There’s a laundry list of reasons you should join a professional organization, and you can probably guess many of them—networking, getting continuing education, and keeping up with industry news, just to name a few.

But the primary reason you should make this kind of investment comes down to this: In your career, you can stagnate, or you can thrive.

Stagnating, or becoming obsolete, doesn’t take much effort at all. Spend your energy complaining about everything that’s wrong with your company, boss, and job, and refuse to learn anything new, and your potential will come to a screeching halt.

Thriving, however, takes some energy—but it’s the only way to keep your career moving on a path toward advancement and success. A professional organization can help you thrive in several distinct ways.

Thrive by Learning

You may already have a college degree—but that degree is just the beginning of your education. Professional organizations can provide a wealth of educational resources through online materials and ongoing training opportunities.

Sure, you can certainly access materials like that on your own, but a professional organization ups the convenience by bringing the information to your fingertips via online libraries and regular email digests.

Also, larger organizations usually host conferences every year or two, which offer several days’ worth of workshops, breakout sessions, keynote addresses, demonstrations, and more. For some professions, continuing education is required and can be easily obtained by attending one of these conferences. But even if your career field doesn’t require ongoing education, you should require it of yourself to stay current and competitive.

Smaller, local organizations may also host conferences, though they may not draw the big-name speakers or the breadth of topics you’d find at a large event. But, they usually carry a much smaller price tag and provide a more intimate setting for connecting with others.

Thrive by Building Relationships

You’ve heard before how important networking is, but unless networking is your superpower (in which case—congratulations!), striking up conversations with strangers can be difficult.

But professional organizations provide a convenient, completely non-awkward reason and opportunity to connect. If you participate even minimally in your organization, you’d have a hard time not meeting at least one other person.

And as Devora Zack suggests in her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking, volunteering in various roles within an organization or at an event provides an additional reason to chat up other members.

Thrive by Staying Abreast of Important Changes

It’s hard to thrive when you don’t understand opportunities, limitations, or updates within your field. Professional organizations make it easier to stay informed about what’s going on in your industry.

Consider Texas, where the last legislative session created more opportunities for licensed professional counselors to contract with public schools. This was great news for counselors in private practice, but not necessarily front-page fodder for many media outlets.

But, if you were a part of the Texas Counseling Association, you’d be in the know—because that organization communicated with its members throughout the entire legislative process.

Thrive by Staying Aware of Opportunities

Most professional organizations—particularly on the state and national level—offer online job boards that only members can access. That means as a member, you can avoid sifting through the one-size-fits-all black holes of online job boards. Instead, you’ll have access to an exclusive list of all the relevant openings in your field.

And thanks to the networking and continuing education opportunities available through your organization, whenever you come across an appealing new opportunity, you’ll be a knowledgeable, competitive candidate.

Thrive by Building Your Skills

Professional organizations can also provide opportunities for you to build your reputation and portfolio, while offering value to the organization.

Are you a whiz at building websites? Offer to create one for the group, and then put it on your resume and link to it on your personal site. Do you have strong writing and communication skills? Start a newsletter or a blog (or both!) for your local chapter.

Opportunities like these can be building blocks for you to hone your skills and get noticed at a higher level as you build your network and experience.

Remember, you can stagnate or you can thrive. Why not thrive in good company?

Photo of walking man courtesy of Shutterstock.