A Story of Two Goals – AT Vs. CAE

​Set the clock to 2007, I was finally hitting my stride at the association I was working at, and grasping what it meant to be a true association professional. I was loving work, but also loving my biggest hobby at the time, hiking. 

I was seriously considering making an attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail end to end, and I was also slowly earning credits toward my CAE certification. I thought to myself “The CAE is a great goal for professional development & something to go for now that I’m done with college…. but hiking the AT would be something only a select few have accomplished and would be a cathartic experience”. 

Fast forward to now. Two days ago I received notification from ASAE that I had passed the December CAE exam!!! Was I ecstatic? Did I jump up and down and call my Mom? Of course I did! This was something to celebrate. Have I hiked the Appalachian trail yet? Nope. 

But that is okay. Looking back, there are some big similarities and differences between the two goals. Similarities:

  • Require a large amount of training & planning
  • Require a large time commitment to execute
  • They are both something that not many people have finished
  • Both give you an edge for life


  • The process of working towards the CAE has surrounded me with many great people. Study peers and mentors have become my friends (for life). Hiking the AT is a solo experience.
  • “Coming out of the woods” of CAE exam preparation has left me better positioned to be a better professional and leader in the association community. Coming out of the woods at the end of the Appalachian trail would have left me bearded and probably using single word sentences.
  • Reading accounts of AT thru hikers, many experience a sense of loss and depression once the goal has been reached. Many wonder what to do next. On the other hand, people who have attained their CAE left them excited about the future and anxious to help people and work into leadership capacity.

I know this is a little simplistic, and perhaps maybe I will hike the AT someday, but I have no doubt that I am going through these goals in the right order. The CAE is leaving me better prepared to take on the world, help people along the way, nurture my newfound relationships, and of course – have fun doing it. 

In conclusion, a few thanks are in order: 

My parents. After all, they taught me the definition of AWESOME! 
My peers at NimbleUser. They have continued to support me through this journey, which I’m sure is just beginning. 
The staff of ESSAE and the deans of the ALA (Association Leadership Academy). Their encouragement through the years kept me on track. 
Rita Ferris, CAE, the Executive Director from NRLA. She mentored me through my tenure there and supported my initial efforts to become an association professional. 
Kiki Li’Talien from Delcor. I see Kiki and her tenacity in the association world, her ability to network, learn, and motivate others, and I couldn’t help but be inspired. 

Take care everyone, 

Garry Polmateer, CAE ;) 

Product Manager 
Certified Salesforce Administrator & Consultant 
Follow me on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/DarthGarry 

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