There is a way to plan for a major event that will allow you to be present for the celebration instead of scrambling around, exhausted, scattered, and missing the moments that matter.
The secret? Plan for the event before you plan the occasion.
To start the conversation, we need to address the important difference between an event and an occasion.
An event is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, like a wedding, a retirement, or a graduation.
An occasion is a party to celebrate the event, such as a ceremony, a reception, or a shower.
When it comes to planning, most people begin by planning the occasion. What kind of party should we throw? Where should we have it? What’s the theme? What’s the menu? What decorations do we want? What about the invitation and the guest list?
Parties are involved, and they can quickly become the center of all of our attention. Without trying, the occasion dominates our time, energy, and resources. Occasions are stressful because we layer all of the party-related responsibilities on top of our already-full, normal life. There is not enough space for it all, and we end up feeling the strain.
When we plan a party, shower, or reception, we don’t magically stop having other responsibilities. We still have to take care of our children, feed our family, fold the laundry, take the dog to the groomer, buy gifs for people, make sure we eat and sleep, and manage all of the other thousands of things that go on in our day-to-day life. When you pile party-planning on top of everything, no wonder we melt down, short circuit, and show up to the party frazzled and spent, eager for it to be over.
What if, instead of first focusing on the details of the occasion, we first focused on what we will need to step into the event in a meaningful way? Things might look a lot different by the time the party arrives.
To plan for an event means to look at the upcoming season of celebration, deciding what is important to you, determining what you value, and knowing what you will need in order to show up and be present for the celebration.
I am walking through this process in my own life right now. My oldest daughter is graduating from high school in June. This is a major once-in-a-lifetime event. We are having a party. BUT, before I began planning the occasion, I planned for the event of watching my daughter pass through this memorable mile stone.
I used the following three questions as a guide. Let’s walk through them together.
What do you need?
Knowing what you need is important to being able to show up in a whole-hearted manner. When I think about Annie’s graduation, and the way I want to engage with this season (as well as how I want to show up on the day of her party), a few things come to mind.
Physically, I want to be well-rested, have fun outfits for each occasion, and maintain a foundation of healthy eating.
Emotionally, I want to make friends with the reality that Annie’s graduation makes me weepy, grateful, and joyful all at the same time…which can be a messy combination. I could cry or laugh at any given moment, and being prepared for either (or both) is helpful for me.
Professionally, I want to keep my work schedule light so that I have time and space to enjoy the process of everything we have planned.
Relationally, I want to plan a party with details (like the menu) that allow me to give my primary attention to the people at the party rather than fussing over food or drinks that require a lot of tending.
Creatively, I want to spend my time before the party creating beauty, and then stepping into that beauty on the day of the party.
What do your people need?
This question is designed to focus my attention on all the “other stuff” that will take place in the context of the big event. I find it so helpful to know all of this so that I can begin to address it incrementally instead of scrambling and struggling to get things done last minute, stressed and spread too thin.
Here are a few examples of what my people will need as we step into Annie’s graduation season.
Everyone will need something to wear to a couple of different parties. With four children, this gets to be a lot…shoes, dresses, bows, belts, socks. Dressing a family for a season of parties takes a bit of time and planning.
My fifth grader will need her parents to be emotionally and physically present as she ends her elementary school tenure. She will also need teacher appreciation gifts.
Others who we are celebrating simultaneously during this season with birthdays, weddings, Father’s Day, or graduations will need a thoughtful gift, wrapped and ready.
My girls need haircuts.
Annie needs thank you notes, a prom dress, a graduation dress, a party dress, hostess thank-you gifts, and senior photos.
My family will continue to need breakfast, dinner, laundry, and school lunches.
My coworker, who is moving, deserves celebrating and acknowledgment for her contribution to my company over the past five years.
All of these items require time and attention. Anything I can do ahead of time (which, honestly, is most of this list) will create the space I need to engage and show up the way I want to. For me, the two biggest tasks are organizing the clothing and buying gifts. I began to tackle these items weeks ago, and to see the clothes hung and ready and wrapped gifts stacked and waiting feels like a huge accomplishment.
What does your house need?
This question helps me focus on the projects that might need attention as we prepare to celebrate. For us, we are hosting a reception at our home, which has lit a fire under me to get a few things taken care of. Instead of taking a drastic approach, thinking that I can overhaul our entire home in four weeks, here are the household considerations I am addressing. (If your major event never involves your home, this question might not apply.)
I need to continue to regularly clean my home so that it is as easy as possible to clean the week of the party.
I need to reorganize Annie’s memorabilia so that I can easily access her school photos. (Sniff, sniff.)
I need to make sure Jake mows the grass before the day of the party.
I need to reorganize our book shelves since they are overflowing to the floor. This is only “major” project I am taking on. Everything else, though not perfect by any stretch, is passable.
When you look at everything included in the answers to these three questions, it can seem overwhelming. But instead of pretending like these tasks don’t exist and waiting until the last minute to stress over them, I prefer to dive in, do a little work each day, and discover the gift that is waiting for me when the major event arrives.
I cannot emphasize how calming and reassuring it is to know these details are set. I am creating space for myself to show up and be present for the moments that matter. I want to do whatever I can to allow me, my daughter, my family, and our community to celebrate well and to show up in meaningful ways.