The same year that I crossed Alpha, I met a young man who participated in my chapter’s Beautillion and graduated that year. (A Beautillion is the male version of a debutante cotillion - a formal presentation of high school boys into “society.” The boys learn a dance to perform with their escorts and learn to waltz with their mothers. They also earn scholarship money and attend various programs throughout the year focusing on personal advancement and service.)
The young man and I struck up a friendship and remained in touch over the years. When he was in college, my first novel Lazarus came out and he was an immediate fan.
For various reasons, he never became an Alpha as an undergraduate. He is now a very successful 30-something year old corporate executive. We talk maybe twice a year and each time I tease him about when he’s finally going to become an Alpha.
This time was a little different. There was something about his reluctance to commit that rubbed me the wrong way, so I delved deeper. I knew he had attended informational meetings but did not submit an application. This time around, he did not submit because “work got crazy.”
Granted, I have only ever worked in the nonprofit sector, which can be rather flexible when you need it to be. And even if it’s not, I am just the kind of person who will make things flexible even when they aren’t. Ask for forgiveness, not permission, as they say.
So when he said “work got crazy,” I told him that it was time to piss or get off the pot. He was already past the age where I think the wonder of being a young initiate creates an indelible mark on your psychological development. He is now nearing that “bucket list” age where people just become members because they say they always wanted to.
I told him they are going to ask him why he waited so long and he’s going to need a good reason, since he “always wanted to” but somehow never did.
(There is more but it’s not as germane to the story.)
He then says the real reason that he didn’t apply the last time was because he went to the informational meeting and sized up the other prospective members. He said that they did not match him intellectually, professionally, by income, or any other measure. He said he didn’t have anything in common with them and wasn’t moved to pursue with them.
I very politely and professionally kirked out, as DC folk say.
I told him he needed to re-read Lazarus and try to return to the root of why he wanted to be an Alpha in the first place, because based on what he just told me, my only response is truly “Alpha is not for you after all.”
I have probably about ten very good friends in Alpha. Maybe closer to five. They are all in different areas of the country.
One is a bureaucrat in a Southern state, pushing papers in a job that doesn’t have strong personal meaning for him. He was bypassed as an undergraduate when he pursued a historic single-letter chapter.
One is an overweight flight attendant with a start-up company that nobody really understands or is very supportive of.
One is over 30, lives at home with his mother, and works on a juvenile psych ward. I don’t know what his job title is, but he seems like an orderly to me.
One flunked out of grad school and has been unemployed for years. He’s essentially a stay-at-home father and suffers from clinical depression.
If these guys showed up at an informational, how would you perceive them? The reject? The flight attendant? The orderly? The loser?
The difference is why Alpha may not be for you.
Alpha is people. Alpha is not titles and income and resumes. Alpha–and any fraternity or sorority–is made up of people. These four men–the reject, the flight attendant, the orderly, and the loser–are my BEST friends and I do not know what I would have done at the lowest points of my life without them. They have lifted me up. They have checked on me when I thought nobody cared.
And they have been there for me to celebrate my victories. They bought and read my books. They care about me. The ones who are gay tell me I inspire them. The ones who are straight tell me I have changed their lives and their worldviews.
What would I do without them? Thank God for Alpha because I don’t even have to fathom such a question.
if Alpha is about how it can personally enhance you, don’t do it. It won’t.
You have got to look at that same room of men–that you deemed unworthy of being associated with you–and see their humanity. If you can’t see it, don’t join.
We can’t all be Martin Luther King. Most of us just want to be ourselves.
As for the reject? He is now the National Executive Director of an association.
The flight attendant with the wacky business idea? Business is booming.
The orderly? He raised his cousin as his own son–and has served on two national committees.
And the loser? He’s a mental health advocate and the best father and husband I know.
I do not know what my friend’s next steps will be, but I think I won’t ask him about his pursuit of Alpha anymore. Instead, I will tell my four Alpha friends how much I love them and how grateful I am that they chose Alpha.
I am honored to sit with them. And anybody who accepts us for who we are can sit with us, too.