Pickles, Gaga, and Purpose

by Matt Mattson

Two recent blog ppickles8162901_stdosts this week from two very different sources spoke to me.  I’d like them to speak to you, and I’ll provide Phired Up’s point of view for context.

First, our great friend and a respected Fratenity/Sorority Life Professional, Jesse Koch, posted a blog about pickles as they relate to building a successful fraternity/sorority community.  I like pickles.  I like Jesse.  And I like the message in this blog.  There is no perfect pickle.  There is no fraternity/sorority that is right for everyone either.  The trick is to have a community composed of many variations of fraternity/sorority.  Read the blog for a greater understanding (it includes a great TED video from Malcolm Gladwell too!).

Another favorite blogger of mine, Seth Godin, wrote about Lady Gaga today.  Interestingly, he wrote about how he wouldn’t recognize her on the street, and that he doesn’t listen to her music… and that’s o.k.  His point (in my words): You don’t need or want everyone to like you.

lady-gaga-549-12previewSo, let me offer my point of view — inspired by those two thinkers who I strongly recommend you follow.  My point of view is that you should have a point of view.  Your organization needs a position, a stance, a focus, a PURPOSE.  What is your organization’s purpose?  (Oh, and honestly, friendship/fellowship/brotherhood/sisterhood isn’t good enough anymore).

Be about something.  Be unique.  Be controversial.  Take a stand.  Make a statement.  Be focused.  Have a point of view.

Who would join an organization that is for everybody?  Nobody.

If your organization is just a club of friends, why are you bothering to pay those ridiculous dues?

As we roll into a new calendar year, we’d like to challenge you to pick something – anything – to be about… and be about it.  Then recruit people into your purpose, not into your “club.”

As Jesse Koch might say, pick your particular pickle type and perfect your perfect pickle purpose, even if it is particularly peculiar.  Maybe he wouldn’t say that, but it felt like a fun tongue twister to me.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen/Women

by Matt Mattson

220px-the_league_of_extraordinary_gentlemen_movieI was enjoying a very rare lazy Sunday afternoon recently, and while flipping mindlessly through the channels — past the figure skating, past the “Vanilla Ice Project,” past the Mr. T small appliance infomercials, and even past the bad football (Packers v. Lions game was BORING) — I happened upon one of the worst movies ever made.  O.K., maybe not that bad.  How about this… one of the worst Sean Connery movies ever made: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Wow.  That was a bad movie.

O.K., put the cinematic quality aside for a second, and just think about the title.  Think about it.  Keep thinking.  Good… now think about it more.

If you’re like me, that title makes you think something along these lines, “Is my fraternity a league of extraordinary gentlemen?”  “Are we extraordinary or just extra ordinary?”  “Are we gentlemen?”  “What if we were extraordinary and gentlemen (all the time)?”

Ladies, is your sorority extraordinary?  What if you only invited truly extraordinary women to be a part?  What if you were so extraordinary that you operated outside the typical recruitment process/system because you were just so darn extraordinary.  You would be like superheroes..

This blog post is a little “fluffy,” I know, but it might just spark the right chord in one or two collegiate fraternity/sorority leaders…

What if you thought disney-princesses-superheroinesof your organization as a “club for superheroes only”? (Think of superheroes as the students that are truly significant and meaningful to your campus/community)

Take the word extraordinary and hold it up next to every event, meeting, T-shirt, E-mail, conversation, and member associated with your fraternity/sorority… Do you like how those look next to each other?

Choose to be extraordinary.  Choose “so-good-it’s-absurd” as the standard you set for your organization.

One last tip.  Don’t watch that movie next time it is on TNT.  Seriously, watch the Mr. T infomercial instead.

Dean’s List / Honor Roll

by Matt Mattson

dean-wormer1The Dean’s List from this semester = Your fraternity’s/sorority’s new friends next semester.


(Example: MSU Business School Fall ’09.  Fall ’10 will be out soon.)

<— That’s Dean Vernon Wormer for you youngsters.

Be More Moose, Less Hero

by Nick Gilly and Vince Fabra

Social Excellence calls for you to be less of a hero, and more of a sidekick.  In recruitment, a moose can attract heroes.  Read on to figure out what all this means…

batman-and-robinIn high school English most of us learned about the archetypal hero and the “hero’s journey.” The hero hears his calling, his inner impulse which drives him into the unknown.  Along his journey he encounters “demons” and other obstacles that try to divert the hero from his journey, but with the aid of a helper or mentor he overcomes those obstacles and succeeds in his quest.

Let’s be honest: we all want to be a hero. From early childhood playing cops and robbers we frame our lives from the point of view that we are the hero, and life is our hero’s journey. When we arrive on a college campus, we set out on our quest to find ourselves. That quest has taken us into our fraternities and sororities, and included the typical cast of helpers, demons, and obstacles along the way. We surmount odds with the ultimate goal of accomplishing great things and leaving our own legacy.

If you’re the hero, what does that make those around you? What does that make each potential new member you meet? How are you framing your conversation with him? Is he a helper being recruited into your great organization to help you on your journey? Think about this: the wo/man across the table from you is undergoing their own hero’s journey. To them, you are either a helper, a demon, or an obstacle. What will it be?

Next time you have the opportunity to have a conversation with a potential member, what if you made them the hero? What if your questions, your conversation, and your actions framed yourself as the helper instead, aiding and mentoring him on their own hero’s journey? What if instead of telling them about what your chapter does, you asked them what they would do with the chapter? What would people learn about that person through the chapter’s actions? How would that excite him/her?

Everyone wants to be the hero, so why not give the people you interact with the chance to be? How would that change the conversation?

If we strive to build successful chapters, what gives us a better chance of success than constantly recruiting heroes?

Batman had Robin. Maverick had Goose. Robin Hood had Little John. Heroes and their sidekicks pervade through stories. It is hard to find a Disney movie that doesn’t show us a hero who could not have succeeded in his quest without the aid of a helper. This is not just a fantasy construct, however; the relationship between heroes and helpers is all around us in our own lives.

3801004P COWBOYS V RAIDERSSports fans the world over recognize Emmitt Smith as a football hero. As the NFL’s all-time leader in rushing (18,000+ yards) and touchdowns (164 TD’s), I’d argue that even non sports fans recognize his name.

How about this name: Daryl Johnston? For most, “Daryl Johnston” is a name that does not ring a bell. Daryl “Moose” Johnston is a former NFL player, a Super Bowl Champ, and now a sports broadcaster. To Emmitt Smith, however, Daryl “Moose” Johnston is the most important helper of his career. See, Moose played fullback, while Emmitt Smith played running back. The primary objective of a fullback is to lead the way, clear the path and protect the running back. For 10 seasons, Moose sacrificed the ball carries, the touchdowns, the glory, and his body to ensure that Smith would be successful.

Take a look at this video, as Smith thanks Moose for being a teammate, a friend and a helper.

Then I want you to dry your eyes (if you’re anything like us) and then think of the Moose in your life. How would your life be different without their help? Who are the people that need you to be their Moose? How can we put our own hero’s journey to the side and be the helper?

How can you be the Moose?

The Significance of Insignificant Conversations

by Vince Fabra

vince-casualWith a contradiction in the title (“Significance of Insignificant”), you are either intrigued or annoyed. Either way, you are looking for answers. What I hope to do with this blog is share stories of significant results from seemingly insignificant conversations (“There is that contradiction again. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?”).

Throughout my life, I have been extremely blessed with peer mentors. I valued their opinions just as much as I did their company. However, the best advice, mentorship or guidance did not come from a scheduled, sit-down sessions. The most significant conversations were actually disguised as insignificant at the time. Some were short in length, others were odd in setting, but all were authentic in nature.

As I share these important stories with you, think about these three things:

  1. The simple conversations that have changed your life.
  2. The people who had those conversations with you.
  3. The opportunities in the future to “be the person” for someone else.

In the summer of 2004, I was in the anxious limbo between high school and college. Worried about the transition to college life, I sought the advice of a current student, Gene Gouaux. Gene and I were acquaintances, having known one another through previous high school involvement. One night, making the counselor rounds, checking to see that all the delegates were in their rooms, Gene began to assure me that I would love the University of Southern Mississippi. We launched into a deep, hour-long conversation in the bathroom of the residence hall (Remember when I said, “odd in setting?” I was preparing you for this).  Our conversation developed into Gene’s keys to a successful freshman year. Gene said getting involved was the key to my success and enjoyment in college. He was right. I got involved, and I eventually succeeded Gene as Student Body President. At the time, I knew he was a great guy looking out for a nervous 17 yr old freshman. Looking back, that conversation changed my life, and he is one of my best friends and mentors.

Gene chose to be the person who had the conversation in a bathroom.

As a college freshman, I was nearly certain that I would not be a member of a Greek-letter organization. Then I met Toby Barker. Once arriving as a freshman, Toby began the friendship/recruitment process. Toby was transparent, letting me know that he was a member of a fraternity, but he never pushed the issue. After a night of hanging with Toby and his fraternity brothers, I asked Toby, “What is the difference between being your fraternity brother and being your friend?” Toby thought about it for a second and delivered the best answer he could, “Man, it is really difficult to articulate that, but it is such a different experience. You just have to trust me.” It is safe to say that answer was underwhelming, but I made a decision to trust Toby. At the time, his answer was lackluster. Looking back, it changed my life.

Toby chose to be the person who authentically requested trust.

I am proud to say that I have been on the giving end of significant advice wrapped up in an insignificant conversation. A fraternity brother of mine, Jeff Songer, was thinking about transferring schools when he was a freshman. I gave him the most basic piece of advice anyone would think to give. I said, “Jeff, just give it a chance.” That’s it. That was my plea for my friend and fraternity brother to stay at our school. Jeff never transferred, and it wasn’t until the next spring he let me know how much that piece of advice meant to him. Jeff went on to become a leader of our chapter and a huge fan of our institution. At the time, I was just being supportive. Looking back, I said just what he needed to hear. That seemingly insignificant sentence changed his life.

I chose to be the person who vulnerably asked my friend to stay.

Conversations and stories like these exist a hundred times over. For example, a former National Council President of my fraternity says his Significant, Insignificant conversation happened when his future big brother in the fraternity invited him on an errand for a new toothbrush. These opportunities exist every day. When you wake up in the morning, are you thinking about changing someone’s life? No. You are thinking about the classes you have to attend, the work you have to do, the meeting you have to make. But what about the things that are not on your daily schedule? Insignificant conversations that offer support or even toothbrush shopping – Those are chances to build relationships, make memories and change lives. I sincerely urge you to be open to these insignificant conversations. Their significance can surprise you.

Choose to be the person who goes toothbrush shopping.

Remember the importance of every conversation – seemingly significant or not.  Social Excellence blossoms through momentary choices, being present and engaged at all times, and remembering that the big moments in life aren’t always planned, but almost always happen with others.

If your life has been touched by an insignificant (at least seemingly insignificant) conversation, I encourage you to reach out to that person and thank them for the impact they have made in your life. They may not know how significant they are.

Beyond the Standard Methods (Expansion Names Drivers)

by Vince Fabra

vince-casualOur readers know that Phired Up teaches fraternity/sorority recruitment, but we also assist with expansion and extension projects around the country (starting brand new chapters from scratch).  Whether you’re a headquarters professional or an undergraduate, you’ll find some helpful tips in this blog.

Having been a part of almost 15 fraternity expansion teams, I recognize there are some standard methods for driving names onto a names list both before you arrive to campus and once you’ve been gotten on the ground. On some projects, my expansion partners and I have gotten fat off of the leads generated early on. On others, we had to go back to the drawing board to find other helpful practices. Let me begin this blog by outlining the methods to which I am referring.

Standard Names Generation Methods for Expansion Projects:

Pre arrival:

Do some Facebook Work.

See if the Greek Advisor could hook you up with some sweet lists like the…

  • No-Bid list (students who signed up for formal recruitment but did not receive bids).
  • 3.0 Non Greek Lists (every non-Greek student with a 3.0 or above).

Post arrival:
Do sorority referral presentations asking for some cool dudes they know that are not Greek.

Do those few things and you’re set, right?  Sometimes…

Question: What if the Greek Advisor does not have access to those sweet lists, and the sororities are not as helpful as you had anticipated?

Answer: You’re screwed.

That is why more must be done to accumulate names on your list during recruitment/expansion efforts. These are the 5 tips to ensure you don’t find yourself in tears after the standard methods fail.

1. Chunking
2. Tabling
3. Identifying Key Student Organizations
4. Connecting to the faculty/staff so well that people start to think that you work at the university
5. Become a Student

1. Chunking

You’re looking at your calendar. It looks pretty bare. You’ve only got 5 meetings booked for the day. Yikes! Despite having only 5 meetings booked, this is an opportunity to put 15-25 names on your list if you close those 5 meetings with this simple question, “Who are the 3-5 men that come to mind when we talk about this opportunity?” This is called Chunking.

Students want to feel connected. Referring their friends to your recruitment effort will certainly make them feel connected. If you close each of your one on one meetings with that question, you will create a buy in with the men you sit down with and grow your names list.

Read more about Chunking here.

You can “chunk” at a whole new level once you’ve gotten a commitment from a few guys.  We recommend that as soon as someone commits to your organization, you do some extreme chunking by using our “Mind Joggers.”  Read more here.

2. Tabling

Chunking has been going well, but you need something that allows you to meet with a higher quantity of students. How can you create an atmosphere where students approach you with curiosity about what you’re doing? – Tabling in the student union or other trafficked areas on campus.

Need an example of how to table in an effective way? Check out these blog posts (here, here, and here).

3. Identifying Key Student Organizations

Chunking and tabling have been working fine, but you are having trouble reaching that caliber of student that will greatly help your organization. If only quality students got together, rallied around causes and movements? Where could we find such groups? – On the universities website. Most universities have links like this one.

You now have access to the contact information of every student organization president/advisor. Identify the groups whose values align with your organization and get to contacting them. Seek to make presentations at their meeting, create a focus group panel with their executive board, or meet with the president and chunk him or her. Any of those practices have proven to be successful.  Some organizations we’ve had recent success with include entrepreneurship groups, service groups, politically-minded groups, honors groups, and religious groups.

4. Connecting to the faculty/staff so well that people start to think that you work at the university

I was searching for a way to briefly word tip #4, but I think this works best. The key to connecting to the faculty/staff so well… is to find the one person who is connected and willing to grant you access to the faculty and staff. The Greek Advisor, Student Activities Coordinator, Student Government Advisor, Faculty Advisor of the chapter (if available) are all great places to start.

It is ironic that I be the one to give this advice, because I am not strong at this. Faculty/Staff intimidate me a little. However, when my expansion partner and I crucially needed some support on a project we were able to turn to our point of contact and get connected, yielding many new leads.

5. Become a Student

Use Social Excellence and take charge of campus… You own that place (or at least you can act like it).  Go to large classes, attend sporting events (not just the major ones), and most importantly attend the student activities put on by the 500+ other student organizations that are probably on campus.  Some examples:  A professional snowboarder talks about the environment, lots of students go.  You go too.  The “International Students Coffee Hour” happens once a week and 100+ students mingle in the middle of the student union.  You mingle too.  The Women’s Center on campus screens an independent film with discussion afterward.  You watch and discuss.

Seriously, go to any of the 50 messy bulletin boards on campus and look at the dozens of posters for events happening this week.  Build your agenda.  Be socially excellent at the events.

Don’t get me wrong, ask the Greek Advisor for sweet lists and make sorority presentations, but be prepared to do more than that to put names on your list.

I hope at least one of these tips made you think, “I didn’t know I could do that.”  The truth is, you can. Will you?

The “Say Hi” Pledge

by Matt Mattson

sayhiA link to this article in Inside Higher Ed made the rounds last week, and the implications for our Social Excellence message were obvious.  Clearly “The Social Experiment” at Columbia could have been profoundly bolstered by a little Phired Up Social Excellence training.

But there were two links buried inside that article that both surprised and inspired me.  These two links directed readers to background information on two college traditions.  One at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA (The “Speaking Tradition”), and one at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee (The “Passing Hello”). [Take a moment to read those].

Social Excellence is about momentary choices.  Daring yourself to connect with others using the Best Version of You. Choosing to engage with the people and society around you.  It is about being present and aware of the power of interpersonal connection.

Is there any simpler way to engage with the world than to just SAY HI to people as you pass them?

If you choose Social Excellence as your lifestyle.  If you want to be the best version of you today.  If you want to create a tradition in your community of engagement, interaction, connection, and relationships… start simple. Take the “Say Hi” pledge.  Raise your right hand and repeat after me.

I, [state your full name], pledge upon my honor, to say “Hi” to people as I walk past them today and every day.

I will do so with an authentic smile and a genuine wish in my heart that they might feel my positive presence in their life, if just for a fleeting moment.

I understand I am not to wink, giggle, or give a creepy stare while taking this action. I further understand that this requires an aversion of my gaze away from my cell phone or other text-messaging device.

Because I maintain this simple commitment, my community will be more connected and in some small way I will have enriched the world.

I recognize that this is just a small gesture, but that it will move me toward a full Social Excellence lifestyle.

[Since your hand is up, high-five someone to make it official.]

Note to Greeks: Since you’re members of SOCIAL organizations, what if you took a similar pledge as a whole community (or chapter)?  What if you were the people on campus who said “Hi” to people as you walked past them?  It sounds simple, yes.  But what if that was the story your campus told about you… “The Greeks here are the ones that make you smile as you pass them on campus.”  How might that help with recruitment?  How might that change the long-term behavior of your members toward your original social mission?

Note to AFA 2011 Attendees: Look for an opportunity at the Phired Up exhibit booth to make your pledge to Social Excellence.

Getting Students that “Get It” RESEARCH REPORT

by Colleen Coffey

colleen_headshot_5101The results of the first phase of Phired Up’s first research project are in and we are phreakin’ excited about them!

Download the full research report here:

Coffey, C. (2010). Getting members that “get it”: What makes the best of the best students. Phired Up Productions. Carmel, Indiana.

This study represents a major first step in the direction we want to push our fraternity/sorority partners in thinking about organizational growth.  To put it plainly, our 100+ year-old organizations have done a poor job of gathering helpful data to support decision-making around the most important part of our operations – recruitment.  Everything we do (and don’t do) springs from the way we recruit.  We are proud to significantly add to the base of public knowledge surrounding recruitment and membership selection.

Through years in the field of fraternal advising, we’ve noticed a trend: many organizations are seeking a sustainable, data driven process by which they can select the members that are most likely going to fit, persist, and succeed in their organizations. This study, “The Best of the Best Assessment” sought to examine common traits and common life experiences of fraternity and sorority students who are the best of the best. The best of the best students are defined as those who are exceptionally excellent. These members stand out among all the rest. We define common traits as a skill or personality characteristic (e.g., making others happy, kind, smart) and life experiences as a concrete encounter, situation, background, or condition. Examples of life experience include athletic involvement, large family, or chess player. Our primary focus was to answer the overarching question: What makes the very best members of fraternities and sororities?

Here is how we began to answer that question:
We asked over 100 professionals open ended questions to identify common themes, interviewed  and/ or surveyed almost 200 best of the best students themselves to find out their traits and experiences, and analyzed the results of all three of those methods. We used a technique to analyze this data called “coding for words and themes”. The analysis resulted in the 15 themes you see below.


  1. Altruistic- Students who are compassionate and passionate about service
  2. Change-Makers- Students who are not afraid of change and are excited about it
  3. Passionate- Students who “get it” and really love being Greek
  4. Outgoing Listeners- Students who are outgoing but still really value listening to others
  5. Reliable Work Ethic- Students who are very reliable and work really hard
  6. Respectful and Inclusive- Students who respect diversity and get excited about including everyone in decisions and social situations
  7. Values Focused- Via religion or personal commitment they are able to articulate a strong set of values
  8. Conference Attending- Students who have attended a leadership conference (although we do not know the causal effect)
  9. Focus on Family Dynamics- Students are supported by at least one family member and are often members of large families, many are the oldest child
  10. Involved- MEANINGFUL involvement in outside groups in high school and college, positional leadership is also important
  11. Employed- Many of them are financially responsible for a portion of their education or college experience and therefore hold jobs
  12. Learners- They love learning and going to class, they are not 4.0 students but they dig school
  13. Mentees/ Mentors- Students have a mentor and mentor others
  14. Travelers- Many have traveled extensively and abroad
  15. Those That have Overcome Adversity- They have all overcome significant adversity in their young lives.

What we are doing next? We are now creating and testing a survey to measure whether or not a potential new member is a best of the best student. We are testing that survey for content and construct validity to make sure you get the most valid and reliable tool possible. We are also creating a values based selection criteria for use during more formalized recruitment processes. When this is all over, communities, organizations, and individuals will have a reliable and revolutionary way to select members.

Good research always sparks more questions.  We would love to hear yours! Here are just a few from our staff:

  • What if our expansion/extension professionals and recruitment chairs had objective data-backed tools to determine qualification for membership based on likelihood of high-performance (instead of gut feelings)?
  • How do our fraternity/sorority professionals provide more educational opportunities that help to unearth and cultivate these “best of the best” students?
  • How do the traits and experiences of “the best of the best” students differ for each organization?  How can we help organizations answer that question?  How do culturally-based groups differ from NIC/NPC groups?  What do gender differences in traits and experiences tell us?
  • What systems, processes, assumptions, and culture does this small piece of research strongly challenge within our communities?

At Phired Up we are all about innovation but nothing can ever be innovative without participation. Your participation in this research study through answering questions, being supportive, participating in interviews, or just plain getting phired up about it were vital to our work. Thank you!  Be on the look out for even more from the Phired Up research area. Until then- keep on being curious…

Missed Rush? (or Sneak Peek)

by Josh Orendi and Matt Mattson

Missed Rush?

NKU (Northern Kentucky) Sigma Phi Epsilon deserves credit for a brilliant idea that helped spark their young chapter’s recruitment burst.  After a poorly attended fall rush week the chapter took matters into its own hands and hosted a campus-wide “Missed Rush?” marketing push and information session about 3 weeks after formal rush week.  The group was able to generate interest from dozens of men that didn’t know about the first rush week or were not able to participate.

As an alumnus of the group reports, “this was our first time experiencing taking members throughout the year … it worked … so we kept doing it.”  It’s a great feeling picking up men throughout the semester.

Sneak Peak


Take that idea one step further and apply it to the end of the semester (around NOW).  How about a 3-5 day period called “Recruitment Sneak Peek.”  Offer a preview opportunity for students considering membership in fraternities/sororities next semester.  Perhaps it includes highly visible marketing activities (all-campus event, tabling, etc.)  Perhaps it includes a targeted push to get RA’s, Student Government Leaders, Orientation Leaders, Cultural Student Organization Leaders, and other students in positions of influence to have lunches with your members.

No matter the details, make sure to create opportunities like this to gather names, start forging relationships, and driving interest in your organization (and show interest in non-members).

It doesn’t require a lot of planning.  You don’t have to wait for your organization’s governing council to make it happen. It just requires effort.  Go.

She Can Do Anything: International Girls Day

In celebration of International Girls Day, Phired Up Productions would like to take the opportunity to send messages of empowerment, perseverance, and courage to our female readers.  The women of Phired Up have each shared a personal story about being a girl.  We believe being girls is truly a gift and today, we are celebrating young girls and women everywhere!

Megan Moffett“Can I play?”

moffett_headshot_2010Growing up as the only girl in the family, “Can I play?” was the number one question I had to ask my three brothers on a regular basis. More often than not, they let me play, but when it came to football, I sometimes got the “no girls allowed” reply. No fair, right? I was a girl, but I was tough! I could do anything! And I LOVED football!

The years rolled on and I continually insisted on playing in the annual Thanksgiving Day family football game. This was a big deal! My two-hand-touch skills were decent and by the time I entered high school, my brothers had the “she’s pretty good for a girl” attitude.

Soon enough, my high school days and powder puff fun had passed and I had definitely entered my “girl” phase. Yes, I had discovered the love of a mani/pedi spa day and became addicted to lip gloss. Truthfully, it’s fun being a girl! But, I still wanted to play football. I wanted a challenge. I wanted the big leagues, baby.

In 2000, the WNFL (Women’s National Football League) was founded. The WNFL was a full-contact American football league for women. Although, due to pressure from the National Football League (the men), the WNFL changed their name to the NWFA (National Women’s Football Association) after their 2002 season. In early 2001, during my freshman year of college, I found out that there would be open tryouts in Nashville, Tennessee for the inaugural season of the WNFL. Now I wasn’t positive that I wanted to move to Nashville to play football, but I was positive that I wanted to prove that girls can do anything and that I could make the team! I had to try out! My Mom, who instilled and encouraged girl power to the fullest growing up, was on board and ready for a weekend trip to Nashville!

So, I did it. I tried out for the Nashville Dream, a professional women’s football team. I had a blast at tryouts, felt empowered, and I MADE THE TEAM!!! I even got a fancy looking contract in the mail. So was being on the Nashville Dream really MY dream? If there had been a team in Indiana at the time I would have played in a heartbeat, but I couldn’t see myself moving to another state when I was already at a good school in Indiana. No regrets. I had proven to myself that I could do anything and that girls could do anything! Even play a professional sport that had “MEN” written all over it. So remember, your gender doesn’t matter. If you are passionate about something, but feel you may not “fit in,” go for it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? Trying is the most important part of any challenge. You go girl!

Colleen CoffeyA Story of Survival: Dealing with mental health issues

colleen_headshot_510My name is Colleen Coffey and I am the Director of Research and Women’s Development Coach for Phired Up Productions. I have spent the last decade of my life with an interest in helping young women grow, develop, love themselves, and love each other. I am proud of the work I have done and still do to help others. There was a time in my life when I was the one who really needed help.

Growing up, I struggled to be happy. I often heard my parents fighting and was sometimes scared for my own safety. I was always tired at school and could not concentrate. I was lonely and sometimes stared out my bedroom window for hours on end just wondering why I could not stop crying. I was teased and taunted at school and sometimes ignored at home. This triggered in me a depression and sense of anxiety that would seem almost insurmountable throughout the rest of my life. As a teenager, I tried many methods to deal with these feelings- from running away to protesting food to fighting to withdrawing. I was diagnosed with moderate depression and anxiety as an adolescent.  I would spend extensive time in therapy, trying to cope with what was going on inside.

In high school, I learned how to pretend that everything was okay.  I was a cheerleader, a homecoming attendant, and a student of dramatic arts. I had friends and everyone around me thought everything was fine but inside sometimes I felt like dying, I wanted out of my house, and could not seem to shake the feeling that something is immensely wrong with the world.

In spite of my issues, I still attended college where I seemingly flourished. I was a popular sorority girl, became sweetheart of a fraternity, lead new student orientation and wound up using those experiences to drive my professional career.  While I showed incredible promise, I still struggled. I began to rely on food control an exercise to deal with that struggle. I never wanted anyone to know what was really going on inside, even I did not fully understand it. The obsession with food and exercise took the pain away for a little while. It was the only way I knew how to cope.

Something happened when I was a young adult that would shape the way I thought about life, love, emotions, challenges and faith. In 2004,  I was supposed to attend the birth of my niece. I was supposed to be right outside the door as she came into the world. The morning she was born, I was in the gym. I could not skip even one day because sadness and anxiety would take over and I would loose the ability to function. I missed the birth of my niece. That was a huge deal for me and everyone around me. I chose to get help that day. I chose to get the right help and it would change my life forever. For the next year, I went through extensive therapy and nutrition treatment. I learned how to cope with depression, anxiety, and every day life stuff like stress or lack of sleep or relationship issues. I got healthy because I sought help and I still seek help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts, feelings, or emotions know that you are not alone. In fact, about 25% of all people struggle with mental illness and most of us are impacted by emotional health issues at some point in our lives. There is NOTHING to be ashamed of – seeking help or supporting someone while they are seeking help takes an enormous amount of courage.  On National Girls day I want you to know that I think girls rule!  We are girls. We are successful and valuable. We should say what we feel when we feel it. We deserve to live our best lives. We can do anything!!

Meghan Ward-Bopp: “You’re up, Girlie.”

ward-bopp_headshot_2010I remember standing on the beach, watching the waves come crashing in, nervously looking at the scuba gear next to me.  I was strapped into a 8mm semi-dry wet suit, booties and a scuba gear hood and I was still freezing.  All I could think of as I looked into the murky water was, “How on EARTH did I let Nick (my youngest brother) talk me into this?”

We were on a family vacation on the west coast of Ireland and I was having the time of my life.  It was the first time in years that my brothers and I were together, combine that with my adorable nephews, my amazing sister-in-law and her family and I was in heaven.

We’d arrived at the scuba dive shop first thing that morning, I’d tagged along after being harassed by my brothers.  “You’re seriously not going to do this?” “Come on Meghan – even MARK (my older brother) is doing it!”  Being the only girl with four brothers, I knew I’d never live it down if I didn’t go.  I sat there looking at the waiver…

Check all that apply:

Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)?, Nope.
Other chest disease or chest surgery? Nope.
Claustrophobia (fear of small places)?  Jackpot.

Meghan Ward-Bopp + feeling like I couldn’t escape/tiny spaces = a bad situation.  I was already zipped up into a tiny wetsuit and there was certainly no escaping that (or breathing deeply) anytime soon.  The idea of strapping on that oxygen tank, weights, and only breathing out of a mouthpiece underwater?  I was terrified.

My older brother yelled for me, we were supposed to be getting on the boat to head out for our open water dive.  I begrudgingly joined them and practically took notes as the dive master gave instructions.  Off we went.  I watched with eyes as big as saucers as my sister-in-law and youngest brother effortlessly flipped over the side of the boat with all of their gear on.  Down they went.  The instructor turned to me and said: “you’re up girlie.”   I was terrified and he knew it.  He went on to explain that I didn’t have to if I “couldn’t” or “didn’t want to.”   I’m not sure if it was adrenaline or my stubborn side that took over, but I gave him a look and held on to my mask and regulator– over I went.

I will share with you that the following hours were filled with the most terrifying moments in my life.  I kneeled on the ocean floor clenching my brothers hand and listening to myself breath all the while trying to keep myself from ripping out my regulator and surfacing.   And then I looked up… the surface was only about twenty feet above my head.  I’d swam my whole life and knew I could hold my breath for well over a minute.  I’d had “tea parties” on the bottom of the deep end of swimming pools since I was six and here I was, allowing this irrational fear to RUIN the experience.  I could basically stand up and I’d be at the surface!

The dive master came around and began the drills of taking us through losing our regulator, masks and a few other tasks you had to complete to have this dive “count” towards your certification process.  I hadn’t let go of my brothers hand yet, let alone mentally prepared myself to have my regulator and mask ripped off.   I made eye contact with my brother and he squeezed my hand, silently telling me he knew I could do this.  And you know what?  I nailed it.

Eleanor Roosevelt was right, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which  I looked fear in the face and said “forget you, I’m doing this” and it was the best feeling of my life.

Life was meant to be scary.  It’s full of things we’ve never experienced, but if you let those fears hold you back you’ll miss the good things in life.  Including the sheer exhilaration of knowing you really can do anything you put your mind to.

Jessica Gendron Williams: “Tough as Nails.”

jessica_gendronI love proving people wrong.  I love doing things that people think I can’t do.  Most of all, I love being called “tough as nails” -  not because I like being intimidating, but because I love breaking down the stereotypes that women have to be “girly” or “dainty” or can’t do what is perceived as “manly” things.  That is why I love telling this story to you on International Girls Day.

My husband and I own an old home – built in 1929.  I love it.  It’s beautiful.  It has tons of character.  It constantly needs work.  We have a small, fenced in yard with a gate that goes across our driveway.  It’s your basic picket fence and about 4-foot-tall.  It was rotting.  It was rickety.  It was falling apart – particularly the gate.  Our dogs, Maximus and Brutus, would sneak out through a loose board or two, or a large gap on a regular basis – which would then prompt an all-neighborhood search and capture operation.  At the end of every escape and rescue mission, I would curse the fence and promise, one-day to have someone fix it.

One Saturday morning, I woke up early to let the dogs out.  It was cold.  It was early.  Maximus and Brutus snuck out.  It was too early to call the neighborhood troops in for reinforcement, so there I was in shorts and a t-shirt, at 6 a.m., in 40 degree weather, running barefoot through the neighborhood.  I caught the dogs, went inside, and I had had enough.  I marched into the bedroom where my husband was sleeping and shouted, “I’m going to Lowe’s.”

I got in the SUV, marched into Lowe’s, bought some 2X4’s, screws, stain, hinges, a wheel, and some precut fence pickets.  I then called my dad and said, “I need to borrow your compound sliding miter saw.  I’m building a new gate.”

That day, I built a new gate for our fence – by myself.  I drew the plans, I cut the wood, I assembled it, I stained it, I hung it – myself.  Building a fence gate seems like a “manly” task.  In fact, I would wager to guess, that any man reading this is either thinking “She’s lying.” or “I need to inspect her work.”  I did it – a girl – built a fence gate, all by herself.

I tell you this story because you can do anything you make up your mind to do.  You can build a fence or even become the President of the United States if you set your mind to it.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you “can’t” or say to you, “But you’re a girl.”  Girls can do anything that boys can – we can prove it!  You can do anything, better than anyone if you believe you can and work hard to do it.