On Top of the World

When you tell people you’re going to a conference with the phrase “world domination” in it, be prepared for eyebrows to ascend. I’ll admit that when I signed up, I wasn’t totally sure what it was going to be about myself. The power of testimony compelled me to give it a chance.

I’d been following Chris Guillebeau for nearly a decade, so I’d heard about the World Domination Summit (WDS) when he launched it in 2011. I tried to go a few years ago, but the tickets were sold out. When I heard that 2020 would be the final year for the conference, I knew it was time for me to see what the fuss was all about.

Registration sign for World Domination Summit, Portland, Oregon, June 27, 2019
World Domination Summit registration headquarters around the corner

First of all, I ought to preface all of this with a footnote about Chris. Most of his endeavors have been about doing that which is unconventional. His platform is non-conformity and living a remarkable life. And that’s really what WDS is all about.

I can tell that’s not enough to explain what WDS is. I’m not sure I can do it justice, but I’ll try. The message of WDS is something that we all yearn for; that is, to be able to marry the things we’re most passionate about with a contribution of something valuable to the world that only we can offer. When those two components meet, it is our life’s purpose and true fulfillment. Many people will never realize that in their lifetime, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. That’s why I am doing what I’m doing.

The Decision to Go

Deciding to go to WDS was a big commitment. The timing came right at the end of the fiscal year at work and was getting close to when we had initially planned to take a summer vacation overseas. Plus, I had already bought tickets to TravelCon, which was happening at the exact same time in Boston. Then there was the price tag.

"Welcome to WDS" sign in lite-brites
Lite-Brite sign welcoming us to the opening party

Given the stakes here, we had to get creative. I knew this would be a big deal and possibly life-changing, as was TravelCon. Mark sensed that as well, and he was curious to see what this was all about and how it might affect me. Having seen me return from TravelCon and the Location Indie excursion to Mexico, he didn’t want to miss out on yet another event. I surmised he would gain his own benefits from attending WDS, but not so much with TravelCon.

The clock was ticking with WDS, whereas TravelCon had just begun and its tickets were refundable. Besides, neither of us had been to Oregon and we knew people there. We could add on a week and venture up to see Washington state, another new-to-us place. Talking it through with those decision points solved the problem…we were going to WDS and the Pacific Northwest (PNW)!

Fast forward to June 21st, and we were off on a plane to Eugene, Oregon, where our PNW adventure began. I’ll save the details for the individual places we visited for another time, but I want to get into WDS itself. The summit has always been held in Portland, Oregon, so that’s where we were headquartered after visiting friends in Eugene.

Me posing at the registration headquarters for World Domination Summit 2019
My first WDS and I’m ready to dominate!

The Summit Itself and Pre-WDS

The conference is structured in roughly three parts: pre-WDS meet-ups, the main summit, and post-WDS meet-ups. The meet-ups are all attendee-led, meaning that participants create their own sessions where they teach a skill, give a lecture, brainstorm ideas, or otherwise facilitate what they have to offer and others can attend.

To give you a sense of the types of subject matters in these sessions, below is a list of some of the meet-ups that occurred from Tuesday through Friday prior to the conference.

  • How to Make Videos That Get Watched
  • Solo Travel – Overcoming Fear, Language Barriers, & How to Make Friends
  • Improv Playground
  • Business Ecosystem for New Transformational Leaders
  • Get Started Writing Your World-Changing Book
  • How to Tie a Bow-Tie
  • Adventures in Ski Bumming: How to Escape the Matrix & Discover Your Inner Peter Pan
  • Girls Gone Great: Female Stories of Authenticity

Each of these sessions and more drew in varied audiences to form mini communities. People with shared interests would meet and discover they had other mutual things in common. That’s where the magic began for many.

Monica Bourgeau's meet-up presentation on "The Change Code: A Practical Model for Making a Difference in a Polarized World" at McMenamin's Ringlers Pub
Several of the meet-ups were in bars

My first session provided an incredible amount of insight from a simple exercise. It was the “How to Watch Yourself on Video Without Cringing” session and we had to record a 20-second video simply stating our name and why we were there. We had to critique it, then say the same number of positive points about it as we’d found wrong with it, and finally show it to three other people who gave their insights. One woman told me things that she saw in my video that felt like she was reading my soul. It was incredible! That gave me the courage to start a YouTube channel.

If the “prequel” portion of the conference was the learning and networking crux of WDS, the “main stage” on Saturday and Sunday was the heart and soul of the event. I knew there would be keynote speakers, and perhaps if I’d read my conference notebook or even the pre-meeting emails, I might have had more insight into what was going to happen. Part of the fun, though, is discovering the unknown and letting the moment capture your attention more than if you’d been prepared.

Nothing much could have prepared me for the dose of inspiration that these two days provided. The line up of speakers, most of whom I was not familiar with, gave outstanding calls to action, advice-laden talks, poignant soliloquys, and heartfelt pleas. The magnitude of what these people have done illustrate the remarkable human potential, and that’s what WDS strives to get across.

The beginning of the opening party at World Domination Summit 2019
Let the opening party begin!

Held at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, these stellar presenters knocked our socks off and then some. They know that most of us were likely to go back home and slip into familiar patterns of inactivity or get swept up in life’s demands. That’s why the overarching theme was about overcoming obstacles, harnessing human potential, and taking dedicated action towards goals. Below is a summary of the keynotes, all of which now can be seen on the WDS YouTube Channel.


Laura Vanderkam

The first keynote speaker of the weekend kicked things off with a talk about productivity and time management. One of her biggest takeaways was to plan out your week in advance (Friday afternoons, look ahead 168 hours) and front-load the most important stuff for the beginning of the week to build in a buffer in case things don’t go according to schedule.

Vanderkam also reframed a way we think about “a week” to include weekends in terms of time planning. Instead of “Hump Day” Wednesday, the midpoint of the 7-day week is actually Thursday at 5pm. It allows you to change your perspective about what’s possible and your reactions to the approaching weekend. It opens the doors for more options.

World Domination Summit 2019 Opening Keynote Laura Vanderkam
Laura Vanderkam giving the kickoff keynote

Humble the Poet

Kanwer Singh gave a succession of personal stories of overcoming his own struggles one at a time. His life lessons, though painful, were necessary to get him to acknowledge his own shortcomings in order to rise up and overcome them to help others.

There’s a lot of strength in being vulnerable.

Kanwer Singh a.k.a. “Humble the Poet”

After reaching rock bottom, he wrote a book about taking responsibility and moving out of your own way. The book and his music career became successful, and he got starstruck with the success. It took losing a close friend for him to realize he had become self-centered and needed to become more concerned with human connection.

He posits the question “how can you use your pain to help others” and has been paying it forward since his epiphany. As an added treat, his session ended with him rapping to the backdrop of his own music video.

A line in the lobby of the Newmark Theatre to meet Humble the Poet after his talk
The line to meet and greet Humble the Poet

Scott Young

“Ultralearner” Scott Young discussed breaking barriers of what’s possible with learning new information. He was able to complete four years worth of coursework from MIT’s computer science program in just under a year without ever attending classes. His point? To see if it would be possible.

World Domination Summit 2019 Keynote Scott Young. He had many quotes, including this one: "Happiness is not pleasure; happiness is the expansion of possibility"
Ultralearner Scott Young teaches us some great quotes to live by

While he may not have earned a degree, he learned the material and completed the challenge, proving that we are much more capable than we are often led to believe we can be. He exclaimed that while feedback is good, you should ignore most of it.

A goal that doesn’t scare you won’t excite you. A goal that doesn’t excite you won’t motivate you to work hard.

Scott H. Young

Jill Schlesinger

I wish I’d heard Jill’s recommendations a year ago 30 years ago! Maybe I wouldn’t have heeded it, but “don’t buy stuff you don’t understand” should be the anthem for this century.

It’s true that intelligent people often make poor decisions, especially when it comes to money. I mean, my job deals with balancing budgets and projecting numbers all day, but I’ve made so many mistakes with my savings that it’s not even countable anymore.

Money is where we put all of our emotions

Jill Schlesinger

She tackled the biggest contributors to our estranged relationship with money: fear and greed. Most of these emotions are instilled in us at a young age and passed down from family and society. It takes an action plan but we can craft a life that isn’t so “messed up” about finances. And the problem isn’t about drinking too many lattes!

World Domination Summit 2019 Keynote Jill Schlesinger presents the "Big 3" things that people should address first with their money: 1. pay down debt and loans, 2. establish emergency reserves; and 3. maximize retirement contributions
Jill Schlesinger’s “Big 3” things that people should address with their finances

Nate Staniworth

To close out the first day, we were treated to a heartstring-tugging performance by magician Nate Staniworth. He first told us the beautiful story of the wonder he experienced the first time he realized what he wanted to do. I could almost picture him as a kid and the joy and realization he experienced that day.

Of course he performed some magic, both as part of a pre-recorded event from earlier and live on stage. He explained his own experience with burnout and renaissance, and how magic can be in just doing something amazing for someone else. He ended with a highly emotional demonstration using playing cards.

Despite everything, you can still find magic in the world around you if you remember to look.

Nate Staniworth
During one of the breaks at WDS 2019, a Chinese dragon dance was performed outside in the Park Blocks
We were treated to a cultural performance during one of the breaks

James Victore

Sunday morning’s session was all about being bold, challenging your self beliefs, and overcoming what life throws at you. Former teacher and motorcycle driver, James told us a riveting tale about his near-death experience and the lessons he learned.

His powerful talk focused on rewiring your thinking to reset your life’s path. He admits that he really doesn’t do anything but remind people what they already have inside. It’s all about mindset and confidence. His book Feck Purfuction says quite a bit from the title alone.

The things that made you weird as a kid, make you great today.

James Victore

Tania Katan

Supercharged and animated, Tania’s presentation was probably one of my favorites. She had us all in stitches with her humor, but her message was really about kicking your life up a couple notches and unleashing that inner rebel we all have lurking inside.

Her viral campaign #ItWasNeverADress illustrates how something mundane and ubiquitous can be rebranded into a symbol of courage, power, and strength. She has the energy and passion to turn anything into something to marvel at.

Put her book “Creative Trespassing” on your must read list. She is inspiration personified!

During an intermission between keynotes, we had an outdoor snack break with a cultural performance and...a dinosaur!
There was at least one dinosaur in attendance

Nadya Okamoto

As if we weren’t already blown away with the speakers, out walks this 21-year old unstoppable powerhouse who already has accomplished more at her age than entire cities of people will ever hope to in their lives.

While still in high school, Nadya co-founded a nonprofit devoted to providing period products for women who did not have access to them. She saw a need and immediately did something about it. Her curiosity and genuine concern for the homeless women she encountered propelled her to jump in to try to help solve this problem.

Her story is a compelling demonstration of the power of a passionate heart, a desire to improve the world, and the energy that is generated as a result. Those are qualities that start a movement. She has redefined her generation’s potential.

Generation Z doesn’t want a seat at the table, they want to flip the damn table.

Nadya Okamoto

Trystan Angel Reese

Grab the tissue box! Trystan blew us away with his incredible story of becoming transgender, falling in love, becoming a parent overnight, and then becoming pregnant. Yes, you may have seen headlines about the “pregnant man.” As a transgender man, Trystan still had female reproductive parts that would allow him to biologically carry a child to term.

His story is actually his weapon against transphobia when it comes to sharing the realities of what family is and can be. He stresses using common ground to approach people and change their minds. If his life can serve as an example of what could be,

World Domination Summit 2019 Keynote Tristan Angel Reese discusses persuasion talking points when trying to change minds: 1. Listen for their world view; 2. Find common ground; 3. Share your story using accessible language.
Trystan Angel Reese giving some rules of thumb when trying to change someone’s mind through story

Marsha Shandur

Delving into the psyche of the “beast” inside, Marsha tackles the inner voice that tries to put you in your place. It’s a kind of mindfulness with respect to your thoughts. She stresses recognizing and being aware of that voice and trying to discern from it a lesson to move forward.

Her metaphor of The Beast is really effective. What our own beast whispers to us in our minds is something that we don’t often consider, yet it frequently has power over us. It represents our insecurities, doubts, and fears. Listening to it as we so often do limits our potential. Her biggest advice is to notice it, understand what it is really saying, acknowledge it, and then keep on going.

World Domination Summit 2019 Keynote Marsha Shandur delivering the four guidelines to follow when talking to your inner beast: 1. Notice; 2. Understand; 3. Acknowledge and 4. Push Through.
Marsha’s four beastly guidelines


We didn’t have a chance to stick around much after WDS because we were taking a train to Seattle the next afternoon, but there were several days of meet-ups afterwards too. Transportation glitches prevented us from getting to our only session that day, but we took the WDS initiative and had our own session at a coffee shop.

World Domination Summit 2019 Closing Party and the unofficial mascot - a llama
WDS Closing Party Mascot

The creative juices were flowing and the flag of inspiration was waving high over Portland. I think that is really what WDS strives to achieve. We are all capable of doing great things beyond our imagination’s limits. We must believe that what we have can be shared with the world in a unique and meaningful way.

You may still not have an accurate picture of what this thing is, but I hope it opened a small window into what kind of possibilities there are. WDS has a secret identity that can’t be fully defined. I think that’s part of the allure and why it has taken on a community of its own. Next year may be the final year, but the spirit will linger on.

Don’t miss your chance to participate in what is sure to be an unforgettable last hurrah. Join me in Portland on June 23-29, 2020 and be part of history. Sign up here for the ticket waiting list.

Me playing in the plastic ball pit at the closing party
Don’t forget to have fun!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Honey says:

    Crazy wonderful experience! I’ve learned to love learning! Who knew?!?


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