The whole time I was preparing my Keynote speech for WordCamp Asheville, the song, Once in a Lifetime by the Talking Heads kept playing in my head.
It wasn’t until I was on my drive up through the Mountains, on the phone with one of my writer friends, that I saw why that song had been so persistent. “How did I get here?” kept repeating louder and louder.
So there in the car, less than 24 hours before show time, I decided to switch things up. The distinctive beat of Once in a Lifetime played as I walked up on the stage and started my talk with the opening verse.
“And you may find yourself in a shotgun shack
And You may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “How did I get here?”
You see, my whole talk was about how the decisions we make change the course of our lives. It’s obvious that our major life decisions, who we marry, where we work, kids or no kids, impact our lives. But what I was more interested in was how the small, seemingly inconsequential decisions, that we make every day can play an even bigger role and that when we look back later, we can one or more were pivotal in altering the course of our lives and also our families, friends, communities and even the world.
I proceeded to tell two stories.
The first story was how Matt Mullenweg, at age 18, decided to fork a little blogging platform he was using, so he could continue to maintain it after it’s developer dropped out of sight. That seemingly inconsequential decision, and many more after that, resulted not only in the creation of a web development platform that in just 15 years, now powers over 28% of all websites on the planet, but even more incredibly gave birth and nurtured a worldwide community, like no other, who use it and support it with fierce dedication to give back what it has given them.
Next, I told the story of the seemingly inconsequential decisions in my journey, which led me to that day and that place, standing in front of two hundred people at a WordCamp, quoting the Talking Heads.
For weeks before this talk, all of my fear had been knotted up in my right shoulder, front and back. I speak all the time so what was I afraid of now? I wondered why I was this adamant about I doing this talk that literally gave me pain in my neck. Why was it so important?
First off, let me tell you, doing a talk about technology feels much safer than having to go out on a personal limb. At the time I said yes to doing the keynote, I didn’t know why but I knew it was the right thing to do.
WordPress gave me a new career 10 years ago at 55 that has allowed me to do work that I love weaving together my interests in psychology, design, and technology. It’s given me a community. In 2009, I started a WordPress Meetup that now has over 3000 members, I got to organize WordCamp Atlanta its first four years and Matt Mullenweg has actually partied at my house.
And as if that isn’t enough, WordPress is a family affair for me. My son is a web designer who has worked with me at New Tricks for now seven years. My daughter’s work with WordPress in restaurant marketing helped her to land a job as a brand manager for a major corporation. And my husband just launched a side business, Last Chance fitness, with a WordPress website. How great is that?
What I realized is that doing the Keynote was just another example of in my life where I said yes to opportunities that I knew in my heart of hearts I should take on even though I felt fear and uncertainty. Starting the Meetup when I was a newbie was not easy to take on but I had to since I wanted to be able to schedule presentations topic I needed and hold them in my loft which was more conducive to learning than a noisy coffee shop.
Several years later, I was busy with New Tricks Web Design when the folks at the WordPress Foundation asked my Meetup buddy, Russell Fair and I to host WordCamp Atlanta. I remember that day vividly. |Russell and I looked at each other and shook our heads doubting that we’d have the time and energy to take that on. We mulled it over for a couple of weeks. Then we thought, “if not us, then who”, and jumped in with both feet. We never imagined the way the whole Atlanta WordPress community came together and has grown over the years and, the relationships we built have been invaluable.
As I developed the content of my Keynote, I realized that my saying yes to do something because I had a feeling it was the right thing to do was actually the premise of the Keynote. I could trace the success I’ve had in life from all the little decisions created from my habit of of stepping out and saying yes to things I knew I should take on, even if I didn’t know how I was going to get something done or whether or not it would turn out, or if it was going to lead to something.
I wanted to empower others through this keynote to listen closely to the passion of their beliefs, to give birth to their ideas to encourage them step out and take the necessary risks. This lifestyle where you follow up on your aspirations with practice, dedication, and grit is what it takes to build a life that you live to its fullest.
I know Matt has lead, and continues to lead, his life that way.
And, I’d to share with you the manifesto that everyone receives when they come to work for Automattic, the company that Matt built that powers WordPress.com.
I believe its a good creed for us all to live by.
I will never stop learning.
I won’t just work on things that are assigned to me.
I know there’s no such thing as a status quo. I will build our business sustainably through passionate and loyal customers.
I will never pass up an opportunity to help out a colleague, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.
I am more motivated by impact than money, and I know that Open Source is one of the most powerful ideas of our generation.
I will communicate as much as possible because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.
I am in a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting one foot in front of another every day.
Given time, there is no problem that’s insurmountable.
Go forth, make decisions and conquer your fear.