I am a professional development junkie. I love attending workshops, seminars, conferences – basically, whatever continuing education you can throw at me. So it’s no surprise I’m a member of two professional associations – the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC) – and that I regularly attend sessions offered by both of them.
Up until now, I’ve only attended sessions they’ve offered in my hometown of Toronto. Both associations have annual conferences in different cities across Canada, but I’ve generally held back from going, simply because I never felt I could justify travelling across the country for a few days of workshops (and yes, I realize what complete nonsense that sounds like coming from someone who’s a self-proclaimed travel junkie).
How mistaken I was.
I spent this past weekend at the annual EAC conference, held this year at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia. The association spans some 1,600 members across Canada and the conference gives members the chance to get together with people they often only know through email. There are workshops and mentorships and parties and an awards banquet and tons (and tons, and tons) of networking opportunities. And of course, if you’re from out of town, there’s the added enjoyment of being on a mini vacation.
I realize that travelling for a conference is a huge financial commitment and is one of the reasons that of EAC’s 1,600 members, usually only 200 to 300 attend the conference each year. After all, when I add up my airfare, my hotel, and my conference fees for the past weekend, I spent well over $1,000 for a mere two days. But do I regret it? Not in the least.
I’ve attended countless conferences in Toronto, but there’s something “safe” and a little too familiar about those that leaves me thinking I didn’t get all I could out of them. When you’re attending a conference down the street from work or an hour away from your home, it’s easy to have half your thoughts in the conference room and half back in the “real” world, whether it’s what to make for dinner, that project you left unfinished at the office, or whether the kids are tearing the house apart. It’s easy to duck out early and leave before any socializing happens, because you have to rush home or back to work. I know it is because I’ve done it time after time, whenever I’ve been at a Toronto-based conference.
But when you travel for a conference, it becomes much more than just a Saturday afternoon in a few workshops. It’s easier to lose yourself in the event, just like when you travel for vacation and lose yourself in a faraway destination.
Not only that, but for me, being in an unfamiliar location makes me bolder, more outgoing, more eager to meet people. I’m an introvert by nature and when I’m in Toronto, I find it too easy to slip into my own little zone, listening to my iPod and basically just mentally checking out of my surroundings. Being away gives me that mental boost to actively seek out other people and become an active participant in the conference instead of just merely attending it.
And of course, when it’s a stunning place like Vancouver, the scenery helps, too. I spent my Saturday morning running the seawall along English Bay before heading off to breakfast at the conference. It was such a perfect run, with the view of the mountains in the distance and the smell of saltwater in the air, that I was on a high for the remainder of the day.
As for the conference itself, there were some great sessions and some not so great sessions, but while professional development used to be my main priority in attending conferences, travelling to Vancouver has made me realize that that’s just a tiny part of it, and not the most important part. For me, the most enjoyable and memorable part was being in the same place with like-minded individuals, discussing not just the world of editing, but also our travels to Vancouver and our experiences of the city (and, of course, staying up late and drinking wine in one another’s hotel rooms).
I’m not saying travelling is the only way to truly appreciate a conference. I know that equally great experiences can be had at conferences in your own hometown. But I also know that the excitement that comes with getting on a plane and travelling across the country to meet other people in your field makes it that much more meaningful.
My next conference trip is in two weeks, when I head to Montreal with the folks from PWAC. I’m already daydreaming about it. And my morning run along the St. Lawrence, of course.