My First International Talk

I’ve reached a few milestones lately and now that some of the big projects are done it’s time to reflect and celebrate!

Earlier this year, I was invited to go to California and speak at an internal Google conference. How wonderful! I actually googled the sender to make sure I wasn’t being pranked. 🙂 Even better, there were others like me at the conference or giving talks of their own. I was ecstatic to meet up with others who were openly plural (their term for what I call multiple) and employed in a  non mental health setting. This is the first time I have ever come across this! The two conference organisers and myself negotiated fees and expenses, I talked to the lovely people at Artslaw about contracts with international clients, and then picked the brains of a few brilliant people I know such as Ron Coleman, Helen Glover, and Mary O’Hagan about their best tips for international speaking. We were then able to get into into the really fun part of audience and topic. These kinds of collaborations are some of my favourite work.

Rose and I started a campaign on Gofundme with assistance from some friends who assured me that I would not actually catch on fire and die if I asked for some support from my community, and helped me nut out some cool gifts for different donation amounts and so on. (I have good friends, thankfully) This was so that Rose and Poppy could join me on the trip for extra support for me and as I’m breastfeeding Poppy to keep looking after her. So after much hand holding and brainstorming, we set it up. I created and purchased my cool gifts to thank contributors and planned some local fundraising events with talks and art print auctions.

As is the way with such projects, we encountered some bumps. They were tough on our team but in a paradoxical way appropriate to the topic – which was self care. I decided that I had no business giving a talk on the topic if I couldn’t show it in action when circumstances became difficult – not just for myself but my clients. The big bump was that the conference organisers encountered some unexpected limitations on how their budget was to be used, which precluded my travel arrangements. We each tried some workarounds that looked promising for a time but ultimately didn’t come through. For a little while it seemed the whole project might collapse, and I felt all the things someone feels when you have a public project hitting a tough spot – anxiety and embarrassment, fear that those who had generously donated would feel used, or that those who had been following my career would conclude I had done something wrong or been less professional, or valuable than my client had first thought. Confidentiality and the need for discretion made things extra complicated.

This year has been an interesting experience in dealing with bigger contracts, larger clients, and my very public career development. Navigating them all in a public context as an artist and blogger has often meant I’ve needed to take time out and really consider how to approach my new circumstances and what ethics, transparency, vulnerability, and authenticity all look like in this new space. I have a very clear set of guidelines and boundaries for my public sharing to be safe and responsible in my personal life – you’ll never read me complaining about Rose, or posting something that embarrasses Star for example. Work clients have their own needs and sensitivities to how they and their collaborators are portrayed. And as a contractor who blogs from the same place I draw my work skills from – thinking, reflections, explorations of ideas, designs, frameworks, approaches – I’m also having to navigate the public emerging of my own career, as my work opportunities are both drawn from readers of this blog, but also put off by willingness to show my vulnerabilities in a context (small business, contractor, entrepreneur) where success and confidence is what sells. (more about that another time)

So, I stopped fundraising, my clients and I negotiated a win/win outcome with what we had to work with, and I bought a decent webcam and delivered the talk online. It was a novel experience, I found myself feeling deeply cut off from my senses. I usually spend time with a crowd before my talk and get a sense of them, read the room during and adjust my material depending on the signals I get back, and – the best part- hang out in a corridor afterwards to chat to anyone who wants to share their response. Online was an entirely different kettle of fish. The feedback was very positive, so the material and delivery were still valuable online, and I’m glad it opens up options to be involved in conferences and projects at a distance. However, the sense of dislocation and disconnection for me were the opposite of my usual experiences of speaking. The connection with others is what I value most about talks and workshops and I hadn’t realised that until this experience. I also missed out on listening to other speakers which was deeply sad. However, the opportunity itself was valuable and very appreciated. I learned new skills, got to work with good people, and I’m proud of the way we all navigated it to an excellent outcome. It was a great opportunity to put skills into practice and develop strengths. The topic of self care is frequently handled very poorly and is incredibly relevant. As usual my credibility was not drawn from having all the answers but from having found the regular answers incredibly unhelpful and really wrestled in a painful, personal, and wonderful way, with the topic. It was good work, and it was good to work.

I’m now going to offer a refund on all donations for the trip, and honor the gifts I promised even if the money is refunded. I’m working on new opportunities overseas so I know some people will be happy to have their donation go towards that trip instead. It’s been important to me to have a range of options, and time to be clear about what happened. I appreciate my community a great deal and I don’t like to let my anxiety or inexperience get in the way of good communication.

So, International Speaker. 7 years ago I gave my first public talk, outing myself as having DID, trembling so much I had to sit for the duration. I still have the powerpoint. Doesn’t life take you funny places. Thankyou for being part of it with me.

2 thoughts on “My First International Talk

  1. Sarah congratulations. 7years ago. Only yesterday. You’ve learnt, you’ve grown and yet you still have a heart and soul of a young child and an aged orical. Be proud of who you are not only of what you’ve done.
    Thinking of you often
    More questions than answers but that’s the way it seems to be and it’s is the part of the draw

    Liked by 1 person

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