Are you one of those people who complain about how the world is run? Do you sit with your friends and say, “Those bastards in Washington need to get a clue” or “Why don’t our politicians do something for us?” or “How about a tax break for us poor folk down here. We deserve something!”
No. I mean it. Complaining accomplishes nothing. If you have a problem with something, you’re responsible for fixing it. I learned this in college when I was in a leadership position. Here is what happened and how it taught me never to complain again.
In college, I was the Vice President of Membership of my sorority, Sigma Kappa. My job was to get us as many new pledges/members as possible during Rush week. It was a huge job. There were 4 days of Rush and up to 8 parties per day to plan. I had to train the members on how to interact with Rushees, make sure the room was decorated properly, get everyone the same outfits, prepare speeches, get everyone fed, fill out forms, stay up late, motivate the tired troops, yada yada yada. I had a couple of assistants but it was a still a ton of work.
On Day 3 of Rush, we were required to do a stage performance for our guests. Dancing, singing, something entertaining. I had to find sisters with some talent who were willing to perform 3 times in a 5 hour period, and who didn’t already have other jobs on other days. And they had to be good! I looked through the roster and realized there were only three girls left who didn’t have major jobs to do. I asked them if they would do it and they agreed. When I made the announcement to my sorority members on one of our training days, I noticed that there was a certain uncomfortable shuffling going on. Hmm… what was that all about?
Later that night I got a call from a sister who was really irate. She laid into me the moment I picked up the phone. Here is roughly how our conversation went.
Sorority Sister: Erin! I can’t believe you picked those three to do our entertainment. They are the flakiest people in our sorority. They’re going to ruin everything! They probably won’t even rehearse and they’ll probably flake the day of the party. We’ll be screwed! What were you thinking?
Erin: Well, I was thinking that a) when I asked for volunteers no one raised their hand, b) all three of these girls are gorgeous and very talented, and c) they agreed to do it. I don’t see a problem.
Sorority Sister: Well a bunch of us are really upset by this and we’re going to go over your head and tell the advisors that you’re not doing a good job and you’re going to totally screw up Rush for us. We’re going to recommend that they replace you unless you start doing things right.
Erin: (now I was annoyed, but I had a bright idea.) You know what, Sorority Sister dear? You’re right. These three girls are total flakes. There really is a good chance that they won’t practice and won’t even show up for Rush. So you know what… YOU’RE now in charge of them. You get to plan their practice sessions, you get to figure out what their costumes are going to be, and you’re going to be 100% responsible for making sure they and their costumes are at Rush on time, and that they are ready to perform, even if you have to pick them up in their pajamas from their boyfriends’ houses the morning of Rush!
Sorority Sister: Oh, er, uh. Well. I mean, I don’t really have time to get involved in something like that. I mean, that’s so much responsibility. I just want you to fix it.
Erin: Look, you had time to complain, and besides, everything you said is right. Now, are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
Sorority Sister was silent. She was thinking.
Erin: And you know what? I think you would be the perfect person to keep them on track and make sure they practice.
Sorority Sister: Really? You think so?
Erin: Absolutely. You obviously care a lot about our sorority and the success of Rush, right?
Sorority Sister: Yes, I do, very much.
Erin: Then help me. Because I can’t do it alone. I need you.
Sorority Sister: Okay, Erin. I think I can do it. You know what? I CAN do it.
And you know what? She did! She rode those girls hard and made sure they practiced. And when they came out on stage dressed in their beautiful black gowns with the white gloves and started singing, the crowd went wild! That year we had our best Rush in our chapter’s history and won the Presidential Award too. After Rush, that sorority sister was beaming with pride. She called me up and apologized for how rudely she treated me and thanked me for showing her how to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I also got a call from one of the three girls who sang. She said, “You know what Erin? We were so surprised when you asked us to sing at Rush. We thought everyone thought we were flakes and weren’t good enough to do anything. But we really enjoyed ourselves. Thanks for believing in us and giving us a chance to do something for our sorority.”
Success all around. Lessons learned.
My motto is, “If you’re not willing to do something about it, don’t complain.” You don’t have the right. Don’t flap your gums, flap your arms! Get in there and fix it if you don’t like it. If I don’t like how something is done, I do something about it. If I don’t want to do something about it (which happens) then I don’t complain.
If it’s really important to you, then you do it. Don’t expect other people to adopt your agenda and put it into action. Don’t expect other people to fix your problems. They’re all out there fixing their own problems. If you don’t like where the ship is going, grab the wheel and turn it around. If you don’t want to steer the ship, then get out of the way of people who do. And if you end up in a port you didn’t want to be in, tough.
When you take responsibility for your own life then there is no one else you need praise or blame. There is no “they.” “They” are not going to fix the world. You are!
So suit up and get out there. Get your hands dirty, don’t just stand there holding a towel for someone else. The world needs people willing to do something, not people who just talk about doing something. Don’t just raise your voice, lift your feet and get moving!
Because … you obviously care a lot about our world, right? Then help me, because no one can do it alone. The world needs you.