How can I make this feel amazing?

The following story comes from my book, You’re Going to Survive. It’s available in paperback and Kindle format. And here’s a free audiobook with a few selected stories. Enjoy!

Teaching is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve taught writing retreats and workshops in eighteen cities around the world, in all kinds of venues—inside converted barns and farmhouses, yoga studios, publishing companies, people’s living rooms and backyards, and one time, on a cruise ship.

Typically, these workshops fill up pretty quickly. Some go from “empty” to “sold out” in just a few days—or even just a few hours. Typically. But not always.

One time, I decided to put together a workshop in Los Angeles. It was going to be a summer workshop. A beautiful venue near the ocean. Catered meals. Total perfection. I’d been on a real “winning streak” lately. All of my workshops were completely sold out—or very close. I figured this new workshop would be no exception.

I put together the webpage. I wrote an announcement for my blog and newsletter mailing list. I reached out to some friends in LA to ask if they would spread the word. The official announcement went out, and…

Almost no one signed up.

A week went by. Three people signed up. Another week went by. Three more people signed up. Another week went by. Nothing.

The workshop was approaching quickly. I had a total of six registrations, and I’d been hoping for twenty or twenty-five. Maybe thirty. It felt really embarrassing.

I agonized over what to do next. Should I cancel or reschedule the workshop due to low sales? Should I do a more assertive “push” with my marketing to try to fill those remaining spaces? I felt rejected and confused. Why weren’t people interested in coming? Did I do something wrong? Did I choose the wrong dates, the wrong venue, the wrong topic? I’d never experienced this type of non-interest before.

I printed out the list of six registered guests. I looked at the six names over and over again. These six people had paid hard-earned money to sign up. They had cleared their calendars for the workshop dates. Some were traveling from San Diego and San Francisco to be there. Most likely, many of those people had already booked hotel rooms in Los Angeles.

All six people had said, through the action of registering for the event, “Hey Alex, I will rearrange my life to be there. I will show up for you.”

Canceling the workshop, at this point, would be completely disrespectful.

They’d promised to show up for me, and I needed to show up for them too—regardless of how full (or not full) this workshop was going to be. This wasn’t about money. This was about integrity. So, I made a gut decision. I decided to be completely honest. I emailed the six guests and I said:

Hey everyone! Here’s the situation:

Ticket sales are unexpectedly low. This workshop is still pretty empty.

So, please, if you wish, bring along a friend, a partner, your son or daughter, your mom or dad. Bring two friends if you want. Totally free of charge.

It’s my pleasure to give extra ‘complimentary’ tickets to all of you.

Let’s fill this workshop with people we love—and make it a fabulous party that we’ll all remember and enjoy.

All six people were ecstatic and immediately invited all kinds of fascinating people.

“That’s so generous!” they exclaimed. “This is amazing!”

Interestingly, the very next day, several people purchased tickets on my website, too. (Unrelated—or not? Payback for good karma? I don’t know. But that’s what happened.)

When the workshop rolled around, it was a completely full house. About half of the people there were paying guests, and the other half had received free tickets. Every single person was thrilled to be there. And, because of the unique way that this particular workshop came together, the crowd was unusually eclectic.

We had a champion swing dancer in the room. He gave everyone a dance lesson during our lunch break.

We had a male nurse who was a pregnancy and birthing expert in the room, too, and his story was utterly fascinating.

We had best friends, moms and teenage kids, artists, vocalists, illustrators, professional writers, and people who had never written more than emails before. We had entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, full-time parents, and people in between careers.

When the workshop was over, nobody wanted to leave. People stayed, we broke out a few bottles of wine, talked, swapped emails and phone numbers, and did Tarot card readings around the table for hours and hours.

It was the most fun, meaningful, and memorable workshop I’ve ever experienced—truly, a peak moment for my entire career.

And to think…

I almost canceled the whole thing because I felt hurt and embarrassed about the fact that ticket sales were lower than I’d hoped. I’m so glad I came to my senses.

I often think back to that experience whenever I’m feeling disappointed because something isn’t panning out the way I predicted or wanted.

The question I ask myself is:

“How can I make this feel amazing?”

If ticket sales are slow and I feel sad about that, how can I make this feel amazing?

If everyone flakes out at the last minute and only two people show up for my birthday party, how can I make this feel amazing?

If my last publisher says “no thanks” to my new book project (which happened to me—twice), what’s the next move? How can I bring my book into the world in a different manner? How can I make this feel amazing?

When we’re willing to be imaginative and flexible, there’s always some way to turn a sour, disappointing experience into a better experience. Maybe even an amazing experience. Maybe even something better, sweeter, and more emotionally rewarding than whatever you’d originally planned on.