February 24, 2014

"Contrary to Popular Belief..."

I would like to share with you two stories that affected my way of life, and in particular, my views on how I would volunteer my time in our association. The first story is based on perception and the second based on reality. 

Story #1;
A long time ago, more so than I care to remember, a mentor of mine, who was also my manager,  gave me a visual to drive home a point. The situation came about when I was having lunch with him and I was very cocky regarding bringing in new business for the company we worked for. Confidence is a great trait; cockiness can be annoying. I was truly being the latter. After I delivered to him the message of how great I thought I was he asked me to "take my glass of water and stick my finger in it.." I looked at him, not exactly sure of what he really wanted me to do. Noticing my hesitation he made the ask again, which now was more of a request, to "stick my finger in the glass of water." I followed his request to the letter. I lowered my finger in the glass. He told me to "keep it there for a minute." I did as he asked because I was curious to where this was heading. When the time was up he instructed me to remove my finger, which I did immediately. His next question caught me off guard; "Did you leave a hole in the water?" I answered truthfully, "no." What he said next stuck with me ever since; "when you leave a hole in the water that means you are indispensable." The lesson in being cocky as opposed to confident was delivered and the idea that anyone, including me, is above anyone else was quickly removed. 
There comes a point in everyone's life when they need to "stick the finger in the glass of water" and realize that they will not leave a hole. Anyone who believes they're immune to this simple test means that they believe their worth is more so than others. 

Story #2;
Not as long ago as the first story, sometime between then and now, I was having a conversation with the then executive officer of my state association. We were talking about volunteers and their overall value to our locals as well as state. He said something to me that seemed harsh at the time; "Mike, we tend to treat our volunteers like sheets of paper towels, pulling them off one at a time. What we may fail to realize is that the roll does come to an end." What he was expressing to me was the fact that we sometimes take our volunteers for granted, that we have an infinite supply of time from an individual volunteer. I have watched over the years volunteers who gave so much to the association but were forgotten as soon as they stepped back, like the cardboard roll at the end of a run. I imagine it's been this way since day one, that no one volunteer stands the test of time. Association leaders and staff have to be very careful in their utilization of volunteers and appreciate them for who they are, in the here and now.

My moral to the two stories;
How did the two stories affect my association life? I realized that I was only as valuable as others perceived, not my perception. I also realized that my time would be short lived as a volunteer and that my time as a volunteer should make me feel good knowing I helped where I could. I would have to be incredibly oblivious to not know that there were others before me and there will be others after me. My lessons were taught in another time, but those lessons are very much relevant today and for all volunteers. 
My best advice to those who want it is to be yourself, ask for advice but listen to your good judgment, do what you believe is best for positive growth, do not get caught up in your "press clippings" or political positioning and never devalue others' work on behalf of our association.

Submitted by Michael Kurpiel, CGA, CGP

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