Stephanie's Design and Technical Musings

Why SmashingConf SF 2019 will always hold a special spot in my heart

I find my perception of time to mind-boggling sometimes. Today is the 15th of April 2020 and when I look back at the last year, I look at how much has changed in my professional and personal life. It feels like yesterday and forever ago. I did not think I would be in this spot today, regardless of a pandemic raging or not, and I can pinpoint the exact start of this change in my life to the 15th of April 2019.

SmashingConf SF 2019

I was headed down to San Francisco for Smashing SF on the 15th since Microsoft Edge was an event sponsor. I was supposed to go to the speaker dinner the night before the conference with my friend and colleague Colleen Williams but something in her schedule changed and I was going to be the only representative from the team.

I was an absolute wreck. I of course knew who a number of the speakers were but I usually attended the conferences with a colleague who was much more connected and could make introductions so I had to psyche myself up a bit before the dinner. I was going to be in a room with people I deeply respected but didn’t really know personally.

I arrived at the venue and sat off to the side, too intimidated to go approach a few of the speakers who were also waiting. I knew who they were and I’d been introduced before but I have this habit of presuming to think that no one remembers me.

So I waited until we were gathered by the hosts and ushered up to the spot we were having dinner, grabbed a glass of wine and started chatting with Katie Sylor-Miller, Jeremy Wagner, and Steve Schoger about speaking at conferences and I learned something.

Most people get nervous about speaking. If you don’t, that’s probably not a good thing. They encouraged me to submit a CFP I had been thinking about because I had a deeply personal story around the theme for the conference.

I ended up submitting that CFP after that evening. I was accepted a week and a half later to the conference.

Outside my comfort zone

That kicked off a whole round of things that simultaneously helped improve my anxiety and gave me more confidence as a whole. I took a mindfulness course at work. At JSConf EU I hopped up and gave a quick lightning talk about webhint, something I never would have done before.

And then I started to help drive The Web We Want initiative with my colleague Aaron. This led to my first time on stage at An Event Apart a month and a half before my conference talk. I was pushing myself out of my comfort-zone.

And suddenly September arrived and I was in Scotland giving my talk, and then Amsterdam running the Web We Want, and then I was in New York for SmashingConf NYC running the Web We Want again. And this time, I went to the speaker dinner a little bit early and stood with Amanda, one of the SmashingConf crew members, and Rachel Andrew and chatted. I was not sat in the corner timidly. And at the end of the conference, I walked 10 blocks in the pouring rain to go to the after conference speaker party. Something I would not have done 7 months previously.

Ironically, or maybe not, my trip to NYC for SmashingConf further confirmed the shift in my life and validated I was on the right path. It’s lonely at times, working through such a personal and private upheaval of my life but I’ve come to find I have support and love in places I didn’t even know I did. For the first time in a long time, I’m focusing on me and who I am because part of that upheaval was realizing I didn’t know.

I am deeply in love with what I get to do and the most surprising of all, I love to speak at conferences. This is a girl who switched to a different university English class because the one she enrolled in had involved a lengthy presentation as a final and that horrified me.

The 15th of April 2019

So here I am a year later, astounded it’s been a year. Astounded and proud of the change I’ve gone through. I went from being nervous about the thought of submitting a CFP to reaching out to conferences that didn’t have an open CFP and being accepted to speak. And even though everything is on hold and postponed at the moment, I can’t wait to interact with folks in the web community in person again. I can't wait to get up on stage and speak.

And all of this stemmed from what began as an anxiety-ridden evening with lovely humans encouraging me to go for it. And because of that, the 15th of April 2019 and SmashingConf SF will always hold an extremely special place in my heart.

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