Conferences were a way of life in a previous career. The land of higher education was a vast and strange continent, but as a seasoned and wise elder I could pass seamlessly among the inhabitants. Academics who would barely speak to colleagues in their ivy-covered ivory towers turned into animated social animals who traveled in packs, huddled around coffee urns, and smiled knowingly at others in lobbies and elevators. I felt comfortable.
Today I don’t.
It’s not the L.A. cityscape that frightens me. I’ve made this trip too many times to count. I lived and worked here, but maintained a home and relationship back in Chicago. I know the route and nearly every gate at LAX (and the closest in and out once I land).
No, it’s confronting a new land, a new set of peers, a new pecking order, and to some degree, a new language and nomenclature.
As a new CEO at Simon Youth Foundation, I feel a bit like an emissary on a junket to a foreign land. I’ve spent the last hour on the plane reading my advance conference schedule, blog instructions, and communiques from the Council.
Still, I’m overwhelmed about the possibilities. The potential discussions, the provocative topics, and perhaps most importantly, the chance to connect with like minds and similar paths. My feelings must mirror those of the students we work with at SYF, the feelings of everyone knowing I’m new or different. The lingering worry of will I stand out too much, will I commit a social faux paux, or worse yet, will anyone even notice?
I’m not the only one attending this conference for the first time. No one will slushy me a la Glee. It’s not a reality competition and I’m not being judged for who wore it better. (Wait, this is L.A…. All those things could happen.)
My three goals for this conference are: get three new ideas to take back to my colleagues in Indiana, make three new professional contacts to kibbutz with, and learn three ways to better utilize my relationship with the Council. What are yours?
Come along with my journey, and please leave any and all advice for this newbie. I need to know what NOT to miss. See you in the elevator. I’ll be the one in the bowtie.