5 Things I Wish I Had Learned in College

Despite over a month-long hiatus, The Contemporary Gentleman is up and running again. And with the infinite amount of free time I now have on my hands since graduation, there will be many more posts to come.

Along with 800+ other students, I just graduated the University of Louisville. As I continue what I’ve been doing for the past two months – sending out resumés and looking for jobs – I find it hard not to look back on what I learned in college. And while I did learn how to effectively manage my time, multi-task to unprecedented extremes, develop leadership skills, and somehow get a degree out of it, I still feel there’s a good amount that my curriculum didn’t include. But I know I’m not alone in this, which (coupled with an indefinitely screwed economy) is part of the reason why our generation is having such a tough time finding jobs.

1. Start planning for the future on Day 1. In August 2007, I snatched my room key from my Nazi of an RA and moved into my dorm. When I did, I failed to realize I had just started the countdown on a 4-year timer, and that I would need to prepare myself as much as possible for life outside after college. I was so caught up with meeting people and having fun, that only when junior year arrived did I begin to worry. At that point, it became more of a focus on actually graduating than trying to realize any goal with the time I had left.

At one point in my collegiate career, I held a position in which I taught a class to freshmen, which basically outlined how to succeed in school – go to class, talk to your professors, study for “x” amount of hours each week, etc. This is the bare minimum to succeed, and it was sad to see their faces drop as if they were thinking, “You mean I can’t just get blitzed and play COD all day?” No, you can’t. In addition to what students should be doing, they should also be networking and making contacts, beefing up their resumés, and building relationships with people that might help get them somewhere post graduation. Outlining a clear goal of where they would want to be in four years and working backwards from there would help more than any gen ed course.

2. Take risks and explore all opportunities. Because I was an Arts & Sciences major, I restricted myself only to A&S courses. I pursued nothing in business school, nor anything in education. By not pursuing different avenues, I limited my opportunities to find something that genuinely interested me. Don’t be afraid to explore the unknown – you may end up liking what you find. And if you don’t, at least you’ll know not to pursue it further.

3. Prioritize your activities and learn to say “no”. College – it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I met people and made many awesome friends, had plenty of great times with said friends, and grew and matured in ways I never imagined. However, it was the growing up that was the hard part, and part of that was learning to responsibly set priorities.

During my sophomore year I had more fun than the other three years combined… but that’s because the emphasis was on having fun, and not on taking care of business. Instead of saying “no” when invited to do something, I’d drop what I was doing and head out because, hey, you’re only in college once! This usually resulted in several all-nighters to make up for what I should have been doing and a great deal of stress. There will always be more parties, more tailgates, and more fun things to do. But business is business, and the important things need to be taken care of first.

4. You need a budget. I worked through college, but not just for spending money like some kids, but to pay rent, buy groceries, etc. At first, I hated it – I couldn’t go out because I was stuck at work and I was always busy – but then I realized working gave me a strong sense of independence. I didn’t have to rely on anyone to take care of me, because I could do that on my own. Unfortunately, I often spent through all that money instead of responsibly saving it. I’ve learned over the past two years that proper budgeting can alleviate so much stress, but not sticking to it can keep you awake at night. A great tool is Mint.com, and I highly recommend it to keep track of your personal finances.

5. College is not responsible for preparing you for the real world. I’ll be the first to admit that I was not prepared for college. I exerted the bare minimum in my high school AP classes, and still did better than a large majority of my peers. I assumed college would be roughly the same; I had no reason not to. Unfortunately, like so many other students I met in college, we all got collectively screwed by teachers catering their instruction to standardized testing, resulting in an overall inadequate secondary education.

Adjusting to college was the biggest learning curve I have ever faced, but I know that it pales in comparison to what’s next.  Colleges can definitely increase their efforts to prep students for entering the job market, but much of that responsibility falls back on the student. At the end of the day, a college is a business – you pay it money, and it hands you a diploma that tells the world you have the ability to learn. What you do with that, however is up to you because the truth is, there is no direction after college. There is no syllabus, no attendance policy, no lecture. You are in control of what happens now, just as you were on Day 1, so proactively preparing to enter a highly competitive job market is your responsibility.

Overall, I can’t say I regret anything about college; it was fun, I grew and developed as a person, and I somehow managed to learn a few things. But I know the learning doesn’t stop after graduation, because life is the ultimate continuing education, and class is always in session.


The Importance of Keeping a Journal

Why is keeping a journal important? For starters, it’s not always easy to remember what you thought about something in the past, and even harder to remember how you felt. By writing about it, you can review those moments in your life and see how a situation unfolded. You’ll realize past situations weren’t nearly as bad as they seemed, which helps to keep things in perspective. Keeping a journal is also an excellent tool for problem solving – it allows you to consult yourself on your past decisions and review the outcomes from those decisions. Above all else, the most important reason for documenting your experiences is to provide you with a record of how you have (hopefully) grown as a person.

The key is writing consistently. I’ve always been off and on with keeping up with a journal. I’d write in it when I felt it necessary, and before I had realized it, weeks had passed and I hadn’t so much as thought about the journal. Simply dedicate ten minutes before going to sleep to write an entry, and you’ll have a record for that day. I keep mine on my nightstand, along with a pen and a stack of post-it notes for quick ideas.

It’s important to actually write down your thoughts, not type them; your thoughts are conveyed more accurately when written. You can pick up a journal for around $5 at any book store.

Keeping a journal is one of those simple things that takes very little time and results in something invaluable. Forget the idea that this is a diary in which you’ll want to store all your most private information. View this, rather, as a way to chronicle the notable events of your life; when you look back on it in a few years, you’ll be thankful you did.

The Importance of Physical Fitness

There was a point in time when America was revered as a physical and intellectual powerhouse. We were seen as the great liberators, purveyors of freedom – big brother, if you will – to other nations under oppression from a ruthless regime or an intolerant government. A short time after 9/11 and the start of the war on terror, this all began to change. These days, all you have to do is get on YouTube and read the comments under any video to realize the way other nations perceive us has changed drastically. You’ll see things posted from citizens of other nations along the lines of “ignorant American”, “go eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger, fat American”, and other colorful sayings that paint Americans in a less than stellar light.

What the rest of the world sees...

I work in the service industry, at one point in a very large, chain seafood restaurant. The majority of the food on the menu was deep-fried; the small amount that was grilled was drenched in unhealthy oils or butter. Each shift, I watched as my more-often-than-not disgustingly obese restaurant guests shoveled down handfuls of deep-fried, tasteless food. This was after they struggled up the thirty or so steps that it took to actually get inside the restaurant. It’s a frightening and very sad sight. Coupled with the fact that I live in one of the most unhealthy states in the union, it does cause for serious alarm. According to Reuters (2009), “26% of the population is now fully obese.” That was two years ago, and I doubt things have improved. Awesome.

I always stress the importance of continual mental and physical growth through my writings, as well as in my own life. When you chose healthy eating habits and engage in physical activity, you are not only doing yourself a favor by ensuring a long and healthy life, you’re doing your country a favor by helping to restore its image. I currently have a fraternity brother working abroad in Spain, and he is frequently asked if all Americans are fat, or with what frequency we consume McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Don’t help feed this stereotype. Instead, feed yourself healthy food, and put down the XBOX controller and get yourself into the gym.

The biggest excuse I hear from people for not exercising is that they don’t have enough time. That’s because they don’t make time for it. I do. And it only takes me six hours each week.

I am huge proponent of the StrongLifts program (you can find the entire pdf on the SL website for free – www.stronglifts.com), which puts me in the gym three times a week (typically, MWF). It focuses on high weight and low repetitions for a full body workout, which is great news for guys, as this yields the largest possible testosterone release. This essentially yields higher results in less time, but the goal is to find what works for you so you’ll stick with it. I also suggest finding an adequate cardio plan that you can stick with 2-3 times each week to keep your cardiovascular health in check. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, and that’s largely due to the fact that the majority of Americans don’t live healthy lifestyles.

As far as healthy eating is concerned, there are a few key ideas to keep in mind. If you are engaged in a solid workout regimen, you should be consuming 1 to 1.5 grams of protein for each pound you weigh. This will encourage muscle recovery and growth. Protein also acts as a thermogenic for your body, which speeds up your metabolism, which in turn torches body fat. You should also be eating a decent amount of fruits and vegetables, while staying away from any overly processed foods. Some of the best things you can keep in your kitchen are chicken breasts, whole wheat bread, lean cuts of beef, whey protein, skim milk, oat meal, cottage cheese, and various fruits and vegetables. A tip on vegetables – buy them frozen. They’re not only cheaper and last longer, but they’re flash frozen as soon as they’re harvested, thus preventing excessive nutrient loss.

Additionally, focus on eating six small meals instead of three large ones, as well as consuming a gallon of water each day. Again, this will keep your metabolism peaked. If that seems like a lot of work, keep in mind it’s much easier to pick one day a week and cook for the remaning six days than it is to lose ten (or more) pounds.

I encourage you to live a healthy lifestyle if you aren’t already, as the benefits are endless. Yes, you’ll feel better, look better… but you’ll also live longer. And who doesn’t want that? Right now, our country is in a tough spot. Our economy is defunct, bipartisan leadership continuously prevents any progress from being made, and we’re constantly paranoid about another terrorist attack that we’ll probably never see. As individuals, there’s not much we can do to alleviate these issues. But we can work to put to rest this stereotype of our country being overweight and unhealthy. So get in shape. For America.

A Note on Chivalry

Chivalry isn’t dead. It’s just been largely absent in the actions of our generation. As an aspiring gentleman, it’s your job to bring chivalry back to the forefront of manly behaviors.

How? Simple.

1. Hold doors for people. Possibly the easiest act of chivalry. If you prioritize your life correctly, you should never be in too much of a hurry to hold a door open for someone.

2. Respect your elders. While I do believe respect should always be earned, never demanded, older people have typically been through more than you have in your two decades of existence. More often than not, they’ve earned their respect.

3. Help those less fortunate than you. You never know where you may end up someday, and I firmly believe karma rewards those who help others in need. While this doesn’t mean give money to every panhandler that asks for it, you should donate clothes you no longer wear and volunteer for something for which you have a passion.

4. When walking with a female companion on the sidewalk, walk closest to the street. This may seem old fashioned, but trust me – they will take notice. However, this does not apply in all cases. “[I]f the two of us are walking down a sidewalk full of people, or in the hood where men pray on women from their corners or stoops, I’ll take the inside. When a man walks side by side with a woman, he should always be standing on the side closest to the danger.” (UntilIGetMarried.com)

5. On a date with a woman, never drink more than she does. If something goes wrong, you will be able to handle it, thus protecting her.

6. Do the majority of the driving. “I don’t think women are bad drivers (although most of them are). It’s just to say there are risks involved with driving, more risks than riding, so, as a man, it’s my responsibility to take those risks, not hers.” (UntilIGetMarried.com)

7. When meeting someone, ask for their name, learn to pronounce it, and then use it in conversation. It is a great sign of respect when you do this, so make it a habit.

I’m sure there are some I haven’t mentioned. Feel free to post them as a comment.

Sources: http://untiligetmarried.com/2010/01/21/5-new-acts-of-chivalry/

A Few Rules

I’ve seen this posted in multiple blogs and websites, but no source is available. Regardless, these are 26 rules to live life by, and definitely worth a read.

1. Never stop thinking. This is important. If someone ever says to you ‘You need to stop thinking so much,’ call them ignorant in your head and keep thinking deeper. It is this mentality that breeds stupidity. Your mind is the most important tool you have, if you stop using it, it will atrophy. Question everything.

2. Stare into space blankly and don’t mentally punish yourself for doing it, even if it is for that split second. If you have a problem with staring blankly, think of it as daydreaming.

3. Root Beer sucks after having spicy food.

4. Everything is going to be just fine. If you worry about acne, you’re going to get a fucking pimple.

5. Don’t be afraid to talk about anything. You shouldn’t be afraid of reality.

6. Everyone is a hypocrite.

7. You are all original. Every life experience is case sensitive and unique. Every time you wake up or go to the bathroom or quote someone else, you are becoming more you than anyone has ever been.

8. Do pointless things. Don’t actively restrain or hide yourself from the redundant.

9. Stop rushing. Shut up and embrace the sound of silence.

10. Religion shouldn’t be taught, it should be found. No one should tell you what to believe except you. And while were on the subject…

11. Don’t be restrained by one religion. People change every moment of everyday. Minds grow and evolve. Religion has no law so feel free to mix and match. Make your own.

12. Going to the bathroom is not a right nor a privilege. it’s an act of nature.

13. Talking to yourself is healthy. Is there anyone that you have more in common with?

14. There is no such thing as time. The sun never sets or rises. Days and years don’t exist. There is only your life. Earlier today you were born and death is predicted later in the evening.

15. We will always be in a transitional phase. Look outside and know that everything will be replaced at some point. This existence is temporary.

16. Its not half empty or half full. Its half a glass.

17. Every now and then take something that you see everyday and try to see it in a different light. Renew its existence.

18. Be happy, but don’t force it.

19. You will always succeed in trying.

20. We are all crazy. Every person you read about in the history books had some kind of ‘disorder’, they just knew how to use it.

21. We are all about as similar as we are different.

22. Ideas are just as valuable as people. Why do you think we keep making people?

87. Numbers don’t have to go in order.

24. Words will always be just words. Love is just another four letter word, only the feeling is real.

25. Ask a child for advice. They may not know much, but they know what is important.

26. Prove you’re alive. Do anything from dancing in the supermarket to screaming ‘Fuck’ during a moment of silence. Remind the world you are still here.

Have your own rules to add? Write them in as a comment.