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4 min read

The Value of Experiences for Professional Growth

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I recently watched the 1990’s classic action sci-fi film, ‘The Matrix’, again after many years. I was always fascinated with Keanu Reeves’ character Neo.

It wasn’t the cool outfits or action sequences that got me, though they were groundbreaking at the time for cinema.

It was the willingness to plunge into new experiences. Especially the moment he is plugged into the matrix and learns Kung Fu. WOW! I often wished we could learn like that. Now-a-days, not so much.

Today, we live in an era of AI, ChatGPT, and even real neural links. Did you hear we are now testing a neural link for brain to device control; this could be a major breakthrough, but it also makes life appear like a sci-fi movie.

I mean, AI could have written this article (it didn’t), but it can neatly and accurately describe the seven most effective volunteer management tips (I tried that). This information exchanging does have its benefits. However, even if we reach ‘The Matrix’ level of AI information sharing, we need this essential ingredient to our growth - the human experience.

Nothing can compare with experiences. As a youth I remember the sheer joy, the broadening to a larger world that those BIG experiences created. As a young adult attending my first professional conferences and networking events, it spurred me forward. They were full of new resources and topics but most of all they were full of new people to connect with and expand my worldview.

There is a deep-seated need for us as humans to congregate. We all long for real connections and growth. We all have a need for some type of pilgrimage or journey. Even ‘The Matrix’ turns out to be a story of building friendships and making sacrifices for one another.

Today, I want to offer a few reflections on having experiences for your professional development; specifically in volunteer management.

Like ‘The Matrix’, I will lead with a question: When was your last mountain top experience? When did you last have time and space when you could get away, connect to others, get perspective and reflect?

The mountain top experience can be a retreat, a conference, a certification, or another experience that brings you out of your normal and into what is possible.

First, these experiences help you clear the clutter. It’s hard to see the big picture when the inbox keeps calling, the quarterly report is due, and you have 30 volunteer candidates to screen through.

The mountain top experience removes other distractions large and small; you breathe a little deeper and more freely. Even having the laundry, the dishes, and that creaky cabinet door you will definitely get to this weekend gone, or at least far enough away, is respite.

Second, when you have the mountain top experience, you get the 10,000 ft view.

You have opportunity to see how your efforts connect to the whole. How your role is truly important and helps the entire system work. You see your purpose more clearly and get a fresh perspective.

In Canada, the VMPC conference is coming up – and it's in British Columbia – so there will be lots of 10,000 ft views.

If you are feeling the need for a mountain top experience, attending a conference is your chance. Maybe the first in-person National Volunteer Management Conference in five years is just what you need. If you are reading this from elsewhere, perhaps it’s time to seek out that expansive experience at a mountain top near you.

Third, take the time to join with a community rich with kindred spirits. These are gatherings of possibilities, of growing in confidence, of enriching ideas. Times of building potential, raising support and allies in your profession.

If you lead volunteers, May 8-10 in Vancouver, BC, Canada is a time for this community to connect. Connect with those who will celebrate your victories, understand your struggles, challenge you to build more boldly and create further innovations for your organization, and those whom you lead.

Volunteer management professionals from across Canada, in all the charitable sectors will be there. Leading organizations like Volunteer Canada, the CCVA and Better Impact will be there. Thought leaders like Rob Jackson, Lisa Mort-Putland, Charlene Dishaw, Kasandra James, Jeff Abraham, Jessica Pang Parks will be there to gather together.

Here or elsewhere, look for gatherings of kindred professionals who want to grow as you want to grow. Seek out this greater community to expand your potential.

Finally, having experiences will help you tap into the learning beyond the learning. As humans the virtual world has opened so many possibilities. We can zoom across the world and speak to and learn from experts anywhere in real-time. This is fantastic, but it can feel a little two-dimensional.

You won’t get to sit and eat a grilled panini and ask, “how did you decide to build your career towards leading volunteers?” and laugh about how you both fell into it because recreation just isn’t a career for 40-somethings. Or asking after a sip of hot coffee, “how and when did you first speak into existence this career saving volunteer management software?”

Sure, ChatGPT can give you a biography of a company founder, or instruction to build a volunteer program from zero to one hundred, but you won’t hear the conviction, the hard work, or the passion behind the creation. Even our tech is better when we understand the story behind it – the humans behind it.

Our profession leading volunteers (and most not-for-profit roles) are ultimately about ensuring humans have the best experience possible while helping other humans. To do that well, we need these experiences for the learning in it, for the growth in it, and honestly for the joy of it. So, scout out some mountains near you and if you happen to be in Canada, we hope to see you in BC in May.

And, when you are on that mountain top…

Taking in the deep learning,

The perspectives and

That view,

You also might get a glimpse of your future.

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