Celebrating Chip Conley
by Dori Caminong, Manager - Special Events, Civic and Social Innovation
We are getting ready for one of San Francisco’s hottest young professional events, the 6th Annual GLIDE Legacy Gala! An evening filled with music and dance honoring change agents who are dedicated to improving the lives of poor and underserved communities, San Francisco will come out and celebrate a 51-year legacy of love, leadership and community as exemplified through the legendary work of GLIDE’s Co-Founders Rev. Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani.
Three innovative individuals will be honored during the GLIDE Community Hero Award Ceremony, and this year’s winner of the Cecil Williams Legacy Award is… Chip Conley! “Chip formerly served on the GLIDE Board of Trustees, he provided strategic and experienced wisdom. A person of all seasons, Chip reaches deeply into the heart and soul of the human condition,“ shared Janice Mirikitani. Rev. Cecil Williams added, “His leadership is brilliant and bold, courageous and compassionate, and radically inclusive of all cultures. He walks that walk!“
Chip Conley is the Founder and former CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, he began reinventing hotels in San Francisco at the age of 26. His first — the Tenderloin’s iconic Phoenix Hotel — turned into the 2nd largest boutique hotel brand in America. Author of four books, including PEAK and The New York Times bestseller, EMOTIONAL EQUATIONS, Chip shares his theories on transformation and meaning with audiences around the world. In 2013, he launched Fest300 — connecting his passion for travel, culture, and the world’s best festivals — and he joined Airbnb as Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy where he’s teaching his methods to hundreds of thousands of hosts in nearly 200 countries. Chip received his BA and MBA from Stanford University, and holds an honorary doctorate in psychology from Saybrook University. A former longtime board member at GLIDE, he currently serves on the boards of Youth Speaks, Esalen Institute and the Burning Man Project.
One of today’s most influential entrepreneurs in the business of hospitality, disruption, emotional intelligence and culture, we invited Chip to share his GLIDE story and answer our #TopFive burning questions.
How did you first hear about GLIDE? What is your “coming to GLIDE” story? How would you describe your relationship to GLIDE and how has it changed over the years?
At age 26, I bought a bankrupt, pay-by- the-hour motel at Larkin and Eddy Street. The Caravan Lodge was notorious for being full at lunchtime even though it had no restaurant. My dream was to develop a “crossroads for the creative” in the rough and tumble Tenderloin and we named it The Phoenix, since this mythological bird represented the “rising from the ashes” I was hoping to create plus it’s, incidentally, the official city bird of San Francisco. Soon after moving into the neighborhood, I heard about GLIDE as a crossroads for community representing all of San Francisco. My first experience was sneaking in about 9:10 am one Sunday morning and sitting in the last row of the balcony in spring 1987. I was in a state of awe based upon the “love bubble” I found there and over the next year, I moved from the back to the front of the balcony and then to the floor. Then, I started bringing employees and friends there, volunteering, and ultimately joining the Board. One of the proudest days of my life was giving two sermons at GLIDE in 2012. GLIDE has inspired me to find my internal phoenix, the place I go inside myself to resurrect my spirit when I’ve hit a rough patch.
Cecil has said, “I live my life like jazz music. As long as I’ve got my melody, I can improvise, extemporize, be spontaneous and intuitive. I may have a theme, but I can change and go in any direction, and have the freedom to experience every person and situation as they are and not as I want them to be. There is no one way to live your life as long as you are authentic.” What does living an authentic life mean to you?
Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Wise advice and Cecil has been quite the role model. Authenticty = Self-Awareness x Courage. Many of us spent our youth honing our ability to listen to our external antennae but having no tuning fork for listening to what’s inside. We get so obsessed with looking good that we forget what it means to be real. Adult life can be an emotional archaeological dig as we break through the identities we’ve created for ourselves that aren’t simpatico with that improvising jazz musician inside of us. Carl Jung suggested that, at some point in our middle years, “the glowing coals of consciousness buried deep within the personality begin to break into flames” and this is when many of us feel some kind of midlife crisis. That’s when the courage needs to kick-in. Self-awareness without courage means that you know who you are but the rest of the world doesn’t. The Latin root of courage means “heart.” It takes a passionate heart to march to your own drummer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Living a fulfilled life is living an authentic life.
Can you share with us your views and approach to philanthropy and social engagement? What values do you hope will be carried on to the next generation?
It’s all about transformation. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve chosen to be a Board member on four non-profits that are changing the world. GLIDE changes lives and makes the Tenderloin a safer, saner place plus it’s a true role model for what a 21st century church can be. Burning Man and the Esalen Institute are about personal transformation leading to societal transformation. Youth Speaks teaches transformation to our disenfranchised youth through spoken word, a subject that is dear to the heart of our Jan M. I’ve given my time and money to organizations that create a ripple effect in the world. And, I’m very encouraged that a new breed of social entrepreneurs are showing young people that they can integrate business principles into social missions.
You introduce many audiences and go in great depth into concepts of cultural curiosity and collective effervescence. You have shared, “Change doesn’t just start with an idea, it starts with curiosity,” how do you inspire audiences to go beyond their daily individual experiences to open themselves up in a meaningful way to the unknown and unfamiliar?
I went to Snoop Dogg’s high school, Long Beach Poly (although I’m a few years older), and they called me “curious white boy.” I’m so fortunate to have had that upbringing as it taught me how life-affirming curiosity can be. Curiosity is the fertilizer of the mind and soul and it’s the key to creativity. In the context of my life, I started the website Fest300 to introduce people to the 300 best festivals in the world because the more digital we get, the more ritual we need. Whether it’s going to a whirling dervish festival of Sufi Muslims in Konya, Turkey or the Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival, I’ve found that cultural curiosity turns “the other” into my mentor or friend. Unfortunately, during midlife, many of us don’t have time for curiosity. But, please make time. Curiosity has proven to be correlated with resilience and happiness, both personally and societally.
Our core values emerge from GLIDE as a spiritual movement. They are rooted in empowerment, recovery and personal transformation. Our values inspire and guide our behaviors, they are the ground we stand on. Below, please find our core values, is there one particular core value which strongly resonates with you personally and why?
I guess it’s not surprising that a guy who called his company Joie de Vivre (joy of life) would resonate with GLIDE’s value of Celebration. The fact that the Sunday services are called “Celebrations” says it all. We spend our lives in the cocoon of our egos doing everything we can to separate ourselves and we end up feeling isolated in the process. GLIDE creates a collective effervescence that melts that separation and a communal joy emerges in its place. The next thing you know, you’re dancing in the aisles, hugging your neighbors, and realizing that we spend way too much of our lives in a non-celebrating culture or in an unhealthy celebrating culture that numbs us with alcohol and narcotics, the Super Bowl and Miss America. “We sing. We dance. We laugh together. We celebrate life.” Sign me up for that!
We have a four day countdown until the 6th Annual GLIDE Legacy Gala! Tickets are available at http://glide.org/legacygalatickets. See you on Saturday!