10 Years Later: What Was I Thinking?

If you have never volunteered or your last volunteer job went horribly wrong, read on, dear colleague. I recently completed almost 10 years of service on the WARUCC Executive http://www.warucc.ca/ and I’m already missing it!

What did I do?

I served as Vice President for 2 years, President for 2 years, and Past-President for 5 ½ years.

How did I get roped into this?

I was quite new to the profession, had been regularly attending the semi-annual meetings of the Saskatchewan Registrars, and had heard the calls for a new Saskatchewan Member-at-Large. You know how they go. The chair says something like, “Just letting everyone know that we’re looking for a new Member-at-Large for Saskatchewan, and if this is something you’d like to volunteer for, let me know.”

I didn’t pay any attention – I was too new, too green, too young, and from a too small Christian college. What did I know about being a MAL? Nothing. So those calls went in one ear and out the other. Then, after a couple of meetings where this message had gone out to the membership, Dr. Ken Smith who was Registrar at the University of Saskatchewan http://www.usask.ca/communications/ocn/oct19-01/profile1.shtml at the time stopped me on the way out of a meeting. Ken was a larger-than-life figure. He was quite tall, very confident, and he filled any room he was in. I had learned that when Ken spoke everyone listened! Ken boomed at me, “You know Grant, WARUCC needs a Member-at-Large, and WARUCC has had a long history of having people from big schools serve in these positions. I think it’s time we heard from the small schools for a while. Would you consider this position?”

I was a little wide-eyed and mystified. Me? Really? And then he said the words that sealed the deal in my mind: “You’d be good at this, and we’ll give you lots of help.” Well, if Ken said so…

You say, “But wait a minute, you didn’t serve as MAL! What gives?” Good sleuthing, friend, there was indeed a sleight-of-hand going on. As soon as I volunteered for the MAL position, Ken came back and said, “Actually, we think we have someone who could serve as MAL, but what we really need is a Vice President. Let’s put your name in for that.” I honestly don’t remember much after that, just a lot of moving lips and a lot of faces looking at me, nodding and smiling. I don’t remember saying I would do it but suddenly found myself in a position that I had no experience for, no training in, no political connections for, no large personality to lead with. In short, I was certain I was doomed to a very public failure. If I had the time to think I would have refused.

But I’m glad I didn’t.

How did I last ten years?

I had the very good fortune of being on the Executive with Joan Fraser http://www.macewan.ca/web/services/registrar/Contact/DetailsPage.cfm?id=5801 who was at Athabasca University. She had just become President of WARUCC at a time when the organization was in a bit of a financial mess due to the sudden illness of the Secretary-Treasurer. Joan took the reins and steered the organization back on track. She took me under her wing, explained the job to me, and phoned or emailed to encourage me every now and then. I watched her lead the organization into a strong position such that I was able to participate with complete confidence. I still didn’t know what I was doing, but that was ok, Joan Fraser did.

When it came time for me to become President, I could do so because Joan was there as Past-President and my advisor. She was great, helping to steer me around the various potholes and road-hazards that I might have missed. My confidence grew and by the time I chaired the biennial meeting of the membership at the conference, I almost knew what I was doing (you never really know until you’ve done it once).

Two years later, it was my turn to help coach the next President (David McLeod, who has since passed away http://www.passagesmb.com/obituary_details.cfm?ObitID=145887 ) in his role as I took on the position of Past-President. I watched a new batch of leadership step up while I became the “voice of experience.” Shortly after my term as Past-President ended, several Executive members had to resign and this left quite the gap on the Executive – a new President, no Vice President and no Past-President. I received a phone call from Stefanie Ivan asking if I would consider returning to be Past President as they needed someone with experience. How could I say no?

Would I do it again?

In a heart beat, yes. Why? Because you are a great group to work with. You are so competent, appreciative, and supportive that it makes the job easy. I travelled to another school at least once a year. I was able to participate in planning four conferences (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, BC, and Alberta), all of which were wonderful experiences. There were some difficult times, but they ended quite positively. I’ll never forget watching Joan Fraser talk a bank manager into giving us access to the WARUCC accounts even though we had no proof that we should have access to those accounts! She’s an amazing woman and a force to be reckoned with.

I learned so much more than I thought possible, just because I didn’t say no ten years ago. I now have personal contacts in almost every Province and Territory in Canada. My perspective has broadened, and my horizons expanded. My skills and abilities and professionalism have grown with the experience. Best of all, I have more friends and colleagues than I can keep track of without Twitter http://twitter.com/or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ If I need help, I know exactly who I can turn to: you!

I’ve also learned that asking a group of people for a volunteer doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to tap someone on the shoulder and say, “I think you’d be good for this job.” So, the next time someone invites you to volunteer for WARUCC, remember, you don’t have to say yes.

Just don’t say no.

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