It’s that time of year – the time when more than 1,000 people converge on a city to celebrate and educate themselves, in the one situation where they are certain to get all the love they should get, where they will instantly bond with people they have never met before, at least not physically. There will be enough screeching and hugging going on that you might wonder if you just dropped in on a crew of evangelical Christians and the calendar is wrong because it must be a holiday. Oh, and of those 1,000 people, about 980 of them will be women.
So what is this…. uh, situation?
It’s the annual summer conference of the International Association of Administrative Professionals, better known as IAAP Summit. This is my favorite event of the year. Screw Christmas, screw my birthday, screw Arbor Day, screw all of ’em. Every July, this is where I want to be. I have attended 9 of the last 12 of these, and don’t ever want to miss another.
I joined this association in 2002 after hearing about it in a training class for admins at my company. Thanks to IAAP, I realized this career was not just being “the help,” that every work group’s success depends heavily on the admin person that supports it, and that yes, there is professional certification available. I attained Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) in 2005 and got the Organizational Management (OM) specialty added on in 2008. You have to re-certify every 5 years. I did so in 2013 and will need to file for my re-certification before May of next year.
I have said often in the past that admins bond faster and more tightly than those of any other profession. Doing this for a living means you are your office’s offensive line – if you do the best possible job, you aren’t really noticed, but when you mess something up, everyone notices. Depending on your office environment, it can be a very thankless job. Some people take advantage of you – they think you aren’t ever doing anything important so they walk up to your desk, drop some massive, time-sensitive work in your face and say, “I need that in an hour.” Often, they have had this in mind for days, but purposely waited until the last minute. You have to sooth the nerves of neurotic co-workers who think the slightest deviation from their carefully-laid plans is cause for 9-1-1 panic mode. You have to do a slow dance with micro-managing, anal retentive people who think you have ruined the existence of planet Earth because you typed the letter in 11-point font instead of 10. You have to order lunch for 12 people that among them have 8 unique food allergies. And you must tactfully explain that while “your” need for that conference room is important, you just can’t march in and tell the CFO to get the hell out of there. And most of this is happening all at the same time. So when you tell just one of them that their task will be completed tomorrow morning, you get the, “why, you don’t ever do anything around here” look.
So, we go to this Summit. We take a number of workshops to learn skills that can help us manage that office zoo a little better. We hear about the business of the association. We sample the excellent cuisine of whatever city we are in. And yes, we drink, some more heavily than others. And we enjoy great fellowship (or networking, if you insist). And we get anywhere from 12-18 of the 60 recertification points we need to accumulate over the 5-year period.
This year, I’m going to take workshops on using Microsoft programs to be more productive, the art & science of managing up, effective email communication, maintaining a strategic partnership with your manager, “There’s no such thing as difficult people,” embracing chaos, and some other great stuff. I’ll go to the Marketplace to see the latest & greatest in office supplies. I’ll make some new friends (I do every year) and get to catch up with some friends I’ve met in previous years who will be friends for the rest of my life. The timing makes for a perfect vacation. Our wedding anniversary is July 22, so most years the Mrs. comes along and we do some sightseeing before and after the conference. And of course, being in New Orleans this year, there is plenty of good food to be eaten! And this year, I have a special treat. Headquarters has created the First Timer Guide, someone who will help those attending the conference for the first time so they don’t get too overwhelmed with everything going on. I get to be one of those guides. This is an exciting opportunity that I’m really looking forward to.
Let me go back to the demographics. About 98-99% of the people who work in what is classified as an administrative support position are female. For the few males in the profession, that makes for an interesting week. I am introverted by nature, and normally get very exhausted when I have to spend long periods of time in crowds. This conference is an exception. I revel in the attention. I get plenty of it because I’m a rare male attendee, my appearance which stand out in a crowd, and my humor that usually goes over well.
It all adds up to a week that I look forward to all year.