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How did I get here? Navigating a Career in the Association World

How did I get here? Navigating a Career in the Association World

By Joe Lindahl, MA CAE

How did I get to association management? Lucky coincidence, in all honesty. I was lucky enough to graduate with a journalism degree in 2008, the absolute pinnacle of rapidly declining journalism jobs and the greatest recession since the Great Depression.

After graduation, I continued to work as a youth programming director at a local gym, running a child care center and summer camps throughout the city. As luck would have it, my job wasn鈥檛 recession-proof and I was laid off with a new degree, no job, and plenty of questions.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a staffing agency that specializes in placing recent graduates into entry-level roles. I interviewed for a position at 免费下载抖阴 as an account administrator focusing on marketing and membership, and the rest is history. After 2 years at 免费下载抖阴, I moved out to Washington, DC, to work for the Child Life Council, now the , to focus on their strategic initiatives, and then to the as  senior manager of chapters and regional councils. In 2017, I returned to 免费下载抖阴 and now serve as the senior manager of operations for the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) and executive director of the .

The impact of associations can be demonstrated in my own little professional journey. My father was a nurse, and I鈥檝e worked with three nursing associations; my career started via a staffing agency, and I contributed to the staffing and recruiting industry at the American Staffing Association.  I鈥檓 about to have my first child, and while I hope we won鈥檛 need a NICU visit, if we do I know that members can provide me with insight, comfort, and a wealth of knowledge. If I or a family member ever need an organ donation or transplant, I have access to experts in this area through my work with ITNS. Associations affect all types of people and I鈥檓 certainly no exception.
As I look back on my career journey, there are a 3 things I鈥檝e discovered that have helped me succeed.

Learn to Be Soft

Consider how to develop your soft skills, or communication and intuition skills used in everyday life and business. At the governance table we may refer to them as strategic competencies or universal competencies, but soft skills may be the greatest differentiator in the future.  I personally love the , which cover leadership traits that are truly global and forward thinking.

  • Systems Thinking
  • Anticipatory Thinking
  • Normative Competency
  • Strategic Competency
  • Collaborative Competency
  • Critical Thinking Competency
  • Self-Awareness Competency
  • Integrated Problem-Solving

What Motivates You?

To some degree, whatever field you work in, you鈥檙e probably interested in鈥攁t least I hope so.  In a broad sense, I am a governance and strategic planning type of person; I like creating efficiencies, attempting to generate and enhance a strong leadership pipeline, and meeting set objectives. But I am enthralled with and love thinking futuristically (though I鈥檓 not a fan of sci-fi) about new technology and innovations. It is the yet-unknown solutions to old problems and what association management could look like in the future that I am absolutely fascinated by. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, the emergence of 5G networks鈥攚hat does it all mean for us as a society? Because in the end, it will impact our associations.

So, what part of your association work does the same for you? Hopefully you have one, if not, think hard about finding one.

Find Your People

My wife and friends don鈥檛 really understand what I do, so I need folks I can 鈥渘erd out鈥 with and relate to. (If I had a nickel for every time I鈥檝e been asked if I鈥檓 a nurse鈥.)

During my time in the DC area, I became involved with ASAE, attended the Future Leaders Conference, served on their Components Section Council, and attended the ASAE Annual Meeting. When I returned to 免费下载抖阴, I continued to find ways to connect with peers through the NextGen Summit, for which I was selected to be a part of in 2017, and this year I earned my CAE. Through all of these volunteer opportunities, I鈥檝e met some remarkable people who share the same challenges and aspirations as I do.  I鈥檝e had tremendous discussions and debates with peers, and in the end, it has helped me either reaffirm or reevaluate my own perspectives. At the end of the day, my work with associations really felt like a career and less like work because of these relationships.

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