Wear Your Letters

by Emily Jasper on December 14, 2009

phi muThis post is part of a Personal Branding Series on Brazen Careerist. Please visit the website for more posts.

I’m in a sorority. I am a Phi Mu. As part of this life-long membership, I am connected to women I have never met. This organization has given me pillars to live by (Love, Honor, Truth), sisters who will always be there, a philanthropic spirit, and experiences that shape me as a woman.

The dark side is that as soon as I said “sorority,” you already had a mental picture of me. I must be some dumb blonde, wealthy with a trust-fund, coming from a huge Southern family, of loose constitution, and on the path to becoming a trophy wife. Those are just a few of the stereotypes that come to mind because of one word.

I’ve even been left in the middle of a first date because I mentioned I am in a sorority. He literally got up and left. His school didn’t have a Greek system, so what he knew came from movies and the bad press.

Like everything that has a vast generalization, you’re going to find examples that fit the stereotype (they’re there for a reason), and others that defy it. Sure, I’m blonde, but my family is not wealthy. I only lived in the “South” for a few years, and that was Virginia Beach, just below the Mason-Dixon Line. And I do NOT want to be a trophy wife. I want to be the one with the accomplishments.

I’ve had to think long and hard about whether or not to announce myself as a sorority woman. Should I put it on my resume? Do I wear my lavaliere? Can I still get away with my letters? I played it by ear for a while, but it’s a part of me. I felt like I was trying to hide an arm behind my back, but it’s obviously still there.

I decided to own it. It’s not a bad thing. I’m incredibly proud of the work I have done and will continue to do all because of Phi Mu. When I was a collegiate advisor, I said the same thing to those women. They didn’t need to feel ashamed of being part of something good.

There’s been a lot of back-and-forth over personal branding. That the attempt to build a reputation means you are just fake. That promoting what you are is self-serving.

For me, it’s about defying the stereotype. It’s important to me to tie my work with young adults, contributions to the Children’s Miracle Network, and time spent as a leader to this organization. I am what I say I am, and do what I say I do. If there aren’t examples of the good, most of you will only know the bad and speculate.

Additionally, if I don’t put it out there, don’t make it part of myself, how will young women and men know that there are opportunities through Greek organizations? I’ve had more training for leadership through positions and conventions due to this organization than I have had in my career. These organizations want to make the leaders of tomorrow.

So if you are in a position to look into a membership, do some research. There are even alumnae chapters that can initiate those who never joined in college. For those of you who may speculate, ask a friend. Find out what their Greek experience was like. Find out how they’re still involved.

And if you are Greek, wear your letter proudly. I know I do.

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