I have mixed feelings about attending conferences by myself.  On the one hand, and I think everyone can agree, getting away is nice.  On the other, traveling solo means eating meals by yourself (or ordering room service in your bathrobe) and awkwardly meandering through happy hours and social events looking for eye contact, a smile, anything that gives you an in, so that you can avoid looking like a complete idiot by tacking yourself on to a circle of people who obviously know each other, laughing casually in an effort to squeeze into the conversation.

I am great one on one.  Sales meetings, business discussions on the trade floor, and the like are a piece of cake.  Couldn’t be easier.  But in Las Vegas at happy hour, I was by myself, sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc, watching two alien figures in stilts (outfitted in bubble costumes and led lights) scare the heck out of people.  That’s Vegas for you.  As freaky as these “light people” were, they were a blessing, a conversation starter.  I asked a lady next to me, who was also sipping solo, how her day was and we were off, covering everything from Hawaiian real estate to holistic and alternative medicine for pets. A few others joined our conversation as the appendages of the light people swung over our heads.  I even felt relaxed enough to eat a mini crab cake.

But after twenty minutes, my newfound conversationalist was calling it a night and I was quickly back to where I had started.  So, I headed in another direction (away from the light people) and searched for an new in.  I found a smile at the corner of a high top table and started chatting with John and Jessica, both of whom are based in Vegas at the host hotel.  We chatted for a while but John had door duty and Jessica had business to attend too, so I reluctantly said goodbye again.  It was about that time that I had had enough, and slipped out of the bar and headed back to my hotel, to my kingsize bed.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference the next morning talked for an hour about what it means to be vulnerable.  She went off on a few other tangents about anxiety and what it means to be joyous, but she talked a lot about how much people hate feeling, being and acting vulnerable – yet it is often what defines us. The happiest people in life, she said, are those who don’t feel vulnerable but rather those who feel comfortable being so.  I couldn’t help but thinking this in terms of being alone, whether it be alone at happy hour, in an airport, or in my apartment.  Somewhere along the course of my time here in New York, it became difficult for me to be alone; I shy away from it just as others shy away from vulnerability.  Maybe being alone and being vulnerable are one and the same.  I haven’t quite figured it all out yet.  It might be one of those memories that I look back on in ten years and say, oh, I get it now.

The next morning I had an email from Jessica saying how glad she was to have met me and that I was so brave to have come up to speak with them, being that I was at a conference by myself. I felt slightly pitied, and a bit disconcerted, but ended up with a positive sentiment.  Sure, I could have easily abandoned any hope of socializing all-together and take the easier hermitic path but, no, I gave it a shot.  Now I just have to take the awkward meandering route as many times as it takes to start feeling completely comfortable with being alone, whether in a room full of people or by myself on the couch. Practice. Practice. Practice.