Communities: They’re For Everyone

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Community.

To many people, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Thanks to social media and “community-building” platforms, community is just a digital age buzzword for the people you’re reaching; ultimately in an attempt to make you and your company a little bit more money.

In a more classic sense though, and probably what our parents would agree a community is and should be, it’s a group of like-minded people focused on the common good for that group. If that’s what you accept a community to be, then you can see why every marketing pro jumps on the concept, especially in the everyone-gets-a-trophy society that we’ve created and come to accept.

It’s a brilliant strategy, but what I want to encourage you to do is to find a community that you can share your life with, without the profitable encouragement of an outside company.

I thought about it, ironically browsing “gymspiration” and “fitspiration” tags on Tumblr and Pinterest Pinboards, but as you search for solitude in this ever-connected world you have a beautiful plethora of options.

Considering my past, I thought about the two most physical aspects of my life and how the communities surrounding them is open to everyone.

The first is backpacking. Finding yourself as you search the backcountry for meaning to the things in your life is one of the most solitary things you can do. Days can be spent seeing nobody, miles of wondering and wandering without the distraction of your newsfeed or push notifications.

On the other hand though, the backpacking community is a gnarled and humble group of people, welcoming to every skill level from pro athletes to children exploring the woods.

The second community I feel closest to is that of the runners. Am I competitive? No. Will the strangers along the race route cheer you on like a champion? Absolutely.

The running community is a family, strangers share tips and tricks for getting in shape, taking care of your body, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle; all the while patting you on the back just for putting on your shoes. Like any family, there are bad apples, those people that turn their noses up at slow runners, or distance runners that pretend to be “too good” for something like a 5K. Hell, I’ve been that guy before, but in the end everyone watches out for each other, full of encouragement and always there, even if you’ve secluded yourself to your headphones and a pace found in your active state of alone-ness.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s easy to write off being a part of something because everyone says you need to be involved, but there are plenty of options that are perfect fits for you. Even the most solitary and secluded person can find a place of comfort among the runners and backpackers of the world, enhancing their individualism while they slowly strengthen their bonds with others doing the exact same thing.

In the digital age, communities are jaded, maybe even tainted, but at the core they’re what everyone needs.

A Friday Wrap

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It’s Friday, the week has been busy, but it’s great to be alive.

After pulling my first all-nighter since college, which I finished a year ago this weekend, I realized that something has to give when it comes to my daily schedule. I’m grateful for the opportunity I have, to work from home as I study for my personal training certification, but working from home forces you to actually develop a schedule that needs to be maintained and improved upon daily.

Since it’s Friday, I won’t bore you with how to create a schedule for yourself, or even how to help jumpstart your motivation to get everything done, but what I will give you is this:

You always have more time than you think you do, you just have to find it.

I look for blog topics every morning, since October I’ve been contributing to the Third Wave Fashion Blog and monthly Fashion Tech Report, Paige and I average six runs a week, and I have to study to get certified. Without some type of order, like I lost this week, you’ll end up with the dreaded all-nighter, which shouldn’t happen once you’ve graduated.

You can make it through this Friday, use the weekend to get that big breath of fresh air you need, and don’t worry about anything until Monday. Like the photo below, it doesn’t matter how you have fun, but make sure you do!

7fd2d5e65aa211e382810ee93d32a936_8Courtesy: Paige

The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

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I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

Team USA: Uniform of Tradition

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There is no doubt that to participate in the olympics is an honor unlike any other.

Countless athletes have done their best to describe the feeling of representing your country, what it’s like to hear your nation’s anthem ring through the stadium or arena, all because for a frozen moment in time you were the best, your country, was the best.

Unfortunately though, that’s a feeling that many of us probably won’t experience. We won’t feel the pressure of a global audience, we won’t feel the weight of an expectant nation on our shoulders, looking to us to prove the strength and resilience of our country despite such an unstable world.

No, the international stage of the Olympic Games is reserved for an elite few, but luckily, there is one thing that we can share.

Tradition.

No matter who you are, what you believe, or where you live; tradition is one thing that we can all value. From family farms to generations of cops and fire fighters, tradition is one thing that may ring more true than the freedom we so proudly boast.

It’s with tradition in mind that I’ve come to appreciate what Ralph Lauren is doing with the 2014 Sochi Olympic uniforms. I wasn’t a fan of the Polo logo skillfully emblazoned on each garment, but understanding the story and the lengths the company went to to develop a truly American uniform is something that we can all appreciate.

From Oregon to New York, North Carolina to California, the details of the process pay homage to the traditions that have built this great nation.

Pell Grant Reform?

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I’ll probably make some people mad with my opinion about Pell Grants, but as the program is looking at a well that is quickly running dry, I believe that there is some level of accuracy in my concern.

First, let’s start with the problem I’ve stated before. The government is a business, they make money, they spend money, they do it from behind a veil of concern for you. As education is concerned the government does not deviate, hence the $41.3 billion profit posted for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s the third highest profit level in the world, behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

Second, Pell Grants, though useful to good students that deserve the opportunity to pursue a higher education, do not need to be given to anyone over 30.

That probably sounds harsh, but when there are 18 year olds that want to pursue an education but can’t because of affordability, then no, I don’t think that a person who chose to work instead should be receiving grant money. Again, I empathize with those people that have personal or family issues that prohibit them from going to school, but having three family members that are well over the age of 30, just now pursuing their education, it upsets me to hear how much grant money they receive for an online education.

When I graduated from Western, I had never been eligible for a grant. Even in the year that my father was out of a job, a year with zero income, which FAFSA is supposed to take into account, my student loan amounts were reduced so that I was forced into taking out parent loans too if I wanted to continue my education.

Yes that was right, parent loans was the government’s answer to my family having zero income.

So if you want Pell Grant Reform, the government needs to do the same thing they should do with Social Security. Allocate money to the people that deserve it, stop handing out pity money, and at some point hold people accountable for the life choices that they make.

The older you are, the more opportunity you’ve had to pursue a career, which could be paying for the education that you suddenly realized you needed. A high school grad shouldn’t be penalized for your decision to work.

As far as money for education is concerned, this isn’t about reform, it’s about common sense.

Investing In The Future: The Greatest Paradox

If you went to college, thought about college, or encouraged your own child to go to college, then you’re probably guilty of saying that you were making an investment in the future. Considering that any investment is an investment in the future, the statement alone seems silly, but that’s beside the point.

What has me thinking about the phrase though, and more so the paradox that accompanies it, is spurred from a comment that I heard over the weekend, when an “Economic Analyst” said that the problem with windmills is that they are:

eyesores.

Really?!

You’re an economic analyst, that speaks on national television, and the worst thing about wind energy is that the structure producing the energy isn’t aesthetically pleasing?

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Image: Siemens UK

That brings me to the main issue: in an age when we are more than comfortable telling students to pursue academic careers and higher education, to make investments in their futures; why, as a society, can’t we muster the confidence to invest in energy technology for a more stable future?

According to the American Wind Energy Association, the market supports 80,000 full-time jobs, and considering that number is projected to have a potential to reach 500,000 jobs by 2030, then we should be doing everything we can to encourage the growth of wind energy.

Do I understand every little issue? No.

But I do understand that the change won’t happen over night. I do understand that in a country that isn’t too focused on the manufacturing jobs that have been lost, we turn old factories into turbine producing factories. Hell, power those factories with wind power and it’s a double-whammy.

I also understand, however, that the reason we aren’t pushing harder for wind power is because we’re comfortable. Yeah, I get it, when it comes to where you get your power from, there aren’t a whole lot of choices, like here in the city we’re stuck with ConEd and if we lived in North Carolina we’d be stuck with Duke Power. But that’s the real problem. When there aren’t options we don’t have to make decisions, and let’s face it, American’s aren’t decision making people.

Decisions confuse us, we shake and stutter, and ultimately end up with nothing because we don’t know how to choose. Henry Ford knew it when he said that customers could have any color Model T they wanted as long as it was black.

Ultimately, that is our barrier with alternative energy. We like to talk about making investments, all of which are meant to enhance the future, but none of us want to make the decision that makes it all possible. We have a system, it isn’t great but it works, and even if we’re slowly poisoning ourselves, our grandparents started it so we’re more than ok with it too.

In 2030, I’ll be 40 years old. Like I said, the projection is that wind power will produce 500,000 jobs by then. I think it’s time we stopped investing in the generic future, and start investing in the creation of a better future. Why? Because if nothing else we deserve it.