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.


  1. Having a tribe at 17 is pretty phenomenal. I'm so glad you were able to reconnect to that!

  2. Aaahhh....I want to attend even more now. I think I attended the Fine Arts Camp the same year. One of the best experiences of my somewhat sheltered growing up years. WDS ison thelist! Thank you for sharing....