Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Comparison Game

I hope that you all have had a restful holiday and have begun to feel the benefits of the break from classes. I, too, have had a break from USD. And, while I miss the hustle and bustle of my work life, it has been good to spend time with family. The Womack family celebrates Christmas in 3 parts... One with my husband's extended family, one with our family of 4, and one with my extended family. I would describe Joy as a theme of each of those celebrations. Yes, there is stress and work and worry, but those negatives all slip away to the Joy of what Christmas means to us and the time spent with those  whose stories are woven with ours. This year, as we were in the midst of our 3rd part, this quotation came to mind...
As my mother modeled for me, I model for my children that "my job is to spoil them". Gifts given were probably too excessive, but the giving brings me joy. As we were finishing unwrapping gifts, my youngest asked, "Grammie, is that Megan's best gift?" Zoe had asked for an American Girl doll and, as only a grandmother would do, received it. She loved it from the moment she opened it - it sat on her lap as she navigated the other presents. She was happy beyond measure. Then it hit her... What had her sister received? Was it better than the doll she loved? Grammie, no amateur at the parenting game, just smiled and said, "Megan's main gift was her boots. Tell me more about your doll's outfit." She saw it coming, the comparison between siblings had the potential to steal away the moment of pure joy.

Don't we do the same in our organizations? Our philanthropy was the MOST fun. We had the BEST formal. We are friends with the BEST fraternity. What does all of that mean? As a community, we allow ourselves to get caught up in the comparison game. Recruitment is just around the corner - and we see it here the most. Each of our organizations has something great to offer. Being who you are, and being comfortable with that, is what matters. It isn't about the organization that you perceive yourself to be competing with, it is about your group. The joy of fraternity membership is stolen when you start to compare yourself against other groups.

And, let's be honest, we are also doing this at an individual level. I know it. I see you in the SLIC. I see you walking by Olin. We are counting who has more friends, better times on the weekend, more Instagram likes, better hair, a better body, invitations to the most date events, a shout out on USD Compliments. It is everywhere. We spend too much time comparing ourselves to others. And, too much time letting that comparison be the thief of joy. For the past year, I have been writing here and working with students individually to help them believe the message of, "You Are Enough". A friend of mine had shared a story with me at a conference in December of 2011 that included that message. When I reflected on this, it hit me - this is what people need to believe about themselves. We need to know it as a part of the fabric of who we are. And, once we do, we need to be able to answer the question of "Why?" (But that is a different post for a different day.) Comparison eats away at the belief that You Are Enough. It is the thief of Joy.

Your organization chose YOU because of who you are. Your organization is an essential part of our community because YOU are in it. As you re-group and prepare to return in January, focus on those truths. And, fight the urge to measure against others. "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Standing In Awe

Kyle Pendleton, Shelley Brown-Dobek, Doug Case and me on stage. 

Today I am having lunch with a former student who has become a friend. It really is one of the best parts about being an advisor for people in the college years... They grow up, get jobs, find partners and you were there to see it all begin, grow, develop.

Earlier this month, I had a similar experience at the annual meeting of the professional association I belong to. This time, though, I was the student. It has been nearly 20 years since I sat in my advisor's office asking questions, developing plans, and figuring out who I was going to be post-college. During that time, and regularly since then, he has been a listening ear and a resource. More importantly, he has been my friend. What a sense of completeness I had as I realized that I was mentoring and caring for others as I had been (and still am) mentored and cared for. At the close of my conference, my Greek Advisor received an award that I would equate to the Gold Medal of Fraternity Advising. I had the honor of introducing him alongside one of my closest friends. Below is the text of what I shared as I introduced Doug... My friend.

The Robert H. Shaffer award is presented annually to an individual in the field of higher education who has demonstrated a long-term commitment to fraternities and sororities. I am honored to be able to introduce the 2012 recipient tonite. Doug Case has a legacy of work demonstrating his commitment to fostering positive change in the fraternity and sorority community, building partnerships in higher education and the interfraternal community, and mentoring both new and seasoned professionals and, tonite, we celebrate him.

It is difficult to know what to say about a colleague that has mentored, guided and inspired you for 20 years. I met Doug as a 19 year old Panhellenic Executive Board officer at San Diego State University. Like all good student leaders, I was scared and intimidated of “Doug”. In fact, for the first 6 months, I am not 100% sure he spoke to me. Over the last 2 years of my college career, I worked closely with Doug, often seeing him daily in what was then the Housing and Residence Life Office. It seems that now would be the time to insert a fantastic photo of one of Doug’s famous colorful sweaters or the comb he always had in his pocket, but this was a time when camera’s had real film. Phones were on desks with a curling cord. And, for the peace of mind of those involved, many things were not captured on film. Doug, you’re welcome.

As an undergraduate, Doug was my advisor, but more significantly, my supporter and my sounding board. Upon entering graduate school and then my professional position, he maintained all three of these roles. Doug was ever available for small questions like “How do you run a grade report?” and larger ones like “What do I do now?” after I walked in on a hazing incident in a classroom. Doug taught me two important lessons, that this work can be a career and that this work can be a vocation. And, please make no mistake that those are two distinctive lessons. Doug’s work inspires vocation. It is a quiet humility that approaches students and colleagues to move us forward toward the common good of fraternity life.

In our work we deal with some of the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow. One of my most vivid memories of Doug was his speech in awarding the chapter president of the year award at our Greek Awards Banquet. He said, “An advisor never wants to hear the phone ring in the middle of the night, but when it is the campus police calling to report a student death it is unthinkable.” In my 21 year old state of mind, it had not occurred to me that an advisor would be grieving the same way that we did as students. In that moment of humanness, he showed me what care and compassion looked like in this work. In one of his nomination letters, our friend and colleague Kim Braun Padulo shared about Doug’s mentoring, advocacy and work for the LGBTQ community. She closed by saying, “Scores of fraternity and sorority members have benefitted from his leadership, whether they know it or not.”

As we celebrate you tonite, Doug, I could not agree with her more. In our work, the efforts we extend can be exhausting and tiring. Sometimes, those efforts are exceedingly repetitive. But, it is life-giving to know that maybe, just maybe, I am allowing someone one of those moments that you have provided so generously to me over the past 20 years.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Made A Decision by: Jen Gabrielli '11

I have hated making decisions throughout my entire life. I grew up using a process of elimination to make decisions easier – and most of the time I tried to pass off the responsibility and have someone else decide for me. I wore school uniforms from preschool to high school, where my biggest decision was whether to wear a skirt or shorts. I would walk past the ice cream freezers at Baskin Robbins multiple times before I even had my top three picked out. I wish I could say I’ve completely outgrown my tendency to avoid making decisions, but even choosing which of these topics to write about involved a process of elimination and a phone consultation in order to validate my decision.  

It comes down to this: making a decision means you’re taking responsibility for something. Whether it’s deciding what to wear or where to live, you’re taking part in molding your future. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. You can thoroughly research the consequences, talk to experts, let a topic marinate in your mind for week, and still not be able to predict with absolute certainty what the outcome will be. Many times I’ve brought the best intentions to a situation only to murk it up even worse than how I found it. And other times I don’t even know I’m making a decision, yet that choice turns out to be life changing. When I’m running five minutes late and pass an accident on the road, I think about how lucky I was to be late because that totaled car could have been mine.

Eventually, by holding multiple leadership positions in high school and at USD, I stopped avoiding responsibility and started looking forward to it. I became someone others looked to for advice. So I helped tackle their decisions the way I tackled my own – made lists, talked out the possible options, and looked for the solution with the most beneficial impact. I’ve learned to prioritize decisions; for example, fighting a roommate about doing their dishes? Not a hill you want to die on. Fighting an unfair grade? That’s worth it. Instead of hating all decisions, I’ve learned how to choose which decisions to focus on and which to let go of.

You won’t always be able to know all of the consequences before they happen; sometimes things are out of your control. That’s when you have to tell yourself that you’ve made the most informed decision you could, and let that be enough. There’s power in letting go, people. By simply making a decision, I no longer have a cloud following me around, waiting for me to choose. If I’ve made the wrong decision, then I have to accept the responsibility; if I made the right one, then I get all the glory. But since I will never be able to see the future, I can only trust my instincts, hope that I’m choosing correctly, make a choice, and let go. 

“I made a decision.”

Autonomy transforms any activity from a chore to an act of destiny.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I Don't Care by: Katie Schoblaske '12

“I don’t care.”

Being able to discern between what’s important and what’s trivial is a skill that will save your sanity and your schedule.

We all get to the point of exhaustion. With the sheer load of stressors we put on ourselves, it is bound to happen sooner than later. Whether it is a pop quiz, a forgotten meeting, or a deleted email, it only takes a grain of rice to tip the scale and reach a breaking point. For me, it was a math problem that made me break into tears. Was it solely the frustrating fractions that caused this to happen? Doubtful.

This is when I had to take to heart what the graph shows, and realize the stressors in my life, and all of our lives as college students, are acting as a parasite on our ability to function. Deciding what is trivial and what is important in our lives is never an easy task. However, this thought provoking decision can result in the removal of the excess baggage and allow commitment to aspects of our lives we truly love. Sometimes, it is necessary to tell yourself you don’t care about a few trivial things in order to understand how much you really care about everything else.

Real life lessons.