We all know the quote “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself,” (Sam Levenson, December 28, 1911 – August 27, 1980). I don’t need to find out if it is true. There’s enough wisdom in those words for me to heed the warning. And I have been doing it by joining professional groups and associations.
The advent of the internet made it so easy for groups to come to life; and their exponential growth and accessibility was made possible through social media. I remember when my son created his first BBS (Bulletin Board System) in the 1980s: dial up modem, handshaking noise, slow connections, the pleasure of seeing those amber letters appear on the screen…
Isn’t it wonderful that we are in the 21st century and BBSs (Bulleting Board Systems) with their slow connections are truly a thing of the past? But I recognize that the evolution of the technology behind those BBSs from the 80’s has led to the creation of the myriad professional groups populating the internet nowadays.
I am a member of many professional associations and groups, both in the US and Brazil. I value those relationships greatly and can state that I have learned a lot through the experience, mistakes, and generosity of my colleagues.
My advice to the neophytes who are not sure what groups or associations to join is to start with a professional association that will give you something back immediately – be it access to resources, certification, exposure to potential clients, etc. Through your interaction with members you will learn about other associations and groups, and then it is just a matter of examining those to decide which ones you want to join.
What to do once you join a group
It is important to learn how to configure your preferences Most groups give their members specific “permissions” (technical term here) so they can adjust the frequency of message delivery, what portion of their profiles can be viewed by other members, and also the power to terminate their association in the group.
Upon joining a group, my recommendation is to monitor the messages, check their archives to see what types of exchanges are most common, and their level of professionalism. One of the best groups I was ever privileged to join had so much infighting that two spin-off groups have formed since I left in the beginning of the last decade.
What to do once you join a professional association
Try to learn as much as possible about the association’s offerings, including member services, and what is expected of you, the member. Most professional associations are non-profit organizations and, depending on the size, their officers are unpaid volunteers without any support from paid staff. The active participation of members is what keeps these organizations alive.
Getting involved in forums, committees or events organization is a good way of both showing appreciation and helping your organization grow.
From this point in my 32-year career, I look at the experiences I have enjoyed with very few of the expected mixed emotions. Being able to share in my colleagues’ insecurities presented as questions or discussion material in the forums I participate in, having direct access to their knowledge-base through a personal message when needed, or being engulfed in their warm embrace at our in-person meetings and conferences are experiences that have enriched my life — both professionally and personally.
Yeah, the very few and absolutely forgettable unpleasant moments were all worth it.