I’m currently sitting in the Portland airport, watching masses of people swarming around as almost every flight has been delayed for various mechanical reasons.
While I’d like to be on my way home back to Los Angeles, I thought I’d take advantage of this time (and the free airport wifi) to write a few thoughts on WDS 2013.
This year, almost 3000 entrepreneurs, activists, artists, writers and otherwise unconventional types descended on Portland, Oregon for a whirlwind weekend of keynote speakers, workshops, informal meetups and serendipitous introductions – up from last year’s group of 1000.
The energy from the expanded size of the event was palpable, and it make the weekend feel even more urgent – so little time, so many interesting and inspiring people to meet and interact with.
What am amazing experience! I think the most important thing I took away from the weekend is that I need to commit to my writing. Even though I love, love my job – being a psychiatrist, working with patients, helping to improve people’s quality of life – something just feels missing when I’m not writing.
So while I feel overwhelmed trying to sum up such an inspiring weekend in a thousand or so words, I at least want to communicate the more important points I learned before they strength of the message fades too far away in my mind.
1. According to Nancy Duarte, bestselling author of Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences (and a truly talented public speaker), to know if you have a great story you just need to read the beginning and end. Does the hero have a compelling transformation? If so, then the middle might be worth reading.
When trying to communicate or persuade, show the reader or listener both where they are, and the potential for where they could be. Famous speeches by Martin Luther King Jr., Evita, Steve Jobs and even Jesus have followed this pattern, alternating between current circumstances and future potential.
2. Struggling with finding and following your dream? Pay attention not only to what you do that gives you energy, but what you do that gives others energy. Become hyper aware of the problems that others have, and solve them (courtesy of Darren Rowse).
3. Success creates responsibility. Bob Moore, who is 84 years young and the founder of the whole grain food producer Bob’s Red Mill, has been paying his employees a percentage of the company’s profits for years.
And now that he’s close to retirement, he’s decided that the company should belong to all of his employees who had helped build it with him, creating an employee stock ownership plan.
Being an entrepreneur is not just about freedom or making money – it’s about social responsibility to the employees you hire and the customers you serve.
4. Embarking on a new path and feeling afraid? Imagine yourself as the hero of your own journey. At a workshop on building confidence and overcoming fear, Leo Babauta and J.D. Roth pointed out how any difficult path requires courage and action.
Trying to avoid discomfort will lead you on a path to nowhere. Instead, embrace the fear. Surrender to it. If you feel confused or don’t know what to do, always be yourself and always do the right thing.
5. Just ask. Jia Jiang, who underwent a nearly year-long journey to befriend rejection, documenting it all on his blog, actually found that when you ask, people often say yes.
For Jiang this included asking a complete stranger to play soccer in her backyard, asking a police officer if he could drive his car, and asking a donut shop employee if she could make him a box of donuts in the shape of the olympic rings (which she not only made, but gave to him for free).
6. Creativity begets creativity, and because schools and workplaces often emphasize rules and rigidity at the expense of imagination, you need to make an effort to keep your creative muscle in shape.
Write something with no goal of publishing it. Learn a new instrument just for fun. Draw or paint even if you think you’re not very good at it. These activities will strengthen your muscle help you be creative in other aspects of your life and work (courtesy of Chase Jarvis, founder of the educational platform Creative Live).
7. Having trouble discovering your passion? Gretchin Rubin, author of the book and blog The Happiness Project, suggests asking yourself three questions: 1) Whom do you envy? 2) What do you lie about? 3) What did you do for fun when you were 10 years old?
The answers can help illuminate the qualities or accomplishments of others you’d like to emulate, sore points in your own life (defensiveness is usually a sign that there’s an issue you need to investigate), and passions you had before society starting telling you what was or wasn’t possible.
He calls the doubting thoughts we have about ourselves and our ideas the “counter mind” and says we need to ruthlessly identify and question these thoughts.
Then, we need to discover our “true mind” and strengthen it. Our “true mind” encompasses thoughts that are true, useful and wanted.
I know whenever I write I have thoughts like “I don’t have anything interesting to say” or “no one wants to read what I write.” But I can counter these by remembering that I am a decent writer, that I’m good at my work, and that I have something important to share.
9. Jonathan Fields knows a lot about overcoming uncertainty. He points out that any person trying to do something unique will feel afraid or uncertain, because anything that’s easy has already been done before, and forging a new path is scary. To keep moving in the face or uncertainty, ask yourself:
1. If I fail, how will I recover?
2. What if I do nothing?
3. What if I knock it out of the park?
Often worst case scenarios we imagine aren’t so bad after all, and the idea of living our life not trying to do anything interesting is scarier than failing. Remembering the potential of great success can keep us motivated in the face of fear.
10. We are not the identities we project. Donald Miller, Christian inspirational author and public speaker, described how feelings of shame and disappointment about who we are lead us to hide our true selves under layers of defenses (in psychiatry we talk about things like repression, denial, and even humor, which can serve to deflect uncomfortable feelings).
Maintaining this projected identity takes work, and distances us from our core nature. We are not our failures. We are also not our successes.
There are so, so many more things I learned – not just from the speakers, but from the amazing participants I got to interact with.
I met an opera singer who taught me I’m not too old to learn vibrato (yes!), a web developer who gave me hints about how I could improve my website, a doctor who wanted to quit his job to become a high-end food buyer, a lawyer who loved his work but wanted to learn how to expand his platform and better communicate his message about improving education, a couple who gave up their house and jobs a few years ago and have been traveling the world since… just to name a few.
As I sit here writing I feel excited about all the possibilities, anxious that I might be moving into new and uncomfortable territory, and hopeful for the future – my own future and the future of the world knowing there are so many amazing people looking to improve it.
Images courtesy of Armosa Studios