My mother still can’t believe I ever joined a sorority. I was the young tomboy who wore baseball caps with my long ponytail hanging out the back. I vowed never to wear a skirt or carry a purse. The girl friends I had growing up generally turned out to be catty drama llamas or straight-up bitches (with a few special exceptions). I surrounded myself mostly with guy friends in high school and laughed in people’s faces when they asked me if I was “going Greek” in college. Yeah. Right.
Fast forward to my junior year when I transferred to Sonoma State from my community college and suddenly I was in a different reality. Granted, I had matured and had a few more girls in my life who set a better example of what female friendships could be like, but I still wasn’t interested in this so-called “sisterhood.” I was, however, interested in having a strong network and showing philanthropic efforts on my resume for my post-grad life – whatever those things might do for me was still a question.
Looking back, sure, sorority life brought me great friends and definitely had its fun “movie moments” (a.k.a. bad decisions), but most importantly, it taught me many valuable business and life lessons…
1. Learn to laugh at yourself ... because you will embarrass yourself.
It is a certainty that at some point, you will do something completely dumb. Maybe it’s putting your foot in your mouth in an important meeting or walking out of the bathroom with your dress tucked into your underwear. Find a way to laugh about it, shake it off and keep going.
2. You are your letters.
My sisters and I were known as being members of our sorority (or at least Greek) everywhere we went, whether or not our bodies, books, bags or cars were adorned with Greek letters … and the same is true now in business. People associate me with my company, and my company with me. If I get hammered at the local bar tonight and make an ass of myself, it reflects poorly on the organization that entrusts their business and reputation to me. And it goes both ways; if the company I work for were to suddenly take a political stance the public at large didn't agree with, for example, it would reflect on me because I choose to work there. The line between personal and professional is getting blurrier.
3. Relationships open doors. Reputations close doors.
Where I am now has as much to do with the people who helped me along the way as it does my own efforts. Putting in the time to connect and stay engaged with people will get you further faster (especially if those people are gatekeepers or key influencers in your industry). The same can be said for what holds you back; if people don’t like or respect you because you haven’t earned their affinity, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are … you will only get so far.
4. Meetings should have a purpose and an end time.
Don’t have meetings for the sake of having meetings. I showed up on campus every Sunday for a mandatory meeting that was 2-3 hours long on average. There is something to be said for a standing meeting for which you must come prepared and to have an opportunity for face time with colleagues to discuss important issues. BUT, keep the dialogue on track and don’t waste everyone’s time. If it can be handled via email or a phone call, do that instead. If a meeting is necessary, create an agenda and stick to it. Better yet, take a note from “Robert's Rules of Order” and give each person the floor to discuss their business and then move on, allowing new topics to enter the discussion only at the end. (Oh, and bring snacks – a lesson I forgot at my recent 5-hour work meeting!)
5. Being a team player means knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to shut up.
Imagine a normal-sized college classroom filled with 60 girls … that’s 60 opinions, 60 perspectives and a LOT of chatter. It was exhausting trying to make decisions by committee. When the discussion keeps going in circles, step up and take charge. Sometimes there is a leader but she's not leading and you're going to step on some toes. Step anyway. When other people have a healthy opinion and show initiative, give ‘em a shot and don’t be combative. People often rise up when given the opportunity; follow the people you believe in. And when you are indifferent or have nothing nice to say, listen to your mother. Say nothing.
6. Be cordial not fake.
You won’t get along with everyone, and the sooner you accept this (and accept them) the easier your life will become. There are some people with whom you will just never see eye-to-eye, and that’s okay. Groups thrive from diversity. But you have to find a way to work with these people cordially and cohesively, which means not being fake. Condescension is an office buzzkill and makes you look bad. Find common ground and a way to play nice. You can't change them but you can change your attitude.
7. Time Management 101: If you want to get something done, assign it to a busy girl (or guy).
I hustle. I'm a "get 'er done-er" – always have been, always will be. I realize, however, not everyone is like me. Some people are methodical and task-oriented, maybe even perfectionists, while I manage a million things at once and have learned to reach a level of "good enough" that will suffice for each so I can manage to complete everything. For as much as I have on my plate, I can always add more because I'm simultaneously taking things off of it. If you want to make sure something gets done, give it someone who's already managing a lot. They're used to juggling so they won't get overwhelmed or forget your request. Better yet, learn to juggle.
8. Find a mentor ... and pay it forward.
The sorority Big & Little concept is a great one. Your Big takes you under her wing and shows you the ropes – which boys to avoid and what clothes will pass for "badge attire" (appropriate for business meetings where you wear your official sorority pin). When you're a newbie, a Little, this is sage advice. I have learned to acknowledge and respect the wisdom from my elders and find strong mentors that can show me the way. I trust them because they've lived through the growing pains and can help me avoid the pitfalls. And the best way to repay them is to pay it forward, mentoring you own Little.
9. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
Walk into a casual room dressed to the nines and sure, everyone might stare at you, but they'll be wondering if they should have tried harder. Walk into a formal room in casual attire and everyone will wonder if you missed the memo or just didn't care. Always look like you cared.
10. There’s always time for Happy Hour.
School and work never stopped me from having fun in college. I was always known as "the responsible one" but even the straight-A student wants to attend the parties. Where there's a will, there's a way. No matter how many papers or projects I had to complete, there was always time for Taco Tuesday. This is a lesson I have to force myself to keep learning over and over as I get older. The deeper I get into my career, the more work there is to do and it seems there is less and less time to play. No time for a time-out. You'll never find the time ... you have to make the time.