“You must have a lot of work to do,” he says as he smiles and hands me my coffee. I drink a lot of coffee, and the gentleman at the café on this train has been pouring cup after cup for me for about seven hours now. I laugh and make some joke about fitting in in the city that never sleeps. We chat for a minute or two, just as we have each time I’ve returned for a refill.
“See? Small talk isn’t so hard,” I tell myself. It’s a lie. Small talk, for me, IS hard. Even though I do it every day. Even when I can fake it pretty well. Even when it’s about something I love as much as coffee.
In a few hours, I’ll be at the conference. I love going to big professional events like this… learning about new technologies, hearing success stories, feeling motivated, and I really do enjoy meeting new people.
But enjoying something doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
You see, in my everyday life, I’m fairly socially awkward. Shy. Self-conscious. Anxious. It’s more about my appearance/presentation than my strengths/talents – I’m fairly confident in those. But talents don’t come into play when I start to think everyone is looking at me. Or that nobody is. And I can only feign arrogance for so long.
I think those who know me well find my career choice puzzling. Being in marketing forces me to fake a certain level of social comfort every single day. I’m grateful for that though, and fear that without it, I might just hide away from the world.
I am also grateful for social media, which has allowed me to connect with people from all over the world in all walks of life without any of that in-person awkwardness. Social media presents an opportunity for authenticity that is often missing from initial meetings. (Not that there aren’t fakes & frauds on Twitter or other platforms….) But online, I am me and I don’t really hide. If you don’t want to look, don’t. I’ll never know you didn’t.
There is something freeing about going away to large conferences. It’s a chance to be in your professional element and yet surrounded by thousands of people you don’t know, most of whom you’ll never see again. To go out on a limb and say hi. To tweet a fellow attendee. To ask a question… Out loud. To drop all of the anxiety bullshit and see what happens. To reflect. To breathe. To enjoy. And to make small talk on the train.