I went into the Community Wellness Forum at United American Indian Involvement in Los Angeles last week uncertain of what to expect. I didn’t know how many people would be attending the session I would lead. I knew many of the event attendees worked in public health, but I didn’t know the specifics of their professional backgrounds, beyond that they worked with tribal communities, just like we do at 7 Generation Games. I simply hoped the attendees at my session would walk away feeling like they had gotten some takeaways from my talk. At the end of the event, I think that happened – and even more rewarding is the fact that I think I walked away with a major takeaway as well.
I arrived a few hours before my session on the first day of the conference, and the walls of the main meeting room where the full-group sessions were being held had what could best be described as super-sized Post-Its hanging on the walls from the morning session. (I would be leading a smaller afternoon breakout session.) In neat handwriting, one of the sheets of paper said, “What happens is what is supposed to happen. The people who are here are the people who are supposed to be here.” I might be a tiny bit off on the exact wording – I wish I would have taken a photo – but the message was clear: it’s not about getting caught up in expectations, but about appreciating what is actually happening.
And the reality is it was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling conferences I have attended in a long time. I presented on “The Intersection of Digital Learning and Native Communities” where I shared what I had learned working in media and technology over the last decade as well as talk about the work we’re doing at 7 Generation Games in that context. It was a great and engaged audience with thoughtful questions, and I was invited to give the presentation a second day. I went home that night and slightly tweaked my presentation to include a few of the topics that we talked about on Day 1 and returned for Day 2. (At the organizer’s encouragement, I also brought my three-month old along with me, who cooperatively slept in the stroller through my entire hour-long session, waking up for the last five or so minutes of the Q&A, where he was passed around by a few helpful and doting attendees.)
But what was most refreshing about participating in the CWF was realizing that they were totally right – whoever was supposed to be there was there, whatever was supposed to happen would happen – taking that approach takes a lot of pressure off and shifts your perspective when attending an event. Too often, I have found that I lead a session at a conference or organize an event and I catch myself worrying that that if the room isn’t full, I’ve somehow fallen short. When we sponsor a table as an exhibitor and we don’t have a continuous stream of traffic, I shouldn’t wonder if we reached enough people, I should be happy about the quality and interest from the people who do stop by. Going forward, I am taking the CWF approach with me: when I attend the conference, the people I met are the people who I am supposed to meet; what I get out of it, is what I’m supposed to get out of it. It’s not about what you’ve missed out on, it’s about everything you take away.