I can’t count the number of conferences I’ve been to anymore. In college there were housing conferences like GLACURH and NACURH, at Fort Lewis there was more NACURH, some IACURH, and ACUHO-I, at Edelman I attended BlogHer and Mesh and the last two summers I’ve attended ROI120 in Israel.
After every conference I was exhausted and at almost every conference I burst into tears at least once in my room. People don’t believe me, but I’m an introvert – I recharge by spending time alone, not by spending time with people. The extreme extroversion needed to make a conference a success is exhausting to me.
But since I was always going representing a school or company, I always felt the pressure to attend as many sessions as possible, to shake as many hands as possible and to come back with piles of handouts to share with everyone.
SXSWi was different.
I was going for myself and my own company. It meant that for once, I could take care of myself at a conference and I was able to give myself permission to miss out.
Permission To Miss Out goes hand in hand with Fear Of Missing Out.
FOMO is the force that drives people to wait in long lines to get into the best party. That makes a person race from one end of the conference floor to the other to get to the best panel. That makes an attendee live-tweet and follow the tweets of all the other sessions. FOMO drove me to utter exhaustion in the past.
Can’t. Miss. Anything.
PTMO is the opposite and it saved me at my first SXSWi. If you don’t know, SXSWi is South By South West Interactive, the digital arm of a film and music festival in Austin, Texas. SXSW had been described to me as Geek Spring Break and that was the attitude I took with me. A chance to see friends from around the world, go to sessions (if I was inspired to go) and just see what happens.
Because I wasn’t responsible for taking the experience back to staff or students who weren’t able to attend, I was able to go with the flow. In the end, I only went to three or four panels. I didn’t give myself grief for missing out on some great panels, I accepted that what I did was what I did. For parties I set one rule and that is,”I don’t wait in line.” And I didn’t. That meant I missed some of the best parties, if lines are important to you for defining great.
What it meant was I went to intimate dinners, smaller parties, had great hallway conversations and never snuck off to cry because I was exhausted. I just took care of myself and did what happened. I left with no regrets. I had a couple twinges that I should have tried to get to the Chris Anderson keynote or should have stayed an extra day or two. But I also left satisfied and knowing I’ll be back next year.
And in 2010? I’ll be sure to pack some Permission To Miss Out.
UPDATE: Another thing that made this possible were the rules I’ve learned using Open Space Technology. The two rules that mean the most to me are 1) the law of two feet and 2) the people there were the right people to be there. That means you have permission to leave if something isn’t working for you and the people that showed up were the right people.
For example, I hosted a dinner on Sunday night at La Condesa. The room only held 16, so I was careful with the guest list. I didn’t want to leave anyone out, but also didn’t want to overfill the room. That afternoon Ed, aka Funkatron, passed the invitation to 4 developers visiting from the UK. I told him that it would all work out. In the end, the table was full with 15 people. I didn’t fret that this person didn’t come or that person, I enjoyed the perfect mix of company that we had for dinner.