“If life was a Twinkie, the people in this room would be the cream filling!” said Brad Montague, a.k.a. Uncle Brad, the production genius behind the popular Kid President YouTube videos and one of the guest speakers at World Domination Summit 2015.
Brad is onstage talking to us because his young brother-in-law Robby, a.k.a. Kid President, gets overwhelmed with big crowds, and we are 3,000 of the most exuberant people I’ve ever come across. We’re seated in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon where we’ve gathered for the fifth anniversary of the WDS. Of the 3,000 attendees, 54 are here for the fifth time and about 40% have come three or more years. Me? I am a first-timer, and I’m not exactly sure why I’m here — but I am also absolutely certain that this is where I need to be.
I came on a whim, signing up based on a friend’s Facebook post about it. I knew she’d attended before and loved it, but she could never really articulate what it was or why it was so great. “You’d love it!” was as far as she ever got. So I went online to find out more and was equally disappointed. I did see some key words, though: “Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World” and Community – Adventure – Service. Ends up those were all I needed to pull the trigger, and five months later when I was no longer a software sales executive and instead was following my dream of being a travel writer, I found myself exactly where I was supposed to be.
The keynote speakers come out in a parade and have been hand selected by the WDS team to inspire and challenge us. Vani Hari, Foodbabe.com, didn’t have a Twitter handle four years ago and today she has haters – which is how she defines success. “I love my haters!” she tells us. “How else would I know I’m challenging the status quo?” “Would your third grade self be proud of you?” challenges best-selling author Jon Acuff. “Are you being your authentic self?” demands pro athlete turned podcaster Lewis Howes. In other words, are you using your remaining days to contribute the gifts that only you can uniquely contribute, or are you a slave to a soul-sucking cubicle job?
Good questions, and exactly the reasons why I am spending the first of my final 14,000 days on earth treating myself to a grown-up gap year to travel the world and blog about it. What’s especially great is that these questions are being asked from a context of love.
Love and World Domination
Love pervades this crowd. If they’re not holding doors open for you, they’re asking what you want to accomplish in the next 12 months and how they can support you. Or they’re high fiving you. Or – get this – they’re hugging you. That’s when I knew I’d found my tribe: when I realized that these people not only tolerate my hugs, they actually want them. I confessed to one lady that I’m a serial hugger, and she said, “Oh, have you met Rita?” As a matter of fact, I had. We’d shared an amazing hug first thing Saturday morning. Hugs rock!
And that’s what makes this group special. It’s a place to come with all your wacky ideas about how to change the healthcare system, or overhaul education, or innovate technology or leave your career as a high-paid tech exec and start up a travel blog, and not one single person here will tell you why it’s a dumb idea or why it’s impossible. We’ll just ask how we can help. We’re about changing the narrative of the conventional world, about doing business with integrity and contribution, and about leading with love. We’re a crowd full of joy rebels. We are hater huggers. And yes, I am deliberately using the word “we”.
Keynote presentations are great, but the real magic is what happens between sessions, when attendees gather at self-driven meetups. Meetups are arranged around any variety of topics that attendees care about and are scattered about the city in various locations, but mostly in the park blocks just behind the concert hall where main stage events are held. There are early morning meditation meetups, app developer meetups, groups strategizing digital nomad lifestyles, meetups to discuss relationship issues, travel groups, education meetups, 5k runs – you name it.
There are also pre-and post-WDS Academies, which are half-day workshops attendees can choose to attend that go into greater depth on various topics. And massages. And sweet, blessed nap pods.
And killer friggin’ parties, too.
And then along comes the man who completely destroys me. Jeremy Cowart’s story is a compelling one: as a boy he couldn’t keep up with the other kids in school, couldn’t play sports, and generally was left with the feeling of “I can’t.” His aptitude tests put him in the bottom 5 percentile on vocabulary, critical thinking and math skills. His future was pretty darned bleak, but he was blessed with parents who supported him regardless. When he was seven he was led to art and discovered his calling. I was leaking little empathy tears at this point, but then he dropped the bomb that dissolved me into spontaneous, lung-crushing, bawling sobs.
You see, Jeremy has made something of his life. More than once, and in ways that impact thousands of people worldwide. He went from being a kid with no future to a celebrity photographer, and he used that fame to create Help-Portrait, which empowers photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists worldwide to use their skills to give back to their communities by finding people in need and taking and printing their picture—free of charge. It’s about giving photos, not taking them, so people who can’t afford photography have a way to capture a moment of their life. Then, moved by the earthquake in Haiti, he traveled there to shoot a Voices of Haiti photo essay that ultimately led to $10 billion investment by UN nations to rebuild the country. He also traveled to Rwanda to document survivors of genocide now living peacefully together after going through a reconciliation program. Jeremy is using his voice through his photography to make an impact and do things that matter, and that’s what got my waterworks going. That’s where I want to be, but I’m just not there yet.
I’m realizing that I am so new to this blogging career that I haven’t found my voice yet, and that discovering my voice is a painful and frustrating process. In truth, I friggin’ hate it. I don’t want to discover my voice, I just want it to be there, and I want my work to be impactful NOW. I want people to learn something about the world through my photos and my writing. I want them to read the people stories in Heard in the World and feel like they understand something about the people who live in a place. I want my readers to read my Insights posts and realize there’s more to the world than what Fox News, CNN or Al Jazeera want us to see. I want them to know that staying safe inside our homes is not the same as living, and to learn from my experiences that fearless and courageous are very different things. I want people to read about my travels and think, “I can do that, too.” And then I want them to do it. And at the same time I want to take amazingly compelling photos just like Jeremy, and also be hilariously funny, too. But I’m too new to the job to be good at it yet, and my voice will take some time to develop. That’s the frustrating part.
As I share this frustration with my new friends at WDS, they assure me that everyone on a path to challenge themselves goes through this, and that being uncomfortable means I’m growing. “What can I do to support you?” they ask. You can stick with me while I find my voice. It’s coming. I promise. In the meantime, I’m going back to the killer closing party to learn more Bollywood moves with 3,000 of my newest friends.
What are YOU going to accomplish in the next 12 months? How can we support you? Share in the comments section below!