-doubt, etc. I love having a potential framework to put it in – which may help me move out of it and on to accomplishing great things!
Esther, My pleasure. Can’t wait to see what you accomplish!
Thanks Blair for expressing what resonates almost perfectly with my own experience. Overstimulation and then an attempt to absorb all that is coming towards us at an event with so much information and a wealth of different energies. And, staying centred in our own self throughout it all!
For me, I have learned that the digesting phase, which generally happens after the fact, is perhaps where some of the greatest takeaways happen. Delighted to hear you had one of those moments near the beginning of the weekend. And expansion and contraction are inevitable. Personally, I love the expansion and hear you on the challenge in branding that. Thanks for your vulnerability in this one.
I so appreciate your comment, Beverly! It was good to connect there and looking forward to more.
Ah, ego. They say we shouldn’t have one but I think very few are exempt. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like your thoughts were driving you towards your own growth. Congrats on finding your deeper calling.
I totally agree with you. Ego, healthy ego is normal and fine. I truly equate ego with self-hate. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.
Blair – At conferences I’ve felt all of those things that you describe but have been unable to break it down into a cycle that I can understand – until now. Right there – growth.
You will be on that stage, my friend, and I’ll be in the audience beaming and cheering you on. Your message and your powerful soul will fill the hearts and minds of people on an even bigger scale them forth to step up into their personal leadership, engage their capacity for growth and to love themselves and others along the way.
I have been deeply touched by comments on the blog but this was a first for tearing up! Thanks so much for the incredible support my friend. It means the world. And you know I’ll be in the audience cheering you on, too.
Loved the part about authenticity. Definitely something to maintain along the way during growth, but oh so necessary. Hope you’re having a great weekend!