Big Deal

In May 2008, due to organiser confusion, I spoke with Leisa Reichelt at the first second next conference (flipping through my own blog reminded me that I missed next07). The conference was organised by Sinnerschrader, my employer at the time, and after meeting Leisa at reboot the year previous, I put in a good word for her and got her invited. The confusion was that I thought I’d agreed to soften the language barrier, and give Leisa whatever help she might need. The organiser thought I’d agreed to present with Leisa.

I’d never spoken at anything bigger than a group of mates at the pub, and would’ve described myself as someone with a “please shoot me now” level of stage fright. But by the time I found out what was expected, it was too late to back out. I threw some slides together, Leisa and I met at a café on the morning of our preso and mashed our slides into one deck, and off we went. Leisa was already an old hand, which helped me immensely, I had my “shoot me” moment, got past it, and by all accounts I didn’t embarrass myself. It felt like it was over in seconds, the audience laughed and nodded when they were meant to, and there were even a few people waiting to ask me questions when I left the stage.

Despite being “shoot me” nervous every single time, I’ve spoken at three more conferences since then and plan to do it again in the future. Why would I do this to myself?

To understand it better than I could ever explain it, read “Big Deal: On Being Famous to Almost No One” by Robert Hoekman Jr.

Robert was far more ambitious than myself and wrote numerous articles, five books (before this one) and ended up becoming a bit of a rock star in the web design & user experience world. He was flown around the world regularly to stay in top hotels, attend expensive parties and get up on a stage for an hour and talk about his work. And it destroyed his life.

“Big Deal” isn’t a book about web design, user experience design, or how to get a conference speaking gig. It’s a brutally honest account of Robert’s quest for what he calls “micro-fame”: to live an exciting life in exciting places, to win a seat at the cool kids’ table, to be adulated and validated by a bunch of intelligent strangers, and what achieving it all cost him in the end.

Sounds pretty glum, right? Luckily Robert’s a talented author, so it’s a pleasure to read – I flew through it in about six hours. Beyond that, at the cost of his marriage and friends, he discovered plenty of wisdom we’d all do well to keep in mind. Despite the rise and fall which is most of the story, it’s an optimistic book about keeping your eye on the things that make life liveable, and being mindful of why you’re doing what you do. I learned a lot, and am reconsidering my decisions and plans because of it.

Regardless of which industry you work in, if you define yourself by what you do, you should read “Big Deal” and learn from Robert’s mistakes. Should our paths ever cross at some conference, I look forward to buying Mr. Hoekman a beer to thank him for his honesty and courage.

Big Deal is available for Kindle or iBooks.