Conference for Men: Part II

Sunday was a lower key day over Saturday.  My main takeaways from Sunday was to be more present in my interactions with others.  This was started by a dancing lesson by Ben Westman.  That was one of the few physical activities on Sunday, as Sunday was more cerebral.  I can tell because I took way more notes on Sunday as compared to Saturday.  There was a talk by Noah which was about confidence and non-attachment to the outcome without judgment or criticism.  Limiting beliefs were discussed, as well as emotional baggage, and misinformation as being barriers to confidence.  The main takeaway was to embrace the good and bad feelings as they come instead of resisting what is.  The next speaker was Phil, a former member of the Canadian swim team, where he talked about work, with the phrase “Have white collar vision, but have a blue collar work ethic.  There were strategies to work harder, and I had to examine why I am not performing at my highest level?  Again, it had to do with self-respect and that I do not really care about my project.  I know that from now on, I would need to change my work that I respect, or otherwise I will be at the age of 75 with the feeling of a life wasted.  Then, there was a “manly” explanation that work is the expression of masculinity, and that there were only two options which are either mediocrity or hard work.  From this, I came up with a new framework for thinking about hard work.  Hard work invigorates me and makes me feel alive.  I can sleep well at night with a sense of meaningful accomplishment.  The hard work will fill me, and this will be hard for others not to take notice, and that hard work is a learning experience.  I just typed these and put them on a wall at my place where I can see them.  Too much hard work can result in burnout, so there is time for hard work (black) and rejuvenation (white).  The danger is what most people do, which is gray, where one is kind of working (dark gray) or uneasily relaxing (light gray).  I found myself guilty of this when working on my doctoral dissertation these past few months.  We got some practical advice to improve productivity, which I have yet to implement.  The first is to have a morning ritual of meditation, a cold shower, and eating something nutritious.  The second is to never sit at a computer without a clear plan, or there is the temptation to go on facebook, check e-mail, etc.  My guilty pleasure is with the Bitstrips App, but then again, I can be quite childish.  The third tool to greater productivity is one that I have heard before, and that is to always start with the most ugly task, the biggest task that is bothersome, before moving on to other things.  Commit at least 5 minutes to it, and it will see itself being finished.  The talk was finished with the following quote “If we are willing to do the hard things, life will be easy.  However, taking the easy way out makes life hard.”  The next speaker was Shogo Garcia who runs a virtual law firm, as he is a lawyer who is moving away from that field to coaching.  His talk was rather off the cuff and improvised, but the main takeaway was the following saying “You can measure potential loss, but you can never predict how big your successes were.”

The women returned on Sunday afternoon, where we “walked toward the gun” of their judgement.  We learned to learn from a woman’s intuition, instead of listening to the, but show up and be in their presence.  When with a woman it is best not to ask for details, but to give them choices, and then we went on the odyssey of a woman’s feedback.  The group was so large, that we all did not get feedback from the three groups of women standing in the front of the room.  All that Charmaine did was instructed me to unbutton my shirt a little bit, which is the same advice I get from grandma.  I guess that means that I can be closed up sometimes, and that I need to open up more.

The official part of the meeting ended with Owen Marcus and his partner talking about the importance of joining a men’s group in order to continue the work that went on over the weekend.  Mike also pitched us on his new coaching package, which I eagerly signed up for, not knowing how I would pay for it.  I resolved to start a men’s group back in Omaha, or to at least join one, which I did end up doing.  Some of the people who I wanted to form a men’s group in Omaha with have plans to leave Omaha soon to move to bigger cities, so I joined a mastermind group online, started by the initiative of Tommy Jia.

Then, we had an after party.  I felt pretty light on Sunday overall, and this translated to a light after party for me.  I felt more present with the interactions with the highly conscious women that were invited out to the bar.  I ran into Darlene Navarre, who I met in Las Vegas back in 2011.  She lives in Los Angeles now, but was visiting San Diego that weekend.  Overall, it was a great night, although not the best night, as I was quite tired from being up 24 hours straight on Saturday, but I made the most of it.  Some of the interactions were quite arousing that night, but ultimately nothing became of it in a physical sense, but that is fine.  I walked back to the hostel with Spencer, and we got lost, running into TJ on the way back.  We eventually found the hostel and eventually went to bed.  The next morning, I had breakfast and lunch with my roommates Nathan, Spencer, and Max, who joined us for the night.  I had interesting converstations with them while walking around the harbor in order to find a place to eat lunch.  We settled on seaside village.  Then, Nathan drove me to my hotel for the night, and we parted ways, which led to the next part of the trip, which will be covered in Part III: The Aftermath.  The aftermath may have been more important than the conference itself, as it has been a test on me on so many levels.

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I am Judgmental and Childish: A Summary of the Conference For Men, Part I

On April 4, 2014, I signed up for Mike Hrostoski’s very first Conference for Men.  I had just defended my Ph.D. a couple of weeks earlier, and I thought that this conference would be a great way to get back into personal development, as I had been focusing on finishing school for the past year.  It felt like school had to be out of the way before I could really show up and further develop myself as a person.  I read the sales page, and something inside of me just knew that I had to be there.  So I bought my ticket and reserved my plane tickets, and then went back into the grind of my everyday life trying to finish the dissertation while looking for jobs.  Originally, I was planning on coming a couple of days early to explore San Diego and socialize, but some deadlines with the dissertation were coming up fast, and I needed more time to tie up some loose ends.  I ended up arriving at the conference 2 hours late due to a last minute Saturday morning flight change.  I almost didn’t even go to the conference, but I made it, albeit late.  I came in the middle of the keynote speech.  I had read “Way of the Superior Man” by David Deida on the flight to San Diego, and from what I could tell, the speech was similar to the book.   I sat there for a while trying to situate myself, and then we went on to some eye contact exercise.  I had a hard time maintaining eye contact without laughing.  I do not remember the Saturday morning exercises very well at all, as I felt very distracted at the time.  I met up with some old friends during the break, as well as meeting my group coordinator, Christopher Sunyata.  I told him that I felt distracted and very judgmental toward the whole situation.  At the time I felt really silly being there and questioning my very presence there.  Chris told me to breathe deeply whenever I felt a sense of judgment.  We then did some more exercises about being present and breaking through barriers.  I was still being quite distracted, so they had me go face to face with Dave Booda.  That still did not work, so then I was told to have some sort of pushing match with Max Nachamkin.  At first, he was winning and totally dominating, but then I got angry and started yelling at the top of my lungs.  I yelled so loud and ferociously that I was foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog, or like Snoopy in “What a Nightmare Charlie Brown!”  In fact, the whole first day of the conference felt like that to an extent.  At some point, there was a lunch buffet, although now what happened at that point felt fuzzy.  We then spent the first half of the afternoon talking about sexual topics, where we got in our group and authentically shared our experiences.  When it was my turn to share, I got many laughs.  After the sex part, we took a break and then did the “Death” exercise.  At that point, I had been running myself ragged the whole week with school and getting to the conference, that the whole exercise felt like a well-deserved rest.  We then simulated our own funerals, where we were buried alive.  It was a very uncomfortable feeling similar to sleep paralysis, but I was able to burst free, and that exercise left me with a sore throat.  We then all took a single file line in silence around the hotel parking lot, and I know that we blocked at least one truck trying to get in.  We had the first 20 minutes of dinner in silence.  It was nice being in silence, as it allowed some much needed clarity.  In the evening, we did the money exercises, where we ended up doing an exercise that left me with a sore throat as I asserted that something was mine, while my partner denied me. 

We then had the judgment forum, where we got to share our judgment, and how it reflected on ourselves.  My judgement was that this whole conference was too “Woo Woo” for me, and I couldn’t respect it.  It told me that I have a fundamental lack of respect for myself.  This was the biggest takeaway from the conference for me, as it revealed my blocks to success in life.

What followed was one of the most cathartic moments of the night, where we had to share our pain.  I stood with a lot of people.  What were strong triggers for me was when the Hrostoski brothers shared the pain of their mother’s death three years ago, which triggered the fact that my grandmother had a stroke a few months back.  It triggered me to share some pain about being bullied in high school.  What also struck a chord was that there were other men there who were Christian.  This struck a chord with me because for a while I was not a practicing Catholic around the time I started attending personal development conferences, but I had started regularly attending church in 2013.  I feel an inner conflict when it comes to this area of my life.  There were many things that people shared that struck a chord as well.  After this moment, the conference let out for the day.  I met up with my roommate, Kevin, and we walked back to the Hostel.  By the time that I checked in to the Hostel, I had been awake for over 24 hours, and I got about 4 hours of sleep the night before, and about the same the following night, which made for a more laid back second day of the conference.  More details are to follow in Part II.

Colorado Trip, Part 2

The next morning, Wednesday by this time, I had to get up early after a day of travelling, for breakfast and a poster session.  Luckily, I did not need to be at my poster until the second half of the session because I went to a couple of posters, and the got really tired.  So, I went out in the hallway and slept on a bench for a while, until it was my turn to answer questions.  Some industry employees came up to my poster to ask about my technique that I use to study protein misfolding and aggregation.  This went on for two hours off and on, and somehow I managed to make it through that session before lunch was served.  The three of us there attended the early afternoon podia sessions.  There was a coffee break mid afternoon, but I went up to the room and slept.  Getting up to the room left me breathless due to the high altitude.  I became curious, as I did not get breathless when I was in Oregon, where they also have mountains.  Later on, I looked it up, and it appears that Breckenridge has an elevation of 9-11,000 feet, while the highest point in Portland is only 2,000 feet.  We went to dinner, which was fancy appetizers and beer.  We then attempted a nature hike, but turned around after 20 minutes because of the high elevation that we were at.  We took some pictures and called it a day.

The next morning, we had breakfast and attended more podia.  It was diung the mid-morning coffee break that we decided to start driving back to Omaha.  One guy wanted to see Chimney Rock, so we planned our route for that.  We had a 13 hour drive ahead of us.  We drove down the mountains to Denver, before turning north and stopping in Fort Collins for lunch and gas.  That would be the last sign of civilization and anything attractive for the next 4 hours.  Once leaving Colorado, the mountains began to fade away, and were replaced with dry hills with the occasional rock or tree when we were driving through Wyoming and the Nebraska panhandle.  We got to Chimney Rock around 5:00 PM when the visitors center was just closing.  It was around 105 degrees outside at that point, and it was dry, compared to the 60 degree weather up in the mountains earlier that day.  We then stopped in Bridgeport to use the restroom before moving on to North Platte, where we stopped for gas around 9:00 PM.  The time zone changed around this point, and it was sunset.  From North Platte on to Omaha, it was my turn to drive in the dark.  I had to drive in a downpour of rain before we stopped in Grand Island for a late dinner.  We were hoping for something quick at the truck stop.  However, the Subway was closed, so our only option at that point was to eat at the diner.  By the time we left, it was 12:30 AM, and we did not get back into Omaha until 3:00 AM.  I was pretty much jetlagged again for the next three weeks, and I was busy moving out of my apartment and into a house, but that is for another blog post.

Colorado Trip, Part 1

It was only a couple of hours after returning home from Portland that I found myself going through airport security once again for my third flight of the day.  I was heading to Breckinridge, Colorado for a  conference on Protein Aggregation and Immunogenicity in pharmaceutical applications.  The trip itself started off interestingly, as when I got through airport security, I found out that my flight to Denver would be delayed by two hours.  This meant that I would miss the shuttle bus that goes from the Denver airport to my hotel Breckenridge, which is about 100 miles away.  I quickly got on the phone and called taxi and shuttle companies to get a quote on how much the trip would cost.  The costs would have ranged from $200.00 to $400.00, so I quickly gave up that option.  I was ready to cancel the trip and go home, as I was tired.  I then called my labmates, who got there earlier via automobile, to see if they were willing to pick me up from Denver.  They agreed to go to the airport, and I told them to get started as early as possible.  I got on my flight, which was another blur, and then we landed at Denver.  However, once we landed, we sat on the runway for about 30 minutes before pulling up to the gate.  When I got out of the plane, I walked across the entire airport because I needed to kill some time before my ride would come.  As soon as I found the entrance, I saw a black Ford Fusion pull up and two Chinese guys waving at me.  They were my labmates, and luckily for all of us, we found each other at just the right moment.  Considering the massive size of Denver International Airport, what are the odds?  From then on, it was 90 minutes of driving through steep mountains in the dark.  We finally got to the hotel in Breckenridge around midnight, wrapping up a very long day for everyone.  I was too hyper to go to bed right away, so I took a shower.  The room was pretty much a two bedroom apartment, and I got a nice bed that made it so easy to sleep.

Northwest Trip Finale

We had to get up at 3:30 AM on Tuesday morning for our flight out of Portland.  The night before, I did not sleep so well, and getting up early was very tiring as well.  We got a cab to make sure we made it to our early flight.  I dropped a bunch of cards out of my wallet on the airport drop off and had to pick up all of my stuff on the pavement while trying to pay the cab lady.  We got through security fine and then our plane.  Since I checked into Southwest airlines late, I ended up with an aisle seat.  It did not matter, as I was half out of it during the flight, but did not get much good sleep.  We had a three hour layover in Phoenix.  We got to our connecting flight gate back to Omaha, and I fell asleep waiting.  I slept for about a half hour, and when I woke up, my brother was gone.  In a daze, I called him up.  Apparently I was too boring for him when I was asleep, so he got up and walked around the airport.  I had a light lunch at the airport, even though it was only 10:00 am or so, and they were still serving breakfast at most of the food kiosks.  We got on our flight, which was another blur to me,  and I was in a middle seat, and my brother was somewhere else on the plane because I checked in last minute.  I was too busy the previous day to care.  At 3:30 PM our plane touched down in Omaha, and the trip was over.   My brother and I were safely home.  However, for me, I was in Omaha only for a couple of hours because I had to go on to a work conference in Colorado that evening, but I will end this post for now.

Northwest Trip, Part 6

Monday was our final full day in Portland.  We managed to cram in most of our Portland sightseeing on Monday afternoon.  We had a quick brunch in the hostel, and then we went up to Washington Park for the views and the gardens.  That did not take as long as anticipated, so we then went up to Oregon Health Sciences University campus.  The view was better up there, but we were disappointed that we were unable to see either Mt. Hood or Mt. St. Helens from up on top of the hill due to the smog.  Other than that, it was a clear day, and we got many good shots.  We went around the campus, and it felt very similar to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where I spend a lot of my time.  We took a ski lift type tram to get up and down the hill where the campus was.  We then ate a late lunch at Virginia Cafe, and then went over to Voodoo Donuts for some donuts.  I ate a donut immediately, and then saved another one for the next morning’s breakfast.  We then went shopping at the University of Oregon apparel store for Oregon Ducks souvenirs for my uncle, who is a fan of their football team.  My brother went back to the hostel, but I went to one last meetup arranged by Advanced Riskology blogger Tyler Tervooren.  Because of our early flight the next day, I left the meetup after only one hour.  I had some simple dinner in the hostel before showering and going to bed.

Northwest Trip, Part 5

On the second day of the summit, I slept in and missed the first two talks.  I was really tired, and I decided not to get up for Chris Brogan’s talk.  At the time, it felt like a talk that I “should” attend, but since I am not so much into “shoulds”, I went back to sleep for an extra hour or so.  It turns out from what I heard from other attendees that it was an amazing talk, and people got some superhero trading cards.  Please refer to the other blogs about this amazing talk that I missed out on.  By the time I got to the theater, Cal Newport was beginning his talk.  Cal is an assistant professor at MIT.  His talk was not about doing what you love or what you are passionate about.  Instead, it was about why this advice is bad, and the alternative to that.  The alternative is to become really good at something, gain respect in the field, and then when the right moment comes, leverage the experience and pivot into something that is more intrinsically rewarding.  He used a couple of examples for this.  The first example was with Steve Jobs.  Steve Jobs spent much of his teenage years working in circuit boards and building microcomputers.  However, when he went to Reed College (located in Portland), he did not major in engineering or anything related to computers at the time.  Instead, he majored in Religion, with a focus on eastern religions, mysticism, and literature.  While in college, he was working part time for Atari before dropping out of school.  He sold circuit boards to a computer shop for a while.  The moral of this story is to get good at something, and to do it first to see if you are passionate about it.  It is always important to take the action first instead of thinking about it in the abstract.  Another takeaway from this is that the longer someone is in a position, the more that they feel like it is a calling, and because of this, it is beleived that less than 4% of raw passion directly translates to a career.  The second example that was used was an editor from the New Yorker.  Once the editor is in a strong position at the company, instead of taking a promotion, he quits and moves to Vermont, and wrote several best sellers on environmentalism.  His work in newspaper editing was then leveraged to a career in writing books.  The third part of his talk was that what you do for your work is what really matters, but instead what sort of lifestyle traits that are desirable.  So, the most successful people are somewhere between a super passion and a career in ditch digging.

That was the last talk before lunch, and then it was back to the food carts up the street for lunch.  I had Thai food for lunch that day, and I ran into some other people that I met at a Steve Pavlina workshop last fall.

After lunch, I went to my first breakout session by Scott Dinsmoore.  I chose this breakout session because it deals with connecting with other people in a meaningful way.  The first step is to provide a new and unusual experience for the person that you are meeting with.  The second step is to help friends without expecting a return, so when you find a way to reach out, do it!  The third step is to show up and be there for that person.  There was some reference to that is based off of pickup artist techniques.  Scott used an example on how he sent an unusual postcard to Warren Buffet, and then got to meet him in Omaha this past spring.  Overall, I thought that this session was going to be more interactive than it actually was.  The main thing that I got out of it is that it would be helpful for me to read “The Game” in order to improve my social life, and by extension my professional life.  This is a theme that I am working on, as I realize more and more that a person’s relationships are a major factor in defining the quality of a person’s life.

The next breakout session was a Travel Hacking workshop.  This was much more interactive than I thought it would be.  Everybody was giving each other advice on how to find mileage offers on credit cards and how to redeem miles, and even to upgrade airline miles.  I wrote down a lot of notes for websites that I have yet to check out, even one month after the fact.  The hour at this session went by really fast.

We all went back to the theater for a WDS attendees stories forum.  This consisted of last years attendees who returned this year, and what they have been up to after last year’s WDS.  I don’t actually remember much about each story, but they were inspiring.  The two that I clearly remember was about an older attendee who lost his business and his home a few years ago, and then he started making balloon animals, and he got good at it.  He now travels the country making balloon animals, and he was even hired to make balloon animals for the WDS.  The second story that I remember was about an attendee who developed breast cancer last fall, and performed a song about her experience on a ukulele.   It was a pretty lighthearted song considering the circumstances.

The final speech was by JD Roth, who has a personal finance blog called “Get Rich Slowly”.  It was not about personal finance so much as his life story.  It was a story of reinvention at several points in his life.  He was bullied in school, so he reinvented himself to become more active in school activities.  He was successful through college and getting his career established.  However, he started to burn out, resulting in being $35,000 in debt and overweight.  In this hole, he reinvented himself again, and his personal finance blog is a part of helping others get out of their financial ruts to begin with.  The main points of this talk was to allocate as much money as possible to things that truly matter and cut back on everything else.  An example of this is to put rocks in a jar first, then the sand, because if the sand goes in first, there will be no room for the rocks.  Another takeaway from his talk is to focus on one thing at a time, finish it, and then move on.  This takes about 10,000 hours per thing to become an expert at it.

After that, Chris Guillebeau had a surprise for us.  He gave each of us $100.00 in cash to go out and make the world a better place.  It took me a few days to decide what to do, but I got my idea a few days later when I was in Colorado for a work related conference.  Colorado and many other states have been suffering from wildfires this summer, so my idea is to help those affected by the wildfires with my $100.00.

There was an after party at the crystal ballroom that ran from 8:00 PM to midnight that night.  At first, the party got off to a slow start.  There a group performing old-time standards from the American songbook, but at the time it felt like elevator music.  Things did not really begin to pick up until 10:00 PM when an Indian DJ came and played his Bollywood dance mix.  The last two hours of the party was everybody jumping around looking uncool dancing to Bollywood music.  After the after party, some of us went to look from more clubbing action downtown.  Three of us, including my brother, ended up at an arcade and played some games until closing time.