When you run a meetup, one of the more difficult things to gauge can be whether you’re actually doing it right.
Feedback can be elusive, so it can be hard to know if this event that you put on has some value for, or is meaningful to, the people that come along.
One day, though, I did get some feedback about a meetup from the most unlikely of places, and it helped reframe my views on the importance of community and human connection.
I have written posts encouraging participation in meetups before (Speak at a Meetup, and Organise a Meetup), but of all my attempts at evangelising this, I think I am most proud of having gotten one particular person into the meetup game:
When Mum retired after a long career in education, I worried about how she would fill her days.
Work constituted an important part of her life, and kept her constantly busy. With her children occupied with their own lives, no other family, few close friends who were, themselves, still working, and no specific hobbies that involved socialising, what would she do with herself?
I was organising the Ruby on Rails Oceania Sydney meetup at the time, and suggested that she try finding some communities that interested her, and go along to their events.
Making new friends is harder as you get older, so she was hesitant at first. But, after talking up the benefits that I got from meetup participation after moving to a new city where I knew no one, she took the plunge.
It was an over-50s social meetup, and on her first timid steps into the event space, the organiser rushed over, welcomed her with a big smile, and introduced her to some of the other members of the group.
First impressions from the initial meetup were so good that Mum started regularly attending almost immediately. All the new people she met at the meetup, the places they went to, and the activities they did together, became a staple feature of our conversations.
Frequent participation at the meetup events led Mum to become well-known and trusted. It was not long before she was invited into the leadership team, started running specific events for members, and eventually took on more responsibility as one of the main meetup organisers.
And when Mum runs a meetup, much like when she ran a single-parent household, you will find no half measures: multiple social events every week, from pub gatherings to cultural excursions to dinner parties.
Between running her own events, helping others run theirs, scouting new venues for future potential meetups, handling new memberships (including dealing with financials), general cat herding, and managing the drama found in large social groups of people with various personalities and temperaments, there is no doubt I would define it as a full-time job.
Mum and I essentially became peers in this meetup space, though the amount of effort involved in her meetups leaves my own credentials as a so-called “organiser” of some dinky technical meetups once a month in the dust!
I am glad to have been shown up, though, as Mum’s passion and enthusiasm for meetup organisation and bringing people together led to her to become a happier, and even more outgoing, person.
We held Mum’s wake in the same pub we celebrated her 60th birthday some years earlier.
More than a hundred people crammed into the room we had reserved to farewell Mum1, and I delivered a tearful eulogy to a group of unfamiliar faces.
But, they all knew Mum from the meetup.
Over the course of the afternoon, I got to meet many of them, and receive their memories of Mum, each recount a small gift to my mourning soul.
One, though, in particular, stood out:
“Your Mum saved my life.”
I smiled politely, but as if to immediately quash any potential thoughts of hyperbole, they continued on that no, really, they were mentally in a very dark place when they first went on a whim to one of Mum’s meetups.
But, Mum took care of them immediately, got them talking to others, which led to conversations that grew into friendships.
And that’s what kept them going, enabling them to be there, at the wake, on that day.
So, I got to take that feedback, on behalf of Mum, and attempt to apply it to my own meetups. Getting together to nerd out over programming languages seems unlikely to save a life in my mind, but, ultimately, who’s to say?
You may not know, nor ever know, the impact on others of whatever you put out in the world. I think as long as the effort is worth the intrinsic value you get from it, it’s okay to just keep doing it.
In times of plague, it has admittedly been tough to keep up a feeling of community when we are all apart, and the interface to meetups is the same as every work meeting you have been forced to attend on Zoom.
But, I hope that having persevered with them, even in a remote format, is considered better than not, and that once we reach whatever ends up passing for normality, real human connection (and maybe even shared ?) can come back to meetups.
Early 2019, pre-normalisation of social distancing ↩