Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What New Year's Resolutions Boil Down to (and how I plan to keep mine in 2015)

We're all guilty of making New Year's Resolutions and pretty much giving them up by January 31st (if not January 3rd!). It's not an easy task to make and keep a resolution, especially for an entire year. I mean, trying to immediately adopt a habit that you plan to keep for at least the next 365 days when you haven't even managed to do it for five consecutive days before that moment is a bit unrealistic.

It doesn't matter if it is finances, health, volunteering, family, career, alcohol, spiritual habits, creative pursuits, or home organization -- we all make goals right before January 1st roles around and then we rarely follow through.

New Year's Resolutions seem to boil down to three categories:
1. Things we do that we shouldn't do
2. Things we don't do that we should do
3. Things we wish we had more time to do but it does not have a huge negative effect if we don't do them

Some resolutions are one-time projects (like cleaning out the linen closet or setting up an IRA) or they could be daily goals (like reading each morning or quitting a smoking habit). One day or 100 days, each resolution can seem daunting if that particular project or goal has been haunting us for a while.

This year, I'm going to try a different approach to accomplishing goals. I'm going to work on making changes, but I'm going to focus on one thing at a time. Each month, I will take on a new challenge. Depending on the challenge, it could take me a day or take every day that month to complete. My hope is that by breaking my goals down into one month challenges, I might actually keep some of the goals at least some of the time. And the new habits I adopt for a month might stick with me to the next month, and the month after that, etc.

I won't bore you with each and every goal I have for each month. But, the ones that might seem interesting or challenging to others I will write and post about. All posts in this category will be tagged as "2015 monthly challenge".

By breaking up my goals into months, I won't be so overwhelmed tomorrow with the new year and feeling like I have to start and complete all of my goals immediately.Trying to start a dozen new habits all in one day will likely result in not doing any of them. Here's to hoping some of my 2015 resolutions are completed/become daily habits (whichever applies).

Are you setting 2015 resolutions? 
How do you plan to go about tackling these resolutions?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

9 Reasons My Relationship Status Stays off Facebook

Having lots of Facebook "friends" means getting to witness all the mushy relationship stuff that people you barely know or people you've known for years display as they move through the phases of their relationship.

I haven't dated much. My list of boyfriends is short and can be completed with exactly two names. But I never made these relationships "Facebook official" and plan to never post my relationship status on FB until I am at least engaged if not already married.

I have a few reasons for keeping my status private.

1. If the relationship is short-lived, none of my online friends have to know.
It's kinda embarrassing when you make a big announcement like that online, break up a few weeks later, and then people are still asking about "your new boyfriend" for the next six months because they didn't see that your status got changed back to single.

2. No drama if I break up.
Breaking up can be hard. Feeling the need to log on to the internet and update your singleness can just make you feel worse.

3. People don't seem to know the difference between 'in a relationship' and 'engaged'.
Let's take some of the comments from three of my FB friend's recent relationship status updates. One friend got in a relationship, one got engaged, and one got married.

Friend #1:

  • "Yayyy!!!"
  • "Congratulations!"
  • "FINALLY!"

Friend #2:

  • "Congratulations!"
  • "May God bless the two of you!"

Friend #3:

  • "Ahhhhh!"
  • "Congrats"
  • "How exciting!" 
Which friend got in a relationship? Engaged? Married? It's kind of hard to tell. I don't like it when people just get into a relationship and the comments feel like you're engaged or even married. It makes the relationship feel a little more serious than perhaps it actually is and who wants that pressure (especially if the relationship is new)? 

4. I am not dating for my friends. 
In high school, I wanted to change my relationship status on FB so bad! But then when I finally did have a boyfriend, it seemed like the silliest thing to do. Why make it so public? I'm not dating for my FB friends, I'm dating for me.

5. I trust my boyfriend.
Maybe making the relationship "Facebook official" will encourage your boyfriend or girlfriend to remain faithful to you. Well, if that's what is holding the two of you together, there might be bigger problems heading your way. 

6. It's more fun.
I love people not knowing I have a boyfriend or just not knowing for sure who that guy is in my pictures. I don't usually bring my boyfriend up in conversation with people who don't know I'm in a relationship. There's no need for people to know all my business. Besides, I'm still me and I want people to treat me as an individual.  

7. It's less annoying for single people.
I hate being single and seeing a bunch of my FB friends getting into relationships. I don't want to do the same thing to the single people I know whenever I have a boyfriend. 

8. Surprise!
When I finally do change my relationship status to engaged, some people will be downright shocked because they won't even know I have a boyfriend. Won't that be fun?

9. These aren't my friends anyway.
I don't know how most people utilize Facebook, but a lot of my so-called "friends" are really just acquaintances or people I used to know and see more often. I'm also connected with relatives I rarely see or even people I haven't met in person at all. Except for my close family and friends who will know my business anyway, my FB "friends" don't need to know who I'm dating at the moment. 

What about you? Do you change your relationships status or do you prefer to keep it off-line?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just begin

It's hard to start stuff. I mean, really. Who wants to actually "get the ball rolling" or "start the engine"? It's hard to get up out of the comfort zone and actually do something that might improve our lives or the lives of others.

The temptation to become a "fixin' to" type of person is strong and I fall into that trap often. I get lazy and distracted or I make excuses.

Truth is, I do get a lot of stuff done. I'm proud of my productivity level. But, am I doing what I love? Am I improving my life and lives of others?

I feel like I waste just as much time as I spend being productive. Lots of projects I claim that I want to do I never get around to simply because starting is difficult. Truth is, if I really wanted to do them and if they were truly important to me, I would do it.

According to Zig Ziglar, lots of people who fail to begin get "cooked in the squat" and fail to rise. They fail to reach their full potential.

A few of my favorite quotes from this clip: 
  • "Do it now."
  • "You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great". 
  • "The 'half-a-minders' and the 'gonna-doers' are the 'never-doers'".

Another quote, this one from Williams Wordsworth, might be helpful to anyone who feels like they are stuck in the squatting position:"To begin, begin."

We don't have to get it right the first time. Don't put the pressure of perfection on yourself. Just get going and figure it out as you go along. Doing something is usually better than not doing anything at all.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Walking Dead: Forcing the Dodge Brothers to Live On

Oh, the advertisement industry. How I love to hate thee.

You may have already read my complaints about Nutella's deceptive advertisements which I wrote about earlier this year. You may even notice other misleading commercials that blare on our television screens. But a new campaign by Dodge might take the prize for Most Deceptive Advertisement (at least in the year 2014).

Have you seen it yet? It's all about the Dodge brothers.

Isn't this just adorable? It looks like a movie; it feels like a dream. Images of the Roaring 20's, of creative thinking, of brotherly love and arguing capture the viewer's attention. "They believed in more than the assembly line," the narrator tells us. "They believed driving was a holy endeavor". Even in death, their pallbearers were pulled right off the factory floor. Incredible. Apparently, the Dodge brothers were way ahead of their time.

Well, that all may have been well and true... at the time. The Dodge brothers did leave Ford and begin their own company. Whether or not they were all that inventive or successful in the beginning does not concern me. What I do know is that without government bailouts, the Dodge company probably would not exist anymore and that little commercial of theirs would not end so happily.

The government has bailed Dodge out of its own mismanagement more than once. In 1979, Chrysler (which owns Dodge) asked and received a federally backed loan which allowed them to make alterations to their inefficient vehicles and be able to appeal more to the public. Ahead of its time then? Surely not. 30 years later, the U.S. Government poured 80 billion dollars into Chrysler/Dodge and GM because both companies were undergoing bankruptcy. These companies have "recovered" since this bailout, but at the cost of the taxpayers.

Often people think that a failing business is a failure of the free market. If a business was not able to succeed, then that's not nice or fair and they must be rescued.

In reality, businesses closing down shop is the market's way of "cleaning house" and getting rid of industries that we do not need or companies that do not meet our expectations. Even if a company has good management, we might not need their goods and services. Even if a company has valuable goods and services, mismanagement could still be their demise. By the free market deciding who goes and who stays, we allow everyone to be in charge of allocating our scarce resources into the best businesses and industries who deserve them.

If the Dodge brothers instilled such an amazing spirit of ingenuity into their business, why have they needed saving... twice.

Maybe Dodge does produce high-quality cars (although that point is taken into question here, here, here, and many other places I'm sure), but their management stinks. So who is to blame? Still not the free market. Rather, the people in charge are not taking care of business and working to ensure Dodge success.

Consumers reward quality companies with profits and punish inefficient or unneeded companies with losses. If people don't want to buy Dodge anymore, let them. No need to prop up a business that consumers have voted off the island. If Dodge shuts down, that gives other car companies resources they need to expand or a new company or two to come in and start a business.

Do automakers have a right to exist simply because two brothers back in the early 1900's had a dream and worked hard? A lot of people might think so with their heart, but let's try to analyze this with our heads. If we allow Dodge to run its course free of government intervention and the company fails, then the free market has done its job. If we allow Dodge to run its course free of government intervention and the company succeeds, then the free market has done its job.

Let's let the free market work. Please. Just this once. We might be surprised by the outcome and we will surely have a more efficient and resourceful economy in the long-run if we do so. No company is too big to fail if consumers are indicating that they don't want them. Putting off the inevitable only makes our economy less efficient and worse off overall.

Let's stop forcing life into industries the consumers deem lifeless. The Dodge brothers may have contributed to the auto industry early on, put perhaps it is time to let them rest in peace, free from government intervention.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Silence is Not Always Golden

I'm self-conscious. Well, not so much in real life. But with this blog, I worry. What if I say something wrong? What if I say something stupid? What if someone doesn't like what I say? What is someone actually reads this blog? Oh, the horror.

I have countless drafts of unfinished or just unpublished blog posts waiting to be worked on. Some of them probably shouldn't see the light of day, but others? They're just waiting.

I have my excuses. Time is the biggest one -- it seems to be my excuse for most of what I put off. But often, I simply don't publish posts because I don't think they are perfect. I fear failure or looking dumb.

Something about posting words on the internet seems so permanent. People post silly words on their social media websites all the time and a blog post is not much more than a more organized or serious status update. Even so, I've been taught that once posted, even if deleted, nothing can be erased on the internet.

That's scary. I fear publishing and then regretting my words. What if I change my mind? What if I want to take my words back?

And then I realized something. I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to get it right the first time. I am allowed to make mistakes. I'm allowed to change my mind.

Speaking out may have consequences, but so does staying quiet. So today, I choose to hit 'publish'.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Investigative Historical Learning

I would venture to say that all of my past historical learning has focused primarily memorizing information about political powers, imperialism, war, and the state. Important dates I have been asked to remember include a year like 1914 when World War II started, not 1990 when the first website was invented. Which of these dates has more impact on my life today? Well let me give you a hint: I'm using the internet to publish this blog post. 

Throughout the History & Culture module that I went through in my Praxis curriculum, all of my assumptions about history were challenged. Was the west really all that wild? Were the dark ages actually dark? Was slavery in America profitable? Is art only legitimate if it is created for non-commercial purposes? Did the industrial revolution enslave Americans and their families? 

This Praxis module turned everything on its head. Every assumption, every story, every "fact". Okay, maybe not everything in history. But it challenged enough of what I have been taught to make me wonder... 

Through the Praxis module, I learned not to take things at face value. Because the facts presented to me through this module were so different from the facts I have been presented with in history classes before, it made me question and investigate my knowledge. 

Students like to complain about what a waste of time it is to study history. In many regards, I must agree. If all their class consists of is compiling information about imperialism, political power, and failed economies, it can be downright depressing to study and kind of a waste of their time. In addition, students are presented a one-sided view and not asked to question or investigate the facts for themselves in any way. 

Praxis encouraged that investigative learning that has to be practiced -- not taught. And although I will not use all of knowledge I learned about the Great Depression every day of my life, I can use my investigative learning skills to challenge assumptions and think outside the box. It's a whole new way of looking at the world, past and present. History is a tool to practice our examination and exploration skills, if we let it. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why I eat cereal I don't like

I normally don't have a problem with the store brand of food. There are a few items I won't compromise on, but in general, the store brand is the same quality and taste as the name brand at a lower price. 

Recently I decided to try the store brand of a particular cereal I have been enjoying for months. I thought I'd save a dollar ($0.05/ounce to be exact) and get the store brand this time. Might as well give it a go. I could save a few dollars a year if I switch. 

Big. Mistake. 

This particular cereal needs to be respected. The name brand is heads above the store brand. The name brand is crunchy, yummy, sweet, and all out delicious. The store brand tastes like a mix of cardboard and chalk. It lacks the little clusters of sweetness that I love so much. It skimps on the good stuff and what's left is definitely sub-par.

But I've been eating it anyway. I mean, I already spent a couple bucks on the box, I might as well suffer through it and then I can go back to the delicious name brand and never make that mistake again.

As I ate this second class breakfast food one morning, more than halfway through the box at this point, I realized something. I live in a society where customer service is king, where we can get our money back, where we don't have to endure cardboard cereal if we don't want to.

And what do I find on the side of the cereal box? A promise. A guarantee. 

If I am not 100% satisfied with the product, I can return it for a replacement or a refund. 

It said it -- right there on the box. I don't have to endure this madness. I can get my money back! 

Image found here
But then I realized, despite all my complaining about the cereal, that I would just finish the box and return to my name brand on my next trip to the store.

But why? Why suffer through the nasty? 

A few reasons...

1. I didn't think of it. While some people might be on the look out for how to get free stuff, I honestly didn't think of returning the box. It's a food item and once opened, it can't be reused by the company. In my eyes, buying the cereal was a risk on my part and I honestly didn't think of it being a returnable product. 

2. I'm not that kind of person. I'd like to think that I'm not the type of person to get worked up over a few bucks and a couple weeks of less than perfect breakfast experiences. Surely I can just eat the cereal and then move on -- never returning to it again after this box. 

3. It isn't worth it. Let's be honest. The real reason I didn't return the box, even halfway through, was simply because it isn't worth it to me. In order to get my money back I would have to try to find a receipt, get the box of cereal, and go to the store. From there, I have to find a spot in the parking lot, walk all the way inside to the customer service desk, and then stand in line. Then, I have to explain to the employee that I don't like the cereal in the box. They will ask why. I will have to communicate (ugh). It's just too much work. I might get my $2.58 back, but after how many minutes of work? 

Finding receipt: 2 minutes
Driving to the store: 10 minutes
Parking: 5 minutes
Line waiting: 3-10 minutes
Exchange time: 3 minutes

Even at minimum wage, I probably won't cover the cost of the time spent returning the box of cereal. If I make more than minimum wage, it's certainly not worth it. 

It's a cute gesture, really, that the store guarantees my satisfaction with the product. But unless I am truly disgusted and extremely tight, I'm not going to bother returning it. I'd rather suffer through the cereal or even just throw the box away before bothering to return it. And the company knows that, so they have no problem adding the guarantee to every box they produce. It's not that they won't oblige you, it's that they know you likely won't bother. And they're probably right. 

What would you do? Would you return the box? 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What are you doing? (part 1)

I graduated from high school in the Spring of 2013. Because of previously earned credits, I finished my Associate of Arts in Business Administration in the Spring of 2014. At the time, I was 19 years old and completely debt free with two years of college credit to my name. I was also working part-time as a nanny and loved my job. Chipping away on my college degree while working in the afternoons was my Monday through Friday. Church and social life defined the weekends. It was fun. I was being "productive". I was staying out of debt. But, I felt like I was just... doing.

So, I applied for and was accepted into Praxis, not knowing what to expect.

Now, I was skeptical about the program at first. Even though I had met the founder and CEO several years before and knew that he and others on the team were smart, innovative, and well connected, I had my reservations. For many years I had been told that a college degree was the only way to be successful in the business world. As a business major, I believed that I needed that degree to even get a job.

But, many different voices had been speaking to me about college and the value of a degree. Blog posts and articles filled with personal stories and statistics seemed to flood my feed on Facebook. People young and old I talked to were often bringing up regret about their college years being a waste and their student loans a burden. From my year as a full time college student, I realized that many of my fellow students were "just there" and were not really learning much or taking advantage of the class material or the professors.

Finally, I took the plunge. I decided to take a rest from that "must needed" college degree I was working on and instead joined the Fall 2014 Praxis class. And five weeks into it, I'm so glad I did.

We just finished up our first module of the online material (read my thoughts about that module here). I'm also starting to learn the ropes of my business partner (I'll write more about that in part 2). The other seven Fall 2014 participants and I have had some great clash and collaboration in our weekly discussion groups. I'm constantly being challenged to create value and grow as a person. It's completely unlike the atmosphere at my college. Instead of a "get this stuff done" attitude, it is more of a "create something and learn from your experience" mindset. And I love it.

I plan to write more as I get further into the program. You can read about my experience at the opening seminar here and stay tuned for my post about my business partner.

I'm honored to be part of this program so early in its conception. I want to break the mold.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Philosophy is for [insert adjective here] People

I like to focus on practical, tangible, measurable things. To be honest, I don't care about abstract questions like "Do I exist?", "Is truth objective?", "What is the key to happiness?", or "Is there a god?".
Photo credit: winnond 

It's not that I do not think about these things; it's that I have already accepted certain answers to these types of questions and I normally do not come back to them once I arrive at a conclusion.

I would rather focus on my to-do list and getting things done than sit around philosophizing about questions humans have been asking themselves for centuries and will always be asking each other. 

So this past month, while working through the Praxis philosophy module, I struggled. My first week in the module was especially trying. For those first seven days, my thoughts kind of went something like this: Ugh. Philosophy. Why do we have to start with philosophy? This is so silly and irrelevant. Why will this make me a better entrepreneur? Do I really have to remember all of these names? Oh wow this is boring. Now I remember why I dislike philosophy -- because it's stupid. 

Yeah, my attitude may have needed some improvement. 

As I forced myself through the History of Philosophy section that first week, I must admit that my second week looked gloomy. I still had a lot of content about philosophy to cover. Better just get it over with, I thought. 

As the module progressed, we began learning about and discussing philosophy as a way to study government, happiness, science, religion, ethics, and art. We covered topics like social justice, rule of law, and consciousness of the brain. We asked difficult questions like "Do we have free will?" and "Can God create a rock so heavy he can't pick it up?" and "What makes a society just?". 

As a concrete thinker, I stand firm in my position. Often times in a discussion, even if I realize that I could be wrong, I will stand my ground. That's just the kind of person I am.

But as I searched for answers to these difficult questions and discussed them with my group, I realized that the answers that I have accepted for years were not always sufficient. I needed more. I needed to dig deeper. I needed to avoid accepting something as true just because a person of authority told me it was so. 

For example, I believe I have free will. But why do I believe this? Because the things I do have always seemed to be my choice. But what if whatever is controlling me is simply allowing me to believe I'm making my own choice when in fact I am just a puppet? Just because it appears I have free will does not necessarily ensure my freedom. 

In the weeks that followed my initial irritation with philosophy, I began to experience the value of philosophizing questions we may never be able to answer: it creates a better thinker. 

Previously, I lazily accepted ideas just because they made sense to me or someone I trusted told me it was so. This way of living, I realized, is passive and ignorant. 

The purpose of philosophy is not to come to conclusions. The purpose of philosophy is to question the conclusions society has already made. The purpose of philosophy is to broaden our horizons of thought, expand our concept of what is real, and diminish the security of our notions which closes our minds against speculation and discovery. 

Note: this does not mean I changed my view on everything I previously believed before beginning this module. It simply made me aware that I should not accept "truth" out of habit or *gulp* laziness. 

Studying philosophy upset my fruit basket. By the third week of study, I admitted to my group (in much less ladylike terms) that this module annoyed and even infuriated me "so many times". It began to agitate me not because it was boring or impractical, but because I realized I was a lazy thinker. And looking at things philosophically was forcing me to think harder, longer, and deeper than I had previously realized was possible or necessary. This past month I have literally gotten headaches from thinking this hard and forcing my brain to stretch to places beyond where I had previously allowed it to go. 

I found out that philosophy is for professors, nurses, kindergarten teachers, preachers, police officers, doctors, secretaries, and stay-at-home moms. Philosophy is for elderly, adults, teens, children, and the family dog. Philosophy is for smart, dumb, artsy, happy, depressed, introverted, extroverted, practical, stubborn, free-spirited, religious, non-religious, scientific, business-minded, and (especially) lazy people. 

Whatever type of person you are, consider using philosophy as a means to expand your way of thinking, to question your beliefs, and to come up with creative and different answers and solutions. It's okay to keep believing the things you believe -- just realize that there are two (or three, or four...) sides to every coin. Explore all of them before you accept things at face value or simply because "that's the way it has always been". 

Philosophy isn't just for the elite thinkers -- philosophy is for everybody, including you. It's time to tear down your walls and start thinking critically. It will be painful at first, but keep trying. Eventually your brain will become strong enough to handle the intense mental exercise that is philosophical thinking. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Coffee Requires Five Senses

Image found here
Like many other people, I love coffee.

I'm not a coffee snob. If it tastes absolutely gross, I won't drink it. But if my cup of joe is even halfway decent, I'll sip on it until it's gone.

So often I drink coffee on the go, in the car, just for the caffeine kick or out of habit. I don't stop to enjoy that cup of coffee for what it is -- a delightful beverage that gives so much more than just an energy kick.

I realized today that my best coffee drinking experiences require all five of my senses working together to create a full body experience.

It starts with my ears. I hear the coffee grinder buzz and the little beans get crunched up into powder. Then the water in the pot begins to flow through the machine and I listen to it drip through the other end into the pot.

Now for the smell. I know the coffee is brewing when the smell of the dark, bitter goodness reaches my nose. I can be in the next room or even the next floor, but I recognize the fresh, savory scent of the drink.

Coming into the kitchen now, I open up the cupboard and grab one of my favorite mugs. This morning, it's my white and blue South Dakota mug which reminds me of my good times in the Black Hills. My anticipation builds as I concentrate on the fragrant coffee as it falls into that mug and I add cream, sugar, or neither (depending on my mood).

At last I hold the cup in my hand. The warmth makes me feel secure, happy, and ready to curl up and read a book. Even on a summer day, the heat of the cup makes me smile with contentment. It's the little things.

Now the final step to this full body experience arrives: the taste. The bitter and sometimes creamy and sweet taste of the coffee, even though it is so familiar, gives me a rush as I sip on my drink and feel the warmth of the brew fill my chest.

I don't know who first thought of grinding up these strange little beans and running hot water over them, but I'm so glad they did. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my daily joe with all five of my glorious senses.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"I'm angry, and there's nothing I can do about it"

What is anger?

A feeling, of course. An emotion.

But is it a driving force? Does it have control? Can it literally fill our head, rush down to our chest, and take hold of our entire being?

Sure it can... if we let it.

Anger can "make" us do things we wouldn't normally do, say things we think are generally rude, and act in an irrational way. But again, only if we let it.

The philosopher Seneca saw anger as something that we could, in fact, control. We don't have to be angry.

This is quite a relief for someone like me. You see, I get angry pretty much every day. Just ask my parents or sisters -- they'll speak the truth. It might not be anger that leads me to violence, but I might have a few choice words and a rushing heartbeat for a couple of minutes.

But hearing that perhaps anger can be controlled is great news for people like me.

Before we get to the secret of controlling anger, let's look at the cause. Whenever we are angry, there are elements of surprise and self-pity. We are surprised by what goes on around us and we feel sorry for ourselves that we have to endure it. According to Seneca, we get angry because we are "too hopeful". Anger is a result from wrong expectations.

Adjust your view of the world, and you won't be so angry anymore.

Here's what you do:

  1. Prepare yourself for the day. Wake up in the morning and list a few things that could "go wrong" and make you angry: being late for work, terrible drivers on the road, another project from your boss, and the fact that you'll probably start to come down with a cough before the end of the day. 
  2. If some of that stuff happens, you won't be surprised. You'll feel you were more in control of the situation because of your foresight. No surprise = no anger.
  3. If some of that stuff doesn't happen, you will be happy that your lower expectations were not met. 
For example, I get angry whenever I'm on the road. The driver's are crazy, everyone is in my way, he's going too fast, she's going too slow, there's construction, etc. etc. Before I get in the car, if I tell myself "There are some stupid people out there; I'll get delayed because of traffic; I'll probably end up in a wreck", then I won't be nearly as angry when I do in fact encounter some of those problems. 

The best way to counter anger is to be prepared -- so get yourself ready each day for the stuff that could (and often does) go wrong. Then be happy, because you can. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lessons from the Shores of Seabrook Island

So about two weeks ago, I began a new and exciting journey with Praxis.

Fall 2014 Class
Remember that interview I did back in January? Well, I am excited to say that I am one of eight Praxis participants for the Fall 2014 class. I heard that as many as 200 young people applied for this class. I feel honored to be accepted into this group. 

For the next ten months, I am partnering with Tranquil Seasons in San Antonio, TX as my business partner. In addition, I'll be working through the Praxis online curriculum which covers topics such as Philosophy, Economics, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. 

To kick it all off, though, I attended a seminar on Seabrook Island in South Carolina conducted just for this Praxis class. Being on the serene shores and enjoying the company of brilliant minds was a memorable experience. 

Here are just a few of the bits of wisdom and knowledge that I learned from the speakers at the conference:

  • Don't complain about the status quo; reform it
  • Force yourself to create and you will become a creator
  • Don't waste anyone's time (including your own)
  • Don't take it personally... unless it gives you motivation to work harder
  • People invest in the jock, not the horse. Make your personal brand one people will trust and want to invest in.
  • We are limited by our own minds. Do something hard so that you know what you're actually capable of.
  • Don't get weighed down by a bunch of material stuff; take risks while you have so little because if you "lose", you're not losing much. 
  • Find people smarter than you and hang around them.
  • Find your sweet spot and operate in it.
  • It's okay if you don't have all of the answers.
  • Every job matters. Don't ruin your reputation because of your attitude in the workplace. 
  • Don't forget to love what you do.

I can't wait to see what the next 10 months brings. I hope that I not only consume more valuable information, but that I create and produce from all that I learn. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All the Rights I Need I Already Have

This summer I have been working in a tourist town about three miles from Mt. Rushmore. It's beautiful here and I am surrounded by awesome people and new friends as well as interesting tourists. Working in the public eye, I often start conversations up with customers who are willing to talk. It makes the day go faster and not to mention I love hearing their stories -- where they are from, where they are going, and how they ended up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. One lady and her two sons were in my gift shop the other day and one of the kids was wearing a t-shirt with the same name as an elementary school from my home in Texas. There could be plenty of elementary schools with the same name as that one, but I decided to ask her where she was from.

Lady: Te--well, I don't really want to say. I'll just say that I am moving to Tennessee.

Me: Are you from Texas?

Lady (confused): Yes.

Me: San Antonio?

Lady (shocked): Yes, how did you know?

Me (pointing to son's shirt): I go to church near that school.

The woman was surprised but also a bit excited and it got our conversation rolling. As she and her sons were checking out at the register with some souvenirs, she asked what I was doing so far from home. After explaining that I was just here for the summer and would return home in the fall she inquired about what I studied in school. I told her business. She then proceeded...

Lady: What are you going to do when you graduate?

Me: Not sure yet. 

Lady: Are you going to work for women's rights?

Me: I don't know. Should I be?

Lady (insistently): Every woman in Texas should be working for women's rights.

Me: What rights should I be working for?

Lady: Well the right to your own body and the right to healthcare! 

I knew exactly what she was talking about. Texas recently passed legislation that requires abortion clinics to be held to the same standards as hospitals. This is forcing many clinics to shut down (except maybe a few in large cities). The legislation has received some push back from people concerned for women who will no longer have easy access to an abortion clinic (which are often referred to as "women's health" clinics).

For people like this lady in my gift shop, they claim they are looking out for the best interest of the women who "need" abortions. However, my first question is that if they are concerned about these women and their health, wouldn't they want a clinic that was up to par with the standards of a hospital performing the procedure?

Besides that point, let's look at the two rights this lady suggests I fight for in Texas.

1. The right to my body.
I have never been forced to do anything physically that I did not want to do. Sure, my parents "forced" me to eat green beans on occasion growing up, but no government agency, piece of legislation, or person has forced me to do something with my body that I did not want to do. I realize this is not the case with every woman but for those who are forced to do things against their will, there are laws set up to punish the offenders. It appears to me that (in Texas, at least) I don't need to fight for that right. I already have the right to my body.

This is not a disease.
Photo credit: hin255
2. The right to healthcare.
Let's look at the definition of healthcare. According to Merriam-Webster online: "healthcare -- the maintaining and restoration of health by the treatment and prevention of disease especially by trained and licensed professionals (as in medicine, dentistry clinical psychology, and public health)".

I have a few points under this second right. First, a question: is a child a disease? If by healthcare this lady meant the ability to have an abortion, she is suggesting that a child is indeed a disease that I need to be restored of. Or perhaps an abortion is just part of my regular "health maintenance" routine. I don't know about you, but I personally do not see a child as a tumor growing in my body that I need to be restored of. Rather, I see that pregnancy as another human being -- not a disease.

Second, I have the "right" and access to all of the areas of healthcare mentioned in the definition. I have a primary care doctor (medicine), I go to a dentist every six months (dentistry), I have a counselor (clinical psychology), and heck, I even visit a chiropractor on occasion (just because; no, I don't have spinal problems, it just feels good when he pops my back). I would say that overall, I am pretty well cared for. And not once at any of these places has a government official or police officer ever attempted to keep me from entering my doctor's office and withhold my right to healthcare from me.

What this lady in my gift shop did not realize was that I have another right -- a right to practice self-control. This right means that I don't have to get pregnant before I'm ready to have a child. This right is a right no one can take away from me. And guess what? I don't have to fight for it either. Not one government official or piece of legislation is trying to take this right away from me, so there is no fight. None.

In fact, I have the rights to everything I need to stay healthy and child-free (if I so desire): the right to my body, the right to healthcare, and the right to exercise self-control.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Working a Minimum Wage Job Taught Me...

Every teenager in America should work a minimum wage job. I don't care if their parents have money. I don't care if they have money. Every teenager in America, especially middle and upper class teens who might not *have* to work, should work a minimum wage job (at least for a season of their life!). Here's why...

Working a minimum wage job has taught me:

  • The value of a dollar
  • Sometimes you have to do things below your "skill set" (and you have to do it with a smile)
  • Workplace gossip is impossible to escape
  • If there is no gossip about you, people will gladly make some up
  • Some people are not worth $7.25/hour
  • Some people are worth so much more than $7.25/hour
  • Some supervisors are not below breaking the rules
  • People in authority don't always like it when you don't break the rules too
  • Customers often find it okay to talk down to a minimum wage worker (and you realize how not okay that is)
  • Standing for 8-13 hours is not easy and may result in tears
  • Just because your register is off 20 bucks at the end of a crazy day, you're not a horrible person; it happens to the best of 'em
  • Humility and patience are learned skills, not born virtues
  • Time is valuable; selling an hour of life for $7.25 is not easy or fun and doing so over and over is even worse
  • Sometimes you want to quit but if you made a commitment, you've got to follow through
  • And even with all of the hard stuff, there come some rewarding moments too
As a Christian (who previous to working my first minimum wage job had little exposure to non-Christians and especially non-Christian teens), I think it's important to experience an environment where you are the minority. At my first minimum wage job, I was the only Christian surrounded by a dozen or more non-Christians every day. Although I did not often tell people about my faith at work, my co-workers could tell I was different. And they didn't really like it. They did not invite me to their after-work outings or even ask me for a phone number or a friend request on Facebook. Being an outcast from the rest of the group made the job all the more difficult but taught me that I really did need to become "all things to all people" (1 Corinthians 9) in practical ways if I was going to save even one! 

Those are just a few of the valuable life lessons I have learned by working minimum wage jobs. I do not think I could have learned them any other way. 

What valuable lessons have you learned from working a minimum wage job? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stand all day? Work on Christmas? And the job pays what?

Disclaimer: I'm not a parent. And this is another post about parenting. Parents out there, let me know what you think! 

You've probably seen this video. If you haven't, take four minutes and watch it right now -- you'll love it!

Okay, I admit it. This video made me tear up a little.

I realize that being a mom is not a "job" in that it's an occupation. But it is tough, that's for sure.

In today's culture, I think too many women downplay the role of mom. They let other people mother their children. They look at having a baby as something that ruins their body and taking care of their child as an inconvenience to their career or their social life.

Being a mom is an all-encompassing role. It is a 24/7/365 deal. Women need to know and accept this fact before entering into motherhood. It's not a one time delivery and then continuing on with life as she knew it. Her purpose in life changes. Her priorities have to shift. She will have to make sacrifices... but sacrifices that are worth it.

When women don't treat the role of "mom" with such importance, they rob both themselves and their child(ren) of the mother-child relationship's full potential.

No one said this would be easy. The people in the interview obviously thought the job sounded ridiculously tough and even "inhumane"... until they realized that the "job" was being a mom. Then they realized that yeah, it's what moms do.

Psalm 127:3 states, "Behold, children are a heritage from God, the fruit of the womb a reward."

I love that. Kids are a gift, a reward, our heritage, and the fruit of a woman's womb.

A blogger I like to read (and who posted about this video) pointed out that three times as much church growth occurs because of births rather than conversions. That means that kids born into Christian homes and become Christians themselves account for many more new Believers each year than do conversions of non-Christians into Christianity.

That makes being a mom (or a dad!) all the more important.

Our kids imitate what they see. What kind of faith are you putting off as a parent? What kind of habits do you display? Are some parents even around their kids long enough to display them? Do parents pray with their children, read and discuss the Bible together, or praise God as a family?

Parenthood should be fun, but both moms and dads need to recognize how important the role is before taking it on and consider whether they are ready for the commitment it takes to raise a child. Christian families should especially realize how crucial their role is for their child's life and salvation.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Most Controversial Topic Ever

Parenting: a topic perhaps more controversial than any other. Yes, I know, there are some pretty controversial topics out there. But think about: no two sets of parents are the exact same and two parents of the same children often disagree. How to parent affects many people on a daily basis.

I'm not a parent, but plan to be. How I want to parent my children is a topic I think about once or twice almost every day. Whenever I'm around kids, I often take mental notes of how I want to handle similar situations with my future kids or how I would like to change things. I observe parents and how they respond to temper tantrums as well as children who are well behaved.

Image found here.
This guy and his wife, who had 12 kids in about 15 years, choose to parent their kids one of "the hard ways".

Reading his article, I thought that Thompson was tough on his kids. I mean, making them build their own computer, build their own car, start chores at age three... what parents! Of course, my parents had me do chores and laundry, but they would never make me cook dinner or change the oil and especially at such early ages!

Who can keep up with all that study time, all the chores, all the car parts, the sports, the clubs, the community service! Those kids had a lot of work to do!

But the result is amazing.

The Thompson parents did their children a huge favor by raising them "the hard way". Their kids are the type of people who employers want to hire. They can think critically, study hard, work on difficult projects, and build machines. If they don't know how to do it, they'll figure it out. They've been solving problems for years!

In addition, they have had to serve others: their younger siblings, their entire household, and the community. They have developed an empathy for others.

The Thompson kids also had to learn financial responsibility. They weren't handed fancy cars and vacations. They had to work, earn, and save for them.

Reading their story, it made me glad that I'm already grown and my mom and dad can't get any ideas. Seriously, these tasks and requirements look so daunting.

But the result is worth it. The Thompson's have raised self-sufficient, problem-solving, hard-working, and empathetic kids.

As parents, I'm sure there were many times when it would have been easier just to call it off and solve the problems for their kids, or excuse them from a chore, or cut down on all the commitments. But for the most part, they stuck to it. They parented all 12 of their children "the hard way".

Is there a "correct" way to parent?
Would you change anything about how the Thompson parents did parenting? 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I'm a Christian and I Could Not Care Less about the "Noah" Movie

Picture found on IMBD
Since I'm not on Facebook right now, I feel a little out of the loop when things like a silly movie, or a simple blog post, or a simple blog post about a silly movie, upsets the entire Christian community. Thankfully, I've got three other Facebook users in the house who can let me know when our mutual Christian friends are getting their underwear in a wad over this sort of thing.

So apparently some guy named Darren something wrote and directed some movie staring some well-known actors about some Bible story. Well, not just any story. One of the first stories in the whole Scripture: the story of Noah and the flood that wiped out almost all of humankind.

Christians everywhere are in an outrage about the film's "artistic licenses" and all of the changes that this Darren guy has made that deviate from the original words in the Bible.

Now, I haven't seen the film. And I don't plan to see the film. If I wasn't a Christian, I probably would not have even known that this film existed because I don't watch commercials and I don't keep up with movies all that well. Plus the movies are just too darn expensive anyway! (But that's another rant for another blog post.)

But even with all the publicity and rage and the fact that I am a Christian who likes the story of Noah... I'm still not going to go see the film.


Because I know it would be a waste of my time.

I have literally not seen even one of this Darren guy's other films. They are made for a more mature audience and do not look appealing to me in the least. Black Swan? Requiem for a Dream? The Wrestler? The titles alone don't sound like my cup of tea and after reading the descriptions, I'd have to say pass.

So why are so many Christians wasting their time and money watching, thinking about, or raging about this guy's movie called "Noah". The man is not a Christian and does not claim to be. He's a Hollywood director, not a theologian. I wouldn't trust a Hollywood director to teach my children a Sunday school lesson. Would you? (Please say no.)

What's all the rage? Why get so angry? It's a silly film, for crying out loud, and I think even non-Christians know that the director is going to take some artistic liberties and change the story a bit. If anything, it might cause non-Christians to want to go read the story of his or herself.

It saddens me that the Christians of my generation are all worked up over this stupid film. It's just a movie! And yet we're going to war over whether or not it's Biblical, whether it captures the true nature of the story, whether stories in Genesis are merely metaphorical or truly historical.

It's not that those issues don't matter, but come on. Get over it. Move it.

Again, I must repeat, a non-Christian, Hollywood director wrote and directed the film. It's not going to be a Sunday school lesson.

If Darren's other films appeal to you, go spend eight bucks on "Noah". If they don't, stay home, or go see that "Muppets Most Wanted" or go see that "God's Not Dead" movie.

The great things about this country: you have options; you have freedom. So pick a movie you're going to like and stop worrying about whether or not this "Noah" movie is going to drive Americans farther away from God than they already are. I can assure you, it will have little to no effect on the average atheist.

I'm a Christian, and I could not care less about the "Noah" movie.

Monday, March 17, 2014

St. Patrick: the Hardcore Missionary of Ireland

Not hardcore.
Image found here.
All the people who go to parades, march in kilts, or drink a ton of beer on St. Patrick's Day are not that impressive. Anyone can watch a parade. Anyone can wear a kilt. Anyone can drink a bunch of beer (although it's not recommended).

Despite popular opinion, these people aren't all that hardcore.

Actually, they're not hardcore at all.

St. Patrick, however, was. He's about as hardcore as they come.

A few facts about St. Patrick that make his current fame and the stories that surround him a bit strange (and inaccurate):

  • He wasn't actually Irish; he was originally British.
  • He wasn't actually Catholic; he became a Christian in his teens.
  • He didn't wear green or drink beer. (Okay, I'm making that one up. I actually don't know if he wore green or drank beer.)

Ultra hardcore.
Image found here
At age 16, Patrick was kidnapped by barbarian Irishmen and was a slave to them for six years. During this time, he became a Christian and prayed throughout the day. He heard a voice one night, the voice of God, telling him to escape -- a ship was waiting on him. He traveled 200 miles and sure enough, he joined a crew and was ready to sail home. The whole crew almost died of starvation while on their journey. Patrick encouraged them to put their faith in God and shortly after they stumbled across some wild boar. The group put their faith in Patrick's God after this incident. 

Patrick did return home, alive and well. After six years of captivity, it would have been easy for Patrick to assume that he had been served more than his fair share of heartache. He had experienced enough troubles and was now ready for an easy life at home. God came to Patrick again, however, with a vision of all the Irishmen Patrick had left behind. The Irish didn't know Christ. They didn't know God. And God was telling Patrick to go back to the land of his captors and share the Good News with them. 

How difficult would that be? Return to the land of your enemies in order to try to save them from eternal damnation and help guide them into an understanding of a loving and forgiving God? These were pagans, for crying out loud! Barbarians! Crazy men! The could kill Patrick! 

But he did it anyway. He returned to Ireland to preach and share. Over the next 29 years Patrick planted 300 churches in Ireland and baptized at least 120,000 Irish. 

What a legacy.

And how do we celebrate?

"Another beer, please." 

Patrick really was hardcore. I think it's awesome that we celebrate him, but maybe we should go about doing it a different way:

  • Teach your kids about Patrick and the great things he accomplished in Ireland
  • Pray with your family for missionaries in the world today
  • Pray for people in today's world who might be like the Irish barbarians of the 400's to come to an understanding of Christ
  • Consider what enemy you have that may need to hear about Christ. Consider forgiving them and going to them with the Good News
However you decide to celebrate, just remember the person we're celebrating: not a Catholic saint, but a Christian missionary who dedicated his life to telling others about Christ. 

Read more details about Patrick's life here

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Point of Missions is to Edify Myself

Image found here.
Just a few days ago, I watched a documentary by an amateur filmmaker who wanted to tell the story of some orphan homes in Haiti. The filmmaker went about achieving this by following a 4 day “mission trip” conducted by a team of adults (about eight Americans) who went to Haiti to tour seven different homes where up to 12 orphans live with their “parents”.

According to the film, there are around 800,000 orphans in Haiti. That number astounds me. I knew they were poverty stricken and there were some orphans in Haiti, sure. But 800,000? That’s one orphan for every family in San Antonio!

These numbers were not the most shocking thing about the documentary, though. Despite the fact that the missions team basically went on tour of seven orphan homes rather than feed (spiritually or physically) some of the other 799,856 orphans in Haiti or the fact that they brought the orphans silly little gifts from America when the orphans they were visiting already had more stuff than they need. I’ll ignore those points for now. What was most shocking was when one of the team members said (and this is not a direct quote but only a few words off):

“The point of missions is to realize how blessed you are by seeing how little everyone else has.”

Woah. Hold up. That’s the point of missions?

And this statement is coming from a fifty-something-year-old woman. She should know better, right?


This was apparently her second trip to Haiti on this team. She was doing the exact same thing she did last year on her “mission trip”: going around the seven orphan homes to sing songs, give gifts, and craft crafts.

There are so many things wrong with this picture.

First of all, these orphans have a home. They have clothes. They have food. They have an adopted family. They also hear the Gospel on a daily basis. Daily. Did you catch that? They are already cared for, fed, and taught the Good News of Christ on a day to day basis.

Secondly, even if these orphans didn’t know Christ and the team was truly sharing something new to those children, what would the point of the mission be? Would it still be to “see how blessed you are”?

I hope I’m not alone when I state that:

“The point of missions is to bring the truth of the Gospel of Christ to people who have never experienced God’s love and forgiveness through the Holy Spirit.”

Where is the “I” in that statement? Sure, I am doing the action, but it’s not about me. It’s about the Good News. It’s about Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.

Not me.

I can hear the other side now…

“Maybe that’s all those people can do! Maybe they really did make a difference in those kid’s lives! You don’t know what eternal impact those people made on those 144 orphans in Haiti!”

The people who say these things defend the woman (and the rest of the team) because they too have been on those types of missions. You know, the "tour of poor people" mission trip, or "the spiritual retreat" mission trip.

If the point of missions is to see how blessed I am in comparison to others, all I need to do to achieve that is turn on the TV and listen to stories of the wars going on in Syria or the protests in the Ukraine. All I need to do is look up some images of malnourished children in India or Africa. All I need to do is go to the “poor side” of my town and examine the small houses, children running the streets without supervision or proper clothes, and maybe talk to a few of the locals in that area.

I don’t need to take a four day tour of seven orphan homes in Haiti where the kids already know about Jesus.

If the point of missions is the share God’s story with others and pray for their salvation, then yes. Going to Haiti and serving some of the other 799,856 orphans might become necessary in accomplishing this goal. The location might be the same, but the mindset and mission are both totally different.

For that lady, she thought she was doing a great service to those children. What she was really doing was edifying herself; raising support from others in order to go on a 4 day spiritual retreat with God. Instead of focusing on the 799,856 orphans in Haiti without regular food, shelter, love, or a knowledge of Christ, she was doing crafts with the 144 who already know God.

What a waste of 4 perfectly good days.

What do you think? Can you do both? Can you realize how blessed you are and go on mission with the goal of reaching the unreached?
If you can only do one, which one should take priority? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How to Take a College Class for Free (and in Just 3 Weeks)

This semester I was able to take a 3-hour, basic requirement college class for almost free. (If I had planned better, I could have taken it 100% free.) To top it off, I finished the course in just 3 weeks. How?

What you need:

  • A little cash (you'll get this back)
  • A computer with internet connection
  • Determination

What you do:

1. Get a scholarship for your tuition. So this is the one step that I can't do for you -- you have to find a scholarship on your own. If you aren't on a scholarship, don't worry. You can still take the class for cheap. Just follow the rest of the steps.

2. Buy the textbook. I'm a huge fan of renting, but if you're going to use my method, buy the textbook. Protect the textbook. Don't highlight in the textbook. Don't rip a page in the textbook. It is gold. It is treasure. It's at least 70 bucks, so treat it right, okay?

3. Take your class online. It is impossible to finish the class early if you do not take an online, self-paced course. Some online classes only open a module per week. You don't want that class. You want a self-paced class. Check out the online reviews of the professors or ask around to find out which ones are self-paced, and which ones aren't, at your school.

4. Get a free trial. Quite a few online classes use a third-party website to do quizzes. If your online class requires this, your access code is going to cost 50+ dollars. But most sites offer a free trial of 2-3 weeks. Start with that before you buy an expensive code.

Okay, all set? When the class opens, carefully read and use your book (no highlighting, damaging, etc.) to take all of the quizzes within the first two or three weeks (using your free trial). When you're done with the class work, send the book back for a refund and never purchase an access code.

There. You're done. 3 credit hours out of the way and you didn't have to deplete your bank account.

I highly recommend this route for a core class (government, history, psychology, basic economics class, etc.) but not for upper level classes or writing intensive classes.

Image found here
If you don't feel comfortable sending your book back or miss the return date, just sell it back. Amazon or Chegg will gladly offer you cash for your book (usually at least 50% of what you paid for it).

And the brightest side to all of this? You're done with your class in the first three weeks of the semester. Now you have extra time to spend on your other, more difficult classes. You're welcome.

Now, go get 'er done.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Life is Not about Pinterest: Six Weeks Pinterest-Free

Done. Finished. Complete.

I have refrained from pinning, re-pinning, or checking Pinterest for the past six weeks.

I committed to this "Pinterest Fast" when I realized all of the consequences of my Pinterest addiction:

1. Time sucker
2. Not productive
3. Causes disappointment
4. Feeds sarcasm

You can read the original post here.
Image found here
To my surprise, I flipped the page in my calendar today and it said "Pinterest" (which was my indicator that I'm allowed back on). I couldn't believe it! Has it been six weeks already?

To be honest, I went through some withdrawal at the beginning. I missed my dangerous and time-wasting hobby. But now, six weeks later, I don't really miss it at all. I'm not even sure I will return to Pinterest and I know I won't be visiting as often as I was before the fast (anywhere from 10-60 minutes/day)

Just goes to show, we think some things are so important and special and lovely. Until they are gone. Then we can take a step back, look at it objectively, and realize how ridiculous, wasteful, or even harmful it is.

Life just isn't all about the pins.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Common Courtesy, not Tolerance

Photo found here
Some people preach tolerance. Some people preach anti-tolerance. Personally, I'm not a huge advocate of the former. But I'm not promoting hate, either. 

I am, however, an advocate for common courtesy. 

After Twitter user @kristinf416 posted a photo of her child's "Kindergarten News" parent note, blogs and "the news" started getting feisty. You can read the note on her Twitter page, here on The Blaze, or on several other places on the internet. 

Let me begin by pointing out that there is no controversy here as some authors are suggesting. 

First of all, @kristinf416 has a whopping 18 followers (as of today). @kristinf416 is not trying to speak to a huge audience. 

Second, @kristinf416 never used the word tolerance in her post. @kristinf416 is not advocating for or against tolerance.

Finally, the policy on the teacher's note has been a policy for many years (if not decades) in most elementary classrooms across America. If you're going to bring a Valentine card, bring one for everyone. 

The fact that the teacher does not want names on the card is simple: it makes it quicker and easier to pass out the cards. Imagine 16 little bodies running around a room trying to match the right name to the right person's desk. They can hardly read, for goodness sake. Just leave the "To" section on the card blank.

There are a couple things I find pathetic about this letter, and it's not the letter. 

One is this: Haters of tolerance advocates who think the tolerance advocates are taking it too far need to stop proving to the tolerance advocates that non-tolerance-advocates are, indeed, haters. 

The other thing... okay, I'm just gonna say it.Teacher's should not have to send this letter out in the first place. The parent should already know how many children are in their child's classroom and the parent should teach their child that everyone gets a Valentine's Day card, even if we don't like little Johnny. 


It's common courtesy. 

But, but, but... life is hard! You don't always get treated fairly! Sometimes our feelings get hurt! Kids need to learn that!

Yes, it's true, sometimes feelings are hurt.

But it's also true that children have plenty of other opportunities to learn that. 

And they will learn that.

No need to learn it on Valentine's Day in front of the whole classroom. No need to have crocodile tears for the teacher to have to deal with when we're supposed to be having fun.

So don't worry, enemies of tolerance. They will learn, if they haven't already, that life isn't fair. 

And stop cheering, tolerance supporters. Giving a Valentine to every kid is just a little something called courtesy.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why is My Dad Paying for This Dad's College Degree?

I'm currently attending a community college where tuition is only $1,000/semester plus up to about $250 for books. As a commuter living 10 miles from the school and commutes to school twice a week, I pay about $100 in gas per semester. I'm up to about $1,350 for each semester I attend full time.

That's not a lot. In fact, working my part-time job, I can make that money in four to six weeks.

Now, attending a community college is different. There are usually several adults in each of my classes who have either decided to go back to school or perhaps have never attended college. One such gentlemen who is in his late 20's is working on earning his Associate's degree and move on to another school to earn his Bachelor's in the next semester or so.

He has over 60 credits. And still hasn't graduated with an AA. That means that he did not follow a degree plan and took classes he did not need and/or changed majors once or twice.

He has a kid. There's nothing wrong with having a kid, but this person told me that he is not married (but lives with) the child's mother.

He's a waiter. He told me that he makes about $100 a shift but only works a couple times a week because he doesn't really enjoy it.

And he's getting government assistance.

He told me that he and his wife (who he is not married to but refers to as his wife) "figured out" that if he files as a single father, he basically gets to go to school for free.

Only, it's not free. It might be free to him, but it's not free for everyone.

In fact, I believe it's people like my dad who pay for that dad's college with a little something called taxes.

Look, I'm a middle-class kid, but my parent's are not sending me to an expensive school. I chose to attend a community college because it's affordable. My parents and I can pay for the tuition with cash. I am working a part time job to help pay for things like textbooks and gas. I also applied for and earned privately funded scholarships from different businessmen in town.

Meanwhile, my dad works away in order to pay not just for his kid's college education, but for this guy's college tuition too.

That's so not cool.

Who decided not to get a college degree right out of high school? When there was no kid involved? When there weren't so many financial obligations? Who decided not to get married but file separately from their child's mother in order to receive government assistance? Who is capable of making the money they need to pay for a semester's tuition in just 14 shifts?

Yup. My classmate.

But instead he's freeloading.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, but I think one of them is this: College is not a right. It's a privilege.

Going to college is not a right that everyone gets. Earning a college degree takes time, diligence, and (ahem) money. If you don't have those to give, you don't need to go to college. End of story.

There are ways to go to college on a budget:

  1. Take less classes per semester to spread out the cost -- that way you can work full time while in school
  2. Attend an inexpensive community college
  3. Earn scholarships (with your merit, not your "financial need")
  4. Shop around and look for the best education for your dollar
  5. Stick with one degree plan and only take classes you need. 
It's not everyone's destiny to end up in college. And it's certainly not everyone's right.

When will we get that in our heads? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

No, Don't Delete Me!

Like most of America, I need to lose some weight. Just as importantly, I need to build some muscle mass so that I don't break my hip when I'm in my 80's. Action plan? Join a gym.

About a month ago when I decided to give this whole exercise thing a try, I looked into a chain of small gyms designed specifically for women. They are a national organization but each gym is individually owned and operated. That means that if I don't show up for a few days to workout, the owner will be giving me a call to check on me. Hopefully the accountability will keep me on track, right? 

My mom and I decided we'd be workout buddies and sign up together. When we visited the gym for our appointment, Pat, the owner, gave us the sales pitch. 

It was about two hours long. No lie. And it was kind of exhausting. A lot of the info I could have condensed into maybe 20 or 30 minutes. And not that it wasn't great information. It was just a lot of unnecessary information. I mean, we were just there to workout, and we didn't even get to do that on the first day. 

The next day we returned and Pat showed us how to use all of the equipment so that we could begin the program.

Overall, Pat spent about three hours working with the two of us. In addition, we came back two more times that week to try out the gym.

Then we found out there was the exact same gym, the exact same distance from our house, but in a more convenient location. My mom and I decided we'd try that one out instead and ended up signing up over there due to the convenience. 

That was about a week before I got the call. 

"Are you coming back?" Pat asked on the other end.

I explained that we appreciated all of her time, but decided to sign up at another location due to convenience (it's on my way to school) and that I was sorry my mom did not give her a call. 

"No, neither of you called me," Pat said.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said. "Mom must have forgotten." (Realty was Mom got the flu that week and yes, Mom forgot to call.) 

"Did you tell them that you signed up for a free week with me?" she asked.

"Yes, and we told them how helpful you were in introducing us to the program."

"Are both of you going over there?" Pat asked with a forceful tone. 

"Yes, I believe so," I said. Umm, we're workout buddies -- a mother/daughter team -- why wouldn't we go to the same gym? 

There was about a four second pause. I didn't know what to say so I waited... 

"Well, I guess I'll delete you both out of my system," Pat said, sounding totally peeved.
Photo found here.
Oh, wait. Hold the phone. I wasn't going to sign up but, but, but... you are going to delete me from your system? Like, permanently

Okay, last time I checked, I was the customer. Is it my responsibility to call and let Pat know that we aren't coming back? Yes, Pat gave us several hours of her time. I get that. And I appreciate that. But guess what? That's the risk a person takes when running a business. Sometimes their time is wasted on a person that does not end up becoming a client. 

That happens all the time. And promising to delete me out of your system pretty much guarantees I will not be coming back to your business. Ever. 

And who knows? I might even blog about my experience for the internet to read about. Thanks, Pat. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can Data-Mining be Avoided?

I began writing this post yesterday and guess what? Today (January 28th) is Data Privacy Day! I had no idea but I'll pretend I did. So, in honor of Data Privacy Day, I give you this blog post:

AT&T recently announced a unique service to four communities in Austin. Customers who opted for this service would receive a discount on their bill, the fastest connection in all of Austin, and the customers wouldn't have to do a thing!

Well, that's not entirely true, I suppose. The customer does have to give up a little something we often refer to as privacy.

Yup. The catch here is that AT&T will know what their customer searches for on the internet and what sites they visit. This information will assist AT&T with tailoring ads to fit that person's lifestyle.

Never fear! AT&T claims they won't share or sell this information! And they won't be able to track your banking information or credit card purchases, so that's not a problem either. Plus, the ads might actually be something you are interested in -- not some silly product you'd never buy.

Okay... that doesn't sound too bad. Right?

In my opinion, it sounds ridiculous. I may not have anything to hide, but I don't really want all of my website history to be "out there" in someone's file.

But the fact of the matter is that AT&T is one of the few companies actually asking for permission to data-mine. An exposition by Charles Duhigg of the New York Times exposes Target's data-mining ways. Even if you do not sign up for Target's Red Card, you are still assigned an ID number based off of your credit card number. Target tracks your purchases based on that number and can even make predictions as to what you'll buy next. That way, Target can mail or email you coupons that cater to those needs.

Again, what's so wrong with this? At least the ads make sense for the consumer.

Look, if you want fast internet, you're low on cash, and you don't have any secrets to hide, I say go for AT&T's deal. If you want coupons that have to do with what you're going to need in the near future, please continue paying with your debit or credit card at Target. And don't forget to give them your email and mailing address while you're at it. If that's what you want to do, absolutely no judgement here.

Besides, this data-mining can't be avoided. Most companies data-mine like crazy -- especially online companies because it's much easier to track purchases due to IP addresses and the fact that debit/credit
Photo found here. This link is actually pretty interesting.
DirecTV is apparently targeting their ads now too.  
cards must be used in online purchases. If data-mining can't be avoided, might as well reap the rewards by getting some coupons, right?

But what are the companies doing with the data? Besides targeting ads, they also have the option to sell that data to other companies (well, AT&T claimed they wouldn't, but they are one of the few). Even if you only sign up for a rewards card at one store, other stores could soon have your purchase history and your product preferences. They could also have your email address, mailing address, or phone number. That means more targeted ads and more of your shopping history being collected.

Pretty crazy, right?

So does this mean we should all become paranoid and stop shopping?

I don't think so. (At least, I hope not!)

But if you value your privacy, there are a few things you can do to avoid (or at least cut back on) data-mining:
  1. Pay in cash. This is the easiest way to stop the data-mining before it begins. If they don't know who you are, they can't keep track of your info and purchase history. Cash does not have a number linked to your name or purchase history, so it's the safest and easiest way to go if you want to stay off-grid. 
  2. Refuse to give out any info. At the cash register when they begin the transaction with asking you for a phone number or zip code, just say "No thanks". The cashier almost always makes it sound necessary to know this information in order to continue the transaction but it is simply not a requirement to shop there. You are under no obligation to give out your personal information. Trust me, I've refused to give my information many times at stores and it is never an issue. 
  3. Customer reward cards are a no-go. Stop signing up for the stupid customer reward cards. You're giving them everything: name, phone number, address, email -- the mother-load. Just stop.
  4. Special credit cards are also a tool. You do not need a credit card at every retail store you visit. And if you want to keep your privacy, avoid all such cards. I don't care if you get 5% off with every purchase -- the company makes much more money off of you by using the data that credit card collects to smother you in ads. 
  5. Never go out. Never shop. Never buy anything. Okay, obviously that is a bit extreme and is not doable for most (excuse me, all) people's lifestyles. It is the only way to truly avoid all of this data-mining, though. I don't think we need to be afraid of the data-mining, but no need to give out personal information at every store, sign up for every credit card, and give the companies everything they want. 

In the age of technology, data-mining is difficult, if not impossible, to avoid or control. If it bothers you, there are ways to avoid it. If you simply don't care and just want the deals, realize that you're being played. Targeted ads earn a company about 2.7 times the revenue as a random ad. That means that the target (you!) is spending more money.

So, who's the real winner here? I'll give you a clue: it's not the consumer. 

Does data-mining make you paranoid? 
Or are you happy to get the coupons?