Conferencing, in any profession, can be a daunting task. Even though you know that you will be surrounded by throngs of like-minded individuals with similar goals and interests, there is also often an undertow of competition. Yes, we are all writers/artists/scientists. Yes, we are all striving for publication/sponsors/grants. And yes, if there is only one slot open, I hope I get it instead of you. The posturing can be draining to any attendee, where we feel like we need to be constantly “on.” From the moment we eat the stale breakfast pastries offered to participants to the moment we agree to another post-modern debate over a nightcap (even though we’d rather just have some peace and quiet in our hotel room), it’s easy to feel like a contestant rather than a paying attendee.
Thankfully, as my mother constantly reminded me during my childhood, there remains the option for “everything in moderation.” We can attend a conference, promote our own professional goals, and still remain supportive to the writing community at large. In other words, to quote one of my favorite scientists, Patty Hawley (who, by the way, I met at a professional conference and who embodied this sentiment herself), we can both “get along and get ahead.” In fact, according to Hawley’s work examining social development, those of us who balance these characteristics often achieve the most.
As an American woman, in particular, I find this sentiment especially relevant. Culturally, there is still an emphasis on femininity being equated with selflessness, which can leave women at a disadvantage (or at least feeling uncomfortable) in competitive arenas like a writing conference. But, if we approach the situation with the goal to remain both agentic and supportive, we can promote not only our own goals but also a greater respect for the “feminine” traits of cooperation and connection.