One of the big differences between the conference I went to last week, and the first time I attended, about four years ago, was that this time, I could tell what I needed to focus on, and what I needed to ignore to conserve my energy.
Part of the challenge is usually figuring out what matters the most, and that comes with experience. When you’re new at something, you often feel like you have to do everything (or at least try), so that you have all your bases covered. You don’t want to leave anything unchecked, you don’t want to be under-prepared, you don’t want to get taken by surprise. Especially when you’re new at something and you’re just learning those particular ropes.
That’s how it was, four years ago, when I first worked that conference. I was a nervous wreck, for weeks in advance. I was way over-prepared, with a clipboard full of printouts with notes and all sorts of color coding for where I was supposed to be, and when. And I ran myself ragged. I helped out anywhere I could — at registration, behind the scenes, running errands and interference for people. I was completely baked, by the end of the six-days I was there. It took me days (maybe weeks) to get back to normal.
The next year, it was a little better. I had fewer notes, and I relied a lot more on the vendor I was managing to do their job. I was there for five days, and I picked up some work here and there, to help out. I was tired at the end, but not destroyed, like I’d been the first year.
The year after that (last year), I was too sick to go to the conference. I was just getting over the flu, and there was no way I was going to make it in one piece.
This year, I went for four days, which was plenty, and I came out of it in good shape. I will need to catch up with my sleep, of course, but that will get done. I feel a tremendous sense of comfort and satisfaction at how things went, and I really got a lot out of the interactions with people there. It was more than I usually do, but it wasn’t enough to completely wreck me.
Probably the biggest difference between this conference and the last ones I went to, was that I didn’t get all worked up over every little thing. There was very low drama for me — some people had a lot, but I kept it pretty mellow, overall. I didn’t micromanage my staff, I just checked in, now and then to shoot the sh*t and make sure they had what they needed, and I let them do their thing. We know each other by now, which is a big help. And we trust each other, which is even better.
I also didn’t push myself to attend every last session that was offered. This conference is typically chock full of workshops that are interesting to me, but there was so much going on, and the sessions were about things I am interested in, but don’t do on a daily basis, so whatever I would learn, would have evaporated, anyway. I saved my energy. I hung out with my teammates. I mended bridges and talked some of my higher-strung colleagues down from their drama highs (and also pushed them a little to do the right thing they didn’t feel like doing). And I generally had a good time. I didn’t set all kinds of impossible goals for myself, and I didn’t measure my success based on how many strangers I talked to, or how good of an ambassador for the company I was.
My spouse also got to come with me, which was both a blessing and a challenge. They got pretty irritable at times because I was working so much and I didn’t have all the time in the world to spend on leisure. We also didn’t have the money to stay a few extra days in the warm, sunny weather, which was disappointing. But in the end, it was all okay, because they met up with friends who lived in the area, and they had plenty of time to kick back and relax in that beautiful place… which was good.
I also didn’t get waylaid and sucked into the drama when they would get angry at me in the mornings. They’ve got their own brain injury issues from several minor acquired brain injuries, a few years after my own last TBI, so much of what applies to me in the irritability department, also applies to them. When they are tired — or just waking up in the morning — they can be hell to deal with — very demanding, accusatory, needy, and pulling on me like crazy, while I’m trying to get out the door and go to work. This is especially true if they start to get anxious, which is frequent.
The difference between us, is that I know what it’s about and I manage it. But my spouse doesn’t see it as being anything unusual or irrational. They figure, they have every right to be irritable and to vent. And so they do. They just want to be “free and unfettered” and “let it all hang out”… and if I “cramp their style”, they lash out in anger. They get anxious and demand to be settled down and soothed, while my own plans are more and more delayed by their games. They don’t actually want to fix any of their anxiety — they just want to be soothed, calmed, feel like they’re being taken care of. Meanwhile, I’m running late… and getting more and more delayed all the time.
It’s very unpleasant. Some days, it just sucks.
But this vacation, I didn’t get pulled into the drama of them dragging me down and holding me in the hotel room in that choke-hold of “anxiety bartering”. I just kept saying, “I’ve gotta go…” and managed to extricate myself from that choke-hold. And I got myself out the door in one piece, in good shape. This is something I’ve been working on, and it went pretty well. I felt a bit guilty, as I was leaving the room, but that’s just the old routine wearing on me. I’ve got to break that cycle of emotional manipulation and control, so I can just get on with my life.
This trip, I managed to do that, and it worked out well. My spouse was not harmed by the experience of me leaving when I needed to go — they just rolled over and went back to sleep. And I made it to breakfast with a colleague on time… well, almost. I was a few minutes late.
The point is, I managed to figure out what was happening, when it was happening, and I figured out how to block out the anxiety static that was just standing between me and my goal of getting out the door. I was able to not get sucked into things that don’t have any reality and that don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things (problems that are self-invented fall into that category), and just get on with my day. And I think, in fact, my spouse was better for it.
Anyway, I’m back now, and speaking of being on time, I have some things I need to do by a certain time. Gotta get my mail from the post office, where they’ve been holding it. Gotta take my trash to the transfer station. Gotta get this day rolling in earnest.