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May 28, 2010 / Andy

Fear and Loathing in Columbus


Because this is my first blog post in a few years I think a few words are in order. I’ve been finding myself having a lot of fun programming in Perl lately. This is mostly because of my discovery of catalyst and moose, which are a pleasure to work with. It also has a good deal to do with the community at large. I stumbled onto Iron Man competition and decided to dust off the old blog. This post is only loosely related to Perl but for me it’s an important topic.


I’m heading to YAPC::NA in Ohio next month. As usual when I do these sorts of things, my emotions are a mixed bag. Excitement is a key component, certainly. Though, my old friend anxiety is creeping in as well. I’ve lived with social anxiety in one form or the other for most of my life. It can be a tough problem to confront. Rationally I realize that most of the people attending the conference are going to be friendly and excited to socialize. Unfortunately, my emotional side, the side that tells me I should be worried, doesn’t give a shit about what’s rational. Historically, this has led me to go into these things with the mindset that I just have to buckle down and get through it. This, as you might imagine, causes me to sit by myself and not talk to anyone. Even though that sounds like a blast, let me assure you that it isn’t all that satisfying.


Alright, that was depressing, now for the good stuff. This last year I’ve been working on my anxiety and it’s led me, at least in part, to start treating these trips differently. I now see them as a way to challenge myself to engage others socially. It turns out the topic of conversation really doesn’t matter. The point is to challenge the way I see myself. Specifically, the idea that no one cares about a damn thing I have to say. It ends up working out quite nicely. So much so that during my last trip I ended up talking to a lot of people and in the process had a great time. Not to say that it was easy for me. It certainly wasn’t. But it did get easier the longer I kept at it.


I’m writing this out in part so that I’ll feel obligated to follow through at YAPC::NA, which on one hand is a good thing but on the other it’s scary as hell. My other reason is to increase awareness of the condition. I’m fairly new to the Perl community but writing open source software is inherently altruistic and I get the feeling the community carries those ideals into their everyday lives (contrary to one might see on IRC). So if you notice anyone sitting by themselves not engaging with others then I encourage you to strike up a conversation. Especially if you’re one of those people that usually sits by yourself not engaging.

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7 Comments

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  1. Gabor Szabo / May 29 2010 9:46 PM

    I recently wrote about The awkwardness of socializing at conferences and brian d foy had a very good comment with his strategy on how to open conversation with total strangers.

    Also I’d like to take one sentence out of your post

    Specifically, the idea that no one cares about a damn thing I have to say. 

    . Maybe the focus should be to try to listen to what the other person said.
    So what about consciously focusing on what the other person has to say and putting the emphasize on listen rather than talk? Maybe it’s easier for you and more rewarding to the other person as well?

    • Andy / May 30 2010 9:51 AM

      Thanks for linking to the post about your own experience. It’s always interesting to read about the challenges and successes other people have in these situations.

      I certainly agree with you about letting others talk. Usually at events like these there are people from all over, each having a unique outlook. Hearing what they have to say is almost always fascinating and once the ball is rolling it’s never much of a problem.

      The idea that no one wants to hear what I have to say is the fear that I have to overcome just to start a conversation. Once I do I find things are pretty organic and enjoyable.

  2. Matt S Trout / May 31 2010 7:16 AM

    Well, welcome to the competition and I hope to speak to you over a beer at ::NA!

    I had some thoughts along similar lines – http://www.shadowcat.co.uk/blog/matt-s-trout/fear-of-falling/ – inspired by talking to somebody with the same trouble as you at a perl mongers meet. The thing I forgot to mention there – and that will probably end up as another article at some point – was that the first time I presented, I was scared witless. If you’ve seen any of the videos of me speaking more recently, you might be surprised to read http://blog.dave.org.uk/2005/11/web-frameworks-2.html – Dave Cross’ write up of my first ever presentation (and I’d note that if anything he was charitable – I truly was awful).

    The reason I mention this is that that presentation experience was what set me up to learn and to improve. It gave me a baseline of failure, and so the next time I presented I wasn’t trying to be competent – I was trying to be slightly less incompetent than last time. And every time I presented, that was what I aimed for – and if I was even a smidgen less awful, I was happy – I’d made progress. Repeat this for a few years, and apparently people seem to quite enjoy listening to me ramble on stage now.

    I don’t believe there’s a person alive for whom everything comes easily – and often the most valuable abilities are the ones that are hardest won. So good luck, and here’s a challenge for you – find somebody at ::NA who hasn’t jumped into the social run yet, convince them to do it, then come find me – I’ll introduce you both to whoever I’ve ended up talking to at the time and buy you both a beer to congratulate you.

    — mst, looking forward to YAPC::NA

    • Andy / Jun 2 2010 12:25 PM

      Thanks for the kind words and the link to your post. I actually had given it a read before writing this. In fact I try to read as much of your stuff as possible. I think we’re lucky to have you as one of the community leaders. Not only for your substantial work but also for the attitude you bring.

      I look forward to meeting you at YAPC::NA and I’ll certainly attempt your challenge.

  3. Ashley / Jun 7 2010 8:42 AM

    I have the same issue. For me it’s just about getting started. As soon as I’m talking to *someone*, I’m past it. Perl folks are by and large fun and friendly and excited about Perl and anyone else who is excited about Perl.

    I find open source software the opposite of altruistic however. I do it for myself. Solve *my* problems, scratch my itches, etc. I’m grateful when someone has already solved something that will or has become my problem. 🙂 Human beings tend to do much better work when they approach it that way. Mowing your neighbor’s lawn you just will never do as good a job as mowing your own and that’s how it should be.

    This is why, to me, it all works. When you remove some of the boundaries to ownership/usage everyone has a chance to share their selfishness. It’s counter-intuitive that releasing some rights can result in greater value of what you have left. Sure is cool though.

    • Andy / Jun 9 2010 4:10 PM

      Thanks for posting. You bring up an interesting point about open source software. In a recent conversation it was pointed out to me that some things that appear selfish are in fact enlightened self interest. Which means doing something for personal gain that also positively effects others. The discussion had nothing to do with computers but I think it applies quite nicely to open source software. In my opinion, contributing to open source is at the very least enlightened self interest.

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