This was my third year attending the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, although "attending" isn't really what you do at Burning Man; you are there to experience it. It is a 60,000 person city that springs into existence for a week, with interactive art, events, and parties, all of which is either burned or disassembled at the end of the week. Like a sand mandala, it will never be there in the same way again. This year I took very few photos (if you'd like to see some incredible photos, see these by Jim Urquhart, a Reuters photographer who I met at last year's burn). But I spent a lot of time in quiet contemplation and introspection, a lot of time meeting new people, a lot of time dancing alone and with others, and a lot of time hugging people and making new connections. A short list of things I learned this year:
- Not all of the pieces of my personality are well suited for all purposes. I can be impatient, overly solution-focused at the expense of the feelings of others, and intimidating. I often beat myself up over these "flaws", but I realized that these are not, in fact, flaws. Every part of my personality, my humanity, is important, is a part of who I am, and is valuable. Sometimes, you bring some parts of your personality to bear in certain situations, and sometimes you let other parts take a back seat, because it's the best place to get you from A to B. But that doesn't mean that those parts of your personality are bad, they're simply the wrong tools. Next time you think that by not saying something, you're being untrue to your authentic self, ask yourself whether you're really being inauthentic, or whether you're just choosing to utilize a different skill (patience, forbearance, acceptance) rather than the one that's easiest and comes most naturally to you. And, then, when you're out with your friends later, speak unvarnished truth, be funny, and abrasive, and a bit loony. They love you for it. That's why they're your friends.
- Solid state hardware can, in fact, succumb to dust and heat and fail in the desert, the same way things with moving parts can.
- Don't try to write your greatest hits anthology while you're on your second album. Don't think about how you're going to tell your story to people while you're still in the middle of it. Experience it mindfully and fully, and absorb it. Let the emotion, the joy, the sadness, the frustration, the come to you, experience them without judgment, and remember them. Wait until it's time to tell the story to put them into context. You never know what's around the next bend that could change the whole thing.
- PVC is light, but it's not an excellent structural building material, and can buckle and fail easily and spectacularly under strain, especially in high heat. Always over-engineer anything built with PVC.
- Open yourself to spontaneity. As Woody Allen said, half of life is just showing up.
- You've got a lot of love to give. Give freely of it, and it will come back to you in the form of joy. At the burn, it's easy to connect with others, because people are open to the experience. It's harder back here in Palo Alto, but less hard than you might think.