It always amazes me how long it takes to recover from a HOW Design Conference. First, I need to catch up on sleep. Then, I try to catch up on the work I fell behind on by attending HOW, simultaneously trying to assimilate what I've learned/absorbed from HOW. Those last two are a doozy combination.
What I really love most about HOW (I mean besides seeing my awesome HOWie pals) is being reminded that all I need in the way of creativity and authenticity, I already have. So attending HOW for me isn't primarily about learning new skills, but being reminded, sometimes none-too-subtly and through mind-blowing serendipitous moments, that I need to just be me.
Once, when I was in fourth grade playing outside by myself, I curled up in the tall grass in the lot of the church next door. I pretended I was a deer, curled up, camouflaged in the grass. Mind you, the grass was only about a foot high—certainly not tall enough to hide a gawky, tall girl like me. People would walk by on the sidewalk and stare at me. One person even called me a freak. I whispered to myself that if I didn't move, they couldn't see me. I'm not sure why I did this but, looking back (and laughing at myself), I do know that was really me, being really weird.
At this year's HOW Conference, the theme seemed to be authenticity. "Be yourself." "Be the best [insert your name here]-style designer in the world." I can't agree with this more. After a childhood spent trying to fit in, trying to be liked, I can tell you that the only person worth liking, who will truly fit in, is your authentic self. Others can sense when you're not being authentic, and it's an instant, even if subconscious, repulsion. It took me a while to get the authenticity-is-good bit. As a kid growing up with no social skills whatsoever, I learned early on how it feels on the outside of any group. I was the usually the tallest kid in my grade, way too desperate for a friend to be considered cool, as well as the perpetual new kid. Thrice damned, so to speak. I've seen the damage harsh words, and even looks, can do. It's easy to be mean to the nerdy kids; they're used to it, right? NOT!
What's harder, but much more rewarding, is to be inclusive to those outside your circles. Even less comfortable for some is to be by yourself—say, at a conference—trying to include yourself into others' groups.
But, that's what's so awesome about HOW! It's THE place to reach out. Several times during the conference—standing in line at the hotel, eating lunch at a nearby restaurant, riding the elevator down to breakfast—I made it a point to speak with the people around me who either wore a HOW badge or carried a HOW bag. It's your instant "in," a great conversation starter. I'd ask where people are from, is this their first HOW, what session did they enjoy most so far and why. You can tell quickly if someone doesn't want to interact with you, or if they're glad to chat with you. Lifelong friendships are started this way. You never know who might be your next best HOWie pal.
So, hello to all my HOWie pals, even ones I've not connected with yet. I'll be seeing you at next year's HOW.
Thanks for reading,
p.s. Your good juju today: Be your most authentic self, even if it's weird. Weird is good.
Good juju-spreader, speaker, graphic designer. I'd love to hear from you!