Preface: This was written in the name of transparency. This openness and honesty to my clients and colleagues by no means has hidden hints about plans to leave or change my career (no such plans are in the works or dreams). And I don’t seek pity. I share to enlighten and to be understood.
I recently found a note from August 2016: “I’ve been Colorado’s executive director for nearly a year now and the energy has waned, the desire remains, but the rejuvenation is needed.”
Instead, we pushed on to build upon the momentum we had created in the previous nine months.
HISTORY: I’m an industry consultant in the outdoor hospitality industry (a.k.a. campground industry).
I believe it was 2014 when I added a Kansas association to my list of clients. They first came to me with some issues. I fixed them, and we went our separate ways. Later they called again, with more critical issues. I fixed them and urged them to hire someone in Kansas to manage their association. Due to our history since 2002, they chose me for that role, even though I don’t live in Kansas. They’re a minimal part-time client.
Later, when Colorado called me, I offered suggestions for their situation. Some nine months later (and apparently without implementing any of the suggestions) they approached me again but now in a truly critical jam. I suddenly became their Interim Executive Director (later “interim” was dropped).
Adding Colorado didn’t impact my Kansas agreement, although I no longer had time for more consulting gigs, which had previously garnered full-time attention for weeks or months at a time. I also forfeited new speaking gigs. Colorado had my full focus, Kansas had maybe five percent, and the deficit came from my personal time and sometimes my sleep time. Yes, pulling occasional all-nighters actually became common practice.
About the time Colorado began to gel another association came along. I agreed to see what we could achieve in 6 months, part-time (they had a different set of critical issues).
A South Dakota association also came to me with a critical jam. I agreed to see whether I could make a difference on a part-time basis. So, in late 2017, for the fourth time in a few short years, I began rebuilding another association from the ground up.
Notice the trend? They called me (I didn’t solicit), and conditions were critical.
Please understand that these are my people! As a park owner and in leadership roles on the state and national Boards, I had established relationships with all of these callers and associations. I was honored and heartbroken to receive each call for help. (With each new call, I sought input from my current Boards before proceeding.)
REBUILDING: None of these were turnkey, smoothly operating situations. These association were in critical condition. Typically, my starting point didn’t even include basic membership data, let alone documented and honored policies, a phone or other office tools.
Administratively, each began with a hunt for what existed and an evaluation of how things were, are and could be done. Each needed its own strategic plan. The brainstorms often lead to brain cramps for everyone involved. Speaking for everyone involved, sometimes tempers flared and other times gut-jiggling laughter was the only proper response.
Juggling the duties of the associations has been challenging but, according to my three Boards, it’s something I’ve managed to do quite well.
By the way, no two associations are alike. Each comes with its own Board of Directors, bylaws, policies, membership meetings, regional and state tourism associations, state tourism office programs, state legislators and legislative calendar, demographics, and so forth.
To further the contrasts, membership qualifications differ in each state. Dues calculations differ. Dues collection processes differ. Some don’t get newsletters, while others do. Suffice it to say, most of the benefits differ from state to state, and it’s my job to keep it all straight and deliver the goods!
Still, they are similar. They share the same industry trends and topics, industry suppliers, and they’re each fully partnered with the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds.
THORNS: Now, I don’t recommend managing multiple unique associations. This is definitely a case of “do as I say rather than what I do!” Juggling simply isn’t all roses, or perhaps it’s simply a thicket of very thorny rose bushes! You see, the associations have come a long way in a few short years but managing them has been very taxing on my health. That thorn is my biggest!
My immunity was weakened decades ago by wretched chemotherapy. Allergies seem to get more severe, and bouncing back from illnesses takes longer with each passing year. Usually I pay close attention to the warnings but my career had me distracted in perpetual motion. I (not my Boards) allowed for the association rebuilding and membership growth goals to get the best of my attention.
About the only downtime I took in recent years was when my body threw me down. Since November 2015, a weekend, a holiday and even a sick day has typically equated to a workday. Christmas? Didn’t matter. OK, I didn’t work 18 hours on Christmas Day, but I still worked.
In addition to the office workload, I drove well over 50,000 miles between spring 2016 and autumn 2018 while I visited hundreds of privately-owned campgrounds (virtually every one) in Colorado, Kansas and South Dakota. My states are each in the country’s top 20 in size, creating a combined 261,451 square miles. Colorado has at least three times as many parks as South Dakota.
While I was on each lengthy road trip (the longest lasted over 7 weeks!), there was always much to do as soon as the steering wheel was out of my hands: marketing, bill paying and billing, governance, lobbying at the respective Capitols, and so forth. I remember even holding some board meetings from my car, underneath a shade tree in whatever town I was in when it was time for the conference call.
Looking only at last year, having gone full speed ahead for so long, I was on business trips every month except January and December. (A January conference was in my own hometown.) February, the shortest month of all, had me on three trips.
I flew to Denver a few times, and each time I had flight delays. One time my return flight was cancelled, letting me experience of a 26-hour stay at Denver’s airport, with a night of sleeping on the floor. Two other trips triggered weeks of asthma from wildfire pollution.
By the time November arrived, I was truly road weary for the national conference! Because of issues with airline service, I drove the 760 miles each way. The trip was actually longer because I opted to visit more campgrounds each way.
Just writing this has me seeing that perpetual motion I mentioned.
CEASE! When my Boards met after the November 2018 national conference, I informed each one that a dead Mary wouldn’t do anyone any good. Travel had to stop!
Not only was I physically and mentally in dire need of a day off … or 30 … but I simultaneously needed a gaggle of employees to help me catch up on my administrative duties. I’d met every project deadline but, oh my, so many administrative loose ends were piled everywhere! (We all know that adding staff is impossible or we’d do it in a heartbeat.)
My body was giving out (actually, it had been screaming at me since that note I jotted in August 2016). I wasn’t able to ward off anything that was going around, or shake it once it grabbed me. My health had become an ongoing nightmare.
Fortunately, all three Boards agreed … wholeheartedly. Each had been quite concerned for my health for a long time. We agreed we had given it more than our all; time to focus on the members and managing the associations rather than on growing membership and further establishing what comes from in-person relationships.
Yet, travel can’t ever be fully erased from my calendar. After all, I had three conferences to orchestrate and host, starting in early 2019. I dreamed of a vacation but that would have to wait until the end of May.
Allergies, asthma and sinus infections continued. Some days I had no voice. Some days I couldn’t get out of my loyal recliner.
When I left the Colorado conference in March, I took someone’s flu along with me. I was even immunized!
I made a mad 600-mile dash home so I could collapse and be miserable in my own home. I actually called ahead so I could see the doc before going to my house. Diagnosis, prescriptions, and finally on to home. I didn’t even stop for groceries. A friend brought me groceries and dug through piles of conference cargo to find my nebulizer and meds. The flu battle was not won quickly. The body had no fight left in it.
In April I a developed sinus infection. (My doc was running out of treatment options.) I still had it for the mid-May conference I hosted. Shortly after that conference, a friend hauled me to the emergency room in the middle of the night. It was the first time I truly wasn’t sure I was going to pull out of it! I was beyond sick! (Did you know people can actually die from a sinus infection?!)
As I wore out my recliner, I dreamed of a vacation. I needed to laugh again, play, and even think about something other than campgrounds. In June, I stole away for a brief getaway in my own region. It included minimal outdoors time. I took every precaution possible and, wouldn’t you know it, I was back in my recliner for nearly 2 weeks with what most would call a common cold.
My medical team, which now included more doctors, had other vacation plans. With my inability to battle bugs, allergens and viruses, the only vacation I’d get was inside my own home.
BUT WORK BECKONS: Fortunately for me — and for my clients, — my office is in my home. I can feel rotten and still do some of my computer work. While I maybe couldn’t respond to emails and calls as they arrived, nearly every day I triaged my office duties and tackled the most pressing.
I missed one industry business event this past February due to:
- Demands on my schedule (an active lobbying session, year-end tax season for all of the entities on my desk, orchestration of three member conferences, and distribution of nearly 200,000 campground guides),
- Unexpected disappearance of our airline service (nearest nearby airports are 3 ½ hours away when blizzard after blizzard weren’t making travel impossible),
- And my weakened immunity and exhausted physical state.
While my Boards completely understood my absence (I asked beforehand!), some others in the industry didn’t understand. Well, I knew that the world would continue turning without me, and it did!
AND SO? After the journey I experienced from 2016 until now (mid-2019), and from a very unhealthy November through July, I’m elated to say I have finally turned some magical corner and have returned to my office on a regular basis. FINALLY!
No, I’m not venturing outdoors. I run my errands, but I do them with many precautions, and only when crowds are minimal and weather is corporative. I have to jump through a lengthy process to cleanse whatever yuck I may have come across whenever I’m out, so outings are minimal.
Last week was my first normal full workweek. I was anxious to test to my stamina but gremlins had other plans. On Tuesday morning my computer began misbehaving. That evening the Windows update took it down … all the way down. Microsoft tried. It was a horrible “welcome back” situation.
My workhorse computer finally came back into full operations this Monday morning (yesterday).
During that computerless time, I triaged all of the backlog (and I sketched ideas for future blogs, including this one) as I strived to resolve my hardware crisis. I also used mobile devices to achieve what had to be done.
REALITY: I could stay awake for 2 weeks and work non-stop and maybe get caught up on all of the tasks, but I won’t. I’m listening to my body. I’ve learned my lessons!
P.S. Here’s a more recent shot of me, to let you see that I’m smiling again! After all of this, I wouldn’t dream of leaving. We’re finally getting to the part that let’s me be most productive!
Oh my! I had no idea it had been an entire year since I last published a blog! Well, that’s why I said, “I share to enlighten and to be understood.”
I WAS MISUNDERSTOOD! As I predicted, some who don’t know me so well have stepped up and asked me how I could expose that I was living a life that was out of balance, and how could I admit I’m burned out.