Sunday, March 12, 2017

What vs. Who

From the recent Rotary pres-elect training in Ames, IA.  Photo by J. Berta.

Greetings All:

I haven't posted for a couple of weeks.  In that time, I've had a number of things going on, including MC'ing our local Veterans' Conference, spending a quite cold weekend in Wisconsin and then this past weekend behind "enemy lines" at Iowa State University for the North Central Regional Rotary Presidents-Elect Training Seminar.

Rotary International is a service organization I joined a few years back at the invitation of my neighbor Dave.  Founded in 1905 by Paul Harris (an University of Iowa Law School alum) it is truly an international organization.  Yet its strength (in my opinion) is in the local groups and the people who volunteer their time in their communities.

Paul Harris memorialized on a Brazilian postage stamp, 1968, public domain, Wikipedia

Likely best known for its work in eradicating polio, Rotary has been front and center in the efforts to rid the world of this horrific disease.  According to the Center For Disease Controls and Prevention, CDC,  polio is on the ropes.  Here's hoping for a knock out blow, and soon!

However, the works of Rotary are best seen not around the globe but around the block.  Local Rotary clubs spend their time, talent and treasure working to better the communities where they reside.  I am proud of the work my club does.

Yet if I am going to be honest, I am more than a bit apprehensive about this upcoming year.  I have a difficult time saying "NO" to joining groups and I am not exactly bored with my professional pursuits.  I think that when I committed to being on the leadership track for my club that I took comfort in the fact my term as president was years away.  Now, those years are now a few months.  Gulp.

It will be a LOT of work.  I want to do a solid job as club president and know that there will be moments of frustration.  I want to limit those and instead focus on the meaningful work that our club will do.  I am also profoundly aware of this inarguable fact:  I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by a terrific group of people genuinely committed to Rotary's mission.  I am already in their debt for their support for working together on this collective mission of "Service Above Self." (Rotary International's motto.)

Still, I know myself well enough to recognize there will be moments where I will be tired, overwhelmed by life, upset about something major or ridiculously trivial matter during this year term.  I want to be able to keep things in perspective and also view this year of service as a positive experience, not an event of dread.  Actually, I have been thinking about this matter for some time now.  It just all came to a head for me this weekend during the seminar.

On Friday afternoon, I was in an educational session when a new friend said something that hit me, hard.  She commented, "I want my club members to stop being Rotary Members and instead be Rotarians."

As the weekend went on, I kept thinking about that statement.  For me, it crystallized the whole "what" vs. "who" debate I suspect most, if not all of us experience in life.  In this context, it was the "what" of being a Rotary member versus the "who" of being a Rotarian.

Here's what this means to me:  Rotary membership is a public affirmation that I am a member of an organization whose mission, values and actions are things I support.  Being a Rotarian is saying to myself:  "I endeavor to live Rotary's mission, values and actions in my life."  I'll keep you posted on how it goes, yet in the short time I have been thinking about this, my apprehension about next year has gone down.

It can be applied to any group or organization, political party or religious affiliation.  This analysis may also be helpful in deciding if groups/organizations you have been a part of may no longer be as important to you if the "what" is kinda there and the "who" is really hard to find.

And I think it is OK to fail sometimes, to get angry, or frustrated or say, "I've had IT!" for today.  Where the relief, the energy to resume can come in is when you recognize that because (fill in the blank _____) is a part of who you are, it is easier (impossible not to, actually) get back on the horse.  

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche has a great quote:  "He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."  And along with the "how" comes the "why."  I'd encourage you to watch this TED Talk by Simon Sinek.  I am pretty sure I have shared this talk before and it's even more appropriate for this post.  He is an author whose book, Start With Why helps (at least me) "get" the concept of what really matters.  

So as I get ready for my year as club president, I hope I can recall that I am first a Rotarian and my Rotary membership is a distant second.  If I can do that, then this next year (starting in July) should be one I will not forget and look back on with almost exclusively fond memories.  

I will leave you with a photo of "The Four-Way Test."  It nicely sums up what I believe all Rotarians strive for in their daily lives.  

Our Rotary Club's banner for "The Four-Way Test."  Photo by J. Berta

It's a great way to approach life and I know many people who perhaps unconsciously live their lives by this test.  They may not be Rotarians, yet sure live like one.  In the end, that is all that matters.

Be well my friends,


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