WDS 2016: So Many Great Moments, So Many Takeaways

I recently got back from WDS 2016. For those who don’t know about it, WDS is the World Domination Summit, and the best way to describe it is to imagine if a TED conference took place in Portland, then add in lots of dancing, high fives, and hugging. This was my 3rd year in a row there, and I had an absolutely amazing experience. I’ve already bought my ticket for WDS 2017.

A lot changed for me from WDS 2015 to WDS 2016. The biggest thing is that I achieved the goal I set at WDS 2014. I said I would run a marathon, and on November 1, 2015, I ran the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon. It was tougher than I ever could have imagined, but it was absolutely worth it. Now, I’m training for the 2016 New York City Marathon. I was born in New York City, so this was a dream for me. I entered the lottery in January, and I was one of the lucky 23% who got in.

My first draft of this story was over 3700 words. (Final count: 2490. Whew.) I had to skip a lot of stuff, but hopefully I’ve captured all the highlights.

I arrived in Portland for WDS 2016 late Wednesday afternoon, a day earlier than I arrived the last two years. I checked in to my hotel, stopped by WDS registration to get my name badge, and then noticed a meetup for a dinner, but the meetup was full. I didn’t really have other plans, and it wasn’t too far away, so I figured I’d show up, and if they turned me away, hopefully at least one other WDSer would get turned away too, and we could go somewhere else to eat.

I met a group outside of The Original Dineraunt, and I didn’t get turned away. One of the people I met before we sat down was Sam, a first-time attendee from Boston. I didn’t really get to talk to her during dinner, as we ended up at opposite ends of the table, but as it turns out, I’d be seeing her a few more times. The food and beer were good, and while I didn’t talk all that much, partially because of shyness, partially because my body was still on East Coast time, I still had fun.

I went for a run Thursday morning and got in just over 5 miles. It felt amazing, about 15 degrees cooler and 1000% less humid than Charlotte.

I then had my first academy, Think Better, Live Better. I didn’t see anyone I knew initially, so I just sat near the middle of the theater and looked around for any familiar faces. Sam saw me and sat down next to me.

There were several speakers, but the last, Kendra Wright, really stood out. She walked out on the stage and (figuratively) kicked my butt. We had been given an envelope but were told not to open it until later. After telling us about overcoming our fears, Kendra told us to open the envelope. There were two pieces of paper and a pen. On the first piece of paper, she had us write down some goals that scare us. On the other piece of paper, she dictated a letter that we were writing to ourselves, basically picking one of those scary goals and giving ourselves a one month deadline to complete it. Oh, crap. (I said a few stronger things under my breath.) I can’t say publicly what my goal is yet, but it absolutely scares the crap out of me, and it’s something I should have done a long time ago. Now I have the motivation to finally do it. I set my goal, and gave it a really scarily short deadline.

We then put our address on the envelope, put the letter in the envelope, and exchanged envelopes with a partner. So I gave mine to Sam and she gave hers to me. Kendra told us to mail the letters in 2 weeks. (We had ended the letters by saying something like “P.S. You’ve got two weeks left.”)

Friday morning started with the annual WDS 5K Fun Run. Except for an epic fail by my Garmin watch GPS, I enjoyed it, and again, the weather was great.

After a quick trip to my hotel room for a shower, I went to the Hero’s Journey. I didn’t wear a full costume, but I wore my cape from WDS 2014 and a t-shirt with the TARDIS from Doctor Who, since I think the Doctor qualifies as a hero. I had no idea what to expect from the Hero’s Journey. The initial description was kind of vague, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it, but about a week before, I decided to sign up.

I got in line, and found Sam. We put together an 8 person team that we called Unconventionally Awesome. Shortly after 9, we got our instructions. Basically, it was a big scavenger hunt, and we ran all around Portland. It was a lot of fun, we got to do all kinds of crazy stuff, like challenging a stranger to a push-up contest (the stranger won), and afterwards, Sam serenaded him. (Those were two separate items, but we got creative and combined them.) We didn’t win, but like I said, we had a lot of fun.

Later Friday afternoon, Marsha Shandur had a meetup titled “Tell Compelling Stories (even if you think you SUCK at it)”. I don’t think this story is going to end up as compelling as I’d like (Sorry, Marsha. I did kill many, many, many darlings while editing this, though), but I took away some tips, and maybe my future stories can be saved.

On Saturday, we got to the Main Stage in the smaller Newmark Theatre. It’s a nice little space, and more intimate. I ended up sitting next to Sam at all of the sessions, which was cool.

I have to say, I was really pleased with all 8 speakers. Nobody was quite as good as Jeremy Cowart last year. (I couldn’t find his actual video from WDS 2015, but the video on his web page is pretty similar to his talk and hits all the highlights that I remember. Also, when you watch that video, keep tissues nearby.) But as a whole, I took a little something away from each speaker’s talk. I think this was the best lineup in the 3 years I’ve attended WDS.

Michelle Poler told us in her talk about her 100 Days Without Fear project, where she did something that she was afraid of every day for 100 days. One of the things she mentioned was karaoke. I had never really done public karaoke before. The thought scared me.

Saturday night, there was an event scheduled called “Karaoke Like a Rockstar!” I hadn’t signed up for it, and the WDS app said the event was full. After Michelle’s talk, I thought about my fears, and I decided I needed to do this. I would show up anyway. I was a little worried that after Michelle’s talk, I might not be the only person in the theater who thought, “Hey, maybe I should try karaoke.”

I made my way to Voicebox Karaoke, and got in pretty easily. Step 1 complete. I met up with Sam. Unlike me, Sam can actually sing, and she also provided the moral support that I needed. Voicebox Karaoke has rooms, and we had about 15 or so people in the room. Maybe not quite as big of a crowd as I was hoping (fearing?), but it would do.

I looked through the song list, and found my song. I Melt With You, by Modern English. I figured it didn’t have a lot of high notes, and I know all the words.

The last song before I was scheduled to go was Bohemian Rhapsody. Of course, everybody in the room (including me) joined in, but as we got closer to the end, the butterflies really started going. The next thing I knew, we got to the last line, “Any way the wind blows,” and it was my turn.

It was surreal. I sang with a mild British accent that I didn’t know I had. I danced around a bit, and even had a signature move, pointing at someone each time I got to the end of the line, “I’ll stop the world and melt with you.” I made it to the end. I really did it. I was so relieved. And everybody cheered. I even got compliments.

Over the course of the night, I sang 3 more songs solo: Just Like Heaven, The Power of Love (Huey Lewis, not Celine Dion. I’m not that crazy), and Addicted to Love. (Yes, I grew up in the ’80’s.)

I joined in on a number of duets, including Evenflow with another guy who was also wearing sandals, cargo shorts, and a t-shirt. My duet partner (I’ve forgotten his name, but if you’re reading this, let me know!) was a fellow member of Generation X, so it was cool.

Here’s what I posted in the WDS app at the end of the night, that really sums it up: “To everybody who I ‘sang’ to tonight, I’m so sorry you had to hear that. *grin* But seriously, I had a blast, and you have no idea how much of a big effing deal it was for me to get up there and sing, so thank you so much for your support.”

Then came Sunday. I started out with a quick run. There was an event going on and I had to avoid all the bikes on the bridges, but again, the weather was much nicer than Charlotte, and I wished I had time to stay out there longer.

During the break in the Morning Session, I got my annual picture with my Brave Bot from WDS 2014, this time taken by Sam, of course. Here’s my side by side comparison of 2015 vs. 2016.

2015-07-12 10.51.462016-08-14 10.33.26

I should have gotten closer to the camera, and I ended up cropping the picture a bit. (I don’t blame Sam, I’ve done this before, I should have known.) At least this year, I’m not in desperate need of a haircut. According to my records, I was 164 pounds at WDS 2015, but this year, I was actually around 166. I think shorter hair makes my face look a little bit thinner. As long as it’s not a long term trend, I can live with 2 extra pounds.

(By the way, I carried Brave Bot with me during my marathon, since running a marathon was my One Brave Thing.)

Anyway, right before lunch, I got into a discussion about superpowers. See, there was a question on everyone’s WDS profile about their superpower. Mine is my sense of direction. I’ve always had a good sense of direction, and it’s tough (but not impossible) for me to get lost. Now, with the rise of Google Maps and GPS, I feel like my skill is getting increasingly irrelevant. (I do joke that when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be your navigator.) I tend to kind of dismiss my sense of direction as no big deal.

Someone brought up the question of how your superpower will help you reach your goal. I kind of laughed at that, and said, well, mine doesn’t really help. Then someone in the group, Laura, said something that blew me away. She said that a sense of direction is really just a good instinct, and if I’ve got good instincts about directions, I probably have good instincts about other things, too. I was completely flabbergasted, in a good way. I had never thought of it like that. I always just thought about my sense of direction as this one isolated thing that I’m pretty good at, and just something that I was born with, like blue eyes. Maybe I have good instincts as well. Unlike a sense of direction, which would only help with a handful of goals, good instincts will help you with almost anything.

(I should add that if you’re someone without a good sense of direction, I don’t think that automatically means your instincts aren’t good. You’re probably fine. Just make sure your phone has plenty of juice for Google Maps.)

Finally, there was the Closing Party. It was time to dance. There were these giant jellyfish on metal poles, and the music was pretty much all ’80’s, so I was happy. I even got up on the stage and took this picture during Footloose.

2016-08-14 22.42.51

The one drawback to the event space is that it was indoors, so I had to occasionally step outside to cool off. During one of my trips outside, I saw Lewis Howes. Besides Jeremy Cowart, his speech at WDS 2015 had the most impact on me. Lewis was talking to some other people, but I waited patiently. When he got to me, I told him how much of a difference his talk had made for me, and I thanked him, then we hugged. I feel like I don’t thank people enough, but when I do, it’s always rewarding.

Of course, when I was done with the thanking and hugging, I ran back inside, because they were playing Take On Me. That’s WDS for you.

I danced some more, and at the end of the night, I said my goodbyes to the various people I had met for the first time, the second time, and the third time, but ended by thanking Sam. I told her that she made my WDS, and it was true. She was there the whole time, and supported me before, during, and after karaoke (and everything else). She thanked me as well, since I gave her plenty of advice for a first timer, and we hugged.

And with that, I caught an Uber back to my hotel, and WDS 2016 was over.

So what were my biggest takeaways?

  • Kindness is really important. If there was one theme that was emphasized this year at WDS, that was it. Being kind to others is easy for me, but I do struggle with being kind to myself.
  • I need to face my fears. Not the first time I’ve heard that, but it’s still true. Karaoke was a small but important step towards that.
  • I have friends that will support me. Tell people what I want to do, and they’ll help.
  • Thank people whenever I have the opportunity. I mentioned thanking Lewis Howes and Sam. I also thanked the Ambassadors whenever I could (They all did a fantastic job), and filled out a form on Michelle Poler’s website to send a note thanking her for inspiring me to do karaoke.
  • I might have good instincts to go along with my sense of direction.

I’ll close with my dispatch from PDX Monday morning that pretty much sums it up: “At the airport getting ready to head home to Charlotte. What an amazing WDS! So many great moments, so many takeaways. Hugs, high fives, and love to all. See you at WDS 2017!”