Skip to main content Adam Avenir

Just a person

At the conclusion of this year’s JSConf, Chris Williams held an open discussion, taking questions and comments from the several hundred gathered.

You could sense the mood. Hanging, unspoken, in the air was a sense of everyone asking, "Is it really almost over?" This feeling began to increasingly manifest itself in the questions and comments in the final session. Eventually came a series of questions that asked how to keep the community connected throughout the year.

There were a lot of great talks at JSConf, but in my mind the best one was Chris’s two-sentence answer to that question:

"I’m just a person. I have a wife, I have two kids, I have a full-time job. I run a couple conferences already.

I put it to you."

I caught word of the first JSConf, but given that until that point, the farthest I’d ever traveled to attend a conference was a couple hours’ drive, it wasn’t even something I seriously considered attending. And it wasn’t until this year I was able to get a JSConf ticket.

Yet despite the fact that I have never attended one until this year, the ripples of Chris and Laura’s artwork has washed increasingly dramatically on my shore.

When I watched Chris’s now iconic talk from JSConf EU, An End to Negativity, I was moved. I immediately emailed him and thanked him. What I sensed in Chris as I watched him was a feeling I had many times: "I don’t feel qualified to do this, but I do feel like I’m supposed to do it, and if I don’t, no one will." I got the sense that was not just the root of that talk, but the root of JSConf as well. The humility in his talk and his response to my email marked me so strongly that I decided maybe running a conference was something I should also consider doing.

Not only was Chris hugely supportive and encouraging when we put on our first conference, he also inspired so many others who have in turn had tremendous influence on me.

Mikeal Rogers was particularly influential–if it hadn’t been for his words to meat the closing party of Keeping it Realtime and in his very kind wrap-up post, it’s very likely RealtimeConf would have never happened.

And if it wasn’t for having the chance of attending Funconf and getting to know Paul Campbell, it’s possible some of the crazy ideas we had in mind for RealtimeConf might have been toned down–and it’s certain that the most personally important conference I’ve been a part of (Brio) would never have existed. I wouldn’t have had the conversations I did this past year with Paul, Jan, Allen, Boaz, or Ana–all of them about as deep as it gets, some of them months long!

It has been an amazing hallmark: if I have a conversation with someone and Chris comes up as a person people have huge respect for, the exploration for the root of that respect has almost always led to a new friendship.

The closest friends I’ve made in the last couple of years and some of the most pivotal experiences have been made because of the reverberations of JSConf–and those people have profoundly shaped my thinking and, as a result, my actions.

Of course, I say all this entirely from a very self-focused perspective. Undoubtedly the impact of JSConf is much, much more dramatic.

I have no doubt the personal effect that JSConf has had over the years must be much greater for those who’ve been much closer to its epicenter. And the technologies, companies, and movements that have emerged as a result of JSConf are too numerous to count. It’s really not an exaggeration to say JSConf has shaped the course of the web and, in turn, our world.

JSConf is one couple running one event, but its ever-expanding impact cannot be overlooked.

Sometimes I have a conversation with someone and I hear them describing their desire to change the world in some way, to make an impact, to make things better.

There are a lot of people who seem to believe this starts with an ambitious, world-conquering dream–and while that might sometimes be the case, what I’m learning from the many people who’ve inspired me is there is greater chance at making a real difference by focusing on the quality of each individual impact. Ambitious, shared values are, in fact, the only thing that are guaranteed to be scalable.

If you want to make the world a better place, don’t try to bite off the whole earth at once.

Start very small, stay focused on the small, and resist the temptation to increase your appetite for recognition. Do your best with what’s in front of you. And most of all, stay focused on the values that underlie the motivation.

I doubt anyone would call Chris Williams a man without ambition.

But while he is a man with great dreams and awesome values, he is a man who knows he is just a man–and that his impact is not limited by what he can do, but by what other people are inspired and empowered to do because of his example.

Chris left room in the world for your impact:

"I’m just a person. I have a wife, I have two kids, I have a full-time job. I run a couple conferences already.

I put it to you."

As an aside, I had some reflection on this topic in a talk I gave about intentionally tiny leaders. My thoughts keep developing on this–in fact, I found myself in discussion on this topic this week.