I spent the last week in August at Burning Man, a week long event in the middle of the Nevada desert. When I told people I was attending the event there were typically two reactions:
What the hell is Burning Man?
I’ve always wanted to go to that. Awesome.
So what the hell is Burning Man? Aside from gawping at various pictures of the event I really didn’t have much of a clue before I went. I only knew that I would be in the middle of a desert, camping, partying and experiencing a world very unlike my usual habitat. Now that I’ve been and experienced it for myself, Burning Man is still very difficult to describe because it’s really anything and everything that you want it to be. It’s an event for the senses full of art, music, and strange activities to participate in night and day, all organized by attendees just like me. It’s a party, an adventure, an excuse to wear strange outfits, drink all day and night, meet people, get in touch with your spiritual side, run, do yoga, relax, switch off from day to day life, slow down, misbehave, create and survive against the elements.
What impressed me the most about Burning Man was the amount of dedication and enthusiasm that people put into the event. Burners spend all year creating sculptures and cars, thinking up bars and unique event ideas especially for this week long desert extravaganza. Individually, each sculpture or idea is impressive, but the collective effort has a very powerful impact. Although one of the event’s ten principles is self-reliance, this is a place that only works because people come together to share their vision and their possessions with those around them, since money and advertising are left behind. The environment is completely opposite to the ‘every man for himself’, consumerist mentality experienced daily in New York. Despite all this Black Rock City actually reminded me a lot of my home; it was a melting pot of people from different places, with different goals and opinions and a host of non stop weird and wild activities in which to participate.
Before I left New York, I read a great article about leadership lessons that we can learn from Burning Man. Although it’s a little bit cheesy to say, I do think that Burning Man is more than a giant party; the culture it creates really inspired me and made me think a lot about my life in the “default world”. And I’m not alone in this way of thinking, Burning Man is a hot academic topic with PHD dissertations focused on the people and interactions.
Here are some of my thoughts or life lessons from Burning Man:
1. Do something. I really like this simple message. If you see a problem, fix it. If you have an idea, work out a way to achieve it and make it happen. If there’s something in your life that you don’t like, make a change. Innovate. Do something about it.
2. Slow down. Stop rushing around and make time to appreciate your surroundings. You may not be next to a beautiful sculpture in the desert watching the sunrise, but if you take a break and slow down you are sure to view something amazing or inspiring.
3. Watch the sunrise. Get up early, go for a sunrise run or find a cool spot to greet the dawn. I love watching the sunrise, it makes me curious about the planets and our universe. Not only is it usually a stunning sight but getting up early means you gain some extra time to appreciate the day ahead of you.
4. Live in harmony. Sometimes we become so wrapped up in ourselves, focusing on work, a new relationship or making money that we forget we are part of a community. Share, lend others your skills or knowledge and be part of something bigger.
5. Try not to waste resources. Think about what you really need before you take or buy something. Recycle packaging, clothes and furniture instead of throwing things away. Refuse extra plastic bags and boxes and use mugs and real cutlery rather than disposable whenever you can.
6. Take a trip back in time. Take a break from your computer, unplug the TV and switch your phone off for a day. Remember what life was like before these technologies that we take for granted even existed. Use an old fashioned map, ask for advice or directions and meet people face to face at the time you specified.
7. Be open minded. Embrace new ideas and opportunities that present themselves. Agree to something that you never thought you would be able to do. Run a marathon, jump out of a plane, volunteer, write a novel, make friends with someone that you have nothing in common with.
8. Evolve. The world keeps on changing and you should evolve with it. Stay one step ahead by being adaptable and constantly improving yourself.