When you get to a stage in your career where you are too seasoned to get much value out of young professional content, but you’re not quite on the CEO track, then you’ve probably reached your mid-career. Or rather the “messy middle” that associations aren’t too sure how to address, and that professionals find difficult to navigate.
There currently isn’t as much support and resources specially intended for us mid-careerists in associations as there are for young professionals and those at later career stages, but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve your own path. Whenever situations like this arise, where you aren’t able to find the properly labelled boxes that hold the answers to your questions, it’s always a good idea to think outside the box and create your own opportunities. One great way to open doors is to get together with fellow colleagues and discuss these issues.
A MENTOR AND A MENTEE ALL IN ONE
It seems easier nowadays to group together as peers and help each other with individual problems. I remember I started out my career in associations doing social media, and back in 2007 or 2008, there was a lot of talk around un-conferences which were very much like having groups of people get together outside of their regular formal association conference circuit to create events where there was no agenda and no schedule, or there was a schedule but you had to fill in the topics of discussion that you find relevant. It was very experimental and really exciting.
I think a lot of that has evolved now into opportunities where we can just do that much more naturally and where people who wouldn’t have been super excited about un-conferences like I’d been, wouldn’t be so scared of it.
There are mentorship programs, for one, where you can learn from people who have been there before, who have had the same thoughts and concerns, and who are higher up in their career path. But you don’t only find mentors through programs. Those are the more formal mentors, where you meet for the purpose of learning from their experience. But then there are informal mentors. These could be colleagues or friends you admire or who you know had similar experiences, who can help you brainstorm solutions and ideas while on a regular lunch or coffee outing.
What I find really interesting about this “messy middle” stage is that we mid-careerists are potentially both mentees and mentors at the same time. We have a wealth of knowledge accumulated with the years of professional experience, but we’re also still students. We’re always learning, trying to learn more. It’s this unique double position where we can do a fairly decent job at offering guidance and advice, but also greatly benefit by being at the receiving end of it. I think this is a great point in your career where you can also give back to the community while paving your path towards the future.
Associations provide all kinds of resources for young professionals and then for leaders, but the huge majority of their members are in this “messy middle” and they shouldn’t forget about them. However, until our needs are more acknowledged and addressed in organizations, we association professionals can help each other create our own opportunities all the while collectively benefiting from the large pool of shared knowledge.