Photo by C.C. Chapman
Did I make a mistake?
I drop my bags on the bed. My day in Fargo begins with a moment a panic on the heels of a nearly four-hour drive. Within minutes it feels like the walls of my hotel room are closing in around me. I spent most of the money I had to buy a ticket and trek up Interstate 94 to North Dakota — for a conference I knew little about and with people I had never met.
Facing the cracked TV stand, I take a seat on the edge of my queen-sized bed. I’ve got time to kill before the conference starts, and without a plan tense and unsettled feelings start to bubble up. I need to get outside.
There’s little proof online to corroborate why I’m in Fargo. MisfitCon — an intimate gathering of about 150 people on the edge of North Dakota’s eastern border — doesn’t have a website. Forget about speaker lists or an itinerary. Tickets are invite only.
There’s simply a secret group on Facebook I’m added to about a week before I take off for the high prairie. Oh, and a text message service I sign up for with the promise that it will update me about where I should be and when during my five day trip.
I bolt out the hotel’s main doors and toward downtown. I take up post on a concrete ledge in the center of a plaza, just past the artfully done-up billboard announcing that the Misfits are in town for the conference — a group to which I supposedly now belonged. But I felt lost.
Deep breath. In through the nose; out through the mouth.
My skepticism ran deep as I perched on the wall alone, under the shade of a tree to escape the heat.
“8 p.m. at Ecce.”
A group text message popped up on my phone. Details for the opening party. I breathe a sigh of momentary relief. Plans. But I still had to deal with another challenge first: dinner. Luckily, the secret Facebook group came in handy. I piggybacked onto a group headed to eat at one of the hotels in town.
“Is the newbie invited?” I inquired.
I showed up to the restaurant and promptly ducked into the first empty chair I saw. “Can I sit by you?”
That’s when it all began.
Photo by Raul Colon
In many ways, MisfitCon is backwards. At least when compared to most other events or conferences.
Forget handing out business cards. That’s what I usually do within five minutes of meeting someone at a conference. All in the name of making those professional connections, right? MisfitCon is different. It’s a deliberately small, handcrafted event set on inspiring people to walk away and make a dent in the universe. You meet people first as friends and co-conspirators who want to make a difference in the world. Awkward interactions become inside jokes within minutes (I had quite a few of those). You don’t just talk about what you do; You talk about your journey, what you love, what matters to you, and even what beer you like to drink.
The hierarchy between speaker and attendee is gone. Everyone mingles together. You often don’t realize that person you’re chatting up is going to chat with everyone, all at once until they get up and make their way to the stage. But it doesn’t matter. Everyone has a story to tell.
This is a gathering of people from more than 15 countries and countless states. It’s a group of artists, writers, entrepreneurs, bikers, beekeepers, black smiths, nonprofit founders, and CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. For three years, the group has converged upon Fargo — led by AJ and Melissa Leon — to talk about leading life with intention. It’s an event the husband and wife team call a love letter to their community, their tribe. And every year they take a break from the work they do with their agency, Misfit Inc., to write it.
But MisfitCon isn’t just an event where people from from far-flung countries such as Switzerland, Ireland or Puerto Rico come together — it’s a feeling. One that shakes you down to your core, takes hold and doesn’t let loose.
Welcome to the tribe.
Photo by C.C. Chapman
“How many people can we get?” I ask. “Twenty? Thirty?”
I put the phone back up and relay the number to the restaurant manager. The sun beats down as I stand in the center of a park, where a group of misfits and Fargo residents convene to try and beat the world record for the most people in hammocks. Why? Because nothing beats swaying in the breeze. It’s my fourth day in Fargo. Now I’m the one making dinner reservations, rallying enough people together to reserve all the tables in the mezzanine. I’ve eased into a routine — one where discovery and exploration reign supreme. I’ve embraced the unknown, and even learned to revel in its possibilities.
MisfitCon prides itself on creating experiences — a party in the middle of the woods or an abandoned middle school; bourbon-soaked cherries stuffed with white chocolate; honest stories of failure, success, and struggle. The beauty of MisfitCon isn’t just in the speakers or the painstakingly prepared food, the beautiful spaces or the extraordinary parties each night.
The beauty is in the tribe. A tribe of people who open their hearts and minds freely to others, whether it’s about their love of Spider Man (made evident by a matching wallet and t-shirt), or their struggle to keep up a healthy lifestyle. It’s a tribe who immediately takes you in and ushers you around to meet the rest of the group. The beauty of the conference is in this incredible internal transformation and attitude it facilitates in the people who attend.
MisfitCon breeds a group of people who inherently believe everyone has value — no qualms. In two days the group started at least two campaigns to fund projects people spoke about at the conference. Picture the most insane college alumni group you could imagine, and then crank it up a notch. That’s the misfits. Within five days they feel nearly as close to you as the friends you spent four years making in college. All of a sudden you’re planning monthly Skype calls and agreeing to visit each others’ home cities.
On the drive out to Fargo I felt plagued with anxiety over meeting enough people, or the “right” people. Two days into my stay I realized it didn’t matter. We all had this weird and incredible experience that bound us together. We were all misfits, and that’s a connection not easily broken.
Photo by Raul Colon
Driving out of Fargo felt like leaving a family behind. A longing started forming in my heart for people who were former strangers just days before. The instantaneous support and value I felt from the people I met there wasn’t something I wanted to let go of so easily.
So I started thinking: How do you keep the spirit of Misfit Con alive, even after Fargo is long gone?
Everyday I walk by people — at the studio, in the gym, at the grocery store, on the street. I see people who would have made me to stop, smile and strike up a conservation had I been in Fargo. Everyone has a story. Everyone has value. Everyone has something to teach. These mantras don’t just apply to our tiny group of misfits. And that spirit of openness shouldn’t just come around once a year when we get to Fargo. It’s a choice. One I hope to say yes to every day.
Exercise and take care of your body. Stay active. The physical and mental are equally important.
Feel like you’re short on time? Stop checking Facebook and email so often. Especially at stoplights.
List out your ideas. Act on the one you’re most excited about or still thinking about in a week.
Wake up and start your day in your happy place by doing something you love.
Start. Do. Act. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect. It’s an evolution. Let others appreciate your journey. Projects will progress and become better by just by doing.
Act fast on inspiration. It’s fleeting.
Create more than you consume.
Ask others (and yourselves) the tough questions, the real questions, the ones that dig deep. What is the one world problem you want to tackle? What are your biggest barriers to achieving that or tackling the problem?
Work toward utopia. Retrain your mindset to look towards the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.
Your path is your own. Listen to others’ advice and take what you can use, but make your own way.