Stories and Bear Paw Slippers: WDS 2015

For the 2nd year in a row, I attended the World Domination Summit. The short description: Imagine if the TED conference took place in Portland. It attracts a lot of entrepreneurs, travellers, and creative types. I know, that doesn’t really sound like me, but I loved it last year and had to go back.

Last year, it was pretty clear what I needed to write about in my WDS summary: how I came up with my goal to run a marathon. Not that writing it was easy, because writing is never easy for me, but at least I knew what to write. This year, I didn’t come away with a clear goal, but there were a few smaller things that I took away (and one not-so-small thing, but I can’t talk about that one yet). It’s been almost a week, so let me see if I can pull everything together into something coherent.

In my WDS profile, here’s what I wrote as my goal for WDS 2015: “Running is great, but I know there’s something else I need to do. My goal is to figure out what ‘something else’ is. Secondary goals include having fun, catching up with people from WDS 2014, meeting new awesome people, and drinking Portland beer.”

All my secondary goals were accomplished. (Especially the one about the beer.) As for my “something else,” I think I figured it out, but that’s the thing I can’t write about just yet. (Sorry. I hope to write about it someday, and when I do, I hope you’ll understand why I’m being so intentionally vague.)

One of the things I’ve started to realize, which was reinforced at WDS, is that everybody has a story. At this point, my story is about how I started running just a few years ago, and at WDS last year, I was inspired to set a goal to run a marathon, and now I’m registered to run one on November 1. (You can read more about my marathon training over at my other blog, I Will Run a Marathon, which, unlike here, I’ve managed to update at least weekly.)

Some people have really big stories, like Chris Gillibeau, for example, and the people who shared their attendee stories on the stage. And those stories are great, but some people have smaller stories.

For example, Nicole, who I met last year at WDS. She had been disappointed that she was going to have to miss the closing party because she had to leave to catch her train home. This year, I saw her at the closing party. She was having a great time, and I was really happy for her.

Then there was Mark. I met him while waiting in line for Worldwide Waffles. He had some medical issues over the past year, but he recovered in time to attend and enjoy WDS. On Friday night, at the opening party, he danced for the first time in about a year. I didn’t get to see that, but I did see him dancing at the closing party and having a blast.

I think it’s important for everyone to share their story. For me, sharing my story isn’t easy. Putting myself out there is a stretch. I’m very introverted. I did share my story with a few people. It helps that WDS is a pretty good environment for that. I also answered a lot of questions about running. Quick summary: If your only running experience has been on a treadmill, try it outside (maybe wait a couple of months until it cools off), start out slow, walk if you need to, look in to the Couch to 5K program, and if you’re serious, get a good pair of running shoes from your local running store.

I kind of made a spectacle of myself with my bear paw slippers and cape, which I first wore to Worldwide Waffles, and then I brought them back for the closing party Sunday night. (Yes, that was me.) I have mixed feelings about that. It’s kind of silly, it feels like a gimmick, and it could come across as insincere. But for me, I think I needed to do it. Wearing bear paw slippers, I couldn’t just blend in like I usually do. So I think it was good practice in putting myself out there.

Of course, it was a lot of fun wearing those slippers. I did make a lot of people smile, which isn’t a bad thing. I even got a compliment from Chris. So even though trying to pack them in my bag was quite difficult, it was totally worth it. (Although I don’t recommend jumping up and down in them on a brick surface while Bollywood dancing to DJ Prashant. My ankles!)

As much as I’d like to rave that everything about WDS 2015 was wonderful, I do feel like I need to say something about Vani Hari, The Food Babe. Sigh.

As you might have guessed from the sigh, I’m familiar with her work, and disagree with most of it. In fact, I feel strongly enough about it that when I found out she would be speaking, I considered not going to WDS 2015. I had already made reservations, and would need to cancel them and then pay $100 to transfer my WDS ticket to someone else. Ultimately, I decided that I didn’t want to let this ruin an otherwise amazing weekend, and I went, and the rest of the weekend was amazing.

I have a somewhat different perspective on Vani than almost everyone else at WDS. I was an acquaintance of hers back around 2003 and 2004. I lost track of her after that, although we’re both still living in the Charlotte area. I have no idea if she remembers me, and there’s a chance that, if she hadn’t become the Food Babe, I might not remember her. During her talk, she showed a picture of herself from 15 years ago looking overweight. Well, in 2003, which would be 12 years ago, she did not look overweight at all. She pretty much looked the same as she does today.

It should go without saying that nobody deserves to get the comments that she shared with us. But it seems like she’s lumping together the “go kill yourself” comments with the reasonable, polite comments from scientists telling her that she’s incorrect. Having haters doesn’t mean you’re automatically right. All it means is that there are some really bad people out on the Internet, and you’ve done a good enough job of spreading your message that those bad people are seeing it and responding. I also found this article, written by an Indian-American woman who believes pretty much the opposite of what Vani is saying, but she has also received similar vile comments. If two people with opposite views are attracting hate like that, it has nothing to do with their message and whether or not they’re right.

Scott Berkun, who spoke at WDS 2014, wrote up all of the Day 1 talks, and has a good summary of Vani’s talk. I agree with Scott’s take. And I know it’s a small sample size, but I’m pleased that most of the people I spoke with about her talk had a pretty similar reaction.

Setting aside for a moment the stuff she gets wrong, and the criticism, both valid and invalid, that she receives, there’s something about the tone of her message that rubs me the wrong way. I feel like she’s using fear to get people to act. I can’t recall any other WDS speaker over the last two years who used fear like that. Frankly, I think a fear-based message goes against the spirit (or what should be the spirit) of WDS.

Ultimately, to put it all in perspective, I spent more time over the weekend waiting in line than I did listening to her talk. So let’s get back to the good stuff.

Here’s a few random closing thoughts that didn’t quite fit it anywhere else:

I love Portland. I really do. I was born in New York City, so that will always be my favorite city, but Portland may be my second favorite.

I decided to recreate my picture with Brave Bot at WDS 2014 to show how much weight I’ve lost (22 pounds) in the last year.

2014-07-13 11.01.572015-07-12 10.51.46

When I was posing for the 2015 picture, I couldn’t remember which hand I held Brave Bot with in the 2014 picture. I guessed wrong. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I got a haircut after I got back home. Also, I never realized how much weight I was carrying in my face.

If you look closely at my name tag, the way it was written, it almost looks like my name is D.J. Eh, I’ve been called worse.

Something that I’ve started to realize, and this was reinforced during a few conversations at WDS, is that pretty much anything worth doing (like training for and then running a marathon) is going to be difficult.

Not only am I not an entrepreneur, I really don’t have much interest in becoming one. I just need more stability than that. I’m not overly happy with my current job, but maybe I don’t actually need to escape my cubicle. Maybe I just need to find one that fits better.

Jeremy Cowart won WDS. His talk was just amazing. The pictures from Haiti, then Rwanda, then his brother and niece…just incredibly moving. Not only was it the best talk of the weekend, but I think it was better than any WDS 2014 talk.

I got my ticket for WDS 2016. (Yeah, I’m a little disappointed that it will be smaller, but I understand.) In spite of The Food Babe, I still recommend checking out WDS if you get the chance. (I hope to have at least a few posts here before my next WDS recap.)

Finally, I’d like to think that most people at WDS 2015 will remember me as the guy who’s training for a marathon after setting a goal to run one at WDS 2014. But I’m pretty sure most people will remember me as the guy with the bear paw slippers.

WDS2015 Costume