This Week I Quit Night-Time Meetups
Night-time meetups are a staple part of many people’s schedule. It’s assumed they are essential for creatives. Here’s why I’ve decided that isn’t true for me.
I welcomed in this New Year much like every other one since coming to Japan; on a tatami-floored hotel room, struggling not to fall asleep, after a full day of ski-ing.
This was also the second year in a row, where the New Year found me in the midst of an online sabbatical, staying (mostly) offline through Christmas to Epiphany (January 6).
Among the several hundred emails waiting to tear apart this holiday calm were three invites to night-time meetups; those kind of events, part networking, part socialising, part presentation, that clutter everybody’s calendar these days.
Two of the meetups asked me to talk about my own work and practice. I felt conflicted. Although the dates and times weren’t ideal, there wasn’t really anything in the calendar that made attending them impossible. And being asked to take the stage, however small it might be, is always tantalising.
But, I knew I was going to say no. I almost always do for these sorts of things. I declined warmly. There’s a right way to say no, just like there is a right way to quit something, with kindness, with generosity, and with no regrets.
But, there was more to it, a feeling welling up inside, an urge to reject more than just these few invites.
Creative Meetups Don’t Have To Be At Night
When I lived in Hong Kong there were a lot of these night-time meetups. Maybe more than here in Tokyo. Some of those events in Hong Kong were cool, bringing together artists, designers, start up entrepreneurs, agency and media types. But, these meetups had a few things in common; they tended to happen in bars, they tended to be very loud and they tended to include a pretty large subset of the crowd behaving much the same way as they would if there was no creative meetup happening at all, with the bar and booze being the main attraction.
In response to this I helped setup HK Social, which was the same kind of meetup in every way (in this case focussed on social media strategy and marketing), but held in a cafe, at around 8am in the morning, modelled on other similar meetups in other cities, like New York. When the idea was first floated online, it garnered a fair share of cynicism (all of it from men), but when the first morning rolled around the only problem was the size of the crowd. We expected 20 and got 3 times as many.
The event kept drawing the same sort of numbers for several years. Clearly these kinds of meetups didn’t need to happen at night in order to be successful.
How Crowds Select Themselves
Not all the night-time meetups were bad, either in Hong Kong, or other cities. Some had great guests. Some had a steady crowd of interesting attendees. After all, I organised some night-time meetups myself (Singapore SoundCloud Meetup, Hong Kong iMusic Meetup).
But, almost always, the interesting people at those events were ones I’d already met, or would’ve eventually met through other means.
The daytime meetups, by contrast, seemed to draw out people who were wary (and perhaps weary) of night-time meetups. They also generated a different tone of conversation.
It’s like going to a jazz club, on a Monday night, when the crowd is full of jazz fans who are only there for the music, as opposed to going on a Saturday night where the crowd might have a whole other set of motivations, beyond the jazz itself.
Daytime meetups are less convenient. They require making time in the morning, or lunchtime, or some sacrifices during the day. You have to want to be there. It has be worth the effort.
That changes the kind of crowd who attends.
Challenging Entrenched Ideas
One common refrain is night-time meetups are the only practical option for creatives who work day jobs who are looking to network and find inspiration. It’s such an entrenched piece of received wisdom that many accept it uncritically.
It’s also not true.
Night-time meetups are pretty terrible for people with families, especially young families. They aren’t great for people with long commutes or sporting commitments. Rising early in order to be more productive has become a lot more popular in recent years and it doesn’t play well with night-time meetups. And of course, not everyone drinks, or feels comfortable around crowds that are drinking.
My experience with HK Social proved daytime meetups worked at a medium scale. That wasn’t a total surprise. In my years as a musician I knew a lot of people who had day jobs and part time jobs to sustain themselves. But daytime meetups still happened. Same was true during my academic years, when fellow students were doing Masters and PhDs alongside work. Of course, they were also highly motivated as well.
Let’s Be Honest About Our Social Goals
A few years back I took a visiting friend to a big night-time meetup here in Tokyo. It was a noisy, crowded thing, with a succession of speakers who mostly advertised their businesses rather than sharing any knowledge. It was soon clear my friend was frustrated, not just by the poor quality of the presentations, but with the way the environment gave little opportunity to meet and talk to people. It lacked depth and breadth.
Almost always, I have similar kinds of “why am I here” moments at night-time meetups. Whether it’s group conversations that are dominated by a few blowhards, or derailed by irrelevant arguments about how the seats should be arranged or introductions made, or weird anxiety inducing games, like introduce the person next to you, or someone who pretends to be a warm creative but you know from bitter experience that online they are the worst kind of troll, or pick up artist.
Meeting new people is a good thing. But, there’s a lot of good reasons why I’m guarded about how much time I give to people whose energy is negative and whose motivations are unclear. It can takes days or more to get thoughtless comments or bad vibes out of our system.
And, giving up a night is a big ask. I no longer want to pretend it isn’t.
Night-time meetups don’t sit well with parenting responsibilities. So many happen in the 6-8pm window, which for parents of young kids is a critical dinner and bath time. It’s a little less so with older kids, but healthy meals still matter and supporting your kid’s attempts to do homework and resist screen time seem to only increase in importance as the years pass. And if your partner works or travels, then you’ll have to add the cost of babysitting as well. When people (usually men) say night-time meetups are more convenient they seldom consider any of these factors.
Apart from the near-ubiquitous presence of drinks, as if alcohol is a prerequisite for good conversation, there’s often a very casual attitude to unhealthy food, be it cheap pizza, snacks or other kinds of fast food.
And, then there’s the pressure on commute times home, the question of whether high anxiety events in the evening are good for introverts and others who feel pressure in new environments, and the need to make sure to get a good night’s sleep and protect a healthy sleep cycle.
Fearlessly Saying No To Night-Time Meetups
It sounds crazy to say this, but I’ve struggled with night-time meetups for a over a decade now, for most of my kid’s school life, for the bulk of the time since I came back to full time creative work.
Fear kept me trying to make time for these events. I didn’t want to feel disconnected, lonely, uninspired. But, those concerns were always answered by other kinds of interaction. The night-time meetups I went to rarely if ever met these needs. They were few real opportunities to mentor or be mentored, to deepen relationships, or to explore ideas. And, they were always at odds with the rhythms of work and life.
Deciding I wasn’t going to do night-time meetups anymore instantly made life feel simpler. It was a relief.
The decision was simple, but it wasn’t easy. Reflecting back on past experiences, being honest about my motivations and fears, it all took some effort. But, things feel clearer now.
My kid only has a few years of school left, and I want to be as actively available as I can, which mostly means evening times now. Family life matters to me and I want to spend my evenings relaxing at home, or being inspired by low-key meals with friends, or visits to the cinema or to see live music. I’ve reached a stage where being healthy requires a solid routine of watching what I eat and how much I sleep. And the ways I’m available, during the day, or selectively in the evening with people I know or am personally introduced to, provides ample inspiration.
I already offer a lot of myself to the world through many channels. That’s enough.
This Week I Quit is an occasional series where I share experiences of quitting apps, platforms, habits and commitments in a quest to live a simpler and more focussed creative life. Last time I quit the iOS Twitter app (along with 122 other apps) and you can read the rest of the series here.