Last week, I was part of a group that attended the IAAP Futures Conference ahead of the annual Technology Education Conference (also known as TEC) 2017. While I was unable to stay the whole week and participate in TEC, I still had myself one fabulous weekend.

I’d like to start by describing the venue. Both conferences were held at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson, AZ. I had previously never visited this part of the country, and the landscape was stunning. I had never seen this many types of cactus in one place. There were also walking trails, a waterfall and some wonderful food. The toughest adjustment was the sheer size of the hotel. I said several times that I thought I needed an Uber to get from the lobby to my room. As I trekked from the lobby to the northwest wing, I thought, “surely I have arrived in Phoenix by now.” And the tubs – if you are directionally challenged, you need GPS to get out of these tubs. HUGE! The hotel staff was wonderful. In the building where we had our group meals and meetings, they didn’t have paper towels in the restrooms – they had washcloths. Nice touch.

The meetings were skull sessions that worked our brains very hard. IAAP had a consulting firm do an in-depth study of IAAP and the profession on a broader scale. We had 13 tables of regular members, with the IAAP board of directors and staff seated separately. (This was done to ensure the regular members had no barriers or inhibitions to sharing everything on their minds. Each table was given worksheets for each person to complete. Some tables would have different questions than others. Each person filled out their paper, then the table discussed their answers. Finally, each table filled out a blank worksheet with the consensus answers to the questions. The facilitator then randomly chose 6 tables to share their answers with everyone in the room. (With 17 total tables and 3 sessions, this would give every table a chance to share its answers with everyone.)

We had breakfast together Friday morning, then went to work. The first session was about awareness. After lunch, the afternoon session dealt with professional development. We wrapped up around 4:00 PM. After group breakfast Saturday morning, we focused on membership. The conference concluded a little before noon.

I had arrived Thursday afternoon, so I had the evenings Thursday through Saturday to explore. I had dinner by myself in the lobby bar Thursday evening, fighting the lawyers who were attending an American Bar Association conference for space. Friday after we were finished, I spent some time with one of the IAAP board members walking the trails on the hotel grounds, then joined more of them for a group dinner. Saturday I met some friends who were coming in for TEC for dinner. The food in that part of the country is amazing. Lots of spices, which I love. Food is best when it makes you work up a good sweat. 

I was very glad to be part of this conference, and that I have stuck with IAAP through the massive changes of the last 3-5 years. I have been disappointed in the number of people I have encountered who just want to lament the loss of the old structure, and the desire of too many to sit back and wait for things to happen instead of stepping forward and making things happen. A common question I have heard is, “What can I get out of this new organization?” My answer to that is another question – “What do you want?” If you don’t know what you want, it’s extremely had to know if you are receiving it.

Another complaint I have heard is, “this seems to be something we just walked into blindly, with not much of a plan.” To that I say, there is only so much planning you can do before you have to take action, and once you do, you are guaranteed to encounter some things you didn’t expect. It’s a bit like getting married. You can plan every detail of your coming life together, get advice from an infinite number of married people, read all the books and do everything you think you need to do. Even after all that, once you’re married, you will have things to deal with you never saw coming. That’s because there is no way you can completely plan how to live with someone. You won’t truly know them until you live with them. I tell young marrieds all the time that sometime before the first anniversary, they will have the “Who are you?” moment – you will be awake, your spouse will be sleeping next to you, and you will look over and ask, “WHO ARE YOU?” It’s not that you aren’t still in love, it’s just that something (or things) have happened you didn’t expect. Doing something new professionally is the same way. You can plan, but eventually you have to act, and deal with the obstacles as they arise.

A friend of mine recently asked, “Isn’t admin assistant (or similar title) just a PC way of saying secretary?” I said, “Not that it’s PC, it’s really an effort to have a title that better describes what we do. It’s no big deal to me. I don’t care what you call me as long as you pay me.” Yes, there was a bit of sarcasm there. But my larger point was that what someone who does this is called is just semantics. What is really important is recognizing the value of the work. Admins know when we see the huge mess we have to clean up when we’ve been out of the office longer than 1 day. Those who do other work realize how much they depend on us when they need us and we aren’t there. Call me a secretary instead of administrative professional if it means that much to you. But I know – and those who depend on me know – that I am a true professional, good at what I do and a valuable member of my team. To all those who are still not sure about IAAP going forward, or who are waiting for things to happen, I give you this challenge: Leap with both feet into the middle of the fray and put your whole heart and effort into making IAAP the best it can be, and the best you can be.