Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Going the Distance - Life After #heweb12

It’s been a week since I flew out of Milwaukee and away from the 2012 Higher Ed Web Conference - and my head is still swirling with lessons learned. After the last conference I went to, I wrote about my five biggest takeaways and what I hoped to do from that point forward. But #heweb12 affected me in a very different way - quite literally, I felt it change me. (For those of you looking for a summary of the conference, be forewarned - you won’t find it here.)
This story starts here. I was a swimmer for 16 years, four of those in college. After specializing in the butterfly for 12.5 years, my college coach pulled me into his office in the middle of my sophomore year and asked (er... told) me that he and the team needed me to try something different. He was going to enter me in the 1000-yard freestyle, one of the longest races in collegiate swimming, in the upcoming meet to see how I’d do.

Suddenly I found myself faced with a very real challenge that scared the Speedo logo right off my bathing suit. Going from doing four laps of butterfly to 40 laps of freestyle wasn’t just a different ballgame - it felt like a different sport. The 1000 involved a lengthy game plan and a heavily-practiced strategy, one that I didn’t have and it was a responsibility. While I knew I had to take it on in the best interest of the team, I was intimidated to do so. 

My coach and I planned and strategized. How do I tackle this? I didn’t even know where to begin. Worst of all, I didn’t have the confidence I’d even finish the race in a respectable way. I knew I’d finish, but would I make my coach and teammates proud? Would I impact the team the way we needed me to?

The race was long, grueling and painful at times. But somewhere around the 29th lap, I saw a light at the end of the lane. I was nearly three-quarters of the way done and I finally started believing I could do it. Every time I took a breath, I saw my coach pumping his arms up and down over his head (which was his universal “You’re doing GREAT!” signal) on the side of the pool and my teammates cheered me on. It kept me motivated until the moment I touched the wall and in every race after. From that point until my career came to an end, I was a distance swimmer. 

What does all this have to do with #heweb12? I came to the conference after taking on some new projects at work and was feeling similar to how I felt just before that race. My new responsibilities weren’t anywhere near easy and much like the 1000, required a game plan and I felt lost about where to start. In order to do my job well, I needed to gain the self-confidence to develop and implement my ideas. I needed to learn to own the position I found myself in. I needed to embrace my new role and do what my team needed me to do. By the time I left #heweb12 I was finally trusting me to do these things - maybe for the first time in my professional career.

Don’t get me wrong - I was blown away by all the incredible sessions I got to attend (every presenter was a rock star). But my biggest takeaway was experiencing the same feeling of empowerment I had during that 29th lap. I owe this personal epiphany to the people I got to meet and know in Milwaukee who, through our many conversations and enlightening discussions, helped me uncover the power within myself to dive into this new adventure and kick it into high gear.

Every #heweb12-er I met inspired me in some way to go out and do *all the things*, and do all the things as awesome as I can. While this new race is just getting started for me, I’ve discovered I’ve got teammates all across the country motivating me and cheering me on, both in my moments of weakness and in my moments of strength. That was the thing about #heweb12; it was a conference filled with amazingly incredible people who do mind-blowing things but the coolest part? They are actively looking for ways to help you do the same. Where else have you found a community like that?

Another note on this incredible group - it was their generosity that got me to #heweb12. Other people working in higher education made personal donations that eventually funded my registration for this conference. No blog post could thank you enough. I hope I’ll make you proud.

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