An Introvert’s #BarkWorld Experience

Before October 25th, 2012 I’d never traveled to a new country by myself before. I’d been to the US, but never by plane and never alone. I’d certainly never been further south than Minnesota or New York. Atlanta, Georgia may as well have been St. Petersburg, Russia – though, at least they spoke the same language. But I understood the history and culture of the former a lot more.

This is all to say that BarkWorld was a brand new experience for me in more ways than one. It was my very first blogging conference and my very first solo travel challenge. As much as I was thrilled with the opportunity to go, I was terrified by all the things I knew could go wrong. As a self-confessed coward and shy introvert, the days leading up to the big event were filled with as much anxiety as excitement. I spent the same amount of time worrying about navigating my connecting flight in Toronto as I did about what my fellow bloggers would think of me. See: a disproportionate amount of time.

The thing is, my worrying saves the world. I knew if I was calm, disaster was sure to happen. So I stressed and stressed and stressed and somehow, after only a brief panic attack when I ended up at the wrong baggage claim, I made it to the Atlanta Airport unscathed. This was where my plans derailed. I had forgotten to stress about getting from the airport to the hotel. The kind souls at Bayer has sponsored a limousine ride for conference attendees and I stupidly thought this was the end of my troubles.

Major Worrying Fail.

Now I have been to many large international airports in my time. The Atlanta Airport was a whole ‘nother ball game. There are trains, people. Trains inside the airport. That’s how insane this place is. It is too large to get around by walking or even hopping on a moving sidewalk. You have to take a train. It didn’t help that the international terminal is in a different city than the domestic.

Cue to me having to make a string of miserable phone calls to the one contact number I had – thank dog I had saved the email – while trying not to cry.Β  Several times I thought about giving up and just taking a cab. It would have been much simpler and would have saved me the awkwardness of speaking to people I didn’t know, but I also would have missed out on a chance to meet some wickedly stellar people.

Wickedly. Stellar.

When I used the word miserable above, it certainly did not apply to anyone I interacted with over the four days. More to my own fears of talking to people who might snicker at me if I say something stupid. From the cheerful airport security to the warm greeting from my limo buddies (Hi Amber! Hi Lisa! Hi Karen!) I was thrown by how friendly every single person was. I shouldn’t have been, of course. The kindness of the pet blogging world has been proven to me every single day since I stumbled in, hanging out in the shadows. Why it took me so long to dip a toe into the light, I’ll never know.

BarkWorld? When it comes to niceness, you put Canada to shame.

Luckily, I kept myself together and didn’t let my nervousness hold me back from jumping into the experience. It helped that every where I went I was met with a welcoming smile. Whatever fears I encountered came entirely from my own imaginings. Not once was I made to feel that I didn’t belong. Not even during the anxiety-ridden speed-dating with mega brands like Flexi and Iams. I admit, I was tempted to bail at the last minute. But sitting in my hotel room after my arrival from the insanity that is the airport, I reasoned I could either stay there and hide or I could head down and see what was what. If it was awful, I could just leave, right? No pressure.

Of course it wasn’t and I continued to meet even more wonderful people.

Nevertheless, the most anticipated moment was yet to come. Speed-dating over, I tried to shrug off the rest of my nerves and prepared myself to meet two of my biggest pet blogging heroes. In person. With bad airplane hair.

Stupid. I should have realized that Amy Burkert and Kim Clune are my heroes for a reason. Sure, they have accomplished amazing things, but they are also just incredibly awesome and supportive people. So even though I felt self-conscious when I heard Amy yell my name and saw her walk down the hallway toward me, all of that melted when she stood in front of me. In a way, it was almost as if we were longtime friends, meeting up for the millionth time. This same feeling was repeated with Kim several minutes later. All of my misgivings faded and I was just one of them. Part of the circle.

Surreal.

The rest of the conference is still pretty much a blur, even a month later. So much to learn in such a short time. So many new faces and friends (Hi Katherine! Hi Vicki! Hi Diane! Hi Jessica! Hi Everyone Else I Feel Awful for Leaving Out!). I’d be lying if I said it was all good times. There were a few moments I felt my energy lag and wondered if I’d make it through. But session after session, party after party, make it through I did. There are even the pictures of me socializing to prove it!

I did hit a pretty big wall Saturday afternoon. I remember sitting outside the elevators wondering what the heck I was doing and almost wishing I was at home. Everything felt like too much and I was tired of putting myself out there.

“I need my puppy”, I recall texting to my practically husband.

However, I allowed myself to indulge in these low feelings instead of fighting them. I gave myself permission to just take a walk if I needed to, to skip a session if my brain started to wither. Ultimately, I think that was the smartest way I could have dealt with my emotions. If I’d tried to force it, I am sure I would have just felt worse. Maybe then I really would have ended up peering out from under the table. But by giving myself the choice, I found I eventually chose to participate and my spirits lifted in pretty short order.

Who’d have thought? Maybe there is an extrovert lingering somewhere in my depths after all.

It wasn’t easy, but I am so so so glad I went. If you are reading this and wondering if BarkWorld might be something you want to check out, just know I highly recommend you do. And I am not just saying that because BarkWorld was kind enough to help pay my way there.

Actually, maybe I am. Because gifts like that are representative of the entire experience. BarkWorld is made up of the kind of people who work their butts off to make sure all pet lovers and pet bloggers feel like an important part of the community. It’s so easy to feel isolated as a blogger, especially here in Canada when most of you are in the US. And blogging is such a solo activity in itself. Events like BarkWorld remind us we are part of something bigger, something pretty dang cool.

So thanks to everyone for their kindness and thanks to BarkWorld for giving me an opportunity to grow as a blogger and as a person. I hope this is only the beginning.

Welcome to the Advent Calendar for Dog Lovers hosted by Kol’s Notes, PupLove, Rescued Insanity, Woof Woof Mama & I Still Want More Puppies!


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33 thoughts on “An Introvert’s #BarkWorld Experience

  1. I’m glad you jumped out of your comfort zone and went! I felt almost exactly the same way you did about going to BlogPaws. I mean, there were going to be all of these really cool people hanging out there and it was intimidating as hell! I was SO glad that I went, though, and I definitely felt like I grew a lot from the experience.

    And I agree, Amy is one of the nicest people ever! I felt like I’d known her forever when we went with her and Rod to dinner.

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    • I am intimidated by pretty much everyone so when it comes to people I really admire? My mind is blown. But, naturally, once I was there and interacting, everything seemed a lot less scary than it did in my head. As it always does. πŸ˜›

      Amy is hilarious, isn’t she? I don’t think I stopped laughing once. So glad I finally had the chance to meet her in person.

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  2. That’s so exciting that you got to go. How pawesome that they paid your way.
    I’ve never been to one of the conferences. (Although I had a similar experience going to my first writer’s conference alone a few years back.) I’m a total introvert too. It’s hard for us introverts to get out there. Thanks for the reminder that good things can happen when we do!

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    • It is but from what I have learned, most bloggers are more introverted, which makes sense, so I was hardly alone! Given that everyone seems to struggle with similar things I think it makes for a very supportive environment. Not one person made me feel silly, even when I said some pretty silly things!

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  3. What an experience!!! I am jealous and relieved all at the same time. No one ever mentioned the speed-dating! As an extrovert, you would think I would have been up for something like that. Kristine – I would have been the one hiding in my hotel room. How intimidating. I am so glad you did it.
    I absolutely LOVED the picture of you and Amy and Kim dressed up. (I hope you don’t mind, but I laughed my a** off. To think Buster was in on it!) I think you were smart to take the time away too. Introverts get their energy from that down time. You played it smart.
    BTW – I was a business traveler for many years and I would have been intimidated by the trains. I avoided taking the subway in NY for many years because I was afraid I would get lost forever. Totally can understand the feeling.

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    • I am glad I did it too, if only for the experience. Right now I am not really interested in searching for sponsors as that’s not really what I want to do with this space. But it was good to have the opportunity regardless and make the connections. Perhaps there is another way we can work together.

      Glad it made you laugh. That wig was nasty! I think one of the best parts of the whole weekend was meeting dogs like Buster and Cosmo. Total fangirl, right here.

      It wasn’t the trains themselves but the fact they were inside the airport. And you have no choice but to use them as there is often no way to walk the distance. They force you to get on. It’s insane. I had no trouble navigating the underground in London when I lived there for a summer but the trains at the Atlanta airport? Forget about it!

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  4. Thanks for the thoughts on the conference, it sounds fascinating as you describe it. I’m not an extrovert myself either, so I understand how a situation like this might get stressful. Especially so far away from home!
    But I’m glad you made it, it’s an awesome experience, for sure.

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  5. Wow, I honestly never would have known you were the least bit nervous when I met you at the Atlanta airport. You really appeared so calm, cool, and collected. And it was such a pleasure meeting you in person, and now reading your fab blog posts! (And thanks for the shout out!)

    So glad you made it to Barkworld. I also REALLY loved it. So much is happening now from so many fabulous great connections made them. It’s really remarkable. I really hope you go next year too. I’ll be there!

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  6. Being quite the introvert myself, I am thoroughly understand how you felt. I can be anxious in the grocery store, I can’t imagine flying to another country to attend a place full of people!! πŸ™‚ But it sounds like you were in good hands and good company. Glad you took some time to be alone as well. Very important.

    Glad you had a good time Kristen, you deserved it!

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  7. You should bve very proud of yourself for going outside your comfort zone and actuallyt enjoying it.

    Remember that whilst you blog, no matter where you are, you are never alone:)

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  8. Glad to hear you had a good time at BarkWorld! I went to Atlanta last year for a Nosework Instructor’s workshop, and I too was surprised that you needed to take a train within the airport to get around! I had a terrible time figuring out where I needed to go, but I’m not known for my good sense of direction. (That’s what my dog is for right? LOL.)

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  9. It was so much fun meeting you at BarkWorld! As an introvert myself, believe me when I say you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been to every BarkWorld and BlogPaws conference to date, and I’ve learned to pace myself. Generally, I’ll go back to my room at some point in the day just to recharge my batteries. But it’s worth the effort of dragging myself back out to spend time with all my new and “old” online friends.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your experience – I knew you would be fine. Not that you didn’t have your moments – but really, sounds like you came away with some really great memories and new friends. πŸ™‚

    Don’t feel bad. Last year I went through the Denver airport for the first time. They also have trains because it is so huge. And needless to say it was very overwhelming for me. I ended up getting off at the wrong place. But, if nothing else, I was a pro at the trains by the end of it because I got off in the wrong place more than once!

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  11. OMG, I so relate to your anxiety! I always enjoy traveling but the days leading up to it are filled with so much worrying I drive Florian nuts. The conference sounds like a blast and I know I would really enjoy going to one too…if I can ever overcome the anxiety about getting to one!

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  12. Hey, at least you did it, even though you were afraid and self conscious. (And not only did it, but sounds like you did amazing!) I always back out of things that seem like overwhelming stress. For me, travel is very stressful. And, I’ve never even been on an airplane! But you inspire me, so I’ve now made it my goal to attend Bark World or Blog Paws within the next few years. If I do, you’d better go too so we can sit on the floor in the hall somewhere and talk each other down from being stressed!!

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  13. I’m so worried I’ll make an ass out of myself. Like running up to you saying, “Oh My God, it’s Kristine from Rescued Insanity, can I have your autograph?”

    If there’s anything at all I’ve learned from blogging it’s that pet bloggers are awesome and we are really part of one large family.

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  14. Oh my goodness. I can completely relate. I’m a total introvert, and conferences can be so intimidating and overwhelming… But way to go overcoming your fears and getting the most out of it!! Do you think you’ll go again next year? I’d love to attend BarkWorld and haven’t heard anything but the highest praise for the conference. I’d love to meet you in person if we both make it next year!

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  15. I wish I could go to these things– I’m a huge extrovert and would drag you around with me! You could hide behind me if you want. πŸ™‚

    We definitely need someone to organize some sort of blogger gathering here in the Great White North, but there are so few of us. Maybe we should stalk someone who blogs about party planning and get her to organize it.

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  16. Hi, Kristine!! πŸ˜€ If I haven’t told you, it was really great meeting you at BarkWorld.

    OMG, I sooo now what you mean about being scared and intimidated. I’m a high introvert as well so when my friend Gail the Extrovert mentioned that she would like to come along, I jumped at her offer. It definitely made me feel more comfortable but after I got there and started meeting people, I realized that I actually could’ve done it by myself. And so funny about the speed dating. As you know, I almost skipped it as well and I’m so glad I didn’t. It helped make me more comfortable by showing me how relaxed and friendly everyone was. I’m really glad I did it and I’m looking forward to more pet blogging conferences in the future!

    Amber

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  17. Another introvert here <>! I was scared going to BlogPaws in 2011 because I knew no one. It was definitely a step out of my comfort zone, but one I was glad I took. There was so much too learn and so many people to meet. Now that I’m more familiar with other pet bloggers, attending next eyar will feel so much less stressful.

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  18. Oh my gosh, thanks for making me realize I am not totally crazy! I SO related, especially the part about worrying. I am convinced that it is the time that I don’t worry or stress about something, that something will go terribly wrong. I can imagine how much nerve you had to get up to do this, and I am so glad that it was a great experience for you. I can barely go anywhere by myself, without a friend or family member for moral support (nevermind flying to another country). Kudos to you, and thanks for making me realize there may be hope for me yet.

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  19. Talk about looking in the mirror – I think you are not alone there lady πŸ™‚ Well said and well travelled. I assume you will be at another BarkWorld πŸ™‚

    One thing I have learned as I ‘grew up’. What you see with people is not ‘what you get’ so many people put on a brave face, or are impassive – but on the inside a storm rages, a storm of worry, nerves, tension and ‘will they like me’. It has taken most of MY life for me to even start to be the half-way confident person I appear to be.

    I would dearly love to go to something like BarkWorld or Blogpaws – @DashKitten launches his blog soon and has been mentored in a modest way by @Sparklecat – a generous spirit Dash and I hope to emulate.

    Keep going – Keep Going Again. Good Luck.

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  20. It sounds like such a wonderful time. I wish I could have been there to meet you too! (Any chance you’ll be coming to BlogPaws? hehe)

    I know what you mean about the nerves – I felt totally the same way when I went to BlogPaws two years ago. Such a welcoming group of people though… it really is like meeting up with old friends. πŸ™‚

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