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Conferences and Comfort Zones

By Amy Nelson

This past weekend, I attended a midsize conference for the vocational training school I am currently enrolled in. I was not quite sure what to expect.

In the past, I have attended more than a few conferences, of various sizes, in many different industries. Since I have worked the logistical side of a conference before, that gave me the confidence to attend as a participant. But academic conferences can be a different ball of wax altogether. However, being a for-profit school, this wasn’t exactly an academic conference, as such.

This conference was billed as an academic and networking conference for currently enrolled students and recent graduates. There were about 1,500 participants, primarily female. Most were either mid-career switching or post-children, workforce re-entry age. The audience was vastly international with 50 countries represented. Of the participants from the United States, all but six states were represented.

This conference turned out to be, in part, extended lectures - filmed for future courses. Part of the conference was hands-on, peer-to-peer training, mostly in a large group setting, with partnered exercises and role playing. The last part of the conference was the inevitable sales pitch for advanced programs that the school offers.

The interesting part about this school is that it is vocational training, steeped in deep, current, peer-reviewed, evidence-based, scientific research. But, it is also, in part, an entrepreneurial business school. The topics on the agenda were very wide ranging. It made the conference feel a bit jarring to me. I had a hard time switching gears from deep science talk about herbal remedies and support for women’s health to working the side hustle and developing this business as a business not a hobby. We swayed from a blissful, high energy, meditation to hard core, in-depth, financial topics about investing and portfolio management. I wish they had planned an academic day and a business school day instead of jumbling the topics all together.

In all, I took away a lot from the conference because I let it be what it was going to be. Going to this conference was a big leap of faith. I was stepping out on my own, literally, as I went alone with only a few contacts I had met through our online class interactions. I was stepping up into this new career space and owning it as mine. It was a time to put a lot of my personal package to the test for those who are also working through this part of the process; to see if this new identity fits me and if not, what I need to change to make it fit well.

I chose to toss my practiced scripts aside to see what came out of my mouth every time I introduced myself to someone. I wanted to see how the other students presented themselves. I went to make connections and get inspired to bring my commitment back to my community. I had all of these things planned out and decided to let the flow go and try new iterations as I went along. What words fit in my mouth best when asked, “So what is your intention with this program?”

I found myself falling to several specific phrases and causes when answering that question. When I tried to interject a different one, it sounded fun, but rang hollow. Some of my answers didn’t engender the same vibration in my belly. I worked hard to feel the impact of my words and how they made me feel inside.

One of the presenters spoke about energy healing and how, in the Western world, we have something called the placebo effect and how it is summarily dismissed by most Western medicine as not helpful. His discussion held that in Eastern medicine the placebo effect doesn’t exist as a concept because it is understood that thought influences the physical being as much, or more so, than any substance one can ingest or absorb from the outside environment. The same thing follows with that spark of right intention, of joyful felt sense of emotion. Once that feeling can be intentionally recreated, one can then practice that intention and, eventually, fan that spark into a giant beacon of healing.

The most valuable thing I learned to understand was what a felt sense of an emotion means and how to capture that spark in myself. I learned what words I speak, that spark that warm physical sense of joyful and peaceful emotion. I can do anything with this new career, but I needed to find out what I have to do. Learning that physical, felt sense of emotion - that sense of energetic vibrational spark of joy and forward motion - when I said those specific words was invaluable. Now I know what I need to do, what spark to fan into that beacon of healing light for my community.

My main complaints about the conference itself are mostly logistical in nature. For example, the floor of the building we were meeting on is an internationally renowned concert hall. However it was labeled on the documents we were emailed prior to the event by the least common of all of its names. If the location had been labeled by the famous name it would have been much easier to find. As it was, there was absolutely no signage or ambassadors anywhere else in the building except the floor we were meeting on to indicate where we were supposed to go, and as it was listed by a different name, none of the building staff knew what we were asking for.

This conference has the potential to be so much more than it was for the participants and it frustrated the past event professional in me that there wasn’t more to it. I also know that my felt sense of joyful forward emotion says - let another event professional take the conference to the next level, my work is elsewhere. I’ll enjoy the fruits of their labor while celebrating my own at next years’ conference.


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