Many years ago I read the book Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want by Barbara Sher with Annie Gottlieb. The book had a profound effect on me and I’ll never forget one of the analogies the author used to encourage her readers to ask for help from others to accomplish their goals. Ms. Sher referenced a barn-raising to reinforce the power of community, enrolling others in your mission to move there faster and more efficiently.
You’ve seen pictures of a barn-raising, right? Think of an Amish community in the rolling hills of Ohio or Pennsylvania. A young couple is about to be married, and they’re moving into their own home after the wedding. They need a barn, so the community comes together. In one day, they “raise a barn,” accomplishing something it would take the individual months, maybe even years to do. (If you want to see an example of a barn-raising, watch “Witness” with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis–it’s a great thriller with some steamy romance thrown in.)
Barbara Sher blames our culture of rugged individualism on the tendency for folks to insist on going it alone. But it really does take a village… to get our goals and dreams accomplished. That’s one of the most powerful reasons to seek and participate in a professional (or trade) association.
I recently joined the Association Forum of Chicagoland and people laugh when I tell them it’s “the association for associations.” Associations are big business-VERY big business. In 2012 the Association Forum did an economic impact study of Chicagoland associations conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, one of the nation’s top 10 CPA and consulting firms. The study reports there are more than 1,600 associations based in the Chicago area, and these associations pump more than $10.3 billion directly into the local economy each year. Together, membership exceeds more than 27 million individual members and 250,000 corporate members. These Chicago area associations provide nearly 44,000 full- and part-time jobs with a total employee compensation of more than $4.2 billion.
What, you may ask, does this have to do with you? Essentially, this means there’s an association for everyone. If you’re in the healthcare field, an accountant, an attorney or in any one of the many occupations listed in the Occupational Outlook Handbook which includes approximately a bazillion titles, there is a group of people in the same industry or occupation who share your interests, skills and, most importantly, educational needs. Most associations exist to serve the professional development needs of their membership, along with often representing them as a powerful lobby. Associations are fascinating entities and if you’re not part of yours, find one. There may be more than one–try them out and if it’s the right fit, join. Get involved. Become a member of a committee and, if you’re engaged in their mission, you’ll find yourself on the board before you know it.
Then, when you’re in the process of building your own barn (read: career, mission, goal, company, project), you have a community to help you. Oh, sure, you can build a barn by yourself, one nail and one plank at a time. But there’s urgency to get your barn built! And it’s a lot more fun when you accomplish your goals surrounded by people who know and care about you. It’s called “networking.”