We're on our way home from our first World Domination Summit, finally having time to take a few breaths and start downloading everything we learned. Right now our brains are like a browser window with several tabs open for each day. We both have stacks of business cards, each one representing a connection with someone we want to get to know. We have pages of notes to review. We have lists of books and articles to read. That's just the external stuff. We've both also come to some realizations about our shared, ordinary home life. We each have a list of actions to take, starting when we walk in the door. We would never have guessed that one five-day event could affect us this much.
The first thing we're both doing is revamping our Facebook accounts. Neither of us has logged on in months, and we've realized that this is not Facebook's fault. It's all about what we see and read, and what we hide and don't see. There is no requirement that a Facebook feed needs to be full of belligerent threads about politics. There's no need to maintain relations with acquaintances we barely know (or haven't met in person) who are consistently obnoxious and rude to our other friends. On the positive side, we have access to online groups of people who both share our interests and comport themselves pleasantly. There are also the couple of dozen actual friends we've been neglecting. (Sorry, guys). Once the decision is made, the snip-and-clip, depraved-or-saved processing is fairly quick.
Coupled with this is the mechanical process of sending brief notes to our new friends, reminding them of who we are, how we met, and what we talked about. Some of these are just offers of support and connection. Some will be following up about projects. I can honestly say that several people I met have projects going that interest me slightly more than my own projects! I have an emotional stake in whether they get off the ground. There are a few faces I already miss.
I was walking down the stairs, talking to a sweet girl about social isolation, when I stumbled and started falling forward. It was a spiral staircase, and there's no telling how far I would have tumbled down the steps. I flailed. Out of nowhere, a hand appeared and grabbed my wrist. A gentleman walking up the stairs a few steps ahead of me had seen me and instinctively reached out. "You saved me!" I told him. That's when reality becomes a metaphor. We can trust one another. Almost anyone will go to personal physical risk to help someone else out of trouble, even a complete stranger, and we do it just as quickly as we would snatch our hands off a hot stove. It takes a bit more to go to an emotional risk, but we still do it.
The second thing we're doing is that we're upgrading our Saturday Status Meeting. Now the status will be the first half (or less), and then we'll move on to a new planning phase. During the status update, we make decisions about our finances, travel, and other bureaucratic aspects of our household. This has become fairly routine, as we've learned to trust the process and each other. The planning phase will be mainly voicing our upcoming tasks out loud, keeping each other informed and possibly asking for advice. This will kick in on Saturday. As soon as I thought of it, we both absorbed it as an obvious thing to do.
After this, we have a stack of notes to review, homework to complete, videos to watch, and research to do about some of the keynote speakers who seized our attention the most. The list of tasks toward our projects is going to get longer. It's so important to remind ourselves of the commitments we made, as they are now layered under hours of additional information, conversations, speculations, and anticipations.
The School of Greatness academy was scheduled for the last day of the World Domination Summit. We dragged ourselves in, exhausted from getting in at midnight after the previous night's after-party, brains full to overflowing after drinking from the fire hose of inspiration all week. We were expecting a live version of the School of Greatness podcast. That would be great, and also about all we thought we could handle at nine in the morning. It wasn't long before we forgot to be tired.
We answered questions and raised our hands. We partnered up and did group exercises. We found ourselves being drawn in, engaging in ways we hadn't expected. It's so easy to be cynical, awkward, flat, or distant from proceedings like this. Lewis Howes knows what he's doing. This is what happened:
A volunteer shared his experience with one exercise. He was holding himself back from something he really wanted to do, which was to start a blog. (Naturally, I perked up at this). He had decided to do it. "That's great. When?" Some hemming and hawing, which Howes wouldn't accept. "You're being vague about this." The guy was obviously squirming, as were the rest of us. Were we all going to have to take our turn in the hot seat? Were our own excuses safe? "Today," he said. "When today?" They went back and forth, and finally he committed: "By two PM." Whoa! That would be only two hours after the end of the academy!
Instantly I formulated a plot. I'm devious that way. I would go to him during the break and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. This is what I did. I went over and shook his hand and asked, "Will you do me a favor?" He'd never seen me in his life and couldn't possibly have any idea what I was about to ask. "My husband is thinking about doing his own blog, and he's nervous about it. I wonder if you'd be willing to be my guinea pig so I can show him how it's done. If you would do this favor for us, we'll buy you lunch." He was a bit gobsmacked, but he said yes. Another man had walked up while we were talking, and he said, "I was about to suggest the same thing."
So it transpired that the public commitment was made. Two perfect strangers both felt impelled to offer assistance. One was a writer and the other was a technical expert. We agreed to meet at the same spot after the academy, and everyone indeed showed up as planned.
This is where it gets funny. The hopeful blogger already had: a complete blog post written in his notebook; a registered URL; a WordPress account. Yet another perfect jewel of procrastination. I SO identify with this.
We sat on the lobby floor and I set up my iPad and watched as a writer did what writers do, which is to type really fast with a crinkle of intense concentration. THIS IS NO AMATEUR. It takes a long time before writers realize that we are allowed to call ourselves writers, that there's no exam to pass or certification to be stamped.
I couldn't pick up enough bandwidth to use my phone as a hotspot, so we all packed up and went to a Starbucks down the street. Over the next hour, we walked through all the steps and the dozen minor decisions. We figured out how to redirect the URL to WordPress. The blog was launched.
"We just made a baby!" I cried.
It's basically like this. 1. How often do you want to post? 2. Do you want to allow comments or not? 3. Are you going to use illustrations or not? 4. What do you want to call your blog? For some people, as in this case, there's also a 5: Do you want to post under your own name, or anonymously? Often, people have instinctive answers to these questions. Talking out the fuzzy areas with a disinterested, neutral party can be a big help.
When we think we're procrastinating, it really comes down to two things. We'll do anything if we want to and we know how. Sometimes, we're ambivalent about whether we really, truly want something, or whether we want something else more. Usually, though, it's a question of knowing how to do the thing. We get overwhelmed by the immensity of the project. We don't see a way to divide it into more manageable pieces. When we see that we're really facing a series of fairly simple decisions, it starts to seem clear and intelligible. We decide. We choose. It's up to us to make the rules about our own projects, to define the process and the finished product.
The trouble with watching someone else break through a block and produce something is that it's infectious. We keep saying, "You can do it! It's so easy! You got this!" Then we hear ourselves and realize we're really talking to ourselves. Note to self: Walk your talk. Now I have go home and publish my book.
This experience demonstrates several things. We can do a lot when we quit getting in our own way. We are constantly surrounded by potential aid and companions, whether we realize it or not. Helping people is really fun and fascinating. Art is its own independent entity and it wants to be free in the world. We can change our lives in an instant if we open up and allow it. Lewis Howes is a genius of emotional engagement.
The second day of the World Domination Summit main stage event was at least equal to the first day. The standout presentation by Zach Anner stole the show. He's at least twice as funny as anyone else. His talk would have been amazing under any circumstances, but watching him carry on speaking with occasional tremors in his legs was deeply moving. Here's a guy with cerebral palsy, owning the audience from a wheelchair. It's impossible not to realize how few excuses we have for holding back on what we have to offer the world.
Zach took questions from the audience. One of them was, "What's the next step for you?" He replied, "Well, that would be my first step."
What can we do despite our limitations? What can we offer, even as our situations require us to receive?
We've met dozens of people during WDS, all of whom are burgeoning with ideas. We all have tremendous enthusiasm and high energy right now. Motivation tends to fade after an event like this, though, because the immediate physical presence of the community is gone. We go back to our accustomed environments and our tediously familiar routines. We start interacting with the usual naysayers in our lives again. The question becomes, What can we do to sustain any part of the energy we're feeling during the event? Can we find a way to create more of an inspiring, uplifting community in our home environments?
The incipient, nebulous, partially-formed dream projects in our collective cloud-brain are really only a small part of the story. The draw is that being immersed in a fairly large group of committed creative people generates a continuous stream of new ideas. It feels so easy to hear someone else's idea, add an observation, and watch the AHA! as it instantly shifts, pivots, or transmogrifies into something bigger and better. We can do so much more together than we can do alone.
There are, or could be, 'next steps' to bring many of these projects into fruition. We start to see how simple and straightforward it really can be. We feel a sense of obligation to the group to produce what we described. We've made public commitments, and others have been hooked and felt an emotional stake in whether they ever come to be. In that sense, the 'next steps' are about how we pull closer, how we give and take energy and ideas and support. What's the next step we can take to develop real-world bonds, to be part of each other's lives?
Today was the first main stage event day of the World Domination Summit. There were so many speakers on so many inspirational topics that it was impossible to answer the question, Which was your favorite? The topic of fighting fear came up quite a bit, and of course that's the big one. Fear holds more people back from more things than anything else ever could.
I got into a conversation with a new friend about irrational fears. I shared my realization that I'm afraid of all the wrong things. I'm not afraid of spiders, dogs, snakes, jumping over fire, running a marathon, backpacking into the woods, traveling alone, being seen naked, going to the dentist, getting bit by a fire ant, climbing a rope, getting muddy, or a bunch of other common fears. I've been transforming my fear of public speaking into enthusiasm very quickly. On the other hand, I'm afraid of glamming up my appearance. As I shared, my friend responded that he was afraid of...shaving his head! He had been considering it because his hairline is receding (or so he claims), but was afraid to do it.
Hearing someone else's fear is often very funny. It's funny because until that moment, we've seen this person as completely competent and self-assured, and now we realize, Hey, every single one of us is paralyzed into inaction by something silly! It's also funny when it's something we don't fear ourselves. I've met people who were afraid of: balloons, moths, werewolves, and birds, of all things. People are often afraid of my parrot Noelle, which, to anyone who knows her, is patently absurd. Anyway, it seemed comical to fear shaving one's head, because hair grows back. I said, "What's the worst that could happen? You wouldn't like it, and three months later it would grow back." My husband chimed in, "Three weeks. In three weeks you'd just have a buzz cut." We collectively decided that he should ask a man who did shave his head regularly to tell him what it was like. You know, like what kind of razor did he use? Did he still use shampoo, or Turtle Wax?
We did a written exercise during the event. There was a picture of a circle representing your comfort zone. The exercise was to write something in the circle that you're comfortable doing, and then to write something outside the circle that scares you but that could be good for you. (Obviously, you should be afraid of things like taking love for granted, making life difficult for Future Self, or eating high fructose corn syrup). I wrote 'typing' and 'hair styling.' HEY! I'm making myself vulnerable here. Quit laughing!
Then I saw that my husband had written 'engineering' and 'blogging.' I laughed. "For me those would be opposite." He laughed, too, at the irony of it. Being expected to work as an engineer would be very intimidating for many people. I'm not sure he even realized at first that he had nothing to fear about blogging, because he happens to share a bed at night with someone who would happily walk him through the process. I told him during the break that I'd help him with anything he wanted. I'd even take dictation for him while he worked on his topic list. In five minutes we were able to determine what he wanted to call it, how often he would post, and a couple of people he would ask to guest post.
This is the great thing about collaboration. No matter the endeavor, parts of it will be easy, parts of it will be emotionally challenging, and parts of it will be mentally challenging or confusing. I'm convinced that we'll easily do anything that we 1. WANT to do and 2. KNOW HOW to do. What we often ascribe to lack of willpower or motivation, I ascribe to lack of enough ideas to figure out an approach. For instance, I'd happily go to live in Sevilla, Spain for a while, and I know my husband feels the same way, but at the moment we don't know how we would manage it. We know it's possible, we just don't know how it's possible for us any time in the near event horizon. On the other hand, if we did know how to do it but didn't feel the time was right, we'd wait, because we didn't want it. With the example of the incipient blog, my husband has the desire, and he can proceed without know-how, because he has a willing collaborator. He'll quickly know at least as much as I do, learning by doing. I pointed out to him all the ways he has helped me with various things, so he wouldn't feel like it was too much for him to ask.
Helping people is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and that's a hard fact of psychology. It is known.
An idea popped into my head, and it built throughout the day. I planned to host my own meet-up on Monday afternoon. I had the name of the meet-up, the location, my outfit, the verbiage for the app, and a list of exercises. By the end of the day, I was FIRED UP about this meet-up! I was just settling in to write up the submission, when I saw: a new meet-up. At the same time. About essentially the identical topic. This was equal parts disappointing and hilarious. Either I am tuned into the cosmic network, or my manifesting ray was turned on full force! I wasn't sure whether to be jealous or just to let myself be lazy and watch someone else do all the work. My idea could easily turn into a larger-scale project, which I may execute when I'm finished with my current gig. At worst, I'll learn something from someone else's presentation. At best, I'll be a great value-add who can validate the material.
This is what's become of my public speaking resolution this year. I've gone from a state of fear, dread, and inner turmoil to a state of anticipation and excitement. I now have the desire to be able to speak at a public event such as this. That's the fascinating thing about fear: greater knowledge makes the fear far less frightening. Sometimes it even starts to be appealing.
I never post on weekends or holidays, but World Domination Summit is a special circumstance. One day feels like a week. There's so much going on, so much to think about, so much "homework," and mostly, so many fascinating new people to meet, that I have an intense desire to record it all in some way. Oh, and to share it, of course!
We've been riding the bus downtown from my parents' place, which is just under an hour each way, so we've been having early mornings and late evenings. We left our schedule open this morning, as it was the only opportunity we would have to go to Powell's Books. Everywhere we went downtown, we saw WDS attendees dressed in costumes. One guy was dressed like a shark, which is real commitment on a 95 degree day. That event made all of downtown feel like part of a festival, which is true right now. I arranged a small, informal lunch meet-up, and we all sat in the shady park and ate from the food carts while listening to live music. Since I work at home in a city where we haven't lived long, I don't have any lunch buddies yet. Eating lunch with someone other than my dog is a red letter day.
My husband and I were scheduled for diverging events all afternoon. We walked part of the way to our respective academies together. I took Stephanie Zito's class, Launchpad to the World: Travel Hack Your Way Around the Globe in 90 Days or Less. We've taken the CreativeLive class she did with Chris Guillebeau, Make Your Dream Trip a Reality. Travel hacking is like drinking from the fire hose. There are so many different ways to do it, and so many details to manage. After this class, I realized that we're only doing maybe 20% of what we could be doing. This is part of where "homework" originates, when we realize we want to sign up for a bunch of different services or websites or programs, and it's going to take the rest of next week to do it all. So much awesome. The big question is where we'll go next.
My husband took the academy on How to Create & Build a Hyper-Engaged Community, which is relevant to his interests. His brain is full, too. Now he's trying to nudge me a little about opening comments on my blog. Just leaving this here. I always figured if anyone took the trouble to email me and ask about it, I might do it, but until then, I prefer not having to manage or moderate commenters.
We each had an afternoon meet-up. I was torn, because I wanted to do both of them, but they were cross-scheduled. Lo and behold, both of our academies ran late, and we were both late to the opening of our meet-ups. Unfortunately, mine must have met in the designated spot and then gone elsewhere, because I wasn't able to find anyone. (It was an event on non-fiction book proposals, and it felt very consequential and important to me, but oh well). Another woman found herself in the same situation, and she suggested we go to the other event, which was two blocks away. Even though we weren't signed up, we were able to sit in, and they had just started.
This meet-up was about how to get clarity when you can't decide between multiple projects. One of the exercises involved touching base with how you would feel if you completed the project, and comparing that to how you would feel if you never completed the project. For some people and some projects, there's undoubtedly a rush of relief at the prospect of quitting and letting it go. The exercise I found most valuable was to work with a partner, share projects, and talk about how to break them into smaller pieces and schedule them. I realized that I could easily think of several ways to get through the block on mine.
My partner shared concerns about negativity from people in her life about changing her career direction. What I told her was that the closer people are to your inner circle, the more they will naysay you, because they will want to protect you from failing and getting hurt. That's if they're loving. If they're dysfunctional, they'll just actively sabotage you, but we didn't really need to go there. The key is: DON'T TELL ANYONE CLOSE TO YOU UNTIL YOU'RE DONE. Strangers on the street will tell you that your idea is awesome and offer to connect you with people in their acquaintance who could assist you. People who love you will look you in the eye and ask you what the heck you are thinking. You're not obligated to tell every single person in advance about your new book idea or business plan. If you write a business plan and show it to a loan officer at a bank, and that career professional deems it worthy of investment, then it is. If someone in your inner circle who has no credentials or relevant experience has an opinion about your project, smile, thank them, and tell them you'll "take that under advisement." The only thing you owe them is love.
In conversations throughout the event so far, I've noticed something interesting. When women share their ideas, they tend to preface them with an explanation of why they're ambivalent, or why it's a silly, dumb, or crazy idea. (More silly, dumb, and crazy ideas like these, please!) Then they'll come out with something that is obviously going to make money immediately. I'll ask, why on earth would you think that wouldn't succeed? You have to do this thing. If only I had an idea that good... Then another lady turned the tables on me. She asked me what project I was ambivalent about, and I told her, hemming and hawing just like all the other women have done so far. She told me the same thing I've been telling everyone else! "Of course that will sell, you have to do it!" It's a confidence gap, pure and simple. We can see it in others, but it's harder to see in ourselves.
We wended our way over to the opening party, which took over most of the South Park Blocks. Live music, magicians, food, and hundreds of like-minded people waiting for a surprise. We got gift boxes full of all sorts of cool swag. We have assignments. Mine was to express gratitude to one of the volunteers, as though anything could ever have stopped me, and I was more than happy to do that again. My volunteer came around the table and hugged me when I was done. My husband's is to write an inspirational message and leave it somewhere downtown for someone to find it. Again, why stop at one? I invited my parents to contribute messages when we got home, and we'll have fun doing that.
Some inspirational messages can be really confusing to people, such as, "There is plenty for everyone in this world," or, "It's okay to have lots of money," or, "Strangers are trustworthy." I'm going to try to curate what we put out there and make sure it's broadly comprehensible.
Yesterday, we left the event bubbling over with ideas on how to revamp our spending. Today, we had to add to that yet more ideas on how to earn points for free travel, or rather, many many many more points than we have already been earning and using. That's how we got to the event this year; we paid $22.40 in tax on our combined trip. We'll have spent more than that on city bus tickets before we leave! What we'll do with our thoughts on the projects to cut or continue, and what we can do with a community-building mindset, remains to be seen. Somehow sharing ideas with all our new friends makes them start to feel like projects that are destined to come forth.
On the bus ride home, a young gentleman chatted with us, and then asked if he could please use my phone to make a couple of calls. Of course. Why not? I lend my phone out all the time. What are they going to do? Drop it? Run off with it? Pfft. People are probably more careful with a stranger's electronics than they would be with a live actual baby. In five years I'll be laughing at the comical obsolescence of this exact model. He made the calls, finishing both with "I love you." (Girlfriend and dad, I presume). Then the dad called back and I handed the phone over again. Twenty minutes later, the lad told another passenger that he had just got out of jail. I laughed inwardly. There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to be afraid of. The fact of this person's event timeline has nothing to do with his manners or general harmlessness, which anyone could see. Welcome back to civilization, my fine fellow, and I hope someone gives you a hot dinner and a nice dessert afterward. I felt that the spirit of WDS is by no means limited to the couple thousand people who knew of the event and could afford tickets. There are kind-hearted, friendly, bright, fascinating people everywhere you look, provided that you do look.
(In fact, after the "jailbird" got off the bus, another young man who had been in the conversation taught us how to make a smartphone projector out of a cardboard box and a magnifying glass. He was carrying materials with him and he played us an instructional video. He suggested we follow the Futurism group on Facebook. Talk to people, I'm just saying).
Two days of main-stage events and a few more meet-ups mean that this is going to be one busy weekend!
This is not just a World Domination Summit question, although we'll get to that. A question that came up during our academy today has really gotten to me, and I'm sure I'll be processing it for a while. There was a thinking exercise during the Be a Money Boss academy:
"Imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did you miss? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?"
This about knocked me down. What did I miss? I missed having any kind of real career. I never got to make any kind of mark on the world. I have nothing to show for my time on this earth. I mean, I have strong relationships with my husband, family, and a few close friends, but I have no legacy. There are no projects that will outlast me. I felt like a tidal wave of potential rose up inside me, and that it would die with me, and that I never worked hard enough to let any of it out.
I was surprised, and also very pleased, when my husband said that he hadn't really missed anything. The difference between us is probably that he's a father and that he's always been fulfilled by his chosen career. It was interesting that the same question affected each of us in profoundly different ways. For him, it was a validation, a good place to be for a man of 48. For me, it was a devastating blow, feeling like I had been lazy and sloppy with the time I have been given.
The real question is whether I'll have anything close to enough time to get out all of the projects that are currently locked away inside of me.
Back to the event itself. WDS is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of a deal. It's only possible to attend everything if you can bilocate, which is not currently on my list of skills. We went on a hike from 9 to noon, rode the funicular from OHSU, stopped for a food cart lunch, went downtown for our academy from 1:30 to 4:30, officially registered for the event, and then spent an hour at HugFest. After that, everyone went to the unofficial opening party, but we cut out early because they didn't have any vegan food. There is a superabundance of plant-based cuisine in Portland, though, so we were fine.
The first thing about WDS is that you can immediately turn to anyone standing near you, strike up a conversation, and within a couple of minutes someone will say, THAT'S AWESOME. This is like the rallying cry of positivity. It also turns out that everyone has something in common with everyone else. I think I talked to five marathon runners today. We also met a guy who had an abiding interest in Viking culture, and we were like, "Oh, you have no idea who you're dealing with." This event would be great even if it were nothing more than a series of video lectures, but the attendees are the real attraction. I've felt like I could stay up talking all night with every person I've met.
Our academy was presented by Mr. Money Mustache (his birth name, clearly) and J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly, two financially independent bloggers with thriving communities. They had a funny mock-tension regarding their differing philosophies, which mostly boiled down to whether you should try to save half your income, or 64% of your income. They were hilarious, extremely engaging, and very generous about answering audience questions. We came out effervescent with ideas and plans about our own savings, and happily, we both agreed.
The questions are a big part of why attending a live event can be so powerful. The audience questions reflected a range of mindsets and positions on the ladder of personal finance. Some people were clearly farther on the path to financial freedom than others. A few of the questions reflected a deeply held scarcity mindset, and this is the best place to start. Start by learning and asking questions from people who demonstrate more about abundance. Feeling poor and helpless can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It blocks creative ideas that might help solve the problem(s) at hand. One of the questions had to do with having zero idea of how to track spending, or what percentage of income went where. Bless that questioner, because beginners can so often feel ashamed to ask the question that is doubtless burning in the minds of many others. Another question had to do with whether someone making a six-figure salary (I am not making this up) could really afford to save money if they have children. Skeptical, I hear where you're coming from, and there's only one way to find out, which is to make a good-faith effort and try it for yourself. Another had to do with how to save enough money in case one partner had a catastrophic illness. Apparently that couple had spent a lot of time thinking and talking about that problem. My question would be, well, what if you both live long, uneventful lives and you stay strong and healthy? Did you spend much time thinking of that at all? (I hope so).
HugFest has been my favorite part of the event so far. I wore the custom FREE HUGS t-shirt my husband got me for my birthday last year. Everyone kept asking me if I organized the event. (No, but I wish I had!). This was a beautiful thing. You would basically make eye contact with someone and just hug. Good, long hugs, too. There is really something about women (about 2/3 female attendance) meeting, looking at one another, and hugging. I think we have this culturally ingrained tendency to size one another up and worry, Does she like me? And then to think, Hmm, probably not. Instead we can think, You're beautiful and you have a friendly smile. Let's hug. Mmm, your hair smells nice! I also love hugging men and feeling safe and platonic. Men have more to overcome in our culture in terms of initiating no-strings physical affection with one another. It's fun to watch them let their guards down.
Something happened. As soon as I start giving details, I'm sure you're going to know exactly where this is going. I set my bag down at the edge of the gathering, which was in a public park. It's my favorite airplane bag. I had put my phone in it, even though I usually have it in my pants pocket. It had my iPad and my Apple Pencil in it, as well as my brand-new event t-shirt. It had my wallet with my ID and all my debit and credit cards. It had my house keys. It had my bus pass. I mean, my life was in that bag. Here's the punchline. Exactly what you would expect happened when I left my bag unattended for an hour in the middle of downtown. It was still there, and nobody laid a finger on it. I picked it up and we left.
The whole point of something like a Free Hugs event is to build social trust. It's like trick-or-treating at Halloween, only much more so. A Dutch woman asked me why I gave free hugs, and I said, Well, first of all, I like hugging. Second, I feel that it's really important for us to be more trusting and to demonstrate that we are generally surrounded by nice people at all times. So much fear and paranoia. I opened my heart to a group of complete strangers. Nobody assaulted me and nobody stole from me. Did it make the nightly news? I somehow doubt it, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.
The party was held in a really cool event space. It has ping-pong and dartboards and shuffle boards and bowling and karaoke and who knows what else. The place was packed. People who obviously recognized each other kept crying out and running up and hugging each other. Probably half the people we talked to today had been to the event several years running, and some people said the main reason they keep coming back is to catch up with their WDS friends. I can definitely, definitely feel where that's coming from.
We are absolutely LIT UP with enthusiasm right now. Personally, I feel like this trip would have been worth it even if it was only one day. WE STILL HAVE FOUR DAYS LEFT!
At the time this posts, my husband and I will be at our first World Domination Summit meet-up. This is our first year attending the event, which is now in its sixth year. I heard about it in time to go last year, but it was already sold out and all I could do was put our names on the waiting list. EXCITED!
Naturally, we've flown up on tickets we covered with reward points. The whole trip is costing us $22.40 in airfare, and that's only because we have to pay the tax.
The good news is, we get to combine this trip with a family visit. The bad news is, our schedule is so packed we'll barely have time to see everyone. I should see if I can convince everyone to register next year, so we can attend a few academies together.
We're going to two meet-ups and an academy today. I'll write them up afterward. Over the next few days, I'll share my experience for anyone who is curious what it's like.
If you're curious what it's like to have your body fat professionally measured, I'll tell you about my experience. I just had it done.
I've measured or estimated my body fat through several methods over the years, at various points from obese to athletically fit. To me it's a matter of scientific interest. I'd be equally curious just what bacteria live in my dental plaque, and for much the same reasons. I didn't choose to put it there and I want to know how to get rid of it! At the same time, I don't judge myself, because at this moment, my body is what it is. I want an accurate read. I want to know where I stand for longevity reasons, for Alzheimer's prevention reasons, and for athletic performance reasons. Others might care more about other factors, such as knee pain, sleep apnea, or heart disease. Whatever works.
What have I tried? In chronological order:
I've tried using a measuring tape and calculating my waist-to-hip ratio. (W/H).
I've tried the BMI chart.
I've used a hand-held body fat monitor that works through bioelectrical impedance. (Omron)
I've used a scale with bioelectrical impedance. (Weight Watchers)
I've used a body fat caliper to do the pinch test.
All these methods gave me similar results. I don't particularly endorse or dispute any of them. I can say that I had some issues with data collection; all of these things are easier with the help of a second set of hands. I had to mail-order the calipers because I couldn't find them for sale anywhere. The impedance monitor can be gamed by drinking extra water at your starting measurement and then being dehydrated at your ending measurement. The scale doesn't let you reset your age. The waist-to-hip measurements can be tricky to find. Where is my natural hip exactly? I didn't particularly have a waist at the time. The very concept of BMI tends to make Americans apoplectic, but look. It's endorsed by the CDC, the Mayo Clinic, and the Harvard School of Health, and that's good enough for me. I have no reason to dispute their findings and I have no more authoritative sources. I'm out for my own personal optimal health results, not a scientific debate for which I have no credentials. Also, I'm not defensive about my body image or my state of health.
Back to the professional body fat test.
My new personal trainer at the gym sprung it on me. First he had me weigh in, which is fine. I hit 123 pounds in clothes and shoes. (I'm 5'4" for reference). It was afternoon, and I'd already eaten and hydrated. I'm more interested in what I weigh for the majority of each day, not that fraction of a second first thing in the morning when my stomach is empty. I have nothing to worry about. Thirty-five pounds ago, maybe. Now, I'm in the healthy range for my height, as I have been for the past two years.
Next, he got out the calipers. They're like the pair I bought, only bigger. The major difference was that he took four measurements, three of which I couldn't have taken by myself. The instructions with my calipers said to pinch some fat an inch from the point of the pelvic bone, the area I used to refer to affectionately as my jelly roll. My trainer took two measurements on my upper arm, one on my back near my shoulder blade, and one on my side above my ribs. He took notes, and I could see that the form leaves room for future entries. The plan is to repeat the measurements once a month.
I laughed while he was measuring my back. I told him the story of my first wake-up call that I had gained weight: I ran down the stairs and my back jiggled. I paused in mid-step and thought, "WHAT THE HECK JUST HAPPENED?" Not that that inspired me to try to lose weight or anything - that didn't happen until a few years later.
So anyway. My body fat measured at 27%. That put me right in the middle of the 'Acceptable' range, because I'm 41. At age 39, the same exact measurements would put me at 24%, which is teetering on the edge between 'Acceptable' and 'Fit.' (That was likely true, because I trained for my marathon that year). The reason it changes with age is the sad fact of sarcopenia. (Spell check just tried to correct that to 'sarcophagus' - thanks, jerk). Sarcopenia is the gradual deterioration of muscle tissue with age. Note that this does not mean we are biologically required to become frail and weak with age. It just means we have to work harder to build muscle and preserve our posture and bone density. I want that for myself. I want to retain my independence until the ripest old age I can reach.
The next step was to calculate how many pounds of body fat and how many pounds of muscle tissue I likely have. I'd rather do this with mathematics than through an autopsy, if you know what I mean. I don't need actual vivisection to trust the science. It was roughly 33 pounds of fat and 90 pounds of muscle-slash-bone, blood vessels, organs, etc. Much of that body fat I will keep. The desirement is to BUILD MUSCLE. If I gain twenty pounds of muscle, I will walk around aggressively pulling up my shirt and flaunting my midriff at everyone. Weight gain is excellent when it's planned and intentional and made up of TRUE GRIT, aka muscle. I love muscle. I want to be eighty and be so ripped I freak people out and make them immediately grab their phones and call someone to tell them. "Dude, I just saw the most jacked grandma!"
Some body fat charts rate percentages as "overfat," "healthy," and "underfat." These are designed for average people, not active people. The concern would be for a gaunt person (perhaps elderly) who wasn't eating enough. I don't think there are (or were) enough muscular, athletic people to measure for these studies. There is a huge difference between someone who has lower body fat due to malnutrition, and someone who has lower body fat due to physical strength and stamina. I haven't yet seen a chart estimating average lean body mass and suggesting that certain ranges are "undermuscled." I would have fit in that category in my late twenties and early thirties, even when I was obese, because I was so unfit I couldn't climb a single flight of stairs without seeing black spots.
Two weeks later, the trainer took my measurements again. I had already dropped from 27% to 24.6%. I had lost two pounds of body fat and gained 3.5 pounds of lean mass. I had trouble believing it, but a pound of fat a week is totally plausible. I have made dramatic physical transformations in the past, and I have also been training really hard. I have something like forty minutes of isometric and body weight resistance exercises to do every day, not including my twice-weekly training sessions and trying to go to yoga a couple of times. I've been consciously correcting my posture while I walk and sit throughout the day. On my frame, I can burn a pound of fat and build a pound of muscle at approximately the same rate. That's why weighing in on a scale without measuring inches or body fat can be so discouraging. Technically I "gained weight" while adding muscle and dropping fat.
Usually when I gain weight it's because I went on vacation and ate too many chimichangas.
I wouldn't have bought into the idea of having my body fat measured when I was younger. That's because nobody under age thirty-five really, truly believes in the concepts of aging, mortality, or death. The ego simply won't allow it. As I get older and watch my friends and family members go through surgery or become dependent on pharmaceuticals and medical appliances, I've started to believe. I'm forty-one, and yes, death will happen to me, perhaps later today. I do have to die, but I don't have to become frail or infirm. I don't have to believe that aging is crippling. As I compare myself with sixty-year-olds instead of twenty-year-olds, I set my sights on those who are still lean, active, and happy. I hope to turn eighty one day, and to celebrate by sitting on the floor and standing up again. That's why I rely on health metrics, to keep me informed and to keep me honest with myself.
The only clear dining table I've seen in the home of one of my clients belonged to a stasher. He lived alone, and he liked having his friends over to play board games. He would rush around cleaning up before a game night, hiding his clutter behind closed doors, but his main living area was always impressively tidy. For most people, the dining table is almost the first to go. If there's a formal dining room and a casual kitchen table, the dining table may even be the only really messy place in the house. Something about a broad, flat surface creates an irresistibly attractive clutter zone.
I'm writing this from my dining table. Our house is 728 square feet, and as a result, the only table that would fit in our kitchen is a little over three feet square. That's roughly the size of a bistro table at Starbucks. It's plenty of room for the two of us to eat together, but it would be a tight squeeze for four. I eat breakfast and lunch here every day, and the two of us eat dinner here every night. On weekends, sometimes we have a big fancy breakfast together, too. We love it. It makes being at home feel like going out on a date.
Why wouldn't we eat at our table? The real question is why other people don't.
Everyone in the family eats at different times
We prefer to eat in front of the TV
We prefer to eat in front of our separate computer, tablet, or phone screens
We mostly eat in our car, at the drive-thru
We always go out
Nobody cooks because we fight over the dishes
The table is buried under a pile of mail and other clutter
These things don't apply in our case. We eat together because we like it. We like talking to each other face to face. We both like to cook, and we prefer our own cooking. Going out a lot causes us both to start packing on extra weight. We trade off the cleanup, and we know it's fair because we swap every night. We're paperless, and we don't have enough stuff to really pile on the table. We have plenty of screen time, and we can certainly spare half an hour a day to put the electronics aside. Our table is clear because it's a focal point of our life together.
It could easily go the other way. It can involve unresolved conflict and resentment. It can include spillover from excess accumulation in other rooms. It can be a symptom of confusion or decision paralysis. It can be a sign of conflict about health, diet, and body image.
There are dirty dishes in the sink and clean dishes that need to be put away. Cooking a meal means doing a day's worth of kitchen cleanup first. When there are multiple people contributing to this mess, cleaning the kitchen can be a minefield of blame, recriminations, revenge, and abdication.
The table is being used for a kid's homework or school project, because there's nowhere in the kid's bedroom to spread out and do the work.
The table is being used as a desk, even though there is at least one desk in the house, because every flat surface is equally cluttered.
The table is being used to store pantry items, like breakfast cereal, because all the cupboards are full.
The table is being used as a surface to fold laundry.
There are intact shopping bags holding purchases with the tags still on.
There are layers and archaeological strata. Excavating them feels like it would disrupt some tenuous sense of chronological order or partially completed sorting attempt.
Eating at a table brings back strong feelings of family trauma.
It's always possible to reinvent something in your life. You can decide to reframe how you think or feel about something. You can experiment and test out different ways of doing things, and you can always go back to what you were doing before if you decide you like it better. If you want something better than eating in your lap or over a keyboard, it is a gift you can give to yourself. More importantly, it's a gift you can give to your family and friends. The table can be a place of hedonism, celebration, restoration, romance, laughter, elegance, and hospitality.
Cleaning up can feel like punishment. Reframe it as a necessary but messy stage of artistic creation, just like cutting pattern pieces or mixing paint.
Shifting paperwork and homework to other rooms can feel isolating. Reframe that as a way to add more companionship during meals, balanced with privacy and concentration during work.
Changing family patterns can feel confrontational. Reframe this as clearing the air and doing the work of forgiveness. There has to be a way to add more positive interactions, and why not over a meal?
Sorting stacks and files can feel overwhelming. Reframe this as a path to mental clarity and peace of mind. It will be hard, but when it's done all the stress and confusion will be gone.
Taking leadership on a clearing project can feel unfair. Reframe this as demonstrating the fairness that you want to see. It's fair when everyone in the household contributes to the function of the home. That includes you, since you live there. Making your effort visible is the very best way to inspire someone else to pitch in. Going first and initiating the process is the best way to get anything done on your preferred timeline. Clearing your own things is the bare minimum of fairness.
If you already know that you're the prime culprit of a cluttered table, give it back. A kitchen table is a common area. A dining table is, too. Common areas are for the use of everyone in the home. There is a ripple effect when anyone commandeers a common area for personal use. It causes conflict and resentment. It contributes to power struggles. If there is a power struggle with another adult, talk about it honestly and openly - after you've cleared your things off the table first, of course.
Give back the table. You have the power to create an area of relaxation and fun to be enjoyed at least once a day. You can contribute a little beauty spot. You can make a place for friendship and hospitality. A fully empowered dining table can build a family, and it can also build a neighborhood. There is no upper limit to what kind of conversations or community can be stirred up over a regular meal.
It started with sandwiches. My mom would ask me which way I wanted my sandwich cut at lunch. Halves or quarters? Rectangles or triangles? It was a very low-stakes decision, and the result was always: a sandwich. It tasted the same no matter what cut I chose. Somehow, though, the tiny decision of what shape I wanted that sandwich became a matter of intrigue and great interest. Sometimes? I wouldn't have it cut at all. So many options! All of them equally good, too! I really have to thank my mom for helping me to be not only decisive, but also adventurous. It seems that being indecisive is both common and stressful for many people. I'd like to pass along some secrets of the "naturally" decisive.
There are no wrong decisions. Either the decision leads to a delightful result, a neutral result, or a negative result. For almost all situations, a negative result is seriously no big deal. It can be seen as a learning experience that provides a valuable piece of information. For instance, I tried a new brand of "protein cookies" that were peanut butter and chocolate chip. I don't particularly like chocolate, or peanut butter in desserts. They were dry and mealy and I didn't like them very much. I never bought them again. I was in marathon training at the time, though, and they were still COOKIES. After running a half marathon, even a dry, mealy, lame cookie is still calorically dense. There is no way I'm going to bewail the terrible fate of buying a mediocre cookie. I'll save that emotional energy for the big stuff, like marriage, career, and life purpose.
People tend to regret missed opportunities about three times more than we regret unfortunate decisions. I've been divorced, and I now see that as a learning experience that was good for me. It also allowed me to meet my current husband at a time when we were both available. My early first marriage was a terrible decision, and I've come to terms with it. On the other hand, I have huge regrets about not spending more time with my grandmother before she died, about not traveling more when I was younger, and about not taking my health more seriously earlier in life. Those are important decisions. Almost every other choice exists on a much less momentous level.
Most decisions can be made once. For consumer products, for instance, I have a default choice, and a range of acceptable fallback choices. Say I'm buying potatoes, and I really want Yukon golds, but they're out of stock. I'm fine with red potatoes instead. I won't bat an eye over a choice like that. Say I'm buying marinara sauce. There are five brands of organic sauce, and each one has four flavors. Which one? The one that's on sale, of course. Barring that, the cheapest one. If I've already tried the cheap one and didn't love it, I'll try the one I haven't had before. I'm not going to spend more than ten seconds on this choice because there is no negative outcome. The negative outcome would be if I tried to make lasagna with salsa or tomato soup instead. Over the course of a year, I may have tried every flavor of every brand, and at that point, I'll have a favorite. One favorite, eighteen backups, and maybe one do-not-buy.
Once I bought a loaf of bread by my favorite bakery. The kind I liked best was out of stock, and so I shrugged and decided to try an alternate flavor. Unfortunately, it was the "no salt" flavor. NB: Never buy no-salt bread unless you are on doctor's orders. I ate the whole loaf, because I'm super frugal, and it stuck in my mind always to avoid that flavor. Guess what? I didn't die. I just ate lame sandwiches at work for a week.
Roughing it can be good for you. I spend at least a week backpacking and camping every year. Why would someone deliberately forego hot showers, laundry facilities, and a refrigerator? Why would someone voluntarily sleep on the ground out in the cold? Why would someone subject herself to mosquito bites, stinging nettle, and fire ants? It's the price of the ticket to see some of the world's most beautiful places, observe nature up close, and interact with wildlife. It's also a way to develop physical and mental toughness. I can eat cold, flavorless food. I can carry heavy objects. I can kneel in the mud. I can assemble a tent and a folding chair and a camp stove, even if I have a cut or a scraped knee. When I need the emotional wherewithal to deal with tough circumstances, I have it. I live an easy, comfortable life 49 weeks of the year, and I use the other three weeks to remind myself that it isn't always butterflies and rainbows. Sometimes the cookies aren't very good and sometimes the bread doesn't have any salt. Oh well.
Most choices I regard as adventures. How long will it take me to taste every available flavor of jam? What cuisine have I never tried? What dish on this menu have I never had? What song have I not heard? Which route have I not traveled? Sometimes I make a choice and the result is MEH. Sometimes I pay $15 to watch a movie that wasn't very good. Sometimes I read a book and I rate it only three stars. Sometimes we go to the beach and the weather is too cold and windy. That's fine. In the grand scheme of things, most choices that I make rate four or five stars out of five. The occasional two- or three-star experience helps remind me how nice it is to have the four- or five-star experience. There will be other books, other movies, other restaurants, other days at the beach. The best experiences tend to make the most boring stories.
Other choices don't need to be choices at all. I made one choice to commit to my health, and one choice about how often to work out. I've changed my default workout many times, and I'll change it many more times in the future. I keep increasing my fitness level. That's to be expected. I've changed my go-to recipes many times as well, because I keep learning more about nutrition and developing my cooking skills. I've only had to make one decision to keep my house clean and organized. I've only had to make one decision about prioritizing my marriage. I follow a household routine that involves no decision making. The goal here is to preserve my mojo and my mental bandwidth. Decisions erode willpower. When we use routine and habit to get through the majority of the day, that willpower is preserved for the times when an important decision is truly necessary.
Decisions can be tough to make when every option seems equally attractive, or equally unattractive. Blessed with too many attractive options! Oh, the humanity! Which of these three awesome things do I want to do? Don't let FoMO get in the way, here. Pick one, go with it, and move forward. For instance, we brought home a puppy. There were four puppies in that litter, and we wanted one pup. Result: one pup. How could we possibly know whether we chose the "best" puppy? What if one of the other wee little dogs was more woofy than the one we got? Who cares? Spike is a pretty outstanding dog. A+.
When all the choices seem equally unattractive, that's a bad scenario. If the choice has to be made, best to get it over with. A really horrible choice may be better handled with support from a good friend. Anything that involves grief, serious illness, legal issues, relocation, or large sums of money may benefit from input from someone who isn't emotionally affected by the decision.
Analysis paralysis is a back alley that intersects with procrastination. The truth is that there will never be enough information to completely validate a decision. If it was obvious, there would be no decision involved. Decisions are a matter of personal preference. They're going to involve either routine matters of daily life, or unusual, life-altering change. Frittering away emotional and mental energy on routine decisions weakens the sense of confidence we need for the big stuff. Routine daily matters can be seen through the lens of potential lifestyle upgrades. If you don't have a strong sense of personal favorites and preferred lifestyle inputs, such as music or food, then making a few dozen low-stakes decisions can give you a private database. Decisions can be moments of playfulness, adventure, and imagination. It's worth a try.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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