The Panic

I’m sharing my process for preparing the keynote talk I’ll be presenting at the 2016 HighEdWeb New England regional conference on March 18. This is Part Five; you can now find an index of all previous posts in this series on my new #ShareHuman page.

And now is the part of the process when The Panic starts to settle in.

The more I start bringing all the pieces of my presentation together, the more I feel my mind trying to pull it all apart, seeding doubt into every choice I make.

Is that really what I’m trying to say?
Is this too much? Is it not enough? Is it too obscure?
Will anybody even notice? Is it too obvious?
Do I need to support this idea more?
Is this even an idea worth discussing?

The Panic wants me to question everything.

For every little note I’ve made, every scrap of an idea I think I can use, there are four others I don’t get to. There seem to be so many paths I can follow but I’m building the map as I go, and it’s unclear if all those paths intersect or lead to the destination I’m hoping for, or if anyone will even notice the details that stick out to me.

I think this is what I mean, but is that the right way to say it?
Why doesn’t that look right?
Is this font better?
Maybe this font? Or maybe this font?
What am I even doing this for? I’m no expert – who am I kidding?
They’re all going to see right through me…

So I stop.

Take a breath and walk away for a moment.

Deep down, I know that as long as I take my own advice and focus on being Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active and Nice with my work, then the work will reflect that and turn out right. And yet The Panic lurks, waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting until I am most vulnerable and doubtful that anything I’m working on makes sense.

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The Keynote Speaker

I’m so glad that I can finally talk about this: earlier this week, it was announced that I will be the keynote speaker at the next HighEdWeb New England regional conference in March. Crazy, right? It’s such a cool opportunity, and I’m honored and flattered to have been asked to fill this role.

I’m also pretty nervous about putting together a talk that lives up to expectations of everyone who will be there because I think of all these people as part of my tribe and their time and attention is important to me. Having been to many of these conferences myself in the past, I know that you want to come away at the end of it feeling like what you gained was worth the cost and effort of attending, and as a keynote speaker I think that is doubly important because I’m the only one on the program with a solo slot.

At the same time, I want to make sure I fulfill the needs of the committee that has been volunteering their time to organize and program this conference to be the best it can be. Having had the experience of being a co-chair for a similar event last year, I know how hard it can be to put together a program of presenters that feels balanced and addresses the interests of a variety of specialties from content and social media specialists to web developers and designers. You also want to provide opportunities for first time presenters to add new voices to the conversation, alongside HighEdWeb veterans who are reliably wise and inspiring.

For a conference like this, the keynote can provide thematic glue, set an inspirational tone, and hopefully, provide an additional reason for people to attend. It would not have occurred to me that my peers think of me that way, but it’s hard not to feel a bit of an ego boost when you discover they do:

No pressure, right?

Sure, for a moment it’s wonderfully flattering, but I’m at the point now where the responsibility of this role is sinking in, and I can see how high the expectations are.

But I wouldn’t have committed to this if I didn’t want the challenge, so I’m ready to step up to this “whole ‘nother level” and see what I can bring. Like Sondheim’s Little Red Riding Hood, I feel excited—well, excited and scared.

I’ve actually been committed to this keynote since early November but had to wait until it was announced to be able to really talk about it. So for the past couple of months the whole idea has mostly been in a holding pattern, circling my subconscious. Now that it’s out there, suddenly it’s a lot more real, and I have about eight weeks left to finalize my talk.

I feel ready, I know what I want to talk about, and what I hope people will take away from my presentation. I just need to get it all out of my head. So I’ll follow Little Red Riding Hood’s advice from the end of that same Sondheim song:

Don’t be scared.
Granny is right,
Just be prepared.

I’ve got my notes, and I’ve got the latest update of Keynote software ready with lots of blank slides awaiting my big ideas. Let’s do this…

Resolve to Evolve

I’m not making any resolutions for the New Year; I want to make evolutions instead.

A resolution is a short term goal, often about breaking bad habits and starting better ones: do more of A, less of B, stop doing C altogether. But I’m old enough now that I’m basically satisfied with all with the big choices I’ve made about my personal As, Bs, and Cs, and all the rest.

I’m no longer concerned with making or breaking habits; I want to evolve the habits I have into being the most effective habits for my future. I want to do more of what I’m already doing, do it in a more mindful, practiced way, and get better at it day by day.

I want to evolve my health habits. I’m already exercising regularly – how can I exercise better? I’m already eating healthy – how can I improve the quality of the healthy food I choose?

I want to evolve my money habits. I’m already saving – how can I save more? How can I improve my shared financial responsibilities? How can I improve my spending?

Now is the perfect time for me to evolve my career. I’ve had so many new opportunities appear around me, and shifting responsibilities for myself and others in my office creating challenging opportunities for all of us. I’m finally understanding what skills I bring to my job, what I do best and what others do better. I finally have a vision for the future I want to evolve toward. How can I level up in my work, take on more of a leadership/ownership role, and better put myself in a position where I can enable and empower others to be awesome?

The most tangible evolution I’ve made so far is that I’m writing and blogging regularly (and you may notice I’ve even evolved the design of this site a bit). But there is still more evolution ahead. How can I evolve my voice as a writer? What knowledge and insights do I have to share that is of value? How can I expand my ideas beyond a blog? What am I going to do about that book I keep thinking about writing?

Last year I wrote that my resolution would be “a long pass to myself in the future,” and I’m confident I caught that pass and ran with it. I didn’t get too far down the field with the ball, and certainly didn’t get any touchdowns, but sometimes a completed pass is all the victory you need.

Every completed play after this is just an evolution of the larger strategy, and evolution is the only resolution I want to make.

A New Year of Glad

Winter has officially closed its grip upon us here in the United States, making this the perfect time of year to catch up on reading that really long novel you’ve been meaning to read for so many years. If you’re an avid reader, you undoubtedly have one of those; a literary mega-tome that you keep hearing you should read, yet you just haven’t gotten around to it for one reason or another. Maybe it’s something classic by Tolstoy, or Proust; perhaps a more contemporary voice like Knausgaard.

For me, that “big book on my shelf I keep meaning to finally read” for years was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. But that changed in 2009 when I finally made my way through the entire 1,000-plus pages thanks to a wonderful online reading group called Infinite Summer, which supported a community of readers making our way through the book all at the same time. Thanks to their combination of social media, community forums, and guest blog posts guiding readers through the book week by week, a novel that I may have left unfinished a third of the way through suddenly became a lot easier for me not only to finish, but to understand and become engaged with all the way to the end.

InfiniteJest cover

Now that we’re in book’s 20th anniversary year, I was thrilled to discover that a new group of talented and dedicated readers who appreciated Infinite Summer as much as I did are reviving the community for another go, this time as Infinite Winter.

I’m in for a second go at this, and I hope you will join us.

The plan is simple: read Infinite Jest with a few hundred of your closest friends with a goal of 75 pages per week from January 31 – May 2, 2016.

Of course, it’s not really quite that simple, because Infinite Jest is not a simple novel. But as I discovered the first time through, it’s the complexity of the book, and the mechanics involved in reading it, that actually make it such a great reading experience.

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photo by Chetan Menaria

Letting Go to Move Forward

I just had my last-ever meeting with my boss. She’s leaving our office  after 13 years of work in higher ed marketing for a big opportunity in a different industry and a different town. She’s taking a bold step, leaving behind an institution that not only helped shape her, but that she helped shape for others.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about the whole thing and frankly I’m in a bit of a daze.

On one hand, I don’t blame her for leaving when she is. Our office and our campus have been on a very bumpy road this year, especially over the past few months. She stepped up to take on a lot for our team and was not rewarded well for her efforts. Combined with all the continued protests and negative vibes going around our campus, plus new leadership still just settling in and others vacancies still to be filled, I think her timing is actually probably perfect.

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Revised

This blog post has been revised at least eight times over the past week. Today is Friday, and I’ve been trying to maintain the discipline of posting every Friday whenever possible. But sometimes the thoughts I think I have to share at the beginning of the week revise themselves.

This started out completely different; a bigger, more complex idea with links to examples and images to embed and some kind of vaguely witty structure to link it all together. Sometimes it’s hard to think small.

But the more I write, the more I discover what it is I’m really trying to say, and all of a sudden I’m writing something very different than what I initially set out to do.

So this post has been revised. Updated in a lot of little ways, mostly deletions or small changes in the word usements I structure. Most of them you’ll never see unless I point them out.

But it’s a post. It’s some new content, something out of my brain and onto your screen. And more importantly, I shipped on time. I overcame the resistance, figured out how to not overthink it in the midst of so much else going on with my life, with my job, with my plans for the future.

I shipped. I met my goal. In the end, the only one who really cares about that goal is me. And sometimes the goal is revised.

Just like this post.

My HighEdWeb Tribe

How great would it be if we could be in two different places at the same time? If there was a time/space loophole that allowed you to be at work and stay on top of all the projects and tasks you need to get done, while at the same time another part of you got to be somewhere else, learning and exploring and growing, and hanging out with friends?

If I had the ability to be in two different places at the same time, one of me could still be in my office all of next week focused on one of the half-dozen major projects that have to get done; my other self would be flying to Milwaukee to learn and hang out with some of my favorite humans at the HighEdWeb Annual Conference.

I seem to long for a clone of myself like this every couple of years, those in-between years when the budget isn’t available for me to attend major conferences and I can only participate from afar by watching the back channels on Twitter and catching up on presentation slides after the conference is over. Which is still useful, and frankly it’s often the only option for hundreds of people who never get the time or budget to attend these events in person.

Part of the wonderful thing about conferences these days, especially those for and about people working in web and social media, is that they naturally bleed over into the virtual spaces where a hashtag like #heweb15 is all you need to catch up on what’s happening practically in real time (and good luck keeping up!)

But still, nothing beats actually being there and immersing yourself in the conference. I remember how energizing it feels to be able to focus on new ideas from presenters you may have never seen before, meeting people in real life you’ve only ever known online, absorbing the ideas and happy vibes of those around you.

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