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Monday, November 21, 2011

Philosophy is Phun Blog # 56 – Exams

As college finals start to roll around in the next couple weeks I wanted to dedicate this next post to the exams in our lives. We all know what exams are but to define it I would say that exams are the tests that are utilized to determine the amount of knowledge or skills you have acquired through learning on a particular subject.

If you have ever gone through the educational system you have no doubt been tested in some shape or form. These tests supposedly used to measure your intelligence on certain material to make sure that you know what the Board of Education has determined you need to know to be successful in the working world and life in general. The way that these educational institutions have put an incentive to make sure we perform to the best of our abilities is through grades. These grades play such an influential role in determining what you can achieve in the future. If you don’t do well in high school then you won’t get into a good college and then you can pretty much count your chances of having a good life goodbye is essentially what we were taught when we grow up.

This is true to an extent. While you shouldn’t necessarily blow off your grades in an attempt to always get 4.0’s I have definitely felt there were times when I worked harder than necessary and I could have achieved sufficient if not the exact same grade. This is where artful strategies come into play. Life is a game and you need to know how to play in order to be successful. You can think of exams as milestone markers to test what you know or you can do to see what you’ve accomplished so far but you need to know how to budget your time and effort effectively in order to be as successful as possible. Studying and reviewing is a vital part in being successful on your exams but you need to budget your time with other activities in order to maximize your chances of success.

The idea of an exam is not exclusive to school however, and can be applied to almost all facets of life. Life will inevitably throw difficult obstacles at you which can be thought of as tests. You ultimately everyday are applying your knowledge and what you’ve learned to the world and if you know your stuff you will prosper.

With each test you face in life you need to approach it with a specific tactic. Like I mentioned earlier, Life is a game and with each game you play there is a different strategy you need to take. You wouldn’t play a game of Monopoly the same way you would play a game of chess. They have different rules that you need to play by and there’s no way you could even pose a threat to your opponent if you attempt to checkmate Mr. Moneybags. This is why you need to make sure that you do enough research ahead of time (or studying in the case of classes) to be successful for when it is actually time to be tested.

Even after we graduate from school and never have to take another math or history class again, we will still continue to be tested until the day that we die. In our jobs, we will be given tasks that need to get completed with a certain budget and a deadline. The great thing about tests though is that they give us an opportunity to demonstrate our aptitude for whatever area the test focuses on. We can showcase our abilities and each test ultimately has a final goal that will be achieved if you perform well on the test. There is almost always a benefit associated with doing well on an exam whether it is a good grade in school or get a promotion for doing a great job on an assignment your boss gave to you. Tests can be nerve-wracking, especially if you aren’t prepared for them, but if you manage to succeed on a test then there is no doubt you are on the right track to succeeding in life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Philosophy is Phun Blog # 55 – Holidays

Earlier this week I got an email from one of the Vice Presidents here at the University of Maryland about the traditional University Holiday Card and it made me start to think about how important holidays are to not only the America public but to the whole world as well. This is the special time of the year where everyone comes together to take time to celebrate family, friendships, and life as a whole. I personally love this time of the year because it brings people together and there is a certain feeling in the air. It first starts with Thanksgiving that was originally started to celebrate a great harvest of the fall and to hold a feast for everything that it has produced. As time has progressed, it has given us the opportunity to show our love and proves that family and friends are of great importance in a healthy live, just as much as a great food is. As we all get busy with school and work, it is really easy to forget what it really important in your life. Coming next week when we all have the opportunity to go home I hope that you all will show your family and friends just how important they are in your lives.

But that is just the start of the holiday season! Once the end of October and Halloween comes around you can almost feel a different vibe in the air. There are so many emotions attached to this time of the year. Just like Thanksgiving represents a strong communal bond, the holiday season only accentuates this after November ends too. Whether you’re watching the 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family or hear some holiday music blaring, you can feel the holiday spirit in the air. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or Christmahanakwanzika, we all can agree that December is a very special month. Everyone is happy and it provides college kids the opportunity to head home and relive parts of their life that used to seem like distant memories. Unless you are Mr. Scrooge, it is obvious how much more friendly everyone is because that is a huge side effect of the holidays.

Holidays in modern society have come to mean a lot of different things and have changed from their original purposes. One of the biggest things that have become attached with the holiday season today is materialism. Black Friday is one of the biggest days for retailers and most stores often open at 4 a.m. with tons of promotional deals encouraging consumers to make the treks to their local shopping malls. Capitalism and commercialism really benefit from the holiday season, probably something that jolly ol’ St. Nick didn’t intend to happen.

If you didn’t get that reference that I made then you probably don’t know the origins of popular holiday traditions. Most people have completely forgotten the religious aspects of the holiday season. I’m not going to even pretend to you that I know beyond the basics. Just google Christmas origins and you’ll find out so many things that you had no idea were even true. It is important to find out the roots of these traditions that are so deeply rooted in modern society because they played a role in making Santa Claus the plump man with the beard he is today.

As the end of December comes around, New Year’s wraps up the holiday season. New Year’s essentially marks a brand new beginning. Besides the obvious fact that it is a brand new year, it holds with it the idea that you are given a clean slate to make your life the way you want to. You approach the coming year with personal goals and resolutions that you want to carry out that will better your life. Whether it’s losing weight, making new friends, or something entirely different, it is a common tradition to enter the new year with a purpose of improving your current lifestyle.

I think an overarching commonality that connects all of these holidays is celebration. As a college, student partying is important to relieve stress but the holidays provide an opportunity to party with purpose. We celebrate our families, our health and wealth, and overall, our life. Not many people are as blessed as we are so holidays represent a chance for us to say thanks and really appreciate all that is afforded to us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Philosophy is Phun Blog # 54 – Strangers

Hey guys! If you haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, I have uploaded two new podcasts on the so go watch them! This post is dedicated to a recent thought I had about how everyone is in some way connected to one another even if they don’t realize it. We have probably all heard about the Six Degrees of Separation theory where everyone can be connected to anyone else in the world through a maximum of 6 people (i.e. you know someone who knows someone who knows someone etc). I saw this one documentary that put this theory to the test. The filmmakers dropped off a package at a random village in Africa and told the person that they have 6 degrees of separation (i.e. six people) to get it to another random person in New York City. Obviously the villager didn’t know the person but they did know someone who would come through the village dropping off supplies who was from America. The next time the villager saw the American, he gave the package to the guy who then proceed to bring it back to America and then somehow it eventually ended up to the person it was supposed to. Now with globalization increasing at a rapid rate thanks to technologies like social networks, it becomes even easier to expand you network to encompass people from all around the world.
Bringing up the social network concept, sites like Facebook have completely changed what we consider to be a “friend” and who is a stranger. I feel like Facebook has turned the term friends to essentially mean that if you make eye contact with someone you automatically become Facebook friends. I think this applies to everyone because I believe that if you have over 500 “friends” on Facebook one of them is bound to be a stranger to you. I guess since I have been talking about them for a while, it is pretty important to get a general definition of what a stranger is. According to Google, a stranger is defined as “a person who does not know, or is not known in, a particular place or community.” This lack of knowledge is essential what makes the difference between friendship and being strangers. It is a pretty basic idea but it defines all relationships in our lives. In order to have a relationship with someone it requires past experiences or memories of those experiences and some knowledge of that individual. It helps you form an identity with that individual allowing you to recognize them from a crowd and creates distinctions that set them apart from everyone else. If you’ve been hanging out with a friend for a while you will be able to tell things like how they talk, how they walk, what type of humor they have, and other factors that make friendship so special.
Another important topic is the scenarios that we get put into with other people that allow us to potentially make acquaintances with those people who would otherwise remain strangers forever. Whether it is a class in school, a brand new job, or a random occurrence these events lay the foundation for developing new relationships that would never exist without them. This goes back to my very first philosophy podcast where I talk about the chance vs. fate debate. Is it strictly by chance that you will one day be in the right place at the right time to start a relationship with a person? Is it really like the movies where you save the person of your dreams from almost getting hit by a car and then you are soon married after that? If that’s the case do you have to thank that driver for almost running over your future spouse or is it just dumb luck that you were close enough to rescue them. Another perspective you could have on this situation was that you and your future spouse were meant for each other since the beginning of time and it is all part of some master plan of life that you were going to save them. Is it possible to control who is a stranger in your life or is it just meant to be? There are also all those what if questions like you could say to yourself “what if I decided to take a different road that day then I may have never met my wife.” I don’t think we will ever know the answer to that but I don’t think you have to wait for someone to almost get hit with a car to start talking to them. I believe it is ultimately up to you who is a stranger in your life regardless of whether it was meant to be or not.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Philosophy is Phun Blog # 53 – Productivity

I recently went to a workshop on how to become the most efficient person that you could be. It was a great experience because it taught me some very important things about how to manage your time productively. Time is the most value currency in our lifetimes. You have heard the expression time is money and I just want to restate how much of an understatement that really is. Benjamin Franklin was even quoted as saying “Time is the stuff life is made of.” The man who gave this workshop on efficiency, named Joel Oppenheimer, really opened my eyes on just how valuable time really is. He talked to us about how time is such a unique resource in the fact that it can’t be accumulated, stored, or replaced. It is always being spent at a constant rate of 60 seconds per minute and everything that you do or could hope to achieve has a certain cost of time.
It is common knowledge that life isn’t fair and every human isn’t born on an equal playing field. For a financial standpoint, some people are born with a silver spoon while others are born with just the clothes on their backs (i.e. nothing). Similarly, not everyone is given the same amount of time here on earth. That’s the problem with time; we never know when it is going to end. That’s why it is so important to make sure that you get everything that you want to get done within the unpredictable amount of time allotted to you. In order to do this you need to know exactly what you want to achieve. This leads me to my next point about goal setting. One of the greatest tips Joel told me was to write my goals down. He presented us some statistics from a study that discovered everyday people like you and I would only follow through with their New Year’s resolution at a rate of 4% while those who recorded their resolutions into a journal would have a completion rate of 49%.
It isn’t just good enough to have a goal though, as you must also develop S.M.A.R.T. goals. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Timing. Specific is pretty self-explanatory. Your goals need to be explicitly clear so that you obviously know what you are aiming for. Measurable factors into your goals by making sure that you can clearly see the progress you’ve made so far and can see at the end of the goal how you have improved or reached that goal in a particular way. Action-Oriented refers to including verbs into the wording of your goals to make sure that you actually complete tasks to accomplish your goals. Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. You also need to be realistic when constructing your goals to make sure that your goals are attainable within a reasonable amount of time and effort. Finally and most importantly is timing. You need to make sure that your goals have deadlines in order to push you towards completing them. Goals without deadlines are essentially just dreams with no hope of actually making them a reality.
Now that you’ve made your S.M.A.R.T. goals it is important to prioritize the goals you’ve made. After going to this talk I have started constructing lists of goals that I would like to achieve every week starting Monday morning. Some of my goals have continued to appear over multiple weeks because they are important to me and I really hope I achieve them someday. For instance, my ultimate goal in life is to make my own design consulting firm and innovation incubator. I may not have the resources or connections to do such a thing yet but it remains one of my ultimate goals and that doesn’t mean that I can’t do things every week to make my goal more achievable. For instance, I have started to create business plans and will soon try to find funding for my company. Of course goals will vary from person to person but this is where you must decide for yourself what you consider important and what you want to achieve in your own life. Some goals, like my company, are long term but others can be accomplished in one day. Priorities are very important because they allow you to make sure you are spending your limited resources like time and money on things that will help you reach your goals based on order of importance. The ultimate reason why we have goals is to make ourselves happy because it feels good when we get something that matters to us done. Using the 24 hours we have each day, you need to make sure you budget your time and money effective in order to be more productive. The more productive you are the more you can get done thus the happier you will be.

-Allan Nicholas