"There were a few millionaires, a few freaks and geeks, but there was only one in-crowd: All of us.”
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If you’ve not heard of it, Do Lectures is an event with 100 or so people in the bush together for a long weekend. 20 of the attendees tell 20 minute stories. There’s food, wine, clever people and space for insight.
I was one of those 20 speakers, and when the Do team asked me to document my experience before the event, my internal dialogue was typical of many busy startup business owners:
“Yep, sure. Great. Whatever. Will worry about it closer to the date.”
‘Yet another bloody conference’ I thought. Yet another speaking gig in front of tired, uninspired people who ride the mountaintop experience straight back down into beige workaday logic as soon as Monday morning hits.
“I’m too busy for this crap.”
I truly didn’t realise what an honour I’d been given, nor did I expect the change I experienced to be so profound.
ARRIVING AT DO
Mel (Do co-founder) met us as we got off the bus. I was a bit confused by just how hyped she was. So many smiles. It felt a tiny bit like joining a cult. Everyone was so damn excited to be there.
The location was fantastic, a big chunk of bush, no phone reception and lovely tents with little packs of thoughtful goodies, like head-lamps and chap sticks. What a beautiful place to spend a weekend.
Best cult ever.
WELCOMES AND CLEANSING
The event started with the area’s local elder welcoming us to his land. We walked past a fire covered in leaves, the smoke washing away our sins.
Col (event MC) then welcomed us in the Do tent. He managed to instantly, openly and personally connect with a tent full of 100+ people.
The first two talks were about world peace abroad, aboriginal rights at home, and I quickly got a sense of just how perfectly curated the speakers were. Hamish (speaker curator) framed the weekend beautifully, like a DJ cueing profundity, fragile emotion and bold truth.
That evening I stayed up well past bedtime by the fire with a bloke who’s very similar to me but a few years older. We purged. Demons understood and hopes made plausible.Frustrations reasoned and respected. I found a mentor.
THE LECTURES THEMSELVES
The speakers were raw, unfettered and truthful. It unlocked the audience and demanded deeper thought. It was all eloquence and aplomb about the stuff that matters, unlike any other conference I’ve been to.
People wept. An impossible act to follow.
Before my own speaking slot, I remember sitting on a bit of wood, vaguely watching the wind nudging a little copse of trees, desperately trying to manhandle a bunch of unfocussed feelings into 20 minutes of ‘lecture’.
My pre-written notes fell into irrelevance.
All of a sudden, I was thinking about my grandfather. About his life and legacy in ways I’d never given myself room for before.
I thought about work, making sales, my team, my business partner, my girlfriend, my identity within these things. A confused maelstrom welled up, and something clicked.
I saw where the cynicism came from, and it vanished.
Some of it tumbled out into words on a stage. I can’t remember what, exactly. I expunged. I ended up telling a roomful of strangers-turned-friends a bunch of stuff I’d never been able to articulate to granddad directly.
I am still terrified of his death.
PEOPLE ARE THE POTION
Outside of the actual lectures there was food, learning and fun. I got a bit of a crush on a guy called Adam, who cares about food, coffee and his sensory apparatus in a way you don’t see much. I went from “just coffee please,” to “what region did this one come from?”
I found a new friend over a bottle of wine in dear Hannah Cutts, one of the most down to earth and insightful humans I’ve met. We drank and ate gorgeous meals. I have no idea how they got it all out with such quality, care and attention to detail.
It was interesting how the cold, warm clothes, wine and fireplaces are an equaliser. There were a few millionaires, a few freaks and geeks, but there was only one in-crowd: All of us.
The morning we left I sat alone and soaked in the vista. Glinting sun, dappled shade and a deep green treeline that begs you stay forever.
On the journey home, in direct proportion to distance, real life crept back. But the train journey was full of ‘what next’ conversations. Everyone felt really weird when we got off the train. It was all too loud, to abrupt, too busy and frantic. I remember seeing some angry guy yelling furiously at a Taxi driver. I wanted to give him a hug.
MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS
I’m writing this a full month or two after Do, to make sure the outcomes aren’t that one-off mountaintop experience. Here’s a list of things that I can roughly trace back to Do’s influence:
- I bought a van and have been taking short trips into the mountains with my girlfriend. I visited a Do attendee a couple of times in Beechworth.
- I have been meeting monthly with the mentor I hung out with at the fireplace that night.
I made a silly website (sixdegreesofrosshill.com) one afternoon to thank Ross for asking me to speak at Do.
- I took my entire work team back to Payne’s Hut (the Do Lectures venue) for a weekend of wine, laughter and very little else.
- I took my Grandfather and Grandmother on holiday. We saw the house my Grandad grew up in, visited his mother’s grave and talked about where we’d bury him.
BREAKING THE STRESS SHELL
Modern business stress is a physical thing. I imagine it like a viscous, sloppy mucous that slowly covers you during the working week. On the weekends some people wash it off with booze, motorbike rides, or books and fireplaces.
The scary thing is after you lay on enough layers of stress-mucous without cleansing yourself, it hardens into a shell that can’t be washed off through alcoholism or visits to the gym. It’s stifling and opaque, and you can forget what exists outside of it.
At that point, you need to break the shell. Do breaks the shell.