Let me start by stating that I’m not a hugger. I have never been a hugger. When hugging, I am usually the one that stands on your foot or inadvertently brushes a body part that really shouldn’t be brushed – at least not in the middle of a packed conference hall. I have been known to go in for the ‘kiss on the cheek’ only to miss and strike an ear (not recommended). In recent months, however, I have become more inclined to lean in to a good hug and strangely enough, this change in me has coincided with my involvement with #WomenEd.
So on Saturday 6th October, I set off unfeasibly early and drove far too fast (so I’m told) to my first #WomenEd national conference. I’ve attended several #WomenEd events over the past two years, but never had I made it to a conference and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived on my own (unfashionably early as per). What followed was the most uplifting and energising day of keynotes, workshops and loveliness. I could write about the wonderful sessions I saw as I hosted room 1015, such as ‘overcoming loneliness in leadership’, or ‘choosing yourself.’ These were brilliant sessions and I tweeted heavily throughout the day.
What I really want to write about however is what I’m calling the hugology and in doing so, I can chart my entire experience of #WomenEd to date. So here goes…
Hug 1 – Arrival
It is difficult to arrive at a conference alone, especially when you’re an hour and a half early and the butterflies are busting out a zumba routine in your gut. My first hug of the day came from the incredible force of nature that is Hannah Wilson. I only met Hannah very briefly 18 months ago at a WomenEd event in Warwick and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen her since. Hannah is a busy woman and meets a lot of people, yet she took the time to say hello, to know my name and to give me a hug.
Hannah’s hug said ‘I know you‘, ‘you’re welcome here‘ and ‘I value you.’ Boom! Butterflies slayed!
Hug 2 – At coffee
This was the hello hug with the person I’d connected with at the previous event I’d attended. As it turned out, we were both working on a similar project, but I was a little further down the line. I’d promised to email, I’d promised to visit and I had every intention of helping until I went and got all busy because…. well….September. I felt bad, but I leaned in for the hug anyway!
The ‘Kathryn’ hug said ‘I get it‘, ‘I understand‘, ‘We’re in this together‘
Hug 3 – At lunch
It’s lovely to see familiar faces amongst the sea of conference strangers. I’ve said this before, but you know you’re at a conference when you see the powerhouse that is Fee Stagg (in fact the lack of Fee at a conference has been known to trigger an existential crisis). I am ‘blessed’ with the double whammy of being a newly appointed governor of a primary school and a teaching school lead with responsibility for putting on Governor training. To say I feel out of my depth would be a sizeable understatement.
The Fee hug said ‘I’ll support you‘ and ‘I can help you‘. I hope mine said ‘Thank you!‘
Hug 4 – At lunch
Now this was the hug I was determined to get, but most nervous about, not because this person is difficult or aloof – anything but!! There’s a standing joke at work that I am the most forgettable person on the planet. I am forever fielding emails from people who’ve got my name wrong, or being re-introduced to people who’ve already met me (awks). I grew up as a shy kid and I’ve never been able to shake of the mortifying feeling of embarrassment when you say hi to someone you’ve previously met and they stare blankly back. However, I felt the fear and I did it anyway. I leaned in for the hug with the person I first met in 2014, who has gone on to pretty much conquer the whole god-damn world since (Will Smith even frequents her loo).
The Jaz hug said ‘You’re not anonymous – I know you‘ and that is pretty damn powerful, all on it’s own.
Hug 5 – At the end of the day
This one caught me by surprise and got me all emotional. This hug came from someone who had sat in my workshop during the first morning session. She’d been very kind and listened as I made a series of noises that apparently formed words and sentences in some kind of coherent pattern. For a whole hour! Still not sure how that happened. She sought me out at the end of the day. I’m not sure she was a hugger. She looked a little startled as I leaned in as she spoke.
I didn’t catch her name, but her hug said ‘You’ve made an impact on me‘ and that is something pretty special.
So there it is. The hugology of #WomenEd. I think you’d struggle to find an educational event anywhere else in the world where you can leave feeling so valued, understood, supported, acknowledged and uplifted.
And I don’t think I brushed a single boob!
I’m yet to experience a #heforshe hug, so at the next conference… I’m coming for you!