Thursday, July 9, 2015, 8:55AM–Touchdown! Minus the exclamation point...the plane had landed, but I was still barely awake. Walking off the jet bridge, I stepped on to the tacky, oft-Instagrammed PDX carpet, and began my way into the city. After a quick MAX ride, a painless check-in at the hostel, and a sunny walk downtown, I was at the Gerding Theater. The anticipation of the last 8 months since I had bought the ticket was almost over. The 2015 World Domination Summit was finally here.
If you’re unfamiliar with the World Domination Summit (or WDS as it is often called), it is an annual conference in Portland, OR hosted by author/adventurer/all-around-good-guy Chris Guillebeau, and is billed as a gathering of those that want to live an unconventional life in a conventional world. As a result, you get one of the most open-minded collectives of creatives, entrepreneurs, travelers, digital nomads, and those simply looking for a weekend “reboot” attending this event. The extended weekend is full of world record attempts, meetups of all sorts, and inspiration talks from renowned speakers, artists, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. If you’re not leaving with some sort of intense energy high, you were probably at the wrong conference…or you may have just been lost inside of Powell’s for the course of the weekend. Either way…
I’m writing this post a week after the event so that it encompasses a bit of grounding upon my return to the “real world”…for better or for worse. In just one week’s time, the lasting impacts of WDS are more evident. On the surface, my Facebook feed is far more interesting than it was just 7 days ago…it’s now plastered with the adventures and work that my newfound friends are embarking on. I’ve seen folks taking action on what they took away from the event. In extreme cases, I’ve even seen several people leave their jobs, to pursue their true calling. How’s that for action?
Going into WDS, I didn’t know what to expect. I barely even knew the format of the event, let alone what I’d get out of it. Fortunately, through a little bit of planning, and a full-throttle, open-minded attitude, I left with 5 core takeaways that would benefit me long after the conference wrapped up. Below is my own personal breakdown of the event, the takeaways, and an attempt to structure the key components of the weekend.
Founded by Chris Guillebeau in 2011, a guy who is probably most famed for his book “The Art of Non-Conformity” – a book covering the adventures, lifestyles, and businesses of the world’s unconventional who are living out their dreams – you might expect this conference to be a “quit your job and go pursue your calling!” type of event. Sure, there’s an element of that present, but WDS goes far beyond this “up-and-go” mentality that some may see on the surface.
In actuality, WDS takes a broader approach to making one’s mark on the world, subscribing to the mission statement “Community, Adventure, Service.” While there is a fair amount of polite corporate-bashing that takes place throughout the weekend, being surrounded by individuals that are living unconventionally, pursuing their passion projects (whether monetized or not), and seeking ways to meet and help others in the process will have you leaving WDS with a renewed understanding of the importance of having a sense of fulfillment (i.e. your calling) in your job and the things you do.
Personal Takeaway #1: There are many paths to fulfillment, and living “unconventionally” can be as basic as doing work that expands your comfort zone, pushes you to be your best self, and provides value to others in the process. For me, this involves more focused development my personal brand, and a goal of keeping a consistent content calendar in the coming months.
One of the most tangible elements of the World Domination Summit (or any conference for that matter) are the keynote speakers. These are the folks that typically would get up on stage, drop a handful of killer quotes, receive a standing ovation, and leave you feeling totally pumped up! But, if you were looking for run-of-the-mill motivation speakers at WDS, this was not the conference for you.
The weekend was set with an all-star line-up of speakers ranging from Lewis Howes, the man behind “The School of Greatness” podcast, to Vani Hari, better know as “The Food Babe.” While there was no shortage of inspiration and actionable information, I was pleasantly surprise to see how much WDS pushed the envelope with the topics presented. Below are just a few of the ongoing themes that filled the weekend’s talks:
- Don’t lose your voice; share it – At a conference full of unconventional folks, it wasn’t a surprise that identifying, maintaining, and sharing your voice in a conventional world was one of the reoccurring themes. Jon Acuff kicked off the keynotes and drove this point home early, citing humorous anecdotes that highlighted the importance of taking the time to find your unique message. Shortly after, Brad Montague, the playful genius behind Kid President, described the time he sent a cassette tape full of his jokes and voiceovers to Disney as a child in hopes of stardom. While Disney’s polite rejection letter to Brad might not have been what he was looking for, the handwritten postscript drove this first theme home:
“P.S. Thanks for making our day. Keep sharing your voice.”
- “Brave, Vulnerable, Authentic” – How do you take on the topics of cyber bullying, sexual assault, and the loss of loved ones in front of a crowd of 3,000? Needless to say it takes bravery, vulnerability, and authenticity to pull it off. Guillebeau commended all of the speakers using these exact words to describe their openness onstage, and willingness to address uncomfortable, emotional matters. But just as many keynotes take a feel-good approach to inspiration, these too served a purpose. Standing up for your views amongst naysayers and haters, opening up and taking off the mask of masculinity, the power of acknowledging pain…all of these essential parts of being your most courageous self.
- Know what you want – This may seem like a bold statement, given that many of the speakers emphasized the pursuit of finding your calling, and how even the most visibly-successful rarely have it all figured out, but knowing what you want is essential to reaching your goals. Lissa Rankin, best-selling author and founder of the Whole Health Medical Institute, told her personal story of “The Hero’s Journey” and the obstacles she overcame in her path from stray squirrel-caregiver to her eventual calling as a physician and holistic health spokesperson. And, closing out the show, Derek Sivers discussed his learnings during his 10+ year run starting and managing CD Baby. Despite the fact that he didn’t know that eventually his online music store would sell for $22M (which he then gave away to form a charitable trust for musicians), knew the problem he wanted to solve – to help independent musicians reach an audience. Whether it’s money, legacy, or freedom that you’re after, knowing this will drastically impact the way you manage your business, and your life.
Personal Takeaway #2: A weekend with over 10 keynotes will give you no shortage of things to think about. The challenge always is, how do you turn those quotes and ideas into action? Easy…just pick a few! In this case, the bullets above outline my path forward perfectly: share my voice authentically and consistently, while keeping my endgame of developing a brand that adds value and fills a need at the front of my mind. That’s me, but WDS leaves you with thousands of different ways to approach your post-conference goals.
The Academies and Meetups
WDS truly gives you the opportunity to create your own experience. It’s like one of those “choose your own adventure” novels. How appropriate, right?
In the weeks leading up to the event while periodically revisiting the schedule, I constantly heard myself saying, “OK, so we’ve got these speakers during a couple select time slots, but what the heck am I supposed to do with the rest of my time here?!”
While the keynotes are a bit more inspiration-driven with actionable information scattered throughout, the Academies at WDS are more tactical, focused in specific areas, such as language learning, approaches to becoming location independent, and developing timelines for shipping your work. With plenty to choose from, I took the approach of choosing an Academy that addressed an area where I was looking to build my skill set: Jonathan Fields “The Art of Becoming Known.” As an individual going through a current rebranding, this was a no-brainer, and Jon did a great job not only setting up the context of why one might be interested in becoming known, but also 11 actionable steps to get there, and 7 associated “revenue engines” to sustain it.
Meetups, on the other hand, had their similarities to the Academies, with a bit more focus on the social and networking aspect. These took place during the downtime throughout the event, and spanned anything from the specific (“Ways to Market You, Your Product, or Service Business”) to the recreational (“Portland Eastside Brewery Tour”).
Taking the same approach to the Academies, I selected sessions in-line with my current focused areas of development. For example, “The Power of Pause” included a writing exercise to address the challenges and solutions to “shutting down” from time-to-time to refocus, while “Do the Work: Creating a Writing Routine that will Dominate the World” addressed the common issue of maintaining a consistent writing habit.
With a good mix of content and networking, my favorites were likely the ones focused on the latter. After all, half of WDS is all about who you meet, right? I’ve got to hand the award for “Best Meetup” to the “Gathering of Creatives Who Live to Travel” event on Friday afternoon, and not just because it was hosted at Base Camp Brewing Co. (yum!). Not only did Nathaniel Boyle from “The Daily Travel Podcast” do a great job of pulling together a large group of individuals with a common thirst for exploring the globe, but he may have dropped one of my favorite value-bombs of the weekend as he described travel “as a movement to make things.” Whoa…let that one sink in for a bit…
Personal Takeaway #3: Surround yourself with the people you want to emulate and/or serve. This one may seem simple, but I see so many people still neglecting to do this. In an age where you can get connected with almost anyone you want – be it peers, mentors, or potential clients – there’s no reason to spend excessive time with individuals that are not aligned with your values, or whose negativity is a drain on your energy. While it’s a cinch in an environment like WDS – where you’ll find one of the highest concentrations of driven, glass-half-full individuals, it takes more effort in the real world to align with a likeminded tribe. Choose wisely…
The Parties and World Records
If you’ve already started to see a shift in this event from the structured to the social, this takes it a step further. WDS is full of attendee parties, bar crawls, and socials, whether they’re scheduled or totally impromptu. But let’s get another thing straight…this was not a “show up, attend the summit, get drunk, and be hung over” type of conference. Quite the opposite, given that people were lining up for the speakers 1+ hours before the doors opened to the Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium every morning. If you were one of the nauseated stragglers running in at 9:01AM, you were likely sitting in the back…not paying attention…possibly asleep.
That said, socials and parties were the ultimate opportunities to meet new friends and grow those relationships throughout the weekend, from the pre-opening party at the Punchbowl Social on Thursday, to the Bollywood-inspired closing party on Sunday night.
However, when the purpose of your summit is to dominate the world, standard cocktail socials simply aren’t enough. In the spirit of adventure, the weekend was also jam-packed with 5 successful world record-breaking attempts. Most visible of these was an A.M. culinary takeover of Portland’s Pioneer Square for “Worldwide Waffles,” or in literal terms, setting the world record for most people having breakfast in bed at the same time. While it may not hold a candle to a truly impressive fete like the fastest marathon, this event kept the energy level high, and the WDS community well-fed.
Personal Takeaway #4: Building upon the last takeaway, having a sense of community when you’re surrounded by 3,000 super-stoked, like-minded people is easy. Maintaining that community and zeal for life after the fact is what really takes work, and I’ll be putting a number of practices into place to keep up with my new network, from Twitter lists to good ol’ fashion communication!
Although it doesn’t fit the same form as the rest of the list, it’s undeniable that Portland, OR plays a huge part in making WDS what it is. Logistically, it’s a mid-sized city that caters well to a conference requiring easily accessible small meeting spots and large event spaces. It’s a place where the event can run smoothly, without it being cost-prohibitive or a transportation headache for the attendees.
But forget logistics! Portland’s just friggin’ cool! What better spot to host a summit for progressive, unconventional creative individuals than a city that prides itself on the motto “Keep Portland Weird”?! The town also boasts a strong dining and nightlife scene, which I absolutely took advantage of: I found myself sipping on the finest Talisker Storm scotch amongst new friends at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, and diving face-first into the “Freebird” fried chicken sandwich at the urban comfort food joint TILT. In addition, WDS did its best to help bring that experience to us, from passing out infamous “Voodoo Doughnuts” while we anxiously waited in line at Worldwide Waffles, to the Portland Spirit River Cruise on Saturday night. “The Portland Experience” on Saturday afternoon, however, brought the “best of” Portland to us, as a host of the city’s finest food trucks, microbreweries, and local shops set up camp in the Park Blocks outside of the Arlene Schnitzer.
Personal Takeaway #5: Overall: Yum! While this one might not be a true takeaway like the others, I could totally live in Portland!...if it weren’t for its gratuitous use of almonds and coconut in and on everything (I’m allergic…bummer). Seriously though, in a world of digital nomads and travelers, there’s no substitute for bringing a group of people together, in the same place, like the World Domination Summit does. Local WDS communities exist in cities across the globe, and I’ll be putting in the effort to make sure I stay active in my community here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
So What’s Next?
Monday, July 13, 2015, 6:45PM–Back at PDX, as I poked along the infamous carpeting, WDS 2015 had officially come to an end. Overall, my first World Domination Summit was a great experience. Now, one week out, I’ve got a better sense of what that experience was all about. For some, it was a reaffirmation of a current unconventional lifestyle; for others, a time to change course completely and pursue a calling that is more in-line with their sense of self.
For me, WDS was just one small step in a path I’ve been on for 28 years. Keynote speaker Asha Dornfest said that one of the 3 truths to life and growing up was that “small, consistent steps are the surest path forward.” Presently, I’m not quitting a job or thinking that I’ve been on the wrong path. But, I recognize that the road ahead isn’t linear, and I’m always preparing for the challenges and opportunities that may lie ahead. In that sense, the World Domination Summit was a much needed retreat to reflect on those experiences, while connecting with life-minded peers that I know will be a part of my trek down the road.
The World Domination Summit can mean many different things to different people, but there are plenty of areas of common ground. The pillars of Community, Adventure, and Service are three of those. The ability to turn ideas into action is another. But I feel the most important shared trait was best summarized in another one of Nathaniel Boyle’s inadvertent value-bombs:
“Creative people have a desire to live life on a regular basis.”
While that statement may have been made in reference to travel, it certainly holds true to the ethos behind the World Domination Summit as well. While there are only 3 days to experience WDS in Portland, Oregon, right now, I’m most excited to live out that ethos on a regular basis for the remaining 362 day of the year. Until next time, WDS!