Why I Keep Coming Back to NASAGA
by Beth Levine
I have to be honest. When I think of NASAGA, my immediate associations are: love, laughter, learning.
One might expect learning to be the first association with a professional development organization. And so it was when I left my first conference in Portland 18 years ago. I learned at an exponential rate in those early years – about training in general; about learning objectives and interactive designs; about improv and game design.
I left that first conference with laughter ringing in my ears and heart. Never had I experienced so much fun and play at a professional conference. I was hooked before the first conference even ended. And I think it was at the next conference that I joined the Board!
Being on the Board was probably where the love really took root. Working with other volunteer professionals to nurture and develop the organization and to produce the annual conferences was a joy. Sure we had some challenges, that is to be expected. But the dedication, expertise, and generosity of the Board members made the whole experience fun. The laughter continued and the love grew while the learning expanded. To this day some of my closest friends are those I met and worked with at NASAGA.
Looking back on my career, I am struck by the significant role NASAGA has played in both my professional and personal journey. It is no exaggeration to say that my life would be dramatically different had there been no NASAGA. To begin with, when I went to that famous Portland conference, the origin of sparkly dinosaurs and other fun scavenger lingo, I had never had any formal education in training. But training was almost 50% of my job at the time. I left Portland feeling much more enthusiastic about my training responsibilities and certainly more skilled.
The lessons and tools from NASAGA supported me in developing training for the whole company. I brought specific games back and I brought a commitment to interactive training that helped both executives and staff look forward to training. I have no doubt that my training successes influenced my bosses when they decided to make me a VP.
When I needed external support to help me either design or deliver training, I turned to my NASAGA network. With them I knew I was getting top tier talent who consistently impressed my internal clients. I basked in the glow of their success and reaped the benefits as well. As my career unfolded, I leaned more toward organization development and change management. But I always consider training to be my best opening into an organization and I consider NASAGA my secret weapon for training success.
The 2011 conference was outside Philadelphia. And by then, my life had taken several twists and turns as life does. I had been laid off twice from VP roles in construction companies and both my parents had died, my father recently. I had never actually paid the conference registration fee myself because my employers had always paid it – the employers I no longer had. I was at loose ends in my life, not sure what my next move should be or could be. With a sister in Philly that I wanted to visit as well, I decided to pay for my own registration and hold tight to my tradition of learning and laughing at NASAGA.
What a great decision that turned out to be. At the Philly conference I met a woman who had never been to NASAGA before and as far as I know has not been again. She lived in Philadelphia and was a presenter that year. We ended up in a workshop together and hit it off immediately. As we talked and shared our stories, she told me she had a friend I should meet, someone who was “starting something in Atlanta.”
Clearly the planets were aligning for me. The friend turned out to be the Director of a graduate program in Organization Development and Leadership and he was starting a program outside Atlanta. He invited me to teach a class in Communication Skills for Leaders the next summer and following that he asked me to apply for the Assistant Director position, a part time job. And that is now where I devote 20 hours a week and 100% of my passion for teaching, connecting, and listening.
I have a small consulting practice; folks I have worked with through the years will seek me out for assistance or training, but that is the extent of my marketing plan. Professionally I am happier than I have ever been. If it isn’t quite all because of NASAGA, it is certainly inextricably linked to my investment in and engagement with NASAGA.
I may not make it to every conference these years, but I do my best to catch as many as possible because I know I will always meet interesting folks doing interesting things; I will always learn something new; and I will always laugh and connect with friends I have loved for many years.