I loved Portland when I visited this July. I felt as if I could easily live there. The ten days I spent, which included attending the awesome WDS conference, helped me to reflect on the lifestyle I’m living, and my feelings around it. I (re)learned some lessons which I share here with you – as well as some surprising revelations about myself which I’ll be taking back with me to Chiang Mai.
I’ve been to the States twice this year (to my own surprise as much as anyone’s). Both trips were holidays, not for sun and sand, but driven by attending live education and self-development events. In April I went to Florida where I went to a two day workshop on writing and blogging (though I also went to Miami and Universal Studios), and in July, a scant few months later, to Portland for the WDS2015 conference and a writing workshop with Alex Franzen.
I do get strange looks when I tell people I plan holidays around attending courses. But I’ve done it before – many years ago I went to Skyros (which I recommend!) in Greece, and I’ve been to plenty of yoga retreats. I think I’m just someone who enjoys learning new things and being productive even while I’m relaxing.
Of course it also means I have to keep an eye on myself that I don’t over do it – I’ll admit that the week after Portland I was NOT very productive. But hey, that’s just my physical body. Emotionally and mentally I’m stoked.
I’d decided, for both financial reasons and in order to meet new people, I’d share a hotel room with a stranger, and I asked on social media for takers. After a few hit and misses, I connected with a really interesting woman who’s a TV and romance writer, and was attending the conference in order to build a more diverse portfolio of work. Since that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing (albeit with different activities), I felt we’d have lots to talk about.
But it definitely pushed my comfort zone. You’ll know if you read this regularly, I’m a private person. Now, ok, I can see that probably sounds a bit crazy given I have three blogs and you’re reading my personal thoughts right now, but what I mean is, I value my space. So sharing with a stranger? Not easy (I’d say for the person I’m sharing with as much as me!). But I was really lucky with my roomie, and we had a great time. I built in a few ‘restorative spaces’ where I knew I’d be on my own, and feel like I’ve made a great friend.
The conference itself was also a stretch for me just in terms of size and scale. WDS had just under 3000 attendees this year, which is a LOT of people for an introvert to handle. Intense. More attention was paid to introverts than at most conferences however – I loved the nap room with its cocoon-like hammocks, and the massage room with its gentle therapists. I took advantage of both!
I landed, went to bed, and went directly to Sean Ogle’s Location Rebel workshop. I was really excited about this, as I’ve been a member of his community for a few years now – I’ve made many friends there, both online and in person, and love the mindset of those who really go for it it in the group.
Sean was a great speaker – engaging and warm, but also practical and down to earth. One of the things that drew me to him and his community was the ‘you have to work for it’ mentality – it’s not (just 😉 ) about unicorns and fairies (though I’m not against them), but also about putting the work in, trading off activities and getting things done.
I felt really at home during this session, and it was a trigger for the thinking I did about my two ‘epiphanies’ described below. I loved meeting other LRs in person, and it was great to feel a little less alone in my weird ‘career choices’ than I sometimes do when I’m doing my consulting work.
I also met some amazing people throughout the few days. Amongst others, I met Karen at Untamed Writing and Steve at The Code of Extraordinary Change (these are both great sites, go take a look – after you’ve read this, natch!) and I haven’t laughed so much in a long while. I spend a lot of time alone in Chiang Mai (something I’m going to remedy – see my epiphanies for more on this), and it was good to be reminded that there are others with a wicked and usually inappropriate sense of humour out there.
(On this topic, WDS inspired me to write this: Who’s in Your Corner? 7 Ways to Connect with Kindred Spirits if you’re wondering how to find more peeps who you gel with!)
4. Relax and Let Yourself Be Inspired
I have a cynical space inside me. It fights with a relentless perseverance and what I think is hope. I want this latter to be optimism, but think it would be a stretch to call it that. But hope – that’s still worth nurturing.
I think it partly comes from being someone who is, despite her best efforts, easily touched by the emotions of others. I keep up my boundaries – possibly walls – to avoid being swamped by a flood of emotion, or being swept away in others’ feelings. Every now and then, I let those walls down a little, and I let something touch my deeper soul, instead of just my brain.
I let my walls down for the speakers at the conference, who were inspiring and vulnerable in equal quantity. I won’t go on and on and about the detail here – you can find plenty of that here and here – but just about what touched me most.
There was a great deal of vulnerability in the speakers. Lewis Howes shared a very personal story and encouraged men to be more vulnerable, and for women to support them in this. Asha Dornfest gave a practical talk (which I thought was a bit under appreciated), with three truths including the need to be consistent, for example “Your self-confidence grows every time you keep a promise to yourself.”
The photographer Jeremy Cowart gave a very moving presentation of his fantastic photographs and talked about not being held back by your own (or others’) beliefs about what is and isn’t possible. His story is incredibly inspiring.
My favourite, the person who I thought was just pitch-perfect, and an absolute masterclass in public speaking – his visuals, his timing, his jokes and his content – was Jon Acuff. He talked about the need to be true to your voice – asking what you as a child would think of you as an adult.
I could go on about all the speakers, who I thought did a great job, but you get the idea now. I was inspired, moved and impressed by their courage. If you’re interested, this is an excellent round up which includes all the speakers and the key takeaways.
WDS’s values are Community, Adventure and Service and these really run through the conference like the writing in a stick of rock. They are embodied in the conference’s founder, Chris Gillbeau, a humble ‘everyman’ who’s amazing – he’s the author of the popular blog The Art of Non-Conformity, the book The Happiness of Pursuit, and the founder and lead on the conference itself.
The way he came across was wholly in alignment with these values, as were all the ‘little’ elements of the conference itself – from including stories from attendees along with the big names, to the world record breaking attempt of ‘Biggest Breakfast in Bed’ which not only broke a world record in Pioneer Sqare, but donated the beds and bedding to local community organisations in need.
Two Big Personal Epiphanies
1. I’m Already Living an Awesome Life
There were plenty of people at WDS who are still in the ‘working out their passion’ phase, or trying to find a way to do something other than the 9-5 grind.
But I’ve done that already. I stumbled into this lifestyle accidentally, but it really seems to be working for me.
At the moment my consulting practice supports financially my other two ‘businesses’ – the personal development website and the fiction – and gives me the time to invest in them. As with any new business, it will take time to build them up, but my hope is that eventually, the three will balance out, and I will be able to spread my time equally across them all – and perhaps do less travelling for work, and more for fun, than I do at the moment.
My fiction has started with a series, and the ‘received wisdom’ seems to be that if you want to see solid income with self-publishing, you need at least 4-5 books. I have a goal of writing this number in the next three years. With my personal development website, I’ve got a great base of readers now, and it’s time for me to actually create some of the courses and other products I have in my head and engage with my audience even more.
I realised at the conference that I’m already living a life I love. I still have to keep an eye on how I balance my time and energy – I’m back in the UK at the moment and it’s really hard to work at this as much as I would like given I also want to visit family and friends. But there’s always so much I want to do!
2. I Have Commitment Issues (!)
Following on from this realisation is the fact that I’ve not really committed to Chiang Mai this year, despite being there for 8 months this time. I have had in my mind ‘I might leave at any minute’ and lived accordingly – I haven’t engaged with others as much. Friends have come and gone, and I haven’t reached out to make many new ones. This hit me in the face when I met a guy who’d been in Chiang Mai a lot less time than me, and yet seemed to have many more friends in the city.
Since I returned in winter 2014 I haven’t joined a new yoga class, or gone back consistently to the meditation group I love. Of course, not being in one country for more than two weeks this year (yes, actually), has impacted on that, but I could do more. I’ve really taken the planning not to plan to an extremity that hasn’t served me.
So, then, whilst continuing to be open and flexible should circumstances change, I’m committing to Chiang Mai as my base at least until Spring 2016. I head back to Thailand in September, so that should give me another 6-8 months in the city. And I’m going to push myself out of my introvert shell and go to some events – there are plenty of interesting digital nomads and travellers in the city that I’d love to meet.