What does it mean to be human?

Humanity is what you say to someone when you think no one’s watching. It’s what you do when you’re all by yourself. Humanity is what you feel when you watch another person suffering, and decide to either do nothing, or do something. Humanity is the ability to reach out and hug someone. Humanity is being grateful for your family, your friends, and your ability to do something in this world.

Humanity is the ability to trust, the ability to connect, the ability to touch. To be human means we can move, create, love, share, and laugh. Humanity—the essential element or essence of being human is more than what you do. It’s who you are, and who you are able to be together. It is the ability for one thousand people to sing–as a group–the entirety of “Don’t Stop Believing,” and fill a theater with our voices.

It’s also not the collection of a bunch of items. It is not the last round of investment funding you raised, it’s not a job promotion, it’s not a cubicle, and it’s not making the fortune 500 list. Humanity is not the amount of accolades you receive, or the accomplishments you rack up, the number of subscribers you have, or the number of friends you have on facebook. It’s not about stuff, it’s not about money, it’s not about things. Humanity is not about celebrity or valuing one person’s life above another—we sometimes place an emphasis on success, defined as being the best or the most-est–and it’s not about any of that.

It’s about celebrating the act of living, and the value of all of them. Lives. Because people matter–all of them, the weird ones, the poor ones, the different ones, the enthusiastic ones, the quiet ones. And if there’s one thing I learned, again and again this past weekend, it’s that people are beautiful. All of them.

This past weekend, I voyaged to Portland, Oregon for my second trip to the annual World Domination Summit, an event and adventure created by Chris Guillebeau, JD Roth, Jolie Guillebeau, and the remarkable World Domination Team. The questions that Chris poses resonate with people everywhere, bringing together a tribe of individuals not defined by race, industry, location, income, or age–but rather, by a willingness to create, to innovate, to inspire, and to act. Throughout his writing and projects, Chris asks everyone:

How will you live a remarkable life?

What can you do that no one else can do?

The power of people to create and connect–to build community, to share in adventure, and to make incredible things happen–was showcased on an exponential scale during the weekend summit. It’s like walking into a bar full of 40 people, but instead of wondering if you’ll meet one or two nice folks, it’s realizing that all of them are already your friends, and that each of them are brilliantly weird, nerdy, and crazy-uncool and brimming with energy. And that there are one thousand of them. And you can’t possibly meet or hug them all, but somehow, you want to, and you know that when you walk down the street early in the morning, you’ll hug at least 20 of them before the sessions even start. Two skeptics–a boomer and an IT CIO–even questioned whether the weekend was all hype, and walked away in semi-amazement at the oodles of talent and drive in this set of change agents and micropreneurs.

Chris Guillebeau is the author of the $100 Startup and The Art of Nonconformity and the famous blog by the same name. Each year (this is year two!), he puts on a conference to bring people from around the world together. (Read last year’s summaries from the three days here). This year, one-thousand people traveled from more than 20 countries to show up in Portland, Oregon to connect, learn, listen, and laugh together. On Saturday morning we stood up to Brené Brown’s kick-off call to sing “Don’t Stop Believing,” together while dancing and laughing; we followed it by making a pledge to Scott Harrison to all give up our birthdays for Charity Water and people around the world.

“What connects all of us is the ability to connect and create community, the ability to share, and the ability to tell our stories.”

What connects all of us is the ability to connect and create community, the ability to share, and the ability to tell our stories. Humans are the only ones that engage in storytelling, and the ability to share the lives and adventures of others shows us what’s possible, and how to become more of ourselves by writing our own stories along the way. Throughout the first day, we heard stories on the power of vulnerability, on living without water, of how one person went from a nightclub promoter to creating one of the biggest charities of our time, of solving problems, of dreaming big, of re-inventing your life, of giving up everything after realizing what matters, of the power of introverts, of scale and leverage, of the future of work and education, of the sharing economy, and the stories of people who time and time again took limited resources and created businesses and adventures in their lives through audacity, spirit, and courage.

Note: courage is hard. Courage takes guts, fear, trembling, and being scared. It’s not easy.  


Brené Brown kick-started the event with a talk that had me crying, laughing, cheering, singing, posing, dancing, and hugging the other attendees. From a thousand-person-strong rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing,” to “#SUCKIT,” (her response all bullies, everywhere), to her honesty through decades of research on vulnerability, Brené brought it. Here are some of the best, in tweet-able form:


If you’re a night club promoter bringing tens of thousands of dollars into events every weekend, doing drugs, and living the high life in New York, what do you do when you wake up and realize that you’re living a life you don’t like and you feel like a hypocrite? Scott Harrison decided to create one of the biggest charities on the planet and fix the water crisis.

“I realized I was the worst person I knew,” he said, humbly, on stage. “I realized there would never be enough of what I was looking for.” So he got on a Mercy Ship and donated his time to doctors who would travel to perform tumor-removal surgeries pro-bono to people who needed medical attention and couldn’t get it. While there, he realized that 800 million people around the world were living without water, and that this was “one of the few problems in the world that we know how to solve.” He decided he would try to figure out how to solve it. Today, 6 years later, they’ve already funded 6,270 water projects and helped 2.5 million people get clean water. He asked every attendee to give up their birthday to help solve the water crisis—and I signed up.


Susan Cain, author of the best-selling book “Quiet,” shared her insights on introversion with the group. In a hilarious question, she asked, “how many people here are introverts?” Perhaps half the crowd raised their hand. She said, “How many are extroverts?” –and the crowd whooped and hollered. Then, when we realized what we had done—we all giggled.

Introversion is not about people who are anti-social, or dislike other people—introverted people are just better in small groups, or one-on-one, and need time and space to think. She debunked the myth of the open-office culture as being conducive to success, and also shared with us the power of individual—not collaborative—idea generation for team dynamics.

You can take really strong positions with a mild-mannered stance, and have a lot of power with it.

You don’t have to be the loudest, but you do have to believe in what you do.


This lady means business. And I mean BIZ-NESS. The soul behind the Fire Starter Sessions, here are some of my favorites from her lighting round:


Scott created Behance and the 99 percent network in order to connect creatives and figure out how we can organize (or re-organize) and connect people better. Current systems–the corporate systems, work systems, education systems–are flawed, and if we can connect people in new ways, perhaps we can exponentially affect the creativity of both teams and individuals. From both his workshop and his presentation, a couple of notes:

  • “Companies are increasingly less about a product or a medium, and more about a mission. As the barrier to entry on production via various mediums gets smaller, anyone can print, build, or create.”
  • “The new work world is one where meritocracy is possible: huge industries of middle men are disappearing, and people with the right skills and talents are being hired for their abilities, not just their connections.”
  • “Free radicals are becoming the norm, and they have no tolerance for bullshit.”


The speakers aren’t the only reason the conference was spectacular: we didn’t put them up on a pedestal and think, man, one day I hope to be like that. Every person in attendance already was a creative genius of their own right, a superstar with abilities. As Chris said in one of his notes: “The resources you need are already here. Look around you; the people you’ll meet in this room are what you need to make things happen.” He’s right–we can’t do the work alone–and that’s why we all went to the conference. To connect. To hear each other’s stories. To find resonance and tribes. To shake things up a bit.

If you want to know more about WDS and the adventures, here are some of my favorite posts already floating around:


Last year, when I went to WDS 2011, I didn’t know very many people. I made a commitment to reach out and meet a lot of people, to say hi to a lot of faces. I thought that traffic and popularity might be important. I wanted, I now realize, to be noticed. To be heard. This year, I guess it was a little bit different. I’ve grown and changed a bit, and I’m becoming a little bit wary of the idea of “celebrity,” of putting people up on a pedestal. When we idolize someone, we say to ourselves, “they are exceptional,” and many of us think that this story isn’t possible for ‘the likes of us.” I’m not sure that’s true or that I believe that anymore. We are all capable, powerful, and full of stories. We are filled with talent, ideas, courage, and possibility. Some people have more influence in the voice of a culture, but each person is important. And I wonder about the size of communities we’re creating.

Somewhere along the way, I feel as though we’ve lost the medium-sized community, the community of 1000 or 3000, the local and regional scale that brings leadership to hundreds of people, rather than selecting just a couple out of millions. We live in a country that tries to find only 10 people capable of singing on shows like American Idol, where publishers want you to have an audience of several hundred thousand, where record industries are going broke without selling out million-ticket concert tours.

Is this right? Is this real? Or is the power of community and connectivity something that needs to be built at the smaller level, at the 50-, 100-, and 500- person scale? At the 1000-, 3000-, and 5000-leadership level? Have we skewed the paradigm, and, in effect, lost a whole generation of leaders by losing the voices of small crowds?

And is the corporation–the place where we’re spending hours and hours of our lives–a poor substitute, a weak shadow, of what it means to have community? We work in offices of 40 or a couple hundred, and are lucky to know and enjoy the friendship of a handful of people. Dov Seidman mentioned that 7 out of 10 people are unhappy in their jobs today. Research touts the ingenuity of “team building” exercises and the need for relationship-building, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re extremely off the mark:

If we don’t invest in our own humanity–and make whole people, and encourage complex communities and rich interactions among a web of talented, creative, eager individuals–what, then, are we doing?

The power of this summit draws from the craving we have for connectivity, for spirited humanity, for sharing our stories. We don’t just want to learn, be preached to, or exchange business cards. We want to think, we want to build, and we want to find our tribes. We desperately want to findpeople like us. Whatever size they are. We want to be a part of something. It’s not a fleeting desire. It’s our reason for being.

If you’re reading this, I want to know: What’s your story? What communities are you a part of? What do you think is missing from today’s education and career landscape?

And on a personal level, Who do you want to be? What will you do over the next year to take action on those burning, overwhelming dreams that you want to reach?

What’s your story?

What you think about when you daydream, that’s where your heart is.

Are you there yet?

What will you do to get there?