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by • March 12, 2015 • Life As I Know ItComments (2)746

FOMO and the Conference Hashtag

Authors note: I am deeply indebted to Julie Payne-Kirchmeier for starting the conversation and inspiring me to lend my voice to this important and timely discussion. Thank you JPK!

I’ve only just returned from ACPA 2015 and will be headed to NASPA 2015 in just over a week, but the conference hangover is real. The learning hangover is real. The too little sleep and too much rushing hangover is very real.

The vulnerability hangover is real, friends. So real.

I’ll be writing a separate post about my most vulnerable moment at ACPA (which might just be, coincidentally, the most vulnerable moment in my professional career), but I first wanted to share some thoughts about social media and the highlight reel, both at conferences and in our day to day lives.

Attending an event as big and as diverse in potential experiences as a national higher education/student affairs convention is, to say the least, an overwhelming experience. The program guide is full of activities, sessions, and experiences to choose from, and this once a year gathering of friends and colleagues in (often) a new city and/or state also encourages opportunities for face to face interactions and awkward conversations that begin with “I think I know you from Twitter …”.

The FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is real, friends.

I remember one of my first conference experiences, eagerly scanning the program guide looking for sessions to attend while wanting to connect with everyone and do everything. Of course, a passing hello or a short excursion wasn’t enough. I wanted the in depth, insightful, meaningful conversations, the inspiring learning experiences, and the “so much fun!” touristy adventures.

And I wanted everyone to know about it. Immediately.

A simple scroll through the conference hashtag bombards us with experiences that seem better, more fun, and more interesting than ours. For everyone conversation we have, someone has already had two. For every meal out by the water, someone else has discovered a bar with great live music. For every session I attend, someone has already presented three times today.

Beyond the typical thieving of joy created by these quick and dirty comparisons, I’m also fascinated by how easily we can create a ‘must do’ list out of these 140 character snapshots. As a recovering Psychology major, I can still remember reading about the availability heuristic. If we can call something to mind immediately, we will assume that thing (winning awards, presenting several sessions, meeting everyone, courting multiple offers for consulting or speaking) must happen frequently … to someone else.

This availability heuristic leads to what I’ve loosely coined (trademark and patent forthcoming) celebrity syndrome. We believe that because we know so much more about these ‘other people’ (and let’s pause for a minute to talk about ‘othering’ and how harmful it is to separate people from our collective humanity) than they know about us, they must be better, smarter, fitter (don’t worry – Daft Punk just popped into my head too). We conflate and confuse ‘popular’ or ‘readily available’ with ‘best’ or ‘what we should aspire to’. If everybody’s doing it, and getting validated for it, shouldn’t we want to aspire to be rockstars too?

I’ve been learning (note that I haven’t learnt this fully yet – I’m human and that comes with all the mess of emotions to gum up the works on the logical side of my brain) that posting something on social media doesn’t suddenly make it real. My beautiful, vulnerable, authentic, and hilarious conversations with dear friends on my board of directors did happen, even if there is no ‘selfie’ proof on Facebook. I still made some great connections with new colleagues, even if they didn’t tweet about how awesome it was to meet me. I still got on that damned treadmill and ran again, even with my somewhat irrational fear of busting up my knee again. (To be fair, I did tweet about running, but mostly because I was watching weather reports about winter storm warnings while staring out at sunshine and a pool. This Canadian was in some sort of endorphin and sunshine included bliss so her judgement was a bit clouded. I make no apologies).

Tweeting about what we’re doing, what we’ve done, or what we’re going to do doesn’t make it real. (Tweet This!)

Getting a retweet or like doesn’t make what we’ve done better, or more important.

For every 140 characters you see, there are over 140 emotions and ideas you haven’t seen, yet. (Tweet This!) You have not failed to achieve or inspire, nor are you a failure in what you have or haven’t done. We suffer not from an individual failure in action, but from a collective failure in awareness.

We cannot be present for ourselves, and so instead rely on others to show us the way.

We look up, instead of around, and it keeps us from moving forward. (Tweet This!)

Stay present to learn. Stay present to understand. Stay present to live within these moments we won’t get back. Someone, someday will thank you. You may just be the only two people who know about it. And that’s more than okay.

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2 Responses to FOMO and the Conference Hashtag

  1. Julie Payne-Kirchmeier says:

    Just so good, Lisa. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability here (even though there’s more according to your blog post) and for the kind words at the beginning of your post. FOMO is so real and very hard to negotiate – especially during high-connection times at conferences.

  2. Amy Corron says:

    I read this a few days ago and have kept thinking about it since then. I personally needed these reminders and to recognize my own FOMO and use of celebrity syndrome- thank you!.

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