I’m so very excited to attend my first “big” BlogHer next week, but I must admit that I’ve felt increasingly disheartened to see the frequency with which the word “stress” has been paired with the meeting. And a lot of the stress seems to stem from adolescent roots. For most of us, adolescence involved a considerable amount of unpleasant memories that now are - at best - absurd or amusing to reminisce about but aren’t anything we’d like to relive. My unsavory memories mostly centered around socio-economic issues; for example, when a couple of girls wouldn’t let me sit with my friends at a designated cafeteria table because I didn’t meet the table “requirements” (owning at least 3 pairs of Guess jeans and 2 of those Benetton insignia sweaters with the giant “B” on it).
Those social displays left a bad taste in my mouth so it's no wonder that I’m eager for people to check their adolescent baggage at the door in Chicago. Here are five stress points I have heard rumblings about, recommendations for coping, and thoughts on why it’s particularly important for parents to disengage from the cycle of self and peer judgment.
Agenda. Any conference includes a small group of a speakers and a majority of non-speakers, some of whom wonder why they weren’t asked to speak. If you’re feeling grouchy that you weren’t asked to speak, remember that conferences are about hearing about and learning from other people’s experiences. If you have useful, enlightening stories to share, consider asking for the microphone during the Q & A (when relevant of course), or there will be plenty of chances to swap stories with people throughout the agenda.
Parties. The three chief complaints I have heard all center around exclusion.
Complaint #1 = There are too many parties; I can’t get to them all!
Solution = There are, in fact, a crazy number of parties and unless you have superhuman powers or enjoy running yourself into the ground, you will not get to them all. So why not pick a couple of favorites and focus on enjoying those events?
Complaint #2 = I didn’t RSVP in time for a particular party and now I feel totally left out.
Solution = If RSVPs are full for various parties, remember that there will be the BlogHer cocktail parties that are (assumedly) open to all. Or use the time to catch up with a group of friends. Or go soak your aching dogs in a bubble bath in your hotel room. Remember, beyond the parties there will be plenty of time to connect with people through the day.
Complaint #3 = What’s up with these private suite parties I wasn’t invited to? I feel excluded.
Solution = The reality is that private suite parties probably are limited to people with existing relationships with the host, otherwise the cost would be exorbitant and/or the result reminiscent of the opening scenes from The Hangover. Instead of feeling bad that you weren’t on a particular contact list, enjoy using that time to make new friends and spend time with old pals. If there is a particular host company to which you'd like to connect, outreach to them on your own or ask a friend if they would be willing to make an introduction sometime during the weekend.
Attire. This is possibly the top stressor of late, particularly given the recent news that Tim Gunn will be at BlogHer.
Now, I should caveat by saying that I love clothes and jewelry and shoes. I will not be wearing sweatpants at BlogHer because when I’m out and about, particularly amidst grownups (i.e., there’s a reasonable chance I’ll make it through an outing without chocolate milk, peanut butter, sand, or finger paints smeared on my clothing) I like looking pretty. But I do not care the least bit whether YOU will be wearing sweatpants. Or even Guess jeans or an 80’s Benetton sweater with a giant "B" on it. I just want to chat with you and find out what you love blogging about.
So, if you’re in a tailspin over your BlogHer wardrobe – reallocating the family grocery budget to new clothing, stealth shopping with the secret credit card your partner doesn’t know exists, or just generally feeling unhappy and full of dread – STOP and BREATHE. Remember that the point of the meeting is to connect with other bloggers and listen and learn. If another blogger is going to judge you for what you are wearing then you probably wouldn’t really jive with them anyway. Not to mention that if you are carrying the guilt and misery of blowing the family budget on clothes, shopping on the sneak, or just feeling generally uncomfortable in what you’re wearing, you will not be happy…inside or out.
Bottom line: if you like dressing up, go for it, but don’t look down on others who choose to dress differently. If you like dressing casual, wear what makes you feel happy and comfortable and be content with and confident in that.
And as for Tim, the reality is that the majority of us probably will get nowhere near him or remotely be on his radar.
Elbow rubbing. There are two issues here. The first relates to the blind eye people can turn when others are in distress. People are stressing about knowing people (or rather, not knowing people) and being alone. I encourage everyone to reach out to what ultimately is your community and make folks feel welcome. If you are an extrovert and someone at your table or near you in a crowd clearly is unfettered and looking petrified, introduce yourself and welcome her into your conversation. If you are an introvert and do know a few people who will be there, be open about the fact that you are nervous and that you don’t want to be a tag along but would appreciate some moral support and a few introductions, then try to take a couple of steps out on your own to meet people.
The second issue relates to the general discontent that surrounds this whole issue of “A-list bloggers.” The actual scientific calibration of this term still escapes me but it basically is another adolescent-rooted construct that ultimately can make people feel really crappy. Again, I hope we all can focus on the conversations and connections, rather than any vague and arbitrary “quantifications” of blogger status.
Collateral. Finally, I have heard stress over having business cards and other promotional materials to pass out. I definitely think calling cards are handy to have (easier and faster than scribbling on a cocktail napkin), and as a designer it’s easy for me to whip up a batch. But if you are not in this situation, I recommend one of two things: 1) If you don’t know how to design cards there are lots of inexpensive places with template designs (e.g., Overnight Prints, Vistaprint) where you can knock something together quickly. Or even just print up simple cards on your own with the relevant contact information (name, blog, URL, Twitter handle, etc.). 2) If you don’t have the money or time to get cards made up, ask people for their cards then follow up after the meeting to share your information by email.
Why a perspective shift matters, especially for parents. From a parenting perspective, the reason it feels so imperative that we – the alleged grownups – shed the self and peer judgment is because our kids notice every single thing we do and say. If they see us criticize our or other people’s clothes or bodies, they turn a critical eye on themselves and others. If we’re catty or cruel, they take that as a sign that we think that behavior is OK and they mimic that behavior on the playground at another child's expense. Obviously, it’s very challenging to be 100% unconditionally accepting of ourselves and others because yes, various people and experiences will challenge positive assumptions. But the universe could certainly benefit from mojo that starts from a baseline that is kind and accepting, not cruel and excluding. When I see these negative social issues already playing out in my 4-year-old daughter's classroom, I feel more than ever the need to take action and model accepting behavior, both to myself and others.
I'm really excited about attending BlogHer because I love being part of this community and I'm so looking forward to seeing my blog friends, making new ones, learning from others, and just having time to kick back and not worry about the piles of laundry and dishes and other household minutia of everyday. If you are suffering stress from any of the above (or other) points I hope you'll try to shift your perspective to one of self and peer acceptance. We all deserve to be free from suffering at the hands of the cafeteria table phenomena.