Thank God for our physical bodies, the beauty that is travel, and the combination of both to ensure our souls hear the words they need.
That's what happened this month at World Domination Summit 2013, an event I knew nothing about when tickets were purchased months ago, and didn't fully understand even when I got there. Entrepreneurs of all ages, people acting on big dreams, people with inactive big dreams, a strong in-heavy-rotation social media component, independently-organized meet-ups, a group-organized world record throwdown, contests, crazy good speakers, an 80's dance party. What?
Allowing palpably-excited but overly-generalized online descriptions of WDS -- "awesome!" "incredible!" "life-changing! -- to influence my decision about going felt risky and halfway stupid. But WDS was in Portland, Oregon, a place where I've wanted to rectify having very few memories despite my birthplace being in its general periphery. And, this uber green-in-many-ways city is surrounded by some of the most gorgeous mountains and forests and sand and ocean ever, all within driving distance. I hadn't seen/heard/felt that type of exhilaration and wonder in a long while. Okay!
It was the second day. The theater was packed with nearly 3000 participants, .002% of whom I actually knew. The words that broke us all open, uniting us in the most unexpected way, was channeled through the unmistakeable voice of a woman on stage who appeared only-slightly nervous, decidedly polished, and definitely WOW-this-is-what-3000-people-looks-like shocked. Presentations prior to this had inspired us to go after our dreams, to never give up when the going gets tough, to make more mistakes, to hold onto Your Thing with the intent to change the world. Go! And keep going! We've got your back, cheering for you the whole Bollywood-chest-bumping-high-fiving way!
But this was different. Bated breath.
She began talking about the Unknown. Admitting that she Did Not Know.
The speaker was Tess Vigeland, a host, reporter, producer, and editor for public radio for most of her life. The gig that propelled her into fame was Marketplace / Marketplace Money, the same gig from which she semi-recently jumped ship with no net. Despite experiencing both small and large opportunities during the many-month emotional roller-coaster that followed, she still had no idea what the hell she was doing next.
Here, in written word, is what she said. Hearing and watching this in person was undeniably powerful. Her delivery was so personal, raw and engaging that I was convinced she had made up the entire thing on the fly. She admitted it was a risk to say, in front of a few thousand entrepreneurial seemingly-confident game changers, that she didn't have any answers or advice, that she didn't feel anywhere near awesome, that a blank slate was absolutely terrifying instead of liberating.
Backstage, right before her talk. (JD Roth)
We hung on her every word. The energy was subdued, but not heavy. She was serious, but playfully honest, even poking fun at her own despair by mock-folding into the fetal position we deny we know well. Hearing her story was painful, because it mirrors ours. Hearing her story was also intriguingly hopeful, because it mirrors ours.
Missing from this transcript are her jokes about what not to say when you recognize a celebrity, specifically a radio celebrity -- be kind and attempt to veil your dismay about how they don't look like what you imagined, okay? Missing also is her surprise around how her tub full of kittens analogy landed, and the near double-take she had about it herself.
This transcript also doesn't explain what happened when she walked into the audience to ask what people do, if they like it, and what they would do if they quit what they were doing. In a both horrible and hilarious display of ironic coincidence, the first woman was "The Queen of Reinvention!", who helps others find their new and true path and absolutely loves her work. The second person was a financial coach who liberates and aligns others with their dreams, but based on what Tess shared onstage about the real truth of money advice, he was now going in a more fulfilling I'll-help-you-with-your-money direction.
Okay, THAT didn't go according to plan. Oh, ha ha, there it is again. Sigh.
Walking back to a rented apartment, silent and fighting back tears, I marveled at her ability to so eloquently and honestly put into words how it feels to be in That Void. To be a living mirror of what happens when we involuntarily find ourselves in an endless era of question marks, where we'd rather do anything but stay. So many people I know and work with are in this exact place.
It's one thing to have the courage to be vulnerable and bare-bones truthful onstage. But to be able to stand in that space without apology, without needing or knowing answers, without seeking any immediate solution, to rhetorically invite us all to be in that same space, to collectively pause in the discomfort as we hold onto believing each second is one closer to the supposed resolution of our Unknown, and then finally end the entire soul-opening experience on a high note -- magical. Among other things, it was a stunning example of how accepting the truth of What Is, rather than dwelling on What Isn't, can help 3000 people (and counting) feel less alone.
Just yesterday, only a few weeks after WDS concluded, Tess signed a book deal with a Random House publisher who happened to be in the audience that day she vulnerably and courageously bared her soul.
YES to NEXT and all its maddeningly beautiful Unknowns.
P.S. Here is a taste of her next adventure, in which you can take part.
P.P.S. She's started a blog -- this first post is about what happened after this speech.
Another imperfect post, accompanied by:
Concrete Blonde -- Everybody Knows
Say Yes to Your YES
The Thing Behind the Thing
Say Yes to Your YES
The Thing Behind the Thing
Trista Hill is a professional harpist and fine artist, creativity coach, educator in the arts, and Board-Certified Music Therapist. What her formal degrees in music and art gave her pale in comparsion to the gifts she's experienced in working with creatives just like you. Visit her website — tristahill.com — for links to her blog, performances, and other fantastical creative offerings.