As soon as we sat down, tears streamed down her face. At the last event of Blogher Food 2011 Saturday night, the 40-year old, successful food blogger had asked if we could talk privately. We found a room upstairs, away from the throbbing dance party music.
“Some of the women at the conference are so mean,” she said, wiping away tears. She had met them before, yet they walked right by her without acknowledging her. Feeling overwhelmed, she said she’d rather be home gardening, or spending time with her children.
“It happened to me too,” I said. I was talking to a Famous Person when another Famous Person came up and discussed who they were inviting to dinner. Right in front of me.
And just like that, we were two high schoolers again. We desperately wanted to be adored, part of the in crowd and part of the cliques that gather. We wanted the cool people to notice us. We wanted to be cool too.
Feeling bad about her state of distress, I said most of the people at the conference felt the way she did (resisting adding “aside from a few clueless rude people.”) We’re all in a stressful situation, even though we’re thrilled to be there. That’s why we gather. According to the BlogHer Food folks, the number one reason attendees come is for the “community.”
But we don’t know all these people, and we’re not used to gathering like this. Who’s used to spending 15 hours a day or more with 500 people you hardly know? Who’s used to other people evaluating whether you’re worth sitting next to, talking to, rooming with, or inviting to a private event? It’s easy to get annoyed.
Even though I’ve attended writing and culinary conferences for more than 10 years (see liveblog of my session on recipe etiquette at BlogHer Food), I can’t always escape the anxiety that accompanies them. I love it when people tell me how much my book meant to them, but I don’t always know what to say after that. I get tongue-tied when speaking to Famous People. I spend a lot of time with friends and people I want to know, because it’s easier or more strategic than being with people who want to know me.
So before I get into coping mechanisms, I want to apologize. I probably snubbed people at BlogHer Food too. Please forgive me if I did not spend enough time with you or appeared to blow you off. I did not mean to.
And for the next conference (see you at IACP in Austin next week?), these are my strategies:
1. Don’t take it personally. It’s rarely All About Me. So the next time someone appears to snub me, I will consider whether I imagined it, because sensitive people are prone to thoughts like that, and I need a thicker skin.
I will keep my social circle open and diverse, and not take cliques personally. Here is why cliques form, from a site meant for teens.
2. Take time off. I’ll retreat to my room or go outside for some quiet time when I feel overwhelmed or tired. There’s no need to maximize every minute by being with other people. Time off will be more useful and positive than bitching about other attendees, as I just did above.
3. Focus on the positive. I will focus my energy on what’s working:
- How lucky I am to be at a conference where I get to meet people I admire and learn
- The pleasure of meeting people who read this blog or have read my book
- The unexpected joy of hitting it off with someone I just met
- How much I enjoy being with people in the same field.
4. Stop comparing. Someone is always going to have a better book deal, more readers, more speaking opportunities, more ad revenue, nicer clothes, more prestigious freelancing gigs, better writing skills, and more hangers-on. I’ll never win, playing that game.
5. Get some perspective. I return from conferences inspired about new projects, leads, and ideas. I meet lots of fascinating people and learn from them. Then I come home to my husband, friends and family, and to my work, and I’m grateful to get back to it all.