Sigma Tau

I remember walking into a meeting room in the Student Union at UCF. I think it was the end of my first year of college, if I remember correctly. I was there for another meeting of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society. We were to vote on a new executive board.

I was the overachiever, the over-involved, I was young and had no need for full nights of sleep. I had just come out of community college, where I’d spent most of high school taking dual-enrollment classes. There was little to nothing that ever seemed to happen at the tiny Titusville campus of Brevard Community College (the honors English class I hoped to take was eventually cancelled after I was the only one to sign up for it). So, when I got to UCF, I decided to do it all. I went to work, padding my resume as much as I could.

Sigma Tau was part of my push to be involved in everything, but the little club was at that time a lot like the Titusville BCC. Nothing was really happening. I was active in other clubs and had just interviewed for a fairly important spot on an executive board of an established leadership organization. I thought my involvement in Sigma Tau would stop at attending meetings, maybe participating in a fundraiser here or there, and so on.

So, I showed up for the meeting. As I remember, it was me, Sabrina, and the outgoing president. Maybe our faculty advisor was there. Maybe not. I’m fuzzy on the details, but clear on one thing: Sabrina and I walked out of the meeting de-facto president and vice-president of the club. Sabrina was a clear choice—she was the only one who was actually doing anything in the club, probably more active for the chapter than the president had been. But I hadn’t intended to be part of the Sigma Tau leadership; I had just showed up.

As we left the meeting room, the outgoing president said to us: “Don’t bother trying to do anything with Sigma Tau. No one shows up, no one’s interested, no one cares. My best advice is to put your energies into other endeavors.”

Well.

He meant to be helpful. And he was more helpful than he could have realized. What he did was pose a challenge. A dying, derelict club with no influence, no prominence, and no member activity. And the guy in charge, telling us not to waste our time.

What you should know about Sabrina—and I hope she doesn’t mind my talking for her; I’m sure she will correct me if I’m wrong—is that she was more of an overachiever than I was. Not in the negative sense. She was, and is, the most intensely productive person I’ve ever met, and it seems to be part of her nature to accomplish more than the average human being is even capable of. Maintaining a high GPA while balancing work, campus involvement, and a thriving social life seemed like nothing to her. She’s the consummate multi-tasker, is absolutely brilliant, is a risk-taker. I swear she runs on batteries that never seem to need much recharging. What she wants, she makes happen. And she does it all while looking better than the rest of us, too.

We started talking about what was, and what could be. I ended up getting the position I’d interviewed for. I turned it down. I wanted to devote all my energies to Sigma Tau. Around this time, Sabrina and I were in a grammar class with Zea, and she hopped on board with the whole Sigma Tau experiment. We were going to make it great. I knew we could prove everyone wrong, that we could accomplish what seemed impossible.

And we did.

Those were some of my favorite college experiences. The club went from nonexistent to thriving. We were landing in the school newspaper, we were organizing lectures with standing room only, we were having a blast.

I miss that. Here is something I’m going to put on my desk, or on my wall, or somewhere I’ll look at it regularly: “What do I believe is impossible to do in my field…but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?” I don’t know where it originated from, but Andy Stanley quoted it in his book, Next Generation Leader. (This from the same author as Visioneering.)

It made me think about Sigma Tau. That’s what we had to do. We had no other option. Continuing with the status quo meant death for the club, and we weren’t interested in presiding over a dead club.

For a while now, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a rut. There is a whole lot of status quo and not a lot of thinking about how to accomplish the impossible. And now I’ve got this group of leaders I’m responsible for, my Pod People, and we had kind of been going along at a decent pace, but it was just exactly what was expected. And nothing that was unexpected. So, I’ve been thinking for the past few months—what if? What is, and what could be?

What I told them at the dinner party this week is that the worst danger facing their groups is mediocrity. So, time to start practicing what I preach. (Now, if I could just figure out how Sabrina gets so much done…)

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6 Comments

  1. Sabrina
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Erin!! I do enjoy intensity. But I think I also pay for my productivity in some ways (ahem, like maybe my seeming inability to sustain long-term, intimate relationships). I spend time recharging! But I do sometimes think that the time I spend in recharge mode is the time that other people spend feeling connected to family and community, and I am envious. Yet, even the enjoyable social activities are still “tasks” in my mentality. It’s difficult for me to relax without solitude, and that’s just something people can’t see.

    But you’re right; I have very fond memories of Sigma Tau. Making something happen, in our own way, it gave us a sense of purpose, and it felt meaningful, and it gives me warm-n-fuzzies when I think back to how much I loved “being in college.” And your symposiums were such a hit! The best part is that the chapter is still active; we left a little legacy behind. :)

    Good luck with your Pod People! I have no doubt that you can easily set some specific goals and attain their lofty heights; you’ve done it before. A little vision and a lot of excitement can go such a long way. And Erin, I believe you can do it all with more compassion and grace and style than I’ve ever been able to demonstrate. Don’t sweat over quantity; the gift you offer those who know you is quality.

  2. Michael Robbins
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I still have my pin…somewhere! It’s in the apartment. I saw it while I was moving.

    Good times :)

  3. Dana
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Hi Erin!! I know I haven’t spoken to you in forever, but I thought I ought to throw in my two cents after this post…Ah memories! Participating and presiding over Sigma Tau Delta was definitely a highlight of college for me, not to mention a bright spot on my resume, but I could never have accomplished anything without your–and Sabrina’s (hi Sabrina!!!)–leadership and drive that got the club re-energized and thriving once again. I have a huge debt of gratitude to the both of you. I hope life is good and you and Jesse are doing well!

    (And I laughed about what you wrote about Sabrina–it rings so true! Maybe she is secretly superwoman? 😉

  4. Posted October 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Sabrina–you continue to inspire. I feel like I need a good helping of solitude myself. Perhaps it’s an only-child thing? Although, I will say that Jesse is the only person I can spend unlimited amounts of time with and not get weary of his company. (I need breaks with everybody else.)

    Michael, you were always such a wonderful part of the club! I’ve got my pin too somewhere…I’ll have to dig it up.

    Dana! Hello! I do think Sabrina is superwoman. In fact, I’m certain she’s hiding a cape in her place as we speak…

  5. Zea
    Posted October 27, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing this. It brings back great memories for me, too. I really have a great debt of gratitude I owe to you and Sabrina for inviting me to join the club and for encouraging me to be involved. I had spent my whole academic life doing well in classes but never participating in extra-curriculars. Partly I felt it wasn’t “cool” (what a ridiculous, juvenile sentiment), but mostly it was because I didn’t fancy myself a joiner. However, college is a once in a lifetime (or twice for some of us, happily) experience that is definitely made all the better by being involved in campus activities.

    The lessons I learned from being a part of Sigma Tau back then have given me the confidence to be involved in stuff at law school, which is also very rewarding. If I hadn’t started in undergrad, I don’t know that I wold have continued now, so thank you!

    I also wanted to mention what I remember about when you succeeded Sabrina as president. We had a meeting at your apartment during which you had us write personal goals for how we wanted to improve and enhance our involvement. We reviewed the goals at the end of the semester to see how well we had done. It was a really great motivational exercise, and I remember feeling then (and still feel now) that you are a natural leader. You are kind and gentle yet directed and ambitious. You inspire others to want to live up to your leadership.

  6. Posted October 28, 2009 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Zea, you were such an integral part of Sigma Tau! I’m glad it gave something back to you, as you certainly gave a lot to it (and to us).

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  1. […] “Oh yes it is.” I couldn’t believe it! Dana and I knew each other in college. She was in Sigma Tau and was VP the year I was president. She took over the club after I graduated. She’s remarkably […]

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