The Polymath’s Guide to Dealing With It

Well, this is awkward.

I like to write when I’m happy and sometimes when I’m angry (anger makes me funnier!), which is like 87% of the time.

When I don’t like to write is when I’m struggling with something that I don’t like to talk about – namely, crippling social anxiety. It’s no fun. It’s kind of the skeleton in the closet. Because most people, when they meet me, are like “oh! You’re not anxious/awkward/weird/nervous at all! You’re great!”


That’s because it takes days if not weeks for me to mentally prepare myself for going to some sort of social event. Especially one where I don’t feel that I know anyone. I understand the phrase “herculean effort” in the context of going to a comic convention, which is something I enjoy.

To be frank, I don’t even know why I’m writing this. Maybe it’s to give other people out there some hope? I don’t exactly have tips for managing this; I am not a poster child for healthy habits. But I guess I can describe what happens to me, and if someone out there finds this helpful, then that’s great.

Without further ado, I present “The Polymath’s Guide to Dealing With it.”

Step 1: Sign up for the event, momentarily forgetting that you will be curled up in the fetal position when you finally realize that you have to be around people, in public.

It’s all fun and games when someone’s filling out a registration form. All of your Twitter friends are doing it, and you know that it’s going to be fun. Why wouldn’t you sign up?

Step 2: Forget about the event because you registered like 18 months in advance, to make sure that you could get a ticket, and go on about your life.

Life moves on. Not going would be worse than going, so we’ve done our due diligence and signed up just as soon as possible. Because it’s way worse to say you’re going to go, talk it up a bunch, and then miss it because you failed to sign up.

Step 3: As the event approaches, begin making a list of all of the things that could go wrong.

The event could be cancelled; inclement weather could crop up and cause flooding; the venue might experience a fire; a spontaneous mosh pit might form right around your 5ft person; your car could break down; your flight could be cancelled; your plane could crash; a meteor could strike the Earth; alien invasion; you might get sick; everyone there might speak a language that you don’t understand; the power could go out in the entire city; your favorite shirt might be dirty the day of; they might not have functional bathrooms; you will have to walk all over a city you don’t know with a giant suitcase that just screams “MUG ME! I DON’T BELONG HERE”, and you’ll get mugged, and no one will believe that you are you because you will have no proof, and they’ll end up arresting you, and you get out, and no one answers their phones, and now you’re homeless.

Step 4: Become hyper-aware of all things related to the event, reading into each one of them.

Start checking the weather for the area. Learn the public transit time tables. Read up on crime. Double, triple, and quadruple check your reservations for hotels and travel because you probably actually forgot to make the reservations, and you’ll be stranded.

Step 5: A few days before you need to leave, start panicking.

Full blown. Take an hour long shower with your head tucked between your knees, so you can breathe. The world is literally crashing down around you because of your silly notions of being around people.

Step 6: Apologize to your family for being so weird and fixated on this thing

They already know this about you, but go ahead and bemoan the fact that you keep doing this. They will remind you that you’ve done it before, and everything has turned out just fine, and you’ll actually enjoy yourself. Agree with them, but secretly don’t believe them because this time will be different, and you know it.

Step 7: Distract yourself

Watch funny movies or tv shows; play an embarrassing number of hours of video games; write blog posts, poking fun at yourself

Step 8: Don’t sleep the night before your departure

Sleep is for wimps.

Step 9: Fake it ’til you make it

At the end of the day, money you’ve paid trumps the fears, so you put on a brave face and head out. No one needs to know that on the inside, you’re just a knotted ball of anxiety and self berating. Spend the entire social event working overtime to not let your fears bleed out over everyone you meet. Smile and joke and laugh, secretly fighting off whispers that all of those people are actually laughing at you. Make sure no one sees your forced deep breaths.

Step 10: Go home and recover

Spend at least a week sequestered in your home, speaking only to those with whom it is necessary to converse. Eat whatever food is available in your house – grocery shopping is too disastrous. Play a game that you know you’ll win, so you feel like you’re accomplishing something.



A Polymath’s Guide To…Submitting Speaking Proposals

There are 6 days left to submit a speaking proposal for Dreamforce 16. If you’re considering it, on the fence, not sure, I’m here to tell you to give it a shot. You have something to share. I promise.

Sit down, let me tell you a story.

Within 6 months of starting this job (the one that I’m saying goodbye to this week), I was a Marketo Certified Expert. And you know, I still didn’t feel like an expert.

Less than a year after that, Marketing Nation Summit put out a call for speakers. I had never done a speaking engagement that large. I wasn’t a Marketo Champion. I still didn’t feel like an expert. Maybe I just was feeling invincible, or more likely a little nihilistic – what does it matter if I’m accepted to speak or not? It won’t solve the world’s problems. *dramatic weeping*

I figured it would be a good practice for writing a proposal. I thought I might get some feedback about why my submission was passed over.

Instead, a few months later, I got an email saying “Hey! We’re super excited to have you speak at Summit!”

I was really excited, too. And then I was nervous. Now I had to actually, you know, create content and present. It wasn’t enough to feel kind of ready to share information, or to kind of feel like I knew what I was talking about. I had to present myself like an expert. I had to ensure that people weren’t wasting their time. No pressure.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret: these events want you to speak, and they want you to succeed. I had two contacts to help me prepare – one to make sure I had everything I needed, and one to help me ensure the content was accurate and helpful. We did dry-runs and presentation reviews, and they were available to answer any questions. I didn’t have to be an expert in everything because they were there to help me become one, at least long enough to impart some wisdom.

Moral of this story: there is no reason not to submit, if you feel even somewhat inclined to do so.


But how do I go about it?

  1. Think of a mistake you made, especially early on – some lesson you learned the hard way. OR think of something that your users or coworkers struggle with that you’re just really good at. Either option will likely be a popular or useful topic.
  2. Every day, navigate to the speaker submission page. Trust me. It’s weird, but it helps. Just a tab that sits there, reminding you to at least consider it.
  3. Determine if you want to present solo or with someone. If you want to present with someone, reach out to a few people you know or would like to get to know better, and ask them.
  4. Come up with a few titles – a funny one, a serious one, a straightforward one. Whatever you think of, write it down/type it up. You can settle on one before you submit.
  5. Write an abstract. It needs to be fairly short, and it needs to pack a punch. I’m a fan of extended metaphors, so I usually default accordingly.
  6. Ask people 100% unrelated to your job to critique them – could they reasonably understand what your session is about? If so, guaranteed someone even remotely associated with what you do will also understand it.
  7. Fill out the submission form. Don’t send it in yet – you’re nervous, I get it.
  8. Fill out the submission form again. Your confidence is building. The information is already there, right?
  9. If you didn’t press submit the second time, go ahead and fill out the form once more, and this time press that button.
  10. Congratulations! You just submitted an idea!

Now guess what? You’ll probably forget about it. It takes a while for event folks to pour over submissions and decide what makes the cut, and your life is going to continue on. You’ll have the same people complaining, the same folks asking questions, the same men and women inviting you out for a happy hour(I imagine you’re more social than I am – maybe not. Maybe, like me, you’ll just keep playing games.).

I’ve since had sessions rejected, too. And, yeah, it kind of sucks, but it’s really not that bad. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to the event, doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. It also means you don’t have to miss any presentations to be there for yours. It means that you can go and have fun and not be pacing around your hotel room reciting the lines to a fake rap you wrote to wow the audience.

So what’s stopping you, really? Only you are.