The Beginning of the End

The last few months have been an exciting time for me. I gave my first oral presentations at a professional conference, the Wildlife Society conference. The presentations were part of a larger symposium, which I helped organize, entitled “Food for Thought: How Tribes Are Sustaining Wildlife through Food Sovereignty.” I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience that I can now share.

The first lesson is to take nothing personally. Hurdles happen when you’re an organizer, but when communication and expectations are clear, people contribute what they can. I had a great team to work with; we got things going a little late, probably because we were all students (and one mentor), but having known my team for a couple years now likely helped. Respecting each other’s time was a key component of working together. We were also very far apart from one another so conference calls made things much easier than using email all the time.

That brings me to the next lesson: communicate—pleasantly, clearly, and reiterate what your perspective is to make sure the other person’s message is clear as well. When it comes to organizing speakers, you have to be comfortable checking in to make sure they turn in what’s needed for the conference—and also that they can still show up! Not everyone communicates the same and others might just quit communicating with you altogether. Know when to cut your losses so you don’t waste time.

The last and most important lesson I learned was how to embrace humility. I had to really come to terms with my anxiety as it got closer to the conference. I was nervous about going because of a traumatic experience I had at my last professional conference. This affected me by not wanting to go. I didn’t pack until the night before my 6 a.m. flight, so I didn’t get sleep. In fact, had I not called my best friend every few hours for pep talks, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I was so consumed with anxiety and procrastination shame that it affected my ability to write my presentations. I have been in counseling since last winter and even with all my coping skills, I just couldn’t focus. The night before my presentations I got two hours of sleep, and it wasn’t until a half hour before my presentations that I finished writing my take-home messages. In the end, I had to keep telling myself—with the additional help of pleasant reminders from friends—that this is what I wanted and worked hard for. I sought out this experience because it’s something I feel very strongly about, and I wanted to share that passion with people in my chosen profession. That was the validation I ended up needing.

In the beginning, I felt very motivated to complete this task—much like I felt when I started college. Then, as time and life went on, there were challenges. Some I took in stride (like presenters canceling); others really affected me. At the end of this experience though, remembering that I had given all I could and having it so well received was very fulfilling. Since then, I have had serious recruitment talks from graduate schools, and two other opportunities to represent as a student professional. This learning cycle never ends. My daughter has fears about the dark that have been hard to overcome, but the growth process is the same. Eventually we all get right where we need to be.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College and the mother of twins.

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