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Right off the hop, let’s get this out of the way:  Yes, this is an homage to (or shameless theft of) the speech Colossus makes at the conclusion of the film Deadpool.  Still, there is some poignancy to how I was feeling when this thought occurred and that’s why I wanted to share it here.

This DEF CON was significant for me.  I’ve been attending the con for nearly 20 years now, but this one really seemed to impact me emotionally.  The reason:  it has become apparent that, as a whole, the conference is too large to “see it all” even if someone really, really dedicates themselves to that cause.  I realize that DEF CON has been growing by leaps and bounds.  And long-time veterans can take their pick of the year when it “wasn’t the same anymore” from a list that includes:

  • Outgrowing and leaving the Alexis Park
  • Stretching on the calendar into Thursday
  • Choosing venues that span across multiple hotels
  • Being back on the Strip in a grown-up venue where they don’t take kindly to shenanigans

…and, yes, all of these milestones did indeed change the nature of the con.  But, for me, something truly felt different this year with regard to how many activity areas there were, in the form of Villages, challenges, etc.  While it perhaps hasn’t truly been possible to see all of DEF CON in a single trip for a while now, I feel like this year was the first time that I truly heard a whole lot of voices from folk who weren’t mere observers but true interactive people, seeking to go hands-on with people and ideas and concepts that interested them.  When even those individuals were saying, “man, it’s like it’s not even possible to participate fully in DEF CON anymore,” and that is what made me a little sad.  Because it’s true.

Then I was fortunate to have a bite to eat on Sunday with my wife and one of our friends, Elissa Shevinsky.

As we dined at The Palm (Bruce and Wozzi’s place where head chef Kiko Ojeda does a really fine job creating everything save for the crab and romaine salad) and sipped cocktails, Elissa was quite chipper.  “I had a really successful time this weekend,” she pointed out.  “I had five top priority things to see and do, and I checked each item off that list.”

In that moment (as ridiculous as it may sound, such a vague platitude this is) her words really hit me.  For years, my philosophy at DEF CON has pretty much been “do absolutely everything… and then some.”  I would stop by every Village, try my hand at numerous contests, get to every party for either a brief appearance or stay to close the room down, and on top of all of this I was running multiple contests, events, and often giving talk presentations in Villages and/or on the main stages.  For me, any time I went up to my room at DEF CON, the Fear Of Missing Out™ would kick in almost immediately and I would steel myself with another whiskey and dash back to the elevators, eager to get downstairs again and on to the con floor.

I can’t do that anymore.  None of us can.  DEF CON is simply “too big” now, we admit to ourselves.

But Elissa’s theory works, even for those of us who have a list as long as our leg of stuff we would like to do and see.  The solution?  Prioritize your list… do this well before DEF CON starts.  It’s OK to have a nearly-endless agenda of things you’d like to do at the con, but at this point DEF CON is so massive that your satisfaction should come from successfully achieving your top four or five moments.

Maybe your moments are seeing three talk presentations that looked really interesting to you, spending time in a Village, and then participating in a particular contest.

Maybe your moments are going to a specific party, getting into the SkyTalks room, witnessing Drunk Hacker History, and having two very special dinners with friends you don’t usually get to see anymore.

Maybe your moments are five Goon duty shifts where you feel you’ve made a positive impact on other con-goers’ days.

Whatever your four or five moments are, let that become the standard by which you judge whether your DEF CON was a “success” or not.  None of us can do it all anymore.  It’s ok to still try.  (Just stick with the 3-2-1 rule at all times!)  But don’t let yourself feel down about all that you “missed” because you ran out of time.

If you achieve the four or five moments that you predetermined as your top priorities before you went to Vegas, then that DEF CON can go in the Win column for you.

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