Pivot. I used to associate that word with Ross Geller maneuvering a couch in a stairwell from a hilarious scene in a Friends episode. Now, it’s the 2020 buzzword I never want to hear again.
Anyone in the event industry has been asked how they’ve “pivoted this year.” Fundraising galas pivoted to virtual events, weddings to Zoom celebrations, and birthday parties to drive-by caravans. You can now order groceries through your favorite restaurants or even a margarita to go. Pivot, pivot, and pivot again.
I’ve been exceptionally impressed by the poise of many of my colleagues this past year. The ingenuity and adaptability of the hospitality industry has been displayed time and time again. With drive-thru Christmas displays and virtual wine tastings, my peers have found a way to entertain and to bring people together. I’m impressed, awed, and inspired. And let me also say, I have no interest in pivoting.
I have been an event planner for as long as I can remember. Professionally, for almost 15 years, but in spirit, for my whole life. I was the kid who planned prom in high school, and who created a checklist for my own birthday parties starting at age eight. I love bringing people together, and I love planning, it’s pretty simple.
I ended 2019 with big ambitions and high expectations. I started my own event planning company after working for someone else for 14 years. My fear of not having enough business quickly transitioned to a fear of overcommitting, after I booked my entire year by the start of February 2020. That year was also the year that I was supposed to get married. I had done what I do best: mapped out all of my events, set aside a date that worked, booked all the vendors and venues, and had a solid plan with a meticulous checklist, of course.
Photo courtesy of Cora Kaplan
Our wedding was originally scheduled for August 2020. By April, we were fairly convinced that wasn’t going to be possible and postponed to March 2021, something that seemed overly cautious at the time. We were met with many opinions – some thought we were crazy to wait, others that we were crazy to cancel with four months lead time, and nobody seemed happy. Especially us.
Professionally, I had brides who were navigating the same ordeal that I was, and I truly, deeply, felt for them. Hilariously, everyone seemed to think being an event planner in 2020 also gave you an honorable degree in epidemiology and constantly wanted to know when events were going to be possible, as if I had secret knowledge unbeknownst to the general population. I moved forward with cautious optimism. I didn’t want any clients committing to vendors or venues on dates that weren’t refundable or at least moveable without a financial commitment. I remained hopeful that my wedding would move forward, but felt stunted at the idea of planning anything, not wanting to once again get my hopes up.
As things were looking dire, we began to look for alternative options. Our immediate families live in Georgia, New York, Washington, and California, so everyone getting together without flying was impossible. Turns out the middle point is somewhere in Kentucky, and despite discussions of road trips, RV rentals, and every other possible form of transportation that didn’t involve masses of people, nothing seemed to work. I also had no interest in getting married in Kentucky.
Our families had varying levels of Covid concerns and what seemed like a total lack of awareness. Some assumed I’d have no problem saying my vows while wearing a mask. Others didn’t understand why they couldn’t hug me if we were being socially distant. I explained that if I hugged them, and then I hugged my husband (which seemed obvious), and he hugged his family, then what was the point? The conversations were ridiculous, exhausting, and a dead end. We looked at multi-house compounds to rent, hotels that offered micro-weddings, and even a campground. We were desperate.
Photo courtesy of Cora Kaplan
Ultimately, we threw in the towel and stopped trying to find a way to make everyone else comfortable at our own wedding. In the span of two weeks, we pieced together a honeymoon from a few hotels that had availability, and booked an appointment for a teleconference with the Orange County Registrar. I didn’t get any sort of confirmation, phone number to call, or a Zoom link. I was just told someone would call me at the time we requested. Seemed suspect, but sure enough at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday, October 14th, we got a call. She took our information, and 10 minutes later we were sent a Zoom link.
We sat at our kitchen counter and exchanged vows while someone wearing a headset resembling aircraft control announced us “husband and wife.” I cried, my husband cried, and so did our aircraft-controller officiant, who we had never met before this call. Our doorbell rang three times during the ceremony. We tried to ignore it, but shortly after we hung up from our marriage (a sentence I never thought I’d say), I turned to my now husband and said, “I’m sorry but I really have to know who was at the door.”
I opened it to see our poor mail lady struggling with three, 40-pound dumbbells she couldn’t carry. We had ordered them months before and they kept getting lost in the mail, only to order more, which resulted in receiving only one of the four. This ordeal had been going on for months, but all three missing dumbbells arrived right on cue when we were saying “I do.” Without thinking, I blurted out, “Sorry, we were getting married!” She looked at me, horrified, and said “OH S**T, I’m so sorry!” We’re never giving away what we now call our wedding dumbbells.
I won’t say everything was perfect, but we are very happy to be married, and relieved to not have the weight of the wedding decision lingering in the middle of a global pandemic. We want to get on with our lives, and we have promised each other that we will have a wedding, or a vow renewal, or just a giant blow-out party when the time comes. It bothers me that my dress is half paid for and sitting in a bridal salon. I question whether I should have worn it, or if I made the right decision waiting.
I also hated having to cancel on vendors who I knew were having a terrible year. I was so relieved to see all but one refunded me without question – that made me proud of my peers. The one that didn’t will now always remind me to never forget that my business is to take care of others’ most intimate and personal moments. That involves emotion, patience, perspective, and often making a decision that isn’t financially beneficial, but the right thing to do.
Photo courtesy of Cora Kaplan
For anyone navigating these decisions, I feel you. We all know how terrible this year has been, for real reasons, not just for weddings. There are people suffering, people we have lost, and lives forever changed. By no means do I think a postponed wedding is on par with the devastation many people are facing, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be sad, to feel cheated, or to be a little pissed off. I certainly was.
Professionally, this has been a reset and an opportunity to see what it’s like to be in the bride’s shoes. I am immensely fortunate that my husband is employed, and I truly can’t comprehend the financial panic or fear so many in my industry are feeling. The emotional wave of not knowing if I’d ever plan another event again was unnerving, but at no point did I ever fear I couldn’t pay my mortgage or buy food for my family. To those that can’t say the same, I am so deeply sorry that more has not been done to help.
I have explored other job opportunities, as so many of us have. I looked at doing virtual events, or “pivoting” to something else. It took me a few months of soul searching, but this experience has made me reaffirm that I truly love what I do. If we have learned anything from this past year, it’s that life is short, human connections are essential, and that all of life’s moments deserve celebration. We’ve also learned that we should have put event planners in charge of a cohesive Covid testing plan, but that’s another story. I know I speak for my industry when I say we are honored to be a part of your celebrations, and we are ready to get back to doing what we love when the time is right. Pivot be damned.