“Don’t Hire People with Mortgages” and Other Life Lessons.

Insights from the DO Lectures USA, a conference where you network with yourself.

“Check yo self before you wreck yourself.”

It’s highly unlikely that hip hop impresario Ice Cube attends marketing conferences or inspires tech startups. However, I propose that value creation starts with personal inquiry.

You create a strong architecture around your own belief system and then bake those principles into the foundation of your organization. Getting your bearings straight and setting your internal compass ensures that you can focus on a desired result… well… what Ice Cube said.

Now, if you’re an entrepreneur, you've spent a great deal of time and resources building products, creating websites, writing copy, and building your online brand. But what exactly fuels this machine? What filters do you use for making decisions and how best do you define the trajectory of your organization? Books? TED Talks? Where’s the mass dose of digital Chicken Soup for the Soul?

Better yet, consider this. Next time you’re standing at a conference (or wedding) nursing your complimentary adult beverage, brace yourself for the one question that nearly always triggers a deep breath before answering.

“So…what do you do?”

Don’t get me wrong. I like meeting new people and learning about whatever it is they do, or sell. What I don’t like is the how the question is asked. It’s not that I don’t care what you do — but rather, what I care about is how you do it and why.

Enter the DO Lectures.

Describing The DO as just a conference or retreat would be like trying to describe a gourmet meal, a sunset, or the cute girl you locked eyes with on the Downtown 6 train (note to readers, it’s the subway line in NYC where I thought I ‘met’ my wife several times). I liken it to that crazy scene in Mosquito Coast when Harrison Ford’s character makes ice and then tries to show it to native people deep in the Amazon rainforest. How do you describe ice to people who cannot fathom what frozen water is?

Yes. The DO has speakers, food, a schedule, and you can network.

Approximately 13 speakers (more or less) speak from the “Hop Barn” (it’s a real barn!) over three days (complete with video, images, and storytelling). The breaks might include how to make wine or sourdough bread, ultimate frisbee, writing, music creation, drawing, yoga, food prep for dinner, or possibly learning letterpress. One thing is for sure, no one is checking emails. The biggest smartphone activity is people instagramming every moment of this full sensory experience. But after attending The DO in Hopland CA, my inquiry shifted because the similarities to any other conference end the moment you arrive, right down to Campovida, the amazing setting that fuels the entire experience.

You aren’t lectured at — you connect with.

You don’t listen to lectures (despite the name) — you listen to stories.

DO Lectures is for artists, entrepreneurs, change-makers, astronauts, corporate-types, anarchists, scientists, writers, lawyers…ya know, humans. Human beings and humans doing. Humans putting themselves out in the world and constantly seeking inspiration and beauty.

And when it’s time to eat — it’s like getting dropped into a scene from “Big Night.”

“Food is love” is the DO mantra and as you eat, you feel yourself slow down to ensure the moment lasts as long as possible. Yes, this all happens at a “conference.”

So, what motivates people to “check themselves”?

Is it values? Creativity? Or even fear?

What DO WE DO and why? More importantly, what does making bread, drinking local wine, and sleeping in teepees have to do with building a business?

Shut up your head.

We’re not talking about the search for meaning of self or even exploration of your life’s purpose. If that’s your M.O., follow Julia Allison’s example and go to Burning Man or attend ceremonies in Peru where you explore the alternative reality of time and space. (I can personally recommend both — but that’s another article for another time.)

Instead, this is about being bold.

Quieting your cleverness.

Being still.

And at the risk of losing all my readers — opening your heart so you can connect with a deep current of humanity that exists with a tight knit group of free-thinkers. Ice Cube likely will never speak at DO Lectures (which is too bad), but if you want to be punched in the face with a fistful of humanity, bring your notepad to The DO Lectures, and buckle in.

Jamie Drake, singer songwriter, and teacher (of how to do the first two).

Bear with me; I’ll explain.

Trust breeds magic.

Curating a collection of speakers to inspire a group of humans to go forth and create greatness reminds me of that obscure Martin Mull quotation: “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Show… don’t tell. DO is all about the “show” and is a distillation of experience in its purest form.

The curation rests on the shoulders of the team at The DO Lectures USA and is led by Duke Stump along with his co-host and fellow curator Anna Beuselinck. Duke will tell you firsthand that DO, at its essence, is an exercise in being present.

Stump (below left, speaking to a DO attendee) explains. “The DO Lectures is a unique experience that is hard to put into words. It is a multi-sensorial journey that has different meaning for just about everyone who attends. The DO exists to give us pause, presence and reflection. This is important, because in our culture of chaos and frantic behavior, the essence and spirit of DO enables us to see the world, and possibility from a new and provocative lens.”

Case and point. In the first ten minutes of DO, Duke introduced Chef Eduardo Garcia whom I now refer to as TMSGOE (The Most Stoked Guy On Earth). Straight up, Eduardo earns this title simply by living his life. He came through the area recently and I drove 40 miles to Ojai, California just so my kids could meet him, eat his food, and consume his crazy positive energy. Watch this remarkable (and frankly shocking) video about Eduardo, and remind yourself what “persistence pays off” really means.

Here are a few soundbites and lessons learned from DO:

David Sanchez. Photo by www.jessiewebster.com

“Compost your failures and fertilize your dreams” was shared by Los Angeles inmate turned L.A. street poet David Sanchez, now an organic gardener.

Chipper Bro Bell, made in California.

Find “where fear and trust meet” came from local surfer and globe-trotting freestyle Frisbee Champion (now a Patagonia’s brand ambassador) Chipper Bro Bell.

Craft, precision, and “artistic practice” was served up in a mass dose by Adele Stafford, an incredibly talented textile designer. She shined a light on parity and integrity via the creative process. (Two beers into that discussion there was no declared winner.)

Complex marketing and product strategy was simplified by “conceived in a tent,” Rich Hill’s premise in founding TICLA, a camping company designed to provide the shortest distance to get you to sleep under the stars.

Being “present is more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity” proposed Maria Popova, a virtual maestro on Twitter, who distilled combinatorial creativity.

Maria Popova and Elle Luna.

Elle Luna ripped the rug out by suggesting we examine the two paths of “should” and “must.” Elle challenged us to examine how the world wants you to show up versus who you are at a gut level.

Tara Lemmey dropped knowledge in perfect sound bites: “Operate from your values. Quote only yourself. Show up and say yes. Listen between the notes.” Keep going? My favorite of Tara’s quote became the title of this article — “Don’t hire people with mortgages” — because it reinforced my personal ethos of “Take the risk, be original.”

The art of storytelling is not dead. Ben Masters, and his chill-laid-back-I’m-from-Texas-and-I-ride-horses thing, kept this city slicker’s attention for 20 minutes and (frankly) I don’t really dig horses.

HOPE is “Helping Other People Endure” and was the lightning bolt delivered by James Alexander. Like the DO Lectures itself, his talk was quietly powerful and emotionally arresting. I cannot (and will not) do his story justice.

Wait, what happened? Did I really attend a conference where a 20-minute presentation rattled me to the core of my very being?

When you submit this article to your boss asking for a budget to attend DO in the fall of 2015, what the hell do you write in the space where it says “business reason to attend?”

Is there an ROI on connecting with your soul? If you show up, stay present, and say YES to everything, what happens?

Curiosity and reflection do not fit nicely on a business trip budget form.

We all love technology and webinars are great (Tara Lemmey will remind you that “learning is not a terminal activity”), but connection with other humans is felt energetically and sleeping in a teepee under a sky full of California stars is not a downloadable pdf.

The final speaker and my only hope for some old-school east coast sarcasm was big shot Hollywood comedy writer, director, and producer Pete Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, Something About Mary, Shallow Hal, Me Myself and Irene, Hall Pass). I assumed he’d flip the script on this Hopland, California lovefest. Hell, I’ve seen all of his films, and this is a guy who bragged that he and his brother Bobby were “the anti-Cohens” where you need not “think” after watching any of their films. I expected some good jokes (check), great storytelling (check again), and an ego-driven tale of Hollywood “grind it out” punctuated with some beer soaked story of excess.

Instead, Peter shared several personal stories including how he was ‘reborn’ when he was 24 after spending his formative years as a world class a-hole (my interpretation of Peter’s story), how he tried to forge a path through the international shipping business (fail), and how an encounter with a UMass writing professor changed his entire path in life. All entrepreneurs have dealt with fear in some form, but Peter spun his story differently. When you hole up in a cabin and your first novel spills out of you with no feedback as to how effective or talented you are as a writer, fear chirps at you from deep within to tell you to give up or do something that feels socially safe.

“Fear, in the morning, is your best friend. Fear weeds people out.”

Entrepreneurs, writers, creators, HUMANS… you feel me on this?!

There is no judgement around fear. It defines part of our human experience.

Feel it, all of it, and know that this kind of shared experience is the real magic of DO. It doesn’t kill fear, it merely celebrates the people who ignore it (or plowe through it). The “square pegs in the round holes” are the very people standing on stage telling you, as Pete Farrelly shared, that “the universe is so pleased you are doing it (pursuing your dream), it throws everything at you.”

Pete Farrelly and James Alexander took two completely different paths in life but converged at the DO. Both delivered hard hitting and emotional stories. (Pete’s wife Melinda Farrelly on far right).

No Jet Ski required.

DO simply creates the conditions for the remarkable to happen and your job is to recognize it and connect with it. Laird Hamilton once described that when surfing big waves the surfer needs to match the energy of the wave, and thus, tow-in surfing (via jet-ski) was born. You need something to get you and your board up to the speed of the wave because you cannot do it on your own. That’s The DO. The energy YOU get from it isn’t hyperkinetic because it’s completely love-based. And as whack-a-doodle as it sounds, the thread of humanity that makes The DO special is the fact that the experience of the journey feels shared. Food is shared. Ideas are shared. It’s the tow-in surfing conference for love and you ride that monster wave as long as you can.

There I said it and I can’t take the words back.

The feeling of love you get is the gift, and you don’t need a jet ski to tap into the energy. Just be present.

At the conclusion of the conference, I said my goodbyes to my new friends and connections, and I definitely struggled with how to process everything that had happened. The love-in was over. I had 337 miles of freeway to consider, and reality, also called Monday, loomed. My new friend Kimberly from Vermont, tossed me a DO tee shirt (swag is swag) and wished me farewell.

“Don’t let the real world win John,” Kimberly said. “Fight it.” (Well, she might have said another f- word, but she was right either way.)

As we turned onto the freeway, I actually felt free.

I took my DO education to heart.

We all are seeking authenticity in whatever form it takes. It might be a perfect meal or jumping out of an airplane, but we are programmed to give meaning and substance to our humanity.

DO brings a connecting narrative to the experience, and I would say for an entrepreneur it’s imperative you identify that narrative and get clean and clear on it so when competition, funding, or TBD obstacles stand in your way, you can stand on the shoulders of giants. Feel the emotion in your story by listening to others tell theirs. Feel your obstacles be minimized by the victories of others.

And if you don’t go for any of these reasons (hippie alert, beware of next sentence), go to feel the love these DO speakers have for their own narrative and how it changed every aspect of their being.

Pete ended DO by explaining that “chasing your dream is all about love. That’s it. That’s all there is.”

He’s right, of course. But it doesn’t rhyme with “check yourself.”

All photos courtesy of www.JessieWebster.com