Written by Stephanie Riel
RielDeal Marketing | KNOW Phoenix
What Planning a Wedding During a Pandemic Taught Me About Resilience, Community and the Power of Mindset
Note: This is my personal story from my experience. It just so happens that it occurred in 2020 during COVID and many other high-tension situations in the U.S. and world. My intention is to share my perspective and learnings from the year amidst all the important happenings of the year as a whole, not to overshadow them.
I was a 2020 bride. Those five words alone seem so simple — yet now, that sentence carries so much more weight than I would have ever imagined.
Following our engagement in October 2019, I decided to ease into the planning process. I set a target of starting to plan in early 2020, following the conclusion of an adjunct professor role at my alma mater, the Walter Cronkite School for Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University, and a booming first year focused on my business full-time.
I, like so many of us, had decided that 2020 was going to be my year! I had recently become engaged, I was recognized as a vetted female entrepreneur to do business with in my community in the KNOW Phoenix (volume 3). My business was thriving and I had decided to dive into wedding planning at the start of 2020, too. 2020 was on deck to be a great, big-win year with a ton of momentum and happy moments to celebrate and savor.
I wasn’t the girl who had always dreamed of every detail of her wedding day, so the thought of wedding planning while wrapping up the first year of being solely focused on running my business full-time was overwhelming at first. I kept my commitment to myself and started doing research that December, followed by reaching out to venues in January 2020.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico has always been a special place for my then fiancé and I, so the more time we spent reflecting on the “big day,” the more clear it became that Cabo was the place our wedding would be. Soon after we scheduled a trip to Cabo for venue tours… and while I had a good idea of my preferred locations thanks to Instagram research and many prior trips to my “happy place,” we took the opportunity to travel to Cabo on Leap Day 2020 to start planning.
I remember at that time, we were just starting to hear about the coronavirus that had recently been discovered in Asia. To our knowledge, the virus hadn’t yet spread to the States. So, we embarked on a quick trip to Cabo and experienced a whirlwind two days: three planner interview meetings, seven venue tours, and an engagement photoshoot on the beach! It was a blur and as quickly as it started, we were on our way back to Arizona with plans and contracts in hand. Within a few days of being home, we officially locked in October 17, 2020 as the date for our international destination wedding. It was all coming together so amazingly.
However, within two weeks of signing contracts, the whole world came to an abrupt halt. Flights to and from Cabo – all canceled. The State Department closed the border for vehicle traffic between the United States and Mexico. And all the venues we had just paid deposits for were seemingly closed… indefinitely.
Tensions in the world and our country were building. Businesses, schools, churches and more organizations in our community were closed and quarantine became the “new normal.” There was a rise of voices speaking out about social injustice, including those taking a stand against brutality and systemic racism with peaceful protests in communities across the country. Not to mention, many were losing loved ones to disease. All of these elements of the pandemic brought up so many emotions, stresses and uncertainty, with no real sense of resolve. I remember being so concerned for those who were ill, so devastated by the violent incidents and so eager to further educate myself on social injustice in our country. In many ways, I felt helpless — yet strangely hopeful that the rise of voices and a building awareness could bring about real, needed change. To add to uncertainty, in my own personal life, our wedding contacts hadn’t responded to emails in months. As someone who is an empath and who has struggled with anxiety my whole life, the weight of the tension in the world around us, the uncertainty of those months and the pain and suffering of so many was very challenging to navigate. There were many times I wanted to call off the wedding plans all together, feeling guilty and selfish for focusing on a celebration during such an unprecedented and difficult year.
But with the support of my soon-to-be-husband and closest loved ones, I found the perspective and strength to push on. I chose to focus on what I could control and the impact I could make with my time, talents and effort. Taking things day-by-day and having ongoing conversations about plans as information became available was key to keeping a healthy mindset.
After much reflection and consideration, we decided we would proceed with a “scaled down” version of our wedding celebration, decreasing our headcount by more than 50% to allow us to adhere to COVID-related guidelines at wedding events. Thankfully, all of our planned wedding events were to be outdoors and after speaking to our venue, we were able to come up with a plan we felt comfortable with and were confident would allow us to celebrate safely with appropriate precautions taken for our guests and the event staff. We decided in late summer that, as long as the overall situation did not worsen, come October we would travel to Cabo to get married. It was a decision we carefully considered and it was what was right for us.
Though anxiety would lead me to overthink the decision about once a week, I felt an inner knowing that it was what was right for us and I unapologetically embraced the journey. Even if it meant not all of our guests would be able to attend. Or that some of our bridal party members would not be able to make it… Whatever the situation, I knew we’d get through it and navigate it together, as best as we could.
Surrounded by all the stress, pain and sorrow of a really tough year, our wedding took place (mostly) as planned on 10.17.2020. We were surrounded by our immediate families, our bridal party and a few very close friends. It was intimate. It was moving. And even as I think about it now, I’m still overcome with emotion on the way it all transpired. While I wouldn’t wish the experience of planning a wedding during a pandemic on anyone… I am quite glad it happened for us.
When I look back at the experience now, I feel an immense sense of gratitude for it all. For the synchronicity of securing the venue, to our vendors and outdoor locations. For the periods of no communication from the venue and teams. For the unknown. I am grateful for it all. Because of my experience, layered atop an emotionally charged, scary and truly painful year — I was able to learn so much about myself, about my partner, about my purpose and resilience. Because of 2020, I was able to grow. Thanks to the challenges 2020 brought, I was able to level up my “Get Shit Done” attitude to a whole new height. Through the pain and the stress, I was able to explore a deeper level of sadness and joy. From the unknown, I found a better understanding of myself and my partner. I was also able to unearth more truth surrounding my purpose, focus and the world around us. More than anything, in 2020 I was shown just how resilient the human spirit really is. Not only from within, but also from the community around me. I saw the beauty of a community coming together to support one another regardless of class, belief or skin tone. I saw the power of online connection through groups like the KNOW Women. I saw compassion. I saw truth and strength.
Thanks to 2020, I no longer hold so tightly to the plan for my life, rather I embrace the chaos that pops up at any given moment. I am more educated and aware of issues across the globe and in communities close to home, making me a better citizen, creator and friend. And I am more focused on what’s truly important, which frees my energy up to prioritize what’s most meaningful and quiet the noise surrounding me.
I have no doubt that planning a wedding in 2020 changed me for the better. In a wild way, I know it’s made me a better business owner, too. The perspective I was able to find in 2020 has unleashed a powerful way of thinking and living that I carry with me moving forward.
The lens in which we frame a situation and choose to view our life experience can bring great clarity — or it can muddy the whole thing up. It is up to us to decide our point of view and make the decision to hold that mindset as we learn and grow along the way.
I hope that my experience invites you to embrace the unknown. To explore your perspective. To learn to see what’s no longer serving you and to make adjustments as needed to unleash your full potential and realize growth in 2021 and beyond!