Last weekend, I had the privilege and honor of attending the first World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon. WDS is Chris Guillebeau’s brainchild and together with a team of dedicated volunteers, he achieved what I can only describe as an epic coming together of hearts and minds of change agents and explorers from around the world.

I could sense the energy in the city from the time we hopped on the Max train at the airport. We were speaking with a local resident about World Domination and good Pinot Noir as the train wound through beautiful northwest neighborhoods, and a young lady across from me overheard us and said she was attending WDS as well.  The connection with Jessica was one of the strongest that I had the entire weekend, and we got a chance to share stories and ideas often over the next few days, to the point that we were both getting goosebumps while we talked about the potential to collaborate on education initiatives around the Spirit of the Gulf Coast documentary project.

Make Your Own WorldLocals in Portland were quick to warn us that the weather we enjoyed throughout the weekend was not exactly ‘normal’ for the area.  We had blue skies with white puffy clouds for our skydiving experience that Joel Runyon organized on Friday, where 42 of the 500 attendees decided to start the weekend off by jumping out of a plane with a backdrop of snow covered mountains and lush, green fields for as long as the eye could see. The jump itself was incredible, and definitely upped the bar on skydiving experiences for me.

Friday evening, while I was standing in the registration line, I had a chance to strike up several conversations with people in the line.  It was the kind of crowd that most everyone felt comfortable with talking to each other without feeling like there had to be an introduction.  This vibe carried through the entire weekend, and I met countless individuals by just speaking randomly with people on the street or inside the museum where the conference itself was held.

Brandon and JessicaThe thing that stands out to me more than anything else about the weekend is the positive, uplifting energy that everyone brought to the experience.

Keynote speakers and attendees alike seemed to be totally at ease with sharing from their hearts, and genuinely engaging with those who wanted to share stories during breaks.  When people asked me why I came, I said that I wanted to be a part of a group of people that are all vibrating on the same frequency, and despite their differences in terms of life stages or motivations, we all seemed to be there to bring about positive changes in the world.

Even walking down the street during lunch or between sessions seemed to be a treat in and of itself.  Portland’s food cart scene was a favorite for many of the attendees, myself included, and of course the local brew pubs were popular spots in the evenings (special thanks to Sean Ogle for being the defacto tour guide and evening activity planner). Between the WDS attendees that seemed to be riding a wave of incredible energy all weekend and the locals that consistently greeted passersby with smiling faces, the city really gave us the most warm welcome I could have ever imagined.

Skydiving Crew at WDSThinking back to some of the standouts from the presentations themselves, there were so many great quotes that I found myself jotting notes down as quick as I could while trying to remain as present as possible in the moment.  Pam Slim kicked off the first morning and quickly set the tone for the weekend by reminding us that ‘Our power is on loan from mother earth.’ I was delighted to see a message of connectedness and respect for the earth featured in the opening presentation.

Leo Babauta blew me away with his insight about living without goals. Many people in the room were very much goal-oriented, so it was interesting to hear the reactions afterward. I related to his point 100%, as this has been a big part of my own journey over the last 2 years. Leo’s quote that is seared in my mind is “There’s no end to looking to the future but ignoring the present.” I couldn’t agree more, and I was happy to hear him articulate his rationale for this advice so clearly.

Danielle LaPorte seemed to be peering into my soul when she remarked that “openness is our greatest human resource.” Throughout the weekend, I opened up to so many people and went deep with my sharing.  I felt like I was part of a big extended family and everyone was warm, inviting and supportive during those personal sharing moments. One of my favorite moments was in the park across from the museum where Rachel and I enjoyed our fresh fruit cup and yogurt surrounded by beautiful trees, lush green grass, and a cool breeze that felt calm and soothing on my skin while going deep and connecting on a soul level

After lunch, Mark Silver’s breakout session was my favorite of the ones I attended, primarily because his heart-centered teachings resonate with me and I can relate to him on a deeper, spiritual level that feels more like a brotherhood than a friendship. He invited everyone to remember that ‘the human heart is made to serve.’ It felt to me like there was a service-oriented mindset at the event overall, and Mark’s presence throughout the weekend was like a beacon of loving energy in every room he entered.

Saturday afternoon for the final 2 sessions, I had the opportunity to sit directly in front of the stage for 2 of the most powerful presentations I’ve seen in my life. First was from Jodi Ettenberg, who shared her journey of going to law school, working at a NYC law firm, and letting it all go for a chance to travel the world and explore her connection with people from all walks of life across the globe. The entire room let out a huge gasp when a few minutes into her talk, she admitted to the crowd that she had never spoken publicly before. Jodi inspired me beyond words, and my smile was so apparent that she remarked to me afterward that she appreciated the loving energy from ‘the guy smiling in the front row.’ There was nothing to do but send loving energy her way – she truly shared from deep in her heart and reminded us all how connected we are with our fellow humans around the world.

The final presentation on Saturday by Karen Walrond was equally inspiring.  She shared with us her battle with depression and her journey of discovering small wonders in the world by acknowledging one thing each day to be thankful for. The standout quote from her was “we age because we quit looking for the wonderful.” During Karen’s talk, I was reminded of how simple things are worth celebrating in life, and expressing gratitude for the little joys in life can be a powerful source of inspiration when times get tough.

After the first day’s sessions came to a close, I had the opportunity to tour the city on the Pedal Portland bike tour, where Nathan Agin and I had an incredible conversation that went on for hours, broken up only by the tour stops, photo opps, and moments of wonder and awe as we took in the beauty of Portland at night. Portland is quite beautiful day or night, but dusk along the river is really hard to beat.

Mondo BeyondoNot to be outdone, Sunday’s lineup of speakers came on strong from the very first breath. Despite Neil Pasricha having an emergency that prevented him from giving the opening talk, we were able to watch a TEDx talk of his that was inspiring in its own right. This was followed by some quick shares by members of the WDS Action Team who sprang to action to fill the slot previously held for Neil.  The team did a fantastic job of improvising at the last minute and if they had not said anything to the crowd, I might not have known that it wasn’t going exactly as originally planned. Excellent job, guys!

What followed was one of the most brilliant interactive presentations I’ve ever seen at a live event.  Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher from Mondo Beyondo not only told their stories to the crowd, but had us all pair up and share the story of our favorite memory with each other while the other person sketched out words that represented the emotions and feelings that came up for them.  Afterward, we compared notes and eventually identified a single word that represented us at our happiest moments. We then wrote the word somewhere on our bodies so that we could reference it for the rest of the day and share with others.  My word was ‘journey,’ which I thought was quite appropriate given the personal journey that I’ve been on over these past couple of years. Jen and Andrea received a standing ovation for their presentation, which clearly was a highlight of everyone’s weekend and brought us together in ways that we probably couldn’t have anticipated when we bought our tickets 9 months ago.

John T Unger took the stage by storm and shared so openly and honestly about his life experiences as a graphic designer, and ultimately an artist that you couldn’t help but feel connected with him.  He shared about failures along with successes, and showed the room how the biggest failures can be teaching moments that help us become stronger individuals with a true sense of what is important in life. John was an excellent story teller, and I got the feeling that he could have had the whole room captivated for hours if time had allowed.

Chris Guillebeau GratitudeAfter some helpful breakout sessions and a fun, surprise visit by DJ Prashant and the Bollywood dancers, Jonathan Fields closed out the conference with his inspiring talk on Uncertainty, which is also the title of his upcoming book.  Jonathan remarked how there are some people in the world that ‘take bold consistent action in the face of uncertainty,’ and encouraged everyone to follow their own path to making a difference in the world, working through the fears that come up along the way. His underlying message of maintaining mindfulness as we go through life was a much appreciated closing theme for a weekend that was packed with insights and inspiration from a multitude of talented individuals with vastly different backgrounds.

Wrapping up, Chris came up on stage to thank the speakers and the action team for the work that went into making the event such a huge success.  After he spoke briefly, he was acknowledged and thanked by the WDS team for having the vision and determination for producing this ground-breaking event.  Everyone in the room was on their feet in a rousing round of applause that brought tears to my eyes as I stood and marveled at the outpouring of gratitude and respect for the man that brought us all together.

The joy in my heart overflowed with excitement for this unique individual that has been so instrumental in bringing happiness and inspiration to the lives of countless people around the world.

When I reflect back on the weekend’s events, I’m reminded that Pam started things off with a spiritual, connected message, and Jonathan finished it off with the same. I can’t think of two better bookends for an experience as remarkable as the World Domination Summit.

WDS SummiteersMy final day in Portland started off at 7am, when a group of WDS attendees met up for a hike about an hour and a half West of Portland. Tyler Tervooren organized the day trip out to Saddleback Mountain, which was a great climb through lush green forest mixed with rocky outcrops and stunning views over steep high cliffs. The clouds hung low as we began our ascent, but burned off to reveal the beauty of the Pacific Ocean off in the distance by the time we had to hike back out. 10 of us enjoyed the experience together, forming even stronger bonds that will no doubt keep us close years down the line as we grow and share with each other.

I had a chance to walk around for a few hours Monday evening before I had to leave for the airport to catch the red eye back to Atlanta. Those few hours provided me with a much-needed break and time to reflect quietly before departing the city that will become my new home soon. I met up with a group of people for dinner for one more round of incredible conversations before I left. Walking out of the restaurant and back to the hotel was one of the most memorable moments of the trip. The sun setting over Portland was truly magnificent, with hues of orange, purple, and red all painting an idyllic scene in the sky over the river where sail boats had anchored just offshore.  It felt like I was floating amongst the clouds as I briskly walked through the streets and along the river.  People smiled on the sidewalks as if they knew what I was feeling inside.  Almost as if the energy of the World Domination Summit had been etched permanently into the collective memory of the city.

It’s hard to fully express the immense gratitude I feel for this experience. As Chris is fond of mentioning, the true value of the conference wasn’t necessarily in the planned activities or presentations, but instead lies within the connections between the people who showed up. 

I can’t think of anything more perfectly orchestrated than this experience, in that it brought people from 6 continents together for a truly epic journey of sharing and discovery that I have never seen, heard, or experienced before.

Portland SunsetThe follow-up messages on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, etc. have reinforced just how powerful the weekend was for  many people that were there. I found myself getting overwhelmed with emotion earlier as the messages poured in on the #WDS hashtag on Twitter.

I don’t think I’m alone is saying that things are different now.  I’m not the same person I was when I got on the plane last Thursday.  I feel more connected and inspired than at any point in my life, and I can’t say thank you enough for everyone who was there. I met so many incredible people and connected with several in ‘real life’ after chatting virtually for months and even years in some cases.

I watched people come alive this past weekend, and felt myself bursting with life and love as well.  Nothing I have ever experienced has come close.

From the bottom of my heart, I want to express eternal gratitude to each and every person who showed up and made the first World Domination Summit an unforgettable experience.

I’ll end with a Howard Thurman quote that was shared by the Mondo Beyondo ladies on Sunday:

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Today, I have truly come alive.  How about you?


Photos: Make Your Own World, Goosebumps, Mondo Beyondo Crowd, and Chris Guillebeau Stage by Armosa Studios

All other photos by Brandon