It Was Beautiful: A Brief Recap of WDS 2013

Name Tag

This past weekend I was at the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. The event was started by Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Startup, as a way to bring his readers together around the ethics of community, adventure, and service. The two day event was packed with speakers, workshops, activities, parties, and an unbelievable amount of community interaction for the 2,800 participants.

This was an odd experience for me on a few fronts. First, I normally don’t “attend” conferences, because I spend so much time speaking at them and already get to hear tons of great speakers and meet great people (while getting paid to do it… it’s one of the perks of the job.)

However, WDS is no ordinary “conference”.

Second, I wasn’t expecting to be as challenged, provoked, and prodded by the experience as I was. I came ready to learn and interact, but I wasn’t expecting to be moved. Deeply moved. WDS was one of the more beautiful things I’ve seen in a long time. I witnessed more acts of selflessness, celebration, and generosity in the past few days (in highly concentrated form) than I normally see in a year. It was contagious generosity. Crazy generosity. Self-forgetting generosity.

It was also a big party. With ample amounts of dancing and marching bands on stilts. I kid you not. Wow. (Did I mention “wow”?)

Here are my big three takeaways from WDC, in no particular order:

Powerful things happen when like-minded people get together.

The beauty of WDS isn’t the programming, or the venue (which was amazing), or the “networking” like at most conferences. The beauty is that there are several thousand people all gathered in one place, centered on one ideal. The encouragement could be scooped out of the air with a spoon and swallowed whole. Not “Oh – great! You should go do your thing, and best of luck (because honestly, you’ll need it since you’re about to fall flat on your face!)” encouragement, but the kind that is real, trustworthy, and rooted in deep experience. One of the speakers, Tess Vigeland, shared her story of leaving her “dream job” as host of Marketplace Money to start over, and was honest enough to say that it was difficult, painful, and uncertain. Not the kind of fare you typically get at conferences where the goal is polish rather than gut-level realism.

Communities mobilizing around ideas will change the world.

The small risks matter more than the big ones.

There’s a general belief in the marketplace that to be successful requires the willingness and ability to take big risks. Sometimes this is true, but this weekend taught me that it’s the small, everyday risks that accumulate into a life of greatness and a body of work one can be proud of.

I took a lot of small risks this weekend (and saw others do the same), and it completely changed my experience. For example, while I am perfectly comfortable getting on stage in front of 5,000 people and giving a sixty minute talk, if you put me on a dance floor and tell me to dance  I will freeze. Totally freeze. I don’t know what to do with my hands (should I point? clap? wave them like I just don’t care?), I’m self-conscious, etc. The way most people feel about public speaking? Yeah…that’s me with dancing.

Last night, I danced. I knew I looked stupid, so I danced some more. (Thanks Andy Traub…) It was amazing and fun. You know what? No one cared. No one even noticed. It was just me having fun with a few thousand of my new friends.

It was a small risk, and it radically changed my perspective and my experience. I will remember that small, seemingly insignificant risk forever.

You see, what is commonplace for one person is unfathomably risky for another. That’s why community is so important – it contextualizes the reality of the risk rather than allowing it to fester into something seemingly insurmountable. We need people to walk ahead of us and show us the world doesn’t fall off at the end of the block.

If you want something to be really great, you have to let go of it, at least a little.

Chris and his team set the table, but the guests brought the food. This wasn’t an agenda-driven event, it was an ethic-driven event. Because of that, its success depended on the degree to which each person in attendance was willing to internalize and act on the guiding ethics of the event. Otherwise, it would have been just another conference. Sure, there were plans and speakers and events on the schedule, but the beauty of the event was in how the participants owned it. I’m almost certain that some things looked very different from what was in the mind of the organizers, but it was beautiful.

When you hold onto your thing too tightly, you strangle it. If you open it up, and let go of it (within specific parameters), you allow it to blossom into something great.

I’m certain there will be more learning distilled into posts over the next few weeks. I’m so grateful to all who helped make WDS a life changing experience. Now? Sleep.

Get My Free 5-Part Video Course

Eb

I'll teach you simple practices that will help you unleash your best work every day, avoid burnout, and stay inspired.

Powered by ConvertKit

Share your thoughts:

Please keep your comments civil and on topic.

24 Comments

  1. Steve Garfield

    Great post. Glad you mentioned the general experience of the conference. I agree that the theme inspired attendees to be more generous, overcome the fear of rejection, and follow their dreams.

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Agreed, Steve. It was the vibe and energy of the people attending that made the event. I was involved in at least 10 intense 30+ minute conversations in-between sessions about life, goals, strategy, etc. Super cool and fun.

      Reply
  2. Kristoffer Carter

    Awesome Todd, was so #JACKED to see that pic that Brogan posted of the 2 of you. What a great moment. He’s clearly a fan of all you’ve created here.

    Love all the insights here, and couldn’t agree more. Was happy a fellow Ohioan was able to go in my place (like I did for you last year) 😉

    And I like option 3, wave yo hands in the AY-IRRRR if you’s a TRUE PLAY-irrrrrrrr.

    Seems fitting for you. I believe it was Naughty By Nature who said “hip hop hoRRRAYYYYYY OOHHHHHHHHH”. No need to Ricky Bobby through life. Embrace the awkward absurdity and watch the sparks fly.

    Next year I say road trip. -kc

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Probably the highlight of my weekend… 🙂

      Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Probably… or definitely… the highlight of my weekend… 😉

      Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Probably…or definitely…the highlight of the weekend for me.

      Reply
  3. Rita Chand

    FANTASTIC! This is my favorite so far! Thank you for sharing this. I have goosebumps!

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      That’s very kind of you to say. Thanks, Rita!

      Reply
      • jonathanmead

        Seconded. Beautiful recap. My whole being is filled with so much love right now.

        And fancy seeing you here Rita. It was soooo great to connect and *relate* with you.

        Reply
        • Todd Henry

          Agree, Jonathan. It’s been difficult to describe to my wife how cool the whole experience was. Nothing quite conveys the energy of the event.

          Reply
  4. Carolyn Torgersen

    This – “You see, what is commonplace for one person is unfathomably risky for another.” This sums the weekend up for me perfectly. Thank you for a spot-on recap.

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Thanks, Carolyn. (I’m thinking I will write all of my future posts at 36,000 feet and while running on 3 hours of sleep… 😉 Hope you had safe travels home!

      Reply
  5. Sarah Kathleen Peck

    Love this, Todd. Thanks for the recap (and the hugs)! “Last night, I danced. I knew I looked stupid, so I danced some more.” — I love dancing like this, and think it should be a monthly (or weekly) requirement…

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Thank you, Sarah! Agreed on the dancing – it’s the best way to live in the moment… 🙂 So great seeing you in Portland.

      Reply
  6. Muffadal Saylawala

    Great post. I really identify with what you say about the power of having all these like-minded people together. The sense of community and collaboration is unlike anything I’ve been a part of.

    Reply
  7. Muffadal Saylawala

    Great post, I really like what you say about the power of having so many like-minded people together in one place, it’s almost like all these kindred spirits converging together, just to hang out and be a community.

    Reply
  8. Mindy Crary

    I love how you describe WDS: “Not the kind of fare you typically get at conferences where the goal is polish rather than gut-level realism.” Gut-level realism, that’s awesome. And you’re right, WDS knocks you out of your comfort zone–I was totally aware that I showed up as “Mindy” versus my professional persona. Disconcerting, but rewarding.

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Completely disconcerting, right? I had the same experience.

      Reply
  9. Caelan Huntress

    “This wasn’t an agenda-driven event, it was an ethic-driven event.” You nailed it with that. #WDS2013 wasn’t about the stuff to do, it was about the ethics that we all share.

    I like how Alexis Grant described the feeling of the conference as “slightly cult-ish,” because after years of hiding out in the World of Mediocrity, we finally found our tribe!

    Let’s bump knuckles at #WDS2014. Thanks for the recap.

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Yes – “slightly cultish” is an apt description, but not in a creepy way…

      Reply
  10. Caelan Huntress

    Your description of the purpose of the conference – “Powerful things happen when like minded people get together” – it’s really making me think.

    Because you know, I felt we didn’t get to the ‘powerful thing’ this year. (World record for buoyant handholding notwithstanding.)

    In 2012, there was a hundred dollar dare, times one thousand.

    I was expecting more of those kinds of ‘powerful things’ this year; there we all were, the Unconventional Army, three times as large as last year, waiting for our marching orders….

    …and we got a toast.

    It was cool, and fun, but I felt like this year we missed an opportunity to dare everyone to go out and bring more awesome into the world.

    Maybe in 2014 -audemus aliquid dignum.

    Reply
    • Todd Henry

      Caelan, I wonder how much of my response was due to it being my first year at WDS? Interesting to hear perspectives from multi-year attenders…

      Reply
      • Jeffrey Cufaude

        I find that sometimes we shouldn’t go to these types of events too many years in a row, powerful and appealing as they are. It’s too hard to be fully present and alive in the current one when we have built up so much expectation and investment in the ones past.

        Reply
        • Todd Henry

          I think I know what you mean. You develop a baseline of expectation that becomes impossible to surpass because each experience is different, no matter how great it may be.

          Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. World Domination Summit 2013: The Blog Posts | Books I Read - [...] 1) Todd Henry’s “It was Beautiful”: [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I'm Todd Henry.

I'm Todd Henry.

I write books, speak internationally on productivity, creativity, leadership, and passion for work, and help people and teams generate brilliant ideas.

My Latest Book

Take your work to the next level. My latest book teaches you how to stand apart, hone your vision, and master your days.

Share This