Monday, January 30, 2012

Altitude Design Summit Recap, as told by an awkward gal.

I've been back from Salt Lake City for a whole week, and only now have I been able to finally wrap my head around the entire Alt Summit experience and write this post. I've been reading all the recaps from other attendees all week, and wanted to go in a different direction and be true to my nature, so my recap won't blend into the vast sea (vast fabulous sea) of other Alt recaps. So, if you want to hear about all the glorious speakers (there were many!), delicious food, trendy fashions, and swanky parities, this is not the blog post where you are going to get it.  I gots to keep it real people.

I first have to say that this conference was excellent, well organized, and insightful. It's incredibly rare to get a humongous room full of women together and keep it happy, friendly, and non-catty. A group of 400+ extremely creative people in one place is a very special thing, and the energy from this place is electric, you can feel it in your bones. Although I can see how Alt can be overwhelming at times, I couldn't help but be inspired and refreshed at everything I gathered and learned. I felt incredibly lucky to be apart of this event.

Part One: Loner
So, moving on to the really real part of things. I'm super duper awkward. For those who know me, you know it's true. I've always been that shy girl who sits in the back of the class in elementary school and pees her pants when someone expects her to answer a question. Sure I've gotten better as I've gotten older, (basically, there is no more pants wetting) but I still can't help but to give off an awkward vibe. Why the hell do you think I own my own business and work from home? No co-workers, baby! So, you can imagine my nervousness as I ventured out to Alt Summit, completely ALONE. It's like an introvert's worst nightmare. But nevertheless, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and get out in the real world with other human beings.

Part Two: Small Talk
I am awful at small talk, seriously, I can't emphasize how awful I am at small talk. I spent a lot of time at Alt just watching other people so effortlessly make small talk with someone they just met and then 5 minutes later became BFF's for life and trading those 'Best Friends' necklaces with one another. It was wildly entertaining. I am in awe of all the people who can do that (and extremely jealous), and it seemed like every single person at Alt had this miraculous ability, except me, naturally. I did, however, force myself to go up to people and talk, or sit with random groups of people and mingle. It was kind of like getting my teeth pulled out and getting punched in the gut at the same time. I was constantly thinking, "do they think I'm a weirdo?" "is there something in my teeth?" "why the hell did I just share the story of puking on my 1st grade teacher?". I was so busy thinking up all these things while I was talking to people, that a lot of times I ended up forgetting their names or forgetting to tell them my name. I'm actually really shocked that people didn't just slowly back away from me, mid conversation. Despite the throw up feeling in my throat, I met a whole slew of genuinely sweet and very cool people, who were all nice enough to endure the agony of awkward-ness. So, to those I met, thank you!

Part Three: The Awkward Pause
I'm oddly proud of the fact that I can totally nail the perfect awkward pause. It's an artform, really. For instance, I was making some solid conversation with someone at lunch and we were talking about road trips and kitschy roadside attractions. Now, this is something I'm really passionate about, so I get really into it when I get on the subject of excellent roadside oddities. In the middle of the conversation about visiting caves, I exclaimed "I just really loooove caves!". Immediately after that incredibly weird comment, there was a long awkward pause. I mean, what the hell do you say in reply to a person who has just proclaimed their love for a big hole in the ground? I'm not quite sure why I thought it was a good idea to declare my love for such an odd thing.  And it wasn't like I just said it off the cuff either, I said it really excited and intensely, which probably made it all the creepier. The conversation never quite recovered after that, but she was nice enough to continue to talk to me for the rest of lunch (which I greatly appreciated!) I would love to say that this was the only awkward pause moment I had at Alt, but alas, my trip was filled with awkward pauses, all created by me, of course.

(The above photo is the only photo I could find in the Alt Flickr stream that had me in it. I love that I just barely made it in...)

Part Four: Sticking Out
If you're an introvert, the last thing you want to do is stand out in a crowd. Now, I am not an extreme introvert as I am painting myself to be, for example I love getting recognition for the design work I do, and I love participating in indie craft fairs and meeting the people who love my stuff, face to face. To quote Ben Silbermann of Pinterest (who gave an awe inspiring keynote speech), "I'm an extrovert introvert". This pretty much sums me up completely. If you get a few drinks in me, I'll be your best friend, but stone cold sober and you'll be looking for the closest exit. I have always wished I was more like the 'Few drinks in me' version of me all the time, and attending Alt Summit this year was one of my baby steps towards being a more outgoing, and socially 'normal' person. One of my main goals at Alt was to play it cool, and show this kind of intimidating group of popular girls that I was just as cool as them. As you can imagine, this didn't go as planned. My most fatal mistake was ordering a beer at the Wednesday night dinner instead of wine. Right after I ordered the beer, I realized my mistake immediately once I looked around at all the other women who had their glasses of Merlot and Chardonnay. What the hell was I thinking? It didn't help that the beer I ordered came in a HUGE glass, which only drew more attention to the fact that I was the only one who wasn't drinking wine. I also was the only one who ordered steak, which also made me stick out in the bunch, since everyone ordered fish or salads. (For those who care, I ordered a Squatters Brewery I.P.A which was delicious! I bet it could have kicked the asses of all the wines at the table.  On a side note - Mad Props to Squatters, they had a lot of tasty beers that a true Milwaukeean-read alcoholic- highly approves of!)

Part Five: Acceptance
So, because I've titled this last section as "acceptance", this whole thing may have read like some sort of 12 step program for awkward people, and maybe in some ways, it is. Despite all of the cringe worthy awkward moments I had during my 5 day trip to Utah, I came to realize that I am a pretty perfect version of me. Sure, it would have been really easy to go into a shame spiral of depression after showing my Medical Insurance card to the car rental agent after she asked me for my 'insurance card' (obviously, she wanted my car insurance in this situation, duh.) To get back to the point, even though it would have been easy to go into a shame spiral after this event, I turned it into a funny story and quickly called my husband to tell him what I had done. I know I'm not going to change my awkward-ness and magically become the outgoing and perky person I sometimes wish I could be, and instead, I embrace all the quirkiness that makes me, me. After listening to all the speakers and talking with all of the creative attendees at Alt Summit, I realized that I didn't have to be the best dressed or coolest cat at Alt. As long as I love what I do & know that I'm good at doing it, that shines through and makes my stuff special. So, with all this being said, I'm proud to announce that I'm pretty awesomely awkward, and I love it. And I think that confession makes me pretty darn cool just the way I am.

PS: For a complete list of all of the amazing awkward moments I experienced in Utah, feel free to let me know.  To tempt you...they include things like, being trapped in snow, falling in high heels, and eating alone, just to name a few. A note to the Alt organizers for next year- I should be your #1 candidate to be a speaker to talk about 'Surviving as a socially awkward blogger/designer'. I think it would draw in about 5 people. Just something to think about folks...


Marie (Food Nouveau) said...

Hi Tara! Unfortunately, we didn't meet at Alt - I was there as well. Although I am also unconfortable in social situations (yes, I'm freelance as well) and I always find myself wondering why everybody else seems to have such passionate conversations but I don't, I don't have the talent to turn my experience in such an interesting post, funny and heart-warming at the same time. If you are an introvert, be prepared to get even more out of your comfort zone next year because I have the feeling this story will get you noticed! You will therefore see people go to you instead of you having to go to them (imagine that!) Good for you for finding the positive in the whole experience, and you are absolutely true: you are awesomely awkward and that's what makes you special.

Will definitely keep on reading your blog and have a peek at your online store. Cheers - and I hope we meet next year.

Marie (Food Nouveau) said...

P.S. I just realized that I got your Journey Journal in my Alt Gift Box! I love the idea and I'm saving it for my next trip.

Jessica said...

Tara. I adore your recap, and man can I ever relate. I went to the Squam art workshops in New Hampshire a few years ago and felt exactly the same way. i cried a lot during that trip! Keep writing. You are a funny gal, and I like it when you "get real." And kudos to you for ordering beer and steak. I'm with you. Wine and fish? Fuck that shit. Pardon my unladylike language :)

Justin Hackworth said...

Oh, boy. I can't believe you were only in one picture. I feel really bad about that. Come next year and I'll do better.

Sandra said...

You are the Journey Journal creator? That was sooo lovely!

Extroverted introvert here too - you weren't the ONLY one standing around watching all the amazing, well spoken, chatty, charming people. I too forced myself to speak to people. And then came home with extra biz cards and wondered why I didn't speak to more people!

Sorry we didn't run into each other - we could have commiserated! And cheered each other on...

Next year, right?!!!

The New Diplomat's Wife said...

You are hysterical! And I can't believe I didn't know you were there in person! We totally could have been awkward together! Next year then?

Hello Cupcake said...

I LOVED the honest recap from your point of view! Good for you for getting yourself out there!

Ciarah Coenen said...

No wonder you're my best friend... Sounds like the introverted conversations in your head and the awkward jumbled phrases you spit out are identical to mine. Glad to hear everything at ALT went well and excited to hear more about it!

Tara said...

Aww, you all are making me blush!

Jessica: I can't stop laughing at "Fuck that shit", that is pretty much exactly what I was wanting to say! Nothing beats beer in my opinion. Plus, I look like a fool when I order wine, I never know what the hell to order. I usually just scan the list for the cheapest bottle!!

Justin: You are too nice, and don't worry about not having more pics of me, it's quite alright. I'm actually really awkward in photos, I never quite know if I should pose, or act 'natural'. I probably would have just creeped you out! Your photos were sooo great by the way!

The rest of you: I totally wish I would have met you all and we could have been awkward buds together! Next year fo sho!

Dayle said...

Great recap. I love your spin on your recap. I was at Alt Summit too and I had a great time. Its always nice to read others people's experiences.

katie//salt+pine said...

I wish we would have met! I can assure you, I was feeling just as awkward as you. (Although when I get nervous and awkward, instead of shutting up, I talk A LOT and then really show my stuff. Nice.)

And just so you know if I was at your Wednesday night dinner and saw you order a beer, you'd be my new best friend--to be a beer drinker in a sea of wine drinkers is kind of awesome.

PS I think there's only one picture of me, too. I think Justin took pity upon me. :)

Tara said...

Dang! I wish I would have met you Katie! Fellow beer drinkers unite!! :)