Even though I’d been a member for years, last year was the first time I attended an ACA conference. I had been so “busy” I hadn’t even thought about attending until my friend Brittne asked if I wanted to go with her to Pittsburgh. I’m so glad she asked, because going to that conference positively changed my perspective of my professional endeavors, increased my sense of involvement with ACA staff and fellow professionals, and gave me a weekend of enjoyable experiences. I learned a lot from my first experience at an ACA conference and here are some lessons I learned ranging from how to choose from the plethora of educational opportunities and activities to the all-so-important decision of what shoes to wear.
Lesson One: I am NOT too busy and I DO have enough money. You know how everyone thinks they are all so “busy” in their lives that it becomes easy to make excuses and simply not do things such as going to a professional conference? Well, I’m a pretty busy person too (of course, because we all are, right?) but I also know that it's beneficial to take time out of the normal day-to-day routine on occasion and do something for myself. The ACA conference experience is well worth spending a couple days away from home to meet fellow professionals, exchange ideas, and obtain up-to-date information about my areas of interest.
Even spending the money completely out of pocket (like I did last year and am dong again this year) is absolutely worth it. Although I’m sure we’ve all heard people say, “my company isn’t paying for it this year” or “I just don’t have the money” let’s face it: I’m no Donald Trump. And if I can somehow carve out enough of my budget with a normal-paying job and while in an expensive PhD program, I’m sure others can find a way as well. I planned ahead and made sure I took advantage of early registrations, for instance. I also shopped around for hotels that were nice but yet affordable. I shared a room with my friend which cut the cost in half. Last year I drove to the conference, this year I bought tickets early. It’s definitely doable.
Lesson Two: Plan which education sessions and learning institute opportunities to experience well in advance. Last year I had “glanced” over all the sessions and I ended up missing out on a few I would have chosen. There are also ways to earn certificates in a specialty area if you attend a certain number of events, for example. I’ve looked and planned ahead this year so I’m more organized in my interests. I also plan on going to the opening party, because last year it was an enjoyable way to spend part of the evening as we enjoyed dinner with new and interesting people.
Lesson Three: Experience the city you’re in. Ok, so last year was Pittsburgh. Brittne and I couldn’t really find tons to do online prior to the trip. But we made the most of it. We explored the downtown area around the hotel (more on that later) and enjoyed local restaurants and avoided chains. We also walked to the river, crossed it, and rode the Duquesne Incline to an observation point where we looked out across the city. We stayed at the beautifully historical William Penn Hotel. This year I’m thrilled to be going to New Orleans—one of my favorite cities since childhood—where there is so much to do and see I will be forcing myself to stay for those later-day sessions and activities while resisting the urge to join friends and family in listening to some live jazz or grabbing a drink in the French Quarter. Just being honest.
Lesson Four: Beware of what cute shoes ye may bringeth to the conference to wear. Speaking of walking around the city of Pittsburgh last year—this was perhaps my biggest lesson learned. I chose one pair of dress shoes that I thought were comfortable. They were awful. The pain I experienced compliments of Jimmy Choo—from the shoes I specifically selected because I thought they were comfortable—actually determined the routes I chose to walk which session I attended at the end of the day. Seriously? I didn’t even want to go to that session, but couldn’t bear to walk to the further room. And I kid you not—walking on concrete or tile hurt so much more, I lingered on the carpet for as long as possible. Well, this year I will not have my otherwise pleasant conference experience will not be overshadowed or dictated by a pair of shoes. I refuse to give them that power this year. So, in preparation, I have purchased all kinds of little gel inserts and comfort sticker-thingies to place in my shoes in case they suddenly betray me. This year, I will not waste time returning to my hotel suite because my feet hurt so badly I cannot make it through the rest of the day without changing shoes. That’s why this year, if you happen to see me at the conference, I guarantee you at any given point my purse or bag will contain some kind of go-to shoe insert sticker—just in case my seemingly-innocent shoes suddenly go rogue on me. Lessons have been learned.
Natosha Monroe is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.