I know I am supposed to reflect on my TMC experience. As always, I gained a great deal professionally from the experience and am walking away not only inspired, invigorated, and refreshed, but with four actionable takeaways that I hope to implement in the coming year. But I did struggle a bit more this year with the social aspect than I have in past years. I've spent several days trying to reflect and pinpoint exacty why this was a bit of a heightened challenge for me.
At TMC12, we were all kind of new and feeling a bit blown away by the experience of all being together. The phenomenon of strangers that were friends was an understandable sort of awkwardness, so I permitted myself to have those feelings of panic and discomfort without much judgment on it. And I had traveled there with Fouss, Sarah Bratt, and Michael Seiler so I'd had plenty of time to acclimate to what lay ahead.
At TMC13, there was a baited breath sort of "Can lightning strike twice?" feeling for me as a walked into an experience that was like a magnified version of the magic that I'd felt the year before. New people, new excitement, a contagious sort of enthusiasm. I felt a sense of kindred spirits with even those I was meeting for the first time. It had its moments of scariness for someone that is socially insecure like myself. Showing up to the trivia night when everyone else was in full swing brought me a bit of panic so extreme that I escaped outside to call home for a security blanket. I was so distracted by the internal stress that I almost missed Megan Golding (my TMC12 roomie) as she walked past me into the building. But I swallowed those emotions and before long we were singing and dancing as the music portion of trivia commenced. The rest of that trip was a whirlwind of new faces, fascinating conversations, and a feeling that these were my people.
TMC14 was a comfortable year for me because I brought my security blanket with me. When I felt uncomfortable, I knew Morgan was right there for me to retreat to. That sense of security allowed me to relax and just enjoy moments for what they were. As a result, I was able to let go of some of the pressure that I normally feel and ended up having some of my all-time favorite TMC moments...board games full of laughter and silliness, and late night conversations that cut past small talk and felt real in a way that went beyond mere discussions of practice and pedagogy.
But this year, my inner self-talk and social anxiety was on full throttle and I had to spend a great deal of time talking it down and keeping it at bay. I was moderately successful and managed to meet some fascinating new people who I know will be significant in my educator journey in the year to come. I roomed with Hedge and, as always, our conversations quickly cut past surface level to our real lives and struggles. Cortni graciously allowed me to park my rental car for almost the entirety and tag along with her so that was a comfort zone that I relished. I also found the BBQ profoundly enjoyable and was able to relax a bit there. And, of course, Piano Piano (once I actually forced myself to go) was an absolute blast and I quickly regretted having not gone sooner.
The conversations I was struggling with in my mind, however, significantly impacted my ability to really get past the awkward small talk (which I despise) and genuinely enjoy reconnecting with people who I should see as friends at this stage of things. The nature of those inner dialogues reminded me a lot of middle school or high school and wanting to know if I fit within a social community. I had many difficult moments of feeling uncomfortable walking up to groups and wondering how to break into conversations in ways that are organic. Retreating to my hotel room for early nights became necessary to remove myself from the emotional strain of that whole process. But there is more to it than that. And there is certainly more to it than the introversion/extroversion conversation I found myself resorting to as a red herring on many occasions.
It has to do with finding my niche or place within this community. I had nearly a dozen people ask me, as a member of the organizing team, what all that entails. I wasn't really being modest when I said, "It entails having Lisa share credit with me for all the incredible work that she does." I feel as though my contribution to both the organizing team and the community at large is greatly lacking. This is my fourth year. I should be running sessions. I should be blogging great ideas. I should know what that thing is that makes me happy and be doing more of it. I know that. I just feel paralyzed by my lack of self-awareness of what that is and what I have to give. Or whether I have anything of uniqueness to offer at all. Although I can organize the heck out of same name tags. ;)
That doesn't mean I feel like I don't belong at TMC. I am an educator who strives daily to be better. It is my passion and my life. That is enough of a reason to know that I belong here. After all, it's about the community, stupid. But what is my strength. What do I have specifically to give to the community that has given so much to me? I've always jokingly said that I am a jack of all trades and a master of none. I didn't go to school to be an educator. I don't have a degree in mathematics. And at every crossroads in my career (and my life) - both large and small - I move toward my area of weakness rather than my area of strength. If something makes me uncomfortable, that's always what I do next. Which I think has made me a well-rounded educator and human being, but it means that I don't live in my wheelhouse. And I don't even know what my wheelhouse is.
Anyway. Not a traditional TMC reflection. I have a draft blogpost started of my big pedagogical takeaways. But I felt like I needed to write about the difficult part for a bit of catharsis. And maybe to remind myself that there is a new place of discomfort that I need to explore...learning to be more confident in my own contribution to this community.