Monthly Archives: June 2011
Much is made of life lists and bucket lists. It’s easy to sit down and write the 100 things you want to do before you die. It’s a wish list, a dream list. If you are into brevity, you can reduce that life list to a few key things: freedom, happiness, health, etc.
The problem with a bucket list is that you can find dozens of excuses, instantly, to never realize your dreams. You allow the Resistance to take over without a fight, because the goal is often outrageously large.
I’ve found a far healthier list to make is a collection of what not to do, starting today, starting now, period.
Everybody has things they don’t want to do, but continue to do. Sometimes this pattern goes on for years, and leads to a life of regret and the feeling of no control. The emotion I personally fear the most is the feeling of not being in control of my own decisions or my own life, thus this list has incredible power.
A few things that went on the first incarnation of my not to do list:
- Take red eye flights, except when essential (i.e. flying around the world). Done are the days when I rush to SFO near midnight to arrive at MSP around 5:30 in the morning. It always wrecks me physically and I end up needing a day and a half to recover. Far better to pay for the hotel room for one more night and enjoy a beautiful San Francisco sunrise.
- Buy a brand new car. I’ve made this mistake twice in my life. Eventually I want to live car-free, but I’m not able to do so yet. But if I do need a car, why buy something that depreciates in value the instant I drive it off the lot?
- React to or interact with vampires, flamethrowers, and other incarnations of jackasses. These are the people that are proficient in getting under your skin, screwing with your head, and just plain being rude and insensitve in order to get a rise out of you. I used to react to them, but no longer. As Seth Godin said (paraphrased), “A bully needs two to tango. Just take the ball the go home.”
- Go out to eat at the fanciest (and most expensive) restaurants in the world. I had a good run of about eight years of amazing travel and experiences at my former employer, including eating at some of the highest rated restaurants in the world. For me, the end came when I paid over $1000 for a lunch for three people, the day after observing a horrendous recession-induced homeless problem in San Francisco. I’ll write a post just on that soon but the core fact is this: there are bigger problems in the world that need fixing.
- Take on or design projects that I know have no lasting value. I’m big on legacy right now, and the idea that work should be valued based on longevity and reproduction rather than spikes of immediate gratification. In the world of the web, that means I don’t give a shit about search engine optimization (SEO), otherwise known as the game to get Google rankings. If you design your site (or live your life) with the goal of being the temporary number one, you have nowhere to go but down. Far better to work on doing the Great Work, putting it out there consistently, and having the slow build develop.
My list is longer than what I have shared with you here, and I’ll do another post in a year with some updates. In the meantime, I’m curious: What is on your not to do list?
Note: Some pointed out to me that my previous post should have been called “Day Two” because we gathered on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. In my mind, the World Domination Summit was a two day event with one evening (Friday) of being social. Hence, this is the report from Day Two, the final day. Sorry if this confuses anybody. Next year I’ll stick with “Part One…”
The morning started with the crowd trickling in, some with the obvious pain of a long night on their faces. It was actually pretty funny to see. The night before, there were a number of gatherings happening (and well organized by the WDS volunteers) ranging from bike tours of the city with JD Roth, to a “Hipsterville” tour, to — and this was the look of pain I saw — numerous pub crawls and bar hopping. Late Saturday night, after a good long walk in the city, I returned to Clyde Common restaurant (at the hotel I was staying at) for a quick glass of wine only to see a tsunami of WDSers arrive for more frivolity. They were, ahem, having a good time. I went to bed.
Neil Pasricha of 1000awesomethings.com was to be the opening speaker of the day. Chris Guillebeau welcomed everybody and in a bit of an odd moment said something to the effect of a ‘video introduction’ or ‘video short’ of Neil — I didn’t quite hear what he said but before I knew it the lights went down and a TEDx speech by Neil on his 1000 Awesome Things project started. It was a great video, no doubt. You can watch it here. But halfway through the video it became obvious that the video was the presentation and not just an introduction. Again, it was a great video and I encourage you to watch it. Only after the TEDx video ended did Chris explain that Neil was in town the day before, but had to leave abruptly (everything is fine, he assured us).
What happened next was pretty cool. As Chris said, they had less than 24 hours notice about Pasricha having to blot. The WDS team got together and came up with a terrific set of exercises and thought provoking ideas that led the large group into making various Awesome lists, along with quick speeches by JD Roth, Sean Ogle, and Colleen Wainwright on their take on Awesomeness.
In the end, in many ways, I think it turned out even better than if Neil was there. No offense, Neil! The WDS crew pulled it off. Biggest takeaway: a quote from Neil’s TEDx speech, “You’ll never be as young as you are right now.” A fine spin on a cliche’, indeed.
One more note on Neil — if you haven’t checked out the website, do so. It proves once and for all that content is the key … it’s a basic WordPress site done with the most basic of pre-packaged themes. If you are planning your blog but getting too wrapped up in the design and avoiding doing the Great Work, here is your antidote.
Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher of Mondobeyondo.org were next up. The uber-enthusiastic and eternally optimistic (based on the big smile) Jen Lemen got everybody going – with almost too much energy at first (maybe when the audience is a bit hung over and the speaker seems to have four espressos in her the result is multiplied) – and kicked off the live-presentation part of the day.
They were fantastic and it turned out to be one of the highlights of the weekend for me. The presentation was natural and clear, and unlike many two-person presentations they had a great amount of back and forth energy that built up the electricity in the room. Looking back at my notes, it is full of the typical good-feeling verbage of the weekend (“Are you becoming the most alive version of yourself?” and “Live in the fullest expression of aliveness!”). However, and this is important, when it gets delivered in the right context and in the right style it sticks. And it’s the type of message that, yes, it’s a bit predictable but in the end people want to hear.
The one thing I wish I learned more about, and I think based on the Q&A session others wanted to hear as well, was their business model. Like many of the presenters, they seem to have found a groove or a track that is starting to snowball and make them some serious money. I’d like to hear more of that story and how they built the system they have today.
Biggest takeaway: it’s a wonderful thing to push a crowd just a bit into the realm of being uncomfortable (list making exercises, “now talk to the person next to you,” and that kind of thing) if the end result is a clear point that is self-created and private in nature.
John T. Unger was up next, to discuss personal disasters and turning them into opportunities. As I mentioned yesterday, John is a creative and an artist first and foremost. Somewhere down that list, maybe further down than some in crowd hoped for, is ‘public speaker’. I knew what to expect based on my breakout session on Saturday, but I saw many around me squirming with impatience during the rather rambling note-free presentation. When John turned to Chris and said “How am I doing on time – should I keep going?” there was a bit of an energy drain in the room.
Then he recovered. John’s strength is talking with people, not talking at people. The Q&A session was great, with the full force of John’s ideas coming forward. The main point was clear: a disaster is only a negative if you make it a negative. You can take some of the worst situations you can imagine and find ways to “spin the energy like in Tai Chi” and make something good come of it. John hit his stride. The crowd was laughing, the energy shifted, and his style became one of fresh air instead of awkwardness. He, right there in front of us, shifted a negative into a positive.
Biggest takeaway: “A subsistence job wouldn’t make things better for me, just keep me alive and pissed off!”
My first breakaway session was with Kim and Jason Kotecki discussing “How to make a living speaking, even if you’re not Seth Godin.” This was one of the top sessions of the whole conference for me and there is one reason why: efficient transparency. Kim and Jason are professional speakers that have carved out a great existence for themselves (based on the goal of independence so they can raise their kids at home and have as much time with them as possible — the ‘them’ is coming soon, for Kim is pregnant with their second child). They were forthright, honest, and as I mentioned beautifully transparent. They discussed what they charge, how many speeches they do, how to drill your own niche, finding your clients, billing and contracts, and much more. It was a presentation that would not have worked well for the larger audience, but was magic for the little group in the breakout session (about 35 people). I’m starting to think public speaking might be something I’ll pursue, and on the plane ride home I outlined some ideas.
The second breakaway session was with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits on “Making money with your blog.” Based on Leo’s popularity (his blog is one of the top fifty websites in the world, by some metrics) and the obvious draw of the topic, it was a full room. But just like the day before, it became clear that this format is not Leo’s best stage – writing is – and after about fifteen minutes I didn’t hear anything of major interest other than Leo saying, regarding his Amazon affiliate links, “I make so much money on those. Sometimes thousands of dollars a month…” and that “e-books are the way to go, they sell easily. I probably sold two while standing here…” It wasn’t the type of insight and advice I was seeking, so I did the old “urgent text” action and left the room. No offense to Leo, and my apologies to Chris and the WDS crew, but the weekend was short and I wanted to maximize it.
Knowing it would not be kosher to just invade another small group session, I went to the main ballroom where Laura Roeder was leading a discussion on “How to not do everything yourself.” The group was in the hundreds, and Laura was obviously holding court. I sat in the far back to watch the show, and this poised, confident, and sharp as a tack presenter (who looked about 18 years old) led the group in a couple of exercises but mostly gave concrete advice based on her own personal experience. Laura is the kind of person many people love to hate (out of jealousy): sassy, attractive, young, and clearly has her shit together. An expert on utilizing social media in the right way, she has put together quite a business for herself. Don’t forget the Millennial Generation has twice the number of people of Generation X (my world – I’ll be 41 in August). Check out the Pew Research institute work on the subject and get ready because this generation is going to be doing some amazing things. Biggest takeaway: get the word “boss” out of your system and replace it with the word “mentor.” The moment you trust good people around you to do good things is the spark needed for greatness.
The final speaker was Jonathan Fields, whom I was lucky enough to have a breakout session with the day before. His way of thinking is very cool, somewhere in the realm of Seth Godin meets Malcom Gladwell meets John McPhee … he loves the big concepts and the work-flow productivity talk but backs it up with his own research and detail. After a weekend of happy thinking and “You can do it!” speeches (which were great, don’t get me wrong) I appreciate Jonathan’s slightly more scientific discussion of why we do what we do. His speech was loosely based on his upcoming book Uncertainty: Turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance. His book will be a must-buy upon release, and the research alone into the greatest creatives and creators in the world’s history will be worth the price. I enjoyed his discussion of ritualized work practices, which I’ve talked about in The Dance of Creativity. The idea of “taking bold action in the face of uncertainty” combined with designing an environment around you that allows for expression is pretty powerful stuff.
The biggest takeaway for the weekend, without any doubt, was from Jonathan Fields. “The last two days have been worthless if you don’t act on it.”
I’m in Portland right now (specifically the Stumptown Coffee next to the Ace Hotel), enjoying a weekend of amazingness: the weather, the World Domination Summit, the speakers at the summit, and meeting fellow “new-thinkers”. What a great weekend. Well organized, time-balanced, and just plain fun!
As with many events such as this, for me the take away comes in two waves: the “spark” or initial hit, and then about two weeks later the “echo” of ideas that obviously need a bit more time to process and analyze. This post is about the “sparks” that hit me yesterday during an incredible day of presentations.
(for links to these speakers’ websites, please go to this post on preparing for the WDS)
Pam Slim was the opening speaker and did the right thing: addressed the idea of greeting people and broke the collective ice by having us get up and greet (and often hug) those around us. I normally hate things like this, and I had an internal moan when I knew what was coming. You know what? It was one of the great parts of the day for me, and showed everybody in the room that we are in this together. The other highlight of her presentation was discussing Martial Arts and using it to springboard into talking about protecting yourself both physically and mentally. Good stuff to start with.
Leo Babauta was not was I expected. Somebody with such an amazing physical, emotional, and financial transitive story usually jumps on a stage and waves a magic wand (the remote for the powerpoint presentation) and transforms us with a fine tuned story ending with the predictable “And you can do it too!” I had never heard Leo speak, and never saw videos of him online, so I came into it with only my one preconceived notion. Instead of a slick “guardian of change” style he came across shy, taking his notecards out to keep on track, still getting lost, and showing us an array of slides that were wonderful but far from a slick presentation. I loved it. It was real. It was Leo simply telling his story of habits, simplification, and living life without goals.
Danielle Laporte was, again, not what I expected. I read her blog before coming but knew little else. All this talk about the ‘firestarter’ and ‘white hot truth’ had me prepared for a crazy woman to jump on the stage and lead us in experimental dance to find our inner voice and other crap like that. She had no slides and no notes, and proceeded to lead us through a great discussion (and yes, even with 500 in the room, she brought it into a discussion – that takes talent) about staying on the edge, being careful of the “we may as well use it” mindset, and being responsible for your own choices. The biggest take-away for me was her directive to make a “stop doing” list as soon as possible.
John Unger was the leader of my first breakout group (about 50 people), with the topic “Selling physical products.” John is a true creative, and his mind and discussion wandered around and around in a wonderful way, engaging us with ideas backed up by his personal stories. For the first fifteen minutes he talked quite a bit about some products he developed and lost money on, thousands and thousands of dollars, which made me think at first he must be a trust fund kid. As he got deeper into his story, he talked lovingly about “living in a truck under a bridge in Seattle. But it was a big truck – queen sized bed and a library with signed copies of beat poetry. It was great, man!” John’s presentation was honest, straightforward, and very worthwhile (I didn’t know quite what to expect). Biggest takeaway: build not only your customer email list but back-research them, friend them on Facebook, find them on twitter, and connect with them on LinkedIn. You’ll find patterns about them you didn’t expect. (John said when his did this, he discovered many of his clients had a “C” in front of their work title.)
Jonathan Fields led the second breakout session, and his popularity was evident by the standing room only crowd (I’d guess 80 people). He’s doing one of the keynote presentations later today, so he couldn’t let all the cats out of the bag, but he did tease us with some ideas of taking bold action in the face of uncertainty. The breakout session intimacy helped him turn it into a Q and A session which was nice, and even resulted in one of the participants breaking down crying as she felt the surge of energy in the room. It was quite an hour. Biggest takeaway: that the brain is wired to identify our gut feelings in the face of uncertainty as a negative, and forcing it into a positive is not easy but essential for taking bold actions. Pretty cool stuff and I really look forward to his big presentation later today.
Jodi Ettenberg was the first of two former lawyers speaking at the end of the day. She had great slides and was holding her speech manuscript (though not depending on it by any means). Ten minutes into the speech she revealed that she never has spoken to a large group in public before. A round of applause ensued – she was hitting a home run. My biggest takeaway: “There are always things I could do, so why not do what I want to do.” A profound and beautiful statement, summing up many things for many people at the WDS.
Karen Walrond was the final speaker. Home run. No, make that Grand Slam. Wow. The author of “The Beauty of Different” led us on a transformative journey of ideas, setting up the scene with a story of her upbringing (bouncing from Trinidad to Houston during her formative youth). The seven ideas she presented are worthy of a post all to themselves, so I’m not going to list them here. Biggest takeaway: Put big things and little things on your life list (“and it’s not a bucket list … we’re not talking death here, we’re talking life!”) to help inject the AWESOME into your life. You can curate your own life.”
Another beautiful day is ahead in Portland Oregon at the World Domination Summit!