Dylan Smith

Reasons to pay it forward

Last month, I found an email in my inbox from a man called John Davey, whom I’d heard of but never met. John organises the three-day Reasons To conference in Brighton and — much to my surprise — he was writing to offer me a ticket.

John told me he had seen the update about my [failed] freelancing conference, is a big believer in karma, and wanted to give me a pick-me-up. Karma not really being my thing, I wasn’t sure what to read into that. But the lineup was peppered with speakers I’d been wanting to see and I had an unaddressed resolution to give Brighton a proper chance before the year is out, so I jumped at the opportunity.

It was obvious from 10:00 on Monday that Reasons To wasn’t going to be like the discipline-specific, information-dense conferences I normally attend. In his first monologue, John opened up about what he felt was a disappointingly small audience, and how “it hurts to pour your heart into something and have so few people show up”. Throughout the three days, he would take the stage between speakers and share with us his passion and vision, notably for turning that audience into a real community. John’s personality is unavoidably infectious. As a result, I don’t think anyone in the room could help but come together over the week.

The schedule on Monday and Tuesday was planned in a way I’d never seen before. Where normally you’d count down the minutes of the day’s last talk before heading off to the pub with new friends, Reasons To has a dinner break. Then, at 20:00, there are “inspired sessions” meant to introduce everyone to something new and exciting.

I was a little sceptical about going out for drinks and food and coming back sluggish and half-drunk to watch an illustrator talk about doodling or a cyborg talk about being a cyborg, but those ended up being two of my favourite presentations of the week. In fact, that could sum up my whole experience:

Reasons To is full of ideas I wouldn’t normally look for myself and I left better for it.

The only real criticism I have is that because Reasons To has something for everyone, not everything is for everyone. While I came out of certain sessions with loads of notes, others just didn’t interest me. Likewise, I could recognise that some of my favourite main stage talks might have been less compelling for people from far off backgrounds. This is definitely a small percentage, though, and didn’t impact my overall enjoyment.

Mark Boulton on stage at Reasons To conference 2017
The many unwanted job titles of Mark Boulton

An unintended, underlying theme I found threaded through many of the sessions was a message of aspiration, or how to start being the thing you want to be.

  1. Artist Emily Forgot told us how she took a month away from paid work to switch gears and explore new styles. Her risk paid off, leading to a gallery show and eventually commissions in a style she felt more fulfilled with.
  2. Designer and musician Elliot Jay Stocks scheduled side project time right into his workdays, which led to pressing an LP of music he’d long considered only a hobby.
  3. Both Harry Roberts and Frank Rausch were blunt about simply (and frequently) updating their titles to better represent the jobs they want to be hired for at any given time. Harry is currently a Consultant Performance Engineer while Frank is a User Interface Typographer.
  4. Designer Mark Boulton wants to make a point of ditching some of the de facto job titles he’s collected over the years — Email Operator, Conference Call Attendee—and get back to just “making beautiful things”.
  5. And one of the Elevator Pitch speakers made the always wise point about only including work in your portfolio if you want people to hire you to do more of that work. (Apologies for forgetting which one — please tweet me if you know that person’s name.)

After I cancelled my event, I shut down quite a bit. Having failed in a way that was, to me, very public and large-scale took a lot out of me. I’m usually working on some sort of project (or five) outside of client work, but I’ve only wanted to lie low until the whole thing was forgotten about.

Spending three days in the Brighton Dome has me back on the horse and full of new ideas. Hell, I’m even writing again.

Thanks for the good karma, John. I’ll be paying it forward.

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