How An Anti-Socialite Became a Joiner

The famous comedian, Groucho Marx once said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

I grew up with a family of non-joiners. This got passed down to me in many ways. I never was a Girl Scout (or a Brownie) as all my friends were. I didn’t attend Sunday school.  I never played team sports, except one summer when I joined my camp’s co-ed softball team and they put me in left field hoping I’d never have to catch a ball.   I never joined clubs in high school. I didn’t even attend my high school graduation, although once I volunteered to MC a high school fashion show but was  replaced by a young Puerto Rican kid who wore jeans with sharp creases that I envied. My mother never ironed any of my jeans. She was too busy working a full-time job as a copywriter.

So when I started my own business, I learned quickly that getting business meant I was going to have to renounce my family’s anti-social culture and become ‘a joiner.’

The first group I joined was the one for my industry, the National Association of Professional Organizers also known as NAPO.  I have been a member of NAPO for almost three years.  Just learning  there was a group for organizers was a huge relief. It meant that I wasn’t crazy to think I could make money helping people avoid or at least reduce chaos in their lives.  I was always good at this, but getting paid for it? Sign me up!

Joining NAPO was a great way to embody my new organizer identity and meet other like-minded professionals who, like me, discovered their passion for helping people find the space in their homes, offices and lives to focus on what truly mattered to them.

After NAPO, I joined another related group called the Institute for Challenging Disorganization or ICD.  ICD started as a subgroup of NAPO in 1992 but eventually split off to become it’s own organization. It’s focus is education and research about chronic disorganization, more popularly known as “hoarding.” Their mission is to help people with chronic disorganization, but they are also a great resource for professional organizers and other related professionals such as mental health counselors.  ICD offers its members free teleclasses on a variety of subjects related to the understanding, treatment and support of people who have been impacted by this sometimes crippling need to acquire and hoard. For me, as an organizer, it has helped me better understand my clients tendencies toward disorganization as I believe the seeds of hoarding exist in all of us.

I am also part of a group called EBUG. For months I couldn’t remember what the acronym stood for so I just called it East Bay Uncommon Girls. It’s actually East Bay UNITED Gals though I’m not sure exactly what unites us other than we are all women looking to have some more fun and friendship in our lives.

EBUG, which currently claims about 200 members, was started by a group of four friends so they would have more opportunities to socialize and feel less isolated after a long day’s work.  EBUG is known as “the book club without the books.” It’s perfect for someone like me who hasn’t read a piece of fiction since Clinton was in the White House. EBUG meets roughly once a month for all kinds of interesting and fun member-led events such as chocolate and wine tastings, kayaking, outdoor hiking, palmistry and Tarot card readings, movie nights, barbeques and belly dancing.

I originally joined thinking it would be a great opportunity to network without the usual pressure to collect business cards but it’s turned out to be so much more. I’ve made some great new friends (who thought that would be possible in mid-life?) and after nearly 25 years of living in California actually feel part of a community, not a geographic one but a community of smart, savvy, fun-loving women. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s why it’s call United gals.

Earlier this year, I went to a networking event sponsored by the Mount Diablo Business Women, or MDBW,  a group whose mission is to enhance it’s members “business, social, professional, and personal well being.” I first learned about this group from someone I met at EBUG.

I confess,  I went initially because it was held at a really nice hotel.  I figured if the meeting was a bust I could still walk around the elegant, marble-floored lobby and pretend I was a guest. Instead, what I discovered was another great group of women, only these women, had taken the plunge to start their own businesses, like me.   MDBW is not so much about exchanging business cards as it is  about developing relationships and learning new skills and perspectives as fellow travelers on the road to success.  Besides, that the food is really good!

Then, this past September you could say I really drank the Kool-aid. I joined BNI.  BNI stands for Business Networking International.  It is the networking group of all networking groups. Their whole philosophy can be boiled down into their two word motto, “givers gain” or to give it a more street interpretation, ‘I watch your back, you watch mine.’

According to it’s website, BNI generated business referrals resulting in $2.8 billion worth of business for its’ members in the past year. It was founded in 1985 by Dr. Ivan Misner, an author, columnist and networking guru.

I joined BNI for one reason. I wanted more business.  The meeting format is not for the faint of heart. Some have even called it ‘cult-like.’ I prefer to think of it as enthusiastically supportive. Each group works on a one-profession-per-chapter model to eliminate competition or the perception of it within each group. Before I joined, I almost joined. Two years earlier I had learned about BNI from someone I knew through EBUG.  I submitted an application (yes, one needs to be approved by the individual chapter members) then subsequently withdrew it because I just wasn’t ready.

Membership really depends on your ability to make referrals, and that requires knowing people and being in situations to know more of them. It also means being a serious business owner. The cost to join is steep (about $1000 a year) for a sole proprietor but I expect to make back my investment soon.   So two years after I almost joined,  the stars aligned to let me know I was ready this time around.  It came in the form of another organizer who told me there was an “opening” for an organizer at my group, which by the way, meets at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. every Tuesday. Still, I have to say that I am really glad I joined. Partly because I genuinely like the people – people’s true colors are vivid that early in the morning – and partly because they have a great track record of upholding the ‘givers gain’ model.  It’s like knowing you got the best seat in the house or got picked to play on the winning team.

Having never been on any team (with the exception of that camp softball league) I have to confess, in spite of my anti-social upbringing, I like it.  With all due respect to Groucho and my family, being a joiner, afterall, ain’t that bad.



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