Disclaimer, friends: This post involves a lot of RealTalk™. Some of you already know me as a chronic RealTalker, one who struggles with extreme transparency and to not drop F bombs during presentations. (For the record, my creative writing professors are the ones who taught me to embrace that sometimes "fuck" is the most descriptive word for a situation.) That said, this post is personal. But I think it's relevant, and I think we'll get through it.
Today is the third anniversary of the day I didn't get married. It's also the 32nd anniversary of a day when I didn't get married, which is everyday until I turn 33, after which everyday will be the 33rd anniversary of another day when I didn't get married, and so on. No big deal, right? It literally happens everyday. But today—May 25th—is the third anniversary of a day when I was supposed to get married. There was a wedding planned for that day, and two weeks prior, it was canceled. As you might imagine, it was a pretty rotten and tumultuous time. But what you might not imagine, CX community, is that you helped me navigate my way through it.
On May 2nd, 2013, my User Happiness team and I had plans to fly to New York for our first UserConf (which is now known as Elevate Summit). Up until this point, I had no connections whatsoever to the broader Customer Experience (CX) / Customer Support (CS) community. My team and I had been trying to no avail to find "our people" for a couple of years. So we were delighted to discover that this conference existed; it seemed like a diamond in the rough.
I remember telling my fiancé about our discovery, and he was excited about it, too. He sent his startup's new CS team to the conference as well. We were all super eager to hear what other folks had to say about these best-in-class customer experiences that we were building in our respective companies.
But the night before I was supposed to leave for UserConf, my fiancé and I sat in the living room of our beautiful forever home that we'd just built and moved into, and we had a brutal conversation about the fact that maybe we shouldn't get married. It was heart-wrenching and ugly, triggering yelling, crying, vomiting. I left the house that night (as I'm ashamed to say I often did) and drove around, looking for somewhere, something to give me an answer, peace, relief, anything.
But it wasn't going to come, and I knew that there was probably no turning back from this verbal declaration of what I'd known for a long time and what my fiancé later said he hadn't allowed himself to acknowledge. The situation was dire, and we decided that a couple days away from each other might be healthy and help us to clear our thoughts. So after a sleepless night and with an enormous secret within me, I boarded an NYC-bound plane the next day, immediately ordered a cocktail, and hoped that this UserConf thing was worth being away from my support system.
The next morning, I sat in the Scholastic Theater with so many empathic, driven, and wildly-smart CX people. Folks were using phrases like "Turn your haters into brand evangelists"—articulating the same philosophies that my team and I had employed in our support for years. It resonated and felt so familiar. After years of searching, it was like a breath of fresh air to find that there was indeed a home for people like me, people who are passionate about building companies on a foundation of mutually-beneficial relationships with customers.
The CX fire within me grew that day, and I discovered positive feelings: of community, of validation, of inspiration. I couldn't wait for the next conference; I told my boss about it, and he encouraged me to speak at a future one. I established new professional goals. A whole new world full of opportunity to learn and share opened up in front of me. I had something to appreciate and be optimistic about, despite the fact that my personal life was a raging dumpster fire. (Side note: If you're interested in a funny podcast about dating, you should check out my friend Andrew's podcast, Dumpster Fire.)
I returned home from the conference, and within a week, it was determined that our impending marriage was a no-go. And with less than two weeks' notice, we sent heavy-hearted messages to our friends, families, and colleagues all over the country, telling them that we were "postponing" our wedding and would reimburse their travel expenses. Neither of us could find the courage to admit total defeat yet, although I think we both knew deep down that our wedding was being canceled. Our relationship was being canceled. Our new home in which we'd toiled over every tiny detail was going to have to be sold.
Everything was falling apart. To two high-achieving perfectionists, this felt like failure—very humiliating and very public failure. Our loved ones, who were supposed to celebrate us in just a matter of days, were now wrapped up in our mess. We had unintentionally situated them smack dab in the middle of our pain.
But I had an escape. I had something positive to cling to in knowing about this CX community. It was something that I was proud to deeply identify with, a part of me that wasn't being lost and that was in no way tarnished by my personal drama. I say I knew "about" the community, because I didn't really know anyone in it yet. In fact, I don't think I talked to anyone while I was at UserConf that year; I was in another world—one in which I hadn't really slept for days and couldn't keep food down.
But it didn't matter that we weren't friends (yet). I didn't need your friendship; I simply needed you to exist and be passionate about CX.
I had lots of friends, amazing coworkers, and more family than you can possibly imagine (seriously, I have 6 families). And as much as I love them and am still so grateful for all of their support, I sometimes found myself needing to get away. They were always incredibly well-intentioned but would sometimes say things like "I'm so mad! Why aren't you upset?!" and, my favorite, "You know...you should grieve."
As someone who's lost several loved ones unexpectedly, if there's anything I'm well-versed at, it's grieving. I didn't need to be told this. I didn't need people to be mad on my behalf, especially given the fact that I wasn't mad. I didn't need people to solve this problem for me.
To be clear, I'm not saying that I didn't need loved ones; I absolutely, 100% did. I needed them there as I moved out of the house and into a corporate apartment and, in the process of doing so, had to separate our cats from each other.
I needed them to take me on their vacation and then act like nothing was happening when I sobbed uncontrollably at the resort pool, because songs as romantic as "Thrift Shop" were playing and made me sad. I needed loved ones to give me a reason to get out of bed everyday and eat anything other than chips and queso, the only food that sounded even remotely appetizing for at least a month (#yolo?).
But I also needed a place where I could go and just be, where I felt like a part of the tribe without having the tribe all up in my business. I needed a community where no one was worried about or feeling sorry for me, where I didn't feel embarrassed by how much I'd inconvenienced people. I needed something beyond my immediate world, a horizon to aim for.
And aim for it, I did. I've spent the time since then trying to immerse myself in this community and what it represents. I read your blog posts, Skype with you, chat with you in various Slack groups. You've connected me to your coworkers when I've had questions about how to continually be better and do better. And because of how valuable the greater community has been to me, I along with a few others started an Ann Arbor CX meetup, so that we can reinforce and foster this community locally. And out of that meetup, a group of us started a conference that will take place later this summer for people who live and thrive at the intersection of technology and creativity. (And some of you will be there!)
Friends, so many amazing things have happened as I look over the last three years. I can't help but be overwhelmed by gratitude for you all and for the community that we've built from our various corners of the world. I've heard people describe the beauty of it with comments like "It's where I found my new job!" and "It's where I met my girlfriend!" Ladies and gentlemen, this community is where I found myself. Even in the solitude of it, I found a place in which I could just be.
Like the Anonymous Lemur creepin' on your Google Doc, you trusted that I had business being here and demanded nothing more of me. You let me learn from and grow with you without explanation or expectation. And when I was ready, you let me share with you what I was learning, too. You helped me to more fully nurture and celebrate this professional identity that I'd been forming. And I continually see you doing the same in those around us. In the short time that I've been in this community, I've watched it explode. It's amazing what finding one's tribe can do.
So, friends, this is my very longwinded way of saying thank you. Thank you for existing. Thank you for being so passionate about what you do. Thank you for being so good at what you do. Thank you for striving to continually learn and grow and be a community of better human beings who are doing things that matter—even if that's just by brightening your customer's day with a kitten GIF. Thank you for creating a gravitational force that folks like me can't help but want to be a part of. And, dare I say it, thank you for giving me a seat at your table.