Gathering with Authenticity

1024 355 Next Level Event Design

The magnificent fall foliage beaming bright hues of red and yellow has signified the seasons’ change throughout the windy city. For some, this means filling their homes with warm scents, trying out every recipe from Half Baked Harvest, and wood burning in fireplaces as guests gather to play endless games of rummy.

For others, this time of year might hold a lonely place in their hearts, a time when family can no longer gather or never did. The holidays bring a complicated mix of emotions but even for the most introverted of people, it sparks an extroverted spirit longing for companionship in sharing hot cocoa (or mulled wine) bundled up in the coziest of clothes while sharing a laugh or two with our loved ones. As much as I’d like to envision the cold weather season like something out of a Hallmark movie, I know that with almost two and a half years sacrificed to the pandemic, gathering might not feel as natural as it used to.

When I think about gathering with groups of people again, I have questions that plague my mind like, “Will anyone show up?” “What if I’m awkward?” “Is formal wear even a thing anymore or are we rockin’ our Zoom attire?” (You know.. the business-facing top and whatever pajama bottoms are in my drawer) “Do I still bring host gifts or are they considered germ spreaders!?” After stressing over all of these questions, doubts, and self-imposed fixations; I hear my mother’s voice reminding me, “the most important thing is to show up, for myself – and as myself.” A forced conversation or a $40 bottle of wine isn’t why I was invited, the opportunity to gather with this specific group was.

We gather on a daily basis. In the office or over zoom, at home, on facetime, at restaurants, the park, etc… but have you thought about why? Why are we hosting an office happy hour? Why is it important that the sales team come together quarterly, not just to crunch numbers, but as a team? Why should we meet for coffee? Is it because it’s become the social norm or is it to fill your cup? For me it’s the opportunity to make new memories, to meet new people, experience new foods or places, and my favorite: laughter. (You know, the deep in your belly, can’t stop, my face hurts kind of laughter!) In addition, the companionship, the comradery, the feeling of community and coming together for one collective purpose. The purpose might just be a brainstorming session with your team to resolve pressing deadlines or giving back to a community that might need it most. 

Recognizing the value in conversation that can come from gathering in person versus on a screen, and realizing that the time spent with a coworker or friend face-to-face builds memories that you might not create tucked away in your home office. Whether or not you are on autopilot or seeking the excitement from an event, coming together might not feel the same as it used to and that’s ok. It might feel a little awkward, uncomfortable and distant. It also might feel exciting, refreshing and productive! 

So then what does authenticity have to do with gathering?

Authenticity (n): is the degree to which a person’s actions are congruent with his or her values and desires, despite external pressures to social conformity.

The authenticity of intention, of yourself and for others, is the backbone for successful engagement. It is why you create valuable relationships, grow as a person, and force yourself to be a part of the moment. Attempting to transform an event, or yourself, into something that you are not, will only get in the way of your desired outcome. Feeling the extra pressure from social media to “fit in” or portray an unrealistic standard of reality has misconstrued our perception of what it truly means to be your authentic self. We are constantly curating posts to portray an image to convince an old colleague, ex-flame or friend that we’re living our best life (crazy we’ve convinced ourselves that this is worth our time…) 

We spend so much time trying to curate the perfectly organized house, the perfectly engaging happy hour, the strategic ‘BTS’ of an event, but how authentic does that truly read?  Let the kids’ toys lying about the living room lie where they may. Showing a lived-in home that is filled with joy may be a little messy, and that’s okay.

What about that strategically posed photo from the work happy hour? Behind it, a coworker who had maybe one margarita too many, another who is navigating another awkward event while celebrating their sobriety, and one or two colleagues (who may have just started what will become incredible lifelong friendships) who would have never met in-person if it weren’t for coming into the office once in a while. 

That strategic ‘behind the scenes’ event photo is showing us perfectly at work, doing what we do… but it doesn’t show the staff delirious after working 17 hours in the pouring rain ensuring a seamless guest experience. (#WeLoveOurJobs, #RealEventLife) Social Media will always portray a curated reality and never disclose life’s unpredictable curve balls. However, remaining authentic to yourself, your needs, and your desires, well – I think we can all find a little value in that.

So back to the original question: What is gathering with authenticity? It is the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from the abundance of laughter shared. It is the shared success of hitting your quota or producing a kick-ass event.  It is the feeling of comfort when you’re in a safe place after sharing emotions you might have been suppressing. It is the excitement, the tears, the smiles, the hugs, the fear, and the moments we’re so lucky to experience in our valuable time on this earth. 

It’s ok if returning to gathering in-person this year feels different than what you expected, or didn’t meet your expectations, or isn’t the same as what you’ve experienced in the past; it’s been a minute – give yourself some grace while you get back in the game. Gathering with authenticity is showing up as you, for yourself, as yourself, surrounded by those who truly fill your cup. 

“When clients or friends are struggling to determine their gathering’s purpose, I tell them to move from the what to the why.”Priya Parker

Written by Samantha Luce