That’s the epitaph my spiritual mentor, the late Rev. George Vought of The Brooks School, wanted carved on his gravestone. I can attest to the first two, and wish I could say the same about committee work. When I first moved to Cotuit full-time I was a 30 year-old sitting duck with a strong back and a weak mind, and within a year was sitting on the board of the local library, was secretary to the yacht club’s parents association, and spending a night every other week on the local historic preservation district planning board.
Running the annual July book fair for the library was the killer and within two years I was off of all boards, panels, and committees and haven’t sat on one since.
The same goes for professional awards, contests, and industry associations. My college advisor, the late John Hersey, told me writing contests were especially pernicious and said anyone who wrote fiction with a prize in mind was doomed to never receive one. Apparently Thomas Pynchon felt the same way, when the rarely photographed author’s publisher hired Professor Irwin Corey to accept the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow in 1972.
Industry associations are the real killer these days. I won’t name names, but there has been an increasing number of bureaus, boards and associations — most with membership fees — crossing my radar, none of which are worth attending for free (in my snobbish opinion) let alone pay for. Hey, if it’s an international standards committee and the company needs to engage in arm wrestling to establish some tech spec as the de factor or de jure standard, great, sign us up. But if it’s the Society of Corporate Underachieving Marketers (SCUM), devoted to “a knowledge exchange between like-minded individuals in a secure community environment” I rather contract a case of jock itch (and why do I despise the term “like minded?” Perhaps its because of a former Teutonic boss, the perfect James Bond villain — up there with Blofeld — who used the phrase in every other speech and pronounced it “wike-minded”) or join the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes.
So, save the invite. I am not going to my boss to ask for $5,000 to join a dinner club to discuss stuff I know about with other people who may not know the same stuff. I keep my recipes to myself or blog about them here.