Why I’m not going to SXSW This Year – A Brutally Honest Post

I’ve already gotten about 30 party invites, have had two hotels ask me if I need comped rooms, and been offered several dinners, rides, and the like for this year’s South by Southwest festival.

And I’ve had to turn them all down, because this year, I’m not going.

Say you’re not going to Southby (as the “cool kids” call it,) and you’re looked at like you just turned down a backrub from the next door neighbor on The Big Bang Theory. So I’m putting it out here, why I’m not attending the huge festival of South and West.

1) I’m busy. This is the simple reason. I’ve got two paid speaking gigs over the course the week, and none of them are in Austin. Money trumps parties every time.

2) The bigger reason though, is personal. When I went to SXSW in 2009, HARO was about a year old, and people were just starting to know me in this industry. I went to a few parties, had a fun time, and came home. Life went on.

2010 was totally different. HARO had blown up, and I was one of the guys throwing the parties. When NASA pilots show up at your party and Guy Kawasaki changes his flight to make sure he shows, you know you’ve got something. I was invited to almost every party the event had. It was an awesome feeling – and one I’d never before experienced. I was one of “those” people. It was kinda nice, while it happened.

But therein sat a problem. I’d never been in a situation like that before – one where people not only wanted to hang out with me, but actively invited me to their parties. So I went. And I took part of all the parties had to offer.

And for what it’s worth, all the parties had to offer a lot of alcohol. So I drank it.

I didn’t do anything monumentally stupid. I didn’t streak 3rd Street. I didn’t walk up to Mark Zuckerberg and try and get in his face. Quite frankly, with the exception of one stupid tweet, I was relatively tame.

But as anyone who understands the power that alcohol has over some people knows, there’s a short walk from relatively tame to Charlie Sheen.

As you all know, I’m working on my new healthy lifestyle this year. One of the things that’s helping me lose a lot of weight is being acutely aware of my drinking. I’m being really careful about what I drink, when I drink it, and how much of it I drink. Essentially, I rarely drink. I had a glass of wine this weekend in South Africa, because I was on a winery. I was aware of it, drank it, and moved on.

I’ve dropped close to 16 pounds in  two months by being super careful, keeping to my workout schedule, watching what I eat, and yes, rarely drinking. The temptation to either not do or do to excess any of the above has been kept in check, primarily because to get through a 5am workout, you’re not going out and partying the night before.

But honestly, I don’t know if I’ve built the willpower yet to do that in Austin during SXSW. Rather than tempt fate and find out, I’m simply not going.

That begs the question all of you are asking. Peter, are you an alcoholic?

Honestly, I don’t think I am. I’ve discussed this at length with my therapist. I’ve taken the quiz. Fact is, I can go weeks/months without drinking, and I don’t miss it. I’ve done it before, many times, usually for training for various marathons or triathlons. I don’t wake up and crave a drink.

The problem for me, as best as I can figure it, is this: When alcohol is there, free and plentifully available, I tend to drink it at a higher rate of speed than my friends. And when one car is going 100mph, and another is going 60mph, the first car is going to run out of road before the second one does, and  that can cause problems.

I don’t drink it fast because I’m trying to get drunk. That’s the funny part. I think it might tie into my personality – I do everything fast. Ever watch me speak? I speak fast. I eat fast. I drink water fast. Ironically, the only thing I don’t do fast is run. Karmic humor, huh? But yes – That means I drink alcohol fast, too. It’s easy to check yourself when you’re at a dinner with friends and the only way to get a drink is to call the waitress over. But at South by Southwest, where the alcohol flows as fast as the new brilliant ideas? It’s very simple to blow past the line long before you realize you’re even coming up on it.

I do know that my personality tends to lean towards the addictive. It’s why I rarely stay in Vegas on business longer than two nights. When you’re aware of your personality, it’s a lot easier to prevent a catastrophe long before that catastrophe comes to fruition.

So I’m not going to South by Southwest this year. I’ll travel to my paid speaking gigs, and come back home to join Ken in the gym at 5am the next morning, and take my long runs and swims from Lee at the YMCA. I have no doubt I’ll follow all the cool news coming out of the conference via Twitter and my friends. But this year, I think I’m just gonna sit it out. Maybe next year I’ll be up for it again.

If you’re going this year, have fun and be safe. And either way, thanks for reading.

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