Archive for January, 2012

Godly Sorrow

– Topher Endress

This is my first non-Leadership series blog post, so bear with me.  The idea struck me Sunday morning at church while my pastor was reading a passage, so please excuse the religious overtone (I am the chaplain, so I should get some sort of break on this one).

The passage I heard on Sunday, 1 John 1: 5-10, was both a call to obedience – “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” – and a reminder that we will find ourselves falling short of our ideals – “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.”  What struck me, however, was how the idea of confession plays a large role in striving for and failing to reach our ideals.  Inevitably, we will find ourselves looking back on situations where we feel heavy emotions that we are often uncomfortable sharing.  As adults though, we probably have come to understand the near-necessary role that baring your soul and sharing your secrets plays in keeping us sane.  Certainly, much has been written about talking through failures already.  It’s where the business, education, psychology and religious worlds collide.  It seems everywhere you turn, someone wants you to open up and get in touch with your emotional side.  But if you have a great way to confess the things that you have done wrong, you are at risk of losing something important.  Whether you consult a wiser mentor, a religious person, a good friend, or you climb a mountain and yell what you screwed up to the emptiness, you give them the ability to help you move on.  Some might say forgiveness, some absolution, others a ‘clear conscience.’  But regardless, it is a new state of mind, where you are no longer subject to the host of emotion and stress that comes with screwing something up.  Many of us have our own systems for this, but the general trend in our culture seems to be the streamlining of everything we do.  We’ve got Post Secrets, anonymous confession sites and Texts From Last Night online to let us announce to strangers what we are afraid to say to those who care.  Many on the religious side have moved from an external comfort such as a priest to an internal system, where we can ask for forgiveness immediately after sleeping with that girl we shouldn’t have or right after handing in a test we cheated on.  It makes sense – we don’t like to feel those pains of guilt and remorse after doing something that we honestly knew better than to mess with.  But I think we might be handicapping ourselves by avoiding this pain.  I recently saw Pete Holmes’s stand-up on youtube.  He made some pretty powerful statements, though he was trying to make people laugh.  Watch the video below to see what I mean.  (The video is obviously meant to be funny, which might be a welcome change from the tone of this post to some of you)

“There’s no time for mystery, or wonder”  “The time between not-knowing and knowing is so brief that knowing feels exactly like not-knowing”

It’s true.  Now that I have joined the rest of the world and got a smart phone (sorry, Kyle), I look menial things up all the time.  And while knowing that Tom Petty is from Florida (Gainesville, in fact) isn’t a huge issue one way or the other, the truth is that I now look for simple answers to tough questions the very same way.  When someone asks a great question, the worst thing you can possibly do is answer right away.  Good questions take time to understand, and answers need to be weighed out.  With everything coming instantly, we certainly know a bunch more – but it doesn’t feel any different than not-knowing.  As Phi Taus, we are called to be Men of Character though a commitment to education.  Knowing facts is not education.  Knowing how to wait, to think, to pit idea against idea – that, is education.  And when an answer comes by careful study and hard thinking, it resonates with us.  Which makes me think that looking for the quick solution to those negative feelings from above isn’t the way to go.

The Bible talks about rejoicing for ‘Godly sorrow’ (2 Cor. 7: 9-10), which is to say sorrow that comes from understanding the implications of messing up and also leads to repentance.  This can be applied to anyone, religious or non, PC or Mac, Christian or Sikh, investment banker or hobo, Druid or Pastafarian – we must struggle through the times that are tough, because it is in the fighting that we prove ourselves.  The negative emotions that come before a confession can play a huge role in shaping your character, and the relief of exposing a mistake made 30 seconds ago pales in comparison to the relief of being freed from a mistake that has been weighing you down for a while.  Clearly, there is a balance here.  Waiting forever can be dangerous to your mental, emotion and even physical health, as stress can have a major negative impact on the body.  But we cheat ourselves out of development and growth when we turn immediately to the things that help us forget we are fallible.  I urge you to take seriously the mistakes of your past – when you know what wrong you have done, you will really see the need for moving on.  And frankly, I’m not sure anyone can truly move on without that true knowledge.

As a final note, I will say that after working with high school kids for the past 5 years, I feel like I’m pretty decent at listening to problems/confessions/issues/situations/etc.  As your chaplain, I would be remiss if I did not offer my ear up to anyone who needed to talk.  I can’t promise amazing advice, but I can promise confidentiality and a willingness to hear you out.

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On Ingenuity

– Topher Endress

“Pues suss, heme aquí.”  (“Good enough, I’m ready”)

This was Francis Xavier’s response to being told of his need to go to India in place of a sick colleague – with one day’s notice.  I don’t know about you, but I’m trying to plan now for a potential move to a different city a few states over . . . 7 months from now.  Xavier was told about being sent to India, a country with a completely foreign language, culture and infrastructure than his 16th century Basque Spain (then, the Kingdom of Navarre, for you history buffs) and Paris.  Less than 48 hours after being given his new orders, Xavier had managed to be blessed by the Pope and on his way to Portugal to embark on his way to India.  Yet somehow, Xavier was not shaken by the shock of displacement, but instead found time to establish a series of Jesuit outposts all across India.  He felt that there was work to be done in Japan, so Xavier promptly left India and found a way in to meet with the emperor.  The team that eventually caught up to him/joined him there brought back several incredible technologies from Asia to Europe, helping end the Dark Ages.  Had Xavier waited until he was ready, how likely is it that he would ever had gone to Portugal, much less India or Japan?  There is always something that you don’t know that you should, something that you haven’t done that you should have, or something that you need to take care of in the near future.  If you wait until you are ready, you will never accomplish anything.

Life takes ingenuity and a willingness to leave things unfinished.  Most people will tell you that you should take each project and finish it completely before moving on – this is how to do well in what you are currently doing and simultaneously do well in losing opportunities for incredible adventures.  Followers are those who finish all their work; leaders are those who give up on things that simply don’t matter to concentrate on what is important.  Francis Xavier felt the mission of the Jesuits was the most important thing in the world to him.  He chose to give up the lesser things in his life and more importantly, he was willing to change his plans.  Everything was flexible except his top objective.  As you examine yourselves (see post 2), start considering what you consider to be your most important mission.  Then, ask yourself what you would be willing to give up to make that mission happen.  If you have a list, use that to find what you truly consider to be your most important mission – maybe you’ll like what you see, maybe you won’t.  Xavier knew his, and it allowed him to be both truly flexible and a true leader.

(This is post 3 in a 5 part series on Leadership)

On Self-Awareness

– Topher Endress

Regardless of your personal feeling towards Portland and Brooklyn, there is an undeniable appeal to being a hipster.  Maybe not the wearing of giant fake glasses or riding a fixed-gear bike, but the general mentality of individualism that pervades their “counter-cultural” culture that entices each thrift-store shopping, obscure music-listening, community garden-growing, Juno-loving hipster to act so differently than the general populous belies a sense of self-worth that, while often annoying, is undoubtably a precursor for self-leadership.  Despite the inherent lack of top-down leadership in any given hipster community, there is a tangible and powerful shift in the general culture among 20-somethings in America that can be traced back to hipsters – Toms being nearly ubiquitous on campus, skinny jeans becoming normal and Arcade Fire winning a Grammy are all signs that hipsters have made their mark.  However, their greatest appeal is not in being ahead of the curve on fashion and music trends, but in their emphasis on understanding their own wants, needs, strengths and weaknesses.  When someone is willing to live so clearly off the beaten path, we assume that they have an inherent confidence which only comes by knowing one’s true self.  This inward-focus is a necessity for them because of their chosen denial of all things popular – but I say that when not made out of necessity, the examination of one’s life is the greatest gift we can ever give ourselves.

Socrates claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living and Descartes remarked, “cognate ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am.  Throughout history, our greatest thinkers have turned inward for their revelations.  It’s time that our leaders did the same.  Ignatius Loyola called each Jesuit to take an honest stock of his life – what are your honest strengths?  What do you do that you are ashamed of?  What do you long to achieve but keep failing to grasp? What do you stand for?  What do you wish you stood for?  No one can do this for you – leaders must mold themselves. To the Jesuits, success is dependent on each individual taking the leadership role upon himself, and no one can lead without knowing the inner workings of their hearts and minds first.  This reigns true for us today, but also in our rapidly-approaching futures.  Peter Drucker, of the Harvard Business Review claims that, “successful careers are not planned.  They develop when people know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.”  You may work for a high GPA, but until you know yourself, don’t expect to achieve your highest goals.  Even now, we can’t rely on seemingly good ideas to push us through this semester – when each fraternity man of Phi Tau knows himself, our goals will be met simply by the honest expression of who we are and where we want to be.

(This is post 2 of a 5 part series on Leadership)

Heroic Leadership

– Topher Endress

Lately, I’ve been reading a book called “Heroic Leadership,” which takes apart the management practices of the Jesuits.  Having been started from a single man’s ideas, founded by three men with no capital or plan, they started more than 30 universities across the world within a decade and had members in positions of authority in cities across 4 continents.  They were some of the first Europeans to cross the Himalayas, to enter Japan, chart the Mississippi or to learn Sanskrit.  Despite it’s humble beginnings, the Jesuits are the world’s largest religious order and run over 2000 institutions in over 100 different countries.  Having been around for 450 years and with a presence across the globe, the Jesuits are clearly teaching some skill set that sets them apart from the vast majority of ‘companies.’  While I am not Catholic, I can certainly respect the work that this order has done on a variety of levels.  And, while reading this book, I have come to appreciate their unique focus on leadership preparation.

As men of Phi Tau, we are expected to lead others with exemplary character, and as Boilermakers we are called to “move the world forward” – but how do we as a group of 20 some-odd college guys make a lasting impact on those around us?  In most cases, we have been given tools but no instruction manual.  There is no clear roadmap to follow, even for those among us who feel a clear direction either now or post-college.  However, the teachings of Ignatius Loyola seem to cast doubt that a step-by-step plan would be preferable, if ever possible.  Understanding that motivation comes from within, he focused on 4 major values that each Jesuit was to follow: self-awareness, ingenuity, love and heroism.  I firmly believe that these values, regardless of setting, are keys to successful leadership and I for one am willing to try in my last semester to make full use of my time.  Imagine our impact on Purdue and the community if each of us were to make a commitment to being a leader in each aspect of our lives.  By following these principles, I believe that Phi Kappa Tau Lambda Colony can produce more in one semester than what other fraternities can in several years.

I will write 5 more short essays like this, with the next four detailing the 4 values of Loyola and the final one a summary and a challenge.  If you are interested in a challenge, read along.  Take one a day and see what conclusions it draws you to – both philosophically and tangibly.  Write down your thoughts as your read through these, record yourself having an argument with what’s written, fingerpaint your emotions afterwards, whatever works for you, but find a way to respond to these ideas and do it.

(This is post 1 of a 5 part series on Leadership)