An Army of Remarkable Souls...
Every year, the army grows a little bigger. This year, Chris invited 3,000 of his closest friends to join in the growing march to take over the world. With a blog that reaches millions, two best-selling books and a conference that sells out in minutes, I wonder how soon this crew will realize that we really are a dominant force across the globe—and this powerful network of achievers, do-ers, thinkers, creatives and non-conformists can collectively do quite a lot, together.
Portland is a big-town, small-city place that boasts breweries, books, and soulful people, with hints (or proclamations!) of weirdness in its variant quirks and policies. (A progressive city in almost every regard, it still has some of the highest restrictions on alcohol use of any state). This past weekend for the Fourth of July, a mid-sized army of remarkable people convened to sip from the fountain of ‘inspiration crack’ (h/t to Danielle for that phrase), engage in high-energy infusion and expression, and hug as many people as possible.
As I headed to my third reunion of the World Domination Summit hosted by the mighty Chris Guillebeau and his magnificent team of ambassadors, speakers, volunteers and passionate followers, I wondered what this version would send my way--and what I would bring to it.
Unlike the last two years, where I sat enthralled, documenting every piece of the conference, this year was a bit different for me: I was tired and under deadlines, and still a bit out of sorts from the year's healthy dose of personal learnings and discovering emotions. This year was far different than the last two years: I wasn't energized enough to be out in public again. Not just yet. This, in fact, was my first conference since 2012--and while I haven't mentioned it too much publicly (and it's not the subject of this post but I'll definitely talk more about it later)--I've been subject to adrenal fatigue and burnout this year, and I've been keeping a bit quieter and staying in much more than the last two years. Which is why, after six months of slowing down (note: relative to my normal barometer of activity), I was feeling some excited to see my friends again, but I was cautious not to over-extend myself in ways I had done before. As a result, I was able to go to most of the speakers (but not all of them), and I definitely missed more than one of the meet-ups. In all, however, I loved it as much as the years prior and was grateful to see so many kind friends (and strangers) at every turn.
WDS: Like college, maybe?
The first Friday evening, Chris rented out the Portland Zoo for an opening party featuring dancers and a band on stilts (coupled with elephants and monkeys) and I saw hundreds of my favorite people all beaming at each other and gabbing at each other on the amphitheater lawn. It was partly a big part gleeful reunion and another part “shiny object syndrome” – I couldn’t maintain a single conversation without seeing another person and rushing over to hug or squeeze them, leaving me feeling a bit like I’d started 87 conversations and left every one unfinished -- well, that's actually exactly what happened. People from all over the world were in the same place, hugging; new faces and internet friends and old friends mingled together in a collective takeover of the Zoo.
It reminded me of a college reunion, or rather that feeling of returning to an academic campus after a summer’s vacation. New-timers to WDS were like freshman, eager and excited to join the new space and become a part of the family they’d heard so much about, departing from old habits and spaces and ready to make new projects live in the world. Similarly, people who had come to 2011 and 2012 were like sophomores and juniors, veterans excited to come back and see so many of the friends they’d met and made the years before. As a third-timer, I was tingling with excitement to see so many of my friends that I’d met one or two years prior and followed online since. I just used the word "excited" three times in this paragraph, so if you couldn't tell--it was definitely energizing.
But actually, it's more like a family …
The college metaphor, however, doesn't quite fit. Because, more than college, the community at WDS is like a family to me. New faces approached me nervously, wondering how they were going to meet everyone and do it all. "You're not," I told newcomers, "It’s improbable that you'll meet all 3,000 people." But there are so many wonderful souls with “yes” attitudes that meeting a handful of them – five, ten, fifteen – and staying in touch with them over the years is the perfect thing to do at a conference like this. Start a few conversations. Connect with people and tell them you story. Share a lunch. Compare notes on the speakers. Talk about what you’re working on (or struggling with, or proud of). Say hi in person to someone you’ve been listening to online.
For those of you who came for the first time, over the next year I bet you’ll find the magic keeps happening. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the form of a job opening that falls in your email inbox the next day (although perhaps that might happen!)—but sparks start. Seeds are planted. A few months later, as you’re working through more of your world domination plans (or quiet, far-less-glamorous plans to stock your savings or launch a product), you'll remember someone you met or recall a piece of advice or a story that will hit you and make you smile. You'll email a friend you met and say, shyly, "Hey, can I bother you to ask a question?" And then you'll notice that things start happening a little quicker. A little more urgently. With joy.
Some thoughts and notes—A few lessons to add to my WDS#1 and WDS#2 posts
What are the big takeaways? As we left Portland and began the long drive down highway 5 through Oregon and California, I stared out at the road and the trees and basked in the warm sunshine heating the dashboard, jotting down notes and reflecting on the pieces that really hit home for me. Here's what I came up with:
The most important thing is starting. Things only happen if you start them. And then put in the work. The happiest returners I saw were making honest work and taking action one step at a time, through all the ups and downs. If you're looking to start something or make a change, make a tiny step as soon as possible. Maybe that’s emailing someone to say hello or thank-you. Maybe it's putting a paragraph on a page and sending it to a few people to review. Maybe that's putting $100 into a new account and calling it your Freedom Fund. But starting is essential. I can guarantee you if you don't start, it won't happen.
The quicker you can harness your energy and put it into motion and tangible outcomes, the quicker your life will change.
Be audacious. Be ridiculous. Jia Jiang talked about how he asked for the most ridiculous things in his "rejection therapy" experiment--from driving a police car to asking to fly a helicopter to getting Krispy Kreme to give him donuts shaped like the Olympic Rings. And surprisingly to everyone, the answers were yes. Be a little crazy--you never know what will happen.
Send thank-you notes. Who really impressed you at the conference? Who did you love meeting or seeing again? Send a quick note to tell them.
Everyone has lots of stories. Nancy Duarte and Donald Miller talked about storytelling and communication, and for me I find people often trip up on getting their "right" story in order. Screw that. You don't have a right story or one story. You have lots of them. Tell one of them, and have fun with it.
WDS feels like a level playing field--a team of equals, without a hierarchy. One of my favorite things about this conference, unlike any other conference, is how level the playing field is. Internet super-stars and best-selling authors and otherwise “untouchables” stand side-by-side with newbies, shy geeks, and dreamers—in a nod to our common humanity. Rather than our accomplishments, I feel more at home around people I otherwise might feel too shy to go and meet, and vice versa.
I’m not sure why this is—perhaps it’s because every speaker comes voluntarily, or because of the depth of friendships between so many people—but I always feel such ease connecting to everyone and high-fiving the speakers and recognizing that this conference isn't about what you've done, but more about who you are, and if you bring kindness and joy to the room.
Remember that everyone is human. And what you're feeling right now, they probably felt at one time as well.
Connecting with readers!! It wasn’t that long ago that I started my blog and web projects. The WDS community were some of my earliest supporters—I remember walking to the first conference and meeting Dave Ursillo, Adam Baker, Courtney Baker, Laura Roeder and J.D. Roth on the very first night of the very first conference—and each of these people (and the people I met in the minutes and moments afterwards) have become fast friends and long-time supporters of my work. The family has been huge and I'm so grateful to have met so many people through WDS.
This time, my third hurrah, I got to connect with several faces who came up to me, so happy to connect in person—being able to say hello and hear your stories was such an honor. I always pinch myself when I realize that someone is out there, reading my stories, and to get to see the faces that spend time reading my words--I LOVE meeting you! It means the world to me that by writing essays online, we can connect and make friends across so many places in the world.
Not everyone quits their job. I think this is really important to say. Sometimes WDS feels like a club for job-quitters, and it’s not always the right time for you or the right thing for you to do. Your life is not everyone else's life. Sometimes it seems so hard to watch everyone quitting their jobs or starting their dreams and you wonder, "when is it going to be my turn?" Something that's often overlooked in the shiny-internet-spaces is how long it can take to build an idea, a project, a community, a following, or a dream. There can be a distinct separation of time between knowing what you want to do and putting it to reality. It is not a bad thing to be practical and pragmatic (keeping your day job to pay the bills for a while can actually be a smart move, for example)--up to a point.
Sometimes you’re in process. In the middle. For me, so much has changed over the past two years and it’s brilliant to see each year at WDS as a marker in time for what I was (or am) working on and working through. But take the inspiration, watch out for the hangover that might hit immediately following, and make plans (and first steps) towards your next actions.
Patience, but not Never. Sometimes you know that you have to do something--but you can't do it right away. Timing is important. It's not a bad thing to be patient or frugal. I know what it's like to want something and work six months, twelve months, or two years to get it. You work tirelessly, invisibly, and nothing seems to change.
And of course! A quick photo-tour:
There are a million photos online from the amazing WDS team and Armosa Studios; I couldn't possibly list them all. Here are a few of my favorites:
The Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall - the main stage.
The entrance hall as people start coming in!
Jia Jiang and facing (and embracing) rejection.
Donald Miller: You are not your failures. You are also not your successes.
The upper balcony seating.
Yoga in the park.
Lines forming outside the buildings for the next speakers.
Darren Rouse (ProBlogger) fulfilling his Superman dreams!
Afternoon workshop with Danielle LaPorte in a church. The room filled up to over-capacity by 1:30 and we were slated to start at 2. So she gave us an extra 30 minutes of goodness.
The hammock lounge for when you need a quick break!
Oh! Oh! That's me and Ryan McRae and Paull Young, Kaitlyn Jankowski and Rael Dornfest of Charity: Water giving a recap of our crazy adventures and big plans for next year! If you're going to be a part of the Ethiopia Campaign, sign up to join our collective project for clean water.
Lots and lots of crazy stories :)
The all-volunteer army of speakers and remarkable ambassadors. The ones who made it happen.
The closing dance party (probably one of my FAVORITE parts! Humans are made to dance and move and celebrate joyfully!)
Are you coming in 2014?
It's not cheap--I stayed in a hostel ($300), road-tripped from San Francisco ($400), bought an early ticket ($450), and packed a grocery sack of food ($150 total for the weekend including eating out)--which is about as cheap as I have been able to make it--so people often gasp at the sticker price for a weekend like this, particularly if you want to stay in a fancy hotel, are traveling from far away and spend more money on food.
But to break out, in joy, and join family that's supportive, kind, inspirational, loving, and meet people who thing like you, weird and wonderful as you might be--it's life-changing. It's worth it.
And here's the thing: nothing lasts forever. Each year is an evolution, and if you put off something you want to do for later--it might not be there later. If you can afford it, pull the trigger. Of course there are exceptions, and if you're swamped in debt or can't make it, reach out in other ways and mix and mingle with the hashtag on twitter, watch the videos after, and ask questions (or interview people!) and learn as much as you can vicariously.
But if you're standing on the edge waiting to jump and you don't jump, you're just standing there, and the opportunity will pass you by.
Hope you'll join us next year--or find a way to bring this joy into your life, one day at a time.
With love as always!