This past weekend, I attended the World Domination Summit (WDS) in Portland, which attracts 3,000 creative people who are concerned with answering the question: “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” They are guided by three values:
Speaking personally, I’m really into the first two, as well as the third when it’s tied to travel and experiencing new cultures. (Some of the attendees are really into physical adventure.)
The weekend was full of insightful and passionate talks by accomplished people from around the world. Here are three takeaways I was left with.
1. You don’t need to have it all figured out to take the first step.
Some creative people get tripped up and never start things because they can’t envision how they’ll tackle a seemingly insurmountable project. And they can get paralyzed by everything they don’t know. Some people want to feel safe and take action that reduces risk or feels comfortable.
With apologies to my partner, this describes his default behavior. Before tackling a project, he wants to know the process and procedure that will be followed and do everything in the correct manner. He doesn’t take the first step unless he’s researched the other steps and considered advice from experts and others with experience. He is thorough. (His day job involves scheduling and shipping logistics for hundreds of products, so he performs his job at a superior level, as you can imagine.)
I am at the other extreme. I’ll take the first step without knowing anything about steps 2, 6, and 10, then realize around step 10 that I’ve wasted a lot of time, money, or energy along the way. Sometimes this leads to failure, sometimes not.
Neither process is necessarily better (or wrong)—much depends on the situation.
However, as speaker Michael Hyatt pointed out, important things get accomplished in the discomfort zone. Attempting new things can involve hesitation and confusion—which inhibits getting started in the first place. Scott Berkun said the hidden secret that all creators have is that they have to do the work while feeling a little unsure—but doing it anyway.
What if: You outline all the steps you need to take, without knowing everything at the outset, and you just focus on step 1. Then you focus on step 2, and so on. (This is a theme echoed in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, as well as in Getting Things Done.) Break things down into their smallest components, and take the first step.
Besides, once you embark on a project, things change. You grow. The unexpected occurs. And you have to reframe and redirect along the way. You build in flexibility as needed to allow for what couldn’t be anticipated.
2. Write down or speak your goals to make them real.
For those who are familiar with The Secret or just the “power of positive thinking,” this advice can be construed in that manner. But that’s not the intention here.
Still, I sometimes feel conflicted when this advice is offered, depending on the context. Here are the instances when I think it is most helpful.
1. It can help clarify what you want or define what you want to do. Writing something down privately forces clarity, and seeing it on paper (or screen) is not the same as rolling it over in your head. Speaker Elise Blaha Cripe gave all attendees stickers that said, “I ____________.” It is meant to be filled in with what you do or want to be known for.
2. Writing down specific goals can help you take them more seriously and take steps to achieve them—both conscious and unconsciously. Your perspective shifts and you see opportunities to further your goal, and what is distracting from the goal. It gives you a framework for making better choices.
3. Sharing your goals publicly can bring a community to your aid. If people know what you want to achieve, they can offer resources, ideas, and assistance. If you keep quiet or don’t clearly know what you want, that obviously makes it tougher for people to be helpful. Many goals can be out of your reach without the help of others.
These themes were echoed strongly by Jadah Sellner and Elise Blaha Cripe.
Here’s when I think this approach can backfire.
Accountability. I don’t really believe in accountability partners, though many at this event did. (There were even meetups to help you find an accountability partner.) I believe in partnering with people to accomplish things, as well as critique groups, mentors, and communities. But sometimes discussing and expressing our goals publicly can be detrimental. It can de-motivate you. Read Derek Sivers’ compelling argument on this.
Magical thinking. I don’t believe things happen just because you tell the universe that’s what you want.
3. The outer shapes the inner.
If you want to become a better person, then you pretend to be a better person—because if you pretend long enough, it happens. Speaker A.J. Jacobs said, “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than to think your way into a new way of acting.”
Yes, this is the old cliche, which works: “Fake it till you make it.”
Similarly, the way you hold your body affects your mind. If you have a Charlie Brown pose (head down, shoulders slumped), you’ll feel more sad or depressed. If you hold your head high and keep your shoulders back, it increases your confidence and lowers stress. This point was made especially clear by speaker Dee Williams, who discussed her changes in attitude and outlook by simply pretending to wear a superhero cape.
If I had to list a fourth insight, it would be from Scott Berkun, who demonstrated the role of luck in so many success stories. We tend to idolize and look for the “secrets” of how or why someone made it, while minimizing any role that chance played. He said that sometimes you can do everything right, and still fail, and that the reasons something becomes successful are often out of your control.
(Of course, not being afraid to fail—and the inevitability of failure—was a consistent theme as well.)
For those of you who have unfulfilled dreams, and need a push in the right direction to pursue them—especially if it involves starting your own business or embarking on a new career—I highly recommend WDS. I am grateful to Chris Guillebeau, its founder, for inviting me to attend. If you’ve never read his manifesto, 279 Days to Overnight Success, every writer should—plus it’s an easy way to get introduced to entrepreneurship. You should also check out The $100 Startup, his New York Times bestselling book.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has nearly 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses (How to Publish Your Book), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.