“I just got back from vacation,” is how I’ve begun nearly all of my conversations these past two weeks.
My entrepreneurial friends stare at me… puzzled. As I stare back at them, watching their wheels turn, I prepare for the inevitable variation of a “must be nice” comment.
“So where did you go?” they ask with a tinge of envy characteristic of any tired soul looking to catch its breath.
“Burning Man,” I say as the space between us starts to fall away.
I’ve been back in the matrix for almost two weeks now – returned to my daily grind – desperately holding on to what I know, I know.
That we are all the same. That identity is a joke. That all there is, is love and dust.
When I describe my Burning Man experience to my startup peers, their first reaction is to look frantically for a way to make sense of it. They grasp at labels like “art/music festival” or “hippie commune.” Some reach for judgments, like “I’m not into psychedelics,” or “I have no desire to walk around naked.” But inevitably, they ask. They ask because their intuition tells them that Burning Man is an experience earned, not intellectualized. A rare case of curiosity escaping our need to conclude.
And so I tell them. I let them in on the secret…
That we’re optimizing for the wrong variable. That despite choosing a creative profession… despite taking ownership over our future… despite the skill with which we translate ambition into tangible things… we are still missing the point.
Contrary to how often you’ll hear it, it’s important to note that Burning Man isn’t all that “radically self-reliant” (an irony fittingly spraypainted across a massive Bank of Un-America installation reaffirming that all views in Black Rock City are equal). Sure we battle the elements of forty degree heat (nearly triple-digits fahrenheit), cold nights, and a never-ending film of dust courtesy the day’s impromptu sandstorms. But in terms of finding, preparing, and replenishing our food, we’re essentially canvasing the aisles of Walmart in advance, and delegating all re-stocking in the process.
That being said, there is still merit to abstracting commerce away from the picture. Without it, we begin to navigate absent a compass. And while I don’t mean to suggest we aren’t all ultimately guided by the moral compass that lives inside, I do mean to suggest that often times, we relate to each other without turning it on.
For one week, the 47,000+ people of Black Rock City all greeted each other in the same way – with nothing standing between them. Conversations didn’t begin with titles and handshakes. Instead, they opened with an eyes-wide smile and a deep embrace – one that lasted many more seconds than a hug you’d give your best friend on his wedding day.
Even to say that the “person” became the focus wouldn’t be accurate. The warmth exchanged wasn’t conditional on physical form, intelligence, or the amount of clothing being worn. It was love for love’s sake. The language of the soul.
As I pinned my rationale mind to the floor for a moment, I thought to myself;
“This is real life.”
It was then that I began to try and put the pieces back together.
I would be returning to the default world soon. And when I did, what was I going to see in the life I had designed? What would I want from myself after experiencing a world of non-judgment, expression, and celebration for the smallest of life’s details?
I’m still answering those questions. In the meantime though, I’m falling back on a little promise I made to myself as I took my seat on the plane. It was a bit of a rough sketch, but it has worked for me so far;
Don’t strive for legacy or riches – happiness isn’t tied to these achievements. Rather, strive to transform and channel your energy into others – whether directly or through form – always remembering that this energy is on lend. It is bigger than you. You are just a vessel – the river bank, or the wind tunnel. We are all playing the same game. We are all made up of the same stuff. And though we are not the centre of the universe, we have been granted a wonderful role to play – so play it well.
Expect godliness from yourself. Do everything with care – not just what you define as your work. Everything is your work – from the rhythm of your breath, to your economic contribution. One is no more important than the other. Deal in love and seek out experience. Don’t place stock in any other currency – there is nothing here today that will still be standing at the end of time.
Don’t just build something of significance. Be something of significance. Broaden your definition of self to include everyone around you. They are a reflection of you, as you are of them. Set yourself on fire as often as you can. That which remains, is you. Don’t be surprised to discover that you still exist without personality, identity, and beliefs. They are temporary – all of this is. Enjoy it for what it is, because soon enough it will be behind you, and you’ll wish you had.
And with that – startup life became a little less serious… a little more modest… and a lot more sustainable.
Thank you to extramatic for the use of their photo.