Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Real Thing

My mind is still in an elevated state where more things seem possible than ever before. Since the 2013 Summit ended, I have taken some action steps to propel my learning and de-cluttering goals. The time I spent at World Domination Summit was valuable.

I was asked by a friend at work last week why I felt compelled to attend the conference in the first place. She wondered if World Domination Summit added value to my life, since she thought that I was already familiar with the influential authors who espouse embracing remark ability, and already living an exceptionally enlightened and adventurous life. She felt that I had transcended the mentality of an uninspired clock-puncher long time ago. I explained to my friend that attending the event took my passion for living an amazing life to another level--something that would be hard to do without an environment of supportive and like-minded participants.

I am familiar with the written works, inspirational videos, and articles by (or about) Seth Godin, Brené Brown, Daniel Pink, Gretchen Rubin, Tony Schwartz, and countless others. I regularly read Fast Company and 99U articles on leadership, creativity, innovation, and pursuit of excellence. These resources offer ideas for bringing community-building, empathy, and stellar customer service into the corporate workplace. I incorporate information learned from reading Experience Life magazine articles for adding tweaks to my fitness goals.

But reading about (or watching videos of) these influential figures and fully experiencing a purposeful life are two different things. Just like the difference between reading a script of a riveting theatrical play and participating in it yields different levels of engagement and meaning, participation transforms the ideas into an enriching personal experience.

Spending an intense week in company of other WDS participants transformed my learning to a new plateau. At WDS, I did not feel the need to make series of trivial talks before sharing big ideas or expressing vulnerability. I did not have to spend time having to explain the ideas behind customer-oriented missions, inclusion, or mutual accountability to others (regrettably, this was not the case once I returned to my day job several days after the Summit). It was refreshing to learn that WDS attendees also embraced the "Stop waiting for permission" mindset, and took initiatives to make things happen without seeking approval first.

During the WDS, I learned things that were not in the books or magazines that I had previously read about. I would have been unaware of various resources for writers or nuances of living a location-independent lifestyle. I would have missed out on the amazing projects of presenters and participants, including Jia Jiang's Rejection Therapy experiment, Good Life Project, Radio Enso, Global Table Adventure, Strong Inside Out, App Camp For Girls, and Gutsygeek. I would have never encountered the expression FOMO--"Fear of Missing Out."

Had I missed out on the WDS experience, I would have little or no awareness about the things I want to improve on, or my Pigeons of Discontent. Things like banishing self-doubt, improving how I relate to others, and overcoming limitations were all illuminated during the conference. And staying active in the online community of fellow attendees made me aware that I am surrounded by amazing people who take accountability very seriously.

The differences between reading about something and executing it enriches the experience. I can tell you the clinical definition of a strike zone in baseball, but nothing compared to the feeling of standing in the battery's box, with legs shaking, while facing the nastiest pitcher in my youth baseball league. I can read the score of the bass part for Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," but learning how to make the part flow and meld with the tenor, alto, and soprano sections in a 60-person choir through repeated practice was a separate experience altogether. I can recite the rulebook definition of an "illegal block in the back" penalty in high school football, but experiencing the infraction in person--being plowed by a gung-ho linebacker and having my ass fly airborne five yards downfield before landing head-first in a mud-covered field--was a different experience altogether.

Being familiar with the works of remarkable thinkers, doers, and connectors brought me to the dance. Those works helped lay the foundation. Being immersed in the World Domination Summit event, however, led to absorbing ideas and inspirations that would make me dance more freely and build a more remarkable future.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

We Belong

It has been less than two days since this year's World Domination Summit concluded. My mind is still in awe of absorbing new ideas and inspirations, digesting attendee stories and presentations, embracing uncertainties, and identifying personal lessons learned. Throughout the event, I kept asking myself why I felt compelled to unconditionally embrace the atmosphere surrounding the summit.

World Domination Summit brought together 3,000 participants from diverse walks of life: entrepreneurs, creative visionaries who work for companies, writers, activists, gregarious extroverts, introspective introverts, connectors, and linchpins. Those who have led remarkable lives for many decades shared the same space with absolute beginners who were just scratching the surface of learning how to experience meaningful lives. There were WDSers in their late teens and others who were in their eighties. Participants from various religious, ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds all had seats at the communal table of inclusion. There were people who had attended prior years' gathering(s), including people who have found their lifelong partners.

Unlike some of the workshops, courses, or conferences which I had experienced, people showed up and participated--there were no tourists at the World Domination Summit. People did not show up and lingered all weekend long in apathy just because their employers had dispatched them for "staff training." The gathering did not have a dog-eat-dog atmosphere where attendees were dispensed advice by gurus on "how to get rich quick" in an arena of a zero-sum endgame.

One of the session presenters, Chase Jarvis, asked us to recall what created meaning when we were young, which we subsequently repressed during our adult years. He then implored us to rediscover what was meaningful. For Chase, it was his love of photography and cinema.

That question helped me discover what created meaning when I was younger: a sense of belonging.

The first time I felt that invigorating moment was when I attended a month-long fine arts camp in my youth. There were about 300 of us at the Fairbanks Summer Fine Arts Camp in 1985. There were attendees from various towns and villages in Alaska, as well as campers from other states. Many of us were the misfits or weirdos during ordinary school years--young adolescents placed more emphasis on the differences between people, and believed in stereotypes and assumptions. Attendees took classes in, and embraced, theater, dance, classical and contemporary music, fine arts, and creative writing. There were serious artists and musicians who used the camp as experience-builders on their way to remarkable careers. There were casual campers who enthusiastically sampled and participated in various disciplines. There were some kids who attended just because their parents wanted them out of their hairs for four weeks. Alumni of the camp included those who went onto become professional musicians, culinary experts, theater directors and costume designers, academic professors, LGBT activists, and world travelers. Some attendees went onto work in the corporate world and held ordinary day jobs. But we felt a sense of belonging.

During the four weeks, musical productions were staged, choir, dance and instrumental performances were offered to the public, and art shows were curated (I even scored a rather laughable arrangement of a "Smoke On The Water" and "Hey Jude" medley for trombone and strings for a Music Arrangement class). But how we related to each other during our four weeks together was just as important as what we accomplished during that time. We created a safe space where we could be ourselves, make stuff happen, and form lifelong relationships. A friend of mine whom I met at camp nearly thirty years ago met her future husband that summer.

It felt very natural to be with the fellow campers: I felt no need trying to "fit in." There were many emotional connections made, and there were many tearful goodbyes at end of the camp. We clung to every word and note of Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" during the final evening's dance party event. After the camp, we were reduced to handwriting each other, but we kept in touch by sharing handcrafted letters, mixtapes, and artwork. I took road trips and plane rides to visit the friends from my tribe. Over the years, I reunited with them in places like Idaho, Washington D.C., New York, and Japan.

Discovering a meaningful tribe at the age of seventeen was my first foray into discovering a community where I belonged. The feeling was powerful back then. And my recent experience at World Domination Summit brought back those amazing and magical feelings.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

This Night Has Opened My Eyes

As a first-time World Domination Summit participant, I am ecstatic about meeting new people in the community and learning from them. This year's official festivities begin this Friday (two days from today) but many participants arrived in Portland days before the Summit. They organized daily, informal meetups starting last weekend.

I was curious about the possibilities of meeting other participants before the official start of the conference and decided to attend an informal gathering several evenings ago. As I hopped on the crosstown bus and headed to the meetup, my mind formed questions of apprehensions. Here I was, taking a journey to meet a group of strangers whom I had never met in person before. The only interactions I've had with them were online. I'd only met few of these folks, and I had known them for less than 48 hours!

I imagined a group gathering where others all knew each other through previous WDS events and had forged close relationships over time. I felt like a dirty plebeian who was just learning the ways to lead a remarkable life. I felt like a carnivore who brought steak to an all-vegan potluck. "What if I don't belong? What if I'm too conventional?" From a very timely blog post, Seth Godin explained this fear: "All our warning systems are on high alert. From an evolutionary perspective, strangers represent danger. They are not only a direct threat, but carry the risk of rejection and all the insecurity that comes with it."

But I decided to show up. And, hot damn, I am very glad for making that choice. I discovered that these people were inclusive and supportive. I spent hours listening with fascination about their life stories, journeys, and work. I found commonalities and shared interests with the folks who also dared greatly and showed up. I learned that some of them even traveled from overseas or took cross-country road trips to attend WDS--without knowing any of the other attendees! Shit, my 45-minute bus ride of trepidation paled in comparison to the chances these people had just taken.

From these six friends, I learned about "location-independent" lifestyle, men's life coaching, taking leaps of faith when making significant life changes, and other concepts which broadened my horizon. They also validated my strengths and passions--bringing people and ideas together is not just a trifling personality knack, but a gift. My new friends also made me aware that I have areas where I want to improve upon: demonstrating empathy and displaying kindness to outsiders. It was powerful to hear a group of newly-met friends offer important advice, which I will take to heart: "Never apologize for who you are, or where you are in your life." As Seth Godin added in his post, "But the opposite can be true: Strangers can represent opportunity. The opportunity to learn, to make new connections, to build bridges that benefit everyone."

I was reminded that I have dared greatly before in venues where I knew no one else beforehand, and embraced those communities. I showed up at running races and long-distance cycling events even though I was in company of complete strangers: I often became inspired by watching other participants, and shared brief pleasantries and conversations with them. I built friendships with people from my recreational flag football and softball teams even though I joined the teams as a free agent outsider. I've made new connects from a room full of strangers at Project Management courses last year--that how I had indirectly learned about WDS in the first place!

Just yesterday, while I was thinking about the amazing experience of meeting WDS participant friends, I became filled with joy. For several minutes, I felt as if I was floating on air. I felt very content. As Karla DeVito sang in "We Are Not Alone" (from The Breakfast Club soundtrack), "If we dare expose our hearts, just to feel the purest parts, that's where strange sensations start to glow."

Meeting those six people the previous day inspired me to attend another meetup later in the day: there were about twenty people in attendance, and I connected with many of them. I feel blessed to have discovered such an inclusive and friendly tribe where people routinely dare greatly.