Remember that time when you were a kid, and your parents got tired of saying “no” to your constant whining for more ice cream/cake/Pop Rocks/whatever? And they said “Go ahead,” and you did, and you had the most crazy awesome sugar rush on the planet that was the Best Thing In The World until suddenly it wasn’t anymore? That, I think, best captures the feeling I’m coming away with in the wake of my second EG Conference.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have no idea what “EG” stands for, and no one else I’ve asked seems entirely sure, either. But I do know that it’s been going for ten years under the hand of impresario Michael Hawley: there are big “eg 10” signs everywhere, interspersed among the enormous pennants depicting posterized images of EG presenters in heroic portraiture. The pennants are strangely appropriate: everyone here is fabulous, just fabulous, and more than vaguely heroic in real life.
You all know how I like to prop up my ego by doing my best to appear fabulous and interesting. You do know that, right? Now imagine me waking up in a world where everyone has their own “Last time I was at the South Pole…” or “You know, when I was doing a photo shoot in the Congo last year…” story. It’s amazing, but, as you might imagine, overwhelming.
Just making my way from the coffee coffee station to the courtyard, I ran into Bertrand Piccard, fresh from his record-setting trans-Pacific solo flight using nothing but solar energy. I barely avoided stepping on Sylvia Earle as I turned around, and stumbled into a conversation between a BBC videographer and a professional bungee jumper. Aaron Tang, aka Tango, was a familiar face, and he caught me short of the door: “Hey, Pablo – you know Joshua, right? Joshua Bell. Joshua, this is Pablo – you two ought to jam together.” Yeah. Right.
So we’re on Day 3 of this, and you know, I’m kind of overwhelmed. No, I’m completely overwhelmed. (Michael: “Don’t forget to stop by the mezzanine, where Eduardo Miranda has a slime mold playing a piano.” Stephen: “That’s the most EG thing I’ve heard all day.”)
EG’s in Carmel this year, so I’ve taken the morning off to walk down to the beach and just amble along, letting the crash of the surf clear my head. The change in my mood, in my posture, and in my breathing has been remarkable, and it tells me pretty decisively that, as seductive and shiny and amazing as EG is, it’s not really the place for me.
Maybe it’s that I’ve grown addicted to feeling like I’m Really Interesting, and can’t handle being surrounded by people who uniformly have so much better stories that I do. But I hope that’s not it, and I think I can convince myself that it isn’t.
Instead, I think it’s that I need my interesting/fascinating/inspiring encounters one at a time. I need a chance to contemplate them, roll them around in my hand like brightly-colored pieces of beach glass and put them away in my pocket before I’m ready for the next one. And there’s no way to do that when you can’t take two steps without tripping over a concert pianist, polar explorer, world-changing social entrepreneur or Flying Karamazov.
Maybe I will have recovered sufficiently by next year. Maybe I’ll be ready for another dose of EG. The thing is, as I’ve gotten older, I begun to look more and more for reasons to justify the things that I choose to take up my time. And while the sugar rush of EG fabulousness is hard to beat, it’s been, at the end of the day, a sugar rush.
I’m awed and inspired, but I’m not quite sure what that awe and inspiration turn into for me at the end of the day. Should I try to be more interesting, so that I’ll have an EG-worthy story to tell for next year? I don’t think so. What I should do is buckle down and rewrite that next (final?) draft of the Damned Novel. And nail down the database representation for logger states in the code I’m writing. No inspiration needed for that – just the discipline to get to work and not let myself get distracted by some misguided desire to be as fabulous and interesting as the amazing people at EG.