How a conference I thought irrelevant became a compass for my future

Inside the Circus

I wasn’t going to Ouishare Fest 2016, a self-proclaimed gathering for “creative leaders, entrepreneurs, movement builders, purpose-driven organizations and communities from across the globe to explore the edges of the economy, society and ourselves.

The thought hadn’t entered my mind. Other members of my Enspiral tribe were going. Some were stepping across European borders to attend, while others were flying all the way from New Zealand and Australia. My husband was going.

Everyone was encouraging me to go.

Why, I wondered. What benefit would I get from going and what could I offer in return? Besides, I had an almost seven-year-old in tow and no babysitter? C’est impossible. Case closed.

Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t.

Recently my husband sparked my interest in a startup idea we’ve named Base. This made the conference a little more relevant. Then Ouishare offered me a discount ticket for myself and a “meals only” ticket for my son, if we wanted to bring him along. Barriers were removed and purpose found. Full of encouragement from my peers, and in a slight daze, I purchased the two tickets and began reading through the schedule. Before I knew it, I was signing up for several talks and workshops that only weeks before I had thought irrelevant.

I was going to learn about blockchains and Smart Contracts, decentralizing life; that one went hand-in-hand with our new family goal of becoming digital nomads. These were just the first day’s talks. I still had a workshop on Collaborative Leadership to attend and one to learn about The Platform Design Tool (whatever that was). There was more on blockchains and the DAO, how to become an E-Estonian and being a feminist in the Arab world, to name but a few of the available talks. I ticked the boxes and committed my time and brain space.

We arrived at Cabaret Savage on the first day, collected our tickets and bumbled our way through the front doors of a crowded circus tent. It was magical. Rich and velvety goodness with mirrored booths in a semicircle around the edges of a stage. Two large display screens, suspended from the ceiling of the big top, made sure that every attendee had a good view of the main stage and the keynote speakers. People crowded into booths, or the chairs lined up in front of the stage, or huddled in crowded masses on the edges around the central bar. All of them eager to learn something new. To be enlightened, uplifted and educated.

Those first two days are a bit of a smoke filled, headache pounding, fatigue inducing blur. There was an overwhelming abundance of information going in and petite space or time to process any of it. As an Australian/Kiwi I found the smoke filled air to be nauseating. I was completely exhausted before the end of the first day and really had to drag myself out of bed on the second.

I have learned, since talking to veterans of Ouishare, that you need to pick your topics carefully. Allow yourself space between talks to process the information before you dive back in rather than trying to go to everything. It’s hard to escape that feeling of not wanting to miss out, but if you overschedule you end up burning out and learning nothing. You also have to find time to embrace fresh air and consume copious amounts of bottled water.

A moment of calm

By the afternoon on the second day, I began to realize fully the point of me going to the conference. The talks were fantastic and I learned a great deal, but that, for me, wasn’t what was important. It was the people who attended that were important. The speakers I managed to chat with during down times over a crepe. It was the connections I could make for other people in my network.

Ouishare was full of amazing individuals and organisations who all possess a drive to do something that matters, a core principle we have at Enspiral. This principle was one I sometimes felt was limited to our tribe of 300 or so members in the Enspiral network, but that’s because I was living an isolated life, in a tiny set of islands, in the middle of the South Pacific.

By the third day, I was ready for Ouishare actually to begin. I had gotten comfortable tweeting about what I was experiencing, I had made connections, started to build an international network of people who gave a shit about the state of the world and were actively trying to do something about it.

With my eyes and ears opened I was ready to take in more. I was feeling comfortable in the space within and around Cabaret Savage; I was now in my comfort zone, my son was happily making his own connections and chatting about Blockchains like he knew what he was talking about.

Unfortunately, it was the last day of Ouishare, (unless you spoke fluent French). I had to wrap up friendships hastily with promises to visit places that had once seemed exotic and unreachable. I collected and exchanged business cards with vows to send follow up emails. And I may have signed up to speak at Ouishare South America in November!

As often happens when one steps outside their comfort zone, I was embraced by a new reality. I learned new things and met some amazing people doing fantastic work with a desire to make a better planet. I reminded myself that my small world bubble needed expanding more often. We, as a people, learn tolerance and acceptance only when we embrace the cultures and experiences of others.

I will return to Ouishare, not only in Europe but perhaps in North and South America, and even one day in the Southern Hemisphere. It was a fantastic, if initially overwhelming experience that needs repeating.

You can also listen to Craig and I chat about Enspiral and our new nomadic/worldschooling adventures on the Ouishare Radio.