What can you learn from the people you meet in school?

For me, the best thing about college was not just what I learned from classes, it was also what I learned about life. Going away to school was the first time I was on my own, and I was thrown into situations where I was living and learning with people I had never met before. As I matured over the 4 years, I can look back at several people who stand out. Some, because being around them was amazing and others that were not all that positive. Regardless, I learned some powerful lessons from all of them; including this one:
I was on the social committee of the business fraternity that I joined my sophomore year. We were in charge of the large events the organization hosted, and there was no shortage of work to be done. The chair of the committee was a full time student and had a part-time job that was pretty demanding. We knew he was always busy, so many of us volunteered to help out; but he always said things were under control. Needless to say, he was constantly forgetting to do important things, including securing a location for our opening pledge retreat, sending in a deposit check to a catering company and not picking up a block of tickets to a football game. (That one was big!) Regardless of what happened, he always had an excuse for why he messed up, yet he still would not allow anyone to take on any significant responsibility. Finally, the President asked him to step down as Social Chair because—in her words—he could not be trusted. He was angry because he felt that this was unfair. He had an excuse for the mistakes he made and was honest about them. Her response was… “Yes, but there is more to trust than telling the truth.”

So what did I learn from this situation?

  • It’s ok to ask for help: No one can do it alone; sometimes you just need to swallow your pride and ask for help.
  • Delegation: You can be responsible for it all, but there is nothing wrong with sharing the responsibility.
  • Excuses only go so far: If you make a mistake and have a valid excuse that is fine, but at some point people get tired of excuses and want answers.
  • You can tell the truth and still lie to yourself: I think we all appreciated the guy had a tough schedule and his excuses were valid like, “I got stuck in line at the financial aid office trying to pick up my student loan refund check.” The problem was that he was too busy to be chair of the committee and he knew it. Sure it was an honor, but deep down he knew that he could not handle that commitment with his schedule and should have been honest about it.
  • Trust is everything: The President’s comments have stuck with me for some time, and the older I get the more I understand it. Trust is the base of all relationships. Trust is more than just telling the truth as you see it; it’s also doing what you say you are going to do. By not trusting his committee members, by not taking responsibility for his mistakes, and by not honoring his commitments he had damaged his relationships with all of us.

Never underestimate the impact that the whole college experience can have on your life. When you look back on it, you may be surprised at what you learned. It’s amazing how little situations like this can teach you lessons that stick with you forever. I am not sure what happened to the people from this story, but they had an impact on me. When I go through leadership training, I can point to that organization and that committee as an example of what not to do. Does anyone else have a story they want to share?

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