You Don’t Have to be a Leader to Leave a Legacy

As the class of 2019 transitions into alumni members of their chapters, so many are reflecting on the legacy they will leave behind. I, too, am a member of that group, spending lots of time thinking critically about what I have done to leave my campus community in a better place than when I joined. I’ve held various leadership positions at the chapter and council level. I’ve attended multiple fraternal conferences and leadership retreats to better myself and my community. I’ve been mentored by professionals from across the nation, and, in turn, served as a mentor for many on my own campus. But somehow, that doesn’t feel like a legacy. I don’t necessarily want to be remembered as the person who held certain leadership positions, attended conferences, and had top tier mentors. Don’t get me wrong, all those things were incredible and impactful, but what do they say about who I am? Not much.

We spend so much time thinking about our impact as leaders. Everyone wants to feel like their presence is valued and their talents enriched the lives of others. Most people also think you must hold some high-level leadership position to make these things happen. The truth is you don’t. When I think about my personal legacy, very little of it comes from anything I did in a leadership role. Most of the valuable contributions I made were through showing compassion to those who needed it, speaking up for what’s right even when it was hard, and (in the wise words of Brené Brown) choosing courage over comfort as often as possible. My legacy is not about who I was as a leader, but about my choice to show up and be all in for my sisters and my community.

Legacies are a tricky thing to write about. You don’t really know what they look like until you’ve moved on to the next step of your life. They also are largely based on how others perceive you and how you choose to grow from your experiences. When I think about the people who have impacted me the most, I recall their kindness, compassion, dedication, and tenacity. Their legacies shaped me in huge ways. Were they chapter or council leaders? Some were and some weren’t. And, contrary to popular belief, those who weren’t in positions of leadership were just as impactful as those who were. You don’t need a leadership position to make a difference. You make a difference in the lives of others when you are intentional with your interactions, when you show up and are all in, and when you show kindness as often as possible.

My challenge to those wondering what their legacy will be is to redefine the word. You don’t need to overhaul your entire chapter, council, or community to make a difference. You make a difference when people leave conversations with you feeling seen and heard. You make a difference when you are unconditionally and unwaveringly kind. You make a difference when you stand up for what is right even when that means standing alone. You make a difference when someone says they are better for knowing you. Legacies are the culmination of a million tiny interactions. When we are intentional about how we show up in our lives and in the lives of others, we set the foundation for great things to happen in the futures of our chapters, councils, and communities.

Lauren Hughes is an incoming graduate student at the University of Florida in their Higher Education and Student Affairs master’s program. She is a Chi Omega with a deep passion for enriching the fraternal community, working towards social excellence, and living in to her values. Upon completion of her master’s program, she hopes to work professionally in fraternity/sorority life in a role that will allow her to make a national impact. A recent Virginia Tech graduate, she loves cheering on the Hokies and all things maroon and orange.


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