“Throwin a Train Wreck” – Or, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”


Lately I’ve been contemplating the consequences of being a change agent in Rotary.  For the past decade I have taught our President-Elects the mantra, “If it ain’t broke….break it!” Meaning, Rotary Club Presidents take on the unique role of looking at their club differently from their peers, even though they are “of” their club.  It’s quite a challenge to separate yourself from your friends and fellow Rotarians to actively look for the flaws in your club with the goal of improving it, especially if you love your Rotary club.  I like to say that one of the hardest jobs for a Club President is “to love your club a little less.”  It’s not an easy thing to do, especially when all you know about Rotary you learned in your club.

Of course, the consequences of trying to improve your club, or your District, can be really good, or really bad, especially when you consider that no one is usually begging you to change the status quo.  To put it delicately, some Rotarians love the way we’ve done things in the past more than life itself, and if you make a change you are likely to (to put it indelicately) piss someone off.  That is why being a change agent in a Rotary club takes vision, character, skill, and above all….COURAGE.  Unfortunately for me,  this morning I’m feeling like I may be lacking a little in all of the above.

As befitting my mood, here’s a video by someone called Ruby Gloom that is absolutely, amazingly, dark.  How fun!  If you are a club or District Leader and are inclined to view the glass as half empty this morning, then check this out.

If you want to do further research into Ruby Gloom videos ( I didn’t) you might want to check out other titles like Grounded in Gloomsville, I’ll be Home for Misery, and Misery Loves Company.  Oh come on.  I can’t keep publishing “Shake It Off” videos by Taylor Swift and keep my credentials as your hard hitting Ready, Fire, Aim reporter.

So what is causing so much angst this morning?  District 7620 has participated in the Chesapeake PETS for several years now.  For remedial readers, PETS stands for President Elect Training Seminars.  Chesapeake PETS is a major event where four Rotary districts send their soon-to-be club leaders to be trained.  In the past, in our District, we have billed clubs for the registration cost of PETS and our District Secretary, the long-suffering, highly skilled, not to mention beautiful, Sherry Whitworth, (not that I’m sucking up or anything) collects the money and registers all the participants for PETS.  This is an incredible waste of her time and apparently across the country almost no other  District handles PETS registration in this way.  Instead, clubs and club President-Elects go directly to the PETS website and register themselves.  For other Districts this system works well as PEs are expected to handle this detail like the club leader they will soon be.  It made sense to me that this year our District will do the same.  Our PEs will also be asked, for the first time, to handle their own PETS registration.

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?  (cue Train wreck song again.)

To answer my own question, here is a recently received mail from someone much smarter than me with more institutional knowledge of what has gone on in the past in District 7620:

“Wow, I thought that lesson had been painfully learned.  When tried before the confusion was legendary,  chasing unpaid, no shows, late (but my Club paid, and on and on), as previous chairs could attest.  As an SAA previously charged with rounding up no pays, I await this decision with FEAR in my heart.”

Oh My!  Steady, Ken.  Steady.  We can do this.

Here’s the good news.  This Chesapeake PETS will be great.  Well run.  Interesting.  Informative.  Necessary.  So to finish this post on a positive note, not withstanding all of the whining and handwringing, here are two people you really should meet.  First up is Eric Grubb, long standing Chair of the Chesapeake PETS, and next up is Mary Nagle, Co-Chair of the District 7620 training team.  They both are committed to making this a fantastic event.


What do you think?  Was changing our registration procedure for this year’s PETS a good idea?  Let us know.


One thought on ““Throwin a Train Wreck” – Or, “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

  1. First, on a positive note, the Chesapeake PETS I attended last year was wonderful. I got to meet a lot of fellow PEs and get some great (or so I thought) ideas for revitalizing our Club. The keynoters were exceptional and inspiring.

    Bottom line: it was worth it. I was also pleasantly surprised when my only outlay was the $10 for parking.

    It’s also worth a note that the District Conference is “pay-as-you-go”. The individuals attending have to reserve their hotel room and pay for it, register for the conference and pay for it, and so on. Even with the Club picking up the tab by way of reimbursing the Club member (thus, cutting down on the no pays), the member pays up front.

    To your larger point of being a change agent:

    Sure, you can put a great positive spin on how change agents help with revitalizing a Club (or District) or increase the amount of good we do in the world and yadda, yadda, yadda.

    The truth is that changing an ingrained, long standing Club culture takes more than courage. It takes an almost inhuman ability to withstand criticism and persist in the face of solid and robust opposition. It also takes longer than a year.

    You need more than two or three people to support you and even if you find two or three people, they also need the courage and fortitude to persist in the face of the overwhelming inertia and outright resistance.

    Of course, there is always the chance that your ideas aren’t that great. 🙂

    Just my $.02

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