Chapter 13: Audacious Dreams
11:00 AM. Valentine’s Day, 2016. A couple dozen figures meander along the foothills, planting their feet one in front of the other. We’re not following any set of instructions. There aren’t written rules. The sun wakes slowly, dripping rays that caress our faces.
On this holiday, we often think of those we cherish, and as we walk up the trail I look around and see families coming together to create and enjoy a community. After hiking for a couple of hours in the foothills and forest, we return to the trailhead and the children play freely in the shallow creek. Just last year, I didn’t know any of these parents or their children. My dream of creating a loving, consistent, sustainable group of people interested in getting their children outside for nature-based experiences has come true. It’s a magical feeling. The responsibility of leading this group still feels overwhelming at times, even now, even as I witness the dream in reality and am more confident that I can do it.
Audacious dreams have a lot of power. They can be crushing, or they can supercharge your life. Like the law of attraction, really big dreams tend to have magnetic power and a snowballing effect; you just have to achieve liftoff. One thing successful people have in common is that they understand that tackling immense challenges—achieving liftoff—is accomplished the same way you accomplish anything: one small step at a time. Perhaps you have a dream of starting your own family nature club. Perhaps you’re dreaming about all the benefits it will bring to your children, your family, and you, but are just too overwhelmed to start. If so, this is the chapter for you. Once you master this small technique, you will be amazed at how your audacious dreams enrich your life.
How to Build Your Family Nature Club One Skill at a Time
Your process to build your family nature club will vary a great deal based on your background, experience, time, and network. You may already have experience organizing groups, and so will find that part of organizing family nature clubs easy. Or maybe you don’t, but are very technically savvy, so setting up websites and email marketing is the easy part for you. Or maybe none of that is going to be easy, but you are setting up your family nature club for an existing organization, so attracting members will be easy. In my experience, most people are really good at some things and not good at other things. It’s important to recognize this and understand that you don’t need to be perfect at everything when you start. You can build your skills along the way. Here’s how:
Start at the right size to ensure that you can handle the group organization effectively. By size, I mean not just the number of participants, but also the frequency and diversity of events. These three things will greatly determine the amount of time and effort required to effectively plan, organize, and create great events. Keep in mind that before you were a parent you might have been able to handle more. So, for example, let’s say you have never organized a group before, and have two young kids. Maybe this means you should start with just a few friends and test out your capabilities with planning one event a month. If you have a lot of experience organizing events and you are doing this for a large existing organization with much of the infrastructure already in place, maybe you want to start with two events each week and as many people as want to sign up. It really depends, but it’s better to start small and create something of quality that you can handle. You can always grow it once you have the quality in place.
Launch the beta version that isn’t perfect. The first step is the hardest. No matter what, if this is your first time doing a family nature club, the events are not going to be perfect. Accept that, and start with the rough draft, the beta version, the event that you’ll look back on later in life and say, “Well, that was a little bumpy, but it worked!” What parts of your club can you skip to just start this week or weekend? What is the minimum that you need? Can you skip everything discussed in this book except finding a location and inviting a few friends? That should work at least for a few events, and then you can start building it. Don’t be afraid of starting too small—just start!
Master skills, and then automate so that you can expand your family nature club. Of course you can’t automate everything, but if you start by just emailing friends, you’ll quickly find that manually emailing people becomes a lot of work, and it is harder for people to stay aware of your events. Setting up some kind of online calendar system will reduce your effort in organizing events and allow you to focus on the next skill you want to learn to improve your club. For example, I started out just using a Facebook group for my calendar, but after about half a year decided I also wanted to start using MailChimp to provide weekly email announcements. This has added value to my club and increased attendance, but would have been overwhelming in the beginning had I tried to start with both.
Commit to new skills slowly to avoid biting off more than you can chew. There’s a wealth of opportunity for places to go, things to do, and ways to organize your club. You don’t need to start all at once. Everything takes time, so it is wise to commit to new skills slowly. When I first increased my events from two times per month to once every week, it was quite a bit of extra work. I also wanted to start doing some primitive skill-building events, but tackling both was just way too overwhelming, especially when it came to time. So instead, for the first couple of months of doing events once a week, I decided to repeat the best past events to allow me to focus purely on managing the more aggressive schedule. This worked well, and by the second month I was able to put some time into talking to naturalists and other folks to offer primitive skill building.
Grow slowly to ensure that you maintain stability. A lot of times, organizations will grow too fast—whether companies, events, or less structured groups. This can have very detrimental effects if you’re not able to manage the growth effectively. In the case of a family nature club, as mentioned previously, the size of what you’re managing is not just the number of members, but also the frequency of events and the complexity of those events. At the end of the day, focusing on the children’s needs is a great barometer for guiding growth, and you’ll find at the core that they need time in nature with a few friends. Great numbers are not required. Different places every time is not needed. It’s time and space. Add to this gently and you’ll be able to have a sustainable group.
Stay the course of your trajectory so that people understand what you are about and are able to plan their lives effectively. I’ve received a great amount of feedback from people saying that events every week works out very well for them because it is on their calendar now and it is just something they do every Sunday. Likewise, people “get” that our group is not about going on ski trips or doing hikes every week. I try to maintain a consistent direction in our events, and when there is an evolution coming I share that with the group in advance.
I launched with just a few friends and planned events that were very easy to scout, write up descriptions about, and participate in. As time went on, I started adding different kinds of events, such as boating and hiking, but I kept the group very small, including just friends. Next, I decided to add more people to the events, and once that was all running smoothly I decided to increase the number and diversity of events. It’s been a wonderful process, and along the way I have been able to get good at skills I did not have mastered yet.
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to start a family nature club, building one skill at a time.