Why We Gather (Part 1 of 6).

March 1, 2021

Why We Gather (Part 1 of 6).

May 29, 2023

Just before throwing my every-five-year birthday extravaganza in 2015, my good friend Ben helped me to see one of my gifts. He called me a “social alchemist,” a mixologist of people. It probably comes from my upbringing being the “curious white boy” in an inner-city high school, throwing dance parties with my diverse set of multicultural friends.

Later, I became social chairman of my college fraternity, re-created our senior prom college tradition which had died decades earlier, and, ultimately, found myself—at 26 years old—the founder and CEO of a boutique hotel company named after the experience I tried to create with my parties, “Joie de Vivre.”

I’ve spent my life throwing parties, running restaurants, and turning corporate conferences into festivals. I spent a year traveling the globe attending 36 festivals in 16 countries when I was curious about how joy was collectively experienced across cultures. And, I’ve spent the past three years gathering more than 800 mid-lifers in small cohorts for a transformational week at our Modern Elder Academy with a beachfront campus in Baja.

As my friend and business school classmate Seth Godin said in a recent tribute, I seem to be “always gathering people.” My life has been dedicated to connecting people in transformational ways. I may have even celebrated with you at one of these gatherings.

And then 2020 struck and it sucked! For the first time since high school, I didn’t travel from my home base for half a year. I got COVID and quarantined in my room for two weeks right around the time of my 60th birthday when I was supposed to be celebrating with friends in Big Sur, California (of course, that celebration was cancelled long before my Halloween birthday due to the pandemic). Many hospitality businesses I owned shut down. Parents of friends passed away, others got very sick. And, fear was ever present. Where did the joy go?

The past year didn’t just take the wind out of my sails, it torpedoed a gaping hole in my metaphorical ship of life. Of course, I know I’m not alone. And, many of my concerns are first-world problems.

The Year URL Replaced IRL

Since March, IRL (In Real Life) was supplanted by URL as what used to happen in person now happens on Zoom. But, the celebration didn’t often translate with the technology. How many weddings, graduation ceremonies, conferences, family reunions and birthday parties were cancelled in 2020? The number is staggering in quantity, but even more excruciating when it comes to the emotional toll.

While video conferencing offers a convenience and expediency that will forever influence our tendency to gather, there are reasons people gather in a stadium to watch a sporting match, pack a theater to watch live acting on stage, or gather in the town square to protest. Gathering is an essential part of being human. We are compelled instinctively to share our joy and sorrows in person. And that time will come again…hopefully soon.

In the meantime, it’s time to reclaim what makes us human and feel connected, which is why I am excited to kick-off my six-part series, “Why We Gather." Yes, Rio Carnival cancelled their official festivities, but there was still dancing in the streets. This is the first time that has happened as it didn’t occur during World War I or II or during the Spanish flu epidemic. The fact that people still celebrated in person tells you something about our human need to feel connected in person.

Here’s the line-up for what you can expect after today’s Part 1:

Part 2: Collective Effervescence: The History of Gathering
Part 3: The Science of Gathering
Part 4: 36 Festivals, 16 Countries, 1 Year
Part 5: The Gathering Industry
Part 6: Reclaiming What Makes Us Human

My hope is that my narrative will help spark a conversation about the longing we now experience so viscerally and inspire us to prepare for the gatherings to come.

Welcome to my Manifesto. Here’s a short video articulating why I’ve written this series.

Go deeper with a workshop, in person or online.

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