Monday, May 21, 2012

Life After CAE

Only now, over two weeks after taking the CAE, as I sit outside a café in Amsterdam on a layover, do I finally feel like life is returning to some sense of normalcy.  For someone who reluctantly started a blog in the first place, there has been a small something missing inside of me as the weeks have rolled by and I have not posted.  As I started my CAE journey in January my friends who had just taken it assured me that my life would be very different in the coming months.  While they were right, I am not sure they knew just how encompassing that statement would be.

First, the obvious.  For the last 2-3 months before the CAE, I had no life.  No, really - between work, CAE studying and family time there were no empty slots in my schedule.  Past times such as reading for pleasure, blog writing, and….oh, I don’t know – spending time with friends were shelved.  There was so much to read, so much to discuss.  There were times where my experience served me well in preparing me for CAE scenarios.  And then there were those domains that the more I learned, the more I found out I did not know.  By the time the day of the test arrived, I at least felt like there really was no more I could have done to prepare myself for the exam.  Three hours (and 5 minutes) later, I walked out – slightly numb, definitely in a daze and in a state of disbelief that it was over.

Did I pass?  I have heard of people who have walked out of the exam confident they passed with flying colors who fail, and others who walk out lamenting that they got the most basic questions wrong who pass.  Me?  I think I did ok, came up short and will have to retake it.  6 more weeks upon writing to find out – and also not the point of this post.

So what have the two weeks, reentry into life period been like you ask?  I had a book waiting on my nightstand that took me under a day to devour (a bookworm, I am usually reading 2-3 books at a time – to only read CAE books was probably one of the greatest challenges).  Slowly I have been able to find the time to call and reconnect with old friends.  In my four and a half months of studying I missed new babies and jobs, a wedding and a separation, a lot of birthdays (just wasn’t on facebook everyday to remind me) and who knows what else.  I have yet to tackle my Google Reader, which haunts me with the number of well over 1,000 posts waiting to be read that  I know I should just hit “Mark all as read” but am pre-remorseful over the missed insights.  Exercise, better eating, sleep – they are all leveling back out.

So if it is all returning to the way it was, what has changed?  In short, me.  I am confident that I would like to become a CEO of an association someday.  While there are many paths that people take to achieve this position, I can not imagine aspiring to this goal without the knowledge that I have gained.  My studies for the CAE have given me insight into aspects of the association world that, simply, never crossed my mind before.  Now when I hear about an affinity program I think UBIT.  When before I saw exclusivity agreements in discussion I never realized the possible connect to anti-trust risks.  Though I may not be an expert in every area, I feel as though I have a working knowledge of most and am clear on where I need to really continue to concentrate my educational development.

But here’s the thing – even if I don’t pass the CAE (in which case I hope I will the second time), I am a better association professional for the experience.  This is not something that should only be for those aspiring to C-level positions.  In my review there were a number of times that I said – if I had known this, then the actions I took as a specialist/manager/director would have been different.  CAE preparation is not about a test – it is about knowing your profession so you can act from a knowledgeable and reliable standpoint.

I no longer look at our association world, or the nonprofit world in general, the same.  I have a greater appreciation for the complexities that must be constantly balanced for fairness, legality and success.  Though it has only been a few months, I feel older (or maybe the CAE just gave me more grey hair) – but in a good way.  And all of that is tempered with an excitement for how much more there is to discover and know.  I know that this has just been one step in my journey….but it has been
a defining one.

It feels good to be back.  It feels good to write again (never thought I would say that).  Sorry I was gone so long – but I hope my time away will lead to a greater level of insight in my posts.


  1. I enjoyed your post. I think it's especially encouraging that you got so much out of the experience regardless of the outcome. Good luck!

    Charlotte Weeks
    Author, "I Want to Work in an Association -- Now What???"

  2. Thanks Charlotte! The whole process was such a positive experience for my outlook and career - though I would also not mind passing ;-)

  3. I feel EXACTLY the same way! Great reflection... I hope you (and I) passed, but it did feel just "okay" to me.

  4. Thanks Kristen - in the end, thank goodness, I did - and hope we both get to walk across the stage in Dallas this August!

  5. Hey! I really enjoyed your post, because it well describes the situation I have been through before taking this exam. So I was not the only one in that situation...After taking it I felt just like coming out of prison! I will recommend your blog to my friends...I hope you passed!