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Momentum Sometimes Looks Like Failure

No one showed up. That is what happened last week when my friends Scott, Andrea and I held a local meetup. This was our 10th event, which we started a year ago. We called the series MOMENTUM, and sought to bring together local creative professionals who were looking to create momentum in their business and craft.

We sat there chatting, eventually someone stated the obvious: “So I guess no one is showing up.”

I wrote a post about the success of that first event – so why was it that I had a natural inclination to NOT write about the event where NO ONE showed up? What is it about that fear of sharing what could be described as failure?

Once we realized that it was just the three of us, something changed. We began talking about the local creative culture, and the projects and people that excited us. One name came up, and instead of waiting for him to show up, Andrea just texted him right then.

HICYCLESThe person she texted was Erik Hendrickson, who she recently befriended, and who Scott and I would always see riding around town in super tall bicycles that he builds. A photo is to the right.

It turns out, Erik runs a business called HICYCLES (and here he is on Instagram). Andrea described his studio and how he works, and Scott and I were immediately drawn in. She texted him, and a half hour later, he pulls up on his bike. For an hour, we stood outside discussing his craft, his art, and what it means to turn an idea into reality.

Erik was filled with ideas, and is clearly searching for a footing to build momentum as a creative professional. At some point within that hour, he texted one of his friends, who of course shows up on their own super tall bicycle.

As we stood out there talking, the people who passed by couldn’t help but make a comment about his bike, or smile and nod in appreciation.

HICYCLES

It was a great conversation, but… are these meetups a “FAILURE” in overt terms?

Let’s explore this with the typical glass is half full/half empty metaphor.
Here is the half empty glass:

  • At this meetup NO ONE showed up. At the meetup prior to this one, only one or two people beyond the hosts showed up.
  • We literally had to text someone to get them to show up.

This is a total pathetic failure, right? Perhaps. Well, let’s explore the glass is half full angle here:

  • After the event, Andrea emailed Scott and I, saying how much she enjoyed that meetup. That’s important, that it felt right to the five people who were a part of it. That it felt exploratory and connecting.
  • Scott emailed me after the event, and we began kicking around ideas for the next phase (more on that below), and discussed momentum he was looking to build in his own business. We are meeting later today to discuss these things in person. Regardless of what else has come from all of this, Scott has become a good friend and collaborator.
  • Meeting Erik was pretty awesome. It wasn’t just impressive to see his work – the finished HICYCLES – but to explore many of his other ideas. I mean, is there anything better than a night spent talking to an artist and craftsperson?
  • Recently, I wrote about how impressed I have been with our local creative culture, especially with two women who, respectively, opened a book store and launched a literary festival. Everything about this process of holding the meetups has been about me growing my awareness of so many wonderful people in this area, and all the things they are trying to create.

In the book I am writing, one thing I am exploring is that lonely, anxiety-ridden, time consuming work that happens before one finds success with their craft. I can’t help but consider the good that has come from these meetups, and to challenge Scott and myself to see how we can make the momentum we FEEL turn into something that is obvious to others.

Scott and I have been exploring the initial catalyst that lead us to create these meetups. Scott put it this way:

“To keep it simple, I think the value of Momentum meetups really has been, “Oh there are people doing things, I can do things, too.”

He explained how so much of success is to “keep going,” even when things don’t seem to be working, and that our meetups should be about helping others in the area to do just that – to keep going with their creative vision.

When I look back at the past year, I remember so many conversations we have had at these meetups, and incredible people I have met:

Momentum

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Sure, no one showed up to our last meetup, but I do feel there is a momentum of spirit. That so many creative professionals I know feel a bit lost; they wrestle with anxiety; they look around and see so many indicators that encourage them to stop. These are things that every meetup has been about – even if it was just Scott, Andrea, and I.

Is there real failure in this process of running these meetups? YES! Failure of opportunity. Scott and I will both freely admit that we haven’t taken this meetup as seriously as we could have. This was always positioned as a fun extra, but we made the mistake of just hoping it would fall together each month all on its own. That isn’t really fair to Andrea – our host – and even to the expectation we set with those who do attend.

Was there value to be found in every single one of our meetups? Sure. Could there have been MORE value if Scott and I actively reached out to the community throughout the month, bringing in more guest speakers, aligning with events and projects in town, and doing really ANYTHING to market this to a broader audience? YES, absolutely. We failed to do those things, and there is no doubt that this means we could have delivered more value to Andrea, to those who support the meetup, and to ourselves.

Moving forward, Scott and I are discussing how we can evolve the idea of Momentum meetups, and do work that truly honors our intention.

Our conversation with Erik provided a spark for what Momentum could look like in the future: a roving meetup that brings us to artists studios, community events, and into the lives of people doing incredible work in this community. I think we have to challenge ourselves: how can we do more to not just recognize these people, not just connect these people, but truly SUPPORT them and their work?

MOMENTUM

Andrea, Scott, and me.

It’s worth noting that Andrea has been the secret ingredient to all of this, and one of the most incredible connections I have made in this process. Simply put: Andrea is a genius. So practical in her insights, and how she explores what it means to run a business while staying true to her craft. She is inspiring to me not just because of her vision, but with her sheer boldness and gumption. She runs Artist Baker (here she is on Facebook and Instagram), and has been the host for many of our meetups.

Momentum in your creative work isn’t always obvious. It can’t always be represented in data – in fancy charts and graphs. While Scott and I have a lot of work ahead of us, I am excited by the milestone that a year later, we are still here trying to figure out how to make this work.

What does your process of trying to build momentum look like?

Thanks.
-Dan

  • Mary McFarland

    Dan, the “m” word resonates with me. Our reader/writer collaborative has been launched several months, but getting it done has been anything but a “fun extra,” so I get your point about “honoring your intentions.” When I think of momentum, I think of Killer Nashville. Pulled together and launched in three mos. by Clay Stafford, it’s grown wildly popular and successful, and it’s supportive of the community in which it thrives, and vice versa (seems in our group’s case that getting community buy-in is the tough nut to crack, Dan). Conversely, I’ve bumped along like Winnie the Pooh, feeling like our group, Southern Ohio Writers and Readers Collaborative, has all the time in the world to develop momentum, but I think Clay simply showed us the diff between rolling along, or picking a course and lifting off for the moon. Our group’s process for building momentum resembles yours in many ways. We’ve chosen a path for building momentum, meeting regularly, brainstorming ways to unite readers and writers, and other creative folks, in our community, etc., yet we’re not fully honoring our intention. Thanks for focusing this post on momentum. As always, it’s thought provoking and, in addition, makes me want to celebrate the meetups where few attended.

    • Mary,
      Thank you so much, and it is so interesting to hear about the distinctions in the process of each of the groups you mention!
      -Dan

  • Lois J. de Vries

    When building momentum, one must first overcome inertia (Newton’s Laws of Energy and MOMENTUM). To overcome inertia, one must apply energy. To apply energy, one must do work. To maintain (or increase) momentum, one must CONTINUOUSLY supply sufficient energy (work) to overcome the forces of friction. Friction is the resistance supplied by the conflict between the demands of daily living and the things we want to do. Seems all perfectly clear to me :-)!

  • Karrie Zylstra Myton

    What nags at me in my own momentum/failure cycle is whether I just need to keep going or whether I am doing something wrong that needs adjusting. It’s not at all clear to me. So then I stand paralyzed, not moving forward for fear that I’m doing the wrong thing. I’d love to know if you have thoughts on when to keep going and when/how to reassess.

    • Karrie,
      You explain this really well, and I also think that you outline the challenge: to keep moving in SOME direction because that is the process of discovery. Not a simple thing, I know. Thanks!
      -Dan

  • My friends ask me from time to time why I haven’t done any book signings like other authors they see. THIS is why…because in my head I picture nobody showing up. Would it be the end of the world? Obviously not, but it’d sure feel like it. I’m bummed I’m not closer to where you hold these meet ups…I’d be there πŸ™‚ If you ever come my way be sure to let me know!

    But on the subject of momentum, I have to say I spent the last 4-5 years practicing the craft of writing, learning as much as I could, going to conferences, writing my fingers off, re-writing them off, editing and writing again, publishing a book. Then the second, the third. And months went by where I didn’t sell one. That’s the writerly equivalent to nobody showing up to the party. I had to wonder if I’d made a huge mistake. If it was worth it to throw away one career for the hope of something more, and better. But I kept writing, because I know it does take time to build a business and a career. And then, one day, I sold a book. I figured it was my mother. Every time I sold one, I knew who bought it. That’s how few there were. Slowly, sales started to trickle in. In the last month I’ve sold something every day which is a HUGE deal for me. Somehow, momentum is building. People are finding me. Efforts are starting to pay off a bit. (don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge amount, it’s just…something. Every day.) Now I can see that while it took awhile to get the ball rolling, it’s definitely picking up speed and it kicks my fingers into gear on the next WIP. Because now there are readers maybe looking for it. Momentum. It’s the light that drives me forward. πŸ™‚

    • And by the way, I cannot even conceive how I would ride one of those bikes. I’m short! I’m not sure I wanna be perched on something that tall, relying on my own sense of balance LOL But it sure looks cool.

    • LOVE LOVE LOVE this Melinda! Thank you, and CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

  • Kelly Simmons

    I help run a free Writer’s Coffeehouse Meet up by The Liars Club – we do it every month in two different locales, with a group of published writers helping the unpublished. We’ve been doing it for maybe 6 years now. Sometimes we have 100 people and some times we have had 2! But the best meetings are always the smallest ones, because whoever shows up derives the most attention from the hosts. We really dig in to their specific issues, rather than talking generalities. SO HOORAY for small meetings and BIG bicycles, I say!

    • Thank you Kelly, so interesting to hear your experience. I have found that too, that just talking with Andrea and Scott alone is worth it.

  • Pamela Taeuffer

    This post is very brave of you, Dan. It speaks to almost all of our fears, I believe, especially as we’re starting out. I believe the intentions of people are good, they really do intend to be there, or go, but so much is blasting at us every day, we go home to more obligations, or have to take care of both parents and children, we’re all exhausted. Take our daily lives and throw in a pound of fear and several pounds of money worries, the current events of police overreach, the political and global climate (literally and figuratively) and it’s a lot.
    I’m very appreciative of you writing this. Bravo!

    • Very true Pamela. BUT… I obsess about history and tend to feel that there are fears that previous generations had that we don’t. I try to put all of that into perspective. Thanks!
      -Dan

      • Pamela Taeuffer

        I think every generation has their own set of fears. Some of my son’s (30’s) aren’t even in my head and vice versa. There are some that run very consistent, and the fear of putting it all out there and no one showing up? I’d say that’s universal. Thanks for your share, it makes taking a risk a little easier.

        • Yes, that is very true. Thank you!

  • jody

    Hi Dan,
    I was sorry to miss that meeting – but I had momentum in my little art project. I only have so many nights during the week to work on it – so I had to do that instead. A tough choice. I didn’t realize it would be the last meeting. Was that decided that night because no one showed up? Or because everyone is launched? I do agree if it is to continue it needs to be more interactive. I’m happy to discuss further and continue the investment in our creative community.

    • Jody,
      Thanks for the note and awesome to hear about your own momentum. This is NOT the last meeting, it was just the most recent, and the fact that no one showed up became a catalyst to discuss how we can do it better – MUCH better. Yes, we would love your input!
      Thanks.
      -Dan

      • jody

        I think it should be a group think and decision about how to take it to next level and make it better and responsive. Set a date.

        Jody

  • Dan, I liked this post. Really liked it a lot. Why? Because momentum is what keeps us going, and because only 2 or 3 show up, what’s to say there isn’t momentum, something that got them there. And out of your small group that one evening, thanks to the woman among you, three grew to five, and ideas blossomed. In my own cocooned world of my writing corner with my computer and my projects, momentum is my writing each day. But beyond that I need the community and sometimes that’s just meeting a friend for coffee or lunch who is also pushing the keys on the keyboard hoping to write a winner. We shore each other up, no matter how few as long as we have momentum. You do write the best posts ever!

    • I love how you explain this – THANK YOU Sherrey!
      -Dan

  • The Bucket List Lady

    I say this post demonstrates the ‘ebb & flow’ of momentum and the 100% necessity of support, and the simple fact you have to be ‘out there’ to get support πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Oh, yeah you eloquently reinforce the fact ‘You can’t get support in the vacuum of isolation’ :))

    • Thank you, this is a really great point. I suppose that is why so much of corporate culture doesn’t resonate with some people – that quarterly financial milestones don’t allow for the natural ebb & flow that is sometimes requires for ideas to really find roots.

      Thanks.
      -Dan

  • Very encouraging. I’m struggling because I just combined two email lists and am losing one or two subscribers every time I send a newsletter now. Every month I gain 3 or 4 subscribers and lose 6. Obviously my momentum is heading in the wrong direction! Yesterday I sent out a moving interview with an Oprah Ambassador on the subject of recovering from domestic violence. I got 3 unsubscribes today.

    I keep telling myself this is good. I’m eliminating deadwood, finding true fans, yada yada yada. It feels rotten. So rotten I sometimes think, why do fiction writers need a blog anyway?

    After reading your post, I’ve decided to tweak (not meth – don’t worry) instead of quit. I’m going to every other week and will put up new free download soon. Sigh. I don’t like things that even smell like failure, but it’s nice to know we all struggle.

    • Thank you for sharing this! This is indeed what the everyday reality of building something looks like. I was having a conversation about a similar situation with a client – how during a transitionary period – those daily 1 or 2 unsubscribes can feel so much like failure. When in reality, they aren’t.

      Thank you!
      -Dan

      • There’s an analogy in those tall bikes somewhere–a little more risk, a little more effort, possibly a bigger fall if you want to ride high.

  • In answer to your question, my process of trying to build momentum includes (among other things) following you and your journey. In particular, Friday posts are always enlightening; many times I feel like you’re stealing my own current thoughts and then I wonder, “how does he do that?” Oh yeah, in this community we all share similar destinations but follow different paths. Thanks for always sharing yours which many times looks like mine!

    • Therese,
      Thank you so much for the kind words!
      -Dan