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.