1 IN 1,000
A few weeks ago I spent two days at Plywood Presents, a conference of sorts, put on each year by Plywood People which is a "non-profit in Atlanta that leads a community of start-ups doing good." I didn't know what to expect and I didn't spend too much time thinking about or overanalyzing the fact I was going alone.
I would imagine walking into a room of roughly 1,000 people is somewhat overwhelming for anyone. For a shy, introverted girl who struggles with anxiety - overwhelming may have been an understatement. However, in some sense, it was slightly less fearful than walking into a room of 5-10 people where I would've been noticed and couldn't just fly under the radar.
I showed up late in order to miss the block of time allowed for people to chat and meet new friends, found a seat by myself and waited for the first speaker. I had the choice to sit next to someone else who was alone or a group of people and introduce myself, but I chose not to. The lineup of speakers was incredible and I learned a lot from hearing their stories and nuggets of wisdom. Mostly, I savored in the opportunity to just sit and listen and not have to actively participate. Breaks came and went, the hour and a half lunch came and went and after two days, the number of people I spoke to was minimal - by choice.
Yes, I think my anxiety played into the fear of just walking up to someone and introducing myself. Yes, I think the fact that I am an introvert played in to the way I interacted with a room full of strangers. But in large part, it was the choices I made. Choices to sit alone, pull out my phone and not interact.
I missed countless opportunities to hear stories from people around me, learn about their experiences and simply meet a new person. However, I learned a little bit more about myself. I learned that although it can be fearful for me to reach out to a stranger, I likely would have had a better overall experience had I done that. I potentially could have brought comfort to another person there who was fearful to do that exact same thing. I also experienced how my days can be impacted by my choices.
It's incredibly valuable to reflect and ultimately learn from our experiences. Learn how we interact as individuals and then take that lesson and hopefully try something new next time we are in a similar position. It's also valuable to recognize that we have choices, no matter how we are wired or what we struggle with, we have the choice to speak out of that struggle and not let it shape or define us.