Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate college student enjoying the heck out of my junior year, I was fortunate to be part of something that I will remember, with pride, forever.
In my college days, I was a member of a fraternity. We weren’t the biggest house on campus, and we were not considered a particularly talented group of guys when it came to academics or athletics. We were, however, a pretty close-knit crew. This is still the case all these years later as I consider several of my fraternity brothers as my best friends to this day.
We were close-knit in the sense that we hung out with each other, stuck up for each other, and generally exhibited the best traits that you associate with being part of a group of people united by common interests and an appreciation for the time and the place and a cause, in this case our fraternity.
At the beginning of my junior year, we were talking about goals and things that we could do to make that year particularly memorable. As part of that discussion, we talked about what it would take to win the intramural fraternity sports championship, which was a year-long competition involving every sport offered. This would be no small task, given the shortcomings of our overall size and lack of athletic abilities, and the fact that, as far as we knew, our house had never been crowned as sports champions in our long history on campus.
The more we thought about it, however, the more apparent it became that if we committed to participate in every sport, regardless of our skill set or how well we would do in each individual or team competition, we would earn points for showing up and representing our house. We figured that if we made it a point to field individual and teams in every sport throughout the year, we would gain an advantage over every other house.
That quickly became the mission and it took every single member of our house to commit to it. We mapped out every sport and when it was offered. We sought and obtained buy-in from everyone and then we drew up the rosters for each team sport and, where possible, fielded multiple teams for each of those sports. We filled the maximum number of slots we were allowed for each individual sport.
We posted reminders for upcoming games and the results from every contest as well as the standings for overall points earned amongst all the fraternities on campus, of which there were thirty-three.
We also made sure that we had fans at every event, our own fraternity brothers and anyone else who was interested and available. Sometimes, we did very well and sometimes we were routed. Sometimes, the results were disappointing because we expected to do better and sometimes, we exceeded our expectations.
For my part, let’s just say that I was known more for my effort and mental fortitude than for my athleticism, which was and still is essentially non-existent. I did play every single team sport that year and I did successfully return to competitive swimming for the first time since I had double shoulder surgery at the end of my sophomore year in high school. I also was humiliated on the racquetball court and trounced in a few other events that I am trying to forget.
We had a lot of fun. The house was probably closer that year than had ever been the case previously. Everybody did his part, and in the end, we did it! We won the fraternity intramural championship, purely by being more committed to the goal and outhustling every other house in the process.
Before you think that I am writing about this purely to the relive the glory days of college, let me get to the point. Despite the challenges and the unprecedented nature of the objective, we prevailed. Despite a lack of talent, we came out on top. We won because we were committed to being there. We committed to the goal. We committed to the work that it took to achieve the goal. We committed to each other.
The bottom line is that being there is more important than just about anything else you can ever do.
At its foundation, being there is the first fundamental step. You cannot progress through school without being there on a regular basis. You cannot advance in your career without showing up for work. It would be impossible to be an effective parent if you never spent time with your children.
Despite all of this, the importance of being there is often dismissed. In recent years, thanking someone for being there has been equated to rewarding them just for showing up. Let me be clear on this. There is a big difference between handing out a trophy to every participant simply for being physically present and the rewards that you earn when you are a committed, unconditional, active participant toward the achievement of your goals and those of your teammates, co-workers, and family.
You cannot be a good student if you don’t go to school. Over the years, and especially now, school has been more broadly defined. Even in the broadest definition of school and what that definition is to you, success as a student is predicated on the participation and commitment of that student.
You cannot be an effective leader if you do not spend time with your co-workers every day. It is impossible to get to know anyone without spending time with them, asking them questions, observing their strengths, and seeking ways to put them in a position to succeed. You may not always make the right decision, but you have a much better chance for doing so when you spend time with your team.
When it comes to parenting, it is even more important to be there. In all my experiences and adventures, I have never been more humbled than I have been as a father. At one time or another, I have second-guessed almost every decision I have ever made. Whatever pre-conceived notions I had entering parenthood have, at a minimum, been challenged. Things that I thought I knew with absolute certainty have become uncertain in my mind.
Sometimes, the only absolute thing that I have going for me as a parent is my knowledge that I have been there for my kids. I have been there every step of the way and they have never had to question whether I was interested in them, or if I cared about them, or if I wanted to be involved in their lives. I’ve been there. It means everything to me, and I know that it means a lot to them as well.
When you reflect on the best and/or the most impactful times of your life, think about who you were there for and who was there for you. The most meaningful relationships you have are always forged during these times and they form the basis for what endures in your memory.
You may not remember a specific test that you aced, but you will likely remember who helped you study for it. You may not remember the details of a business plan or strategy session, but you will remember who was on the team that helped you achieve the goals that you set.
Being there isn’t the only step necessary to take if you want to find purpose and meaning in your life, but it is the most important one and it is not out of reach for anyone.
Everyone is capable of being there.
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union
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