A few months ago I received a note from my boss that said: "Congratulations!!! You have been selected to be a contest judge at the (association name) Conference to be held in Washington in January. It should take about a half a day on or around Jan. 29. Further info to come."
I immediately told her that the word congratulations was not sufficient to turn bad news into good news. But I also agreed, in a fit of temporary cooperation, to be one of the judges. And I didn't even voice my suspicion that she had been requested to serve, and that I had been "selected" instead--by her.
Naturally the judging turned out to be on Jan. 30, a Saturday, and to consume, with commuting, most of the day.
This whole episode, of course, was no more than a puddle on the path of office life, one of the petty nuisances we all have to put up with once in a while. But it reminded me that there are some real swamps to be found in our trade or professional associations and clubs--territories with names such as Publicity Officer, Program Chairman, Member of the Board, Club President and the like.
If you're a top executive of your company and secure in your position as well, go ahead and plunge in if you feel like it. But if you're not, beware of any siren song tempting you into this kind of outside responsibility. (Even swamps have sirens, ranging from association or club members to your boss to your own flattered ego.)
At least assess your own career plans. Do you want to leave your company in a year or two? If you do, ironically, it might be smart to become your company's active participant in one of these organizations. You'll make some new contacts in your industry. And you'll gain a new item or two for your resume.
But if your ambition is to advance at your present employer's, this kind of commitment will only help if it gives you a chance to demonstrate far more leadership ability than you can show in the job you've got now. And even then it's risky. There's no point in becoming the worst officer in the history of the sales club or whatever, so a real investment of time is required--probably two or three times what you'd expect unless you're a hopeless repeater at this sort of thing. Yet a boss who urged your participation can still turn on you and accuse you of spending too much company time at it because you're on an ego trip. It's a charge that's true in a lot of cases, so you could be innocent and found guilty by association.
One more caution: there's a special kind of quicksand in most of these swamps. Once you accept an association or club position, however humble, there's an inexorable force that pulls you deeper and deeper into responsibility until you become president of the group.
If you conclude, as I obviously do, that most of us are better off to avoid taking the first dangerous step, how do you manage this if it's your boss who is pressuring you to do it . . . singing "congratulations" or "company obligation" or some other seductive song?
You express a valid concern for it's interfering with your job. You say, validly or not, that there are others in your company qualified for this honor or duty. And you might add: "There's an association officer born every minute."