On Kindness & Conferences
The 2014 conference of the American Herbalists Guild is starting today. I’m at Callaway Gardens, GA, and will probably be in the middle of presenting a 4.5 hour intensive on creating a virtual practice when this is posted.
Last night, when I was finalizing my notes I started thinking about my first AHG conference in 2001 (also in Georgia, coincidentally).
I had just wrapped up an apprenticeship with herbalist Monica Rude in NM and was driving cross country to begin an MS in herbal medicine at Tai Sophia (now MUIH). I was so excited to find that the conference happened to be on my way, and the timing was perfect. The registration fee was a significant expenditure for me, and I was saving money by camping alone in the woods near the conference site.
There I was, a super excited relatively novice herbalist at my first professional conference with real, live herbalists. I knew no one.
The presentations were awesome, although somewhat over my head. I had a hard time choosing which sessions to attend, because I wanted to know everything from all of them. Heaven.
But the social interactions… well, those were hard. I felt very alone, and it was difficult to “break in” to social circles. Everyone seemed to know others there, and there didn’t seem to be a great way to make connections. I was eating most meals alone and going back to my tent early after the sessions ended because it felt so awkward to go to the other events.
I’ll never forget that Sevensong reached out to me, noticed that I was there and new and asked questions about who I was, where I was coming from and drew me into the flock (so to speak). It made a huge difference for me.
My overall experience at that conference was isolating, however, and I left with an icky feeling.
Fortunately, that didn’t last long. Now that I’ve been around for a while, I know tons of people at most herb conferences. There are at least 20 friends & colleagues coming to this particular conference that I haven’t seen in years, and with whom I desperately want to spend some time. Some of my favorite people in the world will be there, and who can resist spending time with those kinds of friends?
Remembering my first experience at a conference, though, has been a great motivator for me to make sure that I’m being inclusive.
Almost 15 years later, I still notice that conferences aren’t easy for everyone. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd and feel like everyone else is busy catching up with friends. It’s easy to feel like you don’t have anyone to sit with at lunch. And not everyone is naturally good at striking up conversations with complete strangers (cough, cough… example: me).
My reaching-out resolution
Even though I am approximately 1/100th as outgoing as Sevensong, I make the following little personal resolution whenever I attend conferences where I’m part of an established community:
My goal is to reach out to at least 2 complete strangers on every day of the conference. Especially people who look like they might be there alone or who don’t know very many people.
Not only have I met some very cool people this way, but I also hope that I’m helping some people feel welcome into our little herbal community.
Here are some of my ideas & things I’ve counted my two “reach outs” per day:
- Sit next to a stranger at a presentation and ask where she’s from
- Invite someone who’s eating alone to join me + friends or sit at a table with someone who’s eating alone
- Ask people to introduce themselves to the people sitting around them when I’m giving presentations
- Look around at social events and notice if anyone seems to be alone
- Introduce people that you’ve just met to friends & point out any areas of connection
- Don’t always team up with friends when asked to form groups
I know some of you are naturally good at doing this without any reminders, and for those of you like me who might need a bit of a nudge, I hope you’ll also consider reaching out to a few new folks the next time you’re at a conference as well.
So excited to see some of you in Georgia this year, especially new faces :). Come say hi!
Side story/Herbal Success!
I also happened to develop a horrible tooth infection at that 2001 conference, after an trip to a bargain basement dentist in Mexico (don’t ask). Like, really bad, throbbing pain that set in on the first day of the conference. So the social problems could have been at least partly due to the INTENSE garlic odor emanating from every pore in my body (per Sevensong’s recommendation… something else I have to thank him for) :). I actually went to the ER, but was turned away because they don’t do dental work. When I made it to the dentist early the next week, he commented that this was the first time he’s ever NOT given antibiotics in a situation like this (cracked tooth with a filling put in over the crack, which had not been properly cleaned out = trapped infection beneath the filling), and recommended that I continue my garlic after my root canal in lieu of antibiotics (despite what he politely noted as a “strong” odor).