For many years, I resisted joining. I wanted to be the outcast, the fringe person. I was in a few groups here and there, but often I was not popular enough (for things like student body officers) and not confident enough (to just go ahead and be the computer club president). Starting in college, that started to slip away. I no longer cared about popularity, and I developed the confidence to own what I was really interested in. In college, I joined a sorority, but that made me feel icky about joining. I’d done it to follow the crowd, to please my parents, all the wrong reasons.* Once I joined some groups I was interested in, I started to see the value of joining. I became a section editor of the school newspaper, part of the literary magazine, and eventually President of the Literary Arts Festival. I learned a lot from those experiences. I wasn’t always good at what I was doing, but I learned a bit about where my strengths and weaknesses lie and what it was like to be a part of something you actually cared about.
One of the biggest things I learned was that most of these roles (past middle and high school) aren’t about popularity. Many of the groups I joined just needed a warm body. This is true in my adult life as well. Most interest groups, task force groups, committees, etc. have gaps in them. Because they’re work, and because the roles are often unpaid, people resist taking them on. But, those roles can also be an opportunity to do good work. I was proud to have gotten the Literary Arts Festival into the black my first year on staff, and I served as President of the Graduate Student association during a year with a new department chair and a murder/suicide situation that began the year. That required some serious mending, with meetings and conversations and other things jointly organized by me and the department chair.
While many groups involve discrete tasks, perhaps repeated year after year. Others involve long term planning that needs the voice of different kinds of people. It’s often easy to say one is too busy to get involved, and to shy away from the work. But someone has to do it. I’ve done this quite a bit locally, but I’ve been contemplating ways to do this beyond my school. I have a couple of irons in the fire. Actually, many irons. The issue is, I can’t do it all. But the other issue is, someone has to.
*I will say it was ultimately a good experience and I made good friends, but I still find the whole idea of sororities problematic. Being in it made it feel even more problematic.