Photo by Erin Conger

Epicurrence : A Catalyst for Change

It’s been a month since Epicurrence — The Montues and I can’t stop thinking about the experience. I’ve put together my thoughts, experiences, and takeaways from this amazing event.

On Change

Even before Epicurrence started, I started changing. This was the first year I didn’t have any “resolutions”. It felt weird, but was somehow liberating. As a result, this year has already exceeded every expectation I could’ve had.

Epicurrence had always felt like a far-fetched dream to me, but this time I refused to accept that. When the 3rd Epicurrence was announced, I applied and tried my hardest to get an invite. I put myself out there in a way that usually scares me. This motivation and drive to get into Epicurrence started bleeding into other parts of my life.

I started saying yes to new experiences (especially when I had no clue what I was doing) and putting myself out there more. I was no longer afraid of the unknown. In fact, I now look for opportunities to embrace the unknown.

A lot of that change has been around my artwork. Art is a huge part of my life and is quite personal. I’ve always had a hard time sharing my artwork and getting out of my comfort zone, and that’s prevented me from getting better. Some changes I’ve already made this year: I stopped planning and perfecting every piece, and experimented more. I started sharing more process work, even the parts I didn’t like. I said yes to my first art commission, even though I’d never digitized my artwork before. I taught a Watercolour Workshop. I painted in public for the first time (in the airport on the way to Epicurrence actually).

Besides my artwork, I made a few other changes in other areas of my life. I took up aerial silks. It was initially meant to just be a fun way to exercise, but ended up being an exciting way to push my body physically. I started getting more involved with the local design community and meeting new creatives in the area.

All this to say that even if I hadn’t gone to Epicurrence, I still would have changed for the better. And that, to me, is the power of Epicurrence.

On Meeting People

Right away I started meeting new people. On my way to Northstar, I shared an Uber with Justin Munn and JR Jensen and we had an awesome ride!

That first day I met Dann Petty to help him move the swag bags downstairs. Dann’s probably been the biggest influence for me as a designer. I found his work as I was starting my design career and I’ve looked up to him ever since. Meeting him right away was unreal, and somehow made it easier for me to talk to other designers I look up to.

Like, Marc Hemeon! I was waiting to get my skis fitted, and there was that initial I-know-who-you-are-but-you-don’t-know-me situation. Marc just turned to me, said “hi”, and we got to chatting.

All this before the official event started. Almost immediately I started feeling comfortable going up to strangers and starting a conversation. That’s not to say that I wasn’t sometimes intimidated or shy, but I was able to overcome that feeling and connect with people.

I met some incredible people over the 3 days, including some of my design heroes, and had really deep, interesting conversations with everyone. I also had people come up to me after speaking on a panel, asking me questions and continuing the discussion.

And no matter how many people I met, there were still new faces everywhere. Epicurrence — The Montues had 300 attendees (in the words of Dann, “That’s nuts!”) and even though I wanted to, I didn’t get a chance to meet everyone during the event. Even though Epicurrence is over, I’m still meeting new people. I spent a few days in SF and was running into new Epicurrence people at different events. In fact, I just chatted with someone new today — Hey Nick Looijmans 👋.

On Trust

One of the reasons Epicurrence works is because people were in a safe, comfortable space where they could open up and share their experiences. Trust is a crucial part of that experience. We were introduced to the concept of “Trust Tree” the first night. Essentially what happens (and is said) at Epicurrence, stays at Epicurrence.

The amount I’ve shared and the amount of love and support I experienced as a result was overwhelming. And the amount of encouragement as well — just wow!

People weren’t afraid to be genuine and put themselves out there. I had such real, deep discussions with so many people. What I found while speaking to people is that even though we all have our own diverse journeys and experiences, we all shared some of the same struggles.

The stories that were shared, and the deep, personal experiences, were like nothing I’ve experienced. All this with 300 strangers; 300 people that became a close community of friends over 3 days.

On Speaking Up

What a lot of people don’t know is that I’m a very shy person. It may not seem that way because I hide it quite well, but I always feel very uncomfortable and out of place in a big crowd, especially when it comes to speaking.

I’d seen posts about other Epicurrence events and one of the top things everyone mentions is that everyone gets involved in the discussions. I promised myself that if I had something to say, or had a question, that I would get up and speak.

The first night I got up and joined in on a discussion, then asked a question. This was huge for me. I’ve never spoken in front of that many people before, and public speaking makes me anxious. I never thought I would have something to contribute, but I did. And immediately after, I had people come up to me saying they appreciated my question.

For me, that was my goal accomplished — to participate in a discussion and not shy away from getting up and speaking in front of everyone. But there was more; much more.

On Being Vulnerable

I got to chatting with Helena Price about my experience and journey, and she invited me to speak on the diversity panel that night. I initially said yes, but over the course of the day I got so nervous that I nearly backed out. Nearly.

The idea of going up in front of 300 people and talking about personal experiences was terrifying for me. I rarely share things with friends I’ve known for years, let along people I may or may not have met in one day.

Even though every fiber in my body was saying “Don’t do it!” I stuck with it. And I’m so glad I went up there. Yes, I was nervous. Yes, my voice was shaking. Yes, I felt totally out of place. But I was able to contribute to the discussion. After a few minutes on stage, I got comfortable and shared my journey and experience with everyone in the room.

And I continued sharing when we got questions from the audience. I had some valuable thoughts and answers and contributed them without much hesitation.

On Scaring Myself (a little)

The first day I went out on the slopes, I was with a small group of people who were a lot more experienced than me. We decided to go up the Zephyr Lift, which, it turns out, takes you to the top of the mountain. I was totally down and initially wasn’t afraid, until about halfway down the mountain. There, the terrain got very steep and my legs started getting very tired (thank you Taylor Griffith for helping me get down the rest of the way). But I made it down one piece.

The next day I did (almost) the same thing, but on a snowboard instead.

The crew! Left to right, it’s me, Katie Conforti, Rica Rosario, Kevin Hawkins, and Graham Young.

On Takeaways

I am honoured, humbled, and blessed, to have been a part of Epicurrence. This is an experience that has changed me and one that I will always cherish. Yes, I am gushing, but anything short of that would be insincere.

I came out looking to connect with other designers, make friends, learn from them, and (hopefully) find some mentors. What I found was a family of 300 that I’ll always be connected to.

Dann, there are only so many ways for me to say thank you, and none of them are enough. This event is a reflection of you. Dude, you’re the best.

My mind is still processing everything that happened at The Montues, and I think this will be the norm for a while. But I would not have it any other way. In a word, this experience was EPIC.

On What’s Next

Since Epicurrence, I’ve been saying yes to more experiences that would normally scare me and I’ve been putting myself out there more. There are also some exciting personal changes I’m making. I can’t say much just yet, but hopefully soon I’ll be able to share these exciting changes!

With these changes there are a lot of unknowns and for the first time I’m not afraid of what the future holds. I’m really excited to go out into the void and let life happen.