I’m reading recaps of Mom 2.0 all over the place, this week. It sort of makes me wish I could do one of those deep and profound sorts of rundowns, the kind where I tell you all about how I was inspired and enchanted and finally met this or that person and they were astonishingly lovely and whatever. I mean, that sort of thing does happen, for me, but somehow I come home and put my hands on the keyboard and tell you a story about how I fell down, instead.
The truth is that I the anxiety I normally feel about heading into a conference situation is topped only by the concern that once I get home, I will be perceived as name-dropping or otherwise insufferable if I talk about it in any way other than to mock myself over something I did there. I am good at mocking. I am not so good at “Yay, I like you and you like me! Hooray for us!” Or maybe I feel like saying it out loud would jinx it.
Hi, yes, I’m 12. Please don’t beat me up in the locker room after gym.
I did not make a secret of being in kind of a bad place before I went on this trip. I got myself on the plane by viewing it as a purely business excursion; I set certain work-related goals for myself and even had a couple of meetings set up before I left. “I’m going to New Orleans to work,” I told myself, when all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and not have to put on lip gloss and smile and make small talk with a roomful of hundreds of people. If I was going to work, I could get through it.
There’s a thing that happens at these conferences that irks me terribly, even though I’m absolutely an observer rather than a target of it. Someone invariably laments that there’s a “power clique” (or two or four or whatever) of people who “only talk to each other” and “shun the little person” or something. I actually haven’t seen/heard that, this time, but it’s a common occurrence. And it pisses me off because people—regardless of how supposedly high-profile—should be allowed to hang out with whomever they know and like without being judged for it. I just think it’s crappy when someone gets their panties in a wad over it, like being well-known means you’re not allowed to have specific friends.
Me, I get to be a floater. I know plenty of the “important” people but am not important enough, myself, for anyone to care what I do or who I talk to or how I spend my time. This suits me well. And for perhaps the first time, I watched some of the It Folks out of the corner of my eye and wondered if maybe it kind of sucks to have so many expectations placed on you. I could see where maybe a persona becomes a jacket that doesn’t quite fit right, but you can’t take it off because there are people around and maybe what you’re wearing underneath feels a little too revealing. So you wear the jacket, tugging at the sleeves and chafing at the collar the whole time. But smiling, because everyone’s looking at you.
I’m really glad I don’t have to do that.
What I ended up doing was meeting a whole bunch of new people and having a much better time than I’d anticipated. The highlights of my experience all took place far away from the maddening crowd and any politics, and several of them involved laughter so raucous the majority of us ended up in tears. I was inspired by things said and shown during the conference, yes. But I was also hugely inspired by a roomful of women talking about mundane things, enjoying each others’ company, and not worrying about jockeying for position or whether or not their brand was impacted by the behavior of the other folks in the room. It was just… fun. And I haven’t had a lot of that, lately. I’d forgotten how important it was.
So I came home, buoyed by the experience, and when I sat down at my desk again, I looked up at the vision board I made back in January. I couldn’t help noticing that “PLAYFUL” is the largest word on it, even though it is perhaps the last word I would use to describe myself on an ordinary, stress-filled day. Playful doesn’t pay the bills, after all.
Still. Playful feeds the parts of me that go hungry so often, I barely notice it, anymore.
I had my meetings. I went to great sessions. I networked. I spoke. I did my job.
And I laughed. Long and hard. And maybe had my faith restored in what happens when women just gab and don’t give a rat’s ass about who’s supposedly important or what needs to be accomplished or how long anyone’s known each other or any of that. I don’t know why it’s so hard for so many of us to just say, “Join us!” I am deeply appreciative of the women who did that for me, though, because it turns out I really needed a side of unconditional acceptance with my playful, this weekend, and I didn’t even know it until I got it.
I had occasion to say to my son, shortly after I returned, “Kindness is never wasted.” After some thought, I followed it with, “You may have no idea the difference it makes. But I promise you it matters.” And I smiled, thinking of how the people who had just made such a difference for me probably had no idea.
Until now, I guess. Thank you.