Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Voice of an Alumna

This week's post comes from an alumna that always makes me smile and filled my days with laughter during her tenure at USD. Parisa is a small woman with a powerful voice that she continues to use to make the world a better place. What a gift that she was willing to share her thoughts on "What did being a sorority member teach you?" I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did - both in living it and reading it now. Cheers!

            Ever since watching Legally Blonde as a young girl I knew I wanted to follow Elle’s footsteps and become President of my sorority then go on to law school. I actually did accomplish both goals. During formal recruitment freshman year at USD I fell in love with Alpha Phi; the members, the philanthropy and of course their fabulous room decorations and songs. Funny thing looking back now that I am attending law school in New Orleans, one of the days of recruitment the Alpha Phis were dressed in Mardi Gras colors. Even my Alpha Phi days were foreshadowing my eventual move to Louisiana.
            From the beginning I became involved in everything I could. Fall of my junior year I went abroad to Florence, Italy. As much as I enjoyed the food, the culture, the travelling around and the fact that I was living in Europe for four months, I missed the sense of belonging and community that Alpha Phi had provided for me. It was then that my decision to run for President became definite.
            Being President of a sorority is a challenging yet rewarding job. Actually it’s a cross between a job and being a mother type figure (kind of like Dorota in Gossip Girl-I really hope I’m not too old that making Gossip Girl references has become irrelevant). Not only are you managing the Executive board, overseeing the other officers, and looking out for the well-being and morale of the general chapter, you also are on call at all hours of the day and night in case someone needs you. If a chapter member gets sick during an event you are the one responsible to pick her up from detox. If a member needs someone to confide in with an issue that they aren’t ready to open up to their friends about yet, you are the one there for her. If a member needs a place to crash at the beach for the night, you are there for her. The list is ongoing and no matter how much you want to go back to bed when you get that 3 AM phone call from a chapter member, you are the first to be there for her.  In addition not only are you responsible to your own chapter, but you also need to check in with the chapter advisors, the USD Greek advisor (the wonderful Mandy Womack who served as my personal therapist during my year as President), and the Alpha Phi International office. It was a year of growing up. I as a 21-year-old individual was responsible for the lives of all of these young women. If I did not fully execute my responsibilities I would personally be held liable as well as the sorority itself.
            I met so many people and made so many friends who are still important in my life within the chapter and outside the chapter. One of the most proud moments of my life was the day at the Alpha Phi International Conference where I was handed the Eta Rho flag and lined up to walk into the room where the International President, board members, and the incredible woman who had memorized the ENTIRE initiation ritual were waiting. I couldn’t believe that I was there representing my chapter among all these other women who had accomplished so much. Sisterhood is not just within your own chapter; sisterhood expands to every woman who knows that secret handshake and that secret password. It also extends to other Greeks. It is a special and unique bond that you simply cannot describe to a non-Greek member. Just last weekend I was at a sorority sister’s wedding and could not stop talking to Jenna, who is a new chapter advisor about what is going on in the chapter and who is planning on running for which position in the upcoming election. Her saint like non-Greek fiancĂ© stood there and gave his input as well, showing that Alpha Phi becomes a lifestyle for all of those close to you in your life.
            Joining Alpha Phi was the absolute best decision of my life I have ever made. Being an Alpha Phi was not just my four years of undergrad, it is now and forever a part of me. I know that today I am a better, stronger, well rounded, and more responsible woman because of the lessons Alpha Phi taught me from being a better listener to giving back to the community. I will always cherish each and every memory I made during those four magical years and continue to live out the ideals Alpha Phi instilled in me.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Voice of an Alumnus

This weekend, we welcome back alumni and alumnae from USD to Homecoming. As I look back on my 18 years of serving this community, there are many alums that come to mind as I consider the work of making men and women "better" through the fraternity/sorority experience. I have invited a few of them to share about their experience. The first is an alumnus that I met during my first few years as a Greek Advisor. I have since had the pleasure of watching him circle back to USD as an advisor. Geno brought a sense of kindness and laughter to every group he led as an undergraduate... His reflection certainly matches my memory of his tenure at USD. Delt was, for him, a place to belong and grow as a leader. For that, I am proud.

Without a doubt, my decision to go Greek shaped who I am today.  As a freshman at USD, I encountered a lot of new experiences, both good and bad.  Like most people my age, I was looking for something to enhance my college experience (parties, a sense of brotherhood, and opportunities to socialize with the fairer sex).  At the same time, I also wanted to join something where I could be myself and have a sense of belonging.  Obviously, I got much more than what I was initially looking for.  

I joined Delta Tau Delta as a sophomore and right away, I felt empowered to contribute something right away.  I held a variety of positions within the chapter and on IFC, as I really enjoyed ALL aspects of Greek life.  Looking at my overall experience as a Delt, I met people I probably wouldn’t have ever met anywhere else or even be friends with had we not shared the bond of being brothers.  However, the uniqueness of my chapter allowed me to be associated with men from all walks of life (different social backgrounds, military experience, ethnicities, and even sexual orientation).  Being part of a Greek organization is not always a rose garden, as there are hurdles to overcome when working with a group of 30 odd college age males.  Dealing with different personalities, working with people from different organizations, and compromising for the greater good, were all obstacles I encountered.  

Greek life is truly a "get out what you put in" type of experience, and my involvement in my chapter gave me an invaluable lesson in organizational leadership.  It allowed me to work for my chapter’s national headquarters after graduation and also assist me with my job search.  Networking is key to all aspects of your professional life and my Greek experience gave me a head start in networking.  Years later, I continue to apply all these lessons to my current job.  

My Greek experience continues to have a lasting impact on my life.  Some of my best friends today are Delts.  I married of my fraternity brothers’ sister (an ADPi from USC).  Living in San Diego, we both volunteered as advisors to our respective chapters at USD.  And joyfully, my wife and I have two Delt legacies.  When it comes time to talk to my sons about college and Greek life, I will of course tell them to check out the Delts.  But most importantly, I will stress to them that should they decide to go Greek, they need to find a group of men that they are most comfortable with and will offer them the best experience not only during their time in college but afterwards.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Natural Consequences

July 2013 brought a sad lesson to the Womack home. The teen Womack, while visiting her Grandmother, lost her 2 week old retainer. Newly freed teeth from the confines of braces were suddenly without the orthodontist's only "rule" - wear this retainer unless you are eating. She sent me a panicky text, knowing it was a big deal. I then called the orthodontist and found out that there was
nothing to be done on a Thursday afternoon when the patient was in Orange County. Further, they were closed on Friday and would not be able to see her until Monday. I explained that Meg was scheduled to be out of town for a week serving as a camp counselor. After conferral with the doctor, the decision was made - Monday appointment it was!

Unfortunately, going to camp late was not an option. Meg had to cancel her plans and miss the week of serving as a counselor. She was disappointed. But, in fairness, she wasn't angry. With the newly freed teeth, she had to have the retainer. Not going to camp was a natural consequence of her leaving it on a napkin in a restaurant. The nicest part, from a parent perspective, was that there was no need to talk it through or punish the behavior - she got it. Her actions had a direct consequence.

The last two weekends have brought a similar fate to some of our community. Some of our organizations have found the buses that are picking up and dropping off in Mission from registered
social events are being greeted by SDPD. The overnight parking lot has been filled with more than a few citations for Minor in Consumption/Minor in Possession as our members are travelled to and fro in a variety of costumes. These citations require an appearance in court and some significant financial cost. The response from our community has been interesting to watch.

This week alone, three different staff or student leaders have told me that they heard that I was calling SDPD to alert them to the bus locations and times. (Side note: Not true for anyone working at USD.) Several student leaders have been indignant that the police department were infringing upon their rights and demanded something be done about it. One idea has included having an attorney present. The chapter advisors group gathered this week and we discussed the citations issued over the past two weekends. After hearing it all, the response was that this was a natural consequence. If students choose to drink underage, it is a risk. It is illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21, and while we focus a lot of our energy on educating our members on responsible drinking, it is breaking the law. So, another lesson of natural consequences - if you chose to drink underage, you also have to find yourself in a place where if you get a citation you are disappointed, but not angry.

As you read and think through this, I would like to leave you with another Womack home truth... "Don't blame other people for your problems." Works for the teen, works for our community.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Liar, Liar! Pants on Fire!

Wasn't life easier when we played by playground rules and when someone told a big, fat lie we just screamed, "Liar, liar! Pants on fire!"?

Life has become so much more complex.

This is an area of growing discussion around the Womack house. It seems that the youngest of my offspring has discovered one of life's universal truths: If you are trustworthy, it is easy to lie and get away with it. She has also realized another important fact: When you are caught telling a lie, no one trusts you to tell the truth in the future. Imagine a peaceful Saturday morning. The sun has just come up and a sweet little voice is inches from my face as I sleep in my bed. I hear, "Mom, can I watch TV?" I am instantly awake. Not so much from the noise, but from the overwhelming scent of chocolate that has invaded my personal space. "Little one, why are you eating chocolate so early and without permission?" The response, "I'm not." We recently had the two small boys of our dear friends over for an afternoon. One came racing around the corner following a visit to the bathroom. "Did you wash your hands?" The response, "Yup, Ms. Mandy." When I asked to see his hands, he hightailed it right back into the sink. In both of these relationships, I now look twice. I know that Z sneaks candy and I know that A doesn't like to wash his hands. I am sure both had previously done both things... probably many times.

It is a problem that plagues the best (and most innocent) among us. And, well, those that are not quite so young and innocent.

I encountered several moments this week around this topic and, trust me, it is complex. It is a complex, tangled mess. I share with you this fact about me, but in a non self-righteous way: I very rarely lie. I have MANY bad habits, but lying is not one of them. Early on I learned that if you don't want to say the answer to something, you just tell the person, "I am not comfortable/ready/wanting to talk about that." I find that it is so much easier than creating a habit that requires me to remember who I told what to when. The moments of this week involved some of those direct choices to tell the truth or lie, but also several were more subtle. They were the lies that involve the omission of facts. You know the scenario I mean, right? Answers to questions that are not false, but also not the entire story. Some days I feel like conversations are a treasure map and that if I find enough clues I can get to what I am seeking.

We are organizations built on values like truth, honor, and integrity. How do we hold the reality of our world with the reality of what we pledged to uphold at initiation? As we grow as a community, can we challenge ourselves to grow individually? Perhaps it is around big issues, or perhaps it is around smaller things. Either way, challenge yourself to not lie the next time someone asks a question you don't want to answer. Don't allow yourself to be sucked into the world of pretending things are bigger and better than what you are. You were selected to join your organization because they liked YOU for who YOU ARE.

And, I may just try to bring back the "Pants on fire!" taunt if I catch you. ;)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bumper Sticker Living

This is a glorious picture that I found with a quick Google search. There is a car that parks on one of the main streets in my neighborhood that has a similar look. I wish I was bold enough to pull over and take a high quality picture. Each time I see it, I have the same reaction to the image below, "Wow - this person has a lot to express." As I take in this image, there are messages of being fiscally conservative, images of women in the American flag, an outline of our country filled with a rainbow flag, a message to keep abortion legal, a commitment to music, a few shout outs to spirituality and science... Whoa. That is a lot as you are driving your truck around town. 

I believe it was during my partner's tenure as a Seminary student that we pulled up to the light at Garnet in PB behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, "Libraries Change Lives". He started laughing and asked if I thought that he should change his graduate work to being a librarian. Cheeky. What a powerful statement that fit on such a little sticker. Really - this person had a strong opinion. They were passionate enough to find/receive a bumper sticker and then take the time to actually apply it to their car. All I know about them is this statement. The whole thing got me thinking... Are we more than Bumper Sticker Living? Or, is our entire world view opinion summed up in a clever statement that we put out to others? Two main concepts trouble me about this phenomenon.

Bumper Sticker Living does not invite explanation or rationale. Do we interact in a world where our total sentiment is expressed in a sentence and possibly a graphic? Where cliches are the go-to for explaining complex and deep issues? When we wear a shirt, make a Facebook post, tweet at someone - these allow others to make leaps and decisions based on how they interpret us. If I follow that train of logic, I end up not really being able to full share my thoughts or opinions. Bumper sticker living keeps us from sharing, but also from hearing others.

Which brings me to #2 - Bumper Sticker Living limits our action. As we talk about leadership, we often/always talk about change. If I am communicating with others via sound bytes, how can we ever collaborate and develop a sense of commonality that brings change. I was talking with a student today about the difference between sympathy (I feel bad for you), empathy (I feel bad with you), and compassion (I feel called to action). I know that we, as a Fraternity and Sorority Community, can embrace the approach of compassion - it just requires more than Bumper Sticker Living.

As I close out today, I am mindful of all that has changed in our world since September 11, 2001. I know that you all have a lot to say - just like my neighbor and their car. As we remember those that sacrificed and were killed 12 years ago, I hope that we embrace our freedom to create a world that stops at what fits on a bumper sticker. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Foil

Yesterday was the first day of classes here at USD for the Fall semester. (Hence my delay in posting for this week.) I spent much of the day greeting students who were excited to be back in this element. Pleased to see their friends after a summer away. Eager for what this next term holds. I, too, was filled with a sense of energy and excitement as we officially "opened" another year at USD. Just before 11am, I was reminded of a concept I had considered the week before - the concept of a foil.

Definition of Foil: A foil is generally a character whose traits emphasize the strengths of another character, usually the protagonist. For example, the often short-sighted opinions of Dr. Watson emphasize the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes. Less usual is a plot foil, a subplot that contrasts with the main plot and brings it into sharper focus. The light-hearted romance between Nerissa and Gratiano in The Merchant of Venice highlights the more serious courtship of Portia and Bassanio. The term "foil" comes from the practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more. (
Just as I was walking into my 11am meeting, my partner called my cell phone. Since this is not a typical thing, I paused outside the door of my meeting to answer. He had just finished a pastoral visit with our friends. He was letting me know that within 24 hours, our friend would be going into surgery to remove a baseball size brain tumor that was unknown to anyone just 36 hours earlier. Sadness, fear, grief all gripped me in that moment. A foil to all of the excitement and light around me.

Last week, I received a call from a friend who is volunteering with a suicide crisis hotline. There had been a particularly difficult call. A variety of emotions were competing for attention - sadness, empathy, compassion, pride and happiness. The outcome was a foil to the knowledge that my friend had done good work, said the right things, and was resting in the reality that there was not more that a person could do.

This concept is where I rest this week. Where does the bad sharpen the image of the good? Does it make it sweeter, sharper, more real? Does all that is around you draw out your strengths as a leader? As we seek to bring change to the world, does our passion and intensity contrast the complacency of others? 

As we engage the world around us, I wholeheartedly believe - YES! As we celebrate together, we also prepare for discourse. As we work to grow and learn, we may argue and grow frustrated. That is our foil as organizations. As individuals, you may be elected to the position you have dreamed of while your parents announce a divorce. You achieve a 4.0 only to discover betrayal from a loved one. This is the foil of individuals. But, we are here together to reflect that greater light... The "practice of placing a piece of metallic foil under a gemstone to make it appear to shine more."

Blessings to you all, my friends, as we begin a semester together.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Celebrating Your Craft

There is a moment of perfect peace that overcomes me when I am in the presence of someone who is excellent at their craft (skilled work, product, talent). Yesterday brought the completion of a 2 day training for Emerging Leader course Instructors.  At the suggestion of a colleague, a person I didn't know was secured to train the group on the process of facilitation. Grace was outstanding. An intriguing mix of gentle and authoritative; open to possibilities and directed. Watching her deliver her session was a moment of perfect peace. She is excellent at her craft and it was a pleasure to experience it.

I have always had a "wish" to be truly excellent at something. (I am sure someone can analyze my first-born, hyper-achieving statement...) Don't get me wrong, I am good (some days great) at a lot of things. But, I mean truly excellent. When I watch a professional athlete this often comes to mind for me. What would it be like to win a gold medal? Be the winner of Wimbledon? And, I  will continue to wonder since I was the only junior on the frosh/soph tennis team at my high school. (Don't feel too bad for me, I was promoted to JV for my senior year...) While I have not achieved a gold medal (or even a trophy), I have learned a few tricks over the years from watching others.

1. Excellence in your craft comes from hard work. Years ago a family friend married a professional athlete. I was blown away by how many hours were spent not only practicing, but studying old recordings of races and developing new strategies. I suppose my assumption was that after winning a gold medal, that kind of intensity could slow down. The same is true for student leaders. Your fraternity isn't going to stay or become excellent if you sit back and rest. Hard work is essential for developing your sisterhood, your philanthropy event, your recruitment.

2. People who are at the top of their craft have others that inspire them. I have said many times that I am least satisfied/most worried when I am the smartest/most creative/funniest person in the room. Part of being great is recognizing others in that arena. For some this may be in the form of a competitor (Who will be Greek Man of the Year?), for others it is a person that you aspire to become more like (Get to know your chapter advisor!). As leaders, we have to surround ourselves with others that are better than we are. This is how we hone and refine our craft.

3. Those that are the best recognize that there is more to life than their craft. I didn't have a chance to talk to Grace after her presentation, but I would imagine that being an excellent teacher and presenter is not what she uses to define herself. My friend who is an Olympian knows and lives in a way that demonstrates that his family is the most important thing in his life. Finding something that you can excel in is powerful. But, knowing who you are and why you matter is an entirely different topic. The same is true for you as a leader.

So, I leave you with this for consideration: Develop your craft. Know that I am cheering you on as you strive and achieve. And, in honor of "the speech that changed a nation" that was delivered 50 years ago today, reflect on this thought...
“If I cannot do great things, 
I can do small things in a great way” 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Good Enough

Come see this beauty in SLP 301!
"And, I think that's good enough!" Those were the words that passed my lips as I randomly drove three
nails into my office wall to re-hang the 8x10 pictures of my family. Last year when I created the collage, I spent over an hour getting them to align in a perfect square with the exact distance between each of the four frames. The truth of it all - that hour would have been better spent elsewhere.

Yesterday, I sat in a meeting with some of the most engaging and competent professionals I have ever known. We spent about 10 minutes discussing in (excruciating) detail a prize giveaway for an event. When we hit the 10 minute mark, I couldn't contain myself any longer. The statement, "I think we have spent enough energy on this." may or may not have come out of my mouth.

So, my message to you today is this... Know what things in your life are fine to be "good enough". So much time and energy is spent getting little things that don't really matter to be just right. What if we spent time on the things that really matter? Over the course of my many years, here are a few gauges I have developed to discern what can be left at good enough.

  • Will anyone else notice or care? I am brave enough to admit that I often am concerned with things that other people really don't care about. As people, we tend to be a little self-obsessed. (Myself included!) I remember the day that I wore navy blue shoes with an all black outfit. I had two pair that were the same style. When I got to work and realized it, I didn't have time to go home. Do you know who noticed? NO ONE. Did it matter to me? Sure. Did anyone else care, much less notice? Nope.
  • What will happen if this isn't perfect? I mean this sincerely... What will happen? Anything life threatening? Catastrophic? There are some things that we do that really do matter if they are on point (risk management comes to mind...), but many other things are really just not that important. We, as leaders, put that pressure on ourselves. When perfection is our standard, it becomes hard to prioritize the things competing for your attention. We should always strive for excellence, but asking this question is a good measure of what can be left at good enough.
  • Will this matter in 5 years, 5 weeks, 5 minutes? This is a Howard Lee special... Goodness I miss that man and the wisdom that only a father can bring. This question was posed throughout my childhood at every turn. It often got an eye roll response from me, but it is good for perspective. Will it really matter? To whom? For how long?
Cheers to you all as you enjoy these last few weeks of summer!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

For the First Time

Anyone watching Suits on the USA Network? Good, mindless fun. Last week, the episode found an
Associate at the law firm in conversation with a Partner talking about a classic movie that he hadn't seen.  Louis looks at him and boldly states, "You're lucky. You get to see it for the first time."

Isn't that so true. Really great movies can move us in remarkable ways. (Last week's post was about that kind of movie.) You know that moment where you are certain that you have to drag someone else there so you can watch them experience it. I had a similar moment the first time I took my oldest daughter to Disneyland. There is something about fresh eyes seeing something.

A new semester is upon us. Soon hundreds of new freshmen and transfers will join our community. As I consider all that they will experience during their first year as Toreros and their introduction to fraternity and sorority life, I have the same feeling as Louis and want to say to them, "You're lucky. You get to see it for the first time." Recruitment events, learning about new friends, developing the bond of brotherhood, learning the secret rituals of sorority, seeing for the first time what a family away from your family can be.

I joined my sorority 2 weeks before my first semester began. I went through the formal recruitment process, was matched and then headed home to pack up everything. That week at home was good for me. It was a chance to think about all of the people I had met during the process. Honestly, it filled me with a sense of wonder. I was excited for all that was to come when I returned to campus as a freshmen. Finding my classes, learning to navigate the book stacks and find my texts in the bookstore, and figuring out the rhythm of a new roommate that I did not know. These were all firsts that I encountered. Deeper than that, though, was learning what it meant to be in a sorority. Knowing that the friends I made in my new member class were women that I would live with and spent much of my time with for the next 4 years. I remember coming back my sophomore, junior and senior year - the excitement was there, too, but it was for the familiar. There is something ever so special about that first moment.

I often teach a section of the Emerging Leaders course in the fall. We start the first day off with introductions and then I ask, "How many of you are experiencing your first college class right now?" I know, corny. But, there are always a handful that raise their hand. For them, I invite the class to pause. I ask them to look around, take in the classroom, look who is seated in here, and breathe deep. I share with them that, "Never again will you have this moment of starting college. This is a marker moment. One to remember. Take it in and hold onto that feeling." Because they are freshmen and a little uncertain, they all do it. But, there is always at least one who "gets it". They get a little twinkle in their eye and smile. They are the luckiest ones. They understand that they are experiencing it for the first time.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Becoming You: Final Edition & What You Deserve

Last year, I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Someone had seen the movie and loved it, and since my movie going opportunities are limited, I opted for the book. It was a powerful read and a moving coming of age story about three friends and their search for meaning. On my vacation this summer, I finally saw the film. I had to pause it several times to stop and take notes on what was being said. I really would recommend either medium - it is a story of love, adventure, despair, loneliness, betrayal and acceptance. I loved it. It was real, it was raw, and it was painful to watch at times. The dialogue that stood out to me the most was an interaction between Charlie and his teacher. As a freshman in high school trying to figure it all out, he asks one of the few people who has invested in him for some perspective.

Mr. Anderson: "We accept the love we think we deserve."
Charlie: "Can we make them know that they deserve more?"
Mr. Anderson: "We can try."

So, my final question as you are Becoming You is: "Have you thought about what you deserve?"

I see this tying a lot into last week's post. Really, a soul searching question of worth. If we follow the English teacher's logic, are you accepting love? As I consider what I hear and see among you from my seat as your advisor, two things from the movie/book come to mind.

1. Does "finding yourself" mean changing?
Not necessarily. There are so many messages of who you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to own, who you are supposed to admire. Finding your place in all of that is difficult. Some of you joined your organization because you have sisters at home that you miss and thought this would be a good substitute while away at college. Some of you joined your fraternity thinking that this would finally be a place where you can have brothers who care about you. Both are valid, neither needs changing. As the movie comes to a close, Charlie shares this sentiment - "My doctor said we can't choose where we come from, but we can choose where we go from there." For some of us that means change, but for some it does not.

2. Is what I "deserve" now the same as what I hope for in the future?
So here's the thing... We practice for what we ultimately want in life. We set the boundaries for who loves us, how we are treated, and respect. Every single thing that we do impacts the person we are and the person we are becoming. This is why our organizations are based on values. Think about the last time you were at initiation. Those powerful words you heard were a call to action. If you chose to strive for less than that, you are cheating yourself. But, maybe you don't feel like you are there. Is there a question of, "how can I pledge loyalty to others when I gossip about my brothers/sisters?" Maybe it's not even that profound, maybe it's closer to, "how can we be about brotherhood when I've never felt more alone?" There are questions for some of you about whether or not you deserve the love you are offered. Let me be sure to be really clear - You Deserve It All.

Over the years I have had students that I could tell just didn't understand why I would care for them, their well-being, their health. They spent some of their energy trying to figure out if they deserved my care and if they wanted to accept it. In a strange parallel it was a lot like my kids. From time to time (ok, often), my kids will push boundaries. They are testing to see how mean, how negative, how grumpy they can be and still have me love them. They need to be assured that they deserve it. We assure and love them. They accept my love because they know that they deserve it, that they are worthy beings made in the image of God - imperfect, yet loved. This is how our organizations should operate. And, just like Charlie's teacher - we, here at USD, can continue to try to make you know that you deserve it all.

I suppose this isn't really the "final edition", just all that I have planned at this point. I challenge you to spend some time this summer thinking about who you are becoming. It is one of my greatest privileges to be able to walk beside you as you discover that path.

"And in this moment, I swear, we are infinite." (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Becoming You, Round 2

The process of Becoming You involves an increased awareness of the world around you. Last fall, the Student Leadership and Involvement Center staff took on the read, Unhooked. Each week we gathered to discuss the book, but also to discuss what we were seeing around us. It was no real surprise to identify that the "hook up culture" is alive and well. As organizations, we are a part of this culture. More than the "hook up culture", though, was the thoughtful discussion that much of our community lives in a way that is unhooked.
Being unhooked is more than hooking up. According to this author, it is the ability to disengage and walk away from close, intimate relationships with no effect. In her interviews with students she heard what I often hear from you. I hear the need to be desired and the need to feel close to someone. These things, when coupled with an emotional distance create a sense of "disposable intimacy".

This brings me to the question for this week...
2. Is who you are becoming hindered by your participation in this culture? As you Become You, are you unhooked?

Interesting to me was that one indicator of being unhooked was the inability to articulate what 'hooking up' means. Maybe think on that some. One of her most powerful stories is of the internal desire to have something temporary mean something more significant. We all have a need inside of us to feel connected and have a sense of intimacy with others. Many today meet that need by hooking up. Since the mental approach is, "this doesn't mean anything", the mind tries to stay there. As you are becoming you, you may discover that it, "(sex) always has meaning, even when it is meaningless." (pp 283) I see too many of you seeking more, but not finding it. And, according to this author, it isn't about less sex, it is about more love.

As you seek this process of Becoming You, I encourage you to consider it all from a new lens. Consider the role alcohol plays in your relationships? Does drinking numb you to feel ok about being unhooked? Is there an overlap of hook up partners among your friends? Is this who you are? Is this who you want to be?

You are worthy of more.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Becoming You

Twice in the past week, I have been in conversation with people around the idea of "finding yourself". That phrase always makes me uneasy, but the concept and process is a good one. My graduate work was in Counseling and I have a natural draw to topics like defining who you are and what you are becoming. For the past few years a lot of my reading and study has been around the topic of masculinity. In working with fraternities, and fraternity men specifically, I hear a lot of confusion and question about who you are and what you are becoming as a man. These are important questions. Questions that deserve pause. Questions that demand an answer. I'd like to begin a conversation over the next few weeks. Below is a TED Talk that sparked one of the two conversations referenced above. I encourage you to watch it and consider: Do you see this in our community?

As I watched this 14 minute talk, I heard observations that tied masculinity to achievement, wealth, physical strength, attractiveness, and sex. I also heard a plea to change a culture to be focused on relationships and commitment to a cause. A plea to re-connect the heart to the head. What Joe didn't share, but I know to be true, is that the ideal place to do this is in the context of fraternity. I invite you to join me in a 3 week conversation of Becoming You, spending some directed time looking at who you (individually and organizationally) are and what you are becoming. Is your world what you want it to be? It may feel rocky and stressful, but I promise you will consider a new perspective as we stretch together.

Week 1: Is what you are becoming defined by what you are NOT going to be?
I hear this more often that you might imagine. We live in a world that saturates us with ideas and images. We may not always know what we want to be, but we surely know what we refuse to become. Many years ago I had a girlfriend who shared with me that her upbringing had been filled with instability. Substance use, abusive behaviors, messages of inadequacy were what defined her childhood. This was all shared with me as we were both preparing to have our first child. I was surprised by what she had shared, but shocked at what came next. She told me that she had spent the last several years reading parenting books, researching theories, talking to people who had been parents in order to re-learn those patterns. She knew how she had grown up was not what she wanted for her child. But, instead of just saying, "I won't do XYZ", she filled herself with what she wanted to be. For her, success was found in not simply stopping old traditions, but rather in developing new ways of being. Some of us come to the table with a personal history that needs some sorting out. The challenge is to move beyond the "NOT" to the becoming.

This is true for our organizations, too. Do we declare, "We will not haze!" but not also share what you will be about? Do you model behavior that communicates what you aspire to? Or, do you just compare yourself to others and see what you never want to become? I often hear the "NOT" talk in fraternity recruitment. As we are approaching Fall recruitment, "What is your organization becoming?" How do you live that out? How do you sell that to others? Consider, reflect, become you.

Thank you for taking this leap with me.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Glorified Busy

When I was in college, I would often forget to eat lunch. Even to my own ears this sounds ridiculous. But, I would genuinely get so caught up in my day, a meeting, classes that I would find myself grouchy and hungry around 4:30pm waiting anxiously for Sylvia to open the kitchen in our sorority house and provide dinner. In my mind (and probably in actuality) I wasn't really all that "busy", I was focused. If I wasn't home over the noon hour, having a meal wasn't on my radar.

Little did I know that the "busy" lifestyle would be one I would fight for the rest of my life. Not that I don't enjoy having things to do, or that I mind working hard, but my borderline OCD nature often has me taking on more things than I should. When I saw the image above, I was confronted with my ugly reality. I promote a way of living that glorifies "busy". Crap.

I have many friends who practice yoga. They use phrases like "setting intentions" (instead of goals). I adore them. I am nothing like them. My "inner zen" is found when I am running a large scale program or finding the perfect solution to a multi-faceted problem. I am loud. I am energized by the complex. I am a planner and I am spiritual, but not in the ways that these friends seem to be. When these friends hear, "I forgot to eat lunch today.", they aren't impressed. Instead, they are worried.

Some of you are like me. You are an honor student, you are an officer in your fraternity, you work,  you have a significant other, you are a daughter... All these things lead to a busy life. You have a lot to do. But, my friends, the busyness is not the problem, it is the glorification. When I watch you from the advising sidelines, I hear you talking about "spending 12 hours on campus". You challenge your friend to respond with something like, "14 for me yesterday". We do not need to make being busy something for others to aspire to. Truly. That spirit of competition will end up cutting years off of our lives.

I have spent this past week preparing for fall... Transitioning a new staff person (welcome, Jessica), moving furniture for construction, reading, thinking. I decided to work on "setting intentions". Not goal setting and planning for the future. But, instead, focusing on who I am in this moment. Slowing down. Choosing to not be too "busy", and certainly not celebrating it. As we prepare for the upcoming semester, let's slow down. Let's not run so far and so fast that we lose sight of ourselves. When someone asks, "How are you?", fight the urge to respond with "busy". Stop the glorification of busy.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Service Engine Soon

I am writing to you from vacation. When you read this, I will have just returned from 2+ weeks away... It was just what I needed. For you see, just like in my car, I have a Service Engine Soon light that comes on when something isn't quite working the way it is supposed to.

This Spring began with a different indicator light. I saw it coming, so it was no surprise that I was running low on gas. In January, I made the difficult decision to recommend the policy change that (among other things) ended out of town fraternity formals. (Policy decision blog post.) I knew that this decision would have a price. And, the cost was great. Fraternity men that I had met with weekly and had established relationships with stopped speaking to me and under-lying tension filled many interactions I had with students. I filled up my tank and was careful with how I used my fuel, but I finished nearly every day with the light on, warning me that I was almost out of gas.

And then it happened... In April my Service Engine Soon light came on. In the most dreadful of ways, it became clear that things were not working. I received a message from my supervisor letting me know that a petition was being circulated by a fraternity man and was expected to be delivered to the University President and Vice President. The petition, among other things, called for me to be removed from my job. As the situation played itself out, the Division of Student Affairs (that I report to) and Human Resources launched an investigation. Soon, it was not just the light that was on- the engine started making noises. While I knew I had done nothing wrong, there were a few hundred students that felt that I had "limited their growth" and, worse, had turned a student led decision around and blamed me for a culture of fear. (Operating from Fear blog post.) Every interaction I had with a student that was a fraternity or sorority member included some mention of this petition, the process, how they were feeling about it. It seemed that the Check Engine Soon light had become twice as bright.

As most things do, the situation resolved itself. The University found no merit to the petitions accusations, but I was depleted. Commencement was difficult... As each and every fraternity and sorority student walked by me as a Commencement Marshall, there was a moment where they had to decide if they wanted to acknowledge me. Some who had been silent and distant since January did, but it left me unfulfilled. Summer break came at the perfect time. I have begun to think through what fall may include, and have started the work to repair what caused my Check Engine Soon light to come on. As I consider it all from my vantage point of being on holiday, three things come to mind.

1. Calling a mentor or someone who has travelled your road is essential. We all need experts. When you car has a problem, you don't just hope it works out, you go to someone with expertise. I had lunch with my Greek Advisor in May. I told him what had happened, he listened and nodded. Then, he said exactly what I needed to hear. I confessed 6 very difficult words, "I don't know what to do." He helped. When your light comes on, find someone who can assist.

2. Being open to dialogue is how we solve the problems of this world. Think bigger than Greek Life at USD. To live at peace with one another, we must be willing to sit and reason together. Not responding to emails, avoiding my office, un-friending me on Facebook- these are not ways to seek understanding. Even if we disagree in the end, isn't it better to have spent time listening to one another and respecting the difference? I met a student at the end of May who shared with me that he had signed the petition, but had never met me. After our conversation we still disagreed about his concerns, but we respected where each other came from.

3. Be active. This one pains me the most. Truly. This petition called into question my vocation and my professionalism. It also called into question my employment. Each of these things were hurtful, frightening, and filled me with many emotions. While I do not appreciate the tactics used, I do appreciate the activism that this petition brought about. We often talk in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center about how to teach students to start a revolution, to be activists. While I wish many things to have happened differently, I am proud that people acted when they felt that they needed to. Be active... It is how change comes about.

I hope that summer is providing each of you the opportunity to find rest.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Taking An Oath

One week ago I was wrapping up the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI) for Purdue University. There were many "a-ha" moments for me during the week - many in individual conversations, lots in the small group discussions, some in the large group presentations I was leading, and several overheard whispers. One that particularly stood out to me came over Twitter...

"No one takes an oath to be average.",    chapter 8. #uifi2013

We are organizations that invite us to membership with a pledge to be better, to be more. As I consider all that our community has experienced this semester, three things come to mind.

We want to be great. Truly. I do believe that people show up wanting to be their very best. I don't think that too many people plan their lives thinking - "I'll just phone it in today." We want to be all of the things that we raise our hand during initiation and promise to be: honorable; loving; just; learners; diligent; noble; loyal; inclusive.

We sometimes forget to follow our plans. Congruence is our biggest challenge. We make these promises and we forget. We forget that we choose to be better. When we hear that "Greeks are sending people to the hospital for alcohol poisoning.", we respond with, "Everyone does that." We should be responding with an affirmation that we promised to be better than average. Our oath, our promise, calls us to be that all of the time. When we fall short, we remind ourself and each other that we have a plan. We have a mission. We have values. We can't forget them. We can't pull them out when they are convenient for us. I remember standing in the dining room of the Theta house during initiation and hearing the President explain what our coat of arms stood for - each part meaning something really important to the experience of being a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. I also remember forgetting to follow those words as I chose to not study enough for a class, as I judged others, as I didn't hold myself in the highest regard.

Being above average means being it all of the time. Consistency is the key to being more than average. Some days, I don't feel like being great. There have been some things over the past month that have given me pause. Those moments where you wonder, "Why am I caring so much when there is a loud voice that isn't?" As leaders, you will have resistance. You will have moments of joy and pain. You will have temptation to not be consistent. Holding to who you are and what your organization stands for matters - all of the time. Consistency brings us to authentic greatness. When it is easy, and when it is difficult.

As we wrap up finals this week, I wish you all well. Summer is often a busy time of work, internships, vacation, classes. I hope that it also finds you with a few moments of reflection. The opportunity to think about your oath, the greatness you have been called to, and the ways that you live it out. "No one takes an oath to be average."