I returned last Monday from an incredible 4 days in Portland, Oregon where I invaded this awesome city with 2,800 of my closest friends that I just hadn’t met yet. The occasion was the World Domination Summit, an event I attended last summer. While the travel arrangements were much easier this year (coming from Seattle vs. Orlando), the experience was entirely different. I feel different. I am different. It’s amazing what a year can do when you are open to growth and seeking change.
I’m not going to write about exactly what I learned or the specific topics presented by the amazing lineup of speakers (I plan to cover that on another day). Plus, you can find a boatload of blog posts about the event from all around the web — just Google it. Or you can check out my blog posts from last year here and here.
But in short, this conference (like no other conference) is a gathering of people who believe in challenging the status quo, the importance of service and community, and whole-heartedly in our individual ability to make a difference, control the direction of our lives, and find fulfillment in what we do.
This group includes writers, travelers, artists, entrepreneurs, and online business owners, plus everyone in between including those seeking to escape a cubicle or who have jobs they absolutely love but want to explore more ways to enrich their lives and connect with like-minded folks. The conference is part inspiration, part business, and part community. It’s a refreshing cocktail that re-energizes, motivates, and inspires anyone in attendance. The vibe is absolutely, undeniably palpable the entire weekend.
My goal going into WDS this year could be summed up into one word: CONNECTION.
I wanted to connect with everyone I met. I wanted to build lasting relationships and find new collaboration opportunities. I wanted to learn from the people around me and I wanted to hear their stories. I went in with no expectations beyond an openness to connect authentically with whoever I happened to be sitting next to. And I’m happy to report back…
Now that the “buzz” is starting to wear off I can’t help but wonder to myself, “What if this feeling didn’t have to end? What if we lived everyday like it’s the World Domination Summit?”
“But I wasn’t at the World Domination Summit,” you might say. Well, that’s okay because I’m going to paint you a picture…
Once we were officially registered for the event everyone received orange WDS badges. This is the most powerful thing of all that you can wear because it informs everyone else that you are in on the secret and that you “get it.” This identifier means that whether you’re in line at a coffee shop, walking aimlessly around Portland, ordering a gyro at a food cart, or standing in an elevator… you have a friend. You are also likely game for questions like, “What are you most passionate about right now right now?”
You will get smiles from strangers walking by, you will wave to people you don’t know crossing the street, you will sit next to people and strike up a conversation at almost any opportunity, and you will dance for hours in the middle of a city park to Bollywood music… and this feeling of openness is completely reciprocated the entire weekend.
You’ll cry while listening to a song that seems to be written just for you, and then look over at the person next to you, also crying, and you’ll both smile.
You’ll sit next to someone in a park and talk about your latest travels and exchange cards to continue the conversation online. You’ll share your trail mix with a stranger and talk about your favorite family recipes. You’ll spend hours at a bar nursing the same beer because you are enthralled by your company and the conversations you’re having with them.
You’ll be vulnerable.
The Power of Connection.
You see, my whole life I’ve been surrounded by large groups of friends and acquaintances. I’ve attended and thrown too many parties to count and I’ve never spent a Friday night without something to do. I’m typically a say-hi-to-strangers kind of girl and I often make small talk with the local barista. However, what I realized this past week is that what I’m seeking is something different from all that.
Maybe it has to do with having recently relocated to a city where I know practically no one but what I feel lately – more than ever before – is a need for meaningful connections.
It’s really been in the last year or so that I’ve begun questioning some of my relationships and in many cases I’ve realized something was missing. I actually didn’t know all that much about some of my closest friends. Our conversations were always in social gatherings and rarely intimate. And that’s a fault of mine because I have a hard time sharing my struggles, dreams, and personal goals with those I’m closest to; It’s much easier to write it on my blog and not actually know who is or isn’t reading it.
The questions I pose to myself (and to you) are… Why do I need an orange badge to strike up conversations with someone standing next to me at a bus stop? Why do I need to be at a conference (or any other type of community gathering) to sit next to a stranger and ask them about their life? Why not smile more openly no matter how busy I am? And why not treat strangers like they’re my next best friends that I just haven’t met yet?
Well, I think it’s possible. I think it’s very possible. I also think it’s really, really important that those of us that were at the World Domination Summit don’t let this feeling of connection subside. But for everyone else too, the sentiment is the same…
We should all open ourselves up to living a life more full of non-judgmental moments filled with understanding, empathy, and meaning.
You see, I believe we ALL have a story to tell. There’s something that delights us that we want to share with the world and something that others can learn from our experiences. We are all inspired by storytelling and the ability to relate with another human. So, imagine if you connected more with the people you cross paths with in your own community — the girl who walks her dog the same time as you everyday or the convenience store clerk who always smiles when he rings you up. I think we’d all be surprised what we might learn from one another.
That brings me to The Connection Challenge…
Over the next 52 weeks I’m going to extend my warmest smile and open up an unexpected conversation with a stranger — at least once a week — until I return to WDS next summer. It could go horribly wrong and I could feel like an idiot… or it could go wonderfully right and I’ll have made 52 new friends.
The rules I’ve set for myself include:
- Have a real conversation, not just small talk.
- It has to be something I wouldn’t normally do (i.e. Get out of my comfort zone.)
- The length doesn’t matter – a minute or two is fine.
- I’ll try and take a photo (so I can remember them).
- I’ll record how I felt… How awkward was it? How did they respond? What was going through my head? Was it hard to do?
There’s a good chance not everyone will respond well to this type of interaction. It might surprise people or completely freak them out, but I think that’s okay because it’s worth the risk and it’s definitely worth the rejection (like Jia Jiang shared with us in his keynote speech this year, we might actually be surprised with how kind people can be.)
As much as this challenge is about extending the feeling and overall vibe of WDS to the outside world, this is also about me finding strength in opening up to others. Sharing who I am in my entirety has never been an easy thing for me to do, so this is my chance to be vulnerable and not always be the loud, funny girl I’ve relied so heavily on (another great realization thanks to a WDS speaker this year: Donald Miller). It’s my chance to learn something new from a stranger and share a laugh. It’s my chance to maybe spread some much-needed human connection in a world full of iPhone-obsessed zombies (including myself).
I hope you’ll join me.
Because what if you can take these moments to be hyper aware of your surroundings and who is near you?
What if you can wake up from the trance you are in everyday, living your routines, and find a nugget of strength to do this one thing that is uncomfortable and awkward?
What if you realize there are more people out there like you — with or without the “orange badge” to prove it?
Because that’s what WDS has done for me. It’s taught me that I’m not alone. That there are a lot of other people who approach life the same way I do… And that’s some powerful stuff.
Maybe it’s the optimist in me but I can’t believe that there are only 2800 of us who seek this deeper connection. I think you’re all around me and I can’t wait to meet you. I really, really believe that and I’m on a mission to prove that it’s true.
So, even if it’s just to connect with one stranger in one moment, I think this is the kind of thing that can change the world and the kind of thing that can definitely change the way we view the world. I hope you’ll join me… for 52 weeks or for one day.
Will you join me?