The Gift Goes to the Giver: Joy in Serving

I have long recognized the value of not just working in a specific industry, but being an active participant in the industry. This was further reinforced to me at last week’s ACHE (American College of Healthcare Executives) Congress, as I met young professionals and re-connected with seasoned ones.

You ask, what does it mean to be actively involved in your career—as opposed to just going through the day-to-day motions? For me, I got a little push early on in my career. A mentor encouraged me to plug into professional associations. I, like a lot of early careerists, was a little uneasy about this—after all, what did I at this young age have to offer? And the more narcissistic “what’s in it for me?”

Luckily, I got over that really quickly. I’m glad I did. Some of my most gratifying experiences directly resulted from my involvement with these groups.

I’m not going to say that, when I first started serving on my local and state chapters of the ACHE, it was the sexiest work ever. Far from it. There was a lot of showing up early, putting agendas and speaker’s notes on tables, and, conversely, staying late after events to clean up what everybody else had left behind.

The reality is, as an early 20-something, I was given both access to and the opportunity to “be seen” by those in the mid- to late-stages of their careers—seasoned, even national, leaders.

I became a familiar “face” to them, as I passed out name tags, directed people to seats or emceed events. I could have easily have become lost in the crowd, but people got to know me—in a way they otherwise would not have. A decade later, these leaders who got to know me in those early days have become valued colleagues, even friends.

As nice as such recognition and relationships is, being actively involved in these organizations and, thus, in the industry gave me something even more valuable: I developed heart and passion for being an active member of the community. Serving has had a deep and profound impact on me, personally and professionally.

There is something to be said for this. Science can back up the notion that the more involved you are in your profession, the happier you are with it (and the “fruits” like higher compensation follow); in fact, in my presentations I often share a study which appeared in the January/February 2009 issue of “Healthcare Executive.” This study, conducted by the William E. Smith Institute for Association Research, found that those who were genuinely active in their professional associations (read: they didn’t just send a check every year) not only earned more than their inactive peers but were more satisfied with their jobs and, overall, were sunnier people.

So not only does this active involvement have the potential to fuel your career, but it has the added benefit of boosting your quality of life, something everyone around you—from family members to colleagues—will also indirectly benefit from.

Just as what separates the fit gym members from the average ones is the number of times they actually swipe the card and put in the effort (after all, they’re paying the monthly fee), so are top-performing professionals and individuals separated from their “average” counterparts by the number of times they actually volunteer for the committee or suggest the idea as the meeting.

It’s not enough to “mail it in”–be it a check for your annual dues or the fee to your gym–if you want real results.

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