My first HOW Conference was 19 years ago in Boston. It almost goes without saying that SO much has changed since then. Especially me!
And yet, comparing that first conference in 1994 with this past one in San Francisco shows that some things never change.
1. Creative people seem to be riddled with fear.
Whether it's fear of failure or of success, or fear of someone finding out we're just winging it—not feeling like we're legit, or even fear of seeming like a dork when meeting new people. These were themes that speakers explored back in 1994 and again this year. Gordon MacKenzie went on to write into his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, the stories he told in his closing keynote talk that year, including several that delved into overcoming fear. Here's one of his fear stories as I remember it. Oddly enough, even though I didn't put myself out there, I came back ready to design the world. It lit a fire under me that has been lit ever since.
2. Networking doesn't seem fun until you realize it's just making new friends.
During that first conference, I was too afraid of being "found out" to get out and meet anyone new. Networking was something that suits did, not me. Besides, what would I do with their business cards once I received them? I was sure that since I was so young, I'd be discounted as a fraud and ignored (even though I had a brand new BFA in graphic design!!). As someone with minimal social skills at the time, I preferred to avoid the possibility of being rejected and just went back to my room after sessions. Now, I can't imagine a worse waste of HOW time than to be alone during the conference. I love to make new friends—the more the merrier. And getting to connect with these friends year after year makes HOW that much better.
3. HOW is what you make it.
As long as you stay open to absorbing information from all around you, this one will be a piece of cake. The first HOW I was able to attend after that first one in 1994 was the 2005 conference in Chicago. I had super-high expectations—quite unrealistically—that it would blow me away again. What I didn't take into account was my attitude preventing that from happening. Because I expected the conference to come to me, I didn't put much effort into putting myself out there. I don't recall connecting with people, or having meals with anyone. It sucked; I sucked. And I didn't see myself as the biggest obstacle. Thankfully, the lightbulb went on before I made it to the next HOW in 2007. I went with the goal of being open, getting connected and stoking the fire. And that's just what happened.
So my advice to you is leave the fear behind as best you can, you can always go pick it up again later if you find it served you well. Make new friends; they and you will be glad you did. And make the most of the time you have on this earth, especially the all-too-brief time you spend at HOW, when and if you get to go.
Oh yeah, and go on art dates—whether it be doodling with crayons or exploring a city with a camera (thanks Julie for letting me tag along and Jim for putting the idea in my head!)—talk about getting your creative juices flowing! The best picture I took all weekend (with the exception of Rusty's gum) is up there, which I took quite by accident.
This past week in San Francisco was great, as HOW always is for me now. This was my second time speaking (which I have learned is what I want to do when I grow up). I ran into old friends Kit Hinrichs (I met him at the 1994 conference), Adam Hall, and Ilise Benun; friends who feel like I've know all my life like Julie Goldsberry (of the "I've been hugged by Julie" sticker fame), Crystal Reynolds (of Creatives' Cupboard fame), and tiny Stefan Mumaw (whose high-five I still can't reach); friends I'm so glad got to know better like Jim Krause (it's rumored we're actually the same person in two different bodies), Von Glitschka (now of bunny-suit fame), and Rusty Kugler; and new friends I hope to get to know better like Josh Beaton, Jason Dean, Amy and Scott Herbert, Stan Grabowski, Jake Bartholomew, Mason Hall, Mia Berkovits, Desiree Mitchell, both Richard Medinas (I'm anxious to see what the younger one does next), Emily Young, and Regina Maldonado.
Even if I've not mentioned you, a truckload of good juju to you. Thanks for giving me so much in return!
Thanks for reading!
Good juju-spreader, storyteller, graphic designer. I'd love to hear from you!