A month ago today, I was in Cleveland, Ohio, on the first leg of my vacation. The second leg would involve traveling to the West Coast to Portland, Oregon to attend a conference of epic proportions, The 2012 World Domination Summit.

I should start off by saying that the trip was an amazing experience and was worth every day and every dime spent. I got to spend time with family that I don’t get to see that often, as well as friends who are like my family. In fact, they are so much like family, I’m considered their sister-from-another-mother.

From there, I flew West to Portland, Oregon. It was my first time out there and I’m so glad I went. I needed Portland the way a crack head needs crack. I was undergoing an emotional experience that began before I left for Cleveland and culminated with purchasing a dozen donuts and shipping them to New Jersey (I later learned that they were covered in insects and so it wasn’t quite the surprise I was going for, but the gesture was not lost).

I suppose this post is going to be a lot more about love than I had originally intended, but you know, when it comes to writing, I often let the feelings in my heart dictate the message of each post.

I have spent most of the year, since February, in a state of anxiety, excitement, and fear. To many, it is not typical Sara.

See, I learned back in 2009, after my father passed away, that many, so many people, had expectations of me. I’m not one to shirk expectations because I have high expectations of those in my life as well. But I felt the burden of those expectations. The number one expectation I realized many had for me was to be happy-to be the sunshine every day. It was hard to find that happy place because I wasn’t happy; in fact, my heart was broken (dad died) and I didn’t know how to get through except to try and make every day go by with as many things possible occupying my time and thoughts.

It was during that time that I started going out drinking more and ending up sick every night. After about two, three weeks, I realized that this wasn’t healthy and that I needed help. So I got help and I realized so many other things that weren’t working: my job, my relationship with my boss, my relationship with myself, my own expectations of myself, and most importantly, what it was I wanted from my life.

One of the first things I realized I couldn’t maintain was the “sunshine, happy Sara” that so many had become accustomed. This included best friends, co-workers, and anyone else I had in my circle. It was definitely a blow, but it taught me to accept that some days I’m not going to be happy go lucky; That some days life is going to suck, even if I don’t want it to; That I can be positive all I want, but if I’m feeling anger, or sadness, or any emotion for that matter, I have to feel it and explore it and become one with it in order to move on.

This leads me back to this post because my head and heart were clouded with a relationship. A relationship that I haven’t always been my best Sara with, but one that I have attempted to nurture over the past two years, but more importantly the last four months. It’s made me question a lot of things, most importantly, “What do I want?”.   A hard question when you try to be a controlling go-with-the-flow kind of person.

Arriving in Portland, allowed me a sense of getting away (I didn’t really know anyone there) while trying to answer this question. I had a few other items on my brain such as my youngest brother’s attempt to find the money to get to school, what my mother is going to do with her life as she goes from having her last child home to no children home, and how can I get my business in order.

A lot of things in my poor little brain, I know. But I went to Portland thinking negatively and looking for release and ended up leaving overwhelmed with positivity and 75% released.

My first night in Portland, I walked and walked. I walked from NW to SW, which might not seem long, but it was quite a few blocks and involved crossing a river. It was a hot evening, too. But it was worth the walk. I found myself surrounded by nine amazing Etsy sellers with unique stories and quite a bit of information to share.

My second day in Portland, I made a friend, met a guy with the same name of the first guy I loved as an adult, Jamison, and walked some more.

Before I get into the details of the second day, I want to touch upon Jamison quickly. We shared a table at breakfast at the hostel we stayed at and we talked a bit. He had long blonde hair, hails from Virginia, and was taking his days off from his job where he researches deer that live on land owned by a lumber company.  He struck a cord with me for two reasons: 1. his name and 2. his laid back attitude. I learned that he didn’t have a room that night in the hostel because it was booked (thanks to the conference) and so he was going to call some people and hopefully find space that night. If not, then as he casually told Emily (my new friend) and I, he would just sleep in his car, or outside somewhere. He told us he had everything to camp out in his car if need be.

Later that afternoon, we bumped back into him while he smoked a pipe and read a book and we chatted some more. He had not heard anything still, but hadn’t lost faith. He’s figure it out.

I never saw Jamison again after that day, but he’s clearly, a month later still in my thoughts. Maybe it’s because I took it as a sign that I bumped into a man with the same name of my first love, as I tried to comprehend my feelings (and our disagreement) for the guy I currently love, whom, I might add, is the second person I’ve truly loved. Or maybe, it is because Portland proved to be a reminder of my past life. Jamison wasn’t the only reminder of my past life. He was the first.  I’m not going to delve too much into this, but I want you to know that Portland holds a very special place in my heart now because of coincidence.

Back to my second day, however…

Emily, my new friend, and I shared a room in the hostel and we met in the kitchen that morning and started talking. I told her what I was planning to do that morning and she asked if she could come along. I said yes, of course. Our first stop was Voodoo Doughnuts and I had a little surprise and magic to make.

Of course, this involves sending doughnuts over night, across country to New Jersey. I can’t tell you what sparked it. I can’t tell you why it had to happen, why I couldn’t have just bought the doughnuts before leaving and hand delivered them. I can not tell you any of these things. What I can tell you is that I was excited beyond belief. I really felt like a magician. I also knew with every fiber in my being that they were going to accomplish what I needed them to.

And so we waited in line, I ordered my doughnuts, including one for me to eat (which melted in my mouth and made me so incredibly happy!), and we found a post office. This all happened before 10am, by the way. With the help of the post office employees, I was able to find a box to fit the box of donuts, I had a magazine in my purse to add as packaging and I mailed them off express mail with the guarantee that they would be there before noon Saturday morning.

Emily, turned to me as we walked out of the post office and said, “I hope this accomplishes what you want it to- you are glowing right now. It’s the right thing to do.” With that, we walked on, explored some of the neighborhood, went to the bank, saw some cool parks, ate lunch, talked a ton, visited Powell’s Books, checked in to the Summit, and attended the official kick-off party. It was an amazing day and creating magic was a great way to start.

The third day was the official first day of the conference and boy what a day it was!

I should state first, that I don’t really like conferences. I’ve gone to a few for past jobs and they’re fun, but I always find networking and talking to people unsettling. I really dislike talking about myself that way. I always find it unsettling to have to explain what I do, or where I work, blah, blah, blah. Meeting Emily, was one of the best starts to the conference because it didn’t start out that way at all. Yes, as we got to know each other we talked about life and our plans and goals and dreams, but that wasn’t how it started and it made such a difference. She was the one person I connected with and I’m glad for her because if not, I don’t know that I would have connected otherwise.

That does not mean that I disliked the conference because I didn’t. I loved the conference. But I think just as much as we want to be surrounded by people who believe the same things, a lot can be said for being surrounded by people that don’t believe in the same things.

Attending the Summit from the perspective of being there not so much to connect, but to listen and watch was what I needed. This goes back to that being sunshine Sara from earlier. That Sara, I have no doubt would have talked to everyone and tried to be friends with everyone there, but the Sara now, had no interest. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy meeting those people, because I did talk to a lot of people those two days, but I didn’t bother to make deep connections. I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing or not, but I can tell you that I don’t think I left the conference with any less than the people who attended and made friends with lots of people.

Back to the first day…

The conference opened with a welcome from Chris Guillebeau, who is the owner of this conference, and immediately gave way into the amazing force of a woman named Brene Brown.  Her talk made me cry. As the rest of the day went on, I heard from a slew of other speakers, all interesting: Scott Harrison of Charity: WaterSusan Cain with Jonathan Fields,  a panel of business owners who started their own businesses and were interviewed by Chris Guillebeau for his latest book, The $100 Startup, and Scott Belsky. I also took a session about photography and went to a smaller session with Brene Brown.

That night, I was so overwhelmed by the first day, that I knew I had to walk around Portland. So I walked to the river and took some pictures and then I decided to pay $12 to attend the Portland Blues Festival and bought some bbq for dinner and listened to a bunch of different blues musicians on a crowded lawn area just along the river. It was amazing! It was also exactly what I needed.  Fresh sounds and air.

The third day in Portland, and the second and last day of the conference was just as powerful. This time I got to hear Chris Brogan, Cal Newport, Danielle LaPorte, Tara Gentile, and J.D. Roth talk. All of them were equally moving discussions. Danielle LaPorte, rocked my world. She was so powerful that I went and bought her “Fire Starter Sessions” to read when I got back home.  There was also a panel where 12 attendees told us about their journeys and everything they’ve done to follow their dreams and get where they are now. Incredibly inspiring stuff, people. Incredibly inspiring stuff.

I am skipping all the juicy bits because I wrote an article that got published on the Etsy blog last week with my favorite key takeaways. You should read those points there, but   one thing that I do want to point out here, that I wasn’t able to on the Etsy blog is something done by Chris Brogan during his session. When we walked into the theater, we were given superhero cards. Chris told us we could trade them if we wanted to, but I kept mine. I kept mine because much like meeting Jamison that Friday morning, or walking across random streets and seeing the names of two of my best guy friends: Mark and Paul, or even seeing the slogan of Voodoo Doughnuts, “Good things come in pink boxes” along the glitter wall, I knew this card was mine. I got “Arch-Enemies: X-Factor vs. Apocalypse”  On the back it says the following:

Each day, new mutants-people born with superhuman abilities-are discovered. While the team of mutant heroes known as X-Factor work to bring about greater understanding between humans and mutants in the hope that someday the two might co-exist in peace, the mysterious mutant villain called Apocalypse believes that mutants must someday destroy mankind, and schemes to weed out those mutants he considers weak while bending the strong to his will.  Although Apocalypse believes that X-Factor is weak because of their wish to defend humanity, they have proven themselves strong enough to defeat his plans of genocide in battle after battle.  (Trademark Marvel Entertainment Group)

I’m still figuring out where and how this card meets with my heart and soul and goals, but I knew upon getting it that this was my card.  I think it speaks of my struggles as a human that sees the good in man kind, but also sees the bad and struggles to be happy living in a city where the bad often times out weigh the good.

At the end of the day, Emily and I walked back to Voodoo Doughnuts, where it all started and walked back home. We stopped at Wholefoods and ate dinner and then headed to the end of the conference celebration which was awesome. It’s a gorgeous space with tons of music history and included amazing bollywood dancing lessons. It was awesome!

Monday morning came and I was scheduled to leave that night, but I was able to get some one-on-one time with myself. I was feeling better having realized that this conference was meant to happen this year. Or rather that I was meant to attend the conference this year (I missed last year’s and it was now, I’m glad I did). But also my feelings regarding the love situation were easing up and we were on better speaking terms. Still, I knew that I needed to tackle of self love and I still am. One walk through the woods and a drive around Mt. Hood and along one of the most stunning views of natural Oregon were not enough to get through the concept of love and appreciation for myself.

Yet, still, my several hours of exploring Oregon’s breathtaking scenic high way to Mt. Hood, was enough to make me say, “NO FUCKING WAY!” once I got off the main highway onto the scenic path. I’m pretty sure that Lewis and Clark exclaimed the same thing when they saw what must have been a more pristine Oregon landscape all those many years ago.

As I drove along, I stopped along the way and saw breathtaking falls and I even crossed a narrow bridge into Washington State as I searched for the Oregon Trail. The drive involved loud music courtesy of the oldies station that I turned on and it happened to be playing one of my dad’s favorite songs.  I kept the windows down (it was a bit chilly that day) and had my hand out the window flying most of the time. I sang, I cried, I thought about where I am and where I want to be. I considered love and my heart. I felt gratitude for this opportunity – to see Mt. Hood, to have spent time with my family, to have heard that being vulnerable is not a bad thing and nothing to shame, to be alive and surrounded by good fortune in the way of friends, family, and people I’ve yet to meet. I also felt gratitude for my job, my talent, my creative energy, and the ability to recall my past and remember how fortunate I’ve always been.

The World Domination Summit 2012 was many things to me, but it was first and foremost an experience in gratitude. It allowed me to take all the negative energy that had been sitting in my gut and heart and move away from it and to find a place where I’m grateful to, hungry for, and ready to accomplish the future.

Further proof of this, goes back to the Sunday, the last day of sessions at the conference. At the end, Chris Guillebeau got on the stage and started talking about the conference and planning the conference and started talking about offers he got for sponsorship and how he declined them because that’s not his thing. He wanted to keep the conference smallish and for us, not have paid advertisements along the way. In other words, this is a conference for the people who truly believe in his message of non-conformity, making a difference and living the life you want.  As he went on, he talked about an attendee from the 2011 Summit who wanted to give money to this year’s Summit. It wasn’t a sponsorship, it was a gift and so Chris accepted. Except, unlike last year, he had a profit from conference sales and so combined with the money given to the Summit by the attendee last year, he had enough money to give 1000 attendees $100. In his own way, he gave us all the chance to be the $100 startup via his $100 Investment.  His message is much more eloquent than how I’ve just described and you can watch him tell us in a posting he put together days after the Summit ended.

As I walked out of the theater in tears, I knew what I was going to do with my $100. I sent it to my Mom to use toward my brother’s education. I consider Travis, my youngest bro, worthy of not just feelings of hope, but of a future where he achieves his dreams and the life he wants. For that opportunity, I can not thank Chris Guillebeau, or the World Domination Summit enough. Again, another lesson in gratitude. There is no guarantee that I will be at next year’s Summit, nor that he will give away $100, but I know that being there this year was exactly as it was meant to be.

Monday night, before leaving, a friend of mine from my DC days who I haven’t seen since moving in 2006, picked me up and we went out for a drink and some dinner. It was awesome to catch up and hear about her life on the West Coast. She dropped me off at the airport and then sent me the sweetest email thanking me for my friendship, support and love.

I’ve never had anyone thank me for loving them before. It was a new feeling. One that I’ll gladly accept and hope to keep feeling.  As she dropped me off, I got a text message from the guy who I had been arguing with, sent the doughnuts to, and realized more than ever that life is a series of coincidences, situations, heart break, and breathtaking experiences that keep us moving and show us that we make the most of every opportunity that comes our way. Portland reminded me of that from the very beginning with Jamison, to the very end with Angela.

Thank you Portland, Oregon for an amazing time. Thank you Chris Guillbeau and everyone who put the Summit on for teaching me more than I even thought possible. Thank you life for being amazing. Pictures of my days are below.  When you’re doing looking, write an email, a note, or call up the person you’re most grateful for and share that. You’ll be glad you did, as will they.

Oh, a bit more about me and how this all becomes a package tied with a pretty bow: there were a few bumps in the road after returning- I moved and things were a bit up in the air and change felt thick, oh, so thick. During this time, though, I also started thinking more seriously about Japan (more on that later)  and I jumped into a market (more on that later) at the end of last month and have another one coming up this month, so things are moving. I thank Chris and his Summit for getting me moving again. I know I’m the captain of my ship, but if you read the points I share in my Etsy article, you’ll know exactly why I’m thanking Chris and his Summit. Sometimes you just need a little reminder to get you moving again. We all get stuck, it’s what you do to get unstuck that really matters.