The World Doesn’t Need a Domination Summit, The World Needs a Compassionate Summit
Flashback to 2013. It was my first introduction–in person–to the World Domination Summit fringes, an event I’d been following since before its inception. The Art of Non-Conformity, a popular blog by Chris Guillebeau was just getting its humble start, and I was on board. Travel, adventure, and service.
At the time World Domination Summit first started, I was still living abroad in Manila, Philippines. I had just finished my year-long career sabbatical, which looked like volunteering in slum schools in India, living in a Buddhist monastery for six months, and walking 400 miles of Palawan island. Starting a service-based freelance business while living abroad in a developing country was tough for me, and after the sabbatical, business growth happened at a snail’s pace. I watched vicariously as my home stomping grounds of Portland, Oregon brought together a group of people I admired online from afar, but just out of arm’s reach.
Living in a poor village in mild slum conditions with zero savings meant I had to battle poverty mindset with poverty literally at my back door, along with some serious deep-rooted money stories around lack, being a Filipina minority, and outsourcing (wherein I felt the color of my skin + my proximity to the third world as a Westernized Asian-American meant that I was a commodity only meant for $5/hour “like the locals”).
When I accidentally took a $400/month office job (potential client projects in the Philippines would often sneakily lead to employment instead) because I didn’t think I could make $400 on my own, I knew that ever affording a coveted $500+ World Domination Summit ticket would be out of my reach for a long time.
Nevertheless, there I was, back in Portland visiting my parents for the summer, as they had afforded me a flight back to the US every year–my ”intentional poverty” lifestyle still coming from a place of privilege–to see me. It was July. Around the time World Domination Summit was happening back then. I took the plunge and “unconferenced”, which means I went to as many meet-ups as I could without actually attending the mainstage event.
I became a pro at it. I crashed what felt like 10 meet-ups in a day, and had a full schedule of meeting like-minded people. I was floored. Living on an island had made me feel isolated, and seeing my online community for the first time “IRL” gave me a contact buzz so high that the effects of WDS, even without attending the actual conference, hit me so strongly that the high lasted for months. It eventually led me to a making a pivot in my life — the decision to end a 3 year relationship simply because I could no longer see my life in Manila as a long-term option.
I didn’t want to settle down, least of all in a city that quite frankly pissed me off. I’m way too much of an introvert, and maybe even misanthropic, to live in a congested metropolis bursting with people where the disparities of rich and poor were just too much to bear. I was left feeling on the edge, cranky, angry, and curt. Even living in a Chinese Buddhist temple for six months–admittedly a skyscraper building in the heart of Manila–and meditating for 30 minutes each day wasn’t enough for me to cultivate “inner peace” within the frantic, chaotic, city life.
Yet unconferencing World Domination Summit was the first time I had ever acknowledged that I LIKE meeting new people, and connecting. Maybe I could even like networking! Manila just wasn’t my tribe. WDS was the first time I changed my script. Rewrote my story. Told myself I was no longer the quiet, shy girl that didn’t know how to talk to people, but a social butterfly.
In short, WDS changed my life, as it’s done for countless other people, and I wasn’t even an alumni! It inspired me to let go of my slum dwellings and dive into a life of year long slow travel, where I could finally get a taste of the digital nomad lifestyle I had craved.
As the years rolled on, I would try getting into the local WDS chapter of meet-ups and gatherings and realized the “cult” of WDS was alive and well in Portlandia. Even the chapter leader would jokingly liken WDS to a cult. Being of like mind to WDS didn’t seem to be enough. The price of entry was still a price to the actual conference. It seemed like you weren’t truly accepted until you were fully indoctrinated as an actual attendee.
What’s a non-conformist to do? Rack up more of my debt to buy a ticket to the conference, of course.
I finally gave myself the luxury in 2015 as an attendee.
I’ve been calling myself a non-conformist since high school. My friends and I even made a shirt — P.U.N.C.S – People’s Utopian Non-Conformist Society. I made a shitty logo in blue and orange, and we iron-on transferred the design. We wore our matching shirts when we’d hang out in college or to get pizza (plain cheese – no sauce, like true non-conformists!) thinking we were badass.
Bloggier Than Thou
Yet World Domination Summit has managed to gather a community of non-conformists–people who think and live outside the box…or at least would like to–into conformity. Herding them in once a year to Portland, Oregon with their VIP access tickets.
You’ll know it’s WDS week when the local downtown scene is swamped with out-of-town attendees and “blogging” repeatedly surfaces in the vernacular in snippets of conversation outside of cafes and breweries.
As an observer, it feels a little ridiculous, grandiose, and off-putting to hear people talk about blogging like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. That air of arrogance and ego turns me off.
As a first-time attendee in 2015, after going through the motions of WDS vicariously for years, and unconferencing in 2013 and 2014, the actual “main stage” was a little disappointing. Disappointing because my emotional landscapes were already changing. Disappointing because without fully articulating it, I was already outgrowing WDS.
I had been back stateside for a full year, and re-acclimating to American culture after 4 years living and traveling abroad. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be here indefinitely, as I had sworn at one point that I would never live in the US ever again.
It was a reverse-culture shock to make a re-entry, one that wasn’t my conscious choosing, since the death of my father rerouted my plan to live in Vietnam, and my emergency one-way ticket back to Portland to attend his funeral left me strapped for cash, yet again. I was so used to bouncing bank accounts as a strapped-for-cash freelancer/aspiring entrepreneur that it no longer phased me.
I am still seeing the effects of my re-entry even today, after two years.
In every business, there is a client journey that you can take your potential clients on. Some call it a sales funnel. Others call it client mapping. I like to call it storytelling.
In 2015, my journey with WDS was coming full-circle. I enjoyed the hustle and bustle from the inside for the first time, but the notorious lack of sleep that attendees pride themselves in as just par for the course, was too much for me–and my body–to bear. By the end of it, I got sick. A small price to pay for some, but a serious red flag for a highly sensitive person like me. I feared admitting that WDS wasn’t the best thing ever. But I also knew drinking Kool-Aid, as a true non-conformist, was never my jam. Maybe that’s why the thought of “intentional community” sounds good to me on the surface, but too uniform and Utopian to truly appeal. I need variety of dissent and challenging views to learn and thrive. In truth, I need normality and status-quo, to balance myself in the alternative.
Usually WDS happens to someone on the beginning of their journey. Some seasoned WDSers are further along, and just enjoy being around the culture of likeminds. Other seasoned WDSers haven’t made the over popularized leap from their cushy jobs and are still talking about doing it.
Year after year I see most people still haven’t reached clarity; that elusive sweet spot. As easy as it is to diagram, it’s extremely hard to truly find that viable business. Let alone the cash to get to six figures.
Even though I’m somewhere in between the sweet spot and six figures I think I’ve graduated WDS as being my thing. By the end of the conference after party, I was giving Zero Fucks and just wanted to hole up in a cocoon. I have no FOMO for any WDS event, meet-up or conference, and I’m completely over attending a 2nd year, or even unconferencing, which was successfully and masterfully monetized this year (and therefore discouraged, making it much harder to do than the Wild Wild West free-for-all of 2013).
I have a good friend who walked 1,000 miles. He was inspired by my 400 mile walking journey, and we connected on the proverbial road. He was the first person to turn me on to the words and intention of World Domination Summit. Even if the core values were travel, adventure and service, there was something about domination that felt off. Some people joke that it sounds like a conference for Dominatrix and sex. But dominate isn’t something I ultimately want to do, in the bedroom, or the proverbial boardroom.
Even though I had walked 400 miles, and even though he had walked 1,000, there was something inauthentic about domination that didn’t feel like a fit for my ideal community. As a wordsmith and writer, I know that what you say has a huge impact on what you do, and as I began to acclimate to U.S. life, I began to realize it was this unrest I felt with perpetual travel that made me back out on being an expat.
This unrest is what led me to reject the digital nomad lifestyle as an indefinite path. At some point, traveling the world by yourself and meeting a bunch of expat dudes starts to feel pointless. It’s the first time I’ve tried to articulate it until now. Buzzwords like living an “Epic” life, and being “awesome” started to turn me off. I’ve traveled the world, lived abroad, and even walked 400 miles, often squatting in abandoned buildings or huts to sleep for the night, but I have never considered myself an adventurer. Not in an adrenaline seeking, heart pumping, extreme sporting, or physical feats sort of way.
Like so many people, I used to keep a “Bucket List”. I used to want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I used to want to do a lot of “crazy” things. But if the pursuit of life defying adventure all in the name of “being epic” is your thing, as is the ethos for many World Domination Summit attendees, then you are operating from your ego, and not your heart.
The world doesn’t need more ego and domination, the world needs more heart and compassion.
Travel, adventure, and “service” may be the pillars of WDS but the service component is lost on me, and the majority of WDS goers probably fall short, including myself.
It’s so easy to attach yourself to an ideal, and blindly follow the herd. The tagline “Travel, adventure, service” sounds good, but what are you doing to REALLY cultivate travel, adventure, and service in your everyday life? If you’re not, what are you doing differently to get closer to it? How can you build a business from your heart, and not from your ego? Is it even possible?
I’ve been a Chris G. fan for a long time. I’ve geeked out when he personally said hi to me at a local event, and said he used to read my blog regularly. Because I have a lot of friends into WDS culture, and I’ve met a lot of good people through it, including my current team member and dozens of friends and colleagues, I hesitate to dissent. But it’s dissent that fuels progress.
As I move closer to my business’ heart, and sink into my passions every day, I’ve come to realize that it’s just my way. The more I get into a group, the more I get out of it. Groups and huge meetups just aren’t my thing. I prefer the intimacy of one-on-one connection.
I prefer to lead my business with compassion, not domination. With heart, not ego. I no longer desire to scale mountains or skydive in Jordan just for the sake of it. Just to prove that I’m adventurous, or living an epic life.
I’m ready to live my life, my adventure, my way. I’m ready to lead my business with compassion, and collaboration. I’m ready to stop turning my wheels from years of inaction, and start tuning in to my heart.
What are you ready to make a stand for? If you’re unsure, I created a free workbook to help you craft your manifesto and make a stance so you can set yourself apart from the crowd. You can get it here.
Digital Storytelling Strategist/Designer