I'm not gonna lie: I have a cool job. One perk is going cool places and meeting cool people.
A few weeks ago, I flew out to unsunny So Cal for the fourth annual PTTOW Summit. The ungainly acronym stands for People To Take Over the World; I was invited to give a talk at this invite-only conference on behalf of National Geographic, where I'm Chief Creative Officer for Books, Kids and Family. The attendees represent an eclectic mix of 120 traditional businesses and youth brands, alongside VIPs from Navy SEALs, Bam (the star of Jackass, not The Flintstones), Cirque de Soleil and Tony Hawk. We gathered to understand how we all fit together.
On the first day, two Navy SEALs (one cuter than the next) spoke on the subject of leadership.
"Everyone wants to know what it's like to be a Navy SEAL. Is it the Mensa guy who can do the most push ups? A Superman? No," said George, "What it takes is grit."
"You have to be able to tolerate ambiguity and adjust rapidly," Greg chimed in. "You need a positive attitude, because sometimes all you can control is your attitude."
"The final weapon is the brain; everything else is supplemental," said George.
Bert Jacobs, the guy sitting behind me, had a relevant question. (Jacobs created the Life is Good brand, starting with $78 bucks and spinning the idea into a $100 million business.) "So, if you two were trying to kill each other, who would win and how?" he asked.
Everyone cracked up.
Later that day, I presented a master class on creative content. I talked about the tenets of good storytelling and National Geographic Society's 125 year history of documenting adventures around the world. I showed footage of director James Cameron, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and the only person to solo-dive the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest part of ocean.
My presentation partner Nate, of Skullcandy, the hipster headphone brand, showed a video of the co-founder of DC Shoes participating in the motorsport Gymkhana (essentially a NASCAR racer tearing around a Hollywood set). The audience was riveted and he was pelted with question after question at the end.
I felt completely out of my element, but things get better as the conference rolled on (and I have photos to prove it). I learn how to paddleboard for the first time. I spotted dolphins competing with the surfers on the waves. Over the course of the next few days, I met a handful of potential partners, made a lot of new friends, and learned a new favorite word -- ahaku -- which is Japanese for obsession for a project.
As I packed up to leave, I found myself really, really missing my kids, ages 6 and 8, and considered calling them. Sometimes, this backfires. They refuse to get on the phone (punishment), or demand I come home immediately, which leaves me feeling tortured if I'm far away.
I look at the phone.
Like a SEAL, I dial into my grit and tap "home" on my iPhone. Dad answers. To my delight, there is immediately a small, girl voice on the phone.
"Hi Mom, I miss you," says my sweet, 6-year-old daughter Mackenzie. After we chat about Ninjago, her latest ahaku, I expect a hang-up, since my 8-year-old son Chase is not much of a phone guy. But then I hear his voice.
"Mom!" he says excitedly. "I'm digging up worms!"
We discuss, implementation, cohabitation, and preservation of his excavation.
"I love you," he says.
Dad gets back on the phone and says, "Chase just kissed the receiver."
Life is good, indeed. Now that is the most interesting presentation I've heard all day.
Melina Bellows, Chief Creative Officer of National Geographic, is the author of Mother's Love: Inspiring True Stories from the Animal Kingdom and Love You, Dad: A Book of Thanks.