How Do We Live A Remarkable Life In A Conventional World? Start by Pushing Past What You Know…*

{This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my experiences and insights from the 2013 World Domination Summit }

rethinked.org

This past Thursday I took off for Portland, Oregon to attend the third-annual World Domination Summit. Even on the plane ride over, I still was not entirely sure what WDS was other than that it centered on the key question “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” and the themes of community, adventure and service. Founder Chris Guillebeau and his team made clear in their communications that this was not a business mixer nor a convention but rather, a “coming together of unconventional, remarkable people for a weekend of adventure.” I was excited and a little bit apprehensive to find out just what that meant.

Weeks before the summit, we were asked to think about and articulate some personal goals for the event. My main goals were to get outside my comfort zone, and disrupt my routine.

On Friday afternoon I made my way to Director’s Park to register, hoping I would get a better sense of what this was all about. As I stood in the D-G line, waiting to get my pass, I noticed a man one line over in a full gorilla bodysuit, overheard another attendee explaining to an inquisitive Portlander that WDS is about establishing a new world order, “corporations are over and it’s time for everyone to wake up to that reality.” When I finally made it to the top of the line, I was handed my name tag, a collection of notebooks, maps and a schedule, and a sheet of ten stickers to “customize” my badge. I began to have serious doubts about the summit, worrying that this was not my brand of ‘remarkable’.

That evening, at the Oregon Zoo for the opening ceremony, I made the acquaintance of a delightful man named John. John was kind, friendly, passionately curious and easy to talk to. I finally started to relax. In the course of our conversation, he made an intriguing observation that resonated deeply with me. A local Portlander, he was sharing his love of the city and the thrill of being able to go skiing year round. I told him that I was a dreadful skier and he corrected me saying, “you’re not a good skier…yet.” Several times during our conversation he reframed what I had said with this little ‘…yet’ framework. He asked me what my goals for the summit were and I shared with him how I had hoped to get outside of my comfort zone.

As I sat in my hotel room that evening wondering why I had been feeling so negative all day, I realized that the discomfort was stemming from my uncertainty–I was in a completely new city (in fact, it was my first time on the West Coast), attending an event that persisted in evading definition, with some die-hard WDS fans who considered themselves part of a tribe and many of whom seemed to already know each other. I am quite shy and felt overwhelmed with meeting so many new people in one go.

If you have spent any time on rethinked…* or checked out our Twitter stream, you know that embracing risk and uncertainty is a very big theme for us. I am constantly reading, writing, talking and thinking about the importance of being fluid, adaptive and open to the potential of uncertainty. But here is my dirty little secret, while I am knowledgeable and well-informed about the immense potential and opportunities that embracing uncertainty creates, I have an incredibly difficult time translating that knowledge into action in my own life. Dominic defines wisdom as the ability to translate one’s knowledge into impactful, salient action, and the truth is that I am not very wise when it comes to embracing risk and uncertainty in my every day. I have a very low threshold for uncertainty and when I find myself in situations that push past that threshold, my primary goal becomes getting back to my comfort zone. One of my strategies for doing that, I’m dreadfully embarrassed to admit, is to dismiss what I do not know, to refuse the possibility that I may learn something and grow from embracing and exploring that unknown.

As I looked down at my name tag, still hanging around my neck, prominently displaying my name and “traveled 2475 miles”, it became very clear that I had a choice to make. I could keep playing it safe, dismissing these different views and frameworks, or I could embrace this opportunity, realize that there was no actual risk or threat to my being and go with the flow. I chose the latter, because I had traveled across the country for this opportunity, but more importantly, because I knew I would not be able to deal with the uncertainty of wondering, once I had returned to New York, what may have been if I had opened myself up to this experience.

The rest of the weekend was a blast, I met fantastic and inspiring people and was exposed to a whirlwind of intriguing ideas, many of which centered on the very theme of embracing and redefining risk, failure and uncertainty, such as Jia Jiang’s brilliant talk on reframing and embracing rejection (more on those ideas in the following post).

On my last day in Portland I decided to visit the Japanese Gardens (which, alone, are well worth a visit to Portland). I went to the Visitor’s Center in the hopes that they would be able to help me make sense of the MAX, Portland’s transit system. The lady at the counter was very helpful and provided me with maps and a detailed explanation of how to reach the gardens. We chatted about the Washington Park station, which is the deepest subway station in the whole of the United States and she promised that I would get to experience the fastest elevator ride of my life (at which point, I turned a bit green). As I was thanking her and getting ready to leave she asked me where I was visiting from. When I answered, Brooklyn, she burst out giggling and looked at me with a sense of genuine surprise, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, a friendly New Yorker! Imagine that!” I laughed along with her, feeling awash with gratitude and excitement. Pushing past what I knew and rethinking…* assumptions–my own and helping others, in however small a way, rethink…* their own–was what a weekend of “community, service and adventure” had meant for me.

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