Why am I here?
This is a question that has popped up in my mind of late. I am not sure why. Perhaps the impending new year has me feeling reflective. Perhaps it is because I just spent four days on a membership review staying in a hotel with a 50-year-old putting green in the courtyard, some missing letters on the hotel sign, and something called “The Bamboo lounge” attached to it.
Questionable hotel accommodations aside, I must admit, I have it pretty good. I am in a good spot in my career, I work with a great team, I get to be AFA President (and that is pretty fun). I do not have a lot to complain about. So, when I ask “why am I here?” I am really thinking about how did I get here?
The consistent thread I see throughout my career is that I have been continually surrounded by people who have invested in my growth and development in a way that set me up for success. The people around me have made me who I am as a person and a professional. How did I become so fortunate to receive this investment and support? I file that question in the same bin as questions like ‘why does a woman as amazing and wonderful as my wife choose me and love me so much?’ Heck if I know – perhaps sometimes it is best to be happy with the results and avoid asking questions.
So, no questions. But perhaps there are some things to be learned here, and learning is fun. As I think about how people have invested in me and built me up, a few key points emerge. Five point lists seem to make for good short articles, so let’s go with that. Here are my five key learning points about people investing in my success.
Relationships Don’t Just Happen – I honestly do not know how the relationships that have fostered my growth have come to be. I do know that it didn’t happen entirely by chance. Certainly, there is some “right time, right place” in any journey. However, there was also effort and intentionality. For me, this has required saying yes to opportunities, showing up for a program, volunteering for that committee, reaching out and asking for meetings. Another aspect of this has been less about reaching out and more about focusing within. I cannot control other people, but I can control myself. In my experience it is important to do good work, make positive contributions, and produce results and people will notice. People will want to invest in you when you are doing the work.
Keep the Cycle Going – I suppose this is the “pay it forward” point. However, I think there is more to this than recognizing that I had opportunities in my career and now I need to provide some mentorship or guidance to help others who are starting theirs. I also think about the fact that we have advanced a great deal in our work. I have written about this before. Our work is more sophisticated, we have more people working longer in fraternity and sorority life, high level positions have emerged with great specialization and expertise. The fact is we have advanced at every level. This is great, however I believe it remains important to hold some space to provide people with some of those opportunities I had early in my career. For me, this means creating opportunities for younger professionals to present educational sessions and write articles. It means pulling people in on research projects. It means facilitating introductions and getting people access. Then, as we do this, it also means granting some grace for people to learn and grow within our field.
When You Most Need it People Will be There For You – I really don’t know how to explain this one. All I can say is that every time I have needed it, when the chips are down, people in this community have been there to back me up. I have thought about this one a lot in the lead up to the 2023 Annual Meeting. That planning process was not the easiest endeavor of my career. I cashed in a lot of phone-a-friend cards on this one. I think a lot of other people did, too. The support we received was both subtle and overt, it was both explicit and discreet. Most importantly, when we needed it most, people rose to the occasion and came through to help us out. I thought about this in the opening session of the Annual Meeting when the Honorable Les Miller told us to, “make friends before you need friends.” That one resonates for me. When you invest in relationships with people in our field, they will be there for you when you need it, and it will matter.
Find People Who Challenge You – I do not think anything has had a more significant impact on my career than the network of colleagues around me. Many of these connections have extended for 15-20 years or more. However, I am also fortunate to find new people every year to connect with through our work. These relationships bring friendship, support, fun, a kind ear to process after a tough day, and an encouraging word when it’s needed. More importantly, I have also been fortunate to find people who challenge me, who question my ideas, debate ideas, share new practices, tell me when I’m wrong, and push me to be better.
AFA Can Be a Relationship Catalyst – Finally, it is important to think about why this is relevant to AFA. I think this is one of the most important things that I have learned here. AFA can serve as an important forum through which we bring people together and foster relationships, create opportunities for others, and develop peer networks. Engaging with AFA has been one of the most important means through which I have been able to build my network and find those people who invest in me. It also gives me opportunities to nurture and extend those relationships. I believe that AFA provides significant value by serving as a connector, giving people space, ensuring that our professional networks are diverse, and providing access for new people entering our field who are looking to develop their network.
The ultimate takeaway here is pretty simple. Relationships are good, investing in people is good, AFA can be good when we connect with each other within our community. This is not the most insightful hot take I have ever put to print. But, as we think about gratitude in this issue, I think giving some appreciation to those who have invested in our success while also thinking about how AFA can continue to serve as a forum for building each other up can be a worthwhile endeavor when we are called upon to consider why we are here.