A recent trip to a photography conference in Jacksonville, Florida confirmed my suspicion that I enjoy business travel. I don’t have to pay for my plane ticket, I don’t have to pay for my super nice hotel room, I don’t have to pay for my super nice meals and constant flow of coffee, and I don’t have to pay for the alcohol they begin feeding us at 5pm every night. I guess it also confirmed the fact that I don’t like paying for things.
The conference was similar in structure to TBEX (to put it in perspective for travel bloggers) and also kind of similar to a very fast-paced summer school (to put it in perspective for people who had to go to summer school). The days would begin around 8am with a general session, attended by all conference participants, and after listening to a few presentations there we would all split up and attend a series of 40 minute seminars.
It wasn’t possible to attend all seminars — we had to pick and choose — and so I attended mostly marketing seminars. These presentations were all completely business-centric, and everyone in attendance was an employee of an independent camera store or small franchise of camera stores in the United States (with a couple from Australia and Canada, too). The main topic was how to keep small businesses relevant in the face of Amazon, Ebay, and Best Buy — a challenge that is particularly difficult for camera stores (slightly more so than, say, independent bookstores) because they sell something that is really expensive.
And while I did learn so much about business, marketing, networking, and the inner goings-on of the small business community (so much so that it’s taken me days to go through my notes and sort out my thoughts), I also couldn’t help but focus on the overall environment of the conference, the experience of having to travel to an unfamiliar place in order to work on things that normally occupy your everyday life at home.
Business travel is a strange, strange animal.
You take two things that generally don’t mix — work and vacation — and put them together for a few days, and then sit back and watch as everyone’s adrenaline kicks in and people are running around operating at 110% nonstop for the entire duration of the conference. Coffee is consumed almost continually from 6am until about 4pm, after which there is an hour break before everyone begins drinking from the open bar — it is quickly learned that networking is much more fun when you’re equal parts caffeinated and tipsy.
People are serious about business one minute and then holding a free martini in each hand two minutes later — equally serious about that, of course. Everyone is trying to represent their brand but, at the same time, you’re away from home in a place where you don’t really know anyone that well, or if you do, you only know them in the context of this conference, which doesn’t really feel like “real life,” so you’re tempted to act like a slightly different version of yourself.
Some people are dressed in full-on business attire while others are wearing shorts and t-shirts. There are those of us who are attending for the first time and are nervous and eager at the start of every presentation and event (someone told me that I literally looked like a deer in headlights) — and then there are the people who seem like they’ve been around since these conferences first began, relaxed and sitting back as though they’re just along for the ride.
Most people at this conference were older than I am. I wrote a post a little bit ago about how young I felt over and over again in 2012, between the trip to Israel (people were only slightly older than me, but so much more established) and my mini vacation in Mexico (because what 24 year old takes herself to a resort?) and even in a couple of the jobs I’ve held recently (but maybe that’s just because I was comparing my job to boyf’s — he works at Groupon, where everyone is 12 years old).
This trip was a continuation of that, but I didn’t feel naive or intimidated like I’d expected to. Instead I felt somewhat empowered, like I had a different point of view to offer. These seminars about starting and maintaining your business and about building something that would be worthwhile and meaningful to your customers were really inspiring things to participate in, particularly for someone who is still trying to figure out what exactly she wants to do with her life. It gave me a tiny bit of hope that maybe I’m not insane for wanting to make myself a writer — maybe it’s as possible for me to support myself writing as it is for all of these conference-goers to support themselves as small businesses.
I think people tend to forget that in order to “make it” in blogging or even, really, as a writer now, you need to have some sort of business savvy. It isn’t all artsiness and Hemingway quotes on your Tumblr. Being a blogger and/or writer and being a businessperson must be similar to the way it feels when you’re at a business conference — all fun and games one minute and all strategy and important words the next. So far I’ve been enjoying the fun and games part — and why not? I’m young and this is my time for fun and games.
But next year, when I’ve passed the 25 threshold and am officially in my late twenties (minor heart attack occurring off screen right now), I know I want to be in a more serious place with all of this. And hopefully by that time I’ll have figured out how to fly first class on my next business trip, too — still without paying for anything, because we’ve all seen how much I love that.