What I Learned at the World Domination Summit


The World Domination Summit lobby. Photo credit: Armosa Studios

This weekend, I travelled down to Portland, Oregon for the second ever World Domination Summit.  This event has always been a bit of a challenge to try and describe.  “The World what!?” most people ask.  Here we go again…  It’s basically a convention for people who are into micro-entrepreneurship, life-hacking, and travel.  It is a crap-ton of fun, and I got to meet a lot of people and learn some cool stuff.

This post is a bit different from my regular ones.  I want to tell you about what I learned this weekend– and also why I don’t think I’ll be going back next year.


Lessons from WDS

When you can’t be vulnerable, joy is foreboding.  The opening talk at the conference was on vulnerability.  Yes, we had to sing at our neighbor and dance in the aisle.  But it wasn’t kindergarten all over again.  The speaker was Brene Brown– and in case there’s any confusion, I mean the Brene Brown with one of the most watched TED Talks of all time.  And yup, she had some serious bombs to drop on us.

This one in particular stuck with me.  It’s about vulnerability and joy.

Vulnerability is tough.  Being yourself when everyone else expects something different?  That’s not as glamorous as it seems.  It’s all sweaty palms and worrying what people will think.  But the alternative is having your soul crushed and being false to yourself, so it’s worthwhile.

And beyond that, it’s necessary.  Life is uncertain.  You aren’t in charge here.  That’s vulnerability right there.  And tell me, how does it strike you knowing tomorrow you could be dodgin’ the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?  I don’t know, but if it doesn’t strike you so well, Brene Brown wants you to get over it.  If you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t live.

Does that make sense?  If you can’t be vulnerable, every peak is just something you could fall off of.  Regression to the mean and gravity are teaming up to ruin your day.  And Brene talked about just that.  She was on a long-overdue date night with her husband, walking back from dinner through the park on a summer night, when visions of masked muggers stabbing her husband hijacked her head.  “What if you were stabbed!” she cried as they reached their house, suddenly afraid.  It was a beautiful and romantic evening until then.  The moment just seemed too perfect, so her clamoring brain had to ruin it before something bad really happened.  “There, there.  I’ll let you down easy”, it says.

But that’s no good.  Part of life is knowing you can and will fall off of peaks.  Heck, there’s nowhere else to go.  But the fall won’t kill you, and the weather’s not as bad as you think.  Until you believe this with everything you’ve got, you’ll never even be able to appreciate the view.


It is impossibly important to internalize completely this fact: you cannot do everything.  There is not enough time, not enough money, not enough life to be lived– not if you want to do everything.  If you feel cheated because you can’t do everything, you need to sit the next few plays out and rethink your life.  Your happiness depends on you realizing that many perfectly good opportunities will be missed.  And in an age of ballooning opportunities of every sort, this is only going to be more important.

I didn’t learn this from a speaker at the conference.  I didn’t learn it from any of the awesome people I met.  Nope– the speakers talked about other things and the friends I made mostly did feel personally offended by the 24-hour day.  I learned this lesson from someone who has probably passed up as many opportunities as the 1000 attendees combined, and I know this because he’s also managed to organize this conference, publish two books, start writing a third, write a handful of info products and a top-rated blog, and visit the vast majority of the countries on Earth– all before the age of 35.

If Chris Guillebeau hadn’t organized and emceed the conference, I don’t think I would’ve noticed him there.  He was relaxed the whole time, quiet, not one of those stately bearing types.  And yet if there was anyone in that theater who knew how to let go of opportunities without letting them drag him down, it was him.

A few friends and I discussed that anyways.  We thought it was interesting.


Toothpaste is peddled with far more sophistication than all the world’s life-saving causes.  Scott Harrison was a nightclub promoter in NYC for ten years.  That’s a decade of making unfathomable amounts of money from bottle service for celebrities and their hanger-ons, and then recycling it within days on hard drugs and more booze.  Like the only other current-or-former nightclub promoter I know, Scott found Jesus, and Scott found Jesus hard.  It was during Harrison’s subsequent tithe year on a floating hospital off the coast of Africa that he decided the rest of his life would be different.

It all started with water.

Poverty.  Health.  Development.  It all started with water.  The most basic human need was the foundation of everything, and as long as uncountable millions of human mouths had only pond-water, leach-water, scum-water, or dung-water to quench their thirst, Scott was not going to sit still about it.

He returned to NYC after his year and did the only thing he knew how to do– throw a party.  Twenty bucks a head; $15,000 raised for his new charity, called charity:water.  He dug some wells and then– because all his friends complained about how they didn’t trust non-profits to do good things with their money– he sent them all the GPS coordinates and photos of the wells built.

Scott saw a lot of things wrong with how people do non-profits– transparency, design, fundraising.  He decided to do a few small things differently– giving 100% of donations to programs (0% of public donations go to overhead), tracking every dime and reporting to donors, and building a brand worthy of the digital age.  I mean, the man hired a creative director for his charity.

It turns out it was a pretty good investment.  Look.

We live in an interesting time that so many of our non-profit causes are decades out of touch with their stakeholders.  The Obama campaign was a revolution in American political campaigns.  Books were written about its design, and not because they were trite words that someone knew would sell, but because the design of a thing is how it interacts with its stakeholders.  Obama was different; charity:water is different.

What good cause would you change?  What area could you think of in a different light?  This is the time.  What’s stopping you?


Opening night. Photo credit: Armosa Studios.


Why I don’t plan on going back.  Gosh, this is going to be the hardest part of this post to articulate.  Chris poked a bit of fun at some who were complaining about some detail of the summit before introducing one of the speakers.  “Life will go on!” he assured them in front of everyone.  And call me self-conscious, but I don’t want to be caught dead complaining about the summit.  Let me phrase this as best I can.

See, I get in these moods.  Some days, I want nothing more than to sit down with a book and read about awesome things.  To get inspired.  To recharge.  To live someone else’s glory in my head and hope and dream I maybe will have something like that down the road.

But other days, that just seems so impotent.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love books.  I read as much as just about anyone I know.  But if I had to pick between reading and doing, or hearing about and doing, or reflecting on and doing, I would pick the latter, three for three.  That problem is that the former is so tempting for me.  It’s my personal poison to sit around all day and dream and never do.

The World Domination Summit is surfeited with talk.  Apart from a few people that jumped off a bridge, swam across the Willamette, or had a good go at beating their shyness meeting strangers, I’ve never been in such a dense concentration of people talking about doing cool things and living life to the fullest and such without much doing going on.  By Saturday afternoon, I heard multiple people say “This is great, but I really just need to sit back and process it all”.  No kidding!  The weekend is 72 hours of non-stop learning, reflection, inspiration, and connecting.  And none of those things are meant be done in 72-hour sprints.

I guess it just boils down to the format of it all.  It’s not my style.  I believe the conference is a wonderful (unmatched?) forum for networking and finding people who have similar interests and ambitions, and that’s fine.  But it just doesn’t sit well with me to sit in chairs for 3 days and receive non-stop inspiration and wisdom.  If you chopped up my heart right now, you’d have the foie gras of feel good.

It’s weird, right?  I guess for writing a blog about life goals, I have surprisingly little patience for talking about all of these things.  And it’s not like I had a bad time– I had a great time, and met many cool people, and did learn lots of valuable things.  But can I justify what I gave up to get there?  I will have to think on it.  Maybe next year I’ll return to Portland, but just not for the conference talks.

If anyone can convince me I’m off my rocker here, please.  I’d like to believe WDS was unreservedly wonderful and I got my money’s worth.  But I left Portland a little less excited than when I arrived.  If I had more serious doubts or fears that my life was a mess and a meltdown and I was not worthy of the very goals I set (and even if I were, I couldn’t muster the energy and cunning to achieve them!), then I could imagine this being a life-changing weekend.  But I’m not there, and, in all likelihood, it wasn’t one.


  1. July 12, 2012

    I love your distilling of the importance of vulnerability here: “If you can’t be vulnerable, every peak is just something you could fall off of.” Brene’s talk definitely captured me (all of us?), and I really like that way of summarizing that thought.

  2. July 12, 2012

    Ironically, despite the fact that it was difficult for you to write, the section about “Why I don’t plan on going back” is the most well-written and interesting part of the article. I totally know what you mean about the conflict between reading and doing. People often ask me, “What do you like to do?” And I always say, “I like to read,” and then feel like a boring jerk. In these moments, I tell myself that reading is active: a constant, silent discussion between writer and reader that in turn leads to action and change based on what is learned. But that’s pretty weak when I could be out there installing wells in Africa or something.


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