I recently had the good fortune of attending BIF10, a singular storytelling summit focused on social innovation and personal journeys. I had attended as a guest vis-a-vis my professional work with a healthcare nonprofit. Aside from knowing that it was a storytelling summit, I had little else to frame my expectations. And so, unlike so many other professional conferences I have attended, I went in mostly blind. And my mind was utterly blown. Wow. There were stories, tears, many strangers, and many random collisions.
For someone who has become rather jaded–I suspect I was actually born jaded–the summit took me by surprise. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe my experience there in any way that would do it justice. Instead, let me describe the symptoms that plagued me during and immediately afterwards:
– I tweeted, a lot. For someone who has less than 20 followers and even fewer lifetime tweets, I found an urge to tweet the #BIF10 experience. To hell if no one ever read these tweets! But in heeding the urge to tweet, I nearly tripled my following–again, only a notable feat to someone so inept at tweeting, but sweet nonetheless.
– Afterwards, I kept interrupting conversations with family and friends with comments like, “And then there was the guy who told his story in song and verse!” Or, “Then there was the story from this nurse who was told by the Dalai Lama that she needed to go to Tibet to save women and infants–and she did!” Or, “Gah. There was also a fourteen year old robot builder, which was beyond cool. We’re talking cool-enough-to-be invited-to-the-White-House-and-singled-out-by-President-Obama!” The exclamations would just keep coming as my poor overwhelmed brain tried to process the experience of not just hearing but witnessing these stories.
– I couldn’t sleep. I had a hard time falling asleep and kept waking up in the middle of the night with my mind racing to nowhere in particular. Argh.
– I felt both inspired (that nurse saved babies!)–and also utterly depressed (I didn’t build robots as kid and I’m not teaching my kids to build robots!)
– And did I mention that the storytellers also included Richard Saul Wurman (founder of TED), Ethan Zuckerman (creator of the much-maligned pop-up internet ad), Liza Donnelly (New Yorker cartoonist), and David Macaulay (ingenious artist)? Yeah, they were there too.
So, what to do with all this inspiration, wisdom, and camaraderie? Heck if I know. Really, I don’t know what to do. I have been disrupted. My mind is in such a jumble, being pulled in so many directions, trying to make personal and professional connections and really failing to do anything except being overwhelmed. Part of me feels like I’ve just been treading water, having yet to truly challenge myself or find a calling. Another part of me feels like I have stories worth telling too. And yet another part of me feels like there’s still time–to do what, I have no idea. For now, I’ve decided to do nothing. I’m just gonna let all this wash over me, absorb it all like a sponge and then see what happens. There just might be more clarity with a little more distance and a little less deliberation. Maybe. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few key takeaways and reactions that are still bouncing around in my head:
– We need to fail successfully. (Alexander Osterwalder) Alas, but what happens when there are those of us who can’t afford to fail? Single mothers? It’s not a level playing field.
– Unhappiness is a good thing; it motivates us to change things. (Michael Anton Dila)
– Less if often harder. Simplify. (Joy Mountford)
– Embrace your stupidity. (Robert Saul Wurman)
– We will all have our 15 minutes of shame on the internet. (Ethan Zuckerman)
– The politics of being a woman is a daily thing. (Liza Donnelly) Here here, lady!
– Hold on to principles tightly, hold onto ideas lightly. (Vala Afshar)
– It’s about getting shit done. (Len Schlesinger) Now, officially my personal motto: I get shit done.
So yeah, I’m not going to do anything with all of this right now. In the meantime, I’ll try to get back to the business of getting shit done.
PS. Well, shit had to wait another day. The day after I returned from BIF10, I attended the Boston premier of The Last Days in Vietnam, a documentary about the last days of the war and the evacuation in Saigon. Gah. That whole film was about the time and place of my birth. Between BIF10 and then this? I don’t know where to even start anymore. Stay tuned for a blog post about the documentary when I regain my ability to communicate. Oomph.