I almost didn’t go to my first WordCamp
I started working with WordPress in 2010. A client requested I use WordPress and a Revolution theme they’d purchased to build their new site. When I was done, I submitted it to the theme showcase, and Brian Gardner reached out to tell me how much he’d liked it.
I continued working with Brian and his themes as Revolution became Revolution 2, and then StudioPress and Genesis. That led to me designing and developing Family Tree, one of the first commercial themes targeted at women entrepreneurs. It was released in May of 2011.
Right around the release of my first theme, Brian asked if I was going to be at WordCamp San Francisco. There was going to be a Genesis Connect event there, and he wanted me to be there. I really wanted to go, but didn’t know how I was going to pull it off.
See, after a years long struggle I had recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
I was trying to rebuild my design career with WordPress, but I was really struggling.
I felt like flying to San Francisco to see my internet friends was a luxury I couldn’t afford.
But when I mentioned it to my wife, she told me we’d find a way. She started hitting travel sites and found a cheap airline ticket. Then she went on AirBnB and booked me a couch in the lobby of an art gallery in the Tenderloin–it was the cheapest thing we could find. I left on August 11, 2011, three days before my 40th birthday.
My first day of WordCamp SF was a nightmare
I have pretty severe social anxiety, so my plan was to maintain a low profile and keep to myself until I could meet up with some of my Genesis friends. About 20 minutes into the first talk I went to I was totally lost, so I thought I’d sneak out and hit lunch early. It seemed like a solid plan.
My foot had fallen asleep during the presentation, though, and as I stood up to sneak out my ankle buckled and I fell. Every head in the auditorium whipped around to stare at me slowly rolling down the aisle. It was painfully obvious to me that not only did I not belong, but I had just made a very public ass of myself and was mortified.
Then the WordPress Community stepped in
There was already a huge crowd in the courtyard when I managed to slink out of the auditorium. I felt like someone had dropped me back into my junior high cafeteria. I stood in the massive line, wanting nothing more than to find a quiet corner to nurse my wounded pride, call my wife, maybe cry a little, and tell her that coming had been a huge waste of time and money.
If that’s how my day had panned out, my WordPress story might have been a lot different. Instead, I ran into my first ambassador of the WordPress community.
This kind of goofy guy in front of me started chatting me up.
I told him it was my first WordCamp. He asked me where I was from, and we discovered we lived maybe an hour away from each other: me in San Diego, him in Orange County. He invited me to eat lunch with his group. And that’s how I wound up sitting at a table eating lunch with Steve Zehngut and his crew.
These people were more like me: marketers and designers, theme authors and SEO specialists, food bloggers and digital nomads. I started to feel like I might belong there, after all. The phone call I made to my wife after lunch was about how much fun I was having, and how many cool people I was meeting.
Later that day I went to dinner with the crew from Genesis and met even more amazing people I’d only known online. After that, there was a huge Genesis Connect happy hour. The more people I met and talked to, the more friends I made. On Sunday, before one of the final presentations, an auditorium of my new friends sang “Happy Birthday” to me. (I won’t lie–it was cool but also almost as embarrassing as falling down the first day, lol!)
One person can make a difference
If Steve hadn’t asked me to eat lunch with his group that day, I might have never gone to another WordCamp. Instead, when WordCamp San Diego 2012 came around Dre Armeda encouraged me to submit a speaker application, and I gave my first talk. For six years now I’ve spoken at every local WordCamp that’s accepted my speaker application, trying to inspire other people to get and stay involved in our community.
I spent some time looking at the 2011 WCSF attendees list when I was writing this essay. Some of my best friends (and best WordCamp stories) can be directly linked to that list. Even the people I may not have met at that event came into my life because of that event.
Six degrees of a lunch invitation
I don’t remember whether or not I met Alex Vasquez in San Francisco, but he’s one of the people who actually wants an honest answer when he asks how I’ve been. I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet Andy Stratton there, but I eventually travelled to Baltimore to speak at the WordCamp he and Drew Poland organized. I’m positive I didn’t cross paths with Karim Marucchi, but he eventually became my boss, mentor, and go-to puppy picture friend. And those are just the connections from one event that happened 6 years ago.
WordCamp San Francisco taught me that being a hero doesn’t have to be a huge, dramatic thing.
Sometimes the biggest heroes are the people who notice that someone else feels out of place, extend their hand, and welcome them in. Of all of the lessons I’ve learned in WordPress, that’s the most important one. Thanks, Steve!
(P.S. If anyone knows where I can find some adult Superman Underoos in stock, LMK. WordCamp San Diego is coming up at the end of March, and I never got Steve a proper thank you gift.)