A few months ago I entered our weekly team meeting and grabbed my seat. Each of us, in normal fashion, went around to share what was on our plates when all of a sudden one of my teammates turned to me and proclaimed, ‘oh yeah, by the way, you’re going to WordCamp!’ I remember thinking to myself wait…what…I’m going to what? Camp? Like bonfires and such? Will there be forced singing and required crafting? Do I want to go or should I play hooky?
You see, I was new to this whole WordPress subculture and the nuances that come with. Based on the team’s excitement and enthusiasm, I felt like it was something I should be excited about but at the same time had no idea what to expect. I went in assuming that I would meet new people and probably learn something new and with this as my foundation, packed my bags, swapped the tent for a hotel room and set out for this ‘camp of words’.
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Rise and Shine: The Journey Begins
Friday morning, bright and early, we headed off to sign in. The opening session, Staying Sane In Tech, had peaked my interest. I have to admit that I feel we are all a little insane choosing the world of technology to spend our working and living hours exploring. Is it fun?…yes. Hard?…for sure. Crazy?…absolutely.
I have to admit the session’s content and speakers we super engaging. Cory Miller, founder of iThemes, announced to a packed auditorium that he, a strong and successful business owner, has battled and fought with depression. When everything in his life on paper seemed so right, he felt that things were so wrong. The weight of his comment hit me like a ton of bricks and then sunk in.
He went on to explain that he pictured his life like an iceberg. The part above the water, the part that he let everyone else see and experience is strategically crafted to be polished, pristine and unblemished. The counterpoint is that the majority of the iceberg hidden underwater and ultimately weighing him down were the insecurities, fears and frustrations that he dealt with alone and in isolation day and night.
I let his comments sink in for a bit and realized that we all experience this Dr. Jekyll meets Mr. Hyde in our own lives. He shared that his way to freedom was to realize that it was ‘alright’ to be honest and share items from the bottom of the iceberg with the people he could trust. In doing so he found allies and a way to freedom. His tagline repeated over and over during his talk was ‘Human beings, Being Human.’
Design or Decoration
After lunch I got the privilege of attending a session led by Reid Peifer, partner and creative director at Modern Tribe. His talk, titled Nobody Cares About your Feelings: How to talk about design, opened with the question of ‘What is design’? He went on to beautifully explain that design is anything strategically crafted to further or enhance the overall goals. Everything else he shared is just decoration.
My mind was blown. How much of my work and my critique of other’s work was based not on advancing the primary goals but solely on creating or evaluating decoration? I do admit that there are times where decoration serves the goal but it was the reframing and focus shift inspired by this statement that shook the ground.
He goes on to mention that as the recipient of critique, you need to be willing to kill (or more nicely PARK) your darlings. As designers, we often build emotional attachments to our creations and when those creations no longer serve the overall goals, have a difficult time pivoting. Instead we make unfounded justifications about why they still work. By ‘parking your darlings’, you afford yourself the opportunity to invest your energy into what is important now while affording yourself the possibility of coming back to a parked idea at a latter time.
Your Life is Built on Stories
After surviving day one and connecting with new friends, I entered day two with more vest and excitement. Consistently one of the best parts about attending a conference is meeting others who share your common interest and with whom you can learn from. WordCamp did not disappoint in this regard. There were a ton of really smart and talented WordPress experts willing to donate their stories and lessons learned for the greater good of the WordPress community.
After previewing all of the breakout sessions for the day, I was most excited to attend ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Storytelling’ presented by Shawn Pfunder. Shawn is the Senior Communications Director with GoDaddy. I have always considered myself a hobby reader and was interested to see what related insights he would share.
All content aside, this guy was an amazing presenter. You know those moments in life when you notice someone doing what it is they are meant to do and that they have an unbelievable talent for? For this guy it must be presenting. He was captivating, energetic and brought the right amount of humor and fun. From the opening, he announces that the person who can capture the most awkward picture of him (think mouth open, picking wedgie, backside side view…) and shared it with him on Twitter could win one of his vintage cassette tapes. Yes that’s right….cassette tapes. Those under 20 years old probably had no idea what they were winning.
His presentation centered on the fact that all of our lives are built of and guided by stories. In addition to the carbon atoms that comprise our muscles, bone, tissue and fluids…stories compose the heart and soul of who we are. He points out that stories have an underlying influence to our thoughts, actions and emotions. Go to a ‘Fast and the Furious’ movie and notice that during your drive home you unconsciously drive a little faster and take the corners with a bit more zeal. The storyline created a behavior.
We spend at least 16 hours every day living in stories. On average, we spend 8 hours sleeping during which we dream. Dreaming is a form of subconscious storytelling. We spend another 8 hours daydreaming, another form of internal storytelling picturing what we want or what we remember. The remaining 8 hour is spent acting up and working toward executing the stories we have created. With stories garnering so much influence, he challenges us to be more intentional about crafting the stories we create and to also be more cognizant of the stories around us and the power they command.
The last night in camp concluded with an After Party hosted by a local WordPress development shop. I stopped by the pop-up-bar to grab a beer from one of the local Minneapolis microbreweries and then stepped back to survey the room. Looking around I took a moment to reflect on the weekend. I noticed how many faces who had once been strangers that now had a name. I went on to recall each of the stories that they had shared. Stories that now had impact on the way that I would work, live and view the world. I also noticed the friendship, love and appreciation being shared amongst the partygoers. Party goers from different companies who in everyday life are locked in a competitive battle for business but who set this aside for a weekend to develop a shared community and who let down their guard in order to be human.