After completing my pledgeship and becoming a NAK, I was riding high! It was the end of my freshmen year and as challenging as the year had been, it all seemed to be working out wonderfully. My grades were solid, I had been accepted into an internship at IBM (thanks Inroads / Fernando!), I was part of an amazing group of brothers, and I even had a girlfriend. To put it lightly, I was convinced that I had laid a fantastic foundation for my college career. All I had to do was not screw it up. Unfortunately for my plans, I was a 19-year-old male and crewing things up is what 19-year-old males do.
Shortly after becoming a NAK, I started learning about the inner workings of the organization. Roles, responsibilities, hierarchies, and politics. Just like any organization, the fraternity had its share of challenges. From small things like punctuality to bigger things like mission and vision, the brothers didn’t always see eye-to-eye. At the time, I found this to be a major issue. But in hindsight, this is the exact same thing I have experienced in every volunteer organization that I have ever been apart of.
Specifically, I found the following universal truths for volunteer organizations:
1. You get out at least 10 times what you put in. Don’t complain if you’re putting in more work than somebody else.
2. Everyone has different talents and can contribute in their own individual way. Most people simply need to be asked to help.
3. 20% of the people do 80% of the work, and this is ok. Each of us contribute at varying levels in different situations at different times.
4. When there is a need or vacancy in responsibility, people will always step up. If the need is already being met or there is no vacancy, don’t expect people to step up.
5. It is completely acceptable to remove (fire) a volunteer from their position and have them serve in a different (more suitable) role.
If only I had known then what I understand now.
Right after I crossed (i.e. became a NAK), our chapter had a large group of guys graduate, leaving the organization in hands of just a handful of inexperienced bros. That next year, we managed to hold things together and pledge a class of five guys and a class of eight guys the year after that. During those two years, I spent a lot of blood, sweat, and tears taking care of logistical, financial, administrative, and leadership tasks while others seemed to be content just hanging out. At the time, this really didn’t sit well with me. But, as I see it now, what did I truly expect? If I’m taking care of a task, why would it even be on anyone’s radar that the task is even being done, much less that I would appreciate some help? The fact was, I didn’t need help. I could handle it on my own. And if I wanted help, it was my responsibility to ask for that help. Especially since I was dealing with a group of 18 and 19-year-old guys.
But, like I said, I didn’t understand that back then. So instead of continuing to be productive, I became resentful. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t see the true value that the many of the other brothers were bringing to the table. What I saw as “just hanging out” was actually some much needed “relationship building” amongst both the brothers and the community at large. Sure, it would have been beneficial if more of the bros were about taking care of business. But, it would have also been beneficial if I was more about taking care of the relationships too and not so focused on the business.
There is one-time in particular where I chose business over relationship and it haunts me to this day: It was the beginning of my Senior year and we were having our standard “First Wednesday of the new Quarter” house party. At this point, I had been hosting parties at the NAK house for about two and a half years and I knew the routine: We would get a DJ, a keg of beer, and open up our front door. Next thing you knew, 150 people would be dancing in our living room and kitchen. As you might imagine, we would regularly get visited by the local police department if we didn’t keep the folks inside and windows closed to dampen the volume of the music. Initially, the bros decided to take turns playing security, making sure there weren’t people making too much noise out front.
Being the senior undergraduate bro at the time, the job of speaking with cops when they showed up always seemed to fall on me, to the extent that I was on a first name basis with a couple of the officers. As such, I was definitely a lot more concerned with keeping our parties under control than some of the other bros were, since they would simply leave with the rest of the crowd when the cops showed up while I would be the one to stay behind and sign the citations.
In an attempt to keep our parties slightly smaller so that the cops didn’t break them up early, a couple of us discussed some ground rules for when we were on security duty, which was stupid idea from the beginning since none of us paid any attention to legitimate rules, much less were we going to follow rules we made up ourselves. Even so, one thing we discussed was not letting big groups of guys into our parties. The reasoning for this was to keep the ratio of guys to girls at even level, as opposed to the parties at the traditional frat houses that consisted of a bunch of guys standing around a keg. Sure, we had a keg, but we definitely wanted people to be dancing too and that required an even ratio.
This made logical sense to me. It made business sense to me. I had seen plenty of people get turned away from entering house parties because there were already too many people there. So, just one time, I decided to try it.
I was standing out in front of the house and we had a great party going on. The music was at the perfect volume, everyone was inside the house, the drinks were flowing, and the dance floor (living room) was full. Just then this big group of freshmen guys come walking down the side walk. As they get close, I meet them at the sidewalk.
“Is this the NAK House?” one of them asks.
“It is.” I respond coldly.
“Can we come in?” he asks hopefully.
“I’m sorry gentlemen, but we’re full tonight.” I respond with a condescending tone.
“Hey, I know you!” shouts one of the guys from the back.
“Who me?” I say. “No, you don’t know me.”
“Yeah man! I know you! We met on move-in day. You helped me move in to my dorm! Remember?!”
To which I finished the conversation with “Sorry fellas, I’m going to have to ask you to move along.”
And just like that, they turned around and headed back down the sidewalk.
Here’s the problem: The guy was telling the truth. He did know me and I did remember him, even though I pretended not to. But, because I was more concerned with the business of messing up the guy-to-girl ratio and perhaps having to talk to the cops just one more time, I denied this kid and friends from coming in to our house and partaking in our festivities.
Don’t get me wrong, in no way do I think that this was the worst thing that ever happened to this group of guys. What I’m saying here is that I had the chance to hook some guys up with some great people and a great time and chose not to. What I’m saying is that I could have made the guy look like a hero if I simply would have said “Oh yeah, I remember you! What’s up man?! I didn’t recognize you in the dark – Come on in guys! Make yourselves at home!”
But I didn’t.
Instead, I played the asshole gate keeper and sent them on their way.
No, this wasn’t the only time I let my exclusiveness rob other people of good experiences, but it is the time that I remember the most. The difference between this time and the other times was that my friends were usually present to see me be a jerk. This time, however, I was a jerk all by myself at the end my driveway and no one except for that freshman and I knew the truth. Until now, that is.
The unfortunate truth is that I’m positive there have been many times in my life where I choose poorly and denied people of assistance when I could have easily gone out of my way and made a huge difference in their lives. But I didn’t and now I wish I had.
And therein lies what I believe to be the true value of a college experience: Living in an environment where you are sheltered from real world consequences and free to make (and learn from) stupid makes.
In college, I studied hard, worked hard, and partied harder. I traveled, gained valuable leadership skills, made some amazing friends, and had countless good times. But more than anything, I learned hard and valuable lessons like “drinking the night before a midterm is a bad idea”, “nothing is better than weekend a road trip to San Diego with your friends”, and “never, ever, go to Tijuana, Mexico”. Additionally, through my 3-year long college internship at IBM, I learned that I definitely did not want to be a Software Engineer, which is something I didn’t learn in my Computer Science classes.
And therein lies what I believe to be the true scam of a college experience: The academic education isn’t all that relevant.
Don’t get me wrong: My degree in Computer Engineering has served me very, very well. But I was fortunate in that I most of tuition was covered by scholarships and the field I chose is both high paying and in high demand. Had I chose a less lucrative field and took out $100K in student loans, I’m not so sure I would feel the same way. Even so, I can’t say that I’ve ever used any of knowledge that I learned from the eleven math classes that I had to take after I finished Calculus. When it comes to acquiring knowledge in order to become gainfully employed a career field with growing opportunities, there are much better and much more affordable avenues than a traditional university. When it comes to curriculum, especially in the technology fields, the universities are slow to adopt the latest and greatest. Their model is too focused on theory as opposed to real world experience. Additionally, their curriculums and programs are not as closely aligned with the real world jobs as they should be.
As such, if relevant knowledge is the only goal, online courses and trade schools / community colleges have a far higher return on investment. However, if the social experience is of great value and you have the financial means, then there is no substitute for living on campus and attending a traditional university.
College is like Disney Land for young adults. Go Broncos!