I’m standing in the middle of Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland. It’s almost midnight on a Sunday night, yet there are hundreds of people gathered here with me, dancing, chatting, hugging, and just taking it all in. DJ Prashant has the stage and the dance floor pulsing with his Bollywood/Latin mashup mixes and his frequent calls of “Hands up, hands up, hands up!”
Portland has been experiencing a heatwave the past few days, so even this late at night, it’s still hot and sticky and everyone is glistening with sweat. This does not detract from the moment. It only adds to the feeling that we’re suspended in a place that exists outside of the normal rules and expectations.
I feel like I could stay here forever. The music and vibes are excellent, the people are open-hearted and welcoming, and most of all, it’s one of those rare times in my life where I feel fully engaged in the present moment. This is exactly the place and time I want to be.
My heart is full—I feel both an overwhelming sense of gratitude and sadness. I might burst into tears at any moment and it’s hard to say if they would be tears of joy or grief. Maybe a little of both.
But eventually, my feet remind me that I’ve been walking an average of 20,000 steps every day this week and now after dancing and standing for several hours, they’re ready to take a much-needed break. If I don’t give it to them soon, they may never forgive me.
So I take a final sweeping look at the stage and the crowd, taking in this incredible group of people who are brought together by their quest for community, service, and adventure, and I say goodbye to the World Domination Summit.
What is World Domination Summit?
Every year since 2015, I’ve looked forward to summer. No, not because of the warm weather and beach days—I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where our months have nicknames like “June Gloom” and “Fogust” (It’s like August, but covered in fog.) The reason I anticipated summer was that I knew I’d be heading to Portland to attend World Domination Summit (WDS).
The basic concept of World Domination Summit—led by author, podcaster, world traveler, and all-around amazing person Chris Guillebeau—is to ask (and attempt to answer) the question, “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?”
Three values define World Domination Summit: community, service, and adventure. And all of the activities—from the main stage speakers to attendee-led meetups to workshop-style Academies—are infused with these values.
One of the things I’ve always loved about WDS is that the overarching question and values are broad enough to encompass a wide array of topics, but still provide structure and cohesion to the experience.
I attended my first WDS in 2015 and every year they offered it after that. (If you want to hear about those previous experiences, I wrote recaps of 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019. I attended in 2017 but somehow skipped writing a recap that year. Oops!) I was heartbroken in 2018 when they announced they would only be doing it for another two years. I immediately bought my tickets for the next two years since I was sure I wouldn’t want to miss the final two installments.
2019 was incredible, and I ended that event feeling so full of excitement and anticipation for what would come next.
And then, of course, 2020 brought the end of the world as we knew it. The idea of gathering 1,000 people in a theater suddenly seemed like something that might never happen again. The organizers assured us that the final WDS would take place—just not in 2020. Instead of attaching a year to it, they started referring to it as WDSX, the X signifying both the tenth installment of the event and perhaps the mystery of not knowing when exactly it would take place.
Eventually they announced that yes, WDSX was moving forward and it was going to happen in 2022. So I bought my plane tickets, reserved my Airbnb, and started counting down the days.
A few highlights from WDSX
Just to be clear—WDS is a full week of non-stop fun, inspiration, and activity, so this blog post would quickly get out of control if I tried to include everything. I’m just choosing a few favorite moments that stood out to me.
Part of dominating the world involves smashing world records, which is what we did in the T-Rex Takeover. For this event, 380 people (and one dog) gathered in Pioneer Courthouse Square to beat the world record for the most people wearing inflatable dinosaur costumes. Once we’d been counted, DJ Prashant led us in a T-Rex dance party, which was confusing, hilarious, and SO MUCH FUN! Check out this video recap by Armosa Studios to get a sense of the scale of the event.
As a longtime attendee, I have a lot of admiration for the speakers who go up onstage to deliver keynotes at WDS. They’re people who have overcome tremendous obstacles, who have made choices and changes that didn’t always make sense to the people in their lives, and who have made a positive impact on the world around them. And sometimes it can be easy to think I could never go up on that stage because I’m not as accomplished or successful as the speakers. But the attendee stories—where a handful of attendees are selected to tell a two-minute story—are a great reminder that we all have stories to share and we’ve all done some remarkable things in our lives. This year we heard from a person with agoraphobia, a trans woman who shared part of her transition story, and a formerly incarcerated person who now works with people in prison to help them develop professional skills and increase their chances of success when they’re released (to name just a few).
The WDS core team is never satisfied with just putting on a good event. Nope, they always look for ways to infuse a little magic into the experience. And WDSX was no different. The app we used to keep track of the agenda and connect with other attendees also doubled as a high-tech jukebox of sorts where we could request which song we wanted to hear, what type of weather we wanted them to create in the theater, and what type of party vibes we were after (did we want a disco rave or a beach party? Tough decision!). In one of the final moments when we were gathered in the theater, they began passing out journals across each row. It took a moment for us to realize that they were personalized and somehow they managed to hand them out precisely enough that everyone in each row got the journal with their own name on it. How did they do it? It was magic!
A few final thoughts and takeaways
Reflecting on WDSX and the previous WDS events I attended in previous years, there are a few final thoughts and takeaways I’d like to share.
Be open to new experiences
When I think about the WDS experience, I often compare it to that scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban where Harry takes the lucky serum, Felix Felicis. As long as the potion is in effect, no matter what he does—even if it seems like a strange or random choice—luck is on his side and everything will ultimately work out. And while I’m at WDS, I often feel that way. Any conversation you have with someone, any event you decide to attend, it will be the right choice. This could very well be a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you feel like you’re going to have a great conversation or a fun experience, this will often turn out to be the case. And this spirit of being open and positive is something that’s easier to have (at least for me) when I’m at WDS or otherwise outside of my daily routines. But it’s a feeling I want to remember and try to cultivate more.
Look for ways to live by the values in daily life
Similarly, WDS creates a time and space where it’s easy to focus on the values of community, service, and adventure. Clearly, these values appeal to me, which is why I’ve continued to attend WDS for all these years. But as the official WDS events come to a close, I want to remember that I don’t need to be in Portland for the week to live by these values. I can choose to make them part of my regular life.
You never really leave WDS
Over the past couple of years, my path has crossed with several people from the WDS community in various ways. I’ve run into WDS friends in Boston, Palm Springs, and Phoenix (and none of us live in any of those places!). Anytime I’ve encountered someone from WDS in another setting, there’s been an instant sense of connection and belonging—no matter how much or how little we’d spoken beforehand. This is what gives me the most hope moving forward. You never really leave WDS—once you’re part of this community, you’re in it for the long-haul. I’m reminded of the surprisingly poignant conversation that takes place between the stars of fictional pop group Style Boyz in the movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, where they compare themselves to the Wu-Tang Clan. While artists may have stepped away from the Wu-Tang Clan to record their solo albums, they never stopped being in the Wu-Tang Clan. And it’s the same for WDS. We’ll always be in it, even if it doesn’t exist in exactly the same iteration.
All photos by Armosa Studios