Approaching the security checkpoint while leaving Portland airport, I realized that everyone was being asked to step into the large full-body scanner before being allowed to move on to their departure gates.
Alarm bells went off in my head, as I'm committed to protect my safety and well-being by avoiding these scanners at all costs. (I've checked out the research and frankly, I prefer to protect my DNA whenever possible). I carefully watched as my turn inched closer. No-one was escaping the scan and everyone seemed to be willing to comply.
Arriving at the first officer, I announced that I'd prefer not to walk through the scanner and would be perfectly happy to have a manual body check. The second security officer loudly broadcast, "We have an opt-out." I probably shouldn't have, but I smiled. Mostly to myself. Opt-out. Perfect description of my entire week spent in Portland, if not much of my life actually. I was prepared to embrace the moniker and wear it well.
Visiting Portland has been a long held dream, so I'd jumped in feet first when I was fortunate enough to get one of 1,000 tickets being offered to the second annual World Domination Summit, the brainchild of author and uber world travel hacker, Chris Guillebeau. His book, The Art of Non-Conformity, had spoken loudly to all my own instincts of being true to myself, living an unconventional life and opting out, even if that meant living a life that didn't quite conform. Living a life that often had me turning left when everyone else seemed to be going right.
Unsure of what might happen at a gathering whose theme centered around the question "How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?", my curiosity had me say "yes" and take the plunge.
And for my time in Portland, I continually chose to opt-out. From traveling there alone knowing no one in advance (a big step outside my own comfort zone), to riding public transit which is so accessible and free in the core of the city (I rarely take public transit in Toronto), I was opting to try things that might be a bit uncomfortable, to stretch myself even if it was in small ways.
As an extroverted introvert, I found it easy to talk to everyone in Portland and especially at WDS, where the energy was very alive and open. Although I chose to stay somewhat to myself, I trusted that whomever I was supposed to connect with, was exactly who I would meet.
It continued to fascinate me that people of all ages and stages in life, from all over the world, had chosen to converge in Portland for this event and more often than not, they all were as introverted and shy as I am. Or perhaps I only met fellow introverts to engage in stimulating conversations with!
The opening speaker, Brené Brown, talked about vulnerability and was both powerful and funny, while showing us why being "cool" closes us off from true emotional connection. If you haven't watched her incredible TED talk, which has had over five million views, I can only say that her message strikes a truly universal chord. Her humour and sensitivity were touching and she ended by putting us all on the spot, asking us to be oh-so-uncool and join in a group sing of Don't Stop Believin'. This showed me that others had chosen to be here for the same reason I had. To find a tribe of like-minded people and to feel that somehow we belonged. We were all in our own individual ways, opt-outers.
So what do one thousand opt-outers do for a weekend together? We inspire and uplift and support each other. We continued to hear throughout the weekend that ideas and inspiration alone mean little, without action. We also heard from many inspiring people who had created an enormous impact in the world from a simple desire to do better and be better, by being harbingers of service on a planet that has no shortage of causes.
It was a weekend of generosity of spirit by all the speakers, by the volunteers and by all of us who attended. It was a weekend of serving each other in many ways; of being available, of sharing, of being vulnerable to being seen for who we are. No masks. No suits of armor.
Perhaps for me, the most generous and authentic act came from Chris Guillebeau himself. A soft-spoken, gentle and humble spirit, he closed the event in an almost unbelievable way. At this totally non-commercial, no-sponsor, no-ad event, no-one is selling anything ever, throughout the entire weekend. A tribute to his vision and authenticity.
Chris took center stage and began a story, telling us how this year WDS had turned a small profit. Nice. He went on to tell us that an anonymous donor had chosen to give a substantial sum of money to the event. Wow. Substantial enough that it equated to $100 per attendee actually. Wow again. He went on to explain that they had thought long and hard about what to do with it.
My first thought was that he would donate it to Scott Harrison's incredible organization, charity water, as not only was he a keynote speaker, but was a shining example of how one person can turn their life around, moving from a self-serving life to one of selfless serving.
Chris went on. No, they had decided something much different than this. Chris believes in empowering people. His latest book The $100 Startup (which we had already been given in our welcome bags) tells inspiring stories of people who, armed with an idea or dream, often no plan and a small amount of money, started something that became a personal adventure, while being of service to the world.
By this time, the crowd was in captivated suspense. What was Chris going to do with the money? In an act of empowering generosity, he opted out of keeping the money or making a decision on all our behalves. Instead, he was giving each of us a $100 bill with very simple instructions. To go out and do something, start something that would make a difference. The room was buzzing. For a moment I wondered if I'd heard him correctly. He was giving this money back to us? Empowering all 1,000 of us to make our own choice?
In all my years and all the events I've attended, this stands out as a first. An extraordinarily authentic act by someone who walks and talks his truth. I left unsure of what to do; one large donation or small acts? My first inspiration struck as I walked around downtown Portland. I chose to randomly give small amounts of money to street musicians and homeless or hungry people. Helping someone with no home or food, strikes a personal chord with me. That was my place to start.
In reflecting on the themes of the event, community, adventure and service, I see how they all resonate deeply with me. They confirm that by opting out of following a conventional path and aiming for a remarkable life, we have the opportunity to shift and create new paradigms.
With my pat down finished, I walked towards my departure gate, remembering Brené Brown's message about embracing uncertainty and that each of us belongs here. Although I have no idea what is coming towards me, I am happy to face it as a committed opt-out.
I'm willing to take a stand for who I am, and what I believe in, continuing to create conversations that just might encourage others to step out of their own comfort zones and join the growing army of us opt-outs who are determined to make a difference by being of service in as many ways as we can.
Where do you choose to opt-out in your life?
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