For the last few years, I’ve wanted to attend SXSW, the Austin-based music, film, and interactive festival. Each year, however, I’ve found convenient excuses for staying home: It’s expensive (okay, there is some truth in this); I can’t take that many days off from my business; I can’t guarantee that it will be worth it.
This year started out much the same. I wanted to go, but predetermined that it would be too costly and the timing wasn’t great. But that gnawing feeling—you know, the one that says if you don’t go you’ll seriously regret it—kept haunting me. It didn’t help that everywhere I turned—on the internet, in meetings, in magazines—people were talking about it.
One day, only a few weeks before the festival, I gave in to my inner voice. “I’m going,” I declared aloud to myself (for dramatic effect). It’s amazing what happens when you share a desire. Within three days, I had booked a flight, and found both a place to stay and a registration badge via Facebook.
I read a few articles about surviving SXSW and the best piece of advice I learned was to go with the flow. I arrived in Austin with that nugget in the back of my mind. As a result of going with the flow, I:
• Downed a shot under the persuasion of Mark Cuban (yes that Mark Cuban).
• Listened to publishing figure Jane Pratt dish secrets about the biz.
• Stayed in a room with four strangers who I laughed with like we were old friends.
• Hung out with an Australian Rock-n-Roll Hall of Famer and his incredibly funny business partner.
• Attended a Passion Pit concert (I had never heard of the band before).
• Became incredibly inspired by designer and entrepreneur Tina Roth Eisenberg’s life lessons.
• Danced to Michael Jackson like I hadn’t moved in years.
• Attended a mentoring session that produced light bulbs for my startup.
• Had an amazingly real conversation with a colleague that probably wouldn’t have happened elsewhere.
• Swayed to a jazz band in the airport as I waited to board my return flight.
The list goes on. At SXSW, I felt alive. I felt energized and inspired. I felt young and creative. And I felt weird and completely comfortable.
I returned to D.C. wanting to retain those feelings and to give a piece of the SXSW spirit to everyone I encountered.
After some decompressing and talking with others who attended, here’s what I gathered about why SXSW made me feel so damn good. So…me.
Consider the following tips for introducing a little SXSW into your life:
Stumble into the Unknown (AKA Ditch Your Plan)
The best way to find out what is going on at SXSW, beyond the public schedule, is to stumble into stuff. Walk into places that seemed strange, fun, or interesting. Follow a group of people headed in a different direction than you originally intended. You never know where stumbling may take you.
Blur the Lines Between Passion and Play
The networking at SXSW is crazy. So are the parties. So are the happy hours. So are many of the panels. So is the random conversation with people on the shuttle. SXSW blurs the lines between business and play in a way that seems so natural, where one isn’t fighting for attention and you’re not chasing the elusive concept of balance. Let it all blend.
Experience Life like You Only Have a Week to Do So
I was at SXSW for five days. And because of this limited time, I wanted to do as much as I possibly could. Not in a way where I completely exhausted myself, but in a way that was meaningful. I wanted the moments to count; I didn’t want to waste any. And “waste” took on a new meaning. Sometimes standing in a long line wasn’t a waste at all; it was an opportunity to stumble. More so, at SXSW, it was easy for me to measure the quality of my time there in experiences versus the default: money and material things.
Lose Some of the Limitations
Being at SXSW helped me see how often I put limits on myself in my normal day-to-day. How often I stopped myself from striking conversation with a stranger or stayed at home instead of attending an event alone. I let go of normal modes of operation and loosened up limitations. In the process, I allowed more of me to surface.
SXSW, just like life, is what you make it. So the question becomes: how can you introduce a little SXSW into your life today?
Felicia Pride is the founder of Pride Collaborative, a media company that connects the dots between storytelling, content strategy, and offline engagement. She’s also the founder of StoriesLead, a catalyst for great storytelling, and The Create Daily, a startup that matches talented creators with awesome opportunities to help them grow their careers.
Image courtesy of SXSW by Aaron Rogosin