I attended my first professional conference when I worked for a local university in their Disability Services department. I was the sign language interpreter coordinator and I flew to Chicago to learn more about the craft and meet other interpreters around the country.

I was 12 weeks pregnant with the twins at the time so one of my most poignant memories of that conference was throwing up in the hotel bathroom and getting up early to walk to the Starbucks around the corner so I could have some orange juice with ice. But there are other things, too, and one of them was the pressure and anxiety I felt to make connections. Rub shoulders. Network.

I don’t remember any of the people I networked with. I remember my roommate Stacy who brought me tea when she knew I wasn’t feeling well. I remember cold orange juice. I remember lonely. I remember my husband on the other end of the phone, offering acceptance and comfort in the midst of a difficult week.

Looking back, I’m not sure why I felt anxious in the first place. It was a bunch of sign language interpreters, after all. But every profession has their own celebrities and none of us are immune, I guess.

Still, I couldn’t wait to get home.

For several summers, my editor and I have led a session at a writer’s conference where we offered 12 truths to know before you write your next book. This is the fifth year I’ve attended this conference. The first year I went as an attendee. Every year after that, I’ve gone as a speaker.

I really love this conference – the women who run it and the women who attend it are lovely, kind, humble. Still, in environments like this, aren’t we always on our best behavior?

People ask questions like how to grow your readership and how to build your platform and I find myself wanting to offer a hug and also fling heavy objects across the room.

Here’s the thing: You are a person and I am too, and we desperately need each other. We eat tuna on rye and have bushy eyebrows and we hold our hearts together with smile-shaped band-aids and a handful of Oreo cookies.

Pass the milk, please. I can’t do this without you.

After writing on this blog for many years, and writing a few books, there is one thing I’ve learned about myself. I’m lousy at networking. It’s a corporate word and I’m not a corporate girl.

But I’m pretty good at making friends. And I’m an expert at being myself. After doing this for a while, I’m learning that’s really all people want anyway.

We can be professional without being stiff.

We can be influential without being preachy.

We can share our stories without being self-centered.

So let’s learn how to make friends, build trust, pray, listen. The world doesn’t need more networks.

How have the people in your life earned the right to influence you?

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