On the Road: Phoenix, Arizona and the What If Conference

Our final free day in Arizona, AG and I drove to Phoenix, where we visited the beautiful Heard Museum, and then sampled a few brews at O.H.S.O. Eatery & NanoBrewery. Not only was that delicious, but the view of Camelback Mountain made a beautiful backdrop… for the frantic texting of family back home, as we tried to relay our engagement news. Leaving Phoenix, we settled in – at last – to the ranch, for the What If Conference.

The ranch was wonderful. Huge, relaxing, with amazing food and service. It was such a nice place to unwind and spend time together, and get excited about the future. Through the conference we met tons of people, had great conversations, made a few friends, and were able to do some cool things like enjoy a desert cookout, and go on a trail ride with the ranch horses (an experience which was wonderful for me, up until the very last few minutes, when my horse bucked wildly and scared the tar out of me). We’re really glad to have been able to experience this world, and environment, and life.

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I think part of the reason I’ve put off writing this blog post so long is that despite the amazing experience I had around the conference, including an incredibly fulfilling day spent doing volunteer work in a nearby community that had been ravaged by wildfire, the conference itself was not for me. “If you’re happy, it’s only because you’re not dreaming big enough” is not a life motto that I can accept. I struggled with platitudes, vagueness, poor organization and communication, and feeling like I was being emotionally manipulated. I don’t think of myself as a cynic. I love a lot of things, completely and wholeheartedly; I’ve thrown myself into all kinds of situations with an open mind and heart. What If made me feel like a cynic, and that in turn made me feel bad. Heck, even just writing this, months later, kind of makes me feel bad, but I wanted to be honest about my experience. Admittedly, since I didn’t come to the conference with any kind of specific idea or dream that I’m having trouble with or fear bringing to fruition, perhaps I simply was not the target audience.

That said, I certainly took some good things from it! The conference put considerable focus on “being intentional” and “living a purpose-driven life,” and therefore may have been the best possible way to kick off our engagement: as we formally commit to a life together, what will that entail? What action can we take to make our marriage and life thoughtful and pro-active? How will we live without regret? (It also provided plenty of fodder for André and I to have some pretty great conversations about how much we’re on the same page and what kind of life we want to live). I really enjoyed the talks that gave actionable advice (Dane Sanders & Jasmine Takanikos), as well as a hands-on session about making little Instagram movies with Super Mega Action Plus. There was a surprise-to-me comedy monologue and improv session that was absolutely hilarious and hugely cathartic to laugh so much in a week that was all about “digging deep” and “let’s cry together.”

After a good deal of thought, I did come away from the conference with some actionable items. As I review this list already months later, I’m a bit depressed to see that I haven’t actually acted on any of them… but each day is a new opportunity. I thought you might like to hear them:

MY ACTIONABLE ITEMS FROM ‘WHAT IF’

1. Differentiate between things I “need to do” and habits I want to cultivate; make a priority of the latter. Arrange my day around what makes me better/happier/more efficient/more whole.

2. Clearly establish my personal and professional ethics and lifestyle drivers. Act accordingly.

3. Online: practice presence. Quality over quantity. Social media cleanse.

4. Find & support my “tribe.”

5. Convince myself that even though I am remarkably blessed, I am still allowed to want more. That people don’t necessarily already know the things that I know. That I can speak up and be heard.

6. Make more movies for fun. Apply the storytelling tips to photography.

7. Separate my talents from my gifts.

(This was the one real light-bulb concept that I actually heard for the first time at the conference. The idea being that your talent is what you do (ie. photography) but your gift might be leadership, administration, teaching, etc, and it’s only by using BOTH of these things that you are truly fulfilled. Theoretically your first reaction to any situation reveals your gift. I fear mine is Copy Editing.)

8. Find a way to be PHYSICALLY useful. Some kind of volunteering?

9. Try to practice grace and gratitude, especially in the face of unmet expectations.

10. Be frivolous and spontaneous. Not always practical. Let dreams fly instead of poking holes in them when they’re brand new.

11. Figure out what I’ll regret not doing when I’m 80. Act accordingly.

12. Stop lying to myself/filling my heart and head with negativity. Own who I am: smart, honest, talented, funny, kind, beautiful, capable, able, real.

12. Understand that it’s not the dreaming, but the doing that counts.