A little over a month ago, I spent time with 800 women in Texas exploring how we can “inspire the woman, impact the world.” Over the extended weekend that we were convened, we had the opportunity to be educated by experts on growing relationships, supporting people and organizations through crisis, achieving excellence, succeeding through conflict, improving ourselves personally and professionally, delegating, coaching others, and how to engage other volunteers. Do you think this is something that would interest your day to day and the work you are doing?
What brought these hundreds of women together was a shared experience in our Alpha Gamma Delta sorority – from friendships, a shared purpose, and how our lives have been transformed by this organization over the years. However, some of what impacted me the most from Convention are seven takeaways that can help ANYONE, ANYWHERE who seeks to create positive impact for themselves and the world around them, ranging through career, family, and community.
Here are my seven lessons I learned to create positive impact confidently from my time in Texas – and you don’t have to be an Alpha Gam to benefit!
- A small group of people can make a difference. A group of 20 women volunteered at Meals on Wheels San Antonio to help make breakfast packs, and over 1,700 meals were produced in a short window of time. That meant on average, each person produced over 90 meals each. Our ability to create these meals allowed the kitchen team to focus on their responsibilities like keeping the space sanitary for code requirements and remain open to serve those in need. In a city with a population of almost 1.5M, Meals on Wheels has a large audience and 1,700 meals only lasts 2.5 days. This underscored the importance of being involved locally and regularly. Additionally, it showed the power of compound impact of small groups and small donations of time. Showing up when you are able and giving as you can provides immense impact to. Almost 100 people would eat breakfast per person with this effort. Isn’t that incredibly powerful for showing up for only a couple hours? Bringing friends or doing work in a group very quickly multiplies that effort. And, it is more fun!
- We need to seek out others unlike us for both mentoring and to be mentored. We were enthralled by the keynote speaker Chef Jeff. Now a celebrity chef, he is a former drug dealer who turned his life around while in prison and after, especially with the support of his now wife. He also credited mentorship, opportunities that encouraged him how to learn, and that there was more to life than being in the streets – a world beyond. Chef Jeff sought advice from others who had achieved monetary success prior to their imprisonment. What Chef Jeff learned, he applied. It took a jail mentor telling Chef Jeff that he was smart and talented for him to believe it, something he hadn’t heard much of during a difficult upbringing. The primary point Chef Jeff encouraged us to remember was to go out and mentor someone in the world who didn’t share our opportunities and experiences. This person should be someone from a different socio-economic sphere, someone with a different skin color or culture than our own. We forget how lucky we are when we surround ourselves with similar people, and that we can offer the same hand up and help others create opportunities with our time, shared knowledge, and belief in someone else. In my own experience, it can be difficult to find a mentor. It can be powerful change when you become that person for someone else, even if you never had it yourself.
- The importance of recognizing people who give. The Fraternity (though we are widely recognized as a sorority) rewarded members for years, and in some cases decades, of service to the organization with varying magnitude of recognition. For women who receive these honors, it is incredibly memorable and special. In a professional setting, this may be recognized with promotions, raises, opportunity for special projects, or awards unique to the company or industry. Recognizing people who give in any setting is important because it validates the efforts as being valuable, meaningful, and having had an impact on others. Extraordinary contributions require dedication and time that are finite resources when people balance other commitments and priorities in their life. Whether it is a certificate, trophy, or an update to the business card, honoring a person with appropriate recognition matters. The way someone is recognized should also matter. Recognizing others in front of both peers and superiors, in other words, publicly, makes a case study of what qualifies as exceptional and also expands those who are aware of what is given for incredible efforts and overcoming obstacles to succeed. While not everyone appreciates public attention, it is the surest way to let people know that they are appreciated and what they do matters.
- Why it is important to strive for achievement. Achievement should measure the impact that someone or some organization has in what is does for itself and for others. When awards were presented from the Alpha Gamma Delta Foundation for fundraising and in support of fighting hunger initiatives and supporting scholarship and educational endeavors, the room was energized and the cheers thunderous, along with the jingle of the light-up tambourines. Chapters who blew us away in previous conventions continued to take it to the next level, while some new chapters set a strong foundation in what will be a major impact on community for years to come. It doesn’t always matter how you get there, but that you journey toward the destination. Focusing on achievement also guides what efforts are taken, as it defines goals and ideal outcomes. Perfection doesn’t matter, but that we go through the process with our best heart and best efforts forward. Without something to strive for, we lack direction. With something to strive for, we can continue to make positive impact and change.
- Make the best of situations with who and what you have. During the first breakout sessions when it appeared a scheduling conflict made one session less useful than its intent, the presenters were able to create bonds and learn from key attendee they had been hoping to meet about transformative efforts. At the same time, we were able to collect most of the International Philanthropy Committee together for an impromptu, in-person meeting. It allowed us to set goals, build the bonds more deeply than over the phone, share ideas, and ask questions. When we do our phone calls over the next few months, we will have understanding about our team members and easily put faces and names together. This helps me personally to add context to tone of voice or how to interpret questions and comments better. When the session didn’t go as planned, it could have been viewed as a lost cause. But in small groups with a change of plans and altered execution, we made positive progress toward goals anyhow!
- The connections we make with others are what make life meaningful. Relationships are at the heart of what makes life so enjoyable. No matter what form they come in – friendship, professional, romantic – we are provided with a person who brings joy, offers encouragement, lifts us, and teaches us. For Alpha Gam, the 800 women in the room already shared the same Purpose to define our public values. The Purpose guides us and binds us already, so even as we make new friends, we start at an elevated level. When I think of this in a professional context, we are very much on the same team as colleagues – the more success we contribute to and create as an organization, the greater the opportunities are for all of us, and the more fun it is to work together. What I remember most fondly are not the breakout or business sessions, but the time having lunch together, sharing conversation and coffee, and catching up with my roommate, to name just a few examples.
- Organic change is not enough. Isaac Newton, the eminent British physicist, declared in his first law of motion what we commonly hear as an object at rest will stay at rest, and an object in motion will stay in motion, unless an outside force acts upon the object. As time passes, adoption of standards, philosophies, and technologies naturally come into our life. However, in organizations and for moving society forward, it takes thought, vision, risk, and courage to change programs, norms, and behaviors from what was to what will carry us forward, and it is better to carry forward than be left in the dust. With new generations rising, we need to adjust to make sorority meaningful and valuable – our grandmothers and Founders would have desired a different experience, whether a suffragette or accepting of status quo. Advancement as a sorority, corporations, and nations require that we act swiftly yet thoughtfully, always looking ahead and continuing to move, rather than standing safely in our place. We cannot rely on the change by others to guide us, but must steer our ship through storms of change to get to our destination of becoming better and doing better.
So for me, and for you if you joined an organization that extends beyond the college years, Alpha Gamma Delta is for life. Those vows we made as collegiate women were bigger than we realized at the time, creating foundations and opportunities for friendship and bold influence on the world around us. The lessons I learned as a collegian ten years ago and what I learned at convention a month ago stay with me and are my inspiration to continue to strive to do better for myself, those around me at home and in career, and my community at large.
But, even if you are not a member of an organization like Alpha Gam, these are lessons that apply to work, home, the community, and life generally. The lessons outlined represent what can make an influence in our corporations, non-profits, and families. They are also effective inter-personally.
Which of the seven lessons resonates the most with you? How do you apply it, or hope to apply it, in your life?