By Claudia McGarva
I recently attended a week long legal conference – one of those conferences where you get excited about scamming a free mousepad that you will never use, have dessert at lunch time because it’s there, and desperately try to make friends at the afternoon tea break because you feel you should “network”.
After four days of eating, schmoozing and talking shop, I was exhausted. I was also a little bitter. I have recently started a new role in a legal sector that is foreign to me. It has been a welcome change, and I have no regrets. However, I have never felt like such an outsider as I did during this conference. Most of the people who attended have been working in that sector for decades. They attended the conference with at least one other person from their organisation. I was on my own. It was clear most people already knew each other, and use the conference as a catch up once a year. I didn’t know anyone.
As I said, I was a little bitter. I was making all the effort – inching my way into people’s conversations at the breaks, always having to approach people and never the other way around, asking permission to sit at their table, and filling in the gaps in awkward conversation. I thought if I were in a group and I saw someone on their own, I would have made an effort to include them. The worst was when I was at the conference dinner, and I felt like I crashed a wedding. Luckily booze and loneliness is such a great combination.
Whilst it was tempting to sit with my phone and pretend I was doing something important, I decided to grow up and make the best of an awkward situation. I knew the conference was the only opportunity for these people to reconnect with colleagues. People have limited time, and may not want to make new friends if it means not being able to connect with old ones. I would have been a fly in their face. In my younger years, I would have stressed about not being likeable and wallowed in loneliness. Now, after my initial bitterness wore off, I realised I’m too busy and tired to engage in unproductive self-reflection and alone time is to be relished.
The older I get, the less I care what other people think because I realise they probably aren’t thinking about you. I mean this in the context of the crippling self-consciousness I engaged in when I was starting out in law – that everyone is judging your every move, the fear of doing anything wrong, the fear of getting fired and looking like an idiot if you asked a question at a seminar. People don’t care and have their own insecurities to deal with before entertaining yours.
So I survived. There was even a silver lining to my obscurity – if no one knows who you are, they can’t send you the dry cleaning bill when you accidentally spill champagne on their jacket when they turn their back on you mid-conversation.
No, I’m not bitter at all.