In two days I'll drive down to New York for the BlogHer Conference, that annual extravaganza where a small town's worth of bloggers (most women) descend on a hotel for a few nights of non-stop schmoozing, partying, and talking shop.
Or panicking, looking around awkwardly, and hiding in corners.
To each her own, right?
Okay, so my title was a bit much. I'm not on a reality television show, I'm not here to "win it," and I'm not anti-social (at least not on purpose). I paid good money to spend 48 hours with these thousands of women, and I've been looking forward to it for months. I want to have an awesome time and meet lots of fun new people. But the closer I get, the louder my inner middle schooler gets. Will they like me? Who will I sit with at lunch? What if I'm dressed wrong? What if someone notices I've gained weight? (a sign that things have really derailed, but one of my mind's favorite completely irrelevant things to throw into any 'ol insecurity fest) How can I be here when I took over a year off blogging? How can I talk to these REAL bloggers? Who do I think I am?
There is no lack of information online about how to "do" blogging conferences, and especially this one, as an introvert or an anxious person. Take things at your own pace. Go back to your room to recharge. Let your business cards talk for you. Remember to just have fun.
And they're all good points. Many of these articles end with the author sharing how they overcame their overwhelm, discovered their tribe, and went home with the best friends of their life, whom they've reconnected with every year at the conference.
Here's the problem: I went to BlogHer. Back in 2012. I read all those articles in preparation, and I was ready for transformation and serious best-friend-making. There were some awesome parts of the trip. But I spent a lot of time standing around feeling awkward. I didn't know what to talk to people about. Or I did - blogging. But I still felt 12 years old and shy and like I didn't belong. I didn't come home with new friends, let alone a best friend. Sure, I left with some new twitter accounts to follow and some new folks I super-duper admired and mildly stalked, but no one that I maintained a real friendship with.
And I'm a friendly person. But I couldn't relax. I felt the whole time like I was on overdrive. Afterwards I couldn't figure out how to keep any of the smaller connections going. I commented on some people's blogs. They commented on mine. But eventually the connection wore thin. Those that kept a thread at all seemed more like bloggy acquaintances. I've admitted I'm not that great at online friendships anyway.
I felt overwhelmed and like a failure. What had I done wrong?
I noticed the BlogHer Conference emails and the twitter posts the next few years, but I pushed away any desire I felt to go by remembering that feeling of failure.
This year I wanted to go back. It's been three years, and I feel newly recommitted to blogging. There are things I want to learn about and improve. I want to hear from experts, and I want to talk to some brands, and yes, I want to say Hi to a few people I read on the web.
And what has occurred to me is this: maybe the BlogHer Conference is just that - a conference. It's not where I'll meet my best friend (I already have some awesome ones). It's not where I'll discover my true home (I have a great one). It's not where I'll finally feel like I can be myself (I'm learning to do that over and over everyday, everywhere).
My expectations were all out of whack.
It's so awesome that there are people who go to BlogHer and find their perfect place, who party until they can't stand up anymore, who meet their friendship soul mates. Maybe this year I'll surprise myself and become one of them. But I don't think so.
No, BlogHer is where I will learn more about being a good writer and crafting interesting headlines and engaging my readers. It's where I'll figure out what's really involved in "partnering" with a brand. It's where I will meet other bloggers and talk about creativity and finding time to show up and developing an online presence. It's where I'll become inspired my hearing the truly exceptional words of authors I admire. It's where I will focus on the skills to help me become better at this thing I love.
I have no doubt I'll meet some freaking awesome folks in between.
But as for making fabulous life-long friends and having the best weekend of my life?
I'm letting my 12-year old self off the hook on that one.
p.s. I did get to pretend to be a Rockette, which made my 12-year old self very happy.