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Buck the Trend - don't be a sheep

Do you think the title is harsh? I do, too. But I want to ensure my point is not lost on you. And to let you know this post may be a little controversial and push some buttons.

I’ve had a mix of professional experiences over the past two weeks.

And I learned a little something about myself, which is, of course, a never-ending process and something I seek on an on-going basis.

What I am about to dive into, some peers from my corporate life may label as a “career-limiting move” … and all that really means is that I am about to say something that goes against the norms, and what others accept as the way to do things or what everyone wants or expects. If you have any relationship with me, you’ll know that I tend to seek ways to do the opposite. I’ve even been told that I don’t respect authority. It’s not that I don’t respect it - I have just learned to live a life that does not accept the status quo and not question anything solely because I’m told to do so. I always question and make up my own mind, not always where you can see it, but my mind is always on the move and processing information. I do not accept that there is only one way to do something or that anything is ever “done” - and if you ever tell me “that’s just the way we do it,” I’m really on high alert and tend to go into an offensive state of mind. Almost like I’m personally challenged.

I also don’t want to change anything just for the sake of changing it. Maybe it just needs tweaking. Or maybe the process flows and truly it can be left alone for now. But I’m always evaluating, always researching.

What I want to address here is a very popular arena, a way of doing things to which M-A-N-Y people respond very well. It may even be something they crave. But I would wager that there are also many others that do it, or go along with it, because they believe it’s the way things should go. I’m here to tell you there are alternatives, to trust your gut, and be on alert. And be cautions of what is being fed to you.

So, let’s break it down.

I want to share with you some varied experiences I’ve had over the past two weeks while attending a few different conferences. Let me start by saying that I have attended (and, quite frankly, also planned) more than my fair share of events, meetings, seminars, etc., and I love the feeling of comradery, the knowledge and experience I gain from attending.

First, I attended an association conference filled with women who are passionate about their work and supportive of each other. It was warm, engaging, personal, educational, and all around enjoyable. I would, for sure, return for additional experiences.

The following weekend, I attended two other conferences or summits, and my experience was quite different. Neither of these were targeting my specific industry, just for small businesses in general, so I was interested and eager to learn any new nuggets of knowledge I could discover to help me on my journey of building my empire. Because yes, that is my goal. I have big dreams - buckle up and get ready.

The first was smaller than I expected, but actually pretty organized, which suited my brain. Most of the vendors there really did not interest me, but I had attended for the presentations and to hear the speakers. It was a free event, so I was already kind of questioning myself for attending - I solidly believe in the adage “you get what you pay for.” And what ended up happening was that l left early, after just the 2nd presentation of what was supposed to be day-long experience. The first was rather vapid and self-promoting for the panel, but I could live with that. But it was during the second one, given by one of the leaders of the conference, that some advice was given that was, what I consider, less than ethical, and it made me extremely uncomfortable. That immediately made me doubt anyone or anything else coming for the day, so I left. It was almost like something was pulling me out of the building, and I chose to not ignore it.

And then I spent the remainder of the day getting actual work done.

The following day, I attended another seminar, and this time it was one I paid for. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where my learning happened. I learned that I am not a fan of the pseudo-excitement, the kind that is almost forced upon you, and created by loud music, high-fives upon entering the room, loud cheering and jumping up and down, and a dance contest at the start of the session, to “create energy and excitement.” It just all felt so fake. Orchestrated. Forced. And dare I say - at risk of causing offending - extremely evangelical. Like the planners were trying to convince everyone that we were in the most exciting place in the world, which again, just felt fake. I went in with a desire to be provided value, not hype. The meeting was marketed as value-based and full of desired content to drive business growth. Please note that I was fully aware that the entire thing was a sales tool to get attendees to ultimately sign up to use their systems, and that’s fine and perfectly acceptable. As I listened to the first session, I found that some of the information being provided was for those perhaps just thinking about starting a business because some of the thoughts were pretty basic. I do not consider myself an expert in this arena, and maybe while I did get confirmation about what I knew, I honestly got nothing out of the first few hours. But again, I can live with that if I ended up getting something out of it. The second speaker, while touted as an expert on his subject, clearly did not rehearse his technology, had a presentation that was difficult to read or follow, and heavily ran over time (which as a meeting planner and busy business owner, is a major annoyance of mine).

I did need to leave early for another personal commitment, but I left even earlier than I expected and did not return for the 2nd day. Oh, and the daily parking fee at the facility had not been negotiated and I paid full price. Yes, it’s a cost of doing business and education and I did not expect it to be comped, but no negotiated price shows that the planners did not consider all the needs of their attendees. Maybe my years of meeting planning give me a little attitude about topics like this, and I’m willing to own that. I know I have personal biases and rather high expectations, but no higher than I would expect from myself.

To achieve any level of personal change or improvement, there is no magic pill. There is no cosmic advice that automatically works for everyone, in your personal or business life. But the snake charmers (here and elsewhere in the business world and life), after briefly stating that while results they show are not typical, go on to show how “easy” it is, and only takes “these 4 easy steps!”

Sorry, but no, that’s not how it happens. If it did, everyone would be doing it, making millions, and quite frankly wouldn’t need your consulting services. It takes hard work. Dedication. Commitment. Sacrifice. It’s not a negative thing - but it needs to be real. Honest. Celebrate that.

Also, let me clarify - I am not an introvert. Yes, I do tend to be more observant in new situations (I am aware that I can be a little too assertive sometimes and I don’t like to scare people off and give them a wrong impression of my intentions - you know, I like to control my message) and do work and live alone, but I rather enjoy being the center of attention and do not shy away from taking chances, moderate risk, talking to and engaging with new people, and just generally being active in my surroundings. But it has to be real.

First, I do not, and I refuse to do business or live my life in any way that is unethical or misleading. The speaker I mentioned before who provided the advice that shocked me is an industry leader and I’m not ready to call him out, but needless to say I will not be attending any future events of his.

I also confirmed how I will and will not be running events for my company in the future. I may be in the minority of that meeting design - while I experienced fakeness and forced enthusiasm, others ate it up and it seems to be quite popular - and I’m ok with that. But to me, if you need to work that hard to keep people’s attention, it ain’t real. It seems to create a herd mentality, and group think (which is dangerous on many levels). And almost kind of a cult feeling. Going back to trying too hard…there’s an old saying, “putting lipstick on a pig” … that’s the feeling l got.

And let me clarify and quantify a little more. I’ve been to multiple company annual meetings and industry conventions that start their meetings with the energetic music and pulsing vibe and excitement - but they have a different feel. There is already a common thread that ties all the attendees together. There is no element of sales or up-selling involved.

So while I will, in the end, still pursue to share the stage with professionals who work with and present and speak to large groups, I know where my comfort level is. And when I execute my own events next year, they will most likely be on a slightly more intimate level in the manner of presentation and planning.

So, by now you’re probably asking, “Karen, what is your point with all this.” Right? Is this just a rant on how meetings should be run? And my answer is clearly no. It goes deeper than that.

I want you to think about how you’re participating in life and allowing things to happen around and to you. I want you to make your decisions and choices based on your own needs and desires. I want you to not buy into the party just because it seems cool and is a popular way of doing something.

What works for and is good for others may not work or bring value to you. Don’t follow the trend or activity or advice strictly because you think that’s what others are doing or because you randomly or blindly think you should. Because someone else is doing it. Buck the trend and find your own path. In fact, if it feels off or too good to be true - which most of the time it is - stand up to it, call it out for what it really is, and remove it from your life.

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