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As I’m sitting at my desk at work today, I peruse Facebook to see pictures of my Pledge Son graduating from ASU and a brief caption describing how he will be moving to DC within the next few weeks to start his first career steps in politics and public policy. I’m proud of him, and I know he’ll do big things. As I scroll down, I see a TFM post with a thumbnail image of an insane mixer that my chapter threw this semester. I watch the video to find footage of an event that looks simply unreal.
Back when I was in the chapter, we would have done unthinkable things to ever throw a party like this, let alone be featured on TFM for doing so. Now, I’m just a conflicted postgrad fraternity member filled with pride, envy, and a little bit of shock. And these emotions are just part of how I feel about my Greek life experience as I begin to truly examine my past, present, and future.
I had spent my freshman year living at home, working part time and going to school. I joined the fraternity during my sophomore year of college for a variety of reasons that changed according to who asked me, and how old I was. At the time, I was looking for the parties and social atmosphere. I wanted a group of brothers to hang out with, similar to what I had in high school but had not yet found at the university. Pure and simple, I was looking for a good time to round out my rigorous academic experience. Of course, years removed, that’s not the story I would tell a potential employer. Now I go on and on about the leadership development, philanthropy participation, and on-campus involvement.
I was an active member of the chapter for three years. I took my membership pretty seriously and was more heavily involved than most; I held a position every semester, including exec board positions and served on the Interfraternity Council for the university. I embraced my new found vigor and enthusiasm for the fraternal life and dove headfirst into everything that I could get involved with. Truth be told, I probably overdid it a bit.
I loved working and serving the fraternity so much that I prioritized it over my academics and work. My grades slipped, but not for the stereotypical reasons. I wasn’t avoiding homework and studying to go to $1 you call its at the bar, or because I was participating in “Thirsty Thursday.” No, I was barely passing courses because I thought Exec board meetings, pledge education programs, and planning for upcoming socials was more important than my own academic performance. I loved the fraternity a little too much.
Looking back, I can honestly say that I never truly enjoyed my time in the fraternity. I treated my involvement as more of a job than a social outlet. I spent countless hours every Sunday in executive board and chapter meetings instead of going to brunch and lounging poolside like the average active member. The irony is that the reason that I joined the chapter to begin with was for that social outlet that I never fully utilized.
What do regular fraternity men do after graduation? As far as I can tell, they move on. They enter the workforce and recount all of the awesome experiences and fun times they had in college as part of being Greek. And me, well I did probably the worst thing that I could have done. I accepted a job working for my national headquarters as a leadership consultant. So after three years of loving the fraternity so much that I made it my job, I took an actual job working for the fraternity.
At the time, it seemed like a great idea. In retrospect, that whole adage of “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”…yeah, it doesn’t always work out that way. During my time as a consultant, I was eating, sleeping, and breathing fraternal values and ritual. I was surrounded by it, consumed by it. I felt like there was no escape.
After my term as a consultant, I returned to my home state with the intentions of preparing for grad school while also helping out my old chapter. We had been plagued with little to no alumni involvement for years. I had this over-inflated sense of confidence that, with my headquarters experience and connections, I was going to solve all of the chapter’s problems and create a powerhouse.
Then, it happened. The final straw that broke the camel’s back. After a few months of serving as a graduate advisor, I was asked to clean house and purge some of the chapter’s bad apples. I think that was the experience that put the nail in the coffin for me. Just like that, the potential for me to finally have an enjoyable and positive relationship with the fraternity was eliminated.
I had slaved for the fraternity as an undergraduate, and as a postgrad working for headquarters. I thought to myself, “I’ll be damned if I let the fraternity continue to dictate my life’s direction and outlook.” It was time to finally be selfish and start figuring out my own shit. I had misaligned my priorities as an undergraduate and was dealing with the consequences.
In order to achieve my goals and not get distracted, I knew that I had to distance myself. I cut the cord. I pulled the plug. I passed the torch onto others hoping that they could support the chapter in ways that I couldn’t. Truthfully, I feel sort of awkward and ashamed about it still, almost like a bad breakup. As a result, I don’t come around anymore. I don’t show up at the chapter house on the weekends after drinking at nearby bars, I don’t go to tailgates, and no, I didn’t attend the annual graduate dinner this year.
You see, I just need some space. With time, I’m hoping that I can look back on my fraternity experience and think about all of the good times that I once had. Maybe then I’ll be ready to make that alumni donation and attend the occasional chapter meeting. But for now, I’m still just burnt out from running a “fraternal” marathon for five plus years.
I don’t regret joining the fraternity. Greek life has molded me into the man that I am today, introduced me to my fiancée and some of my best friends and landed me the job I have now. What I do regret is how I spent my time while in the chapter. I took things too seriously and obsessed over things that were out of my control. There really wasn’t that much work to do in the house, but I always found ways to make myself busy.
Looking back, the invitations that I turned down to grab a beer with brothers or spring break adventures that I wasn’t a part of, continue to haunt me. Talking to my best friend about all of this, he said the following: “This is essentially a microcosm of that adage ‘when you’re old sitting in a rocking chair thinking about life, are you going to be thinking about how much you worked or how much fun you had?’” No truer words have ever been spoken. If I could offer some advice to those wrapping up their college semester, I would tell them the following:
Take advantage of the college experience; nothing in Greek life should be taken so seriously that you aren’t enjoying your time in the chapter. Relax and have fun. Never again will you have opportunities like the ones in front of you now..