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."


Thursday, May 9, 2013

When I Almost Moved to St. Louis

As I sat a gate C28 waiting to board my delayed flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to San Diego, there was a family with a screaming 1 year old. There were about 50 of us sitting there and we were listening to a continual scream. I watched as the parents handed off the baby and then walked to hallway. I didn’t see
how far they went, just that the screaming became more faint for a while. American Airlines customers were already cranky… And, to be honest, I was also a little cranky. After a week away from home, I was irritated at the delay and the noise was not helping. Comments started coming from people, “I hope that baby isn’t on our flight.”, “Why don’t they do something.”

This reminded me of the time we almost moved to St. Louis. We were flying home from a vacation/volunteer meeting with our then 1 ½ year old daughter. She screamed the entire flight from Indy to St. Louis. The ENTIRE time. As our pediatrician’s suggestion we had given her some baby Benadryl to help her sleep/rest. No dice. Nothing but screaming. We were in the bulkhead seats (I can picture it exactly!) and got off the plane with her car seat, bags, etc. I turned to the Reverend and said tearfully, “We are moving to St. Louis. I CANNOT get back on a plane. We could be happy here.” I was red, sweaty, tearful, self-conscious and had a headache. People were staring and making snide comments.

What do these two horrendous tales have in common? ALL PEOPLE wanted it to stop? Truth. The message here, though, is how easy it is to forget what it feels like to be in someone else’s shoes. Doesn’t this happen all of the time in our community? Here you are dealing with a risk management problem, in crisis, overwhelmed. Next thing you know, it is a few semesters later and you are irritated that someone else finds themselves in the same position. This doesn’t just happen around crisis. It is pretty much a universal. We easily forget that others may experience the world in the EXACT same way that we have in the past.

Our University community has been shaken in the past few months. It seems to me that this is the time when we should be supporting one another the most. Remembering those times when we felt alone, stressed, overwhelmed. A time when we reach out and develop a “me, too” attitude.

And… when the parent came back, baby still screaming, I caught his eye. He got a nod and a smile. Me, too, sir. Me, too.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Self Talk and iPhone Games

Last week I was visiting a friend with whom I often play the obsessive online game of Scramble With Friends. One night as I was checking email, I heard all of this talking. Kids were in bed and it wasn't her voice I heard. "Outstanding, good, good, great" was what I was hearing. Turns out she was playing with her volume turned on. Never one to welcome additional noise, this was a new experience for me. As I play Scramble, it is silent. I stopped and listened for nearly a minute. Affirmations were flying at her left and right. The greatest of which was, "stupendous!"

What would life be like if we had a little soundtrack that provided us positive feedback. Not a conscience that gave us the yea or nay, but a genuine affirmation reinforcing us, cheering us on. Some of you may be cringing with the thought of false compliments... But that is different than what I am describing. You don't get a "stupendous!", you earn it. What I am really talking about something genuine that could combat for what many of us, myself included, is negative self talk.

Self talk is the inner dialogue we have as we go throughout the day. If an error is made on something we created, what do you say in your mind? Is it, "oh, man, that's a bummer."? Or, is it, "I am so stupid, I always do this."? Very easily we beat ourselves up over the smallest of things. And, that kind of fight and negativity becomes a habit. Without much intentional thought, we are there... Reinforcing this horrible, negative message about your greatest asset- you!

We live in a world where criticism is doled out face to face, via text, by tweet. Those messages can impact us. Subtly, but ever present, there are messages to us. "You Failed" is one I recently encountered playing a different iPhone game. While, of course, a game doesn't determine if I have failed (or, more significantly, if I consider myself a failure), there is a power in that message. If I have had a trying week where nothing seems to go right, a fraternity member is angry at me, I was impatient with a friend, and make an error on a project I am tasked with completing... What happens in my mind when I consider it all collectively? My self talk can easily shift to, "What is wrong with me? I am a failure at everything I try. I am so dumb to have made that mistake." In those moments, I need my own cheering section telling me that I am good, great, stupendous! While that personal cheering section doesn't often materialize in the form of people, I can choose to work on my self talk. I can choose to be more patient with myself and talk to myself with the grace and mercy that I deserve.