Six Things I Learned From Failing to Bring Together My Yellowstone Chautauqua

By Ethan Maurice | August 24, 2017

I released an application a couple weeks ago for a Chautauqua, a gathering with the purpose of exchanging ideas about how to live. It was meant to be a six-day experience of wilderness, introspection, and discussion hosted at the Range Rider's Lodge—a big, beautiful log cabin structure I manage in the summertime located a mere mile outside of Yellowstone National Park.

As the innkeeper of the Range Rider, I got a sweet deal to rent the entire building at the end of September. By day, I envisioned long hikes, mountain climbing, wolf watching, and exploration of some of Yellowstone's best, often overlooked areas. By night, a couple speeches and small group discussion of the things that underlie our actions in life. I envisioned us riding the high of alpine forests and breathtaking mountain vistas while we shared the whys and hows of our lives.

I was damn excited about this.

Unfortunately, the Chautauqua won't be happening this year. The application period ended August 13th, with 9 of the 20 applications I needed to host the event. One big mistake shot the event in the foot before it ever launched. I'll explain that below, along with a couple other things I learned attempting to host my first multi-day event.

Six things I learned from attempting to host a Chautauqua:

1. Most of the world plans further into the future than I do. If there's one thing I learned from the failure to bring twenty people together for this event, it was how shortsighted my gaze into the future is compared with the rest of the world.

Since graduating college three years ago, I've bounced from adventure to project to seasonal job every couple months. I rarely plan more than a month or two in advance. After launching the Chautauqua Application two months before its planned date, I received many enthused responses that said something like “this sounds amazing, but I've already got _________ going on.” And thus, I discovered that it's better to invite everyone to a such an event more than two months in advance.

2. Failure doesn't have to be disheartening, shameful, or negative. I started too late and failed to bring enough people together. Am I disappointed it didn't work out? Absolutely. I imagine this Chautauqua would have been the highlight of my year. That disappoint stems from not being able to share this experience, though, and has nothing to do with failure.

In striving and growth, failure is inevitable. One of my favorite index cards in my Commonplace Book was a short profound statement from Thomas J. Watson Jr., the founder of IBM: “Would you like me to give you a formula for success? It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure.” I hadn't failed in a while, not out of greatness or anything, but from picking easy to hit targets. I'm actually glad I tried and failed—happy to have evidence of strife at a higher level.

3. There's magic in genuine boldness. I hadn't felt it this strong since the launch of my cross country bike ride for Phoenix Children's Hospital. Other than a few great parties in college, I'd never hosted an event before and this was definitely stretching the bounds of my comfort zone—not for money, but out of a genuine desire to create and share an experience with twenty others. Many who couldn't make it reached out just to let me know they recognized it was something special. The nine people who did apply were willing to give $350 and six days of their lives to this experience.

The idea was straight from the heart—not the calculating head—I know people felt that. Should I have announced the Chautauqua earlier, I'm sure it would have been a moving, eye-opening experience for everyone involved.

4. Some very cool people follow The Living Theory. A list of email addresses doesn't tell you much about who subscribes to your website or what they're about. The application for the Chautauqua asked, “There are only 20 available spots. Why do you deserve one?” I was honored to read the answers, honored that these remarkable individuals read and are subscribed to The Living Theory.

5. The Yesman is an extraordinary human being. Speaking of remarkable individuals, my good friend Alex, whose Yesman Interview is one of the most popular articles on The Living Theory, called me when he jumped off the Pacific Crest Trail to resupply and heard about the Chautauqua.

He couldn't make it. So, he offered to share a link to the event on Facebook and pay to fly a friend out in his place. What an amazing, supportive human being... I was speechless, teary-eyed, and had found yet another way to strive to emulate the Yesman: selflessness.

6. I'll most likely host the Yellowstone Chautauqua next year and plan to announce the event at least six months in advance. Even though it didn't come together, the good that surrounded this year's attempt was an affirmation that I need to make this Chautauqua happen. Should I return to run the Range Rider again next summer, the 2018 Yellowstone Chautauqua is on!

I'll obviously announce the event much further in advance.




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