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Have you ever found yourself digging in so hard, and so engulfed by your day-to-day work activity, that it takes away from allowing you to step back and see a broader perspective and to build a broader network? Does it feel like you are so focused on trying to improve the current employee experience at your company that you don’t take the time to stop and ask, “What really is the ‘future of work’ and what does that mean for our workforce 5-10 years from now?” Or, “What are the strategic competitive shifts we see coming in our industry and how do we need to reposition our talent?”

Candidly speaking, that is where I found myself about 10 years into my journey in HR. It is amazing how fast time flies when you are having fun, but a decade into my career – although I had amazing experiences and had built an incredible internal brand within my company – I was severely lacking the broader exposure and vantage point.

I learned that my company had a membership with the Human Resources Management Association of Chicago, or HRMAC, and decided to join. This was in 2009. To be completely honest, the first year or two of my involvement fell a bit flat. I would attend networking events and made what I felt was more of an artificial connection – engage with someone in a five-minute chat, then never connect again after the event. Although attending events did start to build the broader community I was looking for, it wasn’t until I decided to volunteer on a committee that I uncovered the real magic of HRMAC, and my real HRMAC journey began…

As part of my work on an interest group committee, I got to know an incredible collection of talent on a deeper level through planning events and sharing expertise. As part of the Talent and Organizational Effectiveness Interest Group, we shared a passion for talent development that came through in all our interactions. That first year, I oversaw one of the interest group’s major events. And, as a result of leading a successful event, I was asked if I wanted to become vice chair of the committee, which set me up to be chair the following year.

My initial conversation with the interest group chair, and the faith that chair subsequently showed in me, really blew me away. The next year, when I took the reigns as vice chair, I continuously sought ways we could evolve the group and break new ground together. This caught the attention of the HRMAC leadership, and they invited me to join a Future Leaders Committee, which was a community for up-and-coming CHROs.

At the time, I was a mid-level HR leader and was asked to help design a program for this group. At first, it was intimidating to be in a room with such impressive leaders and to design a program intended to attract CHROs to the HRMAC community, but I quickly jumped in and helped lead the program’s design. Using my background as a talent development professional, this was a great opportunity to showcase my skills and to interact with CEOs, board members, CHROs and other HR leaders. After about two years, I was leading the Future Leaders Committee and building a network filled with top HR leaders and business executives throughout Chicago.

Reflecting on my career, joining HRMAC is one of my most defining experiences. It wasn’t something that was generated by my employer, rather, it was something I was able to do on my own by actively giving back to the local professional community. Being a volunteer enabled me to start seeing the value of HRMAC beyond just its tangible member benefits.

After building this amazing network through HRMAC, I came to a point where I felt that I’d reached my peak at my prior employer of 17 years and needed to move on. If I hadn’t had HRMAC, it would have been a shocking moment of not knowing where to begin looking; however, the reality was – because of the network I had built – I was able to reach out to my connections and receive a few hot leads within a couple of days. I was immediately brought in for interviews and ultimately accepted a position at Gensler.

Then, similar to my start on the Future Leaders Committee, I received an email that I was being considered for the HRMAC Board of Directors. The Board wanted to talk to me more about what it meant to serve on the Board and understand what I could bring to the table. I am now currently a Board member and have had even more opportunities to give back to the organization and professional network that has made such an impact on my career.

Being a member for more than 10 years has given me so much. I have an extensive network of HR leaders that I would not have had the opportunity to meet if it wasn’t for HRMAC, and the organization has given me a much broader perspective. Professionally speaking, being involved offers me the opportunity to affect the direction of the organization and exposes me to new ideas that I can use in my role as Regional Talent Development Leader at Gensler. Having this deeper knowledge base helps me to be a more strategic thinker and offers a new lens to the conversations in my day-to-day.