I nearly cancelled heading to Portland for this year’s World Domination Summit, the annual gathering of unconventional nomads and digital entrepreneurs, founded by break-out-of-the-box writer and travel hacker Chris Gillebeau. I had a spot reserved, I booked the airline ticket, and at the eleventh hour, I had considered backing out.
I didn’t fully know what to expect and life is busy. I recently got engaged to the girl of my dreams. But I’m broke as a joke, I’m in between being in between jobs and everything seems to be happening at the Same. Damn. Time. Including this conference that was on the other side of the country. As more than one “life-coach” at WDS observed after talking to me, I was at a precipice. I am. Something needs to change, and I’m afraid that something is me. So I considered jumping ship.
But I had to go. I knew that much. I had a free ticket. That is, someone else invested her money in me to attend. Someone else sacrificed so I could be there. Someone else knew that I needed to be there. Little did I know, however, just how much I needed to be at the World Domination Summit. This is my journey there.
In prior years, I had seen a promo video on YouTube of WDS, the unconventional conference, and thought it looked like a mildly interesting gathering of granola-eating, hacky-sack-kicking nomads. But I wasn’t really sure what it was, so I quickly forgot about it. Not long after that, I felt my own nomadic stirrings to wander, or at least to relocate. My city had nothing left for me anymore, so in 2011 I packed a duffle bag, sold my car, and moved across the country to Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Anna Ray, a friend of mine from college days, went to WDS last year. At the time, Anna was living in Dubai and I had no idea she went to the summit until I got a text from her on a Sunday afternoon.
“I’m listening to Scott Harrison of charity: water! You need to be here!”
This was a sort of unwelcome, unexpected proclamation as it reminded me of my youthful days of optimism, and here I was reading her jubilant text to the person she remembered me as. And I was jealous, and instantly frustrated. And I read that text on my break from that afternoon’s shift at Starbucks. If ever a dissonant chord rang through my bones, it did so then as I remembered who I used to be and compared it to the rut in which I currently sat.
You see, Anna was one of those rare friends with whom it was easy to talk of big ideas and world-changing ambitions one usually keeps locked away from public ridicule. We had the occasional late night talk while other roommates played indie guitar and we’d all watch the day’s last light rail trams rattle past our political-stickered dorm window.
It wasn’t like we were the very best of friends. We had some great bonding times, sure, including one hell of a road trip to NYC, which was random and sensational. But I had only seen her once in the past couple of years and our contact was intermittent at best. Although it seems that such is often the case with friends like Anna. The kind of friend where time doesn’t seem to matter, and the reunions are always joyous. In retrospect I suppose that’s the best kind of friend one could have.
Moreover, our friendship is purely based in the greatness we see in each other, without any romantic or convoluted strings attached. Like I said, friends like Anna are rare. And she believed in me, effortlessly it seemed.
She got excited about my pie-in-the-sky dreams for personal greatness and global change. She was an early adopter to my large-scale ideas and she believed in me, independent of what I thought of myself. She believed in me every few months when she’d check in and I was an airport shuttle driver, a Starbucks barista, a seafood restaurant server, and a 28-year-old college student. Anna saw my seed of greatness, even as I had stopped watering and nurturing it.
In our conversations I can admit to incessantly talking about one organization in particular, charity: water. Anna knew first hand I was a huge fan of the digital-savvy, well-digging and well-meaning humanitarian organization since I happened upon them in their first year at the Sundance Film Festival.
“I’m listening to Scott Harrison, [founder] of charity: water right now! Joseph! You just need to be here to see that your ideas have a place in this world and that you need to be doing them.”
OK, where is “here?” I wondered. I had no idea things were about to come full circle
Two days later I got my answer in another text:
“You’re in. The ticket is in your name. So whatever happens, get your ass to the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon next summer.”
That was 12 months ago.
Now I’m reeling from my own WDS weekend, trying to process everything I experienced in Portland. And with the clarity of being on this end of the experience, I see the spark of inspiration Anna saw. She was someone who was in a position to make a difference in the life of someone she believed in, and luckily, she was the kind of person to act on it. Last weekend it felt like I just met 3,000 more of ‘that kind’ of person, and I can gratefully say I am the better for it.
I heard from Anna today in an email after I wrote her to say I was forever indebted to her for this opportunity and that in a very direct way, she was my catalyst for personal change. Her reply came swiftly:
“Yes, you are deeply indebted to me. The only payment I accept is the realization of your brilliant ideas and schemes.”
All I can say for those schemes now is that they are underway. Some have more traction than others, but all are geared at the principles of WDS: Community, Adventure, and Service. I treat Anna’s faith in me as an investment in my next world-changing idea. And with the tools and experience from WDS, I’m going to make good on that investment.
Of that, Anna, you can be sure.