November 15, 2017

Conferences As Habit-Forming Endeavors

I go to conferences periodically as a part of my job; why not form a (good) habit or two while I’m away.

NOTE: I wrote this post in mid-October and originally it was written as a guest post for another site. That site has chosen not to post it yet (and I will likely just write something else for them when they do), so I wanted to get it out in the world.

I have kids. It’s hardly a confession, but I feel the need to preface almost every conversation with it. You see, I once had a reading habit and then I had a kid; I once had a writing habit and then I had a kid; I once binge-watched TV shows or went out to movie theaters on a whim… the list goes on. Now, I have two children and any habit I formed before the first or between the two birth days has quickly been lost to the chaos that is my household.

However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel. I go to conferences. I go to conferences to network; I go to learn; I go to present. But what I found most recently is that I go to create new habits and routines. The habit-forming endeavor comes out in a variety of ways:

  1. Travel with children is different from travel alone or amongst two adults.
  2. My schedule is dictated by my daily routine, both personally and professionally.
  3. I have many interests that compete for my attention.
  4. I have things I would like to try, but current habits and routines dictate otherwise.
  5. I am an extrovert with few direct outlets due to the above.

Suffice it to say, my most recent conference experience was a breath of fresh air.

First, travel is difficult when you add children and, therefore, the stuff of children to the mix. What was once one bag (checked or not) and one carry-on item per adult is now four carry-on items and multiple bags (checked or not). This time around, I packed very little: one bag, not checked, and one backpack as a carry-on. All of it was functional and I used everything I brought along, which is no small victory for me.

Second, I’m always on a schedule. Between my own work schedule, which bus I need to catch in the morning, what time I need to get my wife and kids out the door, wake-up times, making breakfast, packing lunches, making coffee, etc., I don’t spend much time thinking about what else I can fit into my mornings. I also don’t think too much about spontaneity.

Third, I write a blog at Engineered Eloquence (dot com), I love cooking and food in general, I really like reading, and I try to keep up on various forms of media and current events.1 Prioritization has been something I struggle with each day, as I desire to network and build relationships,2 further enrich myself and my understanding of the world around me, and keep myself healthy in the myriad ways that the human body can be healthy.

Last, though possibly the most important in this regard, I am curious. I am interested in trying things out, in travel, in tinkering, in helping others. I love to travel to learn things instead of be just another tourist; I ride the local public transportation and find the lesser known restaurants that Lovas frequent. These are not always well-established interests, like those above; these are things that are on my long-term to-do list or things that I have lost sight of over the years that I would like to bring back into full view. This is where conferences come in handy.

I feel the need to take an aside to mention a few things before moving forward. Some of the above are things I would struggle with or need to accomplish with or without other people depending on me, so it is disingenuous and frankly unfair to discuss them solely within the context of the freedoms that conferences can sometimes engender. I love my family and the new and interesting experiences and challenges they have brought into my life, so my stints of travel to conferences are by their very nature both exciting and difficult simultaneously.3 I also know that my absence puts strain on my wife, something I try at all costs to avoid. Finally, I know that my ability to go to conferences, let alone present on the work that I do, is a privilege that is not afforded to many, so I am aware of the irony that exists within a blog post describing a practice many people have never and potentially will never experience.

All that being said, this conference was one that afforded me time to think about every choice and every routine with a fresh set of eyes. How simple can my approach be to a given problem? How many pieces of clothing do I need to have? Is an iPad-only lifestyle a possibility? How do I fit a workout routine into daily life?4 What factors lend themselves to deciding between two competing priorities? Perhaps I think about some things of this nature every day, but the nature of my daily life doesn’t generally allow for such flexibility.

Working out every morning, living within my means, dressing with the few items I had with me, and walking for the sake of discovery and not to get anywhere in particular are just a few habits I picked up along the way. Now the hard work begins of continuing these new habits or reminding myself that there is time in the day to pursue these endeavors even when life doesn’t include obvious outlets for their satisfaction.

  1. Notice that my house, bills, yard work, and all of the other expectations of adulthood didn’t make it into my list of interests”.

  2. Relationships like the one that led to this guest blog post. I aspire to some of the things that Nash is able to accomplish, especially as he has started to work on prioritizing his crafts.

  3. I have to admit that a day into my most recent conference, I was missing my family terribly. Thank God for FaceTime!

  4. I will admit to taking a page out of Nash’s book on this one, as I worked out every morning during the conference.

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