If you were at the ASAE annual event this year, this was a word you heard throughout the entire conference. A mainstay of the expo hall where vendors explain the benefits of using their products to association professionals, the word drifted its way into the speeches and sessions of the meeting this year, as well. The result was a conference with an uplifting theme about new possibilities made by breaking through limitations. Starting with the opening keynote, the message was simple: With enough determination, you can achieve your goals, no matter how lofty.

The Right Stuff… Eventually

Mark and Scott Kelly, the only two twins to ever orbit the earth, provided this year’s opening keynote address. The astronauts began their speech with a brief personal history that was very different than what the audience was expecting. The stereotypical image of an astronaut as a perfect young student was not their experience, they assured the crowd. In fact, their path to space began with less than stellar grades. The twins continued to discuss the challenges they faced as they progressed through their education and into the Navy. An example of this difficult road came during Mark’s pilot’s training when he was repeatedly asked “Are you sure this career is for you? You didn’t do well.”

Apparently determination is a genetic trait because both men refused to quit. Instead, they continued to challenge themselves until they finally reached such great heights. Mark shared a valuable lesson that a life of overcoming obstacles has taught him, “I’m a prime example of somebody who was able to overcome a lack of aptitude with practice, persistence, and just not giving up.”

It’s human nature to look to the past to predict the future. But as Mark reminded us, “How good you are at the beginning of anything you try is not a good indicator of how good you can become”.

Applying Their Message Closer to Home

For associations, this idea of perseverance leading to new potential is a hopeful—and timely—message.

It can be discouraging when your association starts a new program with high hopes, but success doesn’t come immediately. Maybe you are trying a new way of reaching out to millennials but are having trouble finding a message that resonates with them. Or, maybe a program you’ve designed to bring change to your industry is meeting with more resistance than you expected.

The message we can take away from ASAE is that perseverance is more powerful than early success. Achievement is earned through persistence, it’s not given away for free. Instead, the willingness to “press on” is the key to succeeding. Luckily, this refusal to give up can lead to possibilities you didn’t even know existed! Once you understand that past performance does not predict future results, the only thing keeping your organization from achieving its goals is motivation.

This encouragement to “press on” comes while associations are facing a variety of challenges in the way members perceive their value. Odds are good that your association is working to find solutions to a variety of important issues. How do you begin to answer questions about finding new sources of non-dues revenue? How do you choose which tools deliver the best educational experience to your members? Or, how do you promote your association to new members in an always connected digital world?

“Taking risks and not being afraid to make mistakes, and . . . if you work as a team, you can accomplish anything,” Mark Kelly would tell you.


Taking risks can be an uncomfortable feeling; and, making mistakes is not something most association leaders would encourage. But when an initiative doesn’t show the immediate results you had hoped for, don’t give up! Take a step back and re-examine your goal. If the goal is still important and your methods seem sound, ask yourself, “Is this something that can be overcome with “practice, persistence, and just not giving up?”



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