Archive for February, 2012

Question/Answer #1

– Topher Endress

Ok, so I haven’t heard back from anyone with a stellar question yet.  I can be patient.  But I have been asked a few times recently why I chose to join Phi Tau in the first place.  I’m posting below what I wrote in my Bio, and I think it answers that question somewhat.  Keep thinking of questions and get them to me – I’m curious to know what everyone is thinking!

Question: Who are you/Why did you decide to join Phi Kappa Tau?

Answer: My full name is Christopher Charles Endress, though most of my peers know me exclusively as “Topher.”  I am currently serving as both one of the co-Philanthropy Chairs, as well as the Chaplain.  I grew up in Evansville, IN, attending Central High School where I graduated in 2007.  During my time there, I was highly active in both varsity tennis and varsity debate (participating in both each of my 4 years).  I also held officer positions in several other clubs and became the Senior Class Secretary.  I believe some of my external highlights from high school have been largely overshadowed by my experiences at Purdue, though speaking at my graduation ceremony was a unique and memorable opportunity.

I am a 5th year senior, which naturally leads into the question of why I felt it necessary to join Phi Kappa Tau so close to the closure of my collegiate career.  Essentially, my original decision came based on my then-current desires of serving my community without much extra commitment.  As I was joining a colony, I believed I would be expected to participate less in traditional fraternity life – freeing me to focus solely on the service aspect.  I had already established a clear path to my desired career field through several relevant experiences and internships, so the networking aspect of a fraternity was not a selling point either.  Already highly involved with both Young Life and the Paint Crew, I felt that I would not need, want or be able to enjoy the social life and brotherhood of Phi Tau based on how little free time I generally had.  However, I have found that my initial reasons for becoming a founding father were significantly off base from the reasons I currently hold for appreciating my decision to join Phi Kappa Tau.  While I still remain active and passionate about community service and philanthropy, the community of men that I am now surrounded with is far greater and more engaging that I had thought possible.  I will be attending a seminary in the fall to continue my education, and the idea of leaving behind my brothers is honestly a daunting task despite less than a year of knowing them.  Looking back, I find my initial reasons for joining to be a bit shallow and self-centered; knowing then the benefit of the Phi Tau brotherhood would surely have only strengthened my decision.

Devilishly-handsome is an awkward term for someone going to work for a church…

Additionally, I enjoy Snuggies and Den Pops.

Ask a Chaplain!

Jeopardy, Cowboy hats – is there anything I can’t rock?

– Topher Endress

Now that I have finished up our first series (Leadership, you’ve hopefully seen one or two of them), it’s time to switch gears.  Since this is a blog for all of us, it only makes sense that the jolly men of Phi Tau get to pick some topics.  So here’s what I’m going to do: I will answer your questions via this blog.  Send me any question you have, big or small, awkward or weird (I’m just assuming all the questions will be one of the two), important or not.  I will keep these anonymous, so don’t worry about everyone seeing all your creepy questions (I don’t count, obviously).  But for real, I want to use this to help add in some small way to someone’s day, so ask questions that you honestly want dissected and written about.  I will answer them as fairly as I can, and with as much research I can afford to give.  Since this isn’t a secure site, I’m not putting my e-mail out – just message me on Facebook (or if you want it answered faster, Google Plus).

On Heroism

– Topher Endress

Superman, Spiderman, Green Lantern and all our other famous heros now rehashing history in increasingly-bad superhero movies (Batman excluded) all share a specific trait.  Obviously, they don’t have the same powers, or a shared enemy, or even the same fictional universe.  What they share instead is the ability to act confidently.  When was the last time you felt empowered to stop a crime?  Unfortunately, we are more like the Peter Parker who let the robber escape (only to murder Uncle Ben minutes later) than the Spiderman who patrols the streets from above.  It’s the same reason that we consider firefighters and policemen to be heroes – they decided for themselves when to act, while most of us wait for permission.  I’m not advocating that we all go get in some bar fights (this was supposed to be my shout-out to Clements, but I think I have to give it to Doppler now), but I think the idea of heroism is something very important to all of us as men of character.  I know I want to be the big guy who saves the world, or at least the female lead, from utter disaster, but in all honesty I rarely feel comfortable enough to intervene in something that I don’t have to.  And I think that is true for most guys.  The intent is there, but the confidence and self-authority isn’t.  Think about being back in high school or middle school and hearing a older guy mocking a freshman.  Maybe he’s calling him ‘gay’ or ‘retarded,’ and maybe he’s even threatening some physical harm.  If you never overheard anything like that, let me know because I will be sending my kids to your old school.  But things like that regularly happened at my high school.  And my response was to go over, tell off the bully and affirm the freshman, to tell him that I saw his worth, to try and give him back the dignity that the bully tried to take.  Sometimes, I’d even take a punch for the kid, just to show the bully he wasn’t scaring anyone.  At least, that was my response in my mind.  By the time I had finished playing out the scenarios, I found myself already driving back home after last period.  I wanted to step up and be the hero, but I never did.  Sure, there were times when I intervened, but there are plenty of people that I should apologize to at my upcoming reunion for my lack of action.

I think the difference in being someone who desires to see justice/greatness and someone who works actively for it is the willingness to suffer the consequences of being wrong.  Investment bankers are sometimes the least likely to make any major decisions because, though they are in an naturally intense career, the penalty for making mistakes is fairly harsh. But that is precisely why is takes heroism to overcome our natural inclinations.  I’m not saying be reckless, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a chance and losing.  Especially because most of the time, we don’t lose as much as we anticipate.  I saw this awesome video and I want to share it because the chance this guy takes is incredible.  It’s a situation where he has the option of ignoring his first thoughts, but decides to play the hero role.

I’m not saying that you will always luck out like this – Neil had an extreme example where doing the right thing meant being willing to invest heavily in this woman and it worked out for him that the dentist covered it.  I see two instances of heroism in this story: first, that Neil was willing to go in and offer his help when he didn’t have too, and second, when he told he receptionist that “the light of the world will pay for it.”  Going back into that Wafflehouse was him overcoming all those insecurities that kept me from standing up to the bullies of high school.  And Neil also believed strongly in what he was doing in terms of his religion, and without prompting he was willing to go out on that limb.  THAT is bold, and if not for that he would have footed a bill of tens of thousands of dollars.

Men of character are men who can forgo the constraints of self-doubt and our society’s emphasis on not sticking your nose into other people’s business.  Sometimes, we have to put ourselves out there, because win or lose, it is simply the right thing to do.  And if we can free ourselves up to the right things, we will naturally lead others by our actions.

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

Valentine’s Day

– Topher Endress

This post will have a decidedly “single” flavor to it.  If you are in a relationship, read on anyways, because I think this is important.

I want to be honest with all of you.  You are my brothers, and while I may know some better than others, I recognize that vulnerability is key to any good relationship.  And so, I want to tell everyone that I got shot down on Valentine’s Day Eve this year.  Here’s how it happened: I know several Purdue people from Newburgh, a suburb of my hometown (Evansville).  They had a friend from home that needed a ride back for Thanksgiving and I had the perfect schedule to take her.  Of course, neither of us knew the other, but we had mutual friends and it got set up.  I was naturally a bit worried that the ride would be awkward – nearly four hours with a stranger can get to monstrous levels of awkwardness if you aren’t careful.  Luckily, I found that I had a lot in common with this girl and that talking to her was easy.  We had a great trip together, and being a man, I naturally gauged whether I could date her or not.  I tabled it for a while, until I took her back up to Purdue from Christmas Break.  I decided I needed to man up and ask her out asap, since she was single and attractive.  But that isn’t the whole reason why I wanted to ask her out.

When I talked to her, I found myself smiling for no good reason.  And every time we hung out, it made me want to spend that much more time with her.  She was kind, smart, compassionate, fun and shared with me an outlook on the world that I want to foster.  I wanted to be a better man when I thought of her.  And before you say the ‘L’ word, I want to stress that it wasn’t necessarily the kind of in-depth emotion you see in a chick-flick.  Sure, these were valid feelings, but I wasn’t head over heels for her like that dweeb from the Notebook.

Long story short, I asked her out.  Several times, in fact.  But I’m no good at reading women, and somehow much worse and portraying my feelings to them, so I decided that I couldn’t take the ambiguity anymore.  And so tonight, I bought her some tea latte and we talked about our lives for a while.  Finally, I came out and told her that I felt something between us.  I told her that I pursued our relationship out of a desire to be with her beyond friendship.  I gave her my emotions.  And she replied with, “I’m flattered, but I value our time together because I think you are a quality guy.  I’ve just always thought of our relationship as a friendship.”  Awesome.  So I have been investing in a relationship between us for months now, and she has been assuming its because I’m just a nice guy.  Great.  Perfect.  Nothing could be better.

Naturally, I’m pissed.  I try and save face and agree to the whole “let’s just be friends” bs that women throw out like leftover Halloween candy, but honestly I want to punch something or do something equally physical/manly.  But as I’m growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of punchable items around me, I realize a few things about relationships.

First, relationships are necessarily a two way street.  An unbalanced relationship isn’t going to last or amount to anything meaningful.

Second, women either don’t know what they want or can’t directly lead a guy there effectively.  Men are direct.  We are somewhat simpler creatures.  If we like a girl, we can either find the ways to say it or show it.  Women are too complex, and trying to a straight answer isn’t an option.  Sure, it’s part of the allure, but right after it causes you  to invest emotionally in someone when they won’t do the same for you, the lack of clarity is pretty frustrating.

Third, men and women are built to be in relationships.  Maybe men more so than women.  I know that several guys are looking for physical relationships first and foremost, but deep down I believe in a relational need that can’t be satisfied by sex alone.  The Bible talks about two becoming one often.  In Hinduism, Mormonism (I think), Judaism and most Asian religions, there is an emphasis on relationships, typically mirrored in the lives of the gods.  Krishna has a wife.  Yin has Yang.  Male is balanced and made whole by Female.

Fourth, I don’t know what I believe about fate, predestination or free will.  I don’t know for sure whether we have a God who intervenes in our lives or answers prayers how we typically think of answering.  I do believe that prayers are answered in one of two ways: ‘Yes’, or ‘No because there will be something better.’  Looking back, I can clearly see positive effects after I’ve been turned down in the past.  I have to believe that if I got turned down tonight, it is because there is something better planned for me.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations.  Nearly 1000 words dedicated to a fake holiday that only serves to make 1/2 of the male population miserable and the other 1/2 poorer.  But as much as I’d like to rip on V-Day, I recognize that relationships are important.  There is a reason each of us sought out our fraternity and, recognized or not, part of that was the need for brotherhood and community.  Sharing that with a woman (or man – it’s 2012, guys) is simply a more intensified expression of the same need.  Relationships are expensive, difficult and needlessly complex.  But without them, life wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.  And so while some of us may not particularly enjoy today, myself included, we can take solace in the fact that we are waiting for something better.

In conclusion, love stinks.  But I want it anyway.

You Aren’t as Awesome as You Think You Are – Part 2

– Topher Endress

You stand almost no chance for being famous for you music, be it guitar or sousaphone. None of your art will make a gallery. You will make a little less than your next-door neighbor does, and you wife will be just a shade less attractive. You will not be a ‘cool’ dad. Your children will be average. I know this because it is a law – the law of averages. If most of the people weren’t average, there would be a new average. Then, those above-average people would BE the new average. It is inescapable. And while some of you may find this information bleak and soul-crushing, I tend to look at it in a different light.

It’s ok to be average (or slightly above, since we all still probably perceive ourselves as being better regardless of how thoroughly I tore you down in the above). When we have delusions of grandeur, we don’t work as effectively. David knew he wasn’t strong enough to wear heavy armor and wield a huge sword, so he killed Goliath with a sling shot. Ashlee Simpson got a nose job. I asked for help on a paper for class and now it is being prepped to be sent to an academic journal for publication. This is why I hate songs like Pink’s “Less than Perfect” and Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.” Some sample lyrics: “Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel, like you’re less than, less than perfect,” and “if perfect’s what you’re searching for then just stay the same.” Shoot me. No one is perfect – get over yourself. If you think someone is perfect, you are delusional. There is nothing stupider than telling someone to never change. We need to see things we aren’t great at so that we can work on them. Are you so unimaginative that you can’t find some way to be better at something?

Here’s the thing – we don’t want to be average because for some crazy reason, we think being like other people is a bad thing.  Newsflash – this isn’t true.  We have to get over our hangups about beating people all the time.  Not just because we will almost always lose to someone better, but because being better doesn’t mean squat.  I don’t want a girl who is the hottest woman on the planet if it means she has nothing else to offer – I’d much rather have a girl that I can talk to and relate to.  I don’t want to play with Kobe at the Co-Rec (well, I do, but it would get old after a while) because I want an average, level playing field.  Rather than being better than someone, try being yourself.  Doesn’t matter if it means you look dumber, less attractive, less well-rounded, fatter, uglier, drunker, worse at singing, awkwardly better at dancing, whatever.  There is only one of you, and you are the only one you can compete with.  Don’t work at being better than the people around you, work on being better at being you.  That’s the kind of guy who is a man of character – those in constant competition clearly aren’t comfortable enough with themselves to simply be who they are.

(If this seemed out of context, please read Part 1 of “You Aren’t as Awesome as You Think You Are“)

You Aren’t as Awesome as You Think You Are – Part 1

– Topher Endress

Traditional success is often viewed as having things or being more valued in some sort of quantifiable way (i.e. worth more money, number 1 on Maxim’s Hottest List, voted “Best Hair” in high school, etc.). Let’s assume for a minute that this is true – after all, we are all at college to get a good job (money), we all want relationships that help us feel more wanted and attractive, we all have great hair – sorry, Quist. It seems that pretty much everything we do is boiled down to some sort of competition, and the successful ones are the ones walking away with things and accolades. This assumption, however, comes with a fairly hard to digest hard truth: you probably aren’t as awesome as you think you are.

Scenario 1) You are clearly hotter than anyone else near you in the bar on Tuesday night (because, hey, why not drink on a Tuesday?). But are you really the hottest guy in the bar? There are plenty of guys around, maybe you just don’t see that Brazilian underwear model in the corner. And what about the next bar? What about that guy who is super nerdy and stays in his room all the time, only to realize later that his glasses and stutter were what held him back from being the next Brad Pitt? For that matter, are you hotter than Brad Pitt? Unless you are the ultimate chunk of beef cake, someone somewhere will be more attractive than you. And even if you are the undisputed king of manly-sexiness, what happens in 5 years? Would you still be the hottest? What about in 30 years?

Scenario 2) You are painfully aware of how much smarter you are than everyone else. It might seem like everyone is slow compared to you, but let’s look at the facts. Are you single-handedly bringing your house GPA up to a passable level? Do you have a 4.0 in the Honors College while graduating with two degrees in three years? Did you cure any diseases lately? Come up with a plan to save the economy while simultaneously inventing a new kind of energy? Do you know why a cone with a rounded tip represent the origin of the universe more accurately than one with a pointed one (assuming your y-axis is time, the cone is inverted and 3D really means 4D)? Are you really going to bank on your intelligence to set you apart?

Scenario 3) You are a rich playboy with no time to stop and smell the roses – you are so rich you have to pay someone to smell them for you (they reported back that roses smell fine, but a little too pretentious). You drive the best car, you have the newest tablet and phone, you hire the best viola players to entertain your Saturday afternoon soirees and you use ‘winter’ as a verb. Well, some people are always going to have cooler stuff than you – the rich can only buy what the innovators have already created. And, as it turns out, there are several rich people in the world. Good luck outbidding Carlos Slim Helu ($74 Billion), Bernard Arnault ($41 Billion) or even Sheldon Adelson ($23 Billion) on that priceless, antique, one-of-a-kind, Asian artifact/horse statue. Congrats of the billions, man, but you’ll never buy the entire world.

Scenario 4) You are the bard of the basketball court – Shakespeare with a fade-away. You constantly win pick-up games at the Co-Rec, you can dunk a regulation ball on a regulation hoop (if you’re alone on a fast break) and you know all the rules about when to calls fouls. Great. But are you Kevin Durant? No? How about Dwayne Wade? Dirk? LeBron? Kobe? Dwight Howard? You aren’t even Tyler Hansbrough? Well, then, unfortunately, you probably suck at basketball. Be real – you’d literally die in an NBA game.

(To get the rest of the story, please see Part 2.  It will be posted on Friday.)

On Love

– Topher Endress

It seems almost unnecessary to write about love to you all, knowing that at ay given moment, at least two Phi Taus are cuddling (I’m looking at you, Forney).  However, even though we are the Rad Bromance frat, the Jesuit view on love is fairly compelling; ergo, I feel compelled to share this.  I love a good cuddle buddy/mid-afternoon nap partner as much as the next incredibly manly man, but why was love such a big deal for Francis Xavier and his band of men?  Easy – it was an obvious extension of their shared beliefs and it actively changed the way they viewed the world.

Imagine a chemical equation where the product also serves as a catalyst to the original reaction.  Once it gets started, it quickly avalanches and feeds off of itself (Erich, Aadil, Evan, and Andrew – I have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to chemistry.  Sorry if my visual offended your learned sensibilities).  To see why this makes sense, let’s break love down into the two parts: Love as a product of the actions of the organization and Love as a perspective-altering vision.

In our creed, the precursors to love are abundantly present.  Our spirit of brotherhood, our loyalty, our shared striving to discharge the obligation of our mark of distinction – these ideals bind us together on an abstract level.  However, it is the video game nights, the karaoke (which needs to happen again soon), the lunches and the roadtrips that lead us to the not-quite-quantifiable emotion of brotherly love.  Between shared ideals and shared adventures, we naturally grow to love one another.

Love as a product is easy to grasp, but love as a vision is what sets leaders apart.  The book, ‘Heroic Leadership’ lists the following as the definition for love-driven leadership:

The vision to see each person’s talent, potential and dignity
The courage passion and commitment to unlock that potential
The resulting loyalty and mutual support that energize and unite teams

When you see a stranger, you may not see their gifts.  But when you see someone you love, you know what they should be capable of.  The trick, then, is finding a way to move from disconnected to loving in order to see what your team can accomplish.  Ideally, this sends you back to the ‘love as a result of shared ideals and actions’ paragraph.  However, we can also speed this process along by practicing a willingness to look to the positives of a person instead of the negatives.  Is a person asking really stupid questions in class?  Applaud his willingness to ask for help and his humility in front of the class.  Is a guy making your pick-up game at the Co-Rec un-fun because he sucks at basketball?  Look for his heart in working hard at something that doesn’t come naturally.  This is huge because until you recognize the inherent self-worth and dignity of everyone, you cannot move on into…

Helping someone unlock their potential.  If we love someone, we want them to succeed.  I’m sure most of our mothers love us unconditionally; as such, I’m also sure that they all want to see you do well and reach lofty goals in your life.  Helping someone to become a better person will look different to different people.  Some may need you to simply express confidence in them, or a single statement telling them you see a skill they didn’t know they had in them.  Others may need nurturing, with more feedback and guidance.  Either way, true leaders do what it takes to connect to a person and help them see the power that they could potentially wield.

Finally, helping others grow causes a binding love that increases loyalty and respect among teammates.  As a fraternity, we are both a family and a team.  As we serve each other and help each other unlock our full potential, we feed more brotherly love back into the system.  Much like Grey Goo (which my money is on in the Doomsday Scenarios office pool), starting the chain of events by choosing to view people through love results in more and more, self-replicating love.  If someone helps me, I become more energized around them.  I know from having a mentor that someone challenging me and believing in me makes me work harder to be a better person, but also makes me more feel valued by them.  True leaders can value someone and then challenge them, while appearing to do the reverse.

As we start to hit our first round of exams, frustration with studying can take its toll on our overall perspective.  Ask yourself if you are being loving in your views of your brothers this week.  Look for times when you are being uncharitable and thus missing opportunities to grow together within the team.  Have you seen the value in a brother today?  Can you be passionate for them, especially when they aren’t?  How can you express confidence in the potential of the next person you speak to?  And how can you let someone know that they have impacted you in a way that was energizing and supportive?

(This is post 4 in a 5 part series on Leadership)