Learning From When Things Go Wrong

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One thing you learn early on in community work (as in life) is that not everything works out the way you think it will. This is especially true when you’re trying to start a new event or user group.

New user groups face a lot of challenges when they get started. Finding a place to meet is a huge issue for some. For others, it’s finding local speakers. Still others struggle with how to get the word out about the group and attract members. And then there’s the whole budget issue … it is not easy, and many groups can’t get takeoff velocity despite the best intentions.

Putting on a bigger event, like a conference or a camp, is even more challenging. Even a small conference in a less-expensive part of the country can run up a five-figure budget, and for the bigger conferences the costs spiral up fast. It’s not easy and when things don’t go as planned, it can cause a lot of financial havok for the organizers.

It’s always sad to hear when a conference fails, whether it’s one that has been around for many years or is trying to become a new conference. The fact is, trying something new is always a risk, and inherent to risk is the possibility of failure. You don’t get one without the other.

And that’s OK. It’s more than OK, in fact – it’s necessary. You cannot learn or grow or build anything new without risk.

Even worse, sometimes people who fail at bringing a new conference or user group into a community will feel they’re not able to participate at all; that they don’t have “what it takes”.

If that’s you – please, don’t take the wrong lessons from failure. Learn what you need to learn about why you failed, and take the steps necessary to fix them. Maybe you need to find a partner who has some of the skills you lack. Maybe you need to change your focus, or try a new approach to your outreach. Maybe you were too ambitious in your goals, or maybe you overestimated the demand in your area. Whatever it is, though – push through it.

And once you’ve learned what you need to learn, if the fire to make something happen is still there, try again.

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