This past April, I climbed a ladder with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder. The ladder led to a wobbly loft perched above the outdoor dining area of El Retiro Lodge in Lanquin, Guatemala. This loft was the only spot on the property with Wi-Fi, and guests could pay for it in 15-minute increments. I was there to check my work email.
Now, now, before you lecture me about work-life balance, this was absolutely intentional. I spent 2 weeks in Guatemala and Belize, using part of the time to test the feasibility of becoming a “digital nomad.” I travel quite a bit already, but was curious to see if I could maintain normal business operations from Central America. Apparently, I can! I answered emails in the middle of the jungle. I had videoconferences with clients from hotel rooms. I landed new clients while I was thousands of miles away. Success!
Now I’m getting ready to leave for Burning Man. It’s my 5th year attending. My 5th year going “off the grid.” My 5th year explaining to clients and colleagues that I will be completely unreachable for 2 weeks.
As I prepare for my trip, I’m reflecting on the ways Burning Man is part of my professional development:
1. Unplugging is good for the soul
If you’re anything like me, you are tethered to your devices 24/7. Maybe, like me, you have widgets that turn things off late at night. Or you don’t answer work emails past 8pm. Or you have a “no phones at the dinner table” rule. So many of us have unhealthy relationships with technology and a commensurate arsenal of coping strategies to try to keep it under control.
Burning Man allows me an invaluable opportunity to unplug. To disconnect fully. To be in the present moment and nowhere else. And that is a rare, rare gift. There are few places left on the planet where we can do that.
2. Play, for its own sake
Once disconnected and living in the moment, I open myself up to a weird and wide variety of possibilities. Not gonna lie – a lot of what I do out there is play. Play is important. We don’t have to be serious, goal-driven grown-ups 100% of the time. Doing fun things for their own sake has intrinsic value. It helps us create memories and experiences, which – as research shows – are what lead to happiness. Not surprisingly, money, cars, houses, and things don’t actually make us happy. Relationships and experiences do.
3. Oh! The people you’ll meet!
Burning Man attracts all types: Artists, Engineers, Professional Hippies, Google Founders, Rabble-Rousers, A-List Celebrities, Families, Politicians. I’ve met, played, talked, and shared with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I’ve found inspiration, connection, community, and friendship. Sometimes it’s the single-serving variety, but long-term connections also abound. Even though I’m not there to do business (it’s verboten), the more talented, progressive people I know, the better I am. As a person. As an entrepreneur. As someone in a helping profession. Getting to share the experience with people who are changing the world in their own unique ways leaves a lasting mark I carry with me throughout the year.
4. Skill Development
Spending your summer vacation in a hostile desert that wants to kill you – along with 65,000 of your closest friends – means you have to develop certain skills.
Some skills are practical. Attendance requires radical self-reliance. I’ve done my fair share of camping and outdoor adventures throughout my life, but Burning Man made me approach survival in a different way. It’s a good push for a city gal to have to figure out what the heck I need to do to keep myself alive, healthy, and comfy.
Some skills are artistic. I don’t fancy myself an artist, but I enjoy crafting. I get so busy with work and life most of the time that I don’t carve out time for creativity. Because Burning Man culture supports DIY self-expression, I find ways to get my art on – mainly in the form of wearables like light-up accessories and ridiculous outfits.
5. Leadership Development
Burning Man allows many opportunities to serve and take on leadership roles. There are a zillion different departments and projects that need help, so there’s a way for everyone to jump in and walk the walk.
For me this year, it means being the lead for my camp. I’m Project Manager for a group of 45 people from around North America, and it’s my job to ensure everything goes smoothly. We have 10,000 lbs of infrastructure, a budget to match, transportation, engineering, communications, acculturation, contingency planning, bar service for hundreds of people, 19 public events, and oh-so-much more! It’s the pinnacle of transferable skill development.
I have department leads and advisors without whom it wouldn’t be possible. I spent 6 months recruiting and building our team. I’ve hosted workshops, had dozens of 1:1 meetings, gotten people to pay camp dues (100% on time!!!), and – I’m pretty darn sure – built a great sense of excitement. I am madly in love with my camp and tickled to have a group of such talented, responsible, hard-working people.
It’s been a ridiculous labor of love. We start preparing for the event in January, and since July, I’ve been spending 15-20 hours a week on camp prep, in addition to running my business. I haven’t even started my personal packing and I leave in 3 days! I wouldn’t have it any other way, though. Being Project Manager (something I used to do professionally) is a blast, and it’s been so rewarding to get to flex those muscles again. I am beyond excited for what we’re creating and immeasurably grateful I get to be a part of it.
I don’t expect Burning Man to be of interest to everyone reading this. It’s not intended to be. Maybe I’ve piqued your interest, though. If I have, I’d love to talk with you about it upon my return.
But for those of you who would never want to go, I hope you’ll think about your version. Your Burning Man. What gives you great joy, allows you to recharge, and pushes yourself to grow as a person? We all have these things, and they are what make us whole.