You know how this thing goes.” — Drake
So I posted this, then pulled it down, and am now reposting it in a different light. Originally I wrote it for me as a brain dump because I couldn’t let the feelings fester (writing is my release), and pulled it down thinking I was too wide open. After talking to some people and sleeping on it, I was reminded that I’m not alone. You may hear two different voices, as I’ve heavily edited after a good night’s sleep. Hopefully with this reframing, it will be helpful to others beyond me. I remember writing a post after my first ISTE, and also two last year while eating tostadas in a San Antonio airport. Somehow, I think I missed years 2 and 3, but here is a reflection from year 5.
This happens every year. I keep hoping that it will be different but it never is. I always forget about it, or even forget how bad it is, until I find myself here once again. This year I tried to put safeguards in place, but I think it’s actually getting worse. I don’t know what to call it, so I’ll just try to explain.
In 2014, I came to my first big edtech conference. Things were different then…I had just gotten connected about a year before. At the time, I had a few district and state conferences under my belt. The week before, I had just gone to three conferences (one even in Canada) to present. This was probably the official beginning of my time “on the circuit.”
Things were going great. I started meeting people face to face with whom I had spoken online for the previous year, and it was incredible!
There was one event I signed up for on a Monday night, having seen the guest list a few months before and hoping to connect with a good friend with whom I had amazing conversations online.
My friend couldn’t make it that night. I went to the event, knowing more of my Twitter buddies would be there, too. There was assigned seating, so I ended up sitting with several people whom I did not know. There were also discussion prompts. It was very well-planned and executed. As a shy person, I struggled a lot, but made a new friend on my way out the door. Overall, it was a good experience.
The next morning, I was in a Voxer group with a different friend and some people I didn’t know well. Someone who knew the organizers was asking about the event. I shared my thoughts verbally, and she responded via text with one word: “interesting.”
I’m not a mind-reader, so maybe the person genuinely thought the feedback was interesting…but I interpreted that as having stuck my foot in my mouth yet again and accidentally insulting people. After a few uncomfortable hours, I left the group.
Some folks may think this is extreme, and you may be right. I’m not sure. But at the time, I felt like that was the only thing I could do to save face. I feel like I am always walking on eggshells trying not to offend people (in most cases). This is not a way to live and I need to do better. Apparently burying myself under a blanket is the preferred tool in my arsenal.
I remember sitting on the bed, on my phone, much as I’m doing now (this part was written Tuesday morning). I was on Facebook; this time it’s Medium. I wanted to disappear (putting it as mildly as possible). This was not the first or last time I would feel this way. Eventually, I got myself together and went to the conference. I had a good rest of my time for the most part. I didn’t know most people there, so I was uninhibited, even getting on the big stage at karaoke (one of my favorite things in life). There, I solidified friendships and made new ones.
Year two was alright. I don’t remember what triggered the “need to disappear” feeling that year. I presented and hit a few social events, but spent most of my evenings burying myself under a blanket.
Year three, I just remember more blankets, and blaming the altitude.
Last year was a roller coaster. It was a big one for me professionally, thanks to ISTE, but a train wreck emotionally (at least the second half). I had the biggest conference meltdown to date (yes, that’s totally an annual thing with me) and even more blanket time.
I remember this one very well. Yet again, I wanted to disappear. That’s all I could think repeatedly while laying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, to the point where I was almost catatonic. I prayed for something external to eject me from confronting these self-sabotaging feelings that I don’t fully understand.
Partially to blame was feeling overwhelmed, having recently missed my original dissertation defense date in a traumatic way, wondering if I had wasted the last 10 years of my life and an amount of money I’d rather not talk about. Also, anxiety played a huge part. I am not great with conversation, although I play the part of extrovert better and more convincingly every year.
A few years back, there was a lot of buzz at this conference about how various people are stuck up F2F, when online they present themselves differently. For the record, I am not a fan of social media hierarchy in any form. None of us are any more important than anyone else.
That being said, I always wonder how many of the “stuck up” people might be living the same struggle. While I try to convince myself I don’t care what anyone thinks of me, if we’re being honest, I do. The last thing I want is for someone to mistake my awkwardness for something else. It’s kinda funny…I made a conscious decision that day back in 2014 that I was going to stay true to me, instead of once again faking and trying to be someone else (like my first year of teaching lol). But here I am, faking an entire persona.
Well, maybe not entirely. This is me, a more polished version of the Sarah that my close friends and family know (they don’t mind the occasional rough edges)…and I try to draw the essence of Me out, like I’m a walking distillery.
I’ve become better at faking my way through small talk, but I’m horrible with social cues and don’t know how to gracefully exit a conversation. At a conference with 20k+ people, you will undoubtedly bump into folks you know. And it never happens when you want it to, like day one when you’re rested and excited and ready to carpe diem. No. It tends to happen when you’re in the middle of a meltdown. I still have not figured out a graceful way to say, “I would love to talk but I’m currently seconds away from losing it and have to get the ____ out of here. I hope to catch up with you at another time during the conference when I can leave a much better impression.”
I bury myself so I don’t have to.
Please don’t mistake anything I am saying above. I absolutely love my friends with whom I connect and collaborate online. I am not in any way saying that I don’t want to talk. Sometimes I’m good…sometimes I’m a hot mess. As for the latter, I’m working through it. I hope people receive this post in the spirit it’s intended…an explanation, and a thank you for those of you who have seen that side of me and love me anyway. I love you to the moon and beyond.
The title of this post is inspired by a Drake song, “Know Yourself.” Yeah, I suppose that’s what this is. At one point, he says, “I was running through the 6 with my woes…you know how that ish goes.” I had forgotten that was even a line in the song. I had always figured “woes” was short for “whoadie,” like friends, etc. Then I Googled it, because I had no idea what the 6 was except a train line in NYC (thanks J. Lo).
The first hit I saw said that the 6 is part of Toronto, and “woes” are like literal woes, because the album is about all Drake’s problems. Mind blown.
But then I read another link, and apparently I was right with my initial thoughts.
That’s the thing about art. You see whatever you want in it. For me, this post could go either way. Last year around this time, I spoke about PLF (personal learning family) during an ignite. That’s not just a buzzword; this is life.
There are two kinds of connections you make on social media: the surface ones like, “hey, I’m Sarah, and I teach ____. Here are a few things I think. Ok, see you next time.” Then there are the deeper connections (aka “the family”).
The deep connections are those where you get to truly know someone. The first time you get together F2F, it may feel like a high school reunion. The second time, you may be invited to their house for dinner, or sleeping on their couch.
There is nothing wrong with surface connections. I do not for one bit take these for granted, as this is where everything starts. But we have to go deeper.
Of course, not everyone will be a deep connection…we only have 24 hours in the day. However, it’s so important to get to know a multitude of different people with backgrounds other than yourself. I’m sure most of us have experienced in some form disagreeing with a friend vs. disagreeing with a stranger. When we argue with strangers, it’s easy to write someone off and say, “that woman/guy is a jerk” and feel validated in our feelings. When we argue with friends, though, at least for me, I find myself playing the conversation back in my mind over and over, trying to see if s/he had a point. Maybe s/he thinks that way because of something that s/he has experienced, which I have not. Then, we have the chance to reflect and maybe even revisit the conversation, and grow. Recently, someone (I think it was Tara Linney in her Girls Can Code session) said something to the effect that we grow when we are uncomfortable. This rang true in so many ways.
Another thing about coming together as family is that we can be ourselves. There are no airs. I don’t feel like I have to be Distilled Sarah. I can be me, rough edges…introvert struggles…like Beyonce said, “Flaws and All.”
So again, I thank you for “getting me,” even if I don’t.
I’m almost 37 years old and still don’t understand this incredible urge to want to be invisible. To some degree, I do. Whether imagined or not, most of my life, I’ve felt like I’ve been dissected…and judged…and deemed unworthy…and written off…and ignored. Being invisible is easy. It’s been my m.o. for a really long time. It’s skipping all of the hard stuff, going straight to the inevitable.
But now people seem to be listening. The last few years, everything seemed to turn around so fast I couldn’t keep up. You always wonder in the back of your mind when the eye of the storm will pass. Baggage doesn’t just disappear, you just get better at hiding it…that is, until you unpack it and put it away. My goal is to one day get to that point.
So, I think part of this feeling is just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
This year was supposed to be different. I was trying to avoid the temptation to overcommit and be everywhere and do all of the things with all of the people. Not good enough. I ended up doing very few of the things with very few of the people, on the first three days I was in town. Then, I hit a wall.
What went wrong? I don’t know for sure. My hypothesis is that while I did better with not overpacking my calendar, and even built in a day to get caught up when I get home, I neglected the pre-game. Just as we need time to catch our breath afterwards, we also need time beforehand. You don’t run a marathon if you just did one the day before; over the last 12 months, my life has been a series of marathons, with very little recovery time in between.
In the future, I will try to do better. I regret missing out on some great opportunities.
Yesterday as I was walking, I realized three things that have helped me this year, which coincidentally all start with M:
Movement: When I start feeling like I need to escape, I try to find the first available exit and walk as far away as I can until I calm down or find something interesting. A few places have bikes. Those work, too.
Music: Listening to music is good. Making or performing music is better. There is a reason I only write songs when I’m sad…because the emotion keeps eating at me until I do something productive with it. Anyway, this year, I rented out a rehearsal space and jammed with an old friend from high school. I felt better immediately.
There is a karaoke event here, but I never seem to make it. The first year I did, and it was cool. The second year I got there late and it was pointless. I didn’t go back year three or four, and this year is also a no. So I’m glad we got the rehearsal space, which was a highlight for me.
Meetups: Every year we do a meetup, where people get together to meet their PLN F2F. There is also an ulterior motive. Meetups help me see everyone I need to catch up with, without driving myself nuts to coordinate schedules. This can be super-stressful, and pre-planning helps me to keep my stress down. Hopefully the meetups help other people connect with a large number of folks in a short period, too.
I started writing this yesterday when I was in crisis mode. Now I am sitting at the airport, and got here about six hours early, which was probably the smartest thing I could have done. I feel better. I feel more like myself.
I’m sure I will be back again next year, but hopefully I will do it smarter. Drake says to “Know Yourself,” and this year, I think I do a little more.