This was the second year I attended the SXSW conference. I learned a ton of awesome new processes and tools to use at work and got some affirmation that I’ve been doing things semi-correctly with what I already do at my job. But one of the biggest and most impactful things I learned was not necessarily work related at all and it wasn’t something I expected.
First off, I just want to say that SXSW (South by Southwest in Austin, TX) is viewed by many as just a massive party. A “let’s go get drunk everyday and listen to a bunch of kick-ass music and eat a ton of good food” type of event. And to some extent, it is for some people. For those of you who do know what it is, I won’t bore you, so skip the next paragraph. For those of you who don’t, I’ll give you a high level explanation.
SXSW consists of 3 major conference tracks: Interactive, Music, and Film. It spans an intense 2 week period in Austin, TX and people come from all over the world to learn from some of the most innovative, genius-like people. I attended the Interactive conference, which covers topics anywhere from VR/AR futuristic-like stuff to new design processes and tools that are being used by companies like Google, Netflix, AirBnB, and so many others that I won’t name drop.
Welcome back folks who skipped over the last paragraph! So, to continue with what impacted me the most. I can sum it up into two words. (I bet you have a guess already cause I’m cool and made it the title of my post.)
This was a theme I picked up on throughout all 23 of the sessions I went to and after having countless “OMG, I’m not the only one?!” type moments.
I was fortunate to attend SXSW with a couple of really awesome people, one of them being my co-worker, Amy Markham. She said something to me one night after our brains were turned into mush from sitting in sessions all day.
“You are not the you you think you are. You are only the you that people perceive you to be.”
At the time she said it, I was seriously considering sending her back to the hotel in a cab to go to bed cause that sounded like a big ‘ole pile of nonsense. But instead, I sat and thought about it a little longer and it started to make sense the more we talked. So I’ll attempt to explain our thoughts around it. Beware, this is my first blog post so it’s probably going to be a little bumpy.
Have you ever strategically picked out an outfit that made you look a certain way to certain people you would encounter that day/night? Something you may not be very comfortable in or is not really your style but you wanted the people you would see to perceive you a certain way? The fact is, everyone will see something different. So even if you look super sleek and like you have your shit together to the people you wanted to impress, someone else you encounter may look at you and see someone who tries way too hard or someone that is too stuck up to be nice or some other random thought you get whenever you look at a person.
My thought on this is that no matter what you do, everyone will have a different perception of who you are and what you are like. So stop spending so much time putting on a facade and masking who you really feel you are and just do you! If you already have come to this realization, you rock, keep doing you.
Oh wow, Emily, that sounds so easy. Let’s just all be ourselves and go frolicking through a field of puppies together because we all accept each other for who we are! Yeah, I get it guys, it’s hard. Your insecurities and the desire to be like someone else get in the way big time. But everyone wants to feel comfortable in their own skin, right? At least Amy and I do.
Looking at this issue in this different way helped us realize that it’s not as hard as we thought. That same night in Austin, with that so fresh in our minds, we decided to give it a shot. We were our true, 100% authentic, goofy selves. By the end of the night, we ended up getting the VP of Design at Walmart to come join us out on a completely empty dance floor while we danced like a couple of idiots with large light up foam glow-sticks shoved into the ponytails we had heaped together on top of our heads. If you ever want the full story, let me know. I’ve got plenty of great photo/video documentation.
The thing we realized that night is that this thought we had come across earlier on in the day was so true. No one we encountered perceived us the same. Sure we got a ton of weird looks, but we also got a lot of high fives and got everyone to stop being so shy and just dance because they really wanted to deep down. And they thought they couldn’t look stupider than the couple of white-ass Nebraskans dancing around with giant glow-sticks in their hair.
I find it that some of the most influential people I know of are people who don’t hold back who they really are. They are being honest humans. They show their stupid and human-like things that makes them who they are. They are the type of people that get over the fact that women aren’t “suppose to” burp because they are suppose to be “womanly” and they get in a belching contest at a bar with a group of guys because they want to. They don’t care about how others will perceive them. Yes, some will hear it and think, “Wow that’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk to her.” But some may think, “Holy cow, this girl is kinda cool and is challenging the norm by belching all 27 letters of the alphabet.”
I’m not saying all women should go have belching contests cause things would get a little stinky and weird. But by accepting those odd little quirks about yourself and not masking them because you’re afraid of the perception of others, you’ll learn more about who you really are and realize you are cool as shit, no matter what people perceive you as.
So to wrap back around to the theme, honest humanity… Be honest with yourself. Because no matter what you do, you won’t please everyone, no one will have the same perception of you, and you’ll end up losing the true you you feel you are in the midst of it all. My beliefs lead me to know that God made us all different for so many reasons, so accept those reasons and embrace yourself for you.
Be an honest human.