Lessons From World Domination Summit 2016: The Strangest Conference I’ve Ever Attended

Vincent Ng
7 min readDec 19, 2016


My heart was pounding. This was going to be the furthest I have ever been from home but deep down it felt like the right thing to do. 3 clicks later, a message popped up on my laptop: “You’re Registered for WDS Connect… Awesome!”

And that was it. I was on my way to Portland for the World Domination Summit.

Photo by Chris Guillebeau


It started in early January this year. After a 3 year business partnership broke down, I found myself feeling burnt out and deeply sad, watching endless episodes of House of Cards and The Office.

After watching Julia Roberts (or well, Elizabeth Gilbert) find herself in a tropical paradise in Eat, Pray, Love, I decided to travel over the summer to “find myself” too, whatever that meant.

Then, this summit appeared out of nowhere. When I watched this trailer video, I felt drawn to its mission, people and values. My search had ended.

“A world gathering of remarkable people. Every summer we meet in Portland, Oregon for a weeklong experience focused on community, adventure, and service.”

That was the description on its website. On 4th August 2016, I boarded a United Airlines flight to Portland via San Francisco, embarking on a journey of self discovery and hope.

In this article, I want to share 2 of the most important lessons I learnt from my experiences at WDS. May they be as insightful for you as they were for me.

Understanding Our Relationship With Money

Do you love money?

What was your gut reaction to that question? My first answer to that question was NO! The topic of money has always brought up a lot of anxiety and stress for me.

Growing up in a middle class family, I’ve been very fortunate to never experience the hunger pangs of poverty but deep down, I’ve always felt a strong, overwhelming pressure to make money and I didn’t know why.

On a cool Friday evening, I joined 20 other people as we gathered under a tree in a park near Portland State University, to explore our relationship with money. Our hosts Sarah and Bob guided us through a set of questions:

Why do you respond the way you do to the topic of money?

How does money make you feel?

Why do you feel that way?

What does money symbolize to you?

I realized that I associated money to power, independence and masculinity. To me, having money meant being able to take care of myself and my family. This formed a large part of my identity as a man.

After my last business partnership broke down, I found myself in debt and with no source of income. I went back to school to finish my degree and had to rely on my parents for financial support.

My dependence made me feel deeply ashamed. I realized that my lack of money affected my self worth as a man. I was afraid to go on dates with women I was attracted to, believing that I wasn’t good enough for them.

Another thought that popped up was how the idea of making money seemed extremely exhausting to me. After pouring my energy and time into starting multiple failed business ventures over the last 8 years, my mind had believed that generating money was exhausting and I didn’t have the ability to do it.

Yet I still felt an overwhelming pressure to make money and my inability to do so at the moment caused me to feel a ton of anxiety and guilt. Being aware of these associations felt really liberating for me.

Unless you adopt a freegan lifestyle, it’s likely that our associations with money will play a big role in the career choices we make and the levels of happiness and fulfillment we enjoy.

Take some time to answer those questions and perhaps you may uncover some hidden beliefs that may be enlightening.

Building Genuine Connections With Self Love

When I was 13 and in my first year of secondary school, I was bullied for an entire year by my classmates. Ever since, I believed I wasn’t a people’s person. I’d get very nervous when meeting with strangers for the first time, desperate for them to like me.

As an entrepreneur, building my network was key to finding more clients and partners so I had to go for networking events and sales meetings to meet more people.

I spent many hours studying books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, articles on “How to Talk to Anyone” and videos on conversation hacks, hoping to find the secrets of building rapport with any stranger.

Yet I always felt unnatural and extremely uncomfortable. I envied my friends who were social butterflies. They were naturally funny, made witty comments and likeable. They made it look so easy.

As the socially awkward guy who tried too hard, I yearned to be like them. As an introvert, what was particularly intriguing for me were the introverts who were well liked and seemed to connect with people easily. They spoke about being “authentic” — whatever that meant.

Photo by Chris Guillebeau

At WDS, a strange thing happened. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t anymore.

I learnt to love and accept my fears, insecurities and interestingly, that helped me to have some really genuine and authentic conversations with like minded souls who were strangers just moments before.

It takes a lot of courage to explore our fears, insecurities, beliefs and prejudices because if we dig deeper, we may not like what we find. I certainly didn’t — there were parts of me that wished ill on other people.

I feel that is real authenticity — to have the courage to be completely honest with ourselves and with it, we become completely vulnerable. In that space, we become aware and accept ourselves for all our traits and thoughts, whether they are good or bad.

I feel this is the essence that self help articles which advocate the idea of “Not Giving a F***” are trying to get at. It is not a passive, self indulgent action where we ignore the impact of our actions on people around us. Rather, it is an active commitment to submit ourselves to be vulnerable to the judgment of others and yet, loving ourselves for both our strengths and flaws.

When we are vulnerable, our courage gives others permission to do the same. When we can love and accept ourselves for who we truly are, we can suspend our judgments towards others and love them for who they are — human beings who have the same objective in life as us: to be happy. It seems like in this space, deep emotional connections are forged.

That is the foundation of empathy and I believe if we actively cultivate this skill of being loving and compassionate towards others, even our enemies, happiness will follow.

Connecting with some amazing human souls at WDS

They even had a sensitive persons lounge, where anyone feeling low on social energy could come in and lie on a hammock. I learnt to accept myself for being an introvert — it was okay! In fact, as introverts, empathy is our strongest weapon because we are naturally sensitive.

How to Win Friends and Influence People and all those books, articles and videos I tried to watch to learn how to get people to like me and want to work with me… they won’t work until I like and accept myself for who I am.

I have always wondered why at age 24, I haven’t actually had a real relationship yet. Everyone says I am a nice guy but why? Then I realized — In all my dates, I was always trying to be someone that I thought the girl would like. Confident, witty and passionate.

Deep down, I was terrified that I would eventually be “found out”. What if she got to know the real me and didn’t like what she saw? What if she didn’t like the Vincent who was unmotivated, unattractive and emotional?

So subconsciously without realizing it, I never let anyone in emotionally. We could have an intellectual and spiritual connection but we would never progress to be more than friends.

How could I love someone else if I couldn’t even love myself? And that was a HUGE revelation for me.

The other day someone asked me: “If you could go back to the first year of university, what is the one thing you wish you knew?”

If I could go back to 2013 — to my first year of university, I wish that I had learnt the power of loving myself unconditionally. In this, I believe we can find a path to lasting happiness.



Vincent Ng

Lifelong learner curious about psychology, happiness and empathy.