Life Lessons Learned... at a Conference?

What you're about to read is probably the most personal blog post I've written to date. Wonder if I'm the only one who's ever had this type of experience. Yes, at a conference.

Four years ago this week, I attended my very first real conference ever. Most of you have heard of SXSW, but for those who aren't familiar, South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) is an annual conference held in Austin, TX where tech-lovers from all over get together to network, learn about the latest technologies and cut loose. I was fortunate enough to attend and present at TalentNet, a recruiting conference held during SXSWi. It was a life-changing experience. Really.

First off, I got to meet about 150 of my biggest recruiting idols... all in one day. For this mom who'd been working from home for ten years prior, it was like meeting Elvis times 150. I'd been following them all on social, voraciously reading every single word of every single blog post and engaging online as much as humanly possible. Along with my LinkedIn connections, they were my lifeline to the outside world. (As much as I love my kiddos, I just am not the type that thrives on playdates, Barney and playing Barbie all day. I'll own that!) I lived for the online interaction, engagement, education and professional development that these recruiting mentors provided. And to finally have that IRL moment? Times 150? Incredible!

I expected my first conference experience to include a lot of networking and learning about recruiting best practices, strategies, technologies and trends – and it did! – but on the flight home, I somehow found myself reflecting even more about the overall life lessons gained from the week’s experiences. The list that follows first appeared on my Twitter stream, but I think it’s pretty applicable to others in today’s working world, so here it is for all of you… expanded a bit beyond the 140 character limit.

Life lesson #1: When you get together with others who love the same things you love, it’s a pretty magical experience. Whether you love gadgets, gaming, social media, recruiting, film, music, etc., a conference is a time to bond with people who truly “get” you and can finish your sentences in ways that your friends, family or even your spouse never could. Pure magic.

Life lesson #2: Dance more. Even if you have to do it alone in your living room. SXSWi is full of information sessions, product demos, and networking events, but the parties are a big part of it too. That weekend unlocked a part of me that had been buried for a long time. Too long.

Life lesson #3: There is something very cool about being a geek and owning it. Confidence is king and I met some awesome nerds this weekend that oozed “cool” out of every pore in their body. Geek pride all the way, baby.

Life lesson #4: The real heroes in this world are the people who go out of their way to help others. I met quite a few of those people that weekend and they really are my heroes. I’m confident that they ended up where they are because of this generous spirit and I’m sure they’ll continue to do well because of it.

Life lesson #5: Letting go of things you can’t control and just going with the flow is an amazingly freeing feeling. For a Type-A person like me, SouthBy was a great time to just let other people “drive” for a change and just go with the flow…. no planning, no stressing, no controlling. Must remember to do this more often!

Life lesson #6: There’s a time and a place for everything. Pitching your company / product / services during the conference? Cool. Monopolizing someone’s time during the after-party with a 20-minute infomercial? Not cool. Don’t be “that” guy!

Life lesson #7: Life is too short to not dance in the rain when given the chance. That year’s attendees at SXSWi were treated to a rare downpour that dropped several inches of rain in a few hours. At first, I was one of the crowd hovering under a dripping awning. But the band kept playing so I decided to seize a rare opportunity to get out there and do something a little crazy and outside of my comfort zone. I was all alone on that dance floor for the longest five seconds of my life before everyone joined me. One of the scariest and most exhilarating moments of this wallflower's life and one I'll never forget.

Life lesson #8: Following the crowd is rarely worth it. Ignore the hype. Trust your gut… it’s usually right. I only waited in a couple of long queues before I realized that those lines were sometimes just a sign of a good marketing team, not necessarily a good event. Following the crowd just wastes your precious time and distracts you from wherever you’re meant to be.

Life lesson #9: The most successful people aren’t necessarily better or smarter than you. They just took action. A new friend shared those words of wisdom with me and they really hit home. "You’re better than you think so stop talking about it and just go do it."

Sometimes you need to change the channel for a few days to really see things from a new perspective. It’s amazing the things you'll learn about others, your industry and yourself. If you haven’t had a chance to attend a conference lately, I highly recommend you make it a priority.

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