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Reflections: UNPLUGGED

Updated: Jun 13

I think I’ll start at the end this time. 

Directly east, across Bird Road, pink and red hues glowed against morning clouds. Petrichor from the night’s rain hung in the air and a stable hand slowly led horses out to pasture. 

I’ve often said that rain acts as nature’s saturation filter and this morning was no different.

The dusty dirt road glistened with a rich brown hue. An unnaturally vibrant green grass twinkled with morning dew. The bark on the trees stood out darker than usual as I peered through them to catch a glimpse of the still blue waters of the lake.

Birds flitted tree to tree and their sing song whistles filled an otherwise quiet morning.

Or at least, that’s what some poet with too much time on his hands was observing as I huffed and puffed, struggling to carry a stupid 80 pound speaker up 3 flights of slippery wooden steps. 

It was somewhere around the 40th step that I realized how loud and annoying a donkey bray is at 6:30 in the morning. 

We didn’t even use this gigantic speaker.

And why in the heck didn’t I make coffee before this? 

Whose idea was it to put all this stuff at the bottom of the hill anyway? 

(it was mine).

A more well rested me might have appreciated the challenge and found joy in a free morning workout. This me realized that I’m old and creaky and I lost count of all the cracks and pops and weird noises my joints made. 

A few trips later at the top of the hill I ran into one of our speakers who spent the night. 

That pain I felt in my left knee vanished. Memories from the day and night before flooded back and it was all I could do to stop myself from diving into a recap of the event and brainstorming all the ways we would make it even better next year.

Events like these can be a roller coaster like that.

During all the planning, the strategizing, the deciding to pre-stage all the equipment for a full blown concert at the bottom of a giant hill - it’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s easy. Nothing is impossible. 

When the event actually comes, it’s exhilarating. The adrenaline kicks in and the tasks and to do’s make the day fly by. 

The night prior, when the band started (inside, at an elevation about 60 ft higher than originally planned) it was just after 8PM and I really wasn’t sure what had happened to the day. 

I looked around the dimly lit room. 

In the beautiful country kitchen, our amazing chef was chatting and cleaning. Almost 10 hours of cooking, peparing, and plating food and she still ran the kitchen with an unflappable calm and grace, like there was nothing more natural in the world.

Around a large, cast iron wood burner a handful of folks who I happen to know spend most days in business attire and medical scrubs sat cross legged on the wooden floor roasting marshmallows like kids around a campfire. 

At the dining table (one of the longest I’ve ever seen), a dozen people sat chatting underneath the low lights of a chandelier. As the rain fell outside, an acoustic arrangement of One Ton Trolley serenaded us into the night. And Bullet, our four legged attendee, made the rounds from person to person for a few more scratches before finding a cozy spot to curl up and fall asleep.

The scene felt like something out of a Tolkien novel. 

“Therefore, with weeping and laughter, let us take the road together. We may go, all of us willing to hazard the peril, but of us shall make the final journey.” 

Sounds like he wrote it about a group of entrepreneurs about to take a leap of faith together, striking out as a few brave souls to change the world, right? 

At around midnight we had to pull the plug on UNPLUGGED. Overnighters sauntered off to RVs and camper vans and I optimistically set an alarm hoping that my toddler driven internal alarm clock wouldn’t wake me earlier. 

Toddlers won (or maybe it was the donkey) and we are right back to where this started. Pink clouds, song birds, slippery steps, sore back, reminiscing about another UNPLUGGED.

With the equipment loaded up, tents broken down (one just broken), chairs stacked, and grounds cleaned, I looked around. 

No one would even know we were here. No one would know that life changing conversations happened here just a day prior. No one would know new friendships were forged, old friendships were strengthened, and a community of amazing people bonded over their shared mission to build a better life by building better businesses.

But we would know. 

I’m not totally sure what everyone else will remember about the event. But I know what it means to me and I know why I’ll be hosting it again.

UNPLUGGED isn’t just about networking or education. Yes, it’s about those things (if that’s what you're looking for you should still buy tickets and join us next year). But it’s also about something more. 

Making a difference in the world can be a lonely journey. 

Whether you make your mark documenting other peoples’ journeys as a photographer creating memories they will cherish for a lifetime, or as a chef keeping people healthy, happy, and full, or maybe even as a musician simply trying to lift people up with a clever turn of phrase, it’s all too easy to succumb to the feeling of being alone. 

There was an irony in the fact that One Ton Trolley ended the night with a song called “Hanging By a Thread”. That’s where a lot of entrepreneurs find themselves. 

For a day and a night, the competition, the stress, the worrying if you ended that email the right way, it all slipped away.

You come to realize that you aren’t alone. You have a tribe. Your people are here.  

UNPLUGGED is about realizing that if we come together, if we work together, if we find ways to lift each other up, we can overcome the obstacles in our path, build stronger businesses, and truly change lives.

This journey doesn’t have to be lonely. It doesn’t have to be cut throat. It doesn’t have to be stress inducing and it doesn’t have to be so daunting. 

I told you I was going to start at the end, and I’ll end at the end as well. 

Today, I plugged back in. Voicemails to check, emails to read, photos to post and captions to write. I’m not as sore, but I did take a fairly large dose of ibuprofen. 

What I am mostly is inspired. I don’t always get to see the impact of my work, but this weekend I saw it first hand. Community building, bringing people together, empowering people to pursue their dreams and not settle, and letting people know they are not alone.

At the end, I have found a renewed faith in my mission, a renewed passion for building places where people can come together and thrive, and a renewed gratitude for each of the people, both personally and professionally, who made not only this weekend possible but who make every day pursuing these dreams possible. And I am reminded that I too am not alone.

I look forward to seeing you all next year at UNPLUGGED 2025.


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