The association challenge: Time, travel, effort, rewards

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TORONTO PORT AUTHORITY - Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport
Digging the tunnel for the Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto

I’ve just returned from an intensive weekend in Toronto, attending a national Construction Specifications Canada directors’ meeting. Then, in just a couple of days, I need to return to Toronto from Ottawa for the CSC Toronto Chapter’s No Frills Trade show. (Toronto is about an hour from Ottawa by plane, and five hours by car — and of course it can be a bit of a challenge travelling in the winter.)

Sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, and in one of my better exercises in forgetfulness, I originally thought the Wednesday trade show was scheduled for Monday (as it has in previous years). Accordingly, (or more accurately, unfortunately), I planned my travels to Toronto to attend the weekend meeting, and then stay an extra night for the trade show, returning on Monday night.

Gulp. On Friday, as I was making final travel preparations, Chase pointed out the event on Monday really was scheduled for Wednesday. Thankfully, he caught it, because I would have been attending an “event” two days early — with hundreds of dollars in extra expense to sort out the mess.

As it is, I still had some costs. The CSC pays travel costs to the national meeting (good) but certainly cannot be expected to pay for my muck-ups. So, I needed to throw the association-purchased ticket out and make my own arrangements. I managed to combine airline points (for a flight to Montreal) and a train trip to Ottawa, to bring things under control.

Even these recovery plans could not accommodate the surprises with the airline and train malfunctions. The late Friday flight to Toronto was delayed a couple of hours with mechanical problems, meaning I got about four hours sleep before starting the association meetings on Saturday. And the train from Montreal to Ottawa on Sunday had a fire — turning a two-hour trip into a four-hour journey — with a view outside our window of rural firefighters working on the problem. (Fortunately there were no injuries.)

All of this stuff translates to no billable hours or direct ad sales. In fact, I needed to leave the room when the  one topic of greatest interest business-wise to me at the directors’ meeting — the association’s relationship with another publisher — was discussed. There are rightfully conflict-of-interest rules here, and I needed to separate my own business interests from those of the association.

So, travel, stress, and no direct reward for a fair bit of voluntary effort, might lead to the question: Why bother?

And the answer is simple. If you worry about the rewards you receive from association participation, you won’t get very far. If you focus on how you can contribute, you will gain valuable relationships, connections and worthy business. But it isn’t a mechanical quid-pro-quo thing — and the business we obtain from relevant association participation often seems to arise so naturally and easily that it doesn’t “feel” like we’ve earned it.

In any case, the association can’t be blamed for my failure to look at the calendar properly, nor can anyone take blame for travel delays and problems. These things happen.

But it has been a long haul this weekend — and it will be a long haul again as I prepare for another trip to Toronto. Stuff happens.

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