Earlier this month I attended PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. It was my third, and my favorite so far (I say that every year). Among the many activities I got to participate in, I was interviewed for PASStv. (Look for me on day one!)

One of the questions the host asked me was, “How did you get here?” He wasn’t asking if I flew or just put on my running shoes and ran for a couple days. He was asking how I got to be where I am in the community – a blogger, a speaker, a chapter leader.

I wanted to think about this longer. I wanted to mention specific names. But I didn’t have the time. To sum up: it was the people that encouraged me.

Once upon a time, I wasn’t a blogger. I wasn’t a speaker. I was an “IT Support Technician” who wanted to be a DBA. I wrote reports in SSRS. I read a lot of books and blogs and went to user group meetings, hoping to learn everything I could. And then, people asked me to do more. (I blame Twitter.)

Someone suggested that instead of just reading blogs, perhaps I should start one. I wasn’t sure about this. What was I going to blog about, that hadn’t already been blogged about? What was I going to say, that hadn’t already been said?

But I started a blog. The first year of writing was terrible – but I got better. I found my voice. I found plenty of topics to write about. I learned a lot. I had an editor that read posts to make sure everything was accurate. And four years and hundreds of blogs later, I still love writing.

Then someone suggested I should give a presentation. I’m not afraid to get up in front of hundreds of people and talk, but doing so on a technical topic scared me senseless. People in the audience were going to know more than I did. They were going to ask me questions I didn’t know the answer to.

But I did it anyway. I had people behind me the entire way: offering to listen to me practice, giving me constructive criticism, helping me be a better speaker. And three years and dozens of talks later, I still love presenting.

All of this has taken me places I wouldn’t have imagined. I have a kick-ass job. I am a book author. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit multiple times. I’ve founded two user groups. I’ve been asked for advice on blogging, speaking, consulting, and more.

If you are considering any community involvement: go for it. If you want to learn more, if you want more job opportunities, if you want your career to take off: take that first step.

Offer to give a 15-minute talk to a local user group about something you think is cool, and ask for feedback afterwards. Start a WordPress blog, have someone proofread your first blog, and then post it. If you attend your local user group, and the leader asks for help, “Fill the gap” (to quote Erin Stellato). Volunteer for the PASS program committee or a virtual chapter. When you go to a forum to get an answer, find a question you know the answer to – and post it. Help someone else. Educate someone else.

Take the first step.

You have no idea where it will take you.