I’m writing this from 38,889 feet in the air at a swift 532 MPH… but it feels like slow motion. It’s Saturday night and I’m somewhere near the line that divides the Central and East-Coast time zones on my journey back to Boston. My eyes are flooded with tears. My heart is flooded with emotions. My mind is flooded with joy and inspiration.

To say I’m going home with a new perspective is an understatement. When I look back in life, there will be the the time before the seanwes conference — and the time after.

Day 0

I planned to arrive Wednesday, the day before the conference actually started. Right after I finished my last post, I opened up the community chat to begin making plans for when I touched down. Someone was talking about the weather in Austin and I remarked about coming from 30º F weather in Boston. Another community member named Nacho replied and said he was from Boston too. Awesome! I had no idea there were other Boston members. I asked Nacho when he was landing and he said 30 minutes from now — which was funny because I was also 30 minutes away. I asked him if it was Jetblue flight 1039 and he replies “I’m in row 15”. What are the odds?

Nacho and I were sitting in the arrivals terminal waiting for the bus. He explains that he quit his high-paying job in tech only two weeks ago with a year of runway in the bank so that he could pursue his passion of teaching Spanish. “Goddamn,” I thought to myself, “this is the kind of drive I need to be surrounded by.”

Nacho and I hop on the 100 bus towards Downtown Austin. The bus is pretty much empty with the exception of one person, a designer named Taylor, who overhears us talking and realizes we’re all fellow community members. And just like that, I had already made two friends before I had even left the airport.

When we get downtown, I peek in the community chat and see that a couple of my friends are at a coffee shop near me. I link up with Alex, Cory, Damien, Fellipe, John, Lee, Raff, and Sean and we all enjoy a coffee together. We get word that some other folks have arrived and are a nearby pizza place. We head over and meet another 10 or so attendees.

Pizza party and this conference hasn't even started yet

A photo posted by Aaron Dowd (@aarondowd) on

This continued to happen throughout the day. More and more people started showing up. Some I had talked to many times while others had just joined. But the beautiful part of this community is that we all share the same beliefs. We all have passions that we’re pursuing, and we’re all people with a unique drive and hustle.

After some drinks, a bunch of us packed (literally) into Pam’s car. 2, in the front, 4 in the back, and Nacho in the trunk. Here’s proof:

Around 50 of us showed up at The Shady Grove, an cool restaurant located south of downtown with an enormous outdoor patio and live music. The sight was unbelievable. Tables were pushed together to span across the entire patio so that everyone could be seated. We all began sharing our stories and getting to know each other. This was the beginning of many impactful conversations that were going to be had over the course of the next few days.

We all made it to #austin #texas from all corners of the world. #seanwes2016

A photo posted by Abbi O'Leary (@abbioleary) on

I retreated back to where I was staying that first night knowing that this was going to be an unbelievable experience — and it hadn’t even officially begun.

Day 1

Sunrise on 6th in Austin, TX

Sunrise on 6th. Austin, TX

Breakfast

I woke up, got my things together and headed over to the venue. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a big bear hug from Aaron Dowd, a podcast expert and musician that I have been following for years. And within seconds, I see a number of other people that I recognize.

This was a surreal moment for me. It was at this time that I realized that I wasn’t attending a “conference”. Not even the words “retreat” or “summit” would do this event justice. This was more like a family reunion.

There were nearly a hundred professionals there and every single one of them has been showing up daily, hustling their asses off to pursue their dreams. It’s difficult to describe how powerful the energy in the room was throughout the entire conference.

My peoples. #seanwes2016 #itbegins

A video posted by Aaron Dowd (@aarondowd) on

The first person I attack with a hug is Sarah Dayan. Sarah is a lettering artist from France. I have been following her work and reading her blog for a while now. She has been incredibly influential in my growth and has given me a ridiculous amount of advice.

Me with Sarah Dayan

With Sarah Dayan

Sarah was one of several folks at the conference that I practically consider celebrities. Scotty Russell of the Perspective Collective and Terrance Tang of Tinlun Studios were also there. Both of them are incredible artists that have give filled me with inspiration these past couple of years. It was an honor to be in the same room.

After one hundred, thousand, million cups of coffee and a breakfast burrito, I grabbed a seat between Rachel Toalson and my new friend Dianna.

Day 1 Sessions & Conversations

The first speaker was Shawn Blank who spoke about utilizing writing and focus to do the best work possible. He shared some incredible insights about honesty and consistency when it comes to marketing and entrepreneurship.

Shawn was followed by Katie Hunt, who runs Tradeshow Camp. Katie’s topic was community involvement and she covered how to find the right tribe as well as providing and receiving value in a niche community.

The final speaker of the day was Kyle Adams. Kyle is an icon designer, which is an incredibly niche facet of graphic design. He spoke on positioning yourself as an expert by sharing what you know. He shared his experiences as a designer who successfully niched down to a craft that didn’t really exist. Kyle’s talk was very inspiring to me as someone who is still making their way in a sea of lettering artists.

In between the sessions were breaks and meals. We all split apart into smaller groups and had conversations about our experiences, our successes, and our most importantly, our struggles. It was fascinating to hear where everyone else is at with their endeavors. And it was also therapeutic to share my own and receive constructive feedback. After all, this was the clarity I was after.

Lunchtime

Between two of the sessions was a group activity called Community Talk. The purpose of community talk was to take an hour going into deep conversations. As it turns out, we were all essentially doing this same activity non-stop throughout the entire 4 days, but it was nice to have a carved out block of uninterrupted time.

I partnered up with Dianna Woodward. Dianna and I went on to have several incredible conversations. She is leaving her home in Detroit to live abroad in Australia for the next year. She also plans to start a podcast along the way. We had many discussions and brainstorms about our goals and passions. Scotty Russell also jumped into our conversation. As someone who consumes his content religiously, it was fascinating to listen to him talk about his own struggles and his plans for growth. Not to mention an honor to have him give me advice.

With Scotty Russell and Dianna Woodward

With Scotty Russell and Dianna Woodward

Dinner

The evening was full of adventures. At an event like this where people are like family, no one goes back to their hotels from the venue. The pack went to Easy Tiger for food, drinks, and more great conversations. As the night went on, things got loud and it was becoming harder to yell over the music. Pam, Garrett, Ben, Michelle, and I went to a restaurant a few blocks away for some food and chats.

At that point, the group I was with decided to call it a night (the smart decision). I, however, decided to continue on and meet up with another group hanging out about a half mile away at Cenote (a coffeeshop and bar — amazing!). Upon arrival, I had a beer with Austin Taylor, an incredible motion designer who is beginning to niche down on motion graphics specifically tailored towards lettering and typography. We both follow each other’s work, so it was great to talk about our goals and progress. Austin gave me a fantastic new idea for my lettering that I’ll be pursuing in the coming weeks. Secrets for now.

It was last call at Cenote, so the gang rallied and migrated over to Rainey street. Rainey street is a road of large houses that were turned into bars. The yards have hammocks and fire pits so we grabbed some drinks and hung out outside. It was a late night, but Austin knows how to party.

Day 2

I was catching some sun outside the venue while drinking my first cup of coffee when Roland Huse approached me with a print (that is now hanging on my wall).

Roland told me the story of how is freelance lettering career came to be. We exchanged stories and goals and he said something that I’ll never forget. He said he doesn’t like watching TV, with the exception of Gold Rush (a show on the History Channel). I don’t remember the exact words, but he explained a metaphor where he thinks that everyone is like pay dirt. We all have gold within us, but we need to mine it out. And even when we produce that gold, it still needs to be exchanged to make money. I immediately wrote this into my conference notes.

Day 2 Sessions & Conversations

Charli Prangley kicked off the first session about producing video on a consistent schedule. Charli is an amazing person, designer, and video producer who has built an insanely large audience on YouTube. Charli gave some killer tips on how to streamline and balance the process of video production. As someone who has been trying to up my video game, this talk was packed with valuable takeaways. I even had the pleasure of spending some one on one time with Charli, who was kind enough to give me advice on my own approach, teach me about YouTube analytics, and interview me for one of her videos.

Sarah Dayan followed Charli with her session about maintaining robust professionalism as a creative entrepreneur by taking responsibility for every aspect of the client process. She was fiery! And fortunately, there was no swear jar. As I mentioned earlier, Sarah is someone I look up to and it was amazing to see her take the stage and drop so much knowledge on the community members.

Nathan Barry was the final speaker of the day and he was incredible on stage. He was originally planning to do a session on email marketing, but decided to pivot and speak about content creation, audience building, and content development systems. Still wrapping my head around the notes from this talk.

BBQ party at Stubbs

With Scotty Russell and Dianna Woodward

In between the talks, many great conversations were had. A handful of us ate lunch at the world famous Stubbs BBQ where Katie Montgomery of 1124 gave me the 411 on how to order brisket (hint: “moist”).

During community talk, I spoke with Ben Toalson who gave me an unfathomable amount of advice on video production. One of my major goals for 2017 is to step up my video game and start producing regular high-quality content. There, I said it publicly — you can now expect it.

Conference Dinner Party

Festivities ensued at the venue. The conversations continued, but we all got a little more relaxed and had some laughs over tacos and s’mores.

So many new friends!
So many new friends!

It was this night that I met up with Tim Moody (from Boston!) and Ryan Strickler. Both of these dudes are talented developers so we nerded out a bit as Tim took us through the app he’s building. Ryan, Tim, Nacho, and I are planning on starting a mastermind group. I’m beyond excited.

With Nacho and Tim

Nerding out with Nacho and Tim

It was a fantastic time to hang out with everyone even though Taylor and Dianna kicked my ass twice in giant Jenga.

getting my ass kicked in jenga

Jenga defeat with Taylor and Dianna

After the party, a parade of us went down to Rainey street again to imbibe further. Austin during Halloween weekend is absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Day 3

I was a bit tired from the late night, but nothing a little coffee couldn’t fix. I bit of anxiety was beginning to set in knowing that I would be flying out in the afternoon. Even though the conversations would continue online, it bummed me out that this was the last time I’d be able to talk to these people in person for a while.

Ben Toalson opened up the final day of the event with a session about maintaining a healthy work/life balance. An aspect of this talk that really resonated with me was Ben’s explanation and reasoning for progressing in every aspect of your life (family, self, career, friends, etc.). He expressed the importance of setting goals for each area of your life and taking action. During the Q&A, I asked Ben how to tackle this daunting feat systematically and his suggestion was to not try to tackle it all head on. Do it one bit at a time. My goal for the coming month(s) is to deconstruct my life in way that provides clarity in my pursuits.

Sean McCabe, the mind behind the community and brand gave the final keynote on thinking bigger. “Think Bigger” was the theme of the conference and Sean’s talk about how the only thing holding us back is the smallness of our ideas was extremely powerful. He also shared with us his vision for the future of seanwes. More secrets.

With Sean McCabe

With Sean McCabe

After Sean’s talk, I spent an hour running around taking pictures and giving hugs and goodbyes to every single person I could. I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye. A few of us had a quick lunch and I was off to the airport (with Nacho, of course).

So many new friends!
So many new friends!
So many new friends!
So many new friends!
So many new friends!
So many new friends!

And just like that, it was over.

A Life-Changing Conference

View from the plane

Did you ever attend summer camp when you were a child? You were nervous about going at first because you didn’t know if you were going to fit in. Then, when you get there, you start making friends one by one. The days go on and your relationships continue to develop. And then it ends and you head back home with a heavy heart. Part of you wants to cry because you’re sad to leave while the other part of you wants to cry because you’ve just finished experiencing a pivotal moment in your life.

Leaving this family reunion was like leaving summer camp. I feel like I just woke up from the best dream I’ve ever had.

But this is just the beginning.

Now it’s time to get back to work. No more dealing with the bullshit expectations that other people have of me. No more commitments that don’t serve my vision. No more getting in the way of myself. No more small ideas.

Today marks the first day of the rest of my life in a world that I plan to make an impact on.

Conclusion

If you’re still with me, thank you.

You subscribe to me because I’m a lettering artist, not to read about my conference experiences. I wrote these two posts because I wanted to share the most unique and inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. I hope that it might inspire you to join the seanwes community, or perhaps another community that aligns with your goals and interests. There’s nothing more powerful than surrounding yourself with likeminded individuals that encourage you to think bigger.

Regardless, you’ve given me your attention. That’s an honor and a privilege that I never intend to abuse. You can expect a jam packed lettering-related post next week as well as a lot more video content in the coming weeks and months.