Archive for the ‘ Spring Break ’ Category

Sunday: The Kind of Friends We Should Want

– Topher Endress

Many of you heard the exciting tale of Doppler and I trying to make it home from break. I will say for the record that when we switched outside Atlanta, Doppler peeled out quite unnecessarily from a Taco Bell parking lot.  I therefore blame him for the blown tire that exploded just past Chattanooga.  Now, being past 5 on a Sunday in the South, we were pretty much guaranteed to find that nothing was open.  Luckily, we did manage to find an all-night wrecker who was willing to put on the tires (neglecting to tell us that they couldn’t balance them until we got there…) and since the Wal-Mart manager hung up on me once, they had to play nice and reopen their tire shop.  So, we got the tires, got to the wrecker, and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Several people did come, but we were waiting on a mechanic.  So, we got some nice conversation from the lady in charge, but no work done.  After several hours, we finally got back on the road.  However, since there was no balancing machine, the tires really could have forced us to stop for the night anyway.  We decided to test them out and stop if we needed to.

That of course led to an interesting predicament – if we have to stop, where would we sleep?  Neither of us wanted to sleep in a car, but we really didn’t want to pay for a hotel room.  Luckily, we knew some people who lived on the route home.  So we got to calling.  Starting a few hours north in Murfreesboro, we had a place to stay in every major city along the way home within an hour.  And I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.  I was certain that each guy I called was going to offer up his apartment immediately – from the guys who have essentially been family for the last 5 years to the guy I spent 3 weeks working with two summers ago.  I was confident because I knew what our friendship entailed.  These were the guys that I could call for pretty much anything, even if it was late at night and/or inconvenient.  This is what the results of a good friendship can look like.

Now, I’m sure that many of you would open your doors to even a casual acquaintance  in our position.  But the certainty that I felt comes not from being friends with nice enough people, but from establishing a solid relationship.  All the guys I called on that particular night are really nice – but even if some were complete jerks they would have let us crash.  Being nice and being a friend are not the same thing.

Here’s a challenge: Write down everyone you are good enough friends with to call at 3:00 AM tomorrow.  If you have a ton, you probably already know how to establish in-depth and solid relationships.  If you are lacking, or can’t even find 1, it doesn’t mean you are failing at life.  But, you might be well served to try and change something on your end to make your friendships deeper.

With every one I called, I have had a conversation where we bared our souls to each other.  This can be difficult for three main reasons. 1: We don’t know ourselves well enough to share our deepest thoughts/feelings.  2: We assume that the other person doesn’t want to hear it.  3: Finding a conversation where it fits in readily is basically impossible.  These are legitimate things that stifle honest conversations, so I want to give some practical advice.

  • First, start taking time out each day to reflect both on what has happened and how the events of the day affected you.  Did you get really mad about a bad test grade?  Did you feel embarrassed because a cute girl ignored you?  Did you get too excited when you found out “Rocko’s Modern Life” was on Netflix (true story)?  Reflecting on the actions you take and the way they make you feel is the best way to teach yourself about … yourself.
  • Second, find someone who at least won’t run away from the conversation.  Then, man up and spill your guts.  It may not be a 40-minute rant.  It may be a short tangent in the conversation, but if it is honest and clues the other person into who you really are, your relationship will grow.  Here’s the secret – most people want to share and be shared with.  We want to know each other and be known.  So take that first step.  Grow and pair and put yourself out there.
  • Third, you’re just going to have to realize that being awkward is part of life.  We don’t live on a faux-reality show where writers script meaningful looks into our eyes.  Life is messy and weird – our conversations will reflect that.  Sometimes things don’t sound right in the moment, but 30 seconds later, you can’t imagine talking about anything else.  There is no perfect moment.  Just go for it.

I would love to grow closer to every brother before I take off in May.  I want to be that kind of friend where you know for certain that I will take your call at 3 AM and let you crash when you are stranded in Nashville.  I think that is a good goal for all of us – let’s all be that kind of friend.


Saturday: The House/Respect as a Defining Value

– Topher Endress

DISCLAIMER: I will not release the name of the chapter we visited, nor will I make any sort of personal attack on the men – our brothers – who we met on our trip.  My intent is simply to explore how we can learn from an existing chapter, including flaws that were apparent for at least the little time we spent with them.  Please do infer anything about whether this is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ chapter – these are still our brothers, and we owe it to them to love and serve them just as well as anyone in our colony.  That being said…

On our way home, we wanted to connect with one of our chapters across the country.  With a few nearby, we should probably have done this sooner, but it is always cool to get to see a new place.  After calling approximately 6 million numbers, none of which were right, we managed to get a hold of someone who was actually in a chapter near one of our potential routes.  I would like to say that it was a crazy experience, where Doppler and I did things unimaginably awesome that would seem far-fetched even in a National Lampoon movie, but in all honesty, it was pretty vanilla.  Their campus was nice and their house was awesome on the outside – very new and fancy.  The inside wasn’t in great shape, but only because we happened to visit the morning after St. Patty’s Day/Founder’s Day.  Let’s just say that there were several monochromatic drinking receptacles, with the remains of some traditional liquids still in some, scattered festively about.  Overall, I liked their house a lot.  What I didn’t like was what I heard while I was there.

First, there was very little enthusiasm when we showed up.  I’m not saying I wanted a parade, but some acknowledgement that we share a connection that makes us closer than strangers.  When we eventually get a house, PLEASE treat guest with not just respect, but with enthusiasm and excitement.  Brothers are brothers, so despite whether you know them or not, remember that they are essentially family.  But hey, they were probably suffering from “being up too late” the night before, so no biggie.

As we went on the house tour, we stopped by some rooms and had a chat with most of the guys left (they were starting Spring Break).  It was fine talking to them, again, these weren’t bad guys.  But during the conversation, it became apparent that what they were focused on and how they chose to talk around us were different from how we have interpreted our values as Men of Character.  Again, they were being honest, but as a guest, I wasn’t expecting to hear about things like drunken exploits, poor sexual decisions and disagreements with other brothers/national staff.

These are things that happen.  Experiences that our colony has had/will have.  However, these are not the things to be talking about to two people you have just met.  Still, the worst part was in how they interacted with each other.  There was such an obvious lack of respect for each other that at times, I actually felt bad for some of them. It wasn’t just the back-and-forth typical of guys, it was stuff that showed a disregard for the value of their brother.

They also talked down to pledges and freshmen and spoke of making them do things (not hazing – need to stress that) that made them to seem like less than full, valued men.  Let me just say this – yes, younger guys need to learn about the community, rules, values and traditions of the chapter.  However, that does not mean that they need to prove themselves.  No pledge should be expected to clean the house as a way of getting into our chapter.  If they are worthy of getting a bid, they are worthy on their own merit – not because they can take the abuse of the older brothers.  As an alumnus as of May, I will not see our first few pledge classes, but some of you will.  You will need to be the leaders here.  If you have to rely on the younger guys to do the grunt work, you need more humility and a stronger work ethic.  And if you need to ‘test’ them on things like cleaning up on a Saturday morning, maybe you need to learn to choose men of character better.  We should be above things like that.  OK, done with the rant.

Long story short, what I did not see at the other chapter was Respect.  Respect for the organization we are a part of.  Respect for the spirit of brotherhood.  Respect for each individual.  We are young, and still growing.  Going forward, we can progress or we can simply move along.  To move along, we charter and become a typical fraternity.  To progress, we show the world that Men of Character value respect.  Because if you can’t show someone else respect, what are you telling them about yourself?

How can you show someone you already respect how you feel today?  Who do you know that you don’t respect?  How can you work on changing your attitude and/or actions towards them?

Friday: Partying Gets Boring

– Topher Endress

So, some of you probably have realized that I am not a teetotaler. Some may have even seen me imbibing in person. A select few may realize how naturally cheap/frugal I am. For those, it may not seem like a shock that, upon realizing that since there were drinks included on our snorkeling trip (I saw a barracuda!), each drink decreased my total cost/increased my value. This led me to possibly drink a tad too much in the morning. So after a quick lunch, we headed to the “party” beach, where the younger and rowdier crowd was. At this point, the drinks were still gaining momentum on me.  Of course, in true Boilermaker fashion, I didn’t quite stop when we got to the beach (I’ll never look at Strawberry Fanta the same way again…).  Yes, your illustrious chaplain got drunk on a beach.  It (probably) shouldn’t have happened; it was a mistake; it was a poor choice. I’m not sure that I can grammatically-justify using two semi-colons together like that, but I’m an adventurous writer.  Whatever you want to call it, my actions on Friday were not much different than a large majority of the people on that beach, nor, I imagine, is it all that different than what most of our Fridays’ look like.  So while it may have been a dumb thing to do, I can take solace in knowing that I’m at least not alone in being dumb.

Or, I could take solace in that.  Except that I have realized that partying gets really old really quickly.  After a wonderful (and much needed) nap on the beach, I awoke still incapacitated.  But the rest of the world was still moving on around me.  I wasn’t able to contribute much to it, but as the day progressed I often found myself wishing I wasn’t still drunk.  Some of the girls on the trip needed some responsible guys around them to keep them safe from all the prying eyes of the other vacationing frat guys, we needed to clean up the church we were staying at, we needed to navigate the island despite the lack of street signs – and I wasn’t able to help with pretty much any of it.  I remember being fairly frustrated that my real desires were blocked by some poor decisions earlier.

I understand that we are in college.  I understand the culture of being in a fraternity.  I don’t take issue with alcohol in general.  All I’m saying is that eventually (probably sooner rather than later if we are becoming more mature and responsible), we come to a point where partying is getting in the way of what we really want.  And all it takes is feeling that once before you realize that partying gets old.  It can be fun, I get it, but having fun has nothing to do with alcohol.  I can promise you that partying gets tedious after a while – you’d better have a back-up plan that doesn’t involve liquor if you want to enjoy life.

Thursday: Selfish Time

– Topher Endress

Thursday was a frustrating day, but also a fun one. Midmorning, we got word that the church we were staying in was not happy with us at all – too messy, too loud, leaving dishes out, etc. Most of it was simply poor communication (i.e. we thought the person down the hall wasn’t living there that week). Still, a few people needed to take off and clean the church while the rest of us tried to finish up the job site. Being short-handed, one would assume that we started working harder to get more done. That is an assumption I would want people to make, but unfortunately, they would have been wrong. While some did more work, there were several times that multiple people were taking breaks all together and doing far less throughout the day. As I reflected on the day, one word kept popping into my mind: selfish. And it wasn’t just the people who were sitting around. All of us took off after a nice dinner of fresh shrimp (seriously, fresh caught and prepared by a chef. Best free meal ever) and went to have a fun night on the town.  What we didn’t do was stay late and finish everything we were supposed to do.  Habitat was more than happy with what we got done, but I wasn’t.

I think the reason that I wasn’t happy was because I knew that we could have worked harder.  I remember painting the window frames and getting three fully done in about an hour.  In that same time, the four people on the porch got two windows and a doorframe.  Sure, some people are naturally faster at painting.  Maybe theirs looked a tiny bit cleaner since they took more time.  But there were still windows on the house that didn’t get painted.  I know that I was being told to clean up before I felt I was done, so I just kept working.  But I’m not saying that to prove that I’m better than the other people.  I simply worked for a bit longer.  ALL of us, myself included, left a worksite before the job was totally finished.  And we left it unfinished not because we were out of supplies or tools, but because we were planning on doing something else with our time that we wanted more than we wanted to continue working.

Here’s the thing – as I write this, I can’t really remember what we did on Thursday night.  I’m sure I enjoyed it, but what I do remember is that the window on the right side of Mrs. Dobbin’s house in the back corner did not get painted.  And it didn’t get painted because I was selfish.

Sometimes, we need to be a little selfish.  There is an element of selfishness in a lot of the good things we do – taking a rest, starting a relationship, working hard in school or at work – some really positive things can, in part, have roots in self-interest.  However, the amount of selfishness we need is much like the amount of sodium or fat we need in our diet – sure it’s necessary, but we’re going to get far more than we need regardless.  There is no sense in taking in any more than we already have.

The big problem with being selfish with our time is that it causes us to miss out on being truly present at all times.  When I am selfish with my time, I tend to sectionalize what I’m doing – this is MY time, that is YOUR time.  From x o clock to y:30, I can do stuff for you.  But from a quarter after z and on, that’s ME-time.  When that happens, I’m looking at my role in those times very differently.  I’m less engaged when it isn’t all about my wants.  It is very hard to care about other people more than we care about ourselves, so if we give some of our time to people and not all of it, we’ve created a dichotomy where some time is more valuable than others.  And when that happens, we remain distant to the situations around us.  All of us have gifts and abilities that we should be using to the benefit of those around us.  But if we are selfish with our time, then even when we are in one of those established, ‘other-people times,’ we will not be giving our self fully.

What is something you have done recently that was selfish?  What is one thing you could do today to put someone else before yourself?  How can we each remain fully engaged and present, no matter who we are with or what we are doing?

Wednesday: Mrs. Dobbin’s Song/Look for Passion, Not Execution

– Topher Endress

So Mrs. Dobbins, the woman we worked for, was an awesome 87 year old lady who loved to talk about the history of the island. As we worked for her, we realized that she also loved to take care of both children and other elderly people, she loved to dance, she was very faithful and also loved to sing. On Wednesday morning, Mrs. Dobbins led off by praying for us, then commanding us to sing. Which, clearly, was going to naturally work out incredibly well.  Afterall, it isn’t like we were all still groggy from a lack of sleep.  Also, we totally knew the song/melody.  Also, we were all excellent singers who understood how to harmonize expertly and each had perfect pitch.  Also, none of us were at all apprehensive about singing in front of a group of people we had known for a total of 4 days.


Yeah, clearly, none of that is true.  We weren’t any good at singing, we didn’t know the song, we didn’t really want to do it.  And, understandably, it sounded worse than a Ke$ha  acoustic set.  But at least one person really enjoyed it.  Before we sang, I wondered why Mrs. Dobbins thought it would be a good idea.  After we sang, I wondered if she was going to ask us to leave and never attempt to sing ever again.  But instead of judging how well we performed, she simply half-laughed out of happiness and clapped.  She had this look of joy on her face that was hard to believe.  But her reaction showed me something fairly important about appreciating things in life – it isn’t about the execution, it’s about the passion behind the act.

When we see things that are done in obvious passion, it is easy to see it.  Adele has a killer voice, but the songs that have made her a modern icon showcase her real emotions.  The KONY2012 video is expertly done, but it was the guy’s passion that gave the movement a spark (I do not fully support nor condemn the KONY2012 movement, btw).  Guess what painting Da Vinci was most passionate about?  Yup, the Mona Lisa.  Watch this talk and just try to tell me that this man doesn’t inspire you to listen to classical music, just a little:

Mrs. Dobbins is passionate about her faith life.  Part of that includes some good-ol’, down home, Gospel singing.  She wanted to include us in her passion – not because she was trying to convert anyone, but because what you are passionate about comes to light in your life in an impossible-to-stop kind of way.  As she led us in singing, as awkward and bad as it was, it was what she loved to do.  Judging by the look on her face, there was nothing on Earth she would have traded for that moment.  She didn’t care about whether we could sing.  She cared that we did sang and that she could share something she loved with us.

Simon Sinek, in a different TED talk, says that Apple is effective not because of superior features, but because “people don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.”  When I see passion in the eyes of someone talking about their major, their favorite charity, their perfect drink at Starbucks, I take notice.  Passion is infectious – I have to.  And I will take the passionate recommendation of something over its rival, even if the rival has better ‘stats,’ every time, because we trust people more than we trust numbers.

Listen to yourself talk for a week.  What conversations giving you shining eyes like in the video?  What topics do you become passionate about?  What, or who, do you care about so much that you can’t keep from sharing it?

Tuesday: The Little Mermaid/Why Emulating Childhood Ideals is Unfulfilling

– Topher Endress

On Tuesday, we made our way out to a beach. It was in a State Park and not very crowded, so it was great. In addition to the sweet letters Doppler and I made out of rocks…

Just kidding, this is a natural formation. We had nothing to do with making it.

… there was a large outcropping of rocks just off shore that was close enough to swim to, maybe 300 yards out (they look much closer in the picture since there is nothing on them for reference).

There were several people on one of these formations, but just a couple on the one we headed out to.  They weren’t the easiest to climb, being wet and slick, but only one person got injured (cough*Doppler*cough).  The girls immediately laid out to get their tan on, but the guys gave in to their natural instinct and explored a bit.  I found a rock that was sticking out a bit from the others and got the brunt of the incoming waves.  You know that picture from The Little Mermaid?  Where Ariel is pushing off the rock and a wave is exploding behind her?  This one:

You know you want to look this cool.

That was basically this rock.  So naturally, I say to myself, “Self, this is one of the few chances in life to emulate a Disney movie without disgracing everyone who knows you (see here and here). Surely, you will always remember how awesome it is to look like that, even if you don’t have a purple shell bra!”

I’m sure you have already guess this based on the title of this post, but it was completely lame.  Sure, the payoff of the experience vs. the cost of walking over a few rocks is worth it, but only because it cost me about 20 total calories of energy to make it happen.  The water did explode from behind me like in that picture.  I enjoyed it.  But as it all went down, I realized how lame it was compared to several other things I had done that day alone.

I’m not saying that the dreams we had a little kids aren’t worthy of chasing.  I’m also not saying that the Little Mermaid is a movie that had a profound effect on me – but that picture is still baller.  But think about some of the things you wanted as a kid.  Did you want to eat McNuggets for every meal?  Stay up super late? Be a robot that uses karate to fight aliens? Maybe you wanted to be the hero of a different movie – the Terminator, a Rescue Ranger, a Green Monkey or Ash from Pokemon.  Looking back now, some of those childhood fantasies and ideals are still ok, but by in large they are incomplete compared to what I now know about the world.  Sure, it would be cool to be a Space Cowboy Millionaire Ninja in the Intergalactic Police Force, but the things I wanted as a kid were one-dimensional and would be highly unsatisfying by my own standards.

Little kids don’t realize how complex and detailed life in the real world gets.  “Fighting crime” isn’t a plan for future happiness.  Maybe that is what you will do – join the Armed Forces or the Police – but even if you get to satisfy a childhood dream, it will not be fulfilling.  Life takes a more holistic plan.  Being a pilot means nothing for the other aspects of life that don’t involve helicopters.  How do you relate to other people?  Are you making a substantial impact on those around you, both at work and at home?  Being satisfied with life means something much bigger now than it did when I was 5.  And getting to do things like helping an elderly woman renovate her house is so much more satisfying than emulating some one dimensional ideal from my youth.

Are you chasing childhood dreams?  Are you wasting time trying to satisfy immature ideals?  I challenge all of you to chase something bigger than the Power Rangers.

Monday: The Blanket Round/Forget Your Inhibitions

– Topher Endress

I love the game ‘Celebrity’. You divide into teams and try to get your teammates to guess as many famous people, actions or phrases in a short time – much like Guestures. Each round has different rules: The Catchphrase Round, The Charades Round, The 1-Word Round and finally, The Blanket Round.

The Blanket Round is the same as the Charades Round, but infinitely better because you are under a blanket. A large enough blanket to make you look like a ghost with an inner-ear infection trying to dance. So after we get through our first few rounds with the typical awkwardness that comes from not knowing each other, each person had to try and get their team to guess words like ‘stripper’ or ‘purple’ while covered with a sheet. Just try and look cool doing that.

So apart from the general fun of the game (and the dominate victory of my team), I was glad that we got a chance to look like idiots in front of each other early in the week. It may seem awkward at first, but intentionally making yourself look crazy is probably the best way to break the barriers everyone tends to put up. Before the game, we had bonded a bit simply by being together, but after the game we were much more like a group of friends.

Appearances are very important to people, especially in Greek life. We like people seeing us as smart, witty, chill, put-together people. We want them to see us the way we wish we really were. But we aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter how awesome you want to be or even think you are, all of us will deservedly look foolish at some point – probably often and probably soon. We have to come to terms with that.

Other people may not realize this yet. Some of our brothers, family and friends may be putting on a false front simply because they don’t know an alternative. But having seen how much better relationships are for having openly admitted to each other that we can’t always look suave, I think we owe it to those around us to lead by example. Let’s stop pretending and start opening up to people.

How can you put on a blanket and show your true self to someone today?