WDS 2011: “The Heart Attack of Awesome”


One year ago, I began planning last weekend with a small group of trusted friends. As the time drew closer, we transitioned from a planning team to an Action Team. Then, as the weekend really drew closer, we expanded to a much larger Action Team.

When the big day finally arrived, more than 40 people worked closely together to provide a gathering space for the 500 awesome people who came to town, more than half of whom were visiting Portland for their first time. Everyone involved was a volunteer—no speakers were paid, and attendees themselves contributed much of the weekend as we went along.


It’s going to take me more time than expected to process last weekend’s epic adventure, but I’ll share a few specific stories and video clips over the next few weeks. In the meantime, you can read attendee wrap-ups here, here, here, here, here, and here (this is a small selection that can lead to many others if you’re interested).

Here are a few highlights from the main event…

Pamela Slim performed an unexpected martial arts demonstration during her opening keynote talk. I said in my intro that “Pam could kick my ass”… not knowing she was actually going to prove that as part of a demonstration for all of us! Nice work, Pam.

I asked Pam to open and Jonathan Fields to close for a reason—I trusted them, and I knew the audience would be in good hands. Jonathan gave a preview of his latest and greatest work, all focused on turning fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance.

Also speaking from the main stage, Leo Babauta skillfully executed a moonwalk and set of pushups for us—nice job. When he wasn’t exercising in public, he shared how he transformed his life through a series of small steps that created significant results.

While Danielle LaPorte was speaking to a standing-room only crowd, I was handed a note that said a fire alarm had been triggered outside and there was a slight chance they would need to evacuate the entire building. Yikes! For 10 minutes I wondered how that would work, before being handed another note saying all was well. (I thought the firestarting thing was just branding… but obviously not. Use your powers only for good, Danielle.)

Late on the first day, Jodi Ettenberg talked about how she went to law school because someone bet her she couldn’t get in, and then moved to New York on a similar bet. Later that night I got a note on Twitter: “Chris, will you bet Jodi she won’t go out with me tomorrow night?” I said I’d stay out of that one.

John T. Unger played the harmonica and talked about his disaster-and-recovery story. Preceding him, Andrea Scher and Jen Lemen earned a standing ovation after hand-writing a personal message to all 500 of our attendees and taping it on the bottom of their chairs. For a great conclusion on Saturday night (and before hundreds of people went out on various city tours) Karen Walrond talked about the beauty of different, probably a better showcase of non-conformity than I provided in my own book.

The Surprise Bollywood Dance Session

We brought in “DJ Prashant and the Bollywood Dreamers” to lead the group in a Bollywood dance lesson. For the rest of the weekend, everyone was walking around performing their best Indian dance moves. (By the way, you should definitely NOT watch this video of two professional bloggers attempting to follow along. When you don’t watch it, you’ll notice that J.D. Roth was cleverly avoiding his own dance attempt… no fair.)


The keynote talks were complimented by dozens of workshops, breakout sessions, parties, meetups, tours, and numerous informal activities throughout the weekend. We ended on Sunday night with a massive afterparty on the other side of town, where shuttle buses ferried our group back and forth until 10:30pm. (And apparently the parties continued after that, but by then I was in bed…)

WDS 2012: The Sequel

Yes, we’ll do it again next year, and yes, we’ll need a bigger venue. The team is taking some much-needed down time to work on other projects during the summer, but we’ll regroup and begin planning WDS 2.0 this fall. For our inaugural event we experienced extremely high demand (every ticket sold out five months in advance), and as the word gets out, we expect even more interest next year.

I offered the inaugural attendees a special advance registration for next year, and nearly 70% of them signed up—not a bad conversion rate. More than a year in advance, we already have 285 people confirmed to return, without having a real registration process or even the exact date. So far, so good. The early-early notification list for everyone else is over here, but please note that I don’t expect to offer tickets until at least September.

In their own words, here’s how one of our attendees explained his return to life at home after the weekend:

“Even though I had to take power naps at two rest stops around 1AM to keep from falling asleep at the wheel on the way back to Seattle, it was worth it.

The five-minute walk from my car into work on the day after the summit felt longer and harder than the four hour, mini nap infused drive coming back to Seattle from Portland in the dead of night. Leaving a place and event filled with people that aren’t content with being normal or simply fitting in, brought a tinge of culture shock upon me.

The walk to my cubicle brought me back to normal, but because of WDS, I had a renewed vigor to be different and make my dreams become a reality.”

We had a media team on site, and they’re creating an entire documentary about WDS. For now, you can see initial photos here. Video, speaker interviews, and attendee contributions are in the works and expected to be completed in about 4-6 weeks.

A Personal Note

A few months ago I realized I had underestimated some of the costs of putting on such a production. Registration fees were approximately $125,000, and the expenses at last count—before I started paying invoices without looking at the numbers on them—were approximately $145,000. (Free business tip: ideally, these numbers should be reversed.)

Well, no need to feel sorry for me—I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to have made this investment. It feels a lot like a non-sensible, self-funded, 63-city Unconventional Book Tour that was also awesome and completely worth it in every way.

I said at the beginning of our time together on Saturday that WDS was not a “motivational conference”—a phrase that a media article had used in describing our adventure. I’ve never been to such a thing and have no idea what happens there, but my impression is that you go to a “motivational conference” if your life sucks and you need someone to inspire you. Instead, this was a gathering of awesome people working on remarkable things, all learning from one another.

As someone put it on Twitter, it was “a heart attack of awesome.” Another person called it “the grown-up version of summer camp, ” and someone else said “WDS was like walking into a room with 500 of your new best friends.”

Here in Portland, we’re deep in thought and introspection over where to take this next year and beyond. But rest assured—the best is yet to come.

Thanks to everyone who made WDS an epic adventure. We’re looking forward to doing this again!


Images: Armosa Studios

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  • C.C. Chapman says:

    I’m still sad I somehow missed hearing about this event until after it happened.

    After seeing several of my friends speak there and then speak so highly about it after the fact it is on my MUST GO TO list for next year.

    Thanks for doing it.

  • Algis Tamosaitis says:

    Sorry I missed it! Looking forward to going next year.

  • Chris Peacock says:

    Great job, Chris, on putting such a successful event together.

    I would have loved to watch Leo moonwalking! 😉

    Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for next year.

  • Patricia GW says:

    A “gathering of awesome people working on remarkable things, all learning from one another” – how epic! How many ideas that will change the world, change the way we live, inspire people to follow their dreams came from that summit? Great job Chris & your Action Team! I sincerely hope I can come next year!

  • Elana Miller says:

    I’m one of those people who didn’t make it this year but on the early notification list for next year – sounds awesome and I hope to be a part of it in 2012!

  • Matt Langdon says:

    I’m one of the 70% who signed back up. It was a no-brainer.

    This weekend was one of wonder. It was meeting people you’d only read about. It was meeting people you’d never heard of, but never want to forget. It was bumping into #wds people as you wandered around Portland on its finest weekend of weather ever.

    And it was using the plane rides home to map out a plan of action, so next year you’ll have even more stories to tell.

  • Gerhard says:

    WDS was indescribable! A new standard for awesomeness. You are truly a great visionary, Chris. Thanks for putting this together and I look forward to WDS 2012 already!

  • Justin Hamlin says:

    Can it be June 2012 already?

  • Kate Rodde says:

    Sounds like a great event! Portland is a long way from Paris, so I won’t be making it along anytime soon, but I just wanted to say that you really have a knack for getting the inspiration going right at the opportune moment – the number of times one of your updates has popped into my inbox when I have really needed it is quite incredible – thanks Chris and keep up the inspirational work….

  • Leah McClellan says:

    I’m so glad there will be another one next year! I SO wish I could have been there but happy to be reading the reports. Sounds fabulous, and I’ll be there next year, for sure.

    Off to check out the pics…

  • Sean says:

    The quality of the interactions, enthusiasm of everyone involved, and the welcoming feel that was created, really set this apart from any other event I’ve been apart of.

    Now to start brainstorming for 2012!

  • Amy Oscar says:

    Suggestion: Take it on the road. WDS Tour with stops in my town, NY and my dream town, PARIS! Oui! Updating my passport for that one.

  • Owen Marcus says:

    WDS was great… except for my Bollywood Dancing which I hope was not filmed.

    I could rave about your staff, the presenters and 500 attendees – yet it was the new community you created that touched me the deepest. At the closing I sat there in awe feeling how in one year you catalyzed the beginning of a new community, a new movement.

    My jealousy for what you co-created with all your help evolved to appreciation for what all of you created. Thank you for hosting the party!

  • Sandi Amorim says:

    In describing the weekend to a friend I said it was like the best of my Twitter stream had come to life!

    Thank you Chris and team for a most extraordinary experience. I will definitely be back next year!

  • Jeremy says:

    Chris I am glad that you are still following through with another event after taking a loss. I have worked in event planning and many events take losses the first year like business. I was really upset when a festival cancelled after one year just cause they lost money on the first year event. Keep up the good work

  • JonR says:

    Sounds wonderful. I live in Seattle, so I want to attend next year. But as a guy in my upper 50’s who still wants to continue a life of adventure and non-conformity while many of the same generation buy RVs and bigger television sets, I have to ask – because of my age, would I feel out of place?

  • Laurie says:

    I signed up for WDS as a way to jumpstart a new way of life I’d been wanting for years…and actually being in Portland with all those rockstars was like the most amazing field trip ever, after six months of learning and growth and massive inner and outer life shifts. Chris, you and your team were brilliant, and one would never know y’all had never done something like that before. My life will never be the same, and that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Thank you so much!

  • Marni Farrant says:

    I am nearly GREEN with JEALOUSY!!!! Already camping my inbox for news of next year’s Summit, and so sad knowing that this is one of those times when “you just had to be there” is so, so true.

  • James Schipper says:

    I had no doubt it would go so well. I look forward to next year’s event!

  • Sophia says:

    To JONR who asked if his age would make him out of place … I say “no way”. I spoke with several folks who were in their 50’s and were very inspiring and had much to share. I strongly believe that your experiences and wisdom you have gained with age would be an asset to the event.

  • gwyn says:

    I am still in awe of the awesomeness that is WDS. I tried not to have expectations but I did think I would be far outnumbered by hip young people and I was wrong. I have never been to an event where I felt so totally right about being there. Not only were there people of all ages and ethnicity, but everyone was so genuine and interesting and engaged. Real connections were made and will hold. Next year I’m bringing my husband and we are now beginning a 10 year plan to move west. I could go on and on but instead I’ll write a blog post 🙂 My gratitude is beyond words but THANKS to you Jolie and the whole team!

    With Love,

  • Etsuko says:

    Great recap – and there are many more blogs raving about this experience.
    Also, on twitter, there are still many tweets with #WDS. It just keeps coming as people are trying to recover from WDS-hangover.

    Thank you, Chris, and his action team for making this happen. Now setting my intention on what I’ll have achieved by the time we get together again.

  • Michelle Russell says:

    I still have to write a recap on my own blog (it’ll probably be this weekend), but WDS was amazing and catalytic and inspiring and every superlative that has been heaped on it already. I agree with Mark Langdon that pre-signing up for next year was a no-brainer–it was the easiest question to answer all weekend long.

    Things went so smoothly that much of the effort to make it that way was undoubtedly invisible to most of us attendees–so here’s another big, huge, Bollywood-style (with sequins!) thank-you to Chris and the entire WDS team for making it look so easy when I’m fairly sure it was far from it.

    Looking forward to WDS2.0 already!

  • Deborah A. says:

    Sounds like a fabulous time was had by all! Please bring the next one to the eastern half of the States and sign me up!

  • Sheira Furse says:

    What a fabulous mini recap! I *loved, loved, loved* the weekend and am already counting the days until next year. I am absolutely thrilled to know that you have such a skilled team on documenting this event as I already know that I will print out, savor, and thumb wear my copy to dust! Rock on Chris!

  • Jeff says:

    If that was the heart attack of awesome, I’ll keep eating fatty foods. I second the quote “like 500 of your best friends.” I had a blast, met some old e-friends and highly look forward to meeting more next year.

    love to all,

  • Leah Shapiro says:

    This was by far the best event I’ve been to in a long time. You did an amazing job of bringing t all together.

    I think you describe it perfectly here-
    ” this was a gathering of awesome people working on remarkable things, all learning from one another. ”
    Everyone was someone you wanted to talk to and there was so many people doing amazing things! No one was trying to sell you anything which was really refreshing.

    I’m looking forward to next year and to seeing the documentary!

  • emma says:

    Congrats, Chris! I so wish I could have been part of WDS this year, but I’m looking forward to changing that in 2012.

  • jami says:

    From a fellow I chatted with at the farmers market I learned a new term that is apt for what myself and some other WDS’s are doing: Glocalization or Global Localization=global reach of localized efforts.

    How often does an event, and the attendees, not only live up to expectations, but EXCEED it? Heartfelt thanks to all involved, especially Chris, for all of the effort put forth to make WDS a reality. See you next year!

  • Brandon says:

    I went into this knowing that it was going to be amazing, but honestly I could never have imagined it would be as mind-blowing as it was. If I had one takeaway to share with the world, it would be that everyone was smiling. The energy and enthusiasm of the people there was palpable. Absolutely incredible!

    Everyone who came made the event special, but you and your team of ambassadors are saints for facilitating. It feels like the world is already a better place due to the spirit of the people that were there.

    Thanks again for an epic experience!

  • LoisM says:

    Way to go, Chris & Team!!! Rock on!

    I didn’t make this year’s event and probably won’t make next year’s due to my own adventures happening at the same time but I second Amy Oscar’s comment about taking this on the road…. it’s a great idea! Think big!

    And to JONR – I’m 58 and after meeting Chris on his road trip/book event, I can honestly say that I would never feel out of place at any event that Chris puts on; we’re all like-minded people and age is just a number – you might find more of us out there than you’d think! (thanks, Sophia!)

    PS. I was at the Starlight Parade in downtown Portland last weekend and kept looking at people on the street wondering if any of them were from WDS…. maybe?! It was still fun sharing the same town with you all 🙂

  • Jill says:

    I was not able to attend this year and am sorry to have missed such a wonderful event. I’m on the notification list and plan on going next year. 🙂

  • Stephenie Zamora says:

    AWESOME. I can’t wait to be there next year! 🙂

  • Gina Stamas says:

    Well done Chris. You follow your intuition, you trust yourself and end up co-creating a platform where each and every person is respected for their own gifts. Thanks for having the courage and integrity to bring this new structure/platform/human support system into the world. I have a lot of admiration for you!

  • JonR says:

    Thanks Lois and Sophia! Hope to see everyone there next year.

  • Scott McMurren says:

    Dude. I totally was out of the country for this one. But I raised a glass of fine Spanish wine in your honor with my lovely wife. And I followed the feeds….sounded totally awesome. LUV the hedder: “Heart Attack of Awesome”. Can I borrow that? HAHA s

  • Peggy McPartland says:

    I cannot thank you and your team enough for all of your energy and passion in putting on one of the most incredible gatherings I’ve ever attended! It truly was like being with 500 of my best friends. WDS touched people in astounding ways! I’m already looking forward to WDS 2012!

  • Sarah Russell says:

    Chris – Everything I’ve read about the event has been great, so congrats on a pulling together such an amazing project! So bummed to have missed it due to a prior engagement, but you can bet I’ll be there next year with bells on (which could come in handy if there’s more Bollywood dancing…)!

  • Scott Dinsmore says:

    Massive over delivery Chris! To say the very least. My hair still stands up on end when I think of the talks and the interactions I had over the weekend. Your small army didn’t look so small last weekend! Hats off to what you’ve built.


  • Omar says:

    Hi Chris. Congrats by succesful event. I´ve read your book and your blog’s posts. It has been a great help in order to change the way I see the life. I hope to be in the next WDS. Greetings from Bogotá Colombia.

    Hola Chris. Felicitaciones por el éxito del evento. He leído su libro y estoy atento a su blog. Han sido una gran ayuda para cambiar mi forma de pensar y ver la vida. Espero poder estar en el próximo evento. Saludos desde Bogotá, Colombia.

  • Stuart says:

    Oh wow, yesterday I had no idea that this event even existed! But now I’ve read accounts from Dave Ursillo, Farnoosh Brock, and now you Chris, I feel that this is something that I’d be mad not to attend.

    Isn’t it amazing how the power of society works? One conversation about how cool something was leads to another conversation, then another, then another, and before you know it, it’s the hottest trend on Twitter! ‘Word of mouth’ is a powerful tool 😉

  • Becca Niederkrom says:

    Desperate to be surrounded by out of the box thinkers and non-conformists here in Dallas. Perhaps we need city groups until the next WDS 2012?

    Can’t wait to be a part of it

    Keep on keepin on!

  • Natalie says:

    You might consider sponsorship of your events. I know, I know. Sponsors = Vultures. However, if they are positioned as folks who can bring value to your attendees they are considered “partners”. Happy to help as I just did this for another national venue. I can share what I learned!

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