I’m on my way home from an annual conference of children’s museum professionals that I’ve attended most of the last 20 years. I love this conference—it’s always inspiring, informative, and these days it’s an indulgence to travel alone and leave bedtime, school buses and play dates behind. This year we heard from thought leaders in fields of creativity and innovation, studied and played in museums, participated in workshops and panel discussions. But the heart of the conference is after hours—late nights in the hotel bar, dissecting exhibits and careers and life over wine and through the laughter and tears of old friends and colleagues who intersect in various combinations often only once a year.
This year, the conference theme was “Reimagining Children’s Museums.” And my own imagination almost kept me from participating. Two years ago, colleagues at this conference provided much-needed shoulders to (sometimes literally) cry on, and the confidence to leave a job that was all wrong for me. If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize a recurring theme of recovery from that period. Every few months, I’ve reflected on milestones that tell me I’m incrementally moving on, that the bruises to my ego and professional confidence are healing. But moving on means going back without reverting, and I’ve avoided that test. I haven’t seen many of my former colleagues, haven’t set foot back in that museum, and haven’t talked out loud about it very often.
I knew I’d see them this year, and I worried about how I’d feel. Even though two years have passed and I’ve built a successful consulting business and moved on professionally, I still worried that seeing them again would undo it all.
My husband told me to live in the present. He also reminded me that sustaining a consulting business means networking, so get on the plane. And like he’s been so many times in our marriage, he was absolutely right.
In my imagination, everyone and everything I left behind stayed exactly where I left them, and through the lens of memory those that hurt the most became even more prominent. But in reality, there have been life changes and leadership changes, and time really does heal. I saw my former colleagues on the first night of the conference. There were a few awkward hugs, some small talk, and that was that. No deep conversations, no rehashing of anything, just updates on our kids and our lives. Even some smiles. Like former coworkers who run into one another do every day.
Reimagining children’s museums, indeed.
*Full disclosure: I did write the first draft on the plane…and then took a few days to revise and post it. No flying today.