I’ve had an interesting experience over the last week. I was at a large spiritual direction conference giving a workshop. As I have over a decade of experience in the field of spiritual direction I didn’t feel like an imposter. But in a room of 600 people I knew less than an handful personally before I arrived. And of those there was only one whom I had actually met in person (and she was the head of the organisation hosting the conference). The others were all connections I had made online – so connecting with them held some stress.
I found the first day of the conference exhausting. But as I reflected on the first evening I realised that there were three kinds of conference attendees:
1) Those who were genuinely interesting
2) Those who thought they were interesting
3) Those who were trying to be interesting
The good connections you make are those where, you both think the other is genuinely interesting.
That first evening, as I was reflecting on the day, it occurred to me that whilst I may think I am genuinely interesting, the person I am talking to may think of me as a type 2 person!
The thought was a useful one. It freed me for the rest of the conference to simply be present to those around me. I no longer tried to make connection. Rather, I allowed casual conversation to begin or not. And once the conversation had begun I again allowed it to evolve or not.
As a result I had some fantastic interactions with a few people. Interactions which would have been hampered had I still be overly keen on ‘making connections’. I was able to fully engage in the conversation that I was having rather than scanning the crowd for better potential. I was able to be myself, and I was able to be present to the other. I had no expectations beyond a brief conversation, and occasionally I bumped into the same people again and enjoyed another conversation.
I cannot describe how liberating it was. I have been affirmed in my capacity to interact meaningfully with a few individuals in a large crowd (not a situation I would normally choose).
As soon as I let go of my need to prove anything to anyone I began to enjoy myself a great deal more. As soon as I let go of my need to take anything from the conference other than the memory of the experience I was far more open to receive.
It has been a tremendously valuable experience for me, and I deeply grateful to those with whom I did manage to connect. I feel like good seeds have been sown and maybe, just maybe, one or two will bear some fruit.