Each Year We Get Better
Every year, we get a better at smoothing the edges of what we’re inventing — our businesses, our community, and this event that we build together when we walk into that room.
At SOBCon08, a beautiful young woman joined us. She signed up with only her first name. She was in the room the whole time, but I didn’t get to know her well. This year she returned with her full name and seemed so much more involved. As I read her story, I wish I had reached out to her more last year. She’s inspired me to make sure that I look to do that more.
Reflections on the ROI of SOBCon09 by Amy LeForge
I’m just home from a weekend in Chicago for SOBCon09. The theme this year was The Return On Investment (ROI) of Relationships and I’ve been reflecting on what my personal ROI is for this trip. This was actually my second time attending SOBCon. That fact came as a surprise to more than one of the attendees this year when I introduced myself. The reason they were surprised is because they didn’t remember me from last year. That’s right. I went to a marketing/business/entrepreneurial/blogging conference last year and hid. I sat back in the shadows and listened and learned. I made a few friends, but I shied away from actually stepping out and having conversations or building relationships.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no one to blame for this but me. No one at SOBCon was (or is) anything less than stellar and wonderful and amazing. Every last one of them. I was out of my comfort zone the entire time; it was clear that I was in the company of people who knew and understood so much more than I and I was intimidated. I do not exaggerate when I tell you I sobbed for a good deal of the drive home last year.
I have long wondered what caused my attack of shyness. My husband, upon hearing me describe what had happened at SOBCon08, was quite puzzled. “You’re not shy,” he said. And he’s right. I’m not. Perhaps it’s that I’m an introvert, but even that label does not completely fit. It’s true that I am a listener, but I also love to tell stories. I wouldn’t be a blogger if I didn’t.
I came to SOBCon09 bound and determined to do better. This meant stepping far out of my comfort zone and forcing myself to join conversations, ask questions, and get to know people. Most frightening were the evening social gatherings. I went anyways. (I won’t lie to you: I had to have several rather stern talks with myself about not giving up and running away.)
If you talk to SOBCON attendees from years past you’ll hear how people walk in as strangers and leave as family. Friendships are forged that extend far beyond the boundaries of this one weekend. It’s all true.
I cannot begin to adequately describe how kind and welcoming people were, or how blessed I am to have been able to friend so many. Even when I very honestly said, “I’m scared out of my wits here,” I was warmly received and supported.
It was a conversation with Chris Cree that really crystallized things for me. When you feel so completely out of your league, as though you’re surrounded by people who are just so far ahead of you it’s emotionally exhausting. You finish every day just raw inside. Chris told me he knew what that felt like; that he had experienced it himself and that fear was playing a big role. That’s when I realized: sometimes we need to change what we fear.
I was reminded of a field trip I arranged for my behaviorally disordered students to a ropes course several years ago. If you’ve never seen a ropes course, it’s basically an obstacle course about 20 feet off the ground. I got it into my head that my class would benefit from doing the course.
Have I mentioned that I’m afraid of heights?
There were safety harnesses of course, but that didn’t stop me from almost passing out at one particular obstacle. Two trees were a few feet apart, each with a small platform. All I had to do was step from one platform across open space to the other. It couldn’t have been more than an 18-inch gap. With all the kids watching I didn’t dare to quit so I took the step. In order to succeed, I had to change what I was afraid of.
This weekend, I was blessed with the wisdom, expertise, time, and friendship of more people than I have space to acknowledge here. I cannot begin to put a value on the support I received or the help I was given. I deserve none of it. I am no more special than anyone else and yet I walk away having been given priceless gifts. I doubt I could ever thank people enough.
So what was my ROI on SOBCon09? Huge. Priceless. Beyond description.
And guys? No longer will I allow fear to stop me from walking into a room to make new friends. No longer will I allow myself to run and hide when I really need to stand and shine. Instead, I will fear letting you down by not using what you’ve taught me. I fear disappointing you after having been given so much.
I have changed what I am afraid of.
Amy LeForge writes about the successes, failures, and funny stories of being a parent at Earnest Parenting. You’ll find her on Twitter as @EarnestOne
I’ve been afraid like Amy has been. Sometimes, in some rooms, I find I still am.
I was afraid when I read this blog post that she, you, and me would only see that I let her down last year. It’s hard to think someone has courageous as she is would have feel so sad on her way home.
But so much would be lost if I didn’t share her story.
I had to change what I’m afraid of. I don’t want it to happen again.
A new outcome is inside a new point of view.
How can you change what you’re afraid of?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz!!
@earnestone Exactly! Great insight Amy!
Robert Hruzek says
What a great testimonial to the power of relationships, Liz!
Amy, I can tell ya – I know exactly where you’re comin’ from, and I’ve been there! It once took a long time for me to manage even a “howdy” or two in a room like this.
Hey, I’m constantly amazed when I hear the same story from folks who seem so outgoing and dynamic. But the truth is, quite a few of us started out as just the opposite.
You’re on your way, Amy!
And – thanks giving us another chance to see a little more of you this time! A big ol’ tip o’ the hat to ya!
Brad Shorr says
Hi Amy, I’m right there with you. I’d rather do anything than walk into a room full of people. But SOBCon may be the best support group on earth. So glad you had such a wonderful experience!
Chris Cree says
What you may not realize, Amy, is that you brought a lot to the table. Did you notice that I was pretty quiet when David Bullock & Brian Clark were talking with you over dinner Saturday night? It was because I was learning things that I can apply to my business while they were talking about yours.
Glad you faced your fear. If you hadn’t my conference experience would have been shorted.
Theresa Carter says
Amy, thank you so much for sharing! “Changing what you fear” is such an eloquent way to express how we step beyond our personal boundaries. After 9/11 I moved to Chicago to be closer to my son, because then I feared missing out on the details of his life more than I feared uprooting my own.
I am one of the many who had the pleasure of meeting you this year, and I know my life is richer for it. So I selfishly thank you for changing your fear!
Amy – what an amazing story of SOBCon!
I loved having you as part of our conversations and look forward to continuing the conversations and relationships going forward.
You have no idea how much you can learn from the person sitting beside you – in any situation in life – until you start that conversation. Sometimes that just takes being gutsy enough to say the first word.
I look forward seeing you and everyone else next year!
Rick Wolff says
Amy, for some of us, a regularly maintained blog is itself the object of fear. I know I’ve got a sparsely updated personal blog, and a niche pro-blog, my Big Ticket to Stardom, that I had to mothball when I realized I couldn’t get a job to support me while I developed it. (At its most promising time, it made me contemplate a trip to Chicago to SOBCon.) I guess if I had someone to whom I had to prove the lesson of bravery, like you had with your students, I’d like to think I’d change my fear, and pick up that blog again. At least the personal one.
As far as unease in crowds, that’s a lingering fear for me, too. All one can do is measure progress, as you’ve done over two SOBCons.
The thing that helps me the most is the realization of how unfair it is for me to compare myself to any of these people. In the case of a blogging conference, if the attendees aren’t from WILDLY divergent (and incomparable) backgrounds, with the only real commonality the possession of a blog, then how good a conference is it? And if it is (as I suspect SOBCon was), then why compare?
Stephen Hopson says
Wow, what a powerful story. Trust me, I know how she felt for I’ve been in her shoes many times.
I missed all of you this year but I kept track of what was happening via Twitter and FB. I’m so glad everyone had a stellar time and learned some things along the way.
Liz, I saw your photos and my gawd you looked absolutely fabulous! What a total makeover my dear!
Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach says
Having faced my own fears now more than I can count, I can definitely say you rid yourself of fear by confronting directly in the face.
Prior to giving seminars around the country in Internet recruiting, I was petrified of public speaking – it was well known at the former company at which I worked that the best way to torpedo a project was to have me talk about it. 🙂
However, after spending 3 months completely devising the entire course and then realizing that there were 100+ folks in the audience, waiting to hear me….I realized it was sink or swim time. And I never looked back. Priceless that was, sometime in Sept. of 1999….
Time heals everything. When you choose to face your fears, you’re choosing success.
Data points, Barbara
Amy LeForge says
Liz, thank you for all the kindness. And I would never accuse you of having failed me in any way. As I said, the fault was mine. I appreciate so much the opportunity to improve.
Vicky, thanks! Big hugs!!
Robert, really? I wouldn’t have thought that you would have struggled with that fear at all. I very much enjoyed sitting with you and chatting on Friday. Can’t wait to see where your storytelling takes you!
Brad, you’re right. The SOBCon folks are the best.
Chris, that conversation Saturday night was only one of so many high points this weekend. I learned a lot from both you and Lisa and am extremely thankful that you let me tag along so much.
Theresa, awwww shucks! Thanks! I’m glad you were there, it was great meeting you. The 9/11 tragedy brought some of my family closer as well. I’m glad at least that bit of good came out of such horror.
Char, you are another of the people on my “can’t thank enough” list. It’s a huge list! Isn’t that amazing? I too look forward to future conversations.
Rick, ouch. You’re right. It is unfair to compare ourselves that way. And yet, I did exactly that, didn’t I? Thanks for sharing that thought; it gives me more to say to me when I’m in the need of a stern reminder. So are you going to pick up that blog again? Let us know when you do!
Stephen, I was definitely disappointed to not see you and a few others that were at SOBCon08. You’re such a shining light wherever you go. Hope you’ll be there next year!
Barbara, wow. What a story, and what a trial by fire. Kudos to you for such an amazing success. I think I’ll put that last sentence up on my bulletin board. “When you choose to face your fears, you’re choosing success.” That’s priceless. Thanks for taking the time to share your wisdom.
Liz, (again) thanks for letting me hijack your comments. 🙂
Susan/Together We Flourish says
I love the concept of shifting your fear. But it’s not just the fear that shifted, it’s that the point of reference shifted from you to others. My fear of speaking in a group always deminishes when I focus on the interests and needs of the group
ME Liz Strauss says
What powerful story and so much learn it has brought to me, Amy.
I know the fear that comes with a roomful people. I know the cringing feeling inside that comes with just one person who might be hearing, seeing or understanding how I am and what I’m trying desperately to say.
Everyone seems to have caught the beauty and wisdom of your “change my fear” action.
When I focus on my fear of inadequacy I make the universe about me. It becomes a situation of them looming over me. But that me is still in the center. The universe was never meant to revolve around one person. That’s unbalanced and someone everyone feels that, knows that, sees that.
When I shift my fear to actiing on something or someone outside of myself, courage comes more easily. I’m looking forward not inward. I’ve got my own reserves to help.
Thank you, Amy. You’ve made us all wiser.
Just wanted to stop by and say I dearly loved this post. I attended a business conference two years ago and had to keep leaving to go cry in my car. It was the most stressful two days of my life. Amy, you rock!
Amy LeForge says
Liz, thanks! I will admit I had to go work on composure a few times this weekend. It got easier over time. I hope you try again and have tremendous success at a future conference. Perhaps SOBCon 2010?
ME Liz Strauss says
This story has been an inspiration to all of us. Thank you!
Sandy Renshaw says
Amy – what an honest and inspiring post. It takes courage to press forward and do those things we are afraid of. I’ve had similar feelings more times than I care to admit and have left events feeling like I didn’t step out of my comfort zone enough to make connections. I tend to compare my insides to other people’s outsides and they look so good. When I do take the chance to reach out I usually find the human-ness (is that a word?) that we all have. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. Alas, I was not able to attend SOBCon this year and missed you all. Looking forward to next time though.
I’m a little late to this conversation, but I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this story.
I’ve discovered that fear is actually trapped energy ready to push us into the experiences we really want to engage in.
Again, great testimonial. Thank you!
Amy LeForge says
Sandy, so sorry you weren’t able to come to this year’s SOBCon. I remember you from last year. “Comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.” Wow. I do that too much; I will have to work on that one. Thanks for the thought and I truly hope to see you at SOBCon 2010.
Dave, thanks! You’re never too late to say thank you or to offer your own wisdom. I like the idea of channeling fear’s energy to good use. Better that than letting it shut me down.