SXSW recap: stories and tacos and dirty dancing, oh my!

Whoooooo boy. I got back to Portland a week ago, after almost a week in glorious Austin, Texas for the huge, sprawling cascade of ideas that is SXSW Interactive.

I’m still trying to figure out what the hell happened, and I thought it would be a good idea to do this publicly.

First of all, this happened:

Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 5.33.31 PM

I led my crazy workshop, Creative Living in an Alternate World! It happened! People attended! We created alter egos and dream projects, we bragged about what we suck at, and we danced badly!

I can’t tell you how nervous I felt 30 minutes before. But here is the power of an alter ego: I put on that electric blue jumpsuit and headband and stepped into the room totally confident in my ridiculous abilities.

Confidence, as I’ve written before, is a moving target — but that doesn’t mean you can’t get better at channeling it when you need to.

So I feel pretty great about the workshop. It was not perfect, and there are things I’d do better next time — I’d do less exercises and take more time with them, and I would go ahead and embrace power point instead of dragging my easel and laminated Stevie Wonder poster around with me.


But all in all, I prepared as much as I could, and the things I learned, I could only learn by jumping in and doing it.

And when I talk about embracing failure, that’s what I mean. I don’t mean that you don’t prepare or that you toss off something you care about. I mean, you train as best you can, but when it’s game time, you step in and play the game, ready or not. Because you love it, and you’d rather play and lose than not play.

Is this metaphor working? Maybe this one is better: you run every day, and on the day of the race, you run the marathon. And you come in last. The next day, you get up and keep running.

I like sports metaphors because they have a built in high drama structure. Life isn’t always so clear cut — you can’t always tell when you’re winning and losing or where the finish line is.

And in this case, to be honest with you, I’m not sure if doing my workshop at SXSW Interactive was the best fit. The workshop itself went great, but navigating the rest of the festival was exhausting. Kind of an introvert’s nightmare, and my attempts to live it up and party (in the McDonalds Lounge) proved fruitless.

There were amazing moments of insight though, like Brene Brown’s talk about vulnerability and applying the Shitty First Draft concept to our thoughts (which helped me reign in my social anxiety and question it lovingly and turn it around.)

Kate Hayward and Natalie Currie led a fantastic session on reframing networking as storytelling and listening, complete with this visual note-taker:


And I went to a beautiful workshop led by filmmaker Amy Hardie around the themes in her documentary, Seven Songs for a Long Life (which I didn’t get to see, but hopefully will soon!) She had us pair up and ask each other four questions:

  1. What counts as a good day?
  2. What qualities would you like to be remembered for?
  3. What actions do you take that express those qualities?
  4. If you were given a life-limiting diagnosis today, would you change those actions?

Simple questions but INTENSE, man! Maybe it’s because I was on day 5 away from my family, but I ended up crying with the person I partnered up with (who it turned out was the music director for the film), then cried again when we all sang a song from the film together.

I was also surprised to realize that my answer to question #4 was: I wouldn’t change much. I have made some big changes in my life over the last two years, and for the most part (give or take some money anxiety here and some sleep frustration there) I am doing exactly what I want to be doing on a daily basis.

Speaking of which, my big fear — that leaving my son with my husband for SIX DAYS would be a nightmare and they’d be traumatized upon my return — proved to be entirely unfounded. They did fine. I did fine. My fears, as they so often are, were entirely in my imagination.


that’s me and my boy

And you know what? For all my questions and mixed feelings, here is what I know: when I submitted my proposal to SXSW Interactive nine months ago, the failure I thought I was risking was how to make a big proposal and get rejected. Then when they accepted my proposal, I thought the failure would be having no one show up, or having it totally bomb.

But it turns out, none of those things happened. By risking failure, I stepped up my game and did something I did not think I was ready for: I flew by myself to a huge conference and got a roomful of strangers to put down their phones and dance wildly to Dueling Banjos.

Someone else wrote about their experience of my workshop over on The Verge:

We were told to envision the perfect world for our alter ego to exist in, and to imagine being very happy there. Then we were told to “breathe that vision out into the world; drop it; don’t make it happen.” We came up with projects we would never do, character flaws we would never try to correct, and people we didn’t feel like apologizing to.


My favorite thing about Faith was that she yelled “DOES ANYONE WANT TO DO THE DIRTY DANCING LIFT WITH ME?”

Even though no one did the lift with me, something about this makes me proud of myself for standing confidently in the power of my weird ideas.


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