#ACPA12 – the conference of redefinition

One of my strengths is input, and as you may have noticed, I am really enjoying the multiple ways in which Twitter has provided me the opportunity to expand my learning in all sorts of ways.  I’m learning about student affairs, social media & marketing, getting inspired about innovation & big ideas, and joining a network where I feel truly whole.  If you were me, you’d love this, too!  Enter the annual ACPA Convention.  I left New York feeling so excited for ACPA.  I was anxious to reach out and connect with new tweeps and for my amazing network to jump into action in “real life.”  I talked about it for days.  Tweetups were marked on my calendar.  This was going to be amazing!

And then it wasn’t.

First of all, let me say that this was no one’s “fault,” per se.  If there is anyone who owns responsibility for my in person tweetups not rocking, it is me.  Somehow, in all of my excitement, I managed to forget how introverted I really am and how much energy meeting new people takes from me.  Add that to a deluge of other energy drains on Saturday (interviewing for new jobs at C3, conducting interviews for my current institution, running 11 miles, and just plain missing my husband), and I was exhausted before I even started the conference.  On Sunday, I went into my directorate body meeting with a sense of utter fatigue only to realize I had some “stuff” churning inside me emotionally.  Oy.  My physical and mental weariness led way to my emotional decline and all of a sudden I was crying hard enough that I couldn’t stop the tears.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m totally a crier.  It’s often how I process.  But this — this was a very unexpected onslaught of sadness and anxiety.

In the past year, my relationships have changed a lot.  Getting married and moving across the country will do that to you.  Even before all that change, though, I had been focusing on becoming “whole.” You see, after a bad marriage (yup, I’m divorced) and a couple unhealthy relationships with no time on my own in between to heal, I needed some space to come into my own before I felt like I could truly be someone’s partner.  So I took that time.  And I became whole again.  While at ACPA, I realized I haven’t done that same intentional healing from those more recent relationship changes.  I left my family, two very dear friends, and my student affairs mentor behind in Iowa.  And while I truly enjoy my colleagues and have found comfort, support, and learning from them, I have not (yet?) developed the kind of deep & connected relationships I left behind.  Then again, I spent almost 30 years in Iowa, so 8 months isn’t really comparable.  Still, as I dealt with the changes in my friendships and support systems, changes that birthed holes of pain and hurt within me, I hid those holes deep within, where I wouldn’t have to deal with them.  Occasionally, a piece of that pain or hurt would bubble up, I would process it with my husband, pretend I resolved it, and push it back down.  This is not my usual coping method – I don’t often “bottle up” my emotions.  Yet, when it concerns my relationships with women, whether from long ago or more recent, that pain just stays with me.  Plus, I had Twitter and a whole world of social media to occupy my brain, temporarily calm the storm and help me ignore my heart.  Learning and engaging on Twitter was very low risk.  I felt very content with the relationships I was building online.

When I got to ACPA, a place that has always felt like home to me, I became very introspective.  I could no longer ignore the swirling chaos in my heart.  With the listening ear of an amazing woman, I gave voice to the chaos.  I found closure on some relationships, cracked open some doors I feared had forever closed with others, and strengthened my connection with some amazing women in my life.  Most of those processes occurred internally, though, and left very little emotional energy to engage in extroversion and new relationships. If I’m truthful, I know I have a lot more work to do to continue my healing before I am ready to build deep, lasting, trusting connections, particularly with other women.  ACPA and my work there brought me one step closer, though.  So, dearest tweeps, I look forward to continuing to learn from you and maybe next time around, we can truly connect.  In the interim, I’m going to seek places where I still need closure, seek support for the strength I need to be brave in the face of this pain and hurt, and try to give my heart the room to heal and begin again.  My “away” message: Seeking peace? Inquire within.

I am curious to hear about others’ conference tweetups experiences.  What does an authentic connection at a conference look like?  You’ve tweeted, maybe learned each other’s pedigrees, know some issues the other feels strongly about from a blog post or two, but how do you have that true and authentic connection? A small group within my directorate (all women) talked a lot about being introverted and the strains networking at conference creates.  Obviously, I related to that (have you been reading this post?).  Many of those women talked about how they get energy from those authentic connections, though.  We felt like sometimes, whether we are just nice and it’s what we’re supposed to do, but sometimes the “connecting” feels really fake.  Have you experienced that?  How did you handle it?  How do we, particularly the introverts among us, seek out those authentic connections among the fake “HI! So GREAT to meet YOU!s?

Thoughts and reflections welcome.  Let’s dialogue!

waiting for your comment, ekt.

This post also appears on The ACPA Unconference Blog: http://acpaunconference.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/acpa12-the-conference-of-redefinition/

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5 Comments

Filed under life stuff, relations, social media, student affairs, technology

5 responses to “#ACPA12 – the conference of redefinition

  1. Dear Sweet, Amazing Lady,
    I respond to your question with the loudest, boldest, most enthusiastic, “YES!” Yes, it is difficult for me to connect to people when I’m at Convention, mostly because I always tend to be in a hurry. I rush from one meeting, session, tweetup, meetup, speaker, to the next. BUT- the reason I do that?? To avoid “mingling.”

    I am, without a shadow of a doubt, the world’s worst “mingler.” I’d prefer to have an all-over salt scrub after shaving my legs then mingle. I’d rather go without Diet Coke for a month (and that’s a disaster in the making) then mingle. I hate it- and I’m bad at it.

    So- there- I don’t value mingling, I don’t value small talk. I do, however, value a lunch date, or a dinner date, or just sitting together in someone’s hotel room, talking about the NCIS marathon that’s about to come on USA. And because I value THOSE things, I tried, at least at ACPA12 to infuse my time with those experiences. I lunched with a former colleague and I coffeed with my former supervisor. Did I miss some sessions because I did this? Yup- sure did. Was my conference made better because of this? Yes, it sure was.

    In reflecting on my experience, though, I’m thinking that the amount of mingling that I forced myself to do (read: minimal) might have planted some seeds of new relationships. While I didn’t make a new BFF (but did grow closer to a few FFs), I probably started to build a connection (or connections) with folks that, in the future, I can lunch and coffee with. Maybe I’ll have an email exchange or trade some tweets with someone who really “gets” me. Because, in the end, isn’t that what makes a connection? The sense that you “get” each other?

    So- after I’ve hijacked YOUR blog, what I’d like to leave you with is this. YOU, Erica Thompson, made a connection with ME. While we’ve been classmates, friends, and champion case study partners, I consider you something more. Maybe it’s a sisterhood that we’re entering into here, who knows. But, I do know, that your introspection and personal work that you embarked on at ACPA didn’t impede the ability to connect- it enhanced the connection. You brought me along on your journey and, for that, I feel more a part of a relationship with you than ever before. (and you didn’t force me to mingle…) So, in sum, thank you.

    (See- I said I’m better in writing).

    • Oh, Kayla — how awesome for you to continue to push me to reframe and redefine. My ACPA12 experience continues : )

      I most definitely found several energy sources throughout the conference – YOU most definitely included!

      Thank you for reminding me that not all connections need to be awesome and 100% authentically perfect for them to still be connections. Seeds is such a wonderful way to refer to these moments. They aren’t the deep conversation I might have been craving (and which I got from people like you), but they were most definitely seeds. And clearly my expectations were unrealistic; after all, how do go from conversations in 140 character snippets to in person, intentional conversations? It was a harder transition than I anticipated.

      You are wonderful and brilliant, Kayla. I am touched by your comment (it made me cry – surprise, surprise) and am so grateful that our on-the-surface friendship from graduate school has blossomed into this deep and true sisterhood. Thank you for supporting me, affirming me, lifting me and transforming me.

      And Ciji, Kathy, Teri, and Jenna, it was absolutely wonderful to meet you all. I only wish I had more of myself to give in those short moments.

  2. Erica,

    I can’t tell you what a true connection at a conference might look like for someone else, but I do know it looked like for me last year. After tweeting for months with #sachat I had formed a friendship with another chatter. We were very much looking forward to seeing each other at the conference. But I was still surprised to get a text as soon as C landed “Where are you? I want to see you RIGHT NOW!”

    So ze came to lunch with us and it was an instant connection. I swear when we weren’t in sessions we were side by side sharing professional and personal stories. It was actually painful to say good-bye at the end of the conference.

    Then we both get caught-up in life. Text messages are few and far between, but ze was always there when I needed hir. Emails and a few Facebook posts. Next thing I know conference is here again. We try to put together an early scheduled meeting but we’re both busy well into Saturday night. Sadness! Until I’m crossing the street and walking right into a HUGE traffic blocking hug. Once again we are inseparable as much as possible. But this time we invited some new people into the fold. The connection is that it is beyond professional and into the personal and back again. It is there even when Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging are turned off.

    I feel like this is a very sappy response, but that is what connections do to me. 🙂

    J

    • Thank you so much for responding! I love that story! It’s definitely the kind of connection I was anticipating when I went to this ACPA…but sometimes life has other plans. Thanks again for sharing. ekt

  3. Pingback: Recap: Authentic Women in Student Affairs | Erica K. Thompson

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