The Illusions of Failures and Successes: From One (Past) President to Another

I am convinced there will be pivotal moments that catapult us into who we are meant to be in life. However, often times, those experiences can be failures, filled with many awkward and painful learning moments along the way. For me, serving as chapter president of my sorority was a moment such as this. I wish I could say that my time as president was positive; unfortunately, I cannot wholeheartedly express that sentiment. Yet, what I can say is that my term as chapter president was filled with many learning moments; many of which presented as failures disguised as successes in my own mind. As well as, a few great successes disguised as grand failures to the public eye.

November 20, 2013 – a date permanently engraved in my mind as a day that I failed. On that day, I stood in front of an auditorium of my sorority sisters, and announced, side by side with my fraternity/sorority advisor at that time, that my chapter was closing.

Unfortunately, the full truth of why the chapter’s fate came to be is still not known to many people. During the time of closing, it could not be shared that 16 out of the 40-woman chapter were actively carrying out unhealthy self-harm behaviors due to issues unrelated to the sorority experience. And, it could not be shared that the pact among sisters were made to carry through with certain plans. In such, there were many confidential matters that could not be shared to the members, as headquarter staff proceeded with the three-month journey to assist the chapter and determine the best solution for all involved. Thus, imagine announcing the closing of a sorority to sisters without providing a “good enough” reason filled with a truthful “why” for chapter members to understand.

There were many instances where sisters, both collegiate and alumnae, believed I as president failed the chapter, and I shouldn’t have been elected. Some didn’t even know me, and the others were ones I’d considered great friends. However, if you ask any individual with full knowledge of the situation, they will indicate that I was a member who stood by values and made the tough decision needed to save the lives of a few in exchange for the discontinuation of a chapter. In such, I can confidently say that by disbanding a pact that infiltrated membership and closing a chapter to ensure the life of every member, is just one success of the term that is permanently marked as a failure in the public eye of those that do not know the full story. Over the years, I have reflected on the experience and learned much about the illusions of failure and success. As one (former) chapter president (and past council officer) to another, here are the top five lessons I have learned that I wish to pass on to you:

1. Get to know your campus fraternity/sorority advisor(s).

Making the decision to walk through my campus advisor’s office door to ask for assistance during the brunt of when my chapter was falling apart may have single-handedly been the best decision I made in my collegiate career. The feeling of loss and defeat I felt knowing my chapter was failing and about to close could have been the one situation in my leadership journey that would have stopped me from future successes in other leadership positions. However, the support and encouragement of my advisor helped me gain confidence in myself and allowed me to engage in other leadership opportunities beyond my chapter experience. If it wasn’t for my advisor, I would not have gotten involved on Panhellenic Council, served as a Recruitment Counselor, or been elected as President of Dance Marathon; all of which occurred following my term as chapter president. In such, your advisor does not need to turn into a close friend as mine did – they can be one you disagree with, but ultimately, they will be someone who cares about and wants the best for you, your chapter, and the community, even if the best is not always the easiest to comprehend. As a campus based advisor now myself, I can share that we get into this work to help students flourish and have the best membership experience as possible in a manner that is safe and grounded in founding values. If that is an experience you seek, then I can promise you that getting to know your FSA is worth your time.

2. Do not be afraid to ask for help.

The best piece of leadership advice I ever gained was from my eighth grade science teacher – a brilliant man, whom previously served as an air force pilot, and then later served as a brain surgeon for 20 years before retiring for yet a second time to go and teach eighth grade science. My teacher told the class once: “there is always someone smarter than you – the best leaders are not always the smartest in the room, they are just the ones that can pull the minds of the smartest people together to think as one.” In such, leaders that plow through without seeking advice are ones who will lose their followers. However, the sooner you come to the humble realization that you are not the only one with answers, is the day that you become a great leader who seeks advice from both those above and below you.

3. Do not allow yourself to get so focused on pleasing others.

The day you decide to not care what others think of you is the day you will feel the weight of the world lifted off your shoulders. The reality is, as a leader, you are privy to information that your “followers” have no knowledge of. Upon any decision you make, there will be many opinions in the room that will make you feel inadequate if you let them. However, trust the knowledge you have and know that often times the best decisions are ones that are not the most popular of choices that please the masses (and that is okay!).

4. Sometimes successes are masked as failures as first.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” In your life, there will be many moments where a failure provides a set back. However, with enough reflection to learn from the past and persistence to move forward, what was once a failure can turn into a success. Do not give up – success is right around the corner for you.

5. Being a leader is a lonely path.

I wish I could say this last piece of advice was not true. However, there will be times as a leader that you will need to make the tough decisions no one else can make, often times using knowledge few understand. In such, you will be set apart as not many will take the time to get to know the “why” behind your choices, and those that do, may not always be privy to the confidential information that comes with those decisions. Regardless, keep close with those you trust. Whether it is a big that has already graduated, an advisor, a best friend, or a family member, figure out those you can confide in and utilize them as your support system. Being a leader doesn’t have to always be lonely if you give yourself permission to confide in those who are trustworthy enough with important information and are able to support you no matter what.

While some of these were difficult lessons for me to learn as a student leader, I hope these help lighten the learning curve for you as you take on new leadership opportunities that arise throughout your college experience. Regardless of the failures and successes you may have, always remember to enjoy the journey. College is a time to learn and make mistakes while meeting some amazing humans along the way. Trust yourself and be confident in your abilities to make an impact no matter what challenge you may be faced with, now or in the future.

Lindsey Dever, Valparaiso University


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