Plastic is everywhere in modern society. It’s in your toothbrush, the device you’re reading this blog post on, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and most regrettably, in far too many relationships. As a kid I was taught to “be yourself” and it’s a message that I am sure others have heard, but I seem to be one of the few who has embraced the concept. Whether it’s meeting a new group of people at a cocktail party, interacting on Twitter or dating, I see so many people pretending to be what they assume the other person wants them to be instead of just being proud of who they are.

Some choose to adapt to whatever the other person says and does even if it flies in the face of their values, some need a bit of liquid courage and will just be a part of the crowd, and some just flat out lie about who they are. I’m not sure what of those options is worst, but at some point the act starts to fall apart and at that point, what are you left with? Not much, because your entire relationship was not built on the other person liking you, they liked the person you were portraying.

I’ve never been “cool” or had a lot of friends, but I know that the ones I do have like me for who I truly am, faults and all. What “you” are you putting out there? The one that you think will have you the most liked, or the real you? I’ve made my choice and I’ve decided that while it may not be the most popular decision, I’m not plastic waiting for a mold or an actor on stage playing a role, I’m just me.

Be The Change

You must be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

The first time I saw that quote was when Erin Gruwell signed my copy of The Freedom Writers Diary. At the time I thought it was a nice, simple note but didn’t give it a lot of thought. I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve seen more and more instances where I wish people, myself included, would take that simple bit of advice.

We all know someone who loves to complain. They’ve got an opinion about anything and everything and can find fault with any situation you present them with, but when you ask that person about how they would make the situation better, or what they’re doing to fix it they shrug it off and say that it’s not their responsibility, or that they have better things to do. They are also very good at telling everyone about a problem, except anyone who can actually do something to fix the situation. Talking to their friends about how their boss is overbearing, or their coworkers about how their spouse is lazy, etc. What is that going to accomplish?

If there’s something you have a problem with, talk with someone who actually has the ability to affect the situation. When you’re having that conversation, instead of just ranting about how you don’t like it, present potential solutions to the problem. They may seem unfeasible, but throwing out a few ideas can spark a brainstorming session that could result in something even better than just solving the initial issue.

More often than not, whatever you have a problem with is dependent on players you have no control over, but there’s one person you always have complete control over, yourself. Leading by example is huge, and if you take the time to do what you consider to be the right thing, other people will see that and in more cases than you may realize, become inspired by it.

It’s much more effective to be the person who takes the time to volunteer, get in shape, work on changing the arcane policy that no one likes at your job, etc. than to just sitting around griping about it. Am I guilty of being a complainer from time to time? You bet I am, but I’m working on trying be a better example, and after reading this post, hopefully you will too.

Tech Support Is Closed

Today I got an instant message from someone I’d not heard from in months and things started off politely, the usual “How have you been?” etc. Not one minute into the conversation things turned to “Yeah, I’m having trouble with my computer, do you think you can take a look at it for me?” I wish I could say that this is the first time something like this has happened to me, but it’s not, and I struggle to understand why people think it’s OK.

Everyone has friends that come and go. Sometimes you won’t hear from someone for months or even years before you catch up and I’m OK with that. Maybe it’s just me, but when the only time I hear from someone is when they need help with their computer, I’m offended. If you’re someone that I talk with on a fairly regular basis and you need help with something, I’ll be more than happy to assist in any way I can, but if I haven’t heard from you in months and then all of a sudden you try to be all chummy when your gadget it on the fritz, how can you not think that I’d feel hurt by it, or cheap a best? Yes, we all have Facebook, so I know when you’re going out on the town and having a great time, but if I’m not worth your time when it’s time to have fun, don’t expect me to be thrilled when you come to me in your time of need.

Is this a problem that’s unique to “computer guys” or is it more widespread? Am I being unreasonable? What do you think?

Getting Involved

Penn State probably won’t like this, but I really think I got more out of my extracurricular activities than I did in any of my classes. I chose to attend Penn State Lehigh Valley mainly for financial reasons. Being a local campus, it meant I could commute from home which allowed me to save on the expenses of housing and food. When you’re paying for school on your own, the possibility of saving half your expenses is very attractive. The downside of course was that during my first two years of college I was miserable.

Because I had to find a way to come up with money for tuition and books I found that I was going to class, going to work, doing homework and repeating it all the next day. I never really got a chance to connect with anyone on campus or with the university as a whole. Sure there were campus events but I was always busy doing homework, in class or at work. The fall of my junior year everything changed.

I don’t remember how but I was asked to be a new student orientation leader and a few of us were on campus early to help set up. A few students who were changing assignment to the University Park campus were around visiting with friends and as we were decorating it came up in conversation that Penn State Lehigh Valley needed another representative for Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG) meetings that were held at University Park. I had no idea what CCSG was at the time, but attending that meeting completely changed my feelings toward Penn State and college in general.

Before attending I’d never visited the University Park campus, nor had I really done much on my own campus back in the Lehigh Valley, but seeing all of the great things that students were working on around the commonwealth opened my eyes and really inspired me. I had so much energy and enthusiasm that I found time in my schedule and joined the Student Government Association (SGA). That’s when I found I’d set foot on a slippery slope. I went from being a campus delegate to CCSG during the Fall semester to being the SGA Parliamentarian the following Spring semester to being the SGA President the next two consecutive years. Yes, for those of you keeping track, I was an undergrad for five years.

Getting involved was absolutely the best thing I ever did during my time at Penn State. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. I managed to get involved with numerous incredible organizations, meet amazing people and learn more about myself than I ever thought possible. My fifth year at Penn State (super senior year?) I got involved with the Penn State Lehigh Valley Alumni Society and starting July 1, I’ll be the new President. Looking back, I still find it pretty incredible how someone like me who loathed his time in college during the first two years could end up being one of its biggest supporters, even years after graduation.

Pushing A Rope

When I got on board with The Total Money Makeover and saw how greatly it changed my life I wanted to share it with anyone and everyone. It was so revolutionary to me, yet so simple, I thought that everyone could and should be doing it. I even got a copy of the book specifically for the purpose of lending it out to other people. I was so enthusiastic about these wild ideas of not using credit cards, living below your means and on a budget that some people thought I’d joined a cult.

Seeing how much better my life was after getting on a budget I just couldn’t understand how other people wouldn’t want to have the same benefit in their own lives. After all, I know plenty of people who are always complaining about how broke they are, yet are constantly going out and spending money with seemingly no plan at all. Why didn’t they understand that this was a better way? Don’t they want their situation to improve?

Then one day as I was droning on and on about Dave Ramsey this, budget that, Baby Step 3b, etc. someone asked me why I thought I was better than they were. This really hit me hard because in my enthusiasm I completely missed that others could have interpreted what I felt was heartfelt enthusiasm for something that had a positive impact on my life as me claiming that because they weren’t doing it, that they were inferior. I tried to explain that it was not my intent to put them down, but it didn’t matter what my intentions were, it’s how my actions were being perceived.

After taking time to reflect on my actions and how they were being received I decided that instead of trying to meddle in other people’s business I’d just keep doing my own thing and if someone wanted to know what I was doing I would share it with them. The opportunity to talk about things I’m doing to make positive changes financially hasn’t come up much (I’ve always wondered why there’s such a stigma with talking about money, but that’s a topic for another time), but when I started tweeting my weight loss once per week I started getting private messages pretty regularly asking how I did it.

All of this taught me that you can’t push a rope, you have to pull it. If someone wants your help they’ll ask for it, but you can’t make anyone want to do something they’re not ready for. In the past I was going around telling people what they should be doing, as if I knew more about their own situation than they did. Now, if it comes up in conversation, I’ll mention things that I’ve done and how they’ve helped me. If someone is inspired by that and wants to learn more, I’m always willing to help.  Hopefully by changing my approach and keeping my nose out of people’s business, I’m not only helping more people, but I also appearing like less of a jerk.