I went to a leadership conference for college students today, a freelance assignment for the newspaper. I only try to do assignments where I can either have fun or learn something. I suppose this falls under the latter category, because suddenly I was far, far out of my element. It was like a trip to the land of the Path Not Taken.
I have a theory: smart people fall into about three categories. There are smart people with no social skills and boundless enthusiasm for one small slice of the world. We call these people engineers, scientists, inventors and geeks. Then there are smart people with lots of enthusiasm and lots of social skills. Those are the business leaders, ministers, salespeople. And last are the smart people with good social skills but endless, grim humor and cynicism. Those are the journalists, bloggers. You know the type. You probably ARE the type.
So there I was, a journalist trapped in the middle of Future Business Leaders - the type of people who have been in student government since fifth grade. People who volunteer for things. All the time.
I hoped to do my usual disappearing into the woodwork thing. Lay low, take notes. One of my journalist mantras is "Don't be the news," a reminder to stay out of the middle of the story, no matter how strong my feelings are about what is going on.
The first act was a motivational speaker named Nancy. She was peppy! She was convincing! She had a catch phrase, which was "It's ZING time!" (no, I am not making this up).
ZING time meant that it was time to get enthusiastic and involved. As in ama-ZING! She had these students chanting "It's ZING time" and shooting both hands in the air ("An exclamation point!") to show their utter enthusiasm for ZING.
Guess who wasn't ZINGing along with the crowd? Miss Journalistic Crankypants. It wasn't that I was trying to be a jerk. I was just doing my job and staying uninvolved.
After a few ZINGs, Nancy stopped.
"Excuse me," she said, fixing her gaze on me. "But you're sitting there and smiling at me and you aren't participating."
Oh crap. I was sitting at a round table in the middle of a huge meeting room and now 100 college students were staring at me.
"Why not?" she asked me.
"I'm a reporter," I said. "I'm just trying to maintain my...um...journalistic distance."
"Well now," she said. "We're all going to watch as she does it for all of us. "
ZING? I was supposed to ZING?
"What time is it?" she shouted, looking at me expectantly.
Message to Nancy: don't play battle of wills with a non-joiner. Because resisting peer pressure has been my stock in trade my whole life. I am the fifth child in my family, and one thing I learned early was that, the more people try to goad you into something, the worse idea it probably is (examples: Eating that unsweetened chocolate. Saying "Shit" at the dinner table at age 4. Thanks, sibs, for teaching me about peer pressure).
I sat there like a rock. The crowd groaned and "OOOOooh"ed at me dramatically.
I sat there, tension building. I could feel my heart pounding a bit but I didn't flinch. Nancy leaned over expectantly. Silence. I held my ground. Our gazes locked. She realized that she had met her match, her ZING-less rival.
"Oh well, we can still go on and get our energy back," Nancy said, recovering nicely. "What time is it?" The crowd roared "It's ZING time."
I did get a good rush of adrenaline from being singled out in front of so many people. My shaky notes for the next few minutes attest to that. But damn it, I held fast to the code of the non-joiner - don't let them grind you down. Because if you participate, the ZINGers of the world win.
(Nancy later apologized for embarrassing me in front of the crowd. She said she had thought I was a staff member, which would have been a lot more fun. I thought it was actually kind of amusing because I am weird that way. Also because I thought "I am SO blogging this.)