From a network to a community – My AIGA Story

“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”
Parker Palmer, Quaker writer and educator (via Jelly Helm)

This is a true story.

It started a little more than three years ago. I was (unlike you) not reading many posts on AIGA Raleigh’s website. I was parked behind dual monitors doing my work and going home and repeating that process all over again.

I felt unplugged. Especially when I saw tweets or RSS feeds flash across those dual monitors announcing meet ups in Raleigh or cool presentations in Durham. I had been commuting to RTP for ten years, clutching my free time close, not willing to release my grip.

I don’t know how I went from being president of the Charlotte Society of Communication Arts in the ‘90s to being vice president of professional isolation in the 2000s.

I guess it’s because work is really important and free time is precious. Who wants to drink cheap wine in a plastic cup and stand around in uncomfortable heels to watch networkers work the room? Who wants to chew on overcooked chicken while watching someone make a slightly too-self-promotional presentation on something you’ll forget next week? It all feels a little fake. And remember, this is a true story.

I had my eye on AIGA Raleigh for a lot of reasons. One was that I liked the name “Town Square.” They had created several of them focused on all kinds of subjects, and the one for writers seemed very cool (I am still kicking myself for not attending. Sorry, Toby. My loss.). I don’t know what made me call a friend who knew the president of AIGA Raleigh, but I did. The night before I called, I told my husband that I had to get involved with something good or I was just wasting my time. Maybe I’d call Big Brothers, Big Sisters?

Chapter two of this story.

Today, I’m the vice president of AIGA Raleigh, a volunteer with the Triangle Wiki and CityCamp Raleigh, and vice-chair of the Town of Cary Technology Task Force. I’ve had three jobs since that call to AIGA, and have found a nice balance of being at home or work and attending community meetings, task force meetings or Orangutan Swing chats in Durham. And I know now what I was missing then.

I was missing a professional home.

Your day job is not your life, and it’s definitely not permanent. Just as friends are the family you make for yourself, civic and professional groups and activities are the home you make for your career. It’s where your real self and your work self meet to compare notes and maybe have a drink or two on the patio. You probably can’t take on social media tasks or organize a workshop at work if that kind of activity is not in your job description. (If you can, then you work at a cool place!) Also, you might not feel comfortable making big mistakes in front of your boss.

That’s where your professional home comes in. It nurtures you creatively (spiritually?!?) and professionally. It attracts others like you (Hi Amy, Joe, Matthew, Maura, Karl, Jonathan, Akira, Sandro, Kristin, Alice, Hayley, Michael, Chris, Jason H. & Jason H., Kelty, Hal, Scott, Reid, Jayne, Charles, Dipika, Lori, Manuel, Bonner, Tim, Ian, Brian, Mike, Ethan, Matt, etc.) It is the work you love so much you do it for free.

It’s not easy. And it’s not something you fake. AIGA Raleigh people like to say that you get as much out of your membership as you put into it. That is true for anything you do. I have worked my butt off volunteering, and I still haven’t done enough! AIGA Raleigh has three areas of focus based on our mission to create a place where designing thrives: Improve design ability, prove design impact and unite people. Last year, we set a goal to create educational opportunities to improve designers’ ability to do better work. I think we’ve done what we set out to achieve.

Chapter three.

So what’s next? I want to help connect AIGA Raleigh with non-profits and civic organizations to create opportunities for design to make a lasting impact on the local community. (This work aligns with the national AIGA organizations’ Design for Good initiative.) We can do it.

AIGA Raleigh launched the Pursuit Fund this year, and most of the money we receive from memberships will now go right back into the community in the form of a micro-loan for local designers (to pay this loan back, recipients must report on their work and how it impacts the design community). This is huge. Especially with our new membership model. Basically, anyone can join AIGA for $50 now. Period. And, similar to the NPR model, there are additional levels of membership you can choose based on where you are in your career. For example, if you are a working professional like me and can afford to do it, you can upgrade your account to be a sustaining member. And if you upgrade your account from the $50 level, you will fund more design impact, design ability and unite people initiatives, and the money will also funnel right back into the design community (via the Pursuit Fund).

Four years ago I might have wanted to do all of this, but I’d have no clue where to start. Now I know. And I think this story will have several more chapters. The most important thing is that I didn’t make it up. It’s all true. And I sincerely hope you’re a part of the next chapter and the next.

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