CericieIt has always been intriguing to note the low percentage of members who volunteer for professional service. Despite the numerous studies that have shown that service to the profession offers both tangible and intangible benefits, organizational leaders continue to reach out to their members, imploring them to serve.

Perhaps people are hesitant because of prior experiences with professional service and feel burnt out or traumatized. Perhaps members are too engrossed in their own lives, with multiple demands on their time, energy and passions. Perhaps, in the case of ACA, counselor educators and supervisors have not sufficiently educated our trainees about the importance of professional service to the viability of our organization. Whatever the case may be, it is critical that we, as members at all levels, see the need to “pay it forward.”

Professional service provides great benefit in several ways. Most important, taking on a service role ensures the longevity of the organization. Quite simply, someone needs to keep the organization functioning and moving along. Social dynamics often lead us to believe that there are other people out there who are keeping the fires burning in the organization. We might not realize that this attitude often takes a toll on the faithful, committed few who see the value in serving the profession.

A second benefit that comes from professional service is that we take responsibility for the future direction of our organization rather than deferring that vision to someone else. Such a position helps us to feel a sense of belonging and ownership — rather than alienation and resentment — about what is occurring within the organization.

Finally, we need to consider the intrinsic benefits of professional service. Providing service helps us to feel good about ourselves. There is a sense of personal satisfaction and self-worth that gives us value and meaning in a humanistic way. Plus, professional service helps us to be relational. So, rather than deferring to others, we need to ask ourselves, “If not me, then who?”

The humanistic aspect of professional service is most captivating for me. The idea that I can contribute to an effort that is greater than I am and will outlive my existence is inspiring and motivating. Paying it forward suggests that we do good for someone we don’t know because it is needed. Professional service in ACA can be defined as offering good works to a sea of counselors and trainees we do not know but who need the services that our organization provides. Even more exciting for me is the awareness that I can contribute a little or a lot and that it will make a difference. I can contribute an idea by sharing my thoughts and beliefs with others on a task force, in a survey or as a leader. I can serve as a mentor, a reviewer or a committee member. Each of these roles is important and contributes to the life of the organization.

Ultimately, professional service is a model for those within our spheres (vertically and horizontally) and shows, by example, the significance of our involvement. If we want to see change within ACA, then we must provide the change we want to see. We cannot defer to another point in time, convincing ourselves that we will have more time tomorrow, because the nebulous “tomorrow” never arrives. We must, instead, ask ourselves, “If not now, when?”

Over the next few months, the ACA leadership task forces will unveil a comprehensive strategy intended to aid our membership in engaging in service, improving their leadership skills and, when appropriate, skillfully disengaging from leadership. I invite you to join us on this journey as we envision a more informed and involved ACA membership.