Here's my +ScienceOnline wrap up of sorts. I was thinking on my flights home about the extreme melancholy we all feel (and tweet about) leaving this conference. And, being a writer, I started compiling my thoughts. Perhaps because I was overtired beyond all reason my thoughts quickly turned into a rant, and a very personal one at that. But it's also an honest rant, so I thought I'd share it without the benefit of editing after a solid 10 hours sleep.
Science Online was terrifying last year because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really know what to do. This year I was more prepared, but also more terrified because more people know who I am. I missed the session on the Impostor Complex, but seeing the tweets and talking about it afterwards I immediately recognized that as my issue.
I was totally unprepared to find out that a lot of people know who I am. And people that I really look up to, too. It’s exciting to know that I’m apparently doing well, but it’s also entirely terrifying. I actually met fans. People actually admitted to fangirling over meeting me and asked for pictures. I was not at all ready for that. It really freaked me out. I consider myself a new, young writer. And that’s when the Impostor Complex set in: is it possible that I've fooled people into thinking I’m worth my salt in this business? My confidence doesn't match the reputation I apparently have.
I’ve never been totally comfortable living online; for me with spaceflight, life and work are one in the same. On one hand the online world appeals to the introvert in me, but on the other hand I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I rely on body language to intuit the nature of my relationship with people. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I’m terribly uncomfortable asking a colleague for an introduction to someone or broaching the subject of a collaboration if I haven’t met them. Even the people that I see digitally every week. Sometimes those three line I-just-want-to-connect-with-you-and-introduce-myself emails take days to write. If you haven't guessed it there's a healthy dose of social awkwardness mixed in with my introverted personality.
That awkwardness doesn’t totally go away when you realize that the brilliant minds whose articles and recommendations you’ve come to trust without question are just as awkward as you are. But somehow two awkwards – fueled by gallons of coffee and bourbon ale on too little sleep – balance out. Maybe it’s because we’re all out of our comfort zones interacting in real life or because we’re all fans of each other, but the introverts become at least temporarily extroverted. Everyone’s relaxed. The common interests and shared experiences take over and everything is just lovely.
On the plane – and I’m going to admit to a really embarrassing guilty pleasure here – I was skimming through Cosmo; my brain needed a rest and nothing’s better than a trash magazine. A reader had sent in a letter asking why she seemed to attract clingy men (riveting, I know). The response suggested she look for confident men rather than those whom she had met at a hug convention. I stopped at the idea of a hug convention. I realized that I haven’t hugged so many near-strangers in my life as I did at Science Online. Because those near strangers have all gone from online acquaintances to actual friends.
Science Online has this wonderful ability to break down the barriers that make people seem so scary. Taking three days to write a two-line introductory email feels so incredibly stupid when the first thing you do upon recognizing that person is blurt out a non-perfect greeting and give them a big hug.
The networking that happens at Science Online is absolutely invaluable, but the benefits of this conference go so far beyond making professional contacts. Finding that other people have Impostor Complex issues or are uncomfortable being recognized, sharing strategies about navigating the often murky waters of building relationships through text alone (again, I’m a body language person), learning how other people deal with the positive and negative people in their professional lives… It’s wonderful to meet the people beyond their work, and perhaps better to know that we all have our anxieties. And no shortage of awkwardness.
I’ve decided that the Impostor Complex can be a good thing, which is probably good because I can’t shake it. For me, it’s a feeling that pushes me to improve, to work harder, and to live up to the reputation I apparently have. I've always loved working online, but I feel oddly more comfortable with it now. And that might be the most valuable thing I learned at Science Online 2013.
Bora, Anton, and Karyn, you’ve created something really beautiful. Thanks.