by Ruth Pearce

When I was younger, I dreaded conferences. All that networking was just too much, and I am not really very good at sitting still. Now, I actually look forward to them. I have learned how to pace myself. I have learned to give myself permission to be human, and, when I just cannot exchange another business card or focus on another session, I take a break. When I have paired and shared to my capacity, I hide in my room without shame!

In the last few months, I have been lucky enough to attend several wonderful events. I started with our own Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu in April. Next, I went to Toronto to present a poster session at the Canadian Positive Psychology Association (CPPA)’s “Exhilarate” conference. In July, I was a presenter in Dallas for the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) Festival, and in August I was back at Kripalu for the first-ever Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) conference.

What I have learned is that every conference is different. I don’t just mean the content and speakers; in our field, those are sometimes not so different. I mean in feel and experience.

The International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) conference in 2015 was an exciting excursion into the world of positive psychology conferences. It was large (1,200 people) and it was held at Disneyworld, in a very traditional conference venue. As soon as I arrived, I felt more than a little overwhelmed. The venue was cavernous, the agenda seemed too busy, and the keynotes were attn by a thousand of my closest friends!

The information shared at the event was incredible, the speakers were leaders and luminaries in the field, and the experience was meaningful, though not as personal as I would have liked. That was the nature of the event. It did, however, show me many facets of what people in positive psychology are working on—from business to schools, from family to military.

At the Embodied Positive Psychology Summit at Kripalu, the focus was much more on the whole person and on personal experience. I could see, hear, and feel the consistent thread, and WBI’s SPIRE model was truly embodied in every experience. There was purpose and meaning, and an intimate connection with speakers and attendees, all feeding the Spiritual. There was good food and ample opportunities to move, which sated the Physical. Our Intellect was stimulated by the wonderful speaker content and sharing of ideas. Relationships were formed, and developed in that short, focused time. We experienced Emotions—from sorrow to joy, anxiety to awe. I had the sense that it was possible to meet everyone in attendance without being overwhelmed.

Finding Ways to Go Deeper
At CPPA’s Exhilarate, I enjoyed the experience of not just receiving but also giving, by presenting a poster. This gave me the chance, within the larger experience, to speak intimately with one or two people at a time about a topic that we shared a passion for: bringing positive education to teenagers. These smaller discussions deepened the conversation, while the variety of workshops and keynotes broadened the conversation.

At the IPEN Festival of Positive Education, the format was once again a large conference, with a lot of bustle and activity. Featuring amazing speakers and thought leaders, the conference had a buzz and a sense of purpose. Again, I was able to connect on an individual level by presenting my poster topic and also by meeting people one-on-one at the WBI booth. I discovered yet another way of connecting with attendees through discussions about how positive psychology learning and sharing could help them and the people around them. I also reconnected with people I had met at prior conferences.

Then I attended the BYTA gathering. With an intimate feel, similar to what I had experienced at our summit earlier in the year, and the same attention to the whole person, I felt at home—and yet, in other ways, I had stepped right out of my comfort zone. It was a new feeling to be the only Caucasian in the room; to be in the minority. And yet, I still witnessed and experienced that sense of connection and reconnection, as I watched people who had not seen each other for 10 years reunited in this uplifting event. I connected with a new community that opened its doors and ushered me in.

The Common Thread
What I have learned is that, with all their differences, conferences have a shared thread: the thread of connection. Connecting with those of like mind. Connecting to reinforce our own experiences and beliefs, and also to hear new perspectives. Connecting in person with experts in the field, and with people who were previously only online acquaintances. Connecting with others who you can support as they change their world, and who can support you as you change yours. At every conference this year, I have connected with people who are now part of a shared path forward. Now, as time goes on, I am deepening those bonds.

Later this year, I will connect in a new way: by leading a workshop on mindfulness and character strengths for NYSDRA, a conference of conflict resolution professionals in New York. As for 2017, I already have a few destinations on my radar…

So how about it? Are you ready to make some connections?

Ruth Pearce, is Business Unit Director of Conferences and Special Events at Wholebeing Institute, where she is currently working on the 2017 Embodied Positive Psychology Summit. She also runs ALLE LLC (A Lever Long Enough), where she works on ways to integrate project management and positive psychology. With a focus on character strengths, ALLE’s mission is to build a world of engaged teams. Ruth is currently working on a book for project managers, The Project Manager Effect: From Organizing to Energizing. As part of the background for the book, she has been researching the role of the project manager as well as the attitudes that project managers have to team engagement.