The Grumpy Designer Meets the Outside World (Again)

The global pandemic had profound impacts. But for me, isolation wasn’t one of them. You see, I’ve worked from home for over 20 years. Being alone in a small space is just another day at the office.

But it has affected me outside the office. I haven’t been to an in-person industry event in a few years. And I suspect many of you have faced a similar fate.

That’s going to change. I’m scheduled to attend WordCamp US this summer. It looks to be an exciting event. But it’s also going to be a bit scary for this grumpy and introverted designer.

I wonder how I’ll cope with the crowds and inevitable small talk. Will my brain turn to mush? Will I be able to find my way home afterward? These are the questions that run through my mind.

I need a plan. And there’s no better way to formulate one than by writing it out. But it’s not only for my benefit. Perhaps it can help those of you with similar feelings. Yes, maybe we can reenter society together!

Coming Together After Being Pulled Apart

I don’t attend a lot of events. That was true even before the pandemic. My lifestyle isn’t conducive to hitting the road several times a year. And I have to pay my way as a freelancer.

Still, I usually made it to one or two WordCamp events per year. They got me out of this chair and into the company of fellow geeks. It was just enough socialization to balance out the isolation.

The pandemic took that balance away. The ability to connect in person was sorely missed. As was the chance to learn in a laid-back setting.

Besides, I’ve found it hard to get excited about virtual events. I’m still stuck in my office, watching while I work. This isn’t the escape I need.

Thus, the return of occasional road trips is welcomed. They serve as a healthy distraction from my everyday routine.

Taking a road trip can benefit your mental health.

A Tale of Two Extremes

WordCamp US will be my first “flagship” event. I previously stuck to a few local and regional gatherings.

The best aspect of smaller events is familiarity. You get to know your way around the venue. And you also start to see the same faces each year. That’s a big bonus for us introverts.

Sadly, these events haven’t returned to my area. The pandemic seems to have a particularly negative impact on them. And I do wonder if they’ll ever come back.

But this year’s WordCamp US is within a few hours’ drive. Therefore, I decided to jump in head first. “Why not make a long weekend of it?” I thought.

It sounds fun! But this ups the social ante quite a bit. The number of attendees will be significantly larger than I’m used to. And there will be dozens of online friends that I’ll be meeting in person for the first time.

It’s akin to a science experiment. You keep a web designer in relative captivity for a few years. Then release them into the unknown. Who knows what hilarity will follow?

It's difficult to transition from isolation to being in a large crowd.

Preparing for the Onslaught of Socialization

So, how does one prepare for a return to in-person events? Maybe I need to treat it like the Olympics and train. Some advanced preparation couldn’t hurt.

There’s a real possibility of becoming overwhelmed. With that in mind, here are a few ideas to deal with those feelings:

Don’t Try To Plan Every Moment

Perhaps the best plan is not to plan at all. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have specific goals. But it’s also important to remain flexible.

Creating a rigid plan is bound to fail. For instance, you might end up in a nice conversation with someone. You don’t want to spend it worrying that you’re missing something.

Having a general outline may be more effective. Make note of the conference sessions you want to attend and the people you want to see. But don’t be afraid to go with the flow, either.

Take each moment as it comes. Give yourself time to enjoy what’s in front of you.

Have an Escape Route

Socializing can be exhausting for introverts. We expend a lot of energy when engaged in conversation. That’s not to say we’re having a bad time – quite the opposite. But the act doesn’t come naturally to us.

Finding solitude is one way to combat fatigue. Stake out a quiet spot where you can recuperate. That might be your hotel room. Or it could be a quick walk out to a parking lot.

It’s a great way to relieve some pressure and collect yourself. After a few minutes of rest, you can get back to the crowds.

Realize That You’re Not Alone

It’s easy to experience sensory overload during these events. Especially when you’re used to a more subdued environment. All the noise and people moving about can be unnerving.

You might feel alone in those moments. But chances are that others feel the same.

Just knowing this can be comforting. However, you can also seek out the support of others. Try striking up a conversation with a friend or acquaintance. Even talking to a stranger might do the trick.

Making connections can be difficult. But it’s likely one of the reasons you came in the first place. Take advantage of the opportunity.

Take comfort in knowing that others experience social anxiety.

Just a Designer Stepping Out Into the World

When it comes to attending events, I’ve noticed a pattern in my behavior:

  1. Get excited about the event;
  2. Register for the event;
  3. Panic and regret registering for the event;
  4. Show up anyway;
  5. Be better for the experience of attending;

Moving past the fear in Step 3 is always a challenge. But things tend to improve once I make peace with it.

The truth is that getting out of the office is healthy – even if the thought of doing so is frightening. Sometimes that feeling is a great motivator.

If you’re in a similar situation, it’s OK. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If this grumpy designer can get back out there, so can you!

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