Shine & Plan On
Posted on February 9, 2018 by Melva L. Jones, Director
After all this time, I find myself still in love with event planning. Frankly, this work has been one of my most rewarding relationships. There have been moments when event planning has challenged me; but when I think back to the first event I planned and the path to this current moment, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Therefore, it is hard for me when I see others in event planning struggling. I’ve been around plenty of people who’ve cried uncontrollably onsite, lost their appetite, gained weight due to stress, damaged relationships, or fainted due to sleep deprivation. And, yes, these are very real examples.
Planners struggle for all kinds of reasons: some have false hope that the job will be glamorous and involve working directly with top-tier celebrities; others burn out when they realize that in order to become a General Manager within most hotel chains one has to start at the bottom, learn every department, and even then the opportunity might be out of reach until you are in your mid-50s; and there are always those who don’t understand that planning your BF’s wedding does not mean you are ready to do the job full-time.
Usually, the struggle reveals itself pretty clearly: they act out towards their manager, frustrated because they can’t keep up; or they suffer in silence while outwardly claiming that “I am fine,” but don’t sleep well at night because of the anxiety associated with tomorrow’s to-do list; or they “job hop,” blaming the company, salary, location or other external factors without attempting to look at the root cause. (Disclaimer: There are absolutely some toxic companies, shameful salaries, and locations that aren’t a good fit. For our purposes, I’m talking about when that is not the case. When it is toxic or abusive, leave immediately and without hesitation!)
This article is for anyone who is struggling to find their footing in this demanding career. I want to help people navigate the event terrain because as you’ll learn soon, I’ve been there. More significantly, I firmly believe that “there is enough sunshine for all of us to shine.”
When I was new to the field, I found many veteran event planners to admire. One, in particular, is an international award-winning event professional who, all these years later, is the most poised, confident, knowledgeable, and skilled in the field that I have been blessed to know. She still blows my mind. In her prime, she could masterfully orchestrate extremely complex/high-profile events (for roughly 30,000 people) without breaking a sweat. Though I was probably 10-15 years her junior at the time and nowhere near ready to perform at her level, I decided that because I had a few wins in my event portfolio (at that time my largest event was 1,000 people) and people were telling me how great I was (people, who, by the way, were not in my field) I was ready to take on the same type of projects this seasoned professional was handling (and she made it all look so easy).
Long story short, I begged and pleaded to coordinate an extremely complex project—and I managed to mess it up big time. I worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week and still couldn’t get it right. I almost screwed up a major catering order for a funder and, if memory serves, I neglected to order necessary items for the show because I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to know that we needed them. After this event was over, for a variety of reasons, I was shifted to another role—a more junior role. I asked this woman what she thought of my performance, and she did not scream at me; rather, she looked me directly in the eye and said in her soft but firm tone, “Your overconfidence blinded you, which is a shame…” Her words hit me hard and I was absolutely crushed.
Years later, more experienced and with greater maturity, I understood that she had been right. If only I had been then the professional that I am today I would like to think that I would have been successful managing that project. Yet, my larger point is that there is much to be learned in taking on responsibilities that you may not quite be ready for as long as it is paired with an equal amount of humility, self-awareness, and interpersonal maturity. Had I not gotten caught up in my own hype, I might have saved myself a very painful experience.
If you are reading this and think you’ve mastered event planning, reconsider and embrace the posture that you can always learn more—because the truth is there is always someone who knows more and there are always people who can do it better than you. As you grow in the field, you can and should be both teacher and student.
If you are struggling, step into that humble space and reset. Being placed in that junior position was one of the best “steps back” in my career. If you don’t take the step yourself, a good manager will step in and gently push you.
Eventually you will land where you are supposed to be, but it may not be managing a 10,000 person event, weddings, or wherever you have told yourself you are meant to be. You may not be working in the big city or featured on a reality show at a spa while coordinating a wedding (I saw that years ago on reality TV and I thought that’s what I should be doing!).
Rather, when you find your event planning home, your skills will feel like a near perfect match, challenges will still come but feel healthy as opposed to insurmountable, and when you cry at work it will tears of joy with your colleagues after a job well done.
What I know for sure is that we can all shine in our own way; but when we are struggling, upset, or overly fatigued, our light inevitably dims. Though you think you are hiding your pain, I promise you that people can see through your mask and are just waiting for you to say something. Seriously, if you are reading this right now and you think about work 24/7, in that anxious and nervous way, reset.
As soon as I got real about both my gifts and my issues is exactly when my career transformed and the professional struggles dissipated. On your journey in this field, you will find mentors to ground, challenge, and advocate for you. The woman I mentioned above will probably never fully understand what she did for me, but she gave me the push I needed to become a more mature, skilled, and joyful events management professional. I like to think that she and others along the way saw my light despite my misguided behavior. With that, I’m encouraging each of you to be your unique version of brilliant. Of course, I am biased and hope you land in events planning, but wherever you land, shine on!
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