Sixth Last Day: The Secret Realm

Recap Time. My last night in Austin was a late one. “Last nights” are always filled with weird emotions. You have to be focused because there are always a lot of little things that need to be taken care of before departure – packing, laundering, ticket-buying, calling, etc. And you're kind of sad because you're going to be leaving, maybe you don't want to leave, and you want to make sure you're using your last hours up well, soaking it all up. So you want to hang out with as many people as possible. But doing chores and hanging out with people makes the time pass quicker. So does sleeping. So your best option is just sitting somewhere by yourself, alone, reflecting. But that can get depressing, and you can't get depressed, because you need to gear yourself up for the new place you're going to, because that place is probably going to be just as awesome as the one you're about to leave.

Last nights” are a little rough.

I stayed up late after Beth, David, and Matthew went to bed. I did some laundry, wrote a lot, and ate a lot of Beth's chocolate chip cookies with craisins.

When I woke up the next morning, I showered and packed hurriedly. Cookies were in the kitchen again. Beth not only let me sleep in, but she packed some extra cookies for me to take on the road! I made sure David didn't see me tear up. Every morning I shared with the Brookses came with a tasty breakfast taco and a cup of coffee, both of which were made by David. This Friday morning, David switched it up. Toasted French bread, eggs with shredded cheese, turkey bacon, and orange juice. The breakfast of association professionals. :)

David and I loaded the car up with my luggage, and dropped Matthew off at driver's ed. That was to be my last time to see Matthew, so we said our groggy goodbyes. After that, David and I went to Wells Fargo so I could get some bills. I brought my luggage to work since I had to leave early. I took a picture with David, thanked him for everything, and said goodbye to him as well. It was a little after 9am when I got to the office, and everyone had read my first blog post for the week. That made me feel really good. It showed that TSAE actually cared about my thoughts, and that was encouraging. I was sad to be leaving soon.

Sonnia Montemayor and I had some overdue one-on-one time together. Well, Emmitt Smith was there too. As the Education and Knowledge Resources Director, she oversees anything that has to do with association education presented during conferences, webinars, seminars, and tradeshows. Sonnia works closely with Christine (Chris) Napierkowski, TSAE Meeting Coordinator, who deals with the logistics of all the TSAE programs. This includes finding venues, booking meeting rooms, and making sure all the necessary equipment is provided in all of the rooms. Sonnia previously worked with the National Automobile Dealers Association in Virginia. She discovered the association world while working for an auto dealership.

After getting to know Sonnia's role, she gave me the responsibility of designing and sending an electronic invitation for the Certified Association Executive (CAE) breakfast to be held at the Annual Conference in September. According to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) website, the CAE program is “designed to elevate professional standards, enhance individual performance, and designate association professionals who demonstrate the knowledge essential to the practice of association management.” In short, the CAE credential in the association industry would be comparable to the M.D. credential in the medical industry. It takes a serious amount of time and study. One has to meet eligibility requirements, submit an application, pass an exam, and fulfill renewal requirements every three years. The program is not for everyone. You can still be a significant part of an association without becoming a CAE.

My fourth big task of the week was to order lunch. We all got Lu Ann platters from Luby's and had lunch in the office eating area. It was good to have most everyone together in one room, eating and talking. The rest of my last day was really quiet and peaceful. Nita Saunders, TSAE's accountant, and Josh left early so I gave them hugs and goodbyes. Around 4pm, Beth and I packed up and left so she could take me to the Greyhound station. At the station, Beth reminded me that the invitation to the Annual Conference in September was genuine and still there for me to take. I told her I would love to go, and would do all I could to attend. I experienced one last Austin hug and parting of ways, followed by another Greyhound adventure.

Question Time.

What did you dislike about the job?

The only thing I didn't like was that I was having so much fun and feeling so productive that I had too little energy or time to write about the fun I was having at the times that I wanted to. Long sentence, but that's what it is.

What did you like about the job?

As the TSAE boss, Beth impressed me greatly (if you haven't noticed already). Though she was very busy, she was always available to answer my questions, and was constantly making sure I was never bored and always a part of anything going on. Because of this, I always felt useful and the time passed quickly. In my observations, I also noticed that Beth took random times to quickly check in with her staff members on a personal level. I think it is for this reason that the staff felt comfortable talking with her about anything. I felt as if Beth was the one calling the shots, but that each staff member had complete control over their respective roles. Beth respects, trusts, and believes in her staff members, so I think they find it easy to return the favor.

There is heavy work that goes on in the TSAE office, but there are also special moments of hanging out and laughter. Even when I was in business professional clothing, I never felt as if I couldn't be myself, and that was new for me. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever been more confident in heels than I was during this week. And those heels were dusty from being in a suitcase for five weeks. Clothes were lint-y too. I still felt confident, happy. I may have actually been more hyper than usual, and I think that's because throughout the week, I felt more and more comfortable working with TSAE. That speaks wonders of the people I was surrounded by.

Meeting new people every day was thrilling. Sometimes it was overwhelming having to hear and explain one-week job to each person, but the fact that I got to hear about the person and their role in TSAE in return was worth it. The camouflaged nature of associations intrigued me as well. Associations are all around us and do so much for us, but few of us know about them. Being a part of an association, learning about an association, and getting the power to spread the news about associations is a little empowering.

Week #6 also gave me a more well-rounded view of Austin. Who knew that it was more than a music-hipster-indie-taco-getaway? I loved Austin before, and I love it even more now.

The last thing I liked about being an association professional was that I got to experience the effect of working at a nonprofit organization. I'll say it again: something about doing good for the good of all before anything else makes life richer.

What lessons did you learn from being an association professional / Week 6?

  1. If you're going to a new country and a native offers you specialty food, make sure they know that you're not very hungry. This will spare you a terrible stomachache. [DIPLOMACY] The Brookses travel a lot, so they know what it's like to be forced to eat foods that you would never choose yourself. They told me some horror stories. Because of this, they were constantly making sure I liked the food they offered me. It was sweet.
  2. Know and be vocal about your preferred work schedule. A few staff members implement what is called flextime, where they adjust their work schedule to a format that suits them best. They started to use this method after a flextime article was printed in the TSAE magazine that is released every other month. Everyone figured that they should practice what they advertise, so they decided to experiment. Sonnia likes to work from home on Monday so she can ease into the week. Josh likes to come early and stay late Monday through Thursday, so he can have a half-day on Friday and start his weekend early. Alaina likes the traditional 8 hour-day. So far, it seems that everyone is satisfied. I think more businesses should try the variable work schedule too, for the potential benefit of the entire company.
  3. Reply to touchy/tricky subjects in an email with care. [DIPLOMACY] Or don't reply. Or if you have to, get someone else to edit it first. And if it's more than two paragraphs, you might as well pick up a phone. Advice from Beth to AAEVT during Monday's training session.
  4. Praise someone when they're doing well, and kindly let someone know when they're not doing well. As a customer, you have a voice. Speak up. You'll improve something. Like an employee who is having a bad day, or the moods of other customers who would never speak up otherwise. Advice from David.
  5. Separate your work life and home life. When Beth was done with the official workday, she was done with work. I thought that was awesome.
  6. Make time for You every day. I mentioned in another post that Beth was a seasoned swimmer. Each day after work, she went to the pool alone and took a good swim. When she came back, it was obvious that that time alone was sort of a calming restoration for her. In making this conclusion, I would think of all the people I know who work just as hard as her, and have given up their ability to take time out for themselves. This is a shame.
  7. Spontaneity can be riveting, but routines can be too. The One-Week Job Program has been the biggest dose of unpredictability that I've ever had in my entire life, and it's been great. While this week contributed to that theme still, it also brought a lot of serious routine too. I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day around the same time. I think my health actually got better because of this. Every night I played the Wii with Matthew, or at least watched him play it with David. Beth swam every day after work. There were occurrences that I became used to very quickly, and just like the variety of my days at work, they brought extra spark to my life. This balance of opposite forces was a comfortable, inspiring mix.
  8. Travel is the key to understanding, and therefore to world peace.” During my first in-person conversation with Beth, she told me that one of her priorities in raising Matthew was making sure he got to travel and see the world as much as possible. When she said this, it reminded me of the quote you see at the beginning. As I got to know the Brookses throughout the week, their wisdom was hard to ignore. And I would notice things about Matthew that spoke to a maturity that many 16-year-old boys probably do not have yet. All three of them gave off a combination of patience, understanding, and caring that could only characterize people who have been exposed to many different environments, many different people. After having a difficult ride to Austin, living with the Brookses told me that regardless of any tough times I was experiencing, I was on the right track. My journey is and will continue to be a fruitful one.
  9. Experience first, judge later. I never cease to be humbled. Never. See Reflection Time section.

Would you do this as a more-than-one-week job?

I mean, I'm trying to do all I can to go to the Conference next month. You tell me.

Reflection Time.

I got connected with TSAE before I found the Jed Foundation, so I began the Program thinking I had one more office job than I had intended. After my un-favorite experience with the Foundation, I had stronger office-job judgments than before in regards to TSAE. Part of me expected this week to be full of suits, heavy proprieties, and slow hours, but I have to say, I had it backwards. Completely. When I stepped off the Greyhound bus onto the Austin pavement, I told myself to let any preconceived notions go, and I'm glad I did because they were way off the mark.

"I took the [association] job with the frame of mind that it would be a bit boring, but that it would work until I could find something more exciting. It's funny to think back on it now; I had no clue what my experiences would bring, not just professionally, but personally. The relationships I've built over the last five years have had a profound effect on me."


Every single person I met during this week had similar stories. They began working, unaware of what an association was, fell into a job with an association, fell in love with a job within an association, and ended up staying. Work with an association is far beyond work in an office. It's too worldly to be defined in that way. I'm so very glad that Beth is such a dedicated supporter of Sean and the One-Week Job message, otherwise I never would have discovered what can be described best as a cosmic realm of endless learning, diversity, professionalism, and just plain excitement. To everyone I met during my time in Austin, thank you for helping me find and understand such a treasure.


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