Archive for the ‘ Encouragement ’ Category

Paul Newman, Bill and Ted and Yoda Walk into a Bar…

– Topher Endress

“Be excellent to each other.” – Bill (and Abraham Lincoln), Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” – Paul Newman, Whenever he felt like it.

These quotes all have some common themes.  First, they are iconic.  Second, they posit harsh dichotomies about a particular way to live life.  I happen to think this second theme is not just important, but the entire reason that Phi Kappa Tau exists, so I would like to explore it in this post.  Since we all just celebrated Paul Newman’s birthday (or at least, you should have), I feel that it is appropriate to explore it within the context of Brother Newman’s life.

When I see these quotes, it is easy to immediately disagree with them.  Yoda and Paul’s especially.  After all, of course you can try.  It is commonly remarked that it takes 10000 hours of practice to become a master in a given skill and all of those hours are spent trying.  So how on Earth are we to take Yoda’s anti-feel good, proto-Ayn Rand koan?  And the quote on losers from Brother Newman – of course there are good losers and bad losers!  A good loser learns from their loss, they accept the defeat graciously and they don’t find cause to lose faith in themselves or hate their opponent.  So all these movie stars are just wrong, right?  Wrong.

I’m going to put something out there.  It may not be received well (or it may be, but frankly it is human nature to disagree with it and even I on some levels disagree with what I’m writing).  Here it is: There is no such thing as being a ‘pretty good guy.’  You are either a man of exemplary character, or you are not good enough.  That is a bold statement.  It destroys the concept of an ‘average.’  It can readily be taken in so many terrible directions that it should probably not be said.  But it must be.  Let’s look at Paul’s life to see what this looks like.

Paul Newman.  Brother in Phi.  Movie star.  One of the biggest names in American celebrity culture in all of history.  Race car driver.  Served in the Navy in the Battle of Okinawa.  Created a successful line of food products.  Plus, he looked like this:

Ok, I swooned when I first saw this too.

Your mothers just fainted.

This man was on top of the world for a good chunk of his life.  He was by all accounts successful in multiple areas of life, had the fame and fortune of Hollywood and was beloved by women everywhere for his conventional good looks.  But Brother Newman did not stop with being incredibly successful.  To be a man of exemplary character, Paul Newman realized that he had to go beyond what the world would deem “enough.”

Last year, over 50,000 children and families were impacted by a life-giving camp system aimed at allowing kids with serious illnesses the chance to reclaim the childhood that disease had tried to strip away.  SeriousFun (formerly Hole in  the Wall) was started by Paul Newman in 1988, though he did not need anything else to add to his resumé to be considered a legend by any standard.  According to the most reliable source I know (read: Wikipedia), he started it with the aim that no child should have to compromise their childhood because of a serious illness.  What do you see when you look to the history of SeriousFun?  You see philanthropy.  You see commitment.  You see character.  What you don’t see is a man who has decided that he is good enough to stop.

When you allow yourself to think about your role in the world with words like “merely,” “above average,” “decent” and/or “pretty good,” you allow an opportunity to significantly impact the people around you in a positive way slip away.  We should always be excellent to each other – from our family and our brothers to our schools and our communities.  And don’t think that just because Alex Winter (who didn’t quite reach the same level of fame as his counterpart, Keanu Reeves) said it, the deeper meaning of that statement is lessened at all.  We are called not be good to each other, not to be ok with each other, not to be decent to each other, but the be excellent.  I promise you there is a difference.  To be excellent to the people around you will drastically impact their lives.  Doing it halfway doesn’t cut it – you will not change lives by being the “pretty good.”  Brother Newman was excellent to children with serious illnesses, and their lives were changed forever by it.  Who can you be excellent to today, and how might it impact them?

Likewise, the actions you take should be done with a balls-to-the-wall, fierce passion that is befitting of a true Man of Character.  This means that the actions you take should be worthwhile in and of themselves – no one cares if you go all out to win Mario Kart.  But the old adage, anything worth doing is worth doing well, rings true in Yoda’s words.  To try is to attempt to do something.  You can try to do anything, but it doesn’t mean that you are really striving towards anything at all.  Trying is a way of hedging your bets, of preemptively guarding yourself for the loss you might take – and being guarded is a surefire way to sabotage yourself.  To do is to actually push towards the real goal; whether the world determines you to have failed or succeeded, you have either done or done not.  And while failure can hurt, it is the kind of hurt that tells you that your actions at least mattered.  Doing is never a failure because your actions had an impact on the world, whether you hit your stated goal or not.  True failure is not missing the mark, true failure is wasting your time by doing nothing.

Any religion that is worth its salt would ask its adherents to give themselves over fully to the beliefs and actions that come with it.  No minister, rabbi, iman, priest, monk, or any other religious leader would tell you that being “pretty good” is the way to be.  If you believe in something, you should dive in head first and be enveloped by it.  If you want to be a man, jump in and build up your character every single day.  Do not be content to merely exist – you have a presence that should be felt by the world around you.  Either you do it or you don’t.

So Yoda, Bill and Ted, and Paul Newman walk into a bar.  Then they treat the people around them excellently, in a manner that the world has almost forgotten, and then they go out and do great things with an unbridled passion that may or may not be successful, but could never be a true failure.


Who Do You Say that I Am?

– Topher Endress

I don’t know where I first heard the term, but a humblebrag is a statement that someone uses to try to look humble, but really are just bragging.  Imaginative name, I know.  But, though the definition is pretty straight-forward, let me give you an example: “I really struggled with being impatient this weekend.  It was just really hard to stay focused all the time, especially since I was leading a weekend retreat for a group if developmentally handicapped students.”

See, I admit to being impatient, and therefore appear humble. But then I mention in the same breath that I selflessly spent my weekend serving a group of special needs guys.  Thus, a humblebrag.

I don’t really have any reason for bringing up that term other than I wanted to bring up this weekend and couldn’t without inadvertently bragging.  I felt like I could justify it if I called myself out first.

Now that that is out of the way, on to the real story!  I am a fairly new presence in these kids’ lives, and many don’t have great memories skills to begin with.  As such, I had to tell them my name several times throughout the weekend.  And sometimes, when they couldn’t remember and didn’t want to ask, they would make something up. At one point, a guy named Clay decided to go with the nickname, “boss-man.”  I like to think he meant boss as in “that guy is so boss,” and not “that guy is one bossy S.O.B.”

It was a pretty cool nickname for the weekend, but it got me thinking about whatit we are called and we call each other.  This summer, my predominate nickname was “Go 4 (Gopher) Topher,” in part because that is how I was required to answer the walkie and partially because I was constantly running around and doing little tasks for everyone.  Before that, I generally didn’t have a good nickname.  (I was, however, recently called “The Enforcer,” which was a nickname I had always wanted.)  However, it is still interesting how people choose to talk about you.  Maybe I’m just weird, but I notice how people address me.

“Bro” is a popular one.  “Dude” and “man” are obviously popular as well.  But then, they are for pretty much every guy.  But sometimes, one of my good friends will refer to me as his “brother.”  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate when that happens.  Sure, having a cool nickname is fun and often an indicator of a good friendship (right, Baby Bear?), but I would so much rather hear someone call me a brother and actually mean it.

Just think about what those names mean.  Would you rather have a friend call you by some generic moniker, or by something that implies you are family?  Frankly, there is a huge difference in “bro” and “brother.”  If you think I don’t want to have your respect, feel free to ‘bro’ it up.  But if you think that I’d appreciate knowing that we have a bond deeper than mere friendship, try switching over to ‘brother.’  I can promise you that it actually means something.

Dreams Come True

– Ben Leiter

This may seem like a childish thing to say, but it actually happened to me just recently.  Anyone, when they are a kid, always has dreams of becoming something great in their minds: a fireman, a policeman, the President.  My dream ever since starting to play the drum set in eighth grade was to be in a band.  I’m not talking your everyday school concert or marching band or just a volunteer group at a church, but in a genuine band.

My best friend at the time, being quite ambitious, said he would learn guitar, and would make one of his friends learn bass.  Needless to say, that never happened.  I was in high school marching and concert bands all throughout high school, played at my church on Sunday mornings, and found myself quite often just playing drums in my room to songs on my iPod.  I was beginning to think I was stuck in the musical world of an amateur drummer.

About two and a half years ago I met my friend Aaron Milbourn.  He is quite the character, and I was even more ecstatic to find out that he had his own band, Flight of the Fallen, with Tyler McCoskey.  Even before then, I had given up on my dream of being in a band, but I was still excited to meet someone who shared the same passions as me.

About a year ago now, Aaron asked me if I would play djembe for a song on his EP, Unshakeable.  Of course I said yes, and after recording the one song, I set up my drums because he just wanted to jam.  I was beside myself at this point and just had a blast.

Aaron and I really did not talk much until about a month ago because I was busy in school, and he was moving locations due to a job change, which he was now settling into.  However, he called me one night out of the blue, and said, “…me and Ty were talking, and we were wondering if you would want to record drums for our new album.”  His drummer had become busy beforehand and now attends Rose-Hulman, a little far of a drive.  My mouth moved; no words came out.  It was literally a dream come true

I think in this day and age people begin to think too realistically and lose hope for what they had dreamed of becoming.  Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  So feel free to dream of what you want to do in life.  There is hope that, one day, someone may just surprise you and your dreams will come true.  Oh, and did I mention that the name of the album I recorded for is ‘There Is Hope’?

Question/Answer #4

– Topher Endress

Mom asked me this while I was in town over the weekend, but this one of those questions that deserves a discussion.  So start commenting with your ideas.

Question: How can I live up my senior year?

There are several brothers about to join D-Rose and I as alumni after this semester (Campbell is not one of them – apparently he just wants to be very well prepared).  As someone who had 4 semesters of senior year, I feel that I can posit some advice.

It should hurt when you leave.

Seriously. There is a reason that things end, and appreciating the inevitability of moving on will make you a happier, more well-adjusted person. As Men of Character, we will be moving into newer and bigger stages several times throughout our lives. As our National Blog recently reminded us, the world needs us. We are needed to move the world forward while the culture around us seems bent on regressing. And that means that leaving Purdue will not be the last time we need to change our setting. So, consider this your Senior Year: Part 1.

But just because it is necessary doesn’t mean it should be easy. It shouldn’t be. Leaving your friends and all of your customs from the past 4/5 years is a psychologically and emotionally trying time. As it should be.

Life is hard. Losing people is difficult. Changing so much of your life had better not be easy. Which is exactly why you should work to make leaving even harder.

First, here’s how. Life is all about relationships, so invest in the people around you. You have a finite amount of time to impact the people around you – let them know what they mean to you. This is the time to spend copious amounts of quality time with not just your brothers, but your classmates, other friends, roommates and professors. I challenge each of you to have a major, deep, open-heart conversation with at least 10 people that you haven’t with before. These deep conversations not only link you together as friends, but teach you about yourself.  (For more on this, check out a past blog here)

Also, live up the college lifestyle. Not in the “let’s party until our livers forcibly try to escape” kind of way, but in the eating pizza at 3 am, staying up late with study partners, going to college games, playing ball at the Co-Rec, volunteering during the day, taking funny pictures around the bell tower, going on fountain runs kind of way. The things that BGR told you to have fun with.  You have an amazing opportunity to use the time and space around you. Purdue is a world-class university with a unique culture and incredible set of opportunities.  Find something to do and keep yourself busy.  Anyone can sit around and play MW3; not everyone can walk through the Sidewinder (the weird stick-art behind Pao).  If you can use all of your time for something, be it growing closer to the people around you or throwing yourself in Purdue culture, you will build a Senior Year worthy of pining its loss.

Leaving will be hard.  Sure, you’ll likely be moving on to great things (like moving to Nashville – where you can always feel free to come visit/stay/live in my side yard) and you should rightly be excited by the next steps in life.  But I guarantee there will come a time when you get the urge to go see Bruce and can’t, to grab a quick Den Pop and can’t, to grab  a nap in the Union and can’t, want to run to Wiggins to chill for an hour between classes and can’t and it hits home that life has already been happening.  And not only has it been happening, but a section of your life has passed by, never to come back.  You may not cry, but you will assuredly lament the death of an era.  I urge you to take it all in now, while you have the chance to appreciate it.  Don’t let the fact that it will hurt to give it up keep you from putting everything you have into that year.  Give yourself fully, and let it be taken from you anyway.

And that will mean something. It will mean that you can take the gut punch of loss and still move forward. It will show you that there is a darker side to life – pain, disappointment, regrets. Because if we as Men don’t see the darkness, how can we spread our light where it is needed? College is a time of preparation. Prepare yourself for the inevitable loss that comes after doing a job well. Because I expect you to be needed elsewhere, and you have to be able to pull yourself away to get there. Make your impact, waste no moments, leave nothing on the table, then go forth and do it all again.

Why I’m Glad I’m a Bad Kisser

– Topher Endress

I have been working with some great people this summer.  There are brothers that I have been privileged to know, staff that teach me about dedication and hard work, and some other various people that have been simply fun to be around.  One person, however, has been able to teach me something about myself that I would never learn from a brother – namely, I am a bad kisser.

Yes, I have kissed a coworker.  To protect the other guilty party (as inter-staff relationships are frowned on here as they are “distractions”), she will remain nameless.  Due to the incredible awkwardness of my kiss, she may choose to remain anonymous forever.  But apart from the scandal of our illicit affair, the larger story is that in one fell swoop, I destroyed any notions of being a cool ladies-man and learned something about relationships along the way.

Now, I have shied away from discussing sex and dating here for several reasons. 1) I have very different standards for myself than most guys and 2) I have much much much less experience than most guys.  However, I think this is worth sharing and may be helpful to some, regardless of standards and history.

First and foremost, let me just assure you that my “I’m a bad kisser” thought is not hyperbole.  I was literally laughed at immediately after by this clearly caring and compassionate lady (hint: sarcasm).  I felt the awkwardness coming and was powerless to stop it; leaning in, leaning back out, talking nervously, creepily asking permission, leaning in again, lips at the wrong spot, too little tongue turned into too much, and it was over.  Not that I remember it or anything.

But here’s the thing.  Even though I may have just set a new low for human to human interaction, I simply don’t care.  It may have been painful (just emotionally – I’m not THAT bad), but the sheer badness of it puts life into a better perspective. For one, it helps shatter any remote thoughts implanted by Hollywood/Disney that first kisses are amazing acts of passion that look and feel perfect.  Second, it was more ME to have a bad kiss.  It was weird and awkward, quirky and different, endearing and innocent – it was a kiss from me and not some Hollywood dream.  That makes me somewhat strangely proud, that I could give her something so untainted by anyone else.

This bad kiss has also taught me that relationships work better when two things happen. 1) When the physical interaction either matches or lags behind the emotional/spiritual/psychological connections and 2) when you are comfortable with the other person seeing the least cool parts of you.  I think relationships suffer from too much too soon – if you haven’t connected in some other way first, you may as well be hooking up with a stranger.  Also, I was laughing alongside her right after because I’m comfortable enough to be uncool.  New relationships are usually defined by that time when you only want to show off.  Getting past that stage before the kissing comes in makes me feel a whole lot better.

I will own up to being a bad kisser.  But with what it showed me, I wouldn’t consider trading it for a magical Disney moment.

Plus, now she has plenty of reason to help me practice, right?

Improve Your Handwriting

– Topher Endress

So far at camp, I have been given many things.  It started with a name tag, then a camp shirt, a walkie, and sweet bag to hold all my Head Leader swag (sunscreen and bug spray, mostly).  I’ve even been given training materials, manuals, a penguin-themed clipboard, gaming books and programming guides.  Looking outside the box, you could say that I’ve been given a chance to learn and a chance to practice leadership principles (plus a sweet role in the skits as Prince Charming).  And while it’s all great and helpful to be given these tools to help me play leader for these counselors, I think the most memorable thing I’ve been given so far this training week was a simple note from my supervisor.

I was going to lead a training session one night, and the supervisor wanted me to have all the necessary knowledge in front of me, so she wrote out a quick guide to give me.  There was nothing inspirational about it; nothing on it was worth framing or tattooing onto me forever. But still, that little note impressed me.  Instead of simply copying her existing notes (admittedly, more efficient), she chose to take some time and hand-write her suggestions and tips.

It may seem unimportant and not worth the effort, but your willingness to commit your values to even the little things in life is what separates the Men from the boys.  A hand-written note shows that you care; it shows that the recipient is worth the investment. After being here for less than a week, I’ve already begun to look for ways to encourage my leaders. We all need a push in life, whether we’re working to bring magic in the lives of sick kids or we’re just trying to pass Econ. Writing notes that show you care helps your brothers grow in confidence into the Men of Character that Phi Kappa Tau calls them to be. Maybe a text, facebook message or phone call would work, but if you want to impress upon someone that you really mean what you say, pick up a pen and start practicing your cursive.

I will be hand-writing notes to all of my leaders tonight. Who can you write some encouragement to? What will you say?

Knowing vs. Experiencing

– Topher Endress

So right far this summer, the camp Phi Tau count is: 3 Summer Staff, 1 Sweetheart Summer Staff (Becca, who gives the world’s best massages), 1 week-long volunteer, 2 day-long volunteers and 1 week-long Sweetheart volunteer. It is great to see so many guys (and the girls) out here living out what they profess to hold as important and supporting our philanthropy with their time. However, I do feel slightly awkward every time I meet a new brother – not because we aren’t each gregarious, but because I have not been clued in to things like the grip or answers to questions only full brothers would know. On the first day of training, a fellow Phi Tau asked me something that had a specific answer, which I of course did not have. Was it awkward? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes. Demeaning, even? Yes.

I, as well as most of Lambda Colony, am a lowly associate. When I am put into a situation where I cannot connect to my brothers the way our fraternity intends us to, I am obviously and rightly put off. But while working with these men, I have come to realize that no secret knowledge will ever come close to the glue of experiencing daily life as a Phi Tau.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t been through Ritual; once we got down to actually talking about who we were and what we were doing with our lives, our individual experiences illustrated a great point – being a Phi Tau is not based on a single event but is instead a daily walk as a Man of Character. The instant bond that could have been shared through common knowledge is nowhere near the level of intimacy that the bond of true brotherhood is. While throwing the grip would have been cool, it would really have had no impact on the relationship. Sure, I would have liked to properly respond to the question, but the immediacy of my connections to the other Phi Taus was enough to prove to me just how palpable to bond of brotherhood really is.

As we finish out our summer, let’s not fall into a trap of thinking we are not Phi Kappa Tau without the Ritual. Sure, it is important and an event to remember for the rest of our lives, but your experiences as a colony are in no way invalidated by lack of knowledge. Our experience puts us on par with any other chapter out there, so stay confident and proud of where you come from in the Phi Tau family.