Why I decided not to go to a conference and what I’m doing instead

I had planned to go to WordCamp US this year. I had my plane ticket. I had my conference ticket. I had my hotel reservation. Then I had some other reservations. Would it be the best use of my time? Would it be the best use of my money? Was going to WordCamp US the right thing for me to do? In the end, I decided that it wasn’t the best thing.

Why Go to a Conference

In thinking it over I decided that I go to conferences for three main reasons:

  • To meet new people
  • To learn new things
  • To get some time to myself for thinking

To Meet New People

The main reason that people go to conferences is to make connections with other like-minded folks. I am decent at meeting people. I’m friendly and outgoing; but I have a hard time making real connections. I have an even harder time keeping the connections going after the conference. Conferences are big, loud places and I do much better in smaller, quieter places. Eventually this is something that I will need to do better at (I think), but for now I accept that I’m not very good.

To Learn New Things

I consider myself a fairly advanced WordPress developer and I learn best through reading and experimentation. I can learn from videos, but I frequently find myself trying to speed them up. I am sure that I would learn some things at the conference, but I can probably achieve a similar effect by simply watching the videos when they are released. I know it won’t have the same immersive effect, but for my learning style I think it will be more than adequate.

To Get Some Alone Time

On reflection, this is sort of laughable. It makes no sense to go to a social event to get alone time (especially since I’m an introvert). Yes, I would have the plane flights (and all of their attendant stress and uncomfortable seats), but how much deep personal time could I really hope to enjoy in transit? Once at the conference, one of the main goals would be to meet people and make connections – not spend time hiding in my room.

Decision: Don’t Go

After thinking through all of that, I decided that it really didn’t make sense for me to go to the conference. The first two goals (meeting and learning) were not strong arguments for it and the third goal (alone time), which turned out to be a really big deal for me upon reflection, wouldn’t be achieved easily there.

What I did Instead: Personal Retreat

I remember hearing Rob and Sherry Walling talk a few years ago about doing an annual, personal retreat. The idea sounded interesting but where I was in my life then, I a hard time seeing how I could make that work both in terms of finances and time management; but now it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I already had the money and calendar time set aside to go to a conference. A personal retreat would cost less, both in time and in money.

I planned about 30 hours for my retreat (10am – 4pm next day). I booked a room at a local hotel (upgraded my room to get a fireplace – it was very nice). I did a quick survey of restaurants to get an idea of where I wanted to eat (trying to eliminate future decisions). I jotted some notes about what I wanted to get done on the retreat in the weeks leading up to it.

In the end, it was a fantastic experience. I did a lot of thinking about where I was at and where I wanted to go. I did some grooming of my backlog of tasks and projects. I did some learning and planning to help me get where I wanted to go. I made some decisions about where I was spending my time and how it could be improved.

In Closing

WordCamp US is done and I wasn’t there. I’m happy about that. I feel like I came away from my personal retreat with more net gain in my life than I would have gotten by attending WCUS. I will follow up soon with another article on some of the mechanics of what I did on the retreat and how I did them.