Last weekend nearly 3,000 people descended on the Schnitzer Theater in Portland for the World Domination Summit…and I was one of them. We spent the weekend listening to incredible speakers and getting to know each other in an effort to harness our creativity, explore entrepreneurship and live a meaningful life that changes the world for the better.
Rather than give you a full play-by-play (awesome speaker recaps by Scott Berkun here), I’m going to share a few stories that illustrate how the weekend affected me.
It was my first time in Portland, so I had a few places I wanted to visit for sure. Thursday I hit Voodoo Doughnut and Stumptown Coffee and then walked over to Powell’s. Each place lived up to the hype!
In the afternoon I decided to brave the bus system and go to the Oregon Public House, a non-profit bar in Portland. When it comes to public transportation, I’m a total disaster, so this was a huge risk. On the way there I sat next to an older lady who said, “I see you have an arm like me.” She was missing her left arm, too, and was wearing a hook prosthetic. We talked for a while about how she grew-up in California and was constantly told she couldn’t do things. In fact, she wasn’t allowed to participate in gym or cooking class or typing. “I did it all anyway,” she told me. Her story was fascinating and I appreciated her candor. When I got to the OPH, I had a lovely conversation with the bartender, whose younger brother is a little person. I tried to be as useful as possible, sharing my experiences as a person with obvious physical differences. I left thinking, “Yep…I was supposed to brave the bus system.”
Then on Thursday night I went to McMenamins Kennedy School to meet with some old and new friends. McMenamins has 20-something locations and they’re all renovated old buildings – this one being an actual school! It was fantastic. And the company was fun, too! My friends Chris and the Parsons joined three other dudes who have one arm (Rick, Michael and Mike) and Kerstin, who works with Arm Dynamics prosthetics. We had a great time swapping stories and eating delicious food!
The heart of the summit ran Friday through Sunday and it was amazing. The speakers were fantastic, but for me, the biggest takeaway from the summit were the relationships I formed. There’s a different type of networking that happens at WDS. What happens is, you meet someone, you get to know them and then you both spend time figuring out how you can help each other. At least that was my experience. Far and away the most genuine, helpful and encouraging group of people I’ve ever been around.
In fact, I’d be an idiot not to admit that the highlight of my trip was being able to stand in front of nearly 3,000 of them and tell my story.
On Saturday morning I submitted my story along with 70 other people to see if I could get selected to share it from the stage during the lightning/hurricane round held in the afternoon. I got a text during lunch letting me know I would be sharing and to meet at 345pm to prepare. I have to be honest…I wasn’t nervous. I was excited. I was honored. The only catch was…I only had one minute to share! So, I rehearsed a bit and then we waited in the wings until they brought the five of us out onstage. When it was my turn, I stepped out front and started with, “Thirty-seven years ago I was born like this. *pause* But despite my irrational attractive appearance, I also only have one hand.” To say the joke landed would be an understatement. If you’ve never experienced thousands of people laughing at a joke you told, let me tell you how it feels: It feels good. Real good. The only problem? The laughing took up a quarter of my minute! Totally worth it, though. I finished up and then laughed my butt off at Alicia’s story and then we were done.
The response from that one minute spiel was overwhelming. In a good way. It led to so many great conversations and I appreciated every single one of them. It proved once again what I’ve known all along: Everyone – and I mean everyone – is different in some way or another. And I’m proud to tell every single person that whatever makes them different should be celebrated and embraced. Perhaps that thing you’ve perceived as a weakness for years and years and years is actually the very same thing that can lead to amazing experiences and success. I’ve never viewed my arm as a disability, but I know that it’s perceived by many to be so. That “disability” led to an opportunity for me to make thousands of people laugh, give them hope and tell them they’re awesome. I’ll never forget it.
Throughout the weekend I met so many new friends that I know will last a lifetime. These people were kind, intelligent, hilarious, beautiful (I’m looking at you, Tim), vulnerable, powerful, real…just genuinely amazing people. I know that sounds super over-the-top, but it’s the truth. The only reason I share some of their names here is because I think you should checkout how they might be able to help you, too. So, thank you for being you and speaking into my life Chad, Tim, Josh, Natalie, Jeff, Dan, Jaime, Charmaine, Alicia, AJ, Michael, Mary, Chris, Jason, Jodi, Kary, Joshua, Darren and Gavin. If I didn’t name you, it’s because I’m a total name-dropping jerk. Just kidding! To everyone I met that I didn’t name here – you made an impact on my life, too!
I also specifically want to thank Chris and Jolie Guillebeau for being two of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the opportunity to be associated with. And props to Ryan McRae for being a great travel partner ad roomie.
To wrap-up the experience, fast-forward to Monday night. I’ve landed in Chicago and I’m waiting for the bus to take me home to Madison, WI. While I’m sitting there a young lady sits on the bench next to me and strikes up a conversation. Eventually we land on the work I’m doing with Living One-Handed and she says, “I’m actually a below-knee amputee myself.” Of course she is. Because that’s how my life works now.
And I’d have it no other way.