I'm a shy guy, which is why attending conferences makes me anxious.
There, I said it.
Although I've become steadily more confident as an adult (these days, I prefer to describe myself as "reserved" or "soft-spoken" rather than "shy"), I've always had to fight my shyness. It just takes a bit more effort and energy for me to interact with people than for most folks.
Consequently, traveling, networking, getting out and about in the professional community – these things are out of my comfort zone (although, intellectually, I absolutely recognize their value).
But sometimes the things that we resist the most are the things that we need the most.
That's my perspective on Day 3 of the 2013 National VPPPA Conference, as I sit here in the Cascades atrium of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
It's like an indoor national park here. In the foreground are two spectacular waterfalls. Just to the left of my table, fish glide by in a lazy river replete with lily pads and real flora and fauna on its banks.
It's easy to get some perspective in a place like this.
Another great place for perspective is the gazebo in the Garden Conservatory, which feels a bit like heaven, with its gently flowing waterfalls and rivers that meander through a forest of palms, ferns and lush greenery.
That's been the backdrop for an outstanding conference.
It wasn't just the magnificent setting that made VPPPA 2013 a great experience, though. It was the dynamic speakers, the pearls of life wisdom and yes … the networking.
It was a privilege to meet and be surrounded by so many people who share a passion for saving lives and promoting safe and healthy behavior.
The passion was palpable during Randy Royall's breakout session. With a persona – and face – that reminded me of investment guru Jim Cramer (big fan here), Royall's hilarious, deeply moving and expletive-filled presentation earned him instant rock-star status in my mind.
Over the years, I've been to many, many symposiums, workshops, seminars, summits, professional-development conferences – call them what you will. This was the first one that had me mentally quoting some of the choice turns of phrase dished out by the speaker.
There were some absolutely priceless soundbites.
That aside, Royall accomplished exactly what motivational guru Dan Clark talked about in his keynote address: the idea of connecting the head with the heart, and making an emotional connection to drive home the message of safety and health.
Royall did it. While he acknowledged that "some of y'all like me and some of you don't," he made a lasting impression on that audience, including me. Through his authenticity and raw storytelling, Royall made me feel the physical and emotional pain of his accident and its aftermath. He made me feel the consequences of his bad decision.
And he made safety personal.
That, Clark asserted, is the Holy Grail for EHS professionals: Not just getting the safety message into workers' minds, but also into their hearts.
"All the information in the world isn't going to make a person successful," Clark said during his keynote. 'It's like the guy with three Ph.D.s: He doesn't have a job, but at least he can explain why."
I'm not going to rule out getting a Ph.D. someday, but Clark made a great point. And it's applicable to just about every aspect of our life: In this age of information overload, the things that stick with us are the things we feel in our hearts.
The things from VPPPA 2013 that will stick with me are the great stories, the great people of the EHS community and their authenticity, passion and dedication – all of which were abundant in Nashville.
That's more than enough to inspire a trade journalist like me to put my heart and soul into covering the EHS profession. And it's more than enough to get a reserved, soft-spoken guy like me to break out of my comfort zone every now and then.