I went out several weeks ago with a friend to attend a goodbye gathering for a someone we know who’s moving out of state. Other than the guest of honor and my partner in crime, I really didn’t know anyone, so I cozied up to my glass of pinot noir and watched the people mingle. Eventually we made conversation with a friendly looking guy, and as I began to introduce myself, he interrupted and said, “Oh, I know you. I was at the Web Conference last year. You’re Robin2go.”
Or consider this scenario: During a difficult evening while paying respects to a colleague I’ve been on a first name basis with for several years, two different people turned to family members to introduce me and said, almost verbatim,”This is … Robin2go,” then turned back to me helplessly, confessing, “I can’t seem to remember your last name. You’re just simply Robin2go.”
Why, yes. Yes I am.
As odd as this might sound, this is not an uncommon occurrence in my life anymore. Robin2go is the online moniker I adopted many years ago. People like to ask me how I came up with it, and I wish I had a better story. Part of it was simple — I wanted something that used my name, but not all of my name; I wanted a stand alone moniker that was recognizable, but still not completely traceable. Coupled with the fact that, growing up, I was always on the move, across the United States, around the world, never in the same place twice. Robin2go just made sense, and voilà. So it began.
If you’ve seen me present, or even if you’ve attended an event I’ve been at, you will most likely walk away with a very clear mental image of the Robin2go persona. Simply put, you either love me or you hate me. There is no gray area here. Somehow, I’ve become a personality of sorts — and I really find that odd. Because for years, I’ve been made to feel badly about who I am. I should be quieter. More refined. My mouth is too big, my laugh is too loud. Some of that was my upbringing (my father wanted an engineer, my mother wanted a diplomat’s wife. You can only imagine the depths of their despair to this very day). I was a failure at fitting into the nice, neat package people wanted me to be. And if that sounds crazy to you, then this will sound like sheer lunacy: for a long time I actually thought I was doing it wrong and redoubled my efforts to blend in. How did that work out? Not well. I was so not me, and I realized I had to decide who was really the insane one here — me, or the rest of the world.
In the end, after much reflection and some well deserved therapy, I decided it was the rest of the world who was insane. And I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I decided I didn’t give a shit about what the world thought about me, mostly because it was killing me to be someone I wasn’t. So I stopped censoring myself. Instantly, I became much healthier. I also left the job that wanted me to be a mindless automaton. I thought I could do it, but it turns out, in the end, I really couldn’t be something I wasn’t. Instead, I found people who wanted the full package — both the brains and the personality. Life got much better then. It got even better when social media hit, and I started making the rounds of the higher ed speaking circuit. I was fun, a little naughty, and somewhat memorable. What’s so memorable? I have no idea. I tell bad jokes and I adore wordplay. I have a relatively large vocabulary. I can use innuendo in a sentence — both figuratively and literally. And I love people. I love new places and new people that I would never have otherwise met. I may not remember your name, but by god, when I am with you, I am 100% in the moment and I am 100% with you.
I suppose I am what they call the life of the party. I can walk into a room and be completely at home. Crowds of strangers have never bothered me. In fact, it’s gotten difficult to walk into a room anymore where there isn’t somebody who knows who I am (Norm!) and will vie for a moment to connect. People will actually come up to me and say, “You’re Robin2go, aren’t you?!” Why, yes. Yes I am. To be honest, I seldom enter a room quietly. I guess it’s my thing. I’ve been dubbed “a force of nature” in the higher ed community. Okay, that’s fair. And I talk to everyone. Yes, everyone. But I do it in typical Robin2go fashion, and it leads to some interesting observations by others. I’m brash. I’m bold. I’ve heard “you’re very … direct, eh?” on multiple occasions. Why, yes. Yes I am. And I’m not apologizing for it anymore. Being Robin2go is both a blessing and a curse. Not everyone can roll with that. They think they can, but really, they can’t. And they back away. So be it.
What I have to constantly remind people is this: there is always another side to the coin. Conferences actually take a lot out of me. Whether I’m planning an event or simply attending, I am on. I can’t help it. The energy kicks in and I am ready to be in front of people. But at the end of a conference, I am spent. My reserves are shot, and it takes me a couple days to recover and be ready to engage again. If you see me fall offline over the weekend, it usually means I need to disengage and walk away for a bit. It’s not you — it really is me. But it’s something I have to do, because I can’t drink from the firehose — and then entertain everyone — all the time. It’s exhausting.
I’m also terrible at remembering people’s names or in what context we’ve met. I rely on my gregariousness to hide that fact, much to my chagrin. And I always second guess my talks and my workshops. I will be up the night before, tweaking a talk, and still not be certain if it’s ready for prime time. Did I give enough information? Did I talk too much? Were there too many geek jokes? Was there enough time for questions? Do people even really care about what I’m saying? The worrying is a never ending cycle. And you may not believe it, but I’m shocked when the cool people want to hang out with me. In truth, I’m a relatively private person. Oh, don’t get me wrong — I’m incredibly friendly and very open, but the number of people I’ve let into the innermost, intimate circle over the years are few and far between. Perhaps I have trust issues (clearly). Or perhaps it’s that I hate being vulnerable (which, in retrospect, makes blogging an odd choice, but that’s a post for another day). Whatever the case, I hold back, and rarely does anyone notice. They’re all too happy to enjoy the loud and funny persona that is my natural defense.
It’s clear many people believe the Robin2go persona is the complete truth of who I am — and it is definitely a very real part of me. But real people are multifaceted. Like a Polaroid, the complete picture takes a while to come into focus. Most people won’t stick around long enough to work through the layers of complexity. It’s just easier to believe the hype. Personas are easily digestible bites — a single facet, if you will. And when you realize that, you begin to understand how it is that I can stand in a crowded room and be very much alone.
As I sit here in the coffee shop, finishing up this post, I laugh at something a friend says. And sure enough, a woman comes up to me and says, “I know you! I’d recognize that laugh anywhere!” and we have a laugh together, hug, ask about one another, and then she moves on. I don’t have the heart to admit to her that I don’t remember how I know her, just that her face is familiar and I take my cues from her approach. This is the story of my life.
So the next time you see me — or hear me, because, let’s face it, that’s the greater probability — by all means, say hello. I want to have a great conversation with you. I hope that our time together is memorable for both of us, and I imagine we’ll share a laugh or two. But realize that all those people around me? Those are the cheerleaders, the ones who love the Robin2go persona, and are drawn to it like moths to a flame. It’s not the whole truth; it’s a mesmer, if you will. It’s just the easiest part of me to put out there, and the one that so many people are starting to adore.
It’s a veritable cult of personality.