Monday, April 24, 2017

Grad school, ice cream and belonging.

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I just returned from the conference of the National Council of Rehabilitation Educators in sunny Anaheim, California.  Going back to school after 14 years of work in your field is weird.  Going back to school and being well older than all of your classmates and even some of your professors is weirder.  But....I've always been a person who doesn't feel my age and so.
And so.

But walking up to the conference venue, after having spent years at conferences where everyone knew who I was...people grabbing me in for conversations and questions, advice and assistance in sessions...  It got comfy.  So walking up to the conference venue...not knowing anyone gathered around...  I felt my stomach clench.

Those of you who know me know I am loud and expressive, glad to be the center of attention.  But that's when I know the people around me.  When I show up and know no one..I get a little terrified.  I've been known to hide in the bathroom, arriving before friends at a gathering or a party, texting them to tell me when they get there so I can come out.

Walking up to the conference venue, I considered hiding in the bathroom for a split second.

and then.

"Hey! Where are you from?"

Immediately two women began to talk to me, ask me questions.  That happened throughout the entire conference; everyone was friendly, welcoming, and open.  And I thought.  What a wonderful new community I've joined.

And then I saw them--my cohort and those a year ahead of me, a ring of faces that I knew. And they called me over and looked glad to see me and I felt like I belonged.  I think, sometimes, that's the most important feeling we can have.

And in the evening, I snuck away with my friend and we got ice cream together, and talked about the funny feeling and awkwardness of not knowing people.

And I'm so glad I went.

So, friends, when you are at a conference or a party or a gathering of some kind, and if you see someone standing alone, looking like they  might go hide in the bathroom... Or perhaps someone who has a better game face than I..perhaps they're studying their conference agenda or cell phone, reach out.  Ask them where they're from.   Help them feel like they belong.

Grad school is challenging, but I am in love with the way my brain feels like its growing. And its made all the better, all the easier, by having people to go sneak away for ice cream with.  And people who open their circle and invite you in, telling you...

You belong.

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