Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wanted: Encouragers

I saw this posted online today and it gave me a little chuckle. For, you see, I am not a natural Encourager. When I hire people, this is one of the subtle things that draws me to finalists - the ability to encourage others as a way of life. Don't get me wrong, I value Encouragement and Encouragers. A lot. It is just intentional work for ME to do it, and to do it well.

I prefer to live a life of optimism and joy. When I think of Critics, I think of those that never can have a "what if" thought. I think of those that always find the problem in a new idea. I also pause and consider more... I think of the realists that keep us grounded. I think of those that monitor budgets and risk management. More than I prefer, I think of me in my professional role. It is an easy default if I am not careful.

We are currently in the process of a comprehensive review of the Student Leadership and Involvement Center. We, along with several other areas, are looking at how we spend our time, our budget, our energy. In considering all of these factors, we are charged with coming up with new ways to do our work. In the midst of this process, I have had more than one person say to me, "Are you worried that at this time next year we will have 3 more Greek letter organizations on campus?" (I think the unspoken commentary is the assumption that it will be without additional staffing.) Well, yes. That makes me concerned, but it also makes me wonder... What could we do differently with 3 more organizations? How many more students could we get engaged on campus? What if we try it and see what happens!

When I think about the ideal role I play in our community, it is as an Encourager. Fraternity and Sorority Life already has plenty of Critics. Some of them are in our organizations. The ability to be an Encourager is an important role for me to play as I cheer you on and support the good work that you are each doing in your organizations. Sometimes when things go sideways and people get a little out of control, my role has to shift. But, at the heart, it really doesn't ever step away from being an Encourager. The role is grounded in Love, Care, Support, Authentic Behavior, Honesty - and those things all lead to positivity and progress.

So, what about you? Are you the member that is the Encourager? As your peers think of you, does support and kindness pop into their minds? Or, are you a part of the group that grouses about little decisions. Are you the Critic that (subtly) celebrates when things don't work? There are defaults that we each fall into. But, you can choose to fight that default and be something else. When you are tired, when you are discouraged, when you find yourself leaning toward the role of the Critic, just remind yourself that the world wants Encouragers. This is your charge. This is your calling. Encourage one another. Besides, we have a surplus of critics already.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why Me?

In my role at the University, I have had many opportunities to meet with, advise, mentor, and know students. Each of these descriptors is different. I would almost say that they build upon one another as relationships emerge between students and staff. To me, the most rewarding are the ones that make it to the end of the line. Those are the students that I keep up with beyond graduation. The ones that I enjoy watching experience life via Facebook and, often, in person for visits during Homecoming. There are many students that I can remember snapshot moments with - moments that were important and meaningful. Moments of meeting with outstanding people, advising them on powerful programs, and mentoring them toward leading change. I would not trade those moments away, as they define my vocation. Sometimes those moments are stand alone experiences, but sometimes they are a part of being known.

I was having coffee with an alum recently and this topic came up. The question that they posed was, "why me?" Meaning, why did I choose to "know" them? Why did I choose to go beyond meeting, advising, and mentoring? The question completely caught me off guard. I stumbled my way through the answer in the moment, but have given it serious thought since that time. Why does a deeper connection happen in some relationships and not in others? You know what I mean, right? This is somewhat of a universal truth. Some people you just like more than others. This explains why people don't all have the same best friend. There are preferences and personalities at play. But, to me, this is different. This is about investment in someone, this is about caring for others intentionally. What I realized was that the question was framed incorrectly. This wasn't about me choosing someone. My answer is this - "Why you?" Because you let me.

When I sat with you in my office, at that retreat, on the couches inside TĂș Mercado, you let me see a part of you that is sometimes hidden. You cracked open the door to your depths and invited me in. Sometimes it was just a peek inside. Sometimes it was an invitation to see it all. In each of those
moments, you made a choice. You let me see the real you. The highest of joys, the angst of frustration, the disappointment in circumstances. It was remarkable. It was an honor. It was a privilege to be able to know you.

That is hard to walk away from. So, I feel an affinity for you and a care for your future. An investment to see you become the best partner, employee, parent, friend, supervisor that you can be. This continues after you leave, because when you crack open that door, you have changed me, too. It is my earnest hope that you, too, will experience the gift of knowing others.

One year I had someone that I met with weekly, who was trying to decide if they wanted to be known, ask me, "How do you get people to tell you things?" I laughed a little and shared that it was pretty easy. Most of the time, people are desperate to tell someone about their experience. Being willing to slow down enough to ask the question and genuinely want to know the answer is usually all that it takes.

When my partner and I had our daughter, we made a commitment to do everything in our power to raise her to be aware of others. To see those around here and be engaged with them. From little things, like holding the door for someone, all the way to the largest social issues. Unknowingly, this has moved into my work, too. I hope the same for you. This is community. This is fraternity and sorority. This is brotherhood and sisterhood. This is us.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Starting 2014 With Reflection

I'm Back!

It has been a while, friends. I didn't intend to take such a long break from writing. I knew it was time to begin again when everywhere I looked was something that promoted the thought, "I should write a piece about that for my blog."

January 6th was my anniversary of working at USD as a full time staff member. As I start what will be my 19th year, I have spent some time thinking about those that I have had the privilege of working with over all of these years. Some of these memories are of staff, some of students. All of people who have impacted me and made me a better professional, a better person. There is a beauty in being somewhere so long. A beauty in having lived the history of this fraternity and sorority community. A humbling time of realizing how much I didn't know when Carol hired me all those years ago, and knowing how much more there is to learn in 2014.

As we begin the New Year, I offer to you a few snapshots of my 18 years, and the lessons I have learned and re-learned.

A fraternity president who fought me every day of his tenure. Lied, yelled, deceived. And, then, called me about 5 years after his graduation to tell me that he was sorry. It's never too late to do the right thing.

A graduate assistant who jumped in with both feet with only her USD undergraduate experience. She and I together attended fraternity recruitment events so we could "understand". She stood by my side when the manager of a venue met us at the door of an event and asked if we were the strippers. My first 2 years would have been my last without her resilience, laughter, and perspective. Work is always better with a partner.

An IFC President that returned from UIFI and told me that he understood and was going to change his chapter. And, that he wanted my help. "It takes a village." is the only approach that will develop students into the best version of themselves.

A powerhouse president sitting on my couch and unexpectedly crying because she missed her mom. Knowing that all she needed to hear was, "me, too" and have me sit with her in her grief. Even a powerhouse needs support.

Multiple former presidents, IFC/Panhellenic Exec, and student leaders coming back to USD
to advise. We give back to what we love.

Watching college sweethearts get married. Sitting in the lasting joy that started as giggles and notes at UGA. You never know when something amazing will happen.

A Council officer that struggled with who they really were. The realization and gentle nudges to explore why they were over-involved, "having" to succeed, over-drinking. Watching them wholly realize who they were and embrace themselves, find a partner, find contentment. There is often more at play than we ever get to see in the moment.

Two colleagues who knew I was I at capacity stepping in to support our community and attend the Greek Retreat when they knew I couldn't. Blind service with no preparation, but done with selflessness. We all need help. None of us are alone.

A Panhellenic President who advocated and networked for USD to add a culturally based sorority. Seeing persistence and work for the simple reason that it was the right thing to do. Change often comes with great struggle and challenge.

Several that have been a part of my life going to to create and serve communities of their own. Watching them develop and find their style as they realize that few places are like USD. There's no place like home.

A small group of alumni gathered at the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors Annual Meeting this past December. As I sat and listened to them reminisce and re-tell stories, I was reminded of the greatest lesson of all: It is an honor to walk through life with people as they learn and grow.

Cheers to 2014!