Stepping Back


[TL;DR: I’m not submitting to speak at any conferences this year. If you organize a conference and specifically want your attendees to hear about the things I enjoy talking about, please do get in touch, as I’m open to a few invited-speaker slots.]

Have you ever come to the start of a new year and realized that the entire previous year went by in the blink of an eye? That happened to me this year, and while last year was full of great things, I’ve decided to slow things down a bit in 2017.

Warning: rambling ahead.

I’m trying to do a bunch of stuff right now:

  • Be a husband and father
  • Volunteer as a counselor, and lead a team of volunteer counselors
  • Mentor new developers
  • Organize my local Ruby meetup
  • Serve on the advisory board of a local college
  • Manage the Developer Experience team at CareZone
  • Speak at conferences
  • Learn to play the guitar
  • Stick to a workout regimen
  • Play video games (hey, how’d this get in here?)
  • Sometimes even write blog posts and software

That’s a lot of stuff. And it’s all good stuff. I have a hard time saying no to good stuff. You may have more energy, “hustle”, or drive than me, and that might not seem like a long list to you. But for me, it’s a pretty full plate. I really care about and pour myself into everything I do, more than is probably healthy.

Lately, I’ve found there’s not as much of “myself” left to pour out as there used to be. Just last night, in a counseling session, I encouraged someone to work on the art of savoring. What I mean by this is to really be present in and enjoy the moments of your life. It’s harder than it sounds, and I’m less successful at it than I would like. So it’s time to slow down.

Tomorrow is the last day of the RailsConf CFP. I found myself feeling a weird responsibility to submit a talk. I’ve spoken or helped organize a track at every RailsConf and RubyConf for the past 4 years. I should obviously submit, right?


First, let me be clear: I absolutely LOVE speaking at conferences, and all of the people I get to meet and places I get to go while doing so. But it’s an outsize commitment of time, at least the way I build talks. The most fun talk I’ve ever given took 160 hours of preparation, including writing a custom application to drive the presentation. It was fun, don’t get me wrong. But it was also a month’s worth of full-time, unpaid labor. Most conferences don’t even cover travel and lodging. I gave this talk twice.

In this case, it was totally worth it, to me, because someone told me it changed her life.

That being said, I had hoped to give this talk again. In fact, I built it the way I did specifically to support multiple deliveries. I’d like it to maybe have a chance to change some other peoples’ lives. Yet it’s been rejected by every other conference I submitted it to.

I’m not faulting the organizers for how they’ve chosen to curate their programs, by the way – that’s their call. But, realizing that the only talk I was even remotely excited about submitting to the CFP would no doubt be rejected again, I started to question why I felt so compelled to submit, and I wasn’t happy with the answers I found.

Truth be told, I would have submitted out of fear: fear of losing relevance in my industry by not being a constant presence on the conference circuit, and fear of losing my friends because I won’t get to see them as often.

And when my submission got rejected? I’d feel bad about it. That’s a little secret I’ll let you in on: just because I do a lot of speaking doesn’t mean I don’t get lots of rejections. I do. And because I pour so much of myself into everything I do, they hurt. Each and every time. I wish I was better at blowing that off, but there’s still a little part inside me that cries out “why don’t you like me?” every time I get rejected.

That’s not really a healthy place from which to submit to a conference, and coming to terms with that has been a long process for me.

So, last night I decided that I’m not going to submit a talk to the RailsConf CFP, and I’m not going to submit to any other conferences this year, either.

I’m hopeful that this will allow me to regain some focus and to savor the time I spend doing things that don’t involve coming up with concepts for new talks that may never see an audience.

There are still plenty of things I want to talk about. They just generally don’t involve Rails, these days. You can see the kinds of things I enjoy talking about here. If these are the kinds of things you enjoy hearing about, and you organize an event, get in touch with me. I might still like to give a talk.

I just won’t be submitting any.

Thanks for reading.

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