Dealing With Over-exposure

Posted 2014-04-30
Written by Matt Frost

I just got back from Lone Star PHP yesterday and it was an awesome conference this year, just like last year. In fact, it's one of my absolute conferences out of the list of conferences that I've been to; and I think that fact helped me get to the point where I can understand this a little bit. Before I just start talking about what I learned, I think it's important to give you a little bit of background information about myself. You might already know this so just skip on ahead, there's nothing truly groundbreaking here if you've met me in person. For as long as I can remember, I've loved to make people laugh, while not always good at it; there's something extremely fulfilling to me about telling a joke and getting people going. I don't think that's a bad thing, necessarily, sure I can go overboard sometimes, but I think I tiptoe around that line pretty well most of the time. I have no problems with highlighting my shortcomings in order to get a good laugh, it's just part of the game of making people laugh. If you can't tease yourself and be ok with it, you really can't say a whole lot about other people/situations, makes you look like a jerk, or worse a bully.

So one of the things I've been noticing when going to and from conferences is that I usually hit a point where I just crash. Physically, spiritually, emotionally, whatever it may be, I'm just done. Now the physical aspect of it, especially if I'm speaking at said conference, seems pretty easy to understand. Staying up late + talking + being on your feet + 2 or 3 (or more) days = tired, I like math and that explains it as far as I'm concerned. I always attributed the other forms of crashing as a side effect of being tired, while I'd imagine that's a part of it, I've been recently curious on how I can be so energized and burned out by the same exact group of people in the matter of a couple hours. This is a recent change, when I was younger I could be around people all day long and goof off and be totally fine with it.

While at LoneStar I became more aware of this and I think it was due to the fact that a vast majority of people that I spent significant time with were people I'd met before and people that I really enjoy being around. There were a few occasions while being in a group of people and stealing the center of attention, my whole attitude and demeanor and everything just shifted from "oh this so fun" to "I have to get the hell out of here instantly". Of course, I never actually left when I should have, so with every passing moment that sense of running away intensified until the point where I just left, usually quietly and without company. In the last few years, I've become more aware of myself in social situations and I think that's a good thing. In the past, I had no problems making jokes at the expense of others and that is something that I generally don't really do anymore, except with my closest friends. I don't know that I'm striving for the goal of "I want everyone to like me", I know not everyone will and I'm generally pretty ok with that; I don't like everyone either. I get it. I do spend a lot of time wondering how my behavior in public causes others to view me, not so much to make sure they like me, but more "have I done or said something to really offend anyone?" and I guess my goal is to have people generally not hate me.

Having that goal, I've found, often causes me to speculate how getting up and leaving the group is going to be viewed by the group. Some of it is, "are they going to think I'm upset with them?" "are they going to think {enter negative thing} about me?" So I stick around until a more natural way to exit the situation presents itself. Sometimes its 5 minutes later, sometimes it's much longer than that...much longer. Once I make my premature exodus, going back to my room is often interesting, sometimes it's just flopping on my bed and staring at the ceiling, sometimes it's bawling my eyes out and sometimes it's just preoccupying myself with something that doesn't involve other people, like an OSS project. It's pretty frustrating because it's never really been like that for me before, I'm so used to being constantly energized by people that I've had a hard time coming to grips with this.

My focus has been on not taking myself or the situations I find myself in too seriously, and I've often wondering if in doing this I don't take myself or others seriously enough. I worry about becoming "Over-Confident Douchey Programmer Guy", so if I make a lot of jokes, at worst I'll become "Douchey-Joke-Making Guy" and strangely I'm actually ok with that...I've considered the fact that maybe I'm all too aware of the fact that these conferences don't last forever and at some point I'll have to say goodbye to all these awesome people and retreat to my reality of going back to where I live and being alone. In any case, I wanted to write this and put this out there in case I gave the impression at any point that I was trying to avoid you. I mean, I was, but not because of you; I'm hopeful that as I grow and listen to what my body, mind and emotions are telling me to do, that I can get to a place where I can handle this in a way that isn't totally awkward for everyone around me. I'm really grateful for the PHP community and how much love and support I've gotten from so many of you, unfortunately I suspect there aren't any real "easy" solutions. In the meantime, I'm going to continue working through this and hope that if I offend you by leaving abruptly that you'll understand.

Comments

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Adam Culp

2014-04-30

Well put, and welcome to the crowd. (unfortunately) I think your feelings are common among many of us. If you find the answer please let me know. The short answer is, "No, your not douchey. Your one of the cool kids!"

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Erika Heidi

2014-04-30

I can totally relate to all you wrote, and I think I'm feeling more and more like this lately. Not only in conferences...

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Ben Edmunds

2014-04-30

I go through the same feelings at conferences. You'll often find that I retreat to the speaker's lounge or my hotel room quite often at seemingly random times.

It's mostly due to being "on" takes a lot out of me. As much as I enjoy conferences and get energized by being around fellow developers a few 30 min alone time breaks per day can make a huge difference.

You're not alone buddy.

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Bob Majdak Jr

2014-04-30

For me, the first few days back in my apartment were tough - and that's never a feeling I have had to deal with before. It didn't feel like my apartment anymore and I didn't want to be there. Did not want to be alone, but also did not want to be with people. So I mostly just walked around the city.

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Justin Carmony

2014-04-30

First off, props for sharing. :) I've had similar experiences where I was having a great time, and for whatever reason suddenly I felt like "... and I'm done." Like you're spent, tired, and just need some decompressing time.

Typically I'll just excuse myself and head up to my room and just relax for a bit. For what its worth, we hung out plenty at Lone Star, and not once did I think "Man, this Matt guy is a jerk for getting up and leaving." :)

So to summarize, you're good man, and its totally normal. :)

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Beth Tucker Long

2014-05-01

I feel the same way sometimes. Just all of a sudden, I need to get away from people for about 20 mins. It's gotten worse since I started working from home. I'm much less tolerant of large groups of people for long periods of time. I've tried to make it a point to schedule times where I have to leave the house. Otherwise, I'll get too comfortable hiding out. :)

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James Fuller

2014-05-01

Matt, thanks for sharing.

I think most of it comes down to over-stimulation. In my case these things cause me to feel a lot of anxiety. How could you not when surrounded by so many brilliant people? Impostor syndrome kicks in and it's easy to feel like you don't belong. You have to worry about offending people, and at the end of the day I usually feel emotionally drained, if not a bit depressed. Once I get a few days to process it I start to miss the experience. Just know you aren't alone! Don't let your brain ruin an otherwise good time =]

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Ian Littman

2014-05-02

I was going to say something here, but then I realized that Justin aptly described the situation. Except in my case, since I can pick where I work (home or a coworking spot a mile away) I was able to say "I'll recover from all this human interaction by being holed up at home for a few days afterwards." Because that near-panic of "Aaaaand I'm done here" did happen a few times over the course of the weekend.

Anyway, I'm back to agreeing with Justin: you're a pretty cool guy...and this is from someone who only met you at LSP14 :)

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