I had the extreme pleasure of not only attending but speaking at Circles Conference 2012 last week in Dallas, TX. If I walked away from the conference learning just one thing it would easily be that Ismael Burciaga – the conference host – tops my list of most generous people that I’ve met throughout my life. Not only is that dude a talented designer with tons of ambition but he’s got a obvious passion for people in general and a huge heart for our industry. Before I get too far, I want to thank you, Ish, for including me in the Circles speaking roster; it was truly an honor.
Reflecting on everything that happened throughout this conference is really quite interesting. To be honest, I didn’t really expect to walk away from this conference learning a whole lot. Certainly not because I’ve figured it all out (especially in comparison to such an experienced speaker line up), but simply because I was so heavily focused on my own talk. Because my mind was so pre-occupied, I didn’t plan on really soaking up what others had to say. My main objective was to merely provide a good presentation, network with some old friends, and move on. In hindsight, that was admittedly an extremely close-minded attitude to have when entering such an event. However, it didn’t take long for my focus to shift and my attitude to change.
As the conference got started and the speakers began to present one by one, my mind started opening while my personal talk became less of a focus to me. I started to realize that my talk was only acting as a small piece of a larger, more important puzzle that we all seemed to unintentionally touch on.
Then, my original perceptions came crashing down after I bumped into Phil Coffman during one of the early breaks on day 1. We started talking and sharing stories about our respective businesses and families. It was really fun to hear what his company, Element, had been up to and see some of the parallels and common traits that we shared at Iron to Iron. When the conversation shifted to me asking him what he would be speaking about, however, I was actually a bit shocked. Once he told me I just laughed and said, “You’re literally speaking about the exact opposite life philosophy that I’ll be speaking about!” At first I thought, how could two guys with seemingly similar business and family outcomes have such different life philosophy and experiences? Then it dawned on me – my experience and journey is only my own. While I’m glad to share what worked for me it certainly is not the best or only way to operate.
This realization was something I consciously tried to keep in mind not only as I listened to the other speakers, but throughout all of the conversations I had for the next few days. There were a lot of talented designers and business owners at this conference and while they all seemed to share some parallel philosophies, there was surprisingly a lot of opposing views and thoughts. My final take away was simply this:
There is more than one way to skin a cat. What works best for you, might not work for someone else. We can certainly learn from one another and be inspired from each others experience, but at the end of the day we have to write our own book. There’s not an absolute perfect model to follow for operating business, giving back to the community or creating a ground breaking design…and honestly, that’s what makes the journey we’re all on so interesting and worthwhile.
Life like a Movie
My talk in particular was focused on the correlation between living an adventurous life and maintaining a fulfilling career as a designer. I’ve personally found that having an adventurous spirt helps regularly condition me to take risks in my career and never stop growing as a designer and human. My presentation largely focused around some personal stories peppered with a few key take away points – specifically, “Be bold with your life & be bold with your career”.
Phil’s presentation, on the other hand, talked about how success isn’t necessarily coupled with regularly facing and conquering risks. I won’t go into too much detail because he can obviously speak to his points best.
My reasoning for mentioning it again, however, is to point out the stark difference between our philosophies, while oddly, we as individuals are quite similar in many respects. I suppose this just reinforces the final take-away that I mentioned above: We’re all created equally while remaining mysteriously unique at the same time. It’s a beautiful paradox that inspires me to continually share my story but with the final benediction being, “now go write your own book”.
Coming Full “Circle” (get it?)
The conference came to, what can only be described as, an epic resolve when Cameron Moll headlined and closed out the conference. Through his obvious comfort on stage he reminded all of us that we’re here (on this Earth) for much more than operating a successful business or becoming famous designers. We’re here to give back, put ourselves aside and see that we put our neighbors first. I’ll be honest in telling you that I got teary-eyed not once but twice during his presentation.
Through his company, Authentic Jobs, Cameron is able to have a large impact on the Charity:Water organization – which clearly needs no introduction. The thing about this particular organization is that it’s hard not to have your heart strings tugged when hearing about it. Anything that deals with life and death has an immediate attraction to all of us. In our purest nature, we all want to help humanity; it’s in our DNA. Unfortunately, after this initial heart tug we can sometimes be left with a feeling of guilt in thinking that haven’t done enough and that the needs of this world are too far beyond anything that we as individuals can handle…but I don’t think that was Cameron’s purpose at all. Rather, I think that perhaps his concept fell right in line with what I found to be the over-arching conference theme: We’re all unique and can serve and give using the gifts and talents we’ve individually been blessed with – regardless of the urgency or “life & death” nature that our avenue may or may not possess.
Bottom line (not to beat a dead horse), we’re all unique but share a common desire to grow, move forward and help our brothers and sisters in the process. Often times, however, this desire can be masked when falling into the routine of making ourselves comfortable. This conference reminded me to reboot, be open-minded, make less of myself and never place enough value on being genuine with friends near and far.
- Having some quality quiet time by the hotel pool before everything got started.
- Meeting some and re-aquatinting with others at the speakers dinner on the first night. Sitting at this table with the likes of some of our industry leaders felt really quite surreal.
- The talk I had with Phil which sparked the whole realization mentioned above.
- Briefly speaking with Cameron regarding the possibilities and benefits to home schooling.
- Meeting and having lunch with the dudes from from Steadfast Creative (Brad, Tanner and friends).
- Discussing the concept of prototyping your business with Dan Mall.
- Walking all around Dallas with Micah Davis and discussing the in’s and out’s of business and faith.
- Talking to Jonathan Moore about selling products versus client services.
- Of course, having the opportunity to speak on Friday morning and talk about my journey.
- Getting a thumbs up from Kyle Steed as I exited the stage after my talk.
- Seeing both Sean Wes and Joshua Blankenship’s show notes from my talk.
- Meeting Matthew Spiel and Austin Eidson while bonding over the music we listened to in high school (and now).
- Getting a chance to have all sorts of quick, casual conversations with, what feels like, almost everyone at the conference.
- Meeting both Promise Tangeman and Brian Wurzell for the first time while realizing how small the world is through a close mutual friend – regardless of that fact that we live on opposite sides of the country.
- Reflecting on the conference, sharing business & family stories and bonding over our mutual intolerance for giving blood with Noah Stokes and Shawn Blanc.
- Getting one last Texas style BBQ dinner with a whole bunch of awesome people who I hope to see again soon.
- The best part of all: Coming back home to my family.
Towards the end of the conference everyone was already starting to talk about the excitement over the possibility of a Circles 2013. I’m sure plenty of time will pass before we hear any details regarding whether or not this will become an annual tradition, but I sure hope it does.
To Ismael, Wendy, all volunteers, speakers and everyone else involved: You did an absolutely amazing job. One of the highlights of my year, for sure. It was an honor to be a part of the first ever Circles Conference and I look forward to seeing how it will grow over the years!
P.S. Here are a few of my favorite slides from my deck.