Monday, March 28, 2016

Embrace the Messy Now

There's an analogy I like to use when describing what it's like to manage an association. It's like working on the engine of your car, while you're driving it down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. By which I mean that it has been my experience that association professionals always seem to be working on the under-performing systems that they rely on to produce member value and benefits. There is seldom (or, seemingly, never) a time when we can put our "car" in the shop, or even pull it over to the side of the road, and get the thing fixed properly. If we did that, we'd miss the next member meeting, the next newsletter deadline, the next dues cycle. We'd fall hopelessly behind schedule, and never, ever catch up again. In the world of associations, getting there with a beater that's coughing out oil smoke is always preferable to getting there late with a well-oiled machine, or not getting there at all.

And this reality creates something others have called the Messy Now--the time, unlike the fondly-remembered past or the anxiously-hoped-for future, when nothing seems to work, no one seems up to the task, and there's never enough money in the budget. Competing strategic priorities, diffused leadership models, organizational demands, professional development goals, increasing project requirements, looming deadlines--they all combine into a whirlwind of confusion and paralysis.

The trick, of course, is to embrace this time, to embrace the Messy Now. Let it swirl around you and don't flinch from it. It will push you to your limits, but you can't let it bully you. Instead study it, and understand it the best you can. It has things to teach you if you're quiet and calm enough to learn them. But don't look for clarity within it, because the Messy Now has no clarity to offer you. The most important thing is to understand that it is you, and only you, that must impose clarity on the Messy Now, whatever clarity you think is necessary to keep the engine running and the car moving down the road.

That's your job. Didn't anyone ever tell you that?

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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