For three days, I’ve been wearing a badge that says “First Timer”. I’m at the Romance Writers of America convention in San Diego along with two thousand other people, and just about as many palm trees. The badge has been amazing, though. It came with my registration packet, and has been a better conversation starter than anything else I can remember. So many people have gone out of their way to ask me how I’m enjoying the event, etc.
Now, if you know me, you would probably not guess that I am really shy. I know how to push past that – I know how to find common ground with someone and start a conversation. I know how to sell. I am outwardly passionate about many things, and appear more confident than I feel. But, it’s really difficult for me to do so, even if I make it look easy. By nature, I’m a wallflower. Just ask anyone who went to grade school or middle school with me. Wait, don’t do that. They probably won’t remember me. Or if they do, it might be as that girl who spent all her time in the library.
What I love about the “First Timer” badge is that it exposes my vulnerability, my disadvantage, right there around my neck. And it prompts people to respond with kindness. Likewise, it allows me to identify other first timers and reach out to them.
It dawned on me that it would be such a nice thing if we could wear ribbons around our necks that gave people immediate insight in to our struggle of the moment. Perhaps:
1. I am shy.
2. I am in pain.
3. I just had my heart broken.
4. I am anxious.
5. I am new in town.
6. I am a caregiver.
7. I am sad.
8. I feel unloved.
9. I am struggling to pay my bills.
10. I can’t find a job.
If we saw someone’s vulnerability right away, it might be a great ice breaker. We could find some way with which to identify. Some way to welcome. But few of us do that. We look the other way in an elevator. We focus on our phone. We assume that they have it all together and wouldn’t want to talk to us. We make a judgment (good or bad) on the outside packaging. But, we don’t talk. We don’t approach.
Maybe we should assume instead that the person would appreciate a hello. And see where that goes.
So, as I wear my “First Timer” badge, this introvert is basking in gratitude for everyone who is reaching out. Next year, I won’t be a first timer. But, I’ll be on the lookout for those who are. And I’ll ask what I can do to make them feel welcome.
(Note: Those examples don’t necessarily apply to me, in case you were worried!) 😉
(And, second note: Lest that’s confusing for those whom I met at RWA last year, I was not actually an attendee. It was sold out. I was in town seeing my sister at the same time, and met my agent and my editor while they were in New York as well. This is my first actual attendance here.)