To my Dearest Sorority,
It has been a little over two years since you came into my life, which feels both like forever and like no time at all. I am sure, upon reflection, that it has been both. I walked a long walk with you during my undergraduate membership, some steps painful and some steps joyous, to be sure, but every step lengthening a walk that was every bit as worth it as I had hoped. And so far, it has been a strange but fresh walk, equally beautiful, as a brand new alumna.
When I first pledged, I didn’t truly know what I was joining; I didn’t know the weight or longevity of your vows, or what they would come to mean to me. I was young- so young, and naïve, fresh from two years at a small, isolated college that had somehow succeeded in making me feel small and isolated, too. My parents had both told me stories of their own fraternity and sorority days, and I had so yearned for that at that small, isolated college where there were neither fraternities nor sororities.
Just receiving your bid changed me: you gave me confidence, assurance, pride in myself that others wanted me to be part of them- a pride and confidence in myself that I had lost in the two years at my previous college. Now I had not only friends, but sisters, and I promised myself wholly to you and to them just as my mother said she had done when she founded her own chapter years before. And soon, my sisters trusted and respected me enough to elect me to a position, even before I was initiated- and I was charged with making my sole duty as a sister to protect and uphold your very values I so loved.
Soon after that election came my Initiation. Your sweet, sweet Ritual I would come to love, take to heart, and strive daily to uphold. It meant the world to me, to be trusted with something so great and historical, and to know the women of my chapter trusted me with it, too. I had over a hundred years of your history in my hands- and what’s more, I was guardian, protector, of you, and that which you held dear. I was enthused, happy, on top of the world.
As with many things in life, the mountaintop high became a bit more like a valley low as I was faced with challenges, within and without your sisterhood. I didn’t always respond with grace when pushed to my limits, and often I found myself frustrated with the women I had been so excited to join not months before. I sometimes found myself wondering why I had committed to a position, or committed to Sorority at all. I lost sight of our sweetness, baptized thoroughly into the challenges of Chapter leadership.
Rather than see the successes of my chapter- no matter how large, I saw almost exclusively the shortcomings and failures of the sisterhood, no matter how minute. I began to lose faith in you, and in my sisters, and in myself. I lost myself for you for a long, long time, once again isolated to only a select few who held me close and kept me afloat. I had my sisters, of course, and those lifelong friends and friends from world travels, but yet daily I was consumed by protecting you, protecting my sisterhood, in what advisors and Presidents who had come before would call the hardest term in my chapter’s history. I was anxious and sad, scared to let down a chapter and a sorority that had given me so much and contained such wonderful women, that I could hardly be worthy to serve.
As my term came to a close, after everything, my very best friend, my rock, as usual knowing me better than I know myself, asked me (perhaps offhandedly) if it had been worth it. Whether he meant leadership, or joining you altogether, I don’t know- but I began to look back and understand with great clarity just how great the gift you, and my sisters, gave me. I told him yes, of course it had been.
Just what did you give me, I wondered?
Well, first, it wasn’t just what you had given me, but also what I had given you. My leadership, my executive board, had seen incredible, outstanding, and recognizable growth - growth that would further you. Tangible growth, that had changed the name of my organization on campus and nationally.
What you gave me was not as tangible. I did not have a salary to show for the 40+ hours per week I had given you, though the resume boost was certainly impressive. Instead, I was far richer than that: the intangible gifts of obvious sisterhood displayed to me testified volumes to your true meaning. Because of you, I was stronger. Yes, I had grown and learned how to manage a small business with a sizable budget, overhauled chapter operations and learned much about leadership through trial and error (and certainly would be a better manager for it).
But I saw the sacrifices women made for me as I struggled: past Presidents who accepted my late night cries for support and would follow up with funny encouraging texts, and one in particular, who, to her own inconvenience, attended chapter every week and accepted an advisory board position, simply because she knew we (more specifically, I) needed her there. Advisors, who spent countless hours on the phone with me, helping me to set chapter operations straight and to guide me both in my personal and chapter life, giving me encouragement and validation where I needed it most. My pledge class, the last informal pledge class my chapter has seen, only the 5 of us, all of whom sent me encouraging texts and sat up late with me, reading through rough drafts and making me laugh.
With encouragement, I learned to stand firm in our beliefs: yours, and mine, following best judgment to protect you, and to utilize your values in my daily life. I learned what it looks like to stand up to a person in a position above mine, respectfully, but with the purpose of advocating for others and their rights. I learned what it looked like to have a steel will, keeping the needs of others in front of my own. I learned to manage my time and to juggle meetings, sometimes more than five in a day, and I learned to understand what it means to comfort someone when words are not an option. I learned to decorate a massive house for utilitarian rather than decorative purposes, and I learned that my perfectionism is the only reason I am good at crafting. I cherished the nights I spent in the house for the short time it was mine, and even learned to love the hours spent serving when they were most inconvenient or overbearing. Most of all, I learned to love, and accept love, and friendship, through both good times and bad, because you, my sisters and my organization, showed me how valuable that can be, and how much the better my life is for that.
I have no doubt that as an institution, Sorority is one of the greatest collegiate experiences a young woman can have. Certainly you were the best of my college years. Because of you, I am undaunted by difficult days at the office, or demanding schedules. Because of you, I am comfortable being on call for emergencies and understand what it looks like to work 24/7. Because of you, charity and philanthropy remain at the core of my being. And in accepting my post-graduation advisory position, I have learned that as of yet, I still do not know what it is like to be a sister without holding a leadership position, and though I am sure it is a wonderful and entirely different experience than mine, it is not mine, and that is not what you have given me.
And because of you, I have promised the world temperance of attitude, perceptive insight, and to be courageous in all situations. I have promised to seek and defend the truth, and to be a crusader of justice. I have sworn to continue to give graciously to others, to understand and appreciate where I can and no matter the setting, and to love steadfastly those with whom I am close. I have promised to challenge myself and grow my mind, practicing faith in you, in myself, and in others. And above all, I have promised to ever walk truly in the light of your flame, treasuring your values and striving daily to the goals you set before us.
So for the years I have given and will continue to give you, you are welcome.
For the years you have given and will continue to give me, thank you.
Without you, I would not be who I am, nor would most of the women I know and love. And that is truly the best gift of all.
Yours into the Flame Eternal.
Amanda Jane Saunders is a double-legacy to the FSL world, in love with Delta Zeta and the Greek community from the moment she accepted her bid. During her undergraduate career, she served her Sorority as Chapter President, Risk Manager, Head of Standards, and several other positions. She still seeks daily to live her organization’s Creed, and to mentor current collegiate members. She now serves in a Regional advisory position, and is a member of her area Alumnae and Panhellenic Alumnae Associations. Amanda Jane is a firm believer in personal growth through fraternal membership, and proud to be a part of such a dedicated and strong community!
After years upon years of studying, observing, learning, and practicing leadership, I think I’ve arrived at the following conclusion:
Leaders are born, not created.
I know that it is now conventional wisdom to believe that leaders are made. That every person has the capacity to learn to become a leader.
Yes, become a leader.
But I don’t believe that anyone has to become a leader. I believe they already came that way, straight out of the womb.
Leaders are born. And since every person is born, every person is born a leader.
In summary, every person is born a leader and it becomes their choice to accept that (opt in) or refuse that (opt out).
As a parent of three small children, I see innate leadership. I see risk taking and creative problem-solving daily, which tends to drive me nuts. But it’s there. I see compassion and confidence, assertiveness and responsiveness. All children are this way. This is who they are, yet they didn’t attend a John Maxwell seminar. They didn’t read a Simon Sinek book.
So, give this idea a chance and start with the premise that every child is born a leader. What happens as they grow?
Psychologists tell us that babies are born with only 2 fears - the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned. Every other aspect that affects our confidence comes at us, not from within us.
All throughout childhood we are told "no" WAY more often than we are told "yes." No, no, no, no no. Don’t do that. Don’t try that. That’s too dangerous. That’s not appropriate. No, no, no. Hence, some of the qualities of leadership, such as taking risks, creative thinking, and discovery, might begin to diminish.
Then, we start to hear different versions of no, such as “that’s not really your thing” or “I don’t think you can do that.” And we start to believe it.
Then, with good intentions, we begin to learn about leadership and are given books on Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. And leadership begins to look like big charismatic earth-moving people. It also starts to look like titles and positions. To be a leader means to claim that you want to be president when you grow up.
Slowly and methodically, our society begins to drum the leadership out of people by assigning only select traits and attributes to leaders. You need to be a great orator. You need to cast visions upon visions. You need to be charming. You need to be heroic.
And is it any wonder that after years of this, only a few people out of a hundred make it through the gauntlet feeling that leadership is something they possess?
One of the finest professional speakers/educators out there right now is Kevin Wanzer, and I love the message he tells about a child’s bowl of light, which is taken from Hawaiian culture. I found a written version of this from the blog One Vibration:
In ancient times, in Hawaii and throughout the world, each child born was said to have a Bowl of Perfect Light. If the child was taught to respect and love his or her light, the child would grow in strength and health and could swim with the sharks, fly with the birds, and know and understand all things.
If, however, the child got into pilikia, trouble, with thoughts of fear, worry, doubt, judgment, anger, resentment, envy, or jealousy, he or she would drop a stone into the Bowl of Light, and then some of the light would go out because light and stone cannot occupy the same space.
If the child continued to get stones in the bowl, the light would eventually go out, and the child would become a stone. Just like a stone, the child would no longer grow, nor was he or she capable of movement. However, as soon as the child tired of being a stone, all that was needed was to do kalana, forgive this aspect of himself or herself, and turn the bowl upside down to let the stones fall out. All the light could then shine again and grow even brighter than before.Why does this matter? It’s semantics after all. The end result is that some people end up as leaders and some don’t, right? It's no matter where it begins.
Well, for all of us who teach leadership and try to instill it into young people, what if we have been approaching it all wrong? Our programs are based on the idea that in terms of leadership the students standing in front of us are formless lumps of clay that can be molded into leaders.
What if the student standing before you is already a fully-shaped leader that has been covered by the dust, dirt, and grime that comes from years of self-doubt and negative influences? What if our task is to wipe that away? What if creating a leader out of a young person is actually reminding their inner being of the leader that has always been there?
I think our programs and their curriculums would be different. I think the percentage of time spent in self-discovery and confidence building would grow tremendously. Instead of approaching the workshops with the 3 or 5 or 10 steps/tips/qualities/characteristics of leaders, we would instead ask questions to help students dig deeper into their innate leadership qualities.
Let’s get even more interesting. What if we scrapped leadership programs altogether and created programs for adults that teach them how to NOT throw rocks into a young person’s bowl of light. If we diverted all of our time and resources there, might we end up with more people ready to opt into leadership?
It’s not to say there isn’t value in education that helps a person refine their leadership abilities. We were also born with the ability to build, but we need training before we can make that skyscraper.
For those who lead organizations (such as fraternities or sororities), what about those apathetic, non-leader members who we get so worried about? What is causing their disengagement? Is it because they just haven’t attended the right leadership seminar, or heard the right keynote speaker? Or, is it because they have many rocks in their bowl of light? You are in a great position – through words and actions – to help them remove those rocks.
I will continue to work with and explore this idea, to see how it might impact my work. For now, if you’re asking me to help you be a leader, prepare to undertake a journey of self-discovery to find the one you’ve always been. I'm going to ask you to opt back in.
After all, I now believe leaders are born.