Lessons from Smash Mouth: My Time at SSO
October 4, 2021
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“The years start coming and they don’t stop coming”
It’s like they, “they” being notorious rock band Smash Mouth in their hit single “Allstar”, always say, “the years start coming and they don’t stop coming.” For example, take my time at the Chan Division. I entered USC’s BS-MA program five years ago and in the blink of an eye, I’m almost at the finish line. If we’re being honest, it’s actually 31 weeks away from the finish line, but really, who’s counting? 31 weeks to go doesn’t just mean graduation, it also means the future (AKA: the time to get my life together by and FAST)! As my next life stage looms in the distance, I did the one thing anyone else in my position would do: I stressed about it for a couple days until the universe sent me a sign (well, an Instagram DM).
“You’ll never know if you don’t go”
As it turned out, a mentor who knew I was looking for my next big break decided to pass along the information for an upcoming event, the Society for the Study of Occupation’s (SSO) “Occupation and Gender” virtual conference. For those of you who don’t know, I was an LGBTQ+ studies minor in undergrad. When I wasn’t doing OT, I was doing gender studies. Even when I’m doing OT now, I’m usually doing gender studies at the same time. With the future looming, I was starting to realize that I wanted to explore the socio-cultural aspects of OT more explicitly in the future and with that being said, this conference was made for me. When I needed it most, it simply appeared in front of me on a silver platter! Talk about serendipitous timing, right? Now that I knew it was out there, it was time to get to work, after all, “you’ll never know if you don’t go!”
“I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed”
Later that week, I emailed the Chan Student Leadership Awards Committee to make a case for my attendance (including, but not limited to, bringing and sharing the information back to my fellow OTs for OuTreach members) and I secured the funding. From there, I just had to wait two weeks until the conference went live. What that really meant, however, is that I had a whole two weeks to think about how nervous and unprepared I was! This was going to be my first conference, my first foray into the world of OT outside of my five-year ivory tower residency (albeit a conference is basically within that tower’s property) and with each passing day I was worried that I wasn’t going to belong. Remember when I said the conference was made for me? Yeah, you can forget about that! All I could think about was how “I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed!”
“You’ll never shine if you don’t glow”
Fast forward to the day of the conference and not much had changed except for the fact that I was now very aware that I was just a student amidst the leaders of contemporary occupational science. The conference was laid out so that I could asynchronously review poster sessions (AKA things I could prepare myself for beforehand) throughout the week and then tune in live for synchronous paper presentations and their joint discussion sessions (AKA being thrown in the deep end). I started off breezing through the poster sessions and then tuning in to the theme speaker to build some confidence. From there, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and joined the conference mixer, got thrown into a breakout room, and became a face others would recognize throughout the conference. Objectively that was a good thing, but subjectively it meant I couldn’t get by turning my camera off and staying on mute. You win some, you lose some. Regardless my day was off!
I scheduled myself for eight sessions that day and halfway through disaster struck. Someone directly asked me if I had any thoughts on the topic at hand. I shook my head, laughed a bit, and typed in the chat, “I’m just a wallflower at the moment!” and the conversation carried on as if nothing had happened. But, spoiler alert, I actually understood what they were talking about and at times even thought before them what to say! It was almost as if the past five years weren’t just for fun. After I finally caught on that I could be a competent conference attendee, I decided it was time for that wallflower to bloom. I missed my opportunity, but I wasn’t going to miss it again. “You’ll never shine if you don’t glow” right, Smash Mouth?
“So much to do, so much to see”
With renewed vigour, I was on a mission to be heard! There was “so much to do, so much to see” and I was no longer content to watch it go by. During the next session, I shared a some insights on incorporating gender theories into occupational therapy curricula. I followed that up by asking four whole questions in a session on the environmental impacts on gender identity (and, I might add, stayed after the session to talk with the authors). The cherry on top of the day was when I gave a suggestion for additional research that the author actually wrote down!
“Hey now, you’re an all-star”
I won’t bore you with the rest of the details, but I will say that I carried that energy with me until the end of the conference. Although I am taking everything I learned from the conference back into the classroom and future practice, the most valuable thing that I took from that weekend was that I belonged in that space. It was the first time I ventured into the world of occupational therapy unsupervised and it showed me that I was ready for whatever is in store for me 31 weeks from now. Although we all live different lives with different experiences, know that you’re also ready for what is to come 31 weeks from now. You are prepared, you belong, and if you ever doubt it just remember, “Hey now, you’re an all-star.”
Seth, you are an OS natural! I really valued your contributions to our discussion…Let’s continue next year 2022 SSO-USA in San Diego.