I spent two amazing days last week at Big Omaha, and I’m still trying to process it all… It’s year three for me and it’s still as overwhelmingly inspiring as ever. It’s impossible to condense everything that is Big Omaha into words, and it’s hard to know how to describe it at all…there’s a part of me that just wants to say: you just have to be there.
It’s a conference that’s part entrepreneurship, part business, part technology, part inspiration, part philanthropy, part philosophy. There’s as much talk of responsibility and work/life balance as there is about landing venture capitol or choosing a co-founder. And above all, everyone is happy to be there. There’s an air of excitement that I’ve never run into anywhere else, and a feeling that anything is possible if you add enough passion and work. It’s a booster shot of motivation like nothing else.
I should add to this a disclaimer: I am biased. Not because I live in Lincoln, and Omaha is practically in my backyard. Not because I’ve spend hard-earned cash to get in for three years running and I need to justify my dollars. No, I’m biased because Big Omaha literally changed my life. Well…Big Omaha, plus a little Gary V.
It went like this: One day in 2008, see a random link to Gary Vaynerchuk’s 2008 keynote at the Web 2.0 Expo in NYC. Mind asplodes, as the internet would say. Despite the fact that I was working at the time in a job that I loved, with people that I loved, and I couldn’t really imagine wanting to leave my job, I was set on fire by what he was saying. It was a way of looking at the world that was different than anything I’d come across before. I had an idea of how life would go, work would go, and the way the world was, and suddenly it was possible to look at it differently.
To save you a long and tiring story, I shall condense: Because Gary was going to be there, I heard of and went to Big Omaha. And without Big Omaha and Gary, I would not have invested in building a personal site that, at the time, seemed uneccessary. I would not have had my eyes open to opportunities outside of my job, and I would not have spent any time thinking and preparing for freelancing.
Because of Big Omaha, I had options when I needed them. I had the inspiration and the courage to get out of a bad situation and start freelancing full time, and I had the contacts to make it happen. Because of Big Omaha, I made it though a year of freelancing and didn’t starve. Because of Big Omaha, I am not trying to figure out why I hate what I do every day, and I am not trying to convince myself to go to work every morning anyway.
Because of Big Omaha, my entire life is different. That’s not something you usually say about a conference.
Inspiration is universal
Each year I have come to Big Omaha from a different situation, and this year I’m on a very different career track, but it has never made it any less life-changing. This year I feel much more at home with where I am and where I’m headed than I ever have; I think that let me absorb things and apply them to what I’m already planning, whereas in years past, I used the energy from Big Omaha to drive me to change my plans and the rut I was stuck in.
But that’s the beauty of Big Omaha: it doesn’t matter that much where you are, what project you’re working on, or what industry you’re in. Whoever you are, the lessons all transfer, and the conversations are still relevant. Inspiration and entrepreneurship are universal. There is no industry that doesn’t need new ideas and innovation, and no business that is not about building relationships with people (that’s right, B to B people, you are still selling to people. I have yet to see a building pull out a checkbook). So anyone can come to Big Omaha and learn – although the jokes will be a lot funnier if you know what an LOLcat is.
Oh, and for those of you following my medical saga: my foot survived. I defied my better judgement and my physical therapist and wore heels (only once), danced (twice), and generally spent too much time on my feet (did I mention that I spent the day after Big Omaha at the zoo?), but I didn’t come out too badly. I used half a roll of athletic tape, I was pretty sore and there was plenty of ice involved, but it’s actually feeling better than it did before I left! Please do not take this as license to ignore your physical therapist, if you have one. They are very smart people and you should listen to them. But sometimes the party’s too loud for talking and you just give up and dance.
It’s difficult to recap Big Omaha – yet again, Jeff Slobotski, Dusty Davidson, and their amazing crew put on a conference that was world-class, and I’m overwhelmed with thoughts and inspiration from it. People ask me what Big Omaha is about, what kind of conference it is, and ultimately, it’s an inspiration conference. Yes, it’s informative, yes you meet tons of like-minded people and yes, it’s tech-focused, but in the end, what it’s about is pure inspiration. If you go to Big Omaha, I guarantee you’ll walk out the door ready and willing to take over the world, no matter what you do for a living.
That’s what I love about Big Omaha – it doesn’t just appeal to techies, it doesn’t just appeal to entrepreneurs, and it doesn’t just appeal to the younger generation (although there are plenty of all those in attendance). It appeals to anyone who needs a reason to keep doing what they’re doing – or to stop what they’re doing and start doing what really matters to them.
What I learned, or was reminded of this year: failure isn’t the end of the story. Success is possible, but it won’t be an easy journey. That hard work and patience are irreplaceable. That the approach we take to work can vary from Jason Fried’s excellence through laziness, to Gary Vaynerchuk’s endless hustle (seriously, is Gary made of Red Bull? I love that guy.), and either one can produce amazing things. That Nebraska is still a great place to be building a business and a life, and it becomes more so every day. That happiness is about so much more than money or success. And that what Scott Harrison is doing through Charity Water is the most amazing, well thought out, meaningful, and life-changing charity I’ve ever seen. I’ve never in my life seen that many people as spellbound as during his presentation.
I don’t know, though, if I go to Big Omaha more for the speakers, or the people. It’s phenomenal to be surrounded by that much enthousiasm and talent – look around at any moment while you’re there, and the person beside you is probably on the road to greatness already. Everyone I met was inspiring, and being there felt like becoming part of some amazing movement. There’s fearlessness and enthusiasm everywhere, and it’s contagious.
I’m still not sure where life will take me this year – I found passions reawakening during the conference that I thought were dying and almost dead. I was reminded that although I love technology and web design and hope to always be involved…it’s not my passion. All of the ideas and inspiration that were flying around in my head during the conference were about teaching, and taekwondo, and how change kids’ lives and do things better – maybe using some tech, but not about tech. I want my life to be about more than pixels, and my passion is for teaching and for kids, and it always has been. I need to refocus on that AND web and find some way to do everything and not get distracted.
That’s what I got out of Big Omaha, and I promise that I’ll be back again next year, barring natural disasters, homelessness, or some other catastrophe. Anyone looking for inspiration, or who wants to see the entrepreneurial movement that is springing up in Lincoln and Omaha, should go too. It’s worth every penny.
Ah, well, crap. I decided to head to Omaha a little earlier than I planned, so I spent all of 5 minutes drawing…I tried! I couldn’t focus at all, and I decided I was probably doing more harm than good. I’ll make it up on Sunday, I promise.