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Exploring a New Path of Possibility and Good Disappointments

There's something that I have been exploring since the beginning of this year, as part of my quest for possibilities.

I haven't talked about it much in public. Certainly haven't blogged about it.

It's not easy to blog about something new because often, new things and explorations tend to lead to mistakes and disappointments. I don't mind making mistakes and getting disappointed. Well, of course, I think they're no fun, but I do realise that they're part of life. No one's ever experienced growth, success, and joy without them.

And yes, for every wonderful thing that I share in public, there must be a dozen things that went wrong that I hardly ever talk or write about. I just save those mishaps and letdowns for my private journals and a few chosen confidantes.

However, one of the best insights that I've gained from Beth Kanter when I first met her in person a couple of years ago in San Francisco, was about "public learning" --- sharing what we're trying to learn, mistakes and all, on our public platforms.

I have been making attempts at this, but I have this terrible affliction of wanting to tie everything in to nice little packages that look good. That is, I tend to share my learnings and mistakes, only when I can accompany them with some kind of a success story. To try and show that it all comes good in the end.

The thing is, they don't always end the way we want them to end. Not all stories have a happily ever after.

So, with the wisdom from Beth, a woman I admire and respect a lot (who also offered to be one of my unofficial mentors, the lovely person that she is!), I thought I'll keep trying to share some of the things that I am trying to do, even though they're not always wrapped in nice little stories and packages.

Getting on (a) Board

Yes, this thing that I've been exploring since the beginning of the year is finding a Board role. Truth be told, I never thought of myself as someone who can be a "Board Member". It was not an option I even considered, I guess partly because I've always thought of Boards as being a place for people with high ambitions and lofty plans.

This view has slowly changed some time last year, as I started to have some interesting conversations with incredible people I know who hold Board positions, as well as very admirable women who wish to make a difference in organisations through taking on leadership and directorship roles.

Through these conversations, I realised that many Board roles aren't really about power, but about service. Of providing support to organisations that you can care about, even when you're not being paid to do so.

So, early this year, I requested my former employer to sign me up for a membership at Women on Boarrds, a community group for women who wish to take on Board roles. Through this group, I get notifications of available Board roles across Australia. When I find something of interest, I send in my application.

At the moment, I've only applied twice so far. I'm currently interested in a third one, but I think my application for that role went missing in cyberspace.

The first time I got shortlisted for a Board role, I was ecstatic. After all, it was for a very popular international nonprofit organisation that I really have a lot of respect for. When I applied, it felt like it was such a long shot, that I won't even get an interview. I applied anyway because I wanted to learn what it's like to talk to Board members as a potential peer. So, when I received notification that I was one of 5 or 6 people shortlisted for the role, I thought it was unbelievable. They told me they received dozens of applications. I was so nervous for my panel conference call, it was ridiculous.

I didn't get the role, unfortunately, even though I received great feedback from my interview. The Chair of the Board told me that the panel members were impressed with my application, even though they couldn't offer the role to me at this stage. I was asked if they can keep my application on file, for possible roles in the future.

It was disappointing. But, I had to remind myself that that was my first go at applying for a Board role, and I got further than I expected.

This morning, I had another interview for a Board position that I applied for at a national organisation. Again, many applicants, a few got shortlisted for an interview. Without having to wait a week or so to find out the verdict, my interviewer and I already know that I won't get this role because I found out that their monthly Board meetings will just be held in Sydney. And, seeing as this is a purely voluntary role, there is no way I can make it to Sydney every month out of pocket.

Again, disappointing, but a few lessons learned. Plus, it was great to add another level to the relationship that I already have with this organisation ('been a subscriber/follower for a few years now). In fact, I've even quoted my interviewer in this blog once or twice in the past, and linked to their organisation's work a few times. The interviewer also expressed an interest in working with me in other ways. Perhaps, contributing to their website or podcast. I definitely would love to be able to do so.

What I have learned so far.

When it comes to seeking a new path, especially one you've never tried before, it's good to be part of a network. I've joined Women on Boards, to help take some of the guess work of finding a Board role. I have yet to meet and interact with other members, but part of their service has been helpful to me so far.

Being proactive is a good thing. Since I've never thought that I am "Board Member" material, I never thought to apply for such roles. Or even consider them. Having been made aware that this is something that I might contribute to, and learn from, I have been trying to learn as much as I can about the topic. And yes, applying for roles that I find interesting. Even though I haven't managed past a first interview just yet, it's good to be able to get out there and explore the possibility anyway. After all, if I haven't applied, I never would've gotten shortlisted. If I never got shortlisted, I never would've thought that yes, a Board role is possible.

Be just as selective with opportunities. Yes, the interviewers/panel members/selection committee is choosing you. But, you are also choosing them too. That's why even though I have received over 50 notifications of Board opportunities over the last 5 months, I've only officially sent two applications. And yes, I sent these applications not just to any organisation, but to ones that I really admire/respect. This way, I know that even if I have to work extra hours without pay, reading through massive strategic documents and such, I'll be okay with it. In fact, if it's with a great organisation, I'll probably love it anyway. So, I'm okay with being choosy. Of course, being choosy also means having limited options and less opportunities.

Know what kind of organisations you wish to work with. Being selective is only good if we know the parameters of what we are choosing. In my case, for example, my first preference is to work with a national organisation. Preferably, with an international reach. I'm also happy to consider state-based organisations if it's in South Austalia, of course, as I'm based here. But, more than the geographical target, I'd love to be involved with an organisation whose values and causes I share. I want to be able to admire and to respect the work that they do. Nonprofits, charities, and associations in areas of interest are my main target. Preferably, with a Board role that has a focus on community and/or media.

Mentors or coaches matter. I don't have a formal mentor or coach. But, I have been lucky enough to know some amazing people who have been offering me incredible advice and insights, especially over the last couple of years. Two of my referees, for example, have been very very encouraging in my search for a Board role (one of them is a Board member). And, I really appreciate that. Apart from them, I know of a couple of people in my professional life who have been very helpful in helping me to think of possibilities.

I'm sure there are a few other lessons here and there, but these are ones that I wish to take note of the most for now, so I can refer to them when I need a reminder or two.

What's next for this quest?

At the moment, my initial plan is to give myself a year to explore this possibility. While I remain a member of Women on Boards for a year, I hope to continue actively seeking a Board role. Once the year is up, I will review where I'm at in my personal and professional life to see if what I have learned so far would make me want to keep finding a Board role that's suitable.

By then, I hope to decide whether I will continue to put myself out there actively, or just to wait and see if a Board role will come and find me instead. Well, that is if I haven't been offered a Board position yet.

If I do find a role between now and next year, then it will be a whole different learning experience then.

For now, I remain hopeful as I console myself after two disappointing results with my applications for a Board role.

Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About the Author Shai Coggins (MTeach, MSoc Sci App Psych)

Shai has been managing and blogging here at ShaiCoggins.com for 17 years. Here, she writes about creativity, productivity, and how to recharge for a better, happier lifestyle. She is the author of Today: Life Journal, Colour Bliss: Kaleidoscopes, and a little known children's book. A serial entrepreneur, Shai also currently runs Vervely.com, a boutique digital media agency offering online content, community, and conversion marketing services. Her blogging experience and digital work have been featured in various media, including being listed in Fast Company's "Most Influential Women in Technology" list. Originally from Manila, Shai lived in Singapore and the USA before moving to Australia with her British husband. They have two children, a pet bunny, and a rambunctious rescue Labrador.

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