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3 Lessons From My First “Summit Series at Sea”
Interesting conversations I had on engineering, parenting, and sexuality
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So I was on a boat last week. It was for an event called Summit Series at Sea, which is like Burning Man mixed with a tech conference mixed with a cruise.
I say Burning Man because if you’re an independent thinker and are passionate about art, music, social justice, psychedelics, and community building the way many “Burners” are, you’ll definitely like Summit Series.
It was like a tech conference because there were talks and networking events happening on different floors of the ship at all times. AI ethics dominated many of the talks. But they also invited many prominent speakers to discuss topics ranging from web3 to climate change to spirituality as well.
I particularly enjoyed how they hosted different networking events grouped by interests. For example, I attended one networking event for Summiters based in the Bay Area, and another event for all the “digital nomads” who travel while working.
And if you don’t know anyone before going (I certainly didn’t) they assign you dinners with other Summiters to help you meet others in the community.
And if this wasn’t epic enough, imagine all of the above, but on one of Richard Branson’s Virgin cruise ships. There were at least five different restaurants (all you can eat by the way), clothing stores, jewelry shops, a spa, multiple pools, hot tubs, and at least five different bars and clubs spanning five floors.
They even had a barber and tattoo artist on the ship!
So if you got tired of talking business, you could enjoy the amenities and treat this as a vacation. I certainly did.
How I Found Out About Summit Series
A few months ago I wrote about how I went to a relationship workshop run by Amy Chan. As part of my research for that, I read a few articles she wrote on Medium.
That’s when I stumbled upon this article where she talked about her early entrepreneurship career. She mentioned that “to meet new people, she joined communities such as “Summit Series,” an organization that hosts events for young entrepreneurs, artists and activists.”
That sounded exactly like my crowd, so I started researching Summit Series more. After reading the Summit Series founders’ book Make No Small Plans and passing an admissions interview, I bought my tickets for Summit Series three weeks before the boat was set to sail.
I won’t deny that I winced when I saw the price of admission was over $5k for a triple with two roommates.
But I figured I wouldn’t remember the $5k on my deathbed, but I would remember the memories from going to Summit Series, so I bit the bullet and paid the fee.
I flew into Miami on a Thursday to board the ship. We spent Thursday and Friday at sea, landed in the Bahamas for half a day on Saturday to chill on the beach before disembarking on Sunday back in Miami.
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What I Learned from Summit Series
I signed up for this event with the intention to listen to other people’s stories. I wanted to meet people who I would never normally meet and learn how they think, with the hope that it would bring inspiration to my writing and work.
I certainly had a lot of interesting conversations from this trip. While there were many conversations about AI and tech primarily, here are 3 of the most surprising conversations I had on engineering, sexuality, and parenting from the event.
I particularly enjoyed a talk with the VP of Launch at SpaceX, Kiko Dontchev, who shared some engineering advice he learned from working with Elon Musk.
He said that a common mistake engineering makes is to dive head first into optimizing the solution for a problem, without considering ways to avoid that problem entirely.
The example he gave was how SpaceX used to catch rockets for reuse using a boat with a net. Later on they discovered that it was easier logistically to let the rocket fall into the ocean and recover it after because the rocket parts floated in water.
If they spent all their time optimizing their boat with the nets, they would have missed out entirely on the option of not even trying to catch the rocket at all!
The takeaway for the builders out there is this: always consider all your options before building something, including ways to avoid doing the work at all.
I see founders make this mistake all the time. For example, many clients want to build their software product first before launching. So they dive head first into build-mode.
But they miss out on the option of launching the product before it is even built!
For example, instead of waiting months for a product to get built, they could start with launching an email collection page instead. That only takes a day to get up and running using tools like Carrd.co, Umso.com, and Webflow.
And collecting emails could help validate whether their idea is worth investing more in before spending any more resources on it.
If they have trouble collecting emails, then getting paying customers will be even tougher. So it’s better to find out about this by launching faster than getting stuck in a never-ending “build” trap.
One of the more “interesting” things I learned was from an author and “somatic sexologist” who gave a talk about sexuality.
This was very different from the rest of the talks, but I think many Summiters see sexuality as an avenue for their own personal growth which is why this talk was so popular.
In her talk, she started off discussing how there are different sexual archetypes. They are:
Energetic - someone aroused by anticipation, space and tease
Sensual - someone aroused by all of their senses being engaged
Sexual - someone aroused by straightforward sex and nudity
Kinky - someone aroused by power dynamics, anything taboo, and pushing edges
Shapeshifter - someone aroused by a mix of everything above and desiring variety
This is similar to the normal five love languages (words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, and gifts) except applied to sexuality. And just like the normal five love languages, we have to learn to speak in our partner’s “sex” love language to satisfy them, as they learn to speak in ours.
Then she demonstrated how she could experience “touchless energetic orgasms” with her partner.
I kid you not - apparently she could orgasm without touch at all. During the demonstration her partner ran his hands all over her body, but a few inches above her skin so he wasn’t actually touching her. He even used a vibrator and some ropes that also didn’t touch her.
Judging from her “enthusiastic” responses, it seemed like she was really into it. She even thanked the audience at the end for contributing to her pleasure because apparently the voyeurism of demonstrating this in front of a hundred people on the ship aroused her.
But it wouldn’t be the first time I failed to tell if someone was faking an orgasm or not.
Anyways, there’s a quiz you can take to figure out which sexual archetype you are. You can take it here.
Lastly, I bumped into a mindfulness and meditation coach who told me how “relationships are an accelerant for growth” because we need others to provide feedback to uncover our blindspots.
They gave me an example of how their 8-year old daughter taught them things that they never even knew about themselves through regular “checkups”.
Apparently every few months they sit down to discuss how they can be a better parent for their daughter, and how their daughter could be a better daughter for the parent.
These conversations are so foreign to me because in my household, it was either my mom’s way or the highway. If I had these kinds of conversations with my parents at an earlier age, my relationship with them would be much healthier than what it is now.
These kinds of proactive conversations are essential because without them, we can end up bottling up how we feel for years until it’s too late.
I remember this happening to me in my last relationship, when I remember my ex telling me in our final conversation all these things I did that frustrated and annoyed her.
And I didn’t have any clue about this for a year and a half!
Had we had these regular checkups, I could’ve taken action sooner to resolve these issues before they became bigger.
So a final takeaway for you to consider is having more of these regular checkups with anyone whose relationship you value. An easy one is with your partner - it could be worth asking them “How can I be a better partner to you?” and vice-versa.
You could apply this beyond close family relationships to your friends, clients, and co-workers as well.
Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was an impromptu Temazcal ritual I did at the spa.
Think of a Temazcal ritual as a spiritual experience in a REALLY hot sauna. When I was sitting in the sauna with one of my roommates and one of their investors, another Summiter from Mexico started pouring water onto the hot stones in the sauna to make it even hotter.
Then we commented how this looked like a Temazcal ritual, and we agreed to do an impromptu one which our Mexican friend helped lead.
In this ritual we prayed to the God of Fire and went around in a circle offering a few words of gratitude as tribute to our ancestors. It ended with us singing a song in Spanish.
The moment the song ended though, I had to run out of the Sauna because I felt I was about to get a heat stroke.
These are the kinds of spontaneous things that could only happen at Summit Series. My only regret was not bringing some friends or family with me, as I found those four days at Summit to be some of the most vivid days of my life.
I look forward to going again in the future.