Monthly Archives: June 2012

#PrevChat: My maiden voyage

LaDonna Coy, my professional idol and social media guru, is the member of a team that conducts a bi-monthly Twitter “conversation” called PrevChat. Because of my work schedule and my west coast timezone, I had never been able to participate in a PrevChat session until this week. My foray into this event coincided with a slight change in their format, which made the adventure that much more interesting. Traditionally, the discussion begins with a topic and then several questions related to that topic. The participant responds via tweet by specifying to which question their answer corresponds and using the hashtag #PrevChat. Don’t be afraid if you’re a Twitter novice. It’s easier than I’ve made it sound.

This week, to shake things up a bit, they featured Bruce Waltuck (aka @complexified), to talk about evidence based practices and what exactly that meant. The tweet that drew me in was:

Complex or complicated? What’s up with prevention, wellness (behavioral health)?

Perhaps it’s due to my “simple” roots, but multiple times a day, I wonder why we in prevention attempt to make a lot of things more complicated than they are. That’s not to say that the problems we face are not complex, but we don’t make it any easier with all our acronyms and five-dollar words. I was interested in seeing what other people had to say about this subject.

To participate in PrevChat, one almost has to use a specialized app/tool like TweetDeck in order to keep up. I could see myself getting lost trying to use the standard Twitter timeline. When using Tweetdeck, your desktop will look something like this:

TweetDeck during PrevChat. You may also notice I was simultaneously tracking OK primary election results.

It looks like one would have to multitask to keep up with the conversation, but in reality, it’s quite easy to follow. In the third/right column was the bulk of the conversation. In the middle column, I kept up with those who had mentioned/replied to me directly. And in the first/left column scrolled my regular timeline, where I might have caught a tweet or two in which someone had forgotten to use the hashtag (you must be a follower of the people in the conversation in order to see those, though). All this may seem pretty obvious to those who are Twitter pros, but part of my goal of this blog is to help explain the most basic elements of these “experiments” of mine so others might do a little experimenting of their own.

The most interesting part of this format was seeing not only the answers to the questions that PrevChat provided, but seeing the off-shoot of conversations that would take place down the road from those initial questions. Today at work, I found myself referencing phrases like “culture eats strategy,” which had been discussed in-depth during the course of the chat. I found myself feeling a little giddy when my own words were retweeted by others or when the featured speaker responded to one of my ideas. The hour flew by in a flash, and the nervousness I’d felt about saying something “elementary” had melted away by the time we were prompted to wrap up our thoughts.

In all, my first experience with PrevChat was entirely positive. Like most of the new (and sometimes intimidating) concepts I’ve been exploring related to combining technology and prevention, I found myself wanting to show this system to my colleagues and try to coax them into participating in such an amazing project. There is so much more that prevention has to offer that we sometimes don’t see while pounding away at our keyboards inside our neutral-colored, canvas cubicles. But the fact is, until we begin to make social media an integral part of our jobs, we are missing out on opportunities for our work to take on a life of its own.

Go confidently…

“…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Confidence. It’s an essential trait when working in the nonprofit world. We beg for money, we rally supporters, we organize the masses–all to support something we see being for the greater good. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that it’s easy to access that confidence when I’m wearing my prevention hat**, but sometimes it’s harder to carry that confidence in my personal life.

It seems kind of silly when I think about it. I can stand in front of 2 or 200 people and speak, without even having to picture them in their underwear. I’ve shook hands with businessmen, legislators, and even a governor or two. It seems that one would have to possess a certain level of confidence for that. Yet whenever those events occurred, it was in the name of something greater than myself. Would I be able to speak those words or shake those hands if the reason were just for me?

This past week, I talked to a colleague about taking on a role that *I* could see him stepping into naturally. If someone were to list the qualifications for this venture and then list his personal attributes beside it, the lists would align almost perfectly. However, if appearances were correct (and he wasn’t just trying to be nice and let me talk), he seemed reluctant to even consider this endeavor–for a number of reasons that genuinely made sense in his mind. It was one of those moments that all I could think of was, “If you could see yourself the way everyone else sees you, then you would know that you could do this.”

Prevention is a “sink or swim” environment. I don’t think I know one single person who went to college to become a substance abuse preventionist. Most of us jumped into the water not knowing how deep it was, and we either learned to swim or we crawled onto a lifeboat and headed to shore for a new profession. But should we stay there treading water or should we find a dock and keep jumping in?

My point is that we constantly ask our coalitions and our community members to take chances and to approach tasks which may seem insurmountable to them. Why don’t we present ourselves with those same level of challenges? Maybe it’s opening that Twitter account to take on the world of social media.  Maybe it’s stepping up to a leadership role that seems totally unnatural since we’re so used to keeping things rolling behind the scenes. Maybe it’s showing our long-standing coalition a new technique learned at a training–one that seems exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

Prevention is one of the most rapidly-changing fields in mental health–just ask anyone who’s been doing this for 20 years. We accept the changes (though sometimes begrudgingly) that we’re presented with year to year, grant to grant, conference to conference, and we make it work. We learn new curriculum, advocate for proven policies, work with diverse populations–and we do it because we are confident in our message and confident in our shared goals. Why would we not be as confident in our own skin? I urge anyone who happens to read this to channel that confidence you exude every day while wearing your prevention hats**. Take on a challenge not knowing if you’ll fail or succeed, because honestly, can it really be a failure if you learn something new?

P.S. For the record, this blog is my own “jumping back into the water again.” My writing skills are beyond rusty, and I second guess every idea out of my head. But I take solace in knowing that only 2-3 people who probably already like me read this–so what is there to lose? 😉

**My prevention hat would similar to a cowboy hat, but with brighter colors. And it would probably shoot glitter.