By TMoM Team Member Anna Keller

A couple of years ago, I was listening to a podcast featuring Priya Parker discussing her book, The Art of Gathering. The topic, and her approach to it, grabbed my attention and I quickly sent the episode to my husband for him to hear, too. He and I ended up listening to The Art of Gathering together, and I’ve heard Priya speak about her model of gathering on several podcasts since.

I just can’t get enough of this topic, and when Priya shares examples of ways people have planned events or incorporated elements into gatherings, I often find myself brought to tears. The whole thing is just so very beautiful to me, and the focus on intentionality gets me every time.

The Art of Gathering revolves around the idea that anytime humans get together – whether it’s for a wedding or a staff meeting or a birthday party – there’s an opportunity to give distinct thought to the purpose of the event. Instead of assuming a baby shower, for example, should look a certain way because you’ve seen countless baby showers play out that way, consider asking the expectant couple what they are most excited or anxious about when it comes to being on the cusp of parenthood, and think about how that information can drive what happens at the shower.

I want to live with intention, and I want to feel strongly connected to family and loved ones – both seen and known and able to see and know them. I’m guessing you might feel similarly! And yet, often it helps to bring some openness and vulnerability – along with some much-needed structure and guidance – into a get together in order to foster those feelings of intention and connection.

I recommend checking out the book, because Priya gives so many helpful tips and examples to help shift the reader’s way of thinking around events, but in the meantime let me give a couple of examples of times I’ve brought an Art of Gathering approach to a get together – and what the results were:

Example #1: My mother-in-law’s 70th birthday

My mother-in-law had her 70th birthday this past December, and our family was together for Thanksgiving so we celebrated over that holiday weekend. Inspired by The Art of Gathering, my husband, Kevin, and I asked everyone in attendance to bring with them a single gift: 70 words about the birthday girl.

Not everyone was excited about this idea! Some felt like it was a homework assignment – daunting, and something they might not nail – while others were into the idea. But it helped everyone know what they were expected to bring to the party and also gave folks guardrails to work within.

The end result? Of course, everyone’s 70-word piece was absolutely perfect. Each offering reflected the author’s personality, and my mother-in-law loved every word. (We read them aloud to her, which made it feel extra special.)

We could have each shown up with physical gifts and birthday cards, but the approach we took helped everyone prepare in a way that was different from most birthdays, and allowed us to honor my mother-in-law in a special way, too.

Example #2: A gathering of women who didn’t know each other well

I host a monthly get together for women in Winston-Salem called Connection Crew, and it’s such a fun way to connect with other women who are looking for good conversation, connection, and the ability to cross paths with new people. We had an especially large gathering in January, and in anticipation of that I thought I’d channel The Art of Gathering and give everyone a “homework assignment.”

I cringed a bit hitting send on my email, because I didn’t want this to feel overwhelming or cheesy, or for anyone to feel put on the spot. And yet, to my delight, everyone showed up excited to share what they’d brought.

The ask was simple: I requested that each woman have a photo from 2023 (just on her phone) ready to share and talk about that would give us a peek into them and into the past year. This was a way we could let the group know something about us – big or small – and help everyone get to know each other better in the process.

The women there shared the best photos, and great memories to go along with them. Not all of the memories were sunny ones – some women opened up and shared about health issues or job loss – and yet all of it was so very real and vulnerable and helped us achieve that goal of going deeper with one another: letting ourselves be seen, and seeing others, too.

Again, I think you should check out Priya’s work for yourself if you haven’t already, especially if you’re someone looking to rethink the “we’ve always done it this way” approach that can so easily creep into gatherings. I find her work to be inspirational and relationship changing in such a powerful way. I hope you love it as much as I do!

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