No experienced is ever wasted.
~ Oprah Winfrey
Well, despite lots of preparation, attention to detail, and lots of publicity, no single men attended the Speed Dating for Book Lovers event I wrote about. Not. One. Available. Man.
To be honest, I was mortified. The worst had happened. Well, not the worst -- I had been having nightmares about potential damage to the African-American history quilts on display at our lovely venue, The Brickhouse Art Gallery, and that didn't happen. So the second worst thing happened. Epic. Fail.
I felt like I let the women who attended down. They were vivacious, beautiful, well put together, confident. Many of them were understanding and lauded my efforts and encouraged me to try again, maybe on a day not so loaded with expectation and meaning as Valentine's Day, maybe with more outreach to guys.
My team, which included Black Man Not Blogging, The Outraged Citizen and his lady, The Lovely SJ, as well as The Writing Diva, the Single Parent Goddess, and Brickhouse Art Gallery owner Barbara Range, immediately got to work at 5:00 pm and set up the tables and the food with oh so much care and attention to detail. The venue looked good and smelled good, too. I carefully selected the songs on four separate playlists of old school R&B ballads and jazz, which I'll include below. Black Man Not Blogging and The Outraged Citizen even dragged my dusty stereo system from the car, and Single Parent Goddess got both speakers working (she's a tech goddess, too.)
Yet. Not. One. Single. Man. Came.
After I had a little time to catch up on my sleep and put things in perspective, I asked myself, "If Oprah is right and no experience is ever wasted, what can I learn from this?" It was then when I had my aha! moment -- that this was my "Beloved" moment.
Remember the film "Beloved"? Remember how Oprah poured her heart and soul into the making of that movie, following on the heels of her success with "The Color Purple"? Remember how it didn't do well at the box office? I remember going to see it in a theater in Memphis, thinking that I wouldn't be able to get a ticket because surely in Memphis, a largely African-American city that was not too far from Oprah's birthplace (Kosciusko) and where she grew up (Nashville), this movie would be packed.
I was the only one in the theater. Even the projectionist had stepped away from the movie projector.
I remember how Oprah took that disappointment deeply and personally and how it shook her confidence in herself. It shook what she thought was her understanding of what people wanted. And it definitely made her not as eager to work in film.
Similarly, I had put my heart and soul into this event, thinking, like Oprah must have thought about "Beloved," in relation to "The Color Purple," that this speed dating event would be as successful as the last. Not so.
This was my "Beloved" moment.
Where Oprah and I part company on this same journey, however, is that I'm not going to allow this experience to shake me. I'm really sorry for the women who attended, because I hate to waste anyone's time. That said, I'm determined to learn from this and move on.
So, what did I learn from my "Beloved" moment? Here goes:
1. It's Never as Good as the First Time. Sade never lied. Just like "Beloved" was not as good as "The Color Purple," the second speed dating event was not as good as the first. And it was unrealistic to expect that it would be because, like "The Color Purple" and "Beloved," these two events were two different animals, purple tulips notwithstanding. Holding it on Valentine's Day put a lot of men off -- that day is just too laden with meaning and expectation. The first event was held on a random date that had no meaning and, therefore, no expectations.
2. I Don't Understand Men and I'm Not Willing to Learn. Although I reached out to a lot of men, especially black men, for this event, I did not know how to market to them. And, quite frankly, I don't know if I care to learn at this stage in the game. No, I'm not bitter. Here's the thing: Had I charged for this event, and even if I had sold every ticket, the profit margin would have been pretty small. I tried this event as a test to see if there was a market for it. I believe there is, but it is a market that will have to be cultivated and created, especially in Sacramento, where a lot of folks are unfamiliar with speed dating. Given the small profit margin, it's not worth it to me to learn how to market to men, especially black men, to make the event a success. What I do know how to do is to market to women and to create environments that women like, which leads to my next point:
3. The Part I Enjoyed Working on the Most Was Creating the Environment, Not Marketing the Event. When many of the women thanked me for my hard work, my response was, "I really enjoyed putting this event together." I did. I enjoyed putting together the look of the event -- the tablecloths, tulips, candles, books, even picking the songs for the playlists and putting them in just the right order. The women seemed to really like they way the event looked. That's when it hit me:
4. The Better Business Opportunity for Me Is Creating Environments That Women Like, Not Creating Events. Why? Because there's minimal business risk and a greater potential for larger profit margin for being paid for the service of making an environment look a certain way, whether its for an event or for staging a house to be sold. When you're paid for a service, as opposed to being paid when people buy tickets, you make money whether the event goes well or, in the case of houses, whether the house gets sold. It's like the difference between being Levi Strauss or a gold miner -- Levi Strauss made money on selling jeans and supplies to gold miners, whether the miners made money or not. The miners only made money when they struck gold. I'd rather be Levi Strauss.
5. Play to Your Strengths, Decide Whether to Work On Your Weaknesses. I have been told time and again that I have an eye for interior design or, as I would call it, redesign -- taking what people already have and adding to it at a low cost to create a space they like. At my old job, I "redesigned" a break room, my office, my co-worker's office, and two alcoves. It's an expensive hobby if you decide to do it as a labor of love. But one former co-worker told me she would hire me to stage her house when she decides to sell it. When people admire what you do and talk about paying you to do it, that's God's way of telling you your gift is also a business opportunity. That is my strength. My weakness is marketing to men. I've decided not to work on that weakness. My intention is to go into real estate and staging because, at the end of the day, the decision to buy a house is usually determined by a woman, not a man, even if she's not the one buying it. And I know how to market to women and create environments they like.
6. Instead of Hanging on to Your Idea of the Way Things Should Be, Make the Best of and Enjoy What Is. My second biggest regret, after wasting all those ladies' time, was not spending time talking to all of them. I was literally hanging out by the door watching and hoping for some men to come in, not unlike a child of divorce waiting impatiently to be picked up for visitation. And, like that same child, I was crushed when it didn't happen, so much so that I missed out on the opportunity to talk to and get to know all of these fabulous book-loving ladies. Luckily, some of them stayed, and they and the team -- Barbara Range, The Outraged Citizen, Single Parent Goddess, The Lovely SJ, Black Man Not Blogging, and myself, had a good ol' time discussing things we had in common -- ties to the South, growing up in LA (for at least two of them), and a whole range of topics. Quite frankly, I had a better time talking to these folks then I would have had shepherding people from one table to the other during speed dating. If I had let go earlier of my idea of what the event was supposed to be and had embraced what it could have been, I would have had a lot more fun, and so would have the ladies.
7. Tear Off The Band-Aid. The event started at 6:00, and many of the ladies were on time. I waited until 7:30 to call it off. I should have called it off sooner, but I was just unwilling to accept that it was going to fail. Black Man Not Blogging and The Outraged Citizen literally went trolling barber shops and coffee shops in search of men to bring to this event, to no avail. Finally, The Lovely SJ gently said to me, "Just tear off the Band-Aid. The faster you do it, the faster you'll get it over with." Mind you, I'm old enough to be her mother, but she was just as calm and wise as my own mother would have been. I called it off. Which leads me to my final lesson:
8. You Can Tell Who Your Real Friends Are By How They Treat You When You Fail. Barbara, Black Man Not Blogging, The Outraged Citizen, Single Parent Goddess, The Writing Diva, and The Lovely SJ -- not a one of them said anything negative about this event as it was going down in flames. Instead, they got to work behind the scenes, blowing up social media, trolling for men in barber shops and coffee shops, circulating and talking to the ladies I was too embarrassed to face, all to keep the event on life support for as long as they could. No shade was thrown, no sand pitched in my face. They knew that, with my obsessiveness and anxiety, I was at my most vulnerable, and they cocooned me in good deeds and kindness. They are my friends and family and I love them deeply for treating me as they did.
9. Heed the Need to Create. I have a creative side that I have let languish, giving it life on and off over the years. Working on this event made me realize that I NEED to create stuff, whether it's redesigning an office, putting together the look and feel of an event, or writing this blog. It's something I just need to do, whether it makes money or not. I need to create.
No experience is ever wasted. I thank the ladies who came out and I'm grateful to my team of friends and family for their support. BTW, the picture above is of the event, and that's me in the middle. And below are the playlists I promised. If you choose to download the songs from iTunes, I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed putting them together.
Happy Belated Valentine's Day,
Speed Dating Playlist # 1
"Blessed," The Emotions
"Portuguese Love," Teena Marie
"Wild Child," Tony!Toni!Tone!
"Holy Smokes and Gee Whiz," Tony!Toni!Tone!
"My Love Is Your Love," Whitney Houston
"You and I," George Michael
"I Apologize," Anita Baker
"Angel," Anita Baker
"Fire and Desire," Teena Marie and Rick James
"Deja Vu (I've Been Here Before)," Teena Marie
"Hollywood," Rufus feat. Chaka Khan
"Everlasting Love," Rufus feat. Chaka Khan
"For All We Know," Donny Hathaway
"A Song for You," Donny Hathaway
Speed Dating Playlist # 2 -- Double Takes
"Anyone Who Had A Heart," Dionne Warwick
"Anyone Who Had A Heart," Luther Vandross
"Stairway to Heaven," The O'Jays
"Stairway to Heaven," Pure Soul
"The Makings of You," Gladys Knight and The Pips
"The Makings of You," Aretha Franklin
"Look Into Your Heart," Aretha Franklin
"Look Into Your Heart," Whitney Houston
"Cherish The Day," Sade
"Cherish The Day," J. Spencer
"A House Is Not A Home," Dionne Warwick
"A House Is Not A Home," Luther Vandross
Speed Dating Playlist # 3
"Valentine Love," Michael Henderson
"Here We Go," Minnie Riperton
"Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes
"Feels Good," Rahsaan Patterson
"Half Crazy" Musiq
"I've Got So Much To Give," Barry White
"How Do I Know I Love You," Howard Hewitt
"A Love of Your Own," Howard Hewitt
"My First Love," Avant feat. Keke Wyatt
"Natural High," Bloodstone
"Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," Boney James
"A Sunday Kind of Love," Etta James
"Didn't I Blow Your Mind This Time," The Delfonics
"Maybe Tomorrow," The Jackson 5
"I"ll Be There," The Jackson 5
"You and I," Stephanie Mills
"Feel the Fire," Stephanie Mills
Speed Dating Playlist # 4
"Just To Keep You Satisfied," Howard Hewitt
"A Different Kind of Love Song," Pharez Whitted
"A Long Walk, " Jill Scott
"Inside My Love," Minnie Riperton
"This Woman's Work," Maxwell
"Mello Sumthin (The Hush)," Maxwell
"Never Keeping Secrets," Babyface
"Let's Wait A While," Janet Jackson
"Taking A Chance On Love," Gabrielle Goodman
"For The First Time In My Life," Gabrielle Goodman
"Heaven Sent," Keyshia Cole
"How Can You Mend A Broken Heart," Al Green
"Charlene," Anthony Hamilton
"Forever, For Always, For Love," Lalah Hathaway
"The Point of It All," Anthony Hamilton