This article is part of a 3-part series recapping my experience at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive 2012. It is split into the following sections: Panels, Parties, and Personal. As a reminder, everyone has a different goal and thus a different experience with SXSW. This is one extrovert’s take on 2012’s conference.
Quick Note: This is going to be personal. Unlike parts 1 and 2, this is a more intimate look into me and my experience. For some background, I attended as a single, 32 year old male extrovert without anything to pitch and no goals other than to have a good time and try and learn something new.
South by Southwest 2012 would not have been what it was (in a good way) without some fantastic people who added to my experience in one way or another:
- Rose Mary – My host; It’s her world, I just visited for a while and tried and keep up.
- Shelby – My party buddy. Another local Austin resident, I simply pointed her in the right direction at her first SXSW and she rocked all on her own.
- Jacqueline & Dana – Hosts at the SapientNitro party, consummate people watchers, and seekers of 2am street food. Oh, and an incredibly smart and talented Art Director and Copywriter, respectively.
- SouthByFreeNOMS – Never met him/her in person, but without them, I would have been very very hungry (or actually had to pay money for food).
Overall, I had a better time in 2011 than in 2012, and I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is. In 2011, the stories and pluses just kept increasing as the days went on, leaving me with a linear improvement day-by-day for the entire trip. Moreover, it was my first year doing SXSW the way I wanted to do it, and that made a world of difference. This year, 2012, I started off with a bang (viral website), had two nights of great parties (Saturday/Sunday) meeting some cool people, and then had some really big swings in the other direction by the time Monday came around. I never thought I would spend some of my time sleeping in a pool chair, but it happened. I think one of the posts I put out at the end of SXSW said it best:
My last memory of SXSW 2012 was not a cute face, an awesome band, or the smile of a new friend. Instead, it was a man with two chipped teeth and blood streaming down his face as officers tended to his wounds.
Though, through it all, I really tried to let the bad stuff roll off my shoulder. I just realized that getting angry, upset, frustrated, or any other number of negative emotional words wouldn’t do me any good. Forgive, forget, and move on. Maybe I just internalized it all more, but I think it was the right decision in the long run.
Digging deeper, I realized a few things about being me. Being an extrovert, I really needed to not only meet people and engage folks, but I wanted them to like me. If I wasn’t anyone worth spending time with beyond a quick hello and, “What do you do?” then I took it personally. No, it’s not healthy and no, it isn’t a good idea, but that’s what happened. I also had a goal this year: Rather than just meeting a lot of people superficially, I wanted to really connect with a very small handful of people that I could call friends throughout the next year (at least). I see that as much more valuable, and the only way I could see that as a possibility was to spend time with people on more than one occasion. Sure, I spent countless hours in a row with folks, but I have this fear instilled in me from years ago courtesy of the words of an old friend.
This friend, Erik, once described knowing me as, “A bubble that is amazing when you are around him, but once you step away from that bubble you are no longer under his spell.” I’m paraphrasing here for brevity, but I’ve held on to that for almost 15 years now, and while I’ve been described as charming, I always worry that it can’t last past the moment, and that’s what I desperately want. So a few of my negative mood swings this year were driven by that. Thankfully, I did snap out of the funk eventually and fed off of the strangers around me with conversation starters like, “Did you know that 87.32% of people prefer Q-Tips over the generic brand?” Yes, I was amazed too that this generated so much laughter; it must be in the delivery.
When I returned to SXSW, I was called-out by my best friend on the fact that I kept saying, “I kept meeting locals,” and my tone was making that sound like a bad thing. I pondered on that a bit and realized it was based upon an interaction Saturday night where a local, upon learning (again) that I was not from Austin, completely changed moods and got cold towards me. A fellow SXSWi attendee would never have that reaction, and so I think I feared that happening every time I met someone who was from Austin as opposed to simply visiting for the conference. To be honest, the locals were some of the coolest folks (especially since they didn’t want to pitch me their app or website), and I was unfairly projecting my fears onto them. Everyone still has things they need to work on, and these are apparently mine.
- On Austin: Lively nightlife, great music, cool people, and decent weather considering it’s in Texas. For 20 and 30 somethings, Austin is a fantastic place to consider if you need a town to call home.
- On Being Single at SXSW: The ratio is heavily skewed male during Interactive, so it’s best to focus your energy elsewhere.
- On Alcohol: Anyone who knows me, even a little, knows I barely drink since I don’t like the effects or the taste. At SXSW, social drinking really has a notable effect on your interactions. So, I drink more in 5 days than I do the rest of the year. Luckily, I’m 6’3″, 250 lbs, and drink a ton of water, so I can get away with it.
- On SXSW 2013: Will I go back next year? Yeah, probably. I’ll try again this year to put together a panel, which will nab me a free pass (saving me $600+), but of all the conferences out there, I still think there is value to be had from SXSW. Besides, I need an excuse to see all my local Austin friends again. :)
If you’ve read this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Part 3 or any of the posts in this series. Thanks, and stay in touch.