Pragmatism vs. Protocol

Had an interesting experience at the end of my latest travel junket.

I facilitated two unconferences, back to back, in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both were quite successful, and while I was more than ready to return home to family when they were done, the traveling was not so bad. Part of that was due to my fortune with my hosts and friends in that part of the country, helping to make my stay a wonderful mixture of “interesting” and “comfortable.”

Part of it, though, was due to my adherence to certain practices in self-care that I’ve come to use while traveling. In particular, at the end of unconferences (I’m nearing fifty of these in the past six years) I have a little “resetting” ritual I do.

  • I put on comfortable jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers (stepping out of the more formal wear I have on while facilitating)
  • I find a theater, preferably some sort of immersive iMax 3D Dolby Super-Duper Awesome kind of place
  • I pick out a movie with no redeeming qualities other than a lot of action, hopefully involving things that go “boom” and bad guys that go “oof“.
  • Either at the movie, or directly after, I eat something truly horrible for me. A large piece of chocolate cake. A hot fudge sunday. A box of popcorn and some junior mints.
I would TOTALLY go see this movie.
I would TOTALLY go see this movie.

This functions as a kind of “ginger for the brain”, to use a sushi metaphor. After a weekend of holding space for remarkable people to share their passions for performing, after moving and teaching and connecting on so many levels with different people, I need to shut that part of my brain off for a while. You might think that sitting quietly and reflecting would do it, and yes, that happens, but it has to happen later. I’ve found through trial and error that trying to go from full-on “Gray the Facilitator” to “Gray the Self-Reflector” leads to a lot of spinning thoughts and often a real “con drop.”

This method has worked for me for many years, both at conferences I’ve facilitated and those where I’ve taken a lesser role, such as teaching or volunteering.

Should vs. Need

In San Francisco, this worked quite well. I was lucky enough to be joined by three other people who had been instrumental in organizing the conference, and we were all basking in the happy tired of a job well done. We chose an absolutely irredeemable movie – well, to be fair, chose it, I can’t really lay the blame with any of them. After Arnold Schwarzenegger reinforced our wonder that so successful an actor could manage to not actually act, I felt quite refreshed, and was able to continue into the week of working for clients while also having all sorts of fun adventures in San Francisco.

It worked just as it should.

Then I did Los Angeles, and again, the unconference was a great success, but this time the aftermath was different. I was in a hotel, flight not leaving until Monday morning, but within easy walking distance of a local theater. I strolled through the lovely weather (lovely to a Madisonian; I believe the poor Los Angelenos were freezing their collective bones) intending on the traditional action movie.

But something seemed off. I felt the urge to keep walking, to just wander about. I found myself not wanting to go to the theater.

I thought about it, and decided to keep going. I have skipped this practice of self-care in the past, almost always with negative results. Arriving at the theater, I chose the most immersive and ridiculous story I could see on the marquee and settled in for a ridiculously steampunked retelling of a classic Grimm fairtytale.

The movie has gotten bad reviews. I don’t want this to be considered one of them; I’m sure that in other situations I would have enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed worse movies, believe me.

But I got up and left after about a half hour. I couldn’t stand to be in the theater another second. The need to be up and doing something else, anything else, was overwhelming.

Listening to What Works

Walking out of a movie, regardless how bad, is unusual. I don’t know that I’ve ever done it before, in fact. But I went back outside, walking through weather that was a bit nippy even for my Wisconsin temperament, and strolled back through the mall heading towards the hotel.

On the way, I passed a discount bookstore, and listened to the urge to go in. Suddenly I was lost in the sea of old familiar friends and passing acquaintances, seeing the classics like Pirsig’s Lila along with the many variations of propaganda to which Tom Clancy has lent his name. I found fantasies and textbooks I wished I had the time to dive into, and finally settled on a little .50 paperback to take on the plane with me.

It felt great. I felt refreshed, centered, and even a little proud that I had put back four books in favor of just one, sticking to a non-cluttering practice. Apparently that was what I needed after that event, not the bangs and oofs.

Still needed a decadent piece of chocolate cake. And sushi. Both with happy reflective memories of the weekend before.

There’s a lot to be said for consistency, for maintaining a practice even when you don’t want to do it. But it’s equally necessary to watch what actually works, what need that practice is actually supposed to address. The practice needs to serve you, not the other way around.

The next conference for me is February 10, and I will be watching to see if the afterwards is going to be in Half-Price Books or in Sylvester Stallone’s latest offering. Meanwhile, I’d invite you to take a look at what practices you have that work, that don’t, and that might need some change in the future.

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