Last week I went to Portland, Oregon to take part in the second annual World Domination Summit, born from the mind of author and world traveler Chris Guillebeau. On Friday I stepped off the plane at 8:15am and navigated the bus system to find myself in the Pearl District in downtown Portland, where I saw pairs and small groups of probable conference attendees already flocking the streets. Perched at wire cafe tables along the sidewalks, sipping espresso and side-eyeing the passers-by: “Are you here for the same reason that I’m here?”
I was there, and I noticed people noticing me as I walked, looking for the early registration table and somewhat following the groups who looked like they knew what they were doing around the corners on the one-way streets of the Pearl. Then I changed my mind–don’t be in a hurry. It’s still morning.
I had no idea what to expect from the World Domination Summit, and like many things, it turned out that couldn’t have prepared for it if I had tried. I assumed there would be an entrepreneurial emphasis, which was true in a way, but there was none of the startup-culture bragging or ego. It was more of a zen-like focus on self-improvement and development through an “unconventional” path.
“Unconventional” was the buzzword of the weekend, and I’d say it summarizes the philosophy that Guillebeau is best known for (just check his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity, which is how our paths first crossed). Although I think I can safely claim to live a Pretty Unconventional Life, there are still areas where I play the game according to rules set by others–my business being one of them. I think the combination of the challenge of being a woman in what I’m constantly reminded is still a man’s world, and maybe the excitement of building a startup in a culture that is so ego-driven and gamified in its own right has led me on a path of always running and chasing. Living as a work martyr–no amount of work is enough, and no amount of sleep is worth getting when you can sit with your butt in a computer chair for one more hour and level up in the game that is modern entrepreneurship.
At the World Domination Summit, I was cut off from that. There were no child hot-shot prodigies on stage explaining how they sold their first software companies for millions and traveled the world to “find themselves” thereafter. There were no investors feeling out the crowd or smugly waiting for a line to form.
Which I was not happy about at first. I was not open to the lessons of the speakers and other attendees, the messages of the weekend, or the opportunity for calm that surrounded me in one of the greenest cities in the country. I wanted a challenge. I had brought new business cards, painstakingly designed (dammit). I was prepared to get into the ring with the assholes. I came to represent Hello Holiday and I was on the hunt for anything that could benefit me, anyone whose shoulders I could stand on in the fight to Get My Startup Noticed.
Because that’s what you do at a conference.
At the World Domination Summit, I learned some new rules, and decided that maybe the whole idea of a rulebook at all was not really something I needed to worry about anymore.
It took me a day to put into words what was softly nagging me in the back of my mind: There are no hotshots here. I am here to learn. These relationships are valuable and the inspiration shared here is real. What WAS at this conference–not the investors, not the boy’s club–was an inclusive, mature, grounded discussion on life as an unconventional entrepreneur, how we best live it, and how diverse the voices that share this experience truly are.
I probably could have used one more day to take full advantage of the speakers, attendees, and atmosphere that I tried so hard to soak in, but I know the truth is that I never could have met everybody that I wanted to see. The friendships I did make, the thoughts that the World Domination Summit provoked out of me, and the time it gave me for reflection on myself was enough for me to take away.
I want to thank my dear friend Chris for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference, and for encouraging me once again to come when I thought I might not be able to. I do want to also thank publicly Laura Stock, my generous host, friend, and sister from another mister who shared her knowledge, her bed, and her home with me for the entire weekend. I can’t wait to be back next year. Because of you, I know I always have a home in Portland.
Walking back to my familiar bus stop from the Newmark Theater after the closing ceremonies, I felt an overwhelming need to get back to work. The ego and puzzle-solving and intrinsic competition I feel in this business are such a powerful motivator that I’ve used through my whole adult life to Get Things Done. I like to think that I left some of that behind at the World Domination Summit for someone else to pick up, and in its place I absorbed a little more self-knowledge, contentment, and love for all of us on our own paths, together.
All photo credits, except my little instagrams, to Armosa Studios.