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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

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Edward
Sullivan
Im an entrepreneur and executive coach. Lets talk. edward@leadwell.co
Aug 18 8 min read

A Message for First Time Burners


9 Lessons Learned After Seven Tours on the Playa

The author at his 6th Burn in 2013.

Dear Virgin,

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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

I know at this point you are more concerned about buying all the shit you
need to survive for a week in the desert than anything else, but I want to
tell you that of all the things you bring, the right attitude and expectations
are absolutely the most important. Its not about the outfits, the e-wire, the
duct tape, or the rebar. Its about your head and your heart.
So, after 7 trips to Burning Man since 2002, Ive put together 4 Spiritual Tips
and 5 Practical Tips to help you have the best first Burning Man experience
possible. Every single one of these tips came out of me doing the exact
opposite at one time or another and suffering the consequences.
Having only been to Burning Man seven times over a span of 14 years, a lot of
people might think they are more qualified than I am to write this piece by
virtue of sheer experience.
Others will think any kind of beginners guide the playa is completely stupid.
But then again, some of them are also exactly the people Im writing this
piece for.

Four Spiritual Tips for First Time Burners


1. Open, Open, Open to the Unknown
No matter what youve heard, you really have no idea what to expect at
Burning Man. In fact, the more expectations you have about what kinds of
experiences you will have, the more likely you are to be disappointed.
At the end of the day, Burning Man is about connections and interactions. Its
not about walking around having as much free booze, music, sex, and
pancakes as possible.
Just by virtue of being there, youve hung a sign around your neck that says,
Talk to Me and so has everyone else.
So, talk to them. Ask questions. BE CURIOUS! Share a laugh.
But please dont bring your stuck-up Why are you talking to me? wannabe
cool guy or hot girl attitude to the playa. Go back to West Hollywood or the
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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

West Village if thats your game. Thats not why the rest of us are here.
Burning Man was based on an ethic of radical inclusion. Own it.
2) Accept (Almost) Every Experience and Condition the Playa Presents
There are really only two kinds of people who have a bad time at Burning
Man: 1) Those who cant accept the discomfort, obscenity, and absurdity of it
all, and 2) Those who do stupid shit and hurt themselves.
Dont be either.
Acceptance on the playa includes being cool with:

Playa dust getting literally everywhere and staying there all week

Rain turning the entire playa into a sticky quagmire in 10 minutes

Random hot people playfully flirting with your boyfriend/girlfriend

Creepy people staring at your own gorgeousness

Your campmates making disgusting messes and not cleaning them up

Blinding dust storms that make you cough and wheeze

And a bazillion other things you arent used to back home

Just roll with it and say YES* to whatever the playa gives you. Fighting
WHAT IS is total madness and is a great way to have a bad time.
And as for hurting yourself, just dont be stupid.
*NOTE: There is one major thing you do not have to accept, and thats unwanted
sexual advances. Yes, friendly flirting and even direct propositions happen, but
outright harassment and uninvited contact should not. Ive only heard a few
instances of it happening, but Ive also heard of dozens of people rising to assist
when anyone has asked for help avoiding a bad situation.
3) Give Something Back

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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

Remember that aside from Center Camp, the Man, the Temple, the portapotties, and other infrastructure, which are paid for with your entry fee,
EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND EXPERIENCE out there is a gift from someone
else. All the music, all the booze, all the free late night hotdogs and crepes, all
the yoga sessions, all the artsomeone else created that so YOU could enjoy
them.
Burning Man is not a barter economyits not about trading things. Its a
GIFT economy. People will give you things all week. That system breaks down
if you dont then bestow your own gifts on others. Its a virtuous circle.
But what if Im broke and dont have anything to give?
Sorry youre broke, but you dont have to give material objects, food, booze,
or music. You can give your time. Your support. Your healing hands. A dance
lesson. A compliment. A smile.
If you keep your focus on what you can give to elevate everyone elses
experience every day youre out there, you will have a MUCH more enriching
experience yourselfmuch more so than those folks who are simply there to
take, and sadly there are a lot of them.
4) Repeat the Cycle: Open > Accept > Give
The more you open to the experience. The more you accept whatever the
playa has for you. And the more you give back The deeper and richer your
experience will become. You will notice more people opening, accepting, and
giving to you. Its a virtuous cycle.

. . .

But at some point, you will get tired of all the opening, all the accepting, all
the giving. You will want to say, Fuck this shit. Or fuck my friends. Or fuck
this dust.
And thats exactly when you will need the practical tips below

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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

Five Practical Tips for First Time Burners


1. Drink More F-ing Water Than You Ever Thought Was Possible
Everyone will tell you this, but youll still forget. So Im telling you again.
Water is your best friend out there. Not Jack Daniels or that crazy girl Molly.
Take a CamelBak with you day and night, and suck on it all the f-ing time.
Some camps will let you refill it if you ask nicely. Others will lecture you on
self-reliance and tell you to go home and get your own. Either way, fill er up,
and say hydrated.

Angry? Drink water.

Disappointed? Drink water.

Jealous? Drink water.

Wondering why all your friends cant stand you? Drink water.

Im serious. No water = no fun.


2. You Dont Have to Stay Up Every Night Till Sunrise
In fact, I think its stupid.
On my fifth Burn, I suggested to a friend we take a Pub Crawl of the playa
around 12 noon. She was aghast. Is anyone even awake at 12pm?
I had to laugh. Thats basically like a nightclub bartender in Manhattan asking
if anyone is awake at 9am on a Wednesday.
You see, she was a Westside Girl. A burner who has only ever camped near
the 9 oclock side, whose day normally starts around 4 pm at Distrikt and
ends at 8 am at Robot Heart, and who spends the rest of her time recovering
in her air conditioned RV.
Which is totally cool for a few nights, but there is SO MUCH MORE to
Burning Man than a few over-hyped dance parties.

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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

My favorite experiences, conversations, and connections at Burning Man have


come from DayPlaya explorations. Like the time I left my tent at 10 AM to
pee, met a couple random people at the Purell station, got invited back for
mimosas, helped them make omelettes, rolled over to their neighbors place
for a few spins on their Wheel of Fortune, wandered down the street to climb
the ladder of a fire truck.
and then suddenly realized the sun was going down after getting lost for an
entire day in a whirlwind of serendipity and human connectiontwo things
you are less likely to find at 5am zoning out to tropical house in front of an art
car.
3. Talk to People Who are Different in Age and Attractiveness From You
If you spend the entire week with people you already know or looking for
people to hook up with, youre kinda missing the point.
Some of the greatest experiences Ive ever had at Burning Man have been
chatting with people a generation above or below me, people I wasnt
attracted to in any way aside from being curious about their storytheir
successes and their hardships. The real Burning Man experience happens
when we stop looking at peoples ephemeral outward expressions of
beauty and find the infinite inward ones.
Yes, you might happen upon some pretty people out there. Yes, you might
want to rub various body parts together with them. But there are 10 times as
many people you will miss the opportunity to rub mental and spiritual parts
with if you make finding hot guys/girls your sole mission.
4. Make Plans, but Dont Expect Them to Happen
If you went with friends, of course youll have to make plans. And if youre in
a huge camp, youll probably have specific chores to do at certain times,
although I only stay at camps of 20 people or less specifically to avoid that
shit.
But aside from that, let go of the idea of making plans, meeting people at
certain times, etc. etc. Nothing screams VIRGIN more than saying, Lets meet
on Thursday at 3pm at the Man and actually expecting it will happen.

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I mean, would YOU get off of a bar stool hanging off the edge of a motorized
grand piano hurtling across the playa while you and ten strangers sing Great
Balls of Fire at the top of your lungs, just to go meet someone youll see back
at home next week anyway? Neither would I. Neither would she.
So, yeah Make plans. But dont expect them to happen.
5) Have Your Own Burn
At the end of the day, you just have your own experience. Throw away the list
of must see camps your friend made for you, throw away the schedule of
events, throw away the little app that tells you all the camps where all your
friends are. Hell, throw away this article.
Have your own Burn.
Sure, maybe you have 100 friends going to Burning Man. But all that means is
there are 69,900 potentially new friends out there waiting to meet you. And if
your friends are smart, they will read #4 above and have no real expectation
of seeing you on the playa anyway.
Look, if you do see your friends and have some cool experiences that others
have told you about, awesome! But being fixated on those things happening
at the cost of opening, accepting, and giving back to the cool new people right
in front of you would be a fucking shame.

. . .

Ok, thats it. Let the tirade of snarky what does this guy know? comments
begin. And god willing, see you on the Playa sometime. :)

. . .

If you liked this story (even a little), please click

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A Message for First Time Burners Medium

9/27/16, 2:06 PM

If you liked this story (even a little), please click


the little heart below. It will help other people
read it, and it will mean a lot to me.
Edward Sullivan is the founder and head coach at LeadWell.coa boutique
coaching and training organization that helps start-up CEOs and corporate
executives navigate the challenges of leadership with authenticity. With offices in
San Francisco and New York, LeadWell helps leaders and their teams optimize
their performance and overcome obstacles to growth. He can be reached at
edward@leadwell.co.

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