New York State of Mind… – Sam Garrett – Medium
Leave it to New York to be the thing that inspires me to write again. I haven’t written anything since my Grandpa passed away last summer, but as I sit here in a 5th story loft listening to the rain fall on the Brooklyn streets below, I am inspired to once again share my thoughts.
I am currently attending a product marketing conference, which I didn’t really even want to attend, and most of my day is spent sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair that is reminiscent of elementary school, listening to experts talk to a room of about 60 people hanging on their every word; pens scribbling furiously, the tapping of keyboards creating a techno like soundtrack. While I feel like I did gain some knowledge to take away, I spent most of my time overthinking and tying myself up in knots about having to socialize with all of these people.
Social anxiety is the most common mental health diagnosis in the world, but it’s actually not one of my anxieties (shocking huh?). I actually enjoy talking to people; I feel like it gives me a certain energy that you can’t get from any other source…it’s this simpatico element that you can only get from another human when you connect over mutuality. However, my first impression of these people are not great. I was the second person there at exactly 8:00 this morning, when registration was supposed to begin. I got my name badge, which had my last name misspelled, got some decaf coffee and sat down next to the first person who had arrived. I figured we would have something to talk about since we both have what my Grandpa called “terminal early”. I smile and say, “Good Morning” and she says “Hi” and then pulls out the world’s best defense mechanism, her phone. I get the hint and keep to myself. As time ticks by more and more people start to trickle into this small room that now smells like a mixture of aftershave and day-old eggs. People make eye contact and I smile and try to start conversations only to be once again shielded by their digital armor.
I finally give up and decide to head down to the event space, which is another small room but this time there are floor to ceiling windows and an old wooden stage equipped with an old microphone and a wooden podium, once again reminiscent of elementary school. Again, I am the second person in the room, although this time I just keep to myself. The room slowly fills, and I get the suspicion I am being avoided; I am in the end seat of a row and everyone appears to be strategically passing the row. The time that we are supposed to start is now 5 minutes passed, now 10 minutes, now 30 and they have yet to start the conference. I am still in a row by myself when they finally start 45 minutes passed the intended start time. I do my best to pay attention to the man at the podium introducing the conference, but I am overwhelmingly aware that I am in a row all by myself as everyone else seems to have found a buddy and caring on quiet, silly conversations.
This is the point when my anxiety kicks in and the overthinking begins; the thoughts are too fast to actually catch, but the constants have the cadence of “am I too awkward?”, “is it because I look different?”, “Am I overdressed?”, “Is it because I’m out of my league?”. I start to get very nervous about future aspects of the day, the “networking” breaks. How am I supposed to network with these people when they won’t even give me a chance? Soon enough the time comes where we are released to wildly converse with each other about our mundane lives and the “interesting” things we are all achieving. I am sitting alone when a very tall, very powerful looking woman sits next to me. She strikes the conversation by saying she likes my bag (a Timbuk2 messenger bag) and this leads to an appropriate conversation about their products and their marketing. She then asks about me and notices I am from Kaiser, which she thought was interesting because we don’t have “traditional” products, so I proceed to tell her the whole story of our strategy. She is wildly impressed with what we have planned and what we have accomplished so far and the areas of innovation that I have helped with pertaining to our market strategy. I come to find out she is Alexis Miller, the Global Product Marketing Manager for Adobe (also one of the keynote speakers). We exchanged cards and I am beyond elated.
I have to wonder how extremely successful people like Alexis manage their stress and if they have any anxieties? Sometimes I think it’s impossible to be that successful with a mental health issue because the more success you have the more time is taken from yourself. I have gotten as far as I have by sheer stubbornness, unwillingness to just lie there and let my anxieties win and fighting tooth and nail every single day; but I have to wonder if there is an easier way.