One week ago, I went to Portland, OR to attend a conference with the modest title of World Domination Summit. The conference was great and I definitely experienced a couple of transformative “aha!” moments that I will describe a little bit later in this post.
First and foremost, WDS was a great opportunity to reconnect in person with some West Coast friends that I don’t get to see very often, including Crystal Silver, Mike Schumacher, Jeff “Yooper” Smith, Thea Lawson, Erica Douglass and Lance Vallis. It was wonderful to connect with old friends and make new ones.
(Photo Credit: Armosa Studios)
When I originally signed up, I didn’t have a clear purpose in mind aside from “meet people, see what happens” but my intuition suggested that I’d experience something interesting. I have found in the past that the meetings that I attend with a “see what happens” agenda are often the most fruitful. My intuition always works when I trust it.
The conference itself was deliberately and artfully vague about its specific purpose. In the program, the unifying question was How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?. The details of this goal were left up to the imagination. Most of the people attending consisted of artists, entrepreneurs, writers, lifestyle designers, coaches, travelers – simply put, lots of creative and imaginative people who were hard to pin down in a specific way.
Obviously, the title refers to capturing the imagination of the world through creativity and generating excitement, rather than the old-school methods of conquering through war, political intrigue, and diplomacy. (The only military equipment I saw in Portland was the Navy ships that arrived a few days later for Fleet Week!)
The prevailing attitude at WDS was one of connecting with others, encouraging them on their path, and embracing difference and uniqueness. Everyone seemed to recognize the beauty that emerges from different ways of being and acting, in taking risks, and in pursuing those things in one’s own heart that don’t have to make sense to the rest of the world. Everywhere at the conference, I encountered an abundance of creative people – sometimes that creativity was expressed in their attitude and outlook, sometimes in their actual profession. (By creative professions, I mean artists and writers… but why can’t a person be creative as a CFO, or as a database admin, if that’s what they love?)
The effort put forth by the organizers, volunteers, and speakers was impressive. “Blue shirts” (volunteers) were everywhere, making sure the event was running well. The Portland Art Museum made a great venue, and the city itself was a great place for organized and impromptu meetings after the official program was over.
“Your imperfections make you likeable and endearing”
Instead of doing a speed review of the overall experience (that’s a future post) I’d like to distinguish one of the most powerful and personally significant parts of my WDS journey.
It happened in the Mondo Beyondo session presented by Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher. In addition to delivering a great inspirational message through the coaching session they ran, Jen and Andrea did a beautiful, irrational, and extreme thing that caught the attention and imagination of the entire group. The two of them had personally handwritten 500 affirmation notes and stuck them under each of the chairs in the auditorium. (This is exactly the kind of dramatic, extreme gesture that I love!)
My own card read “your imperfections make you likeable and endearing”. The relevance and impact of this message was eerie – in the few days leading up to WDS, I had just been speaking with close friends about some concerns and doubts that I had about how I was presenting myself online. It’s also the exact sort of thing that someone with perfectionist tendencies like mine, someone who graduated in the top 5 in “one of the most selective and advanced engineering programs offered in the world” specifically does not want to hear. That’s probably one of the reasons why it was so powerful for me.
In particular, there are a couple of topics that I’d shied away from discussing on my blog in the past. Blind spots, of a sort.
One of them feels really stupid to write out but it felt real to me a couple of weeks ago. I identify myself in my “About Me” section as “Dr. Jack Bennett” which is totally legitimate – I have completed a PhD from a real university. It was a fun experience and a lot of work.
However, I avoided mentioning the specifics of my degree on this site until now, specifically that my PhD is in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I had a fear that this subject might be judged by others as too technical and not sufficiently “life coach”-y.
In the recent past, I was telling myself a bunch of stories about how people wouldn’t want to work with a life coach who has the wrong kind of degree. That is, the “wrong kind of Ivy-league doctoral degree”. Boo hoo, cry me a river, right? This what we in the coaching world call a “high quality problem”. And yet it’s often our own blind spots and limiting beliefs that are hardest to see. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why all professional coaches are encouraged to have a coach themselves.)
Yes, it’s total bullshit, of course, but these kind of stories start to seem real when they take up residence in our own heads for long enough. That’s one of the biggest reasons why telling trusted others the stories that hold you back is so powerful. Your friends can reveal to you exactly how much bullshit you’re creating for yourself. (Hint: imagine a Pacific Ocean of fetid, stinking, liquified bullshit. That’s the kind of scale that we’re operating on when we go digging through the darker reaches of our own heads. Pack a hazmat suit.)
Fortunately, when others reflect back to you how silly you’re being by living into a false story that you’re telling yourself, it’s a lot easier to stop telling it, and to stop giving your power away. And your days start to pass a little more easily, without all that bullshit.
A life coach with advanced degrees in electrical and computer engineering – that’s a little unusual, right? There’s probably something interesting there. And until recently I was suppressing this uniqueness, trying to be like the average of everyone else, some sort of bland yoga-Zen-vegan-hybrid of Eckhart Tolle, Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Wayne Dyer. I was turning down the volume on what made me different, interesting, and yes, a little bit strange as well. Well, screw that.
I like to think that my past writings are intelligent and insightful, but I think they could use a little bit more soul too. So I am looking forward to the fun of including a bit more personality and authenticity into my writing (and profanity too – although I probably already swear far too often).
The other topic is a little bit more personal, but still not something that I avoid telling other people in real life. So why not mention it here?
It’s a pretty simple story – I was in a long-term relationship, we were married for 2.5 years and then divorced. (Wow, intense dark secret, huh? I’ll bet you’ve never met anyone who was in that situation before!) Until now, I avoided mentioning this here for a variety of “reasons”.
- I didn’t want to appear imperfect (limiting belief – “Helping others with their interpersonal relationships is an important part of being a coach. How can I do that authentically if I got divorced myself?”)
- I didn’t want to be disliked by others. As individuals, people are mostly pleasant and kind, but the internet as a whole sometimes delivers spikes of viciousness and stupidity.
- I didn’t want to be judged by others for “leaving” rather than “being left”, or for the reasons that I chose to leave that relationship. Victimhood is a comfortable pose to take and is usually guaranteed some sympathy; conversely, embracing your own power and creating uncomfortable change is often a target for criticism.
Given time I could probably come up with a bunch of other reasons but they all boil down to the same thing – I wanted to look good and avoid looking bad. This desire is not uniquely mine, of course. A lot of human energy is spent (i.e. wasted) by people attempting to impress others, or at least to avoid looking stupid in front of them.
Everyone I talked to at WDS – including several professional coaches – said that going through the personal experience of marriage and divorce would make a person a better coach, not worse. After all, people said, some real world ups and downs give a bit more authenticity to a person’s story. Granted, this is not an average audience, or a scientifically-valid sample, but it felt like a real vote of confidence – I told people I had just met about these things, and everyone was supportive. In other words, according to my conversational survey, my limiting belief was well and truly bullshit.
Perfection – or the appearance of perfection – intimidates and distances. We bond closely with each other through our fears, doubts, and perceived or actual “major, life-changing fuck-ups”. Holding our pain close to the vest and concealing these so-called “failures” gives them far more power than they deserve. Sharing them with others and thereby seeing them through other peoples’ eyes helps us to release and transcend them. As the old proverb goes, “what I resist, persists” – so stop resisting and release instead!
So what next?
In the follow-up email messages in the few days after the conference, head organizer Chris Guillebeau asked the attendees to ask themselves the simple question:
One year from now, what will be different?
It’s an important question. In the “post workshop high”, people can get caught up in the excitement and make dramatic plans that don’t see the light of day because “normal life” ramps up and they don’t follow through.
Thomas Edison is often quoted as saying that “genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. If that’s true, then the time ratio of a three day conference to the rest of the year is just about perfect. And I am very much looking forward to seeing what I and the other attendees are able to accomplish in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Time to go do the work now…
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