3 Things I’ve Learned About Failure

1. Take action against failure.

The worst thing you can do to yourself is to start something expecting it to end in failure. A certain awareness of the possibility of failure is needed for everything, but predicting failure as the most likely outcome of anything and everything you do will make everything seem futile. Relax. Think about all the possible ways you could fail and take actions to ensure they will not come to pass. Part of the reasons people fail is because they resign themselves to being spectators of their own lives. Don’t be a spectator; take center stage. If all of life is a stage, then let the show go on!

2. Learn from your failures.

The only thing worse than failing is refusing to learn from failure. Ignoring or outright refusing to acknowledge the reasons you have failed is to set oneself up for even more serious errors and blunders. It is especially important that one learns from failure, especially if one happens to be a college student. The older we get, the higher the stakes in our future become.Tardiness isn’t something that will cost you your livelihood now, but it probably will in a few years when you are working to establish yourself in your chosen career. Take a moment to reflect on your actions (always a good thing to do, regardless of the outcome of your actions). If you discover you don’t like what you see in hindsight, good. You can now take steps to ensure you’ll have no reason to be disappointed or ashamed of yourself they next time you have a moment of introspection.

3. Do not let your failures define who you are as a person.

It is easy to resign oneself to failure, especially if ones efforts are met with unsatisfactory results time and time again. When one finds oneself in such a situation, one only need remind oneself of this; your failure’s do not define who you are; the lessons that you learn from failure speak more about who you are.

Stay safe out there. All will be well.

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Five Movies We Really Should Be More Stoked For

5. Chappie. A coming of age story set in a grim future featuring a robot with a name so saccharine it would give a Gummi bear diabetes. Its 2016, and a robot police force controlled by corrupt and vindictive officers rules with an iron fist. A young scientist creates a machine capable of empathy and self-determination, hoping to pave a way for a future free of police brutality and human corruption. Cue the outrage of the militant police commanders and a driven industrialist played by Hugh Jackman and you’ve got a tender coming-of-age story wrapped in a spicy, crunchy action film, with a healthy helping of sci-fi on the side.

4. The Walk. The tale of an aspiring tightrope walker and his journey between the World Trade Center Towers. Assembling a team of international stuntmen, he undertakes one of the most ambitious and terrifying high-profile public performances the world has ever seen. Its basically Gordon-Levitt balancing on a length of rope suspended between two of the highest buildings ever built by man. In glorious 3D. You might want to bring friends along to pull you back into your seat for this one when it hits theaters in October.

3. Ex Machina. In what looks to be a darker tale of suspense and psychological manipulation, a bearded scientist creates a remarkably advanced AI inhabiting the mechanical body of an android designed to resemble a young woman. An advanced intelligence confined to the residence of her secretive creator, she yearns to see the world beyond the walls of her home; and in the midst of this is a young man who might be falling in love with her. Its one of those movies.

2. True Story. Jonah Hill and James Franco star in this chilling thriller about stolen identities, psychopaths, hidden agendas and a pursuit for truth. This might be slightly more engaging than The Interview.

1. Mad Max: Fury Road. Some of the best costume designs I’ve seen since The Lord of the Rings. Awesome off-road deathmatches. Need I say more?

Five Suggestions for Weight Loss

I started the title of this post tempted to stick an “easy” in between the words “five” and “step”, but then I realized I would have been typing to deceive, not to inform or encourage. It’s not easy; it’s never been easy. It’s a commitment, one reaffirmed everyday, from the second your feet touch the floor in the morning to the second you fall asleep at night. It is a promise made between the person you are today and the person you can be tomorrow.

1. Start. Just start. Throw yourself into it. Don’t give yourself time for doubt and second-guessing to settle in. But do not be reckless. Get a check-up if you have pre-existing medical conditions. You are, after all, in this to change your life for the better, not put it in danger.

2. Don’t overthink it. Don’t spend every moment of every day thinking about how much weight you might’ve lost the day before or how much you might have gained back after eating a meal. Anxiety drowns out optimism. If you make a bad dietary decision and have a donut you know you shouldn’t have indulged in, A-OK. Commit yourself to getting through the rest of the day; life’s hard enough without burdening yourself with petty regrets. Invest all the energy you might’ve wasted worrying into action on the streets or in the gym; strive to outpace the person who gave in to weakness in the past and race towards the stronger, better you of tomorrow.

3. Don’t make a scene of it. It’s tempting to declare your intentions to the world, to tell everyone you know on and off social media that you’re really going to make the change this year. And there’s really nothing wrong with that. In fact, it seems like a good way to commit yourself to your efforts and have others hold you accountable. But it can also have the unintended effect of making you anxious and even paranoid. Suddenly its feels as though your friends and family are actively judging you, zeroing in on you waistline for any signs of improvement or regression. This could very well not be the case; they might accept you for who you are, thick or fit. But strange things happen when the body is deprived of the caloric intake it has grown accustomed to over the years. The body and mind are placed under a great deal of stress; it becomes all too easy to discourage oneself with thoughts of being judged or scrutinized. I would advise anyone dieting or planning to diet to tell those one knows best; tell those you know will love, support and even encourage you. You’ll need them, because there will be times (and they might be many) where your strength shall fail you, and you will need the support and encouragement of those closest to you.

4. Ease into it. Don’t get overzealous. It’s easy, tempting even, to start that first jog or lift with a pace that will tire you out quickly. Do not burn yourself out on the first day or week; that’s an excellent way to begin doubting yourself. Leave no room for pessimism by starting out at your pace. There’s no race here, no competition. Just you and the body you have invested time and effort towards making comfortable place for yourself. That is the real goal here; to become comfortable with the body you’ll be spending your life in. There’s no yardstick to measure yourself against, no imaginary hierarchy to climb. There is only you, and the standards you have set for yourself.

5. Self-restraint does not equal deprivation. Possibly the biggest fear of anyone contemplating a diet is the thought of having to do without a favorite food. Most people picture bowls of steamed vegetables and tofu when they think “diet”, and then almost immediately think of all their favorite food sitting in a big red circle with a bar drawn across it. The thought of doing without for months and even years is hugely discouraging. Its also hugely unnecessary. No one said stop eating your favorite food all together, even if they are high in saturated fats and sugars. You don’t have to give up donuts, pizzas and fried chicken legs cold turkey (no pun intended). Just eat less of it. Limit the amount of calories you consume. I would advice potential dieters to drink lots of water or fruit juice before every meal; I’ve found it limits the amount of food you are tempted to eat. Go for natural sugars found in fruits. Eat fiber; its an excellent hunger suppressant and gives one a feeling of fullness. You might find you like new and exciting dishes you once considered “strictly vegetarian”. Dont be afraid to broaden your horizons.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Surviving an Internet-free Weekend

A while back a friend of mine participated in something that sounded less like an experiment and more like a dare suggested by a sadistic college student; he was to go a week without using the internet. No internet for seven days and seven nights. Not even for Google. No Skype, no Netflix, and definitely no Facebook.

That was last summer. A few weeks ago, shortly before the end of our winter break, I too committed myself to abstaining from the internet for… three whole days. It was as long as I thought I could get away from it before having to be physically restrained from grabbing my laptop or Iphone in sheer frustration. Here’s what I learned:

  1. It never really leaves. My first internet free day was plagued by a gentle tugging sensation at the base of every thought. It was my need to check a hundred things, ninety-eight of which I was sure I was just making up. The Internet loomed on the horizon of my mind, and like a moon exerting its gravitational pull on a planets oceans, it tugged and heaved, never letting up
  2. The compromises begin almost immediately. Remember that voice you always hear when you’re about to finish an episode you’ve sworn will be your last? The one that only ever seems to speak up when you start feeling guilty about not doing more important things? That voice spent the first day coming up with a whole booklet of excuses and compromises, urging me to check exam results I’d already seen, news on that one TV show I really liked and everything in between. There was never a moment where he wasnt urging me to take a quick peek, just a glance. It would’ve been so easy too, a single tap on the Google app…
  3. I rediscovered reading. I came to realize I read books like a read forum posts; quickly scanning entire paragraphs to get the gist of what was being said so I could move on to the next. Reading whole sentences felt like I was physically underlining every sentence on every page with a blunt pencil and no ruler. It was exhausting and even a little saddening, but by the second day I’d relearned how to read without trying to scan entire pages worth of content.
  4. You become increasingly aware of the hundreds of roads leading back to the Internet. Everything from sports channels on cable TV to a popular brand of spaghetti sauce has a social network handle these days. It seemed the longer I stayed away from the Internet the more I noticed just how much everything else is linked to the internet.
  5. You eventually stop caring. The most surprising thing I learnt came on the fourth day, on a calm Monday afternoon. I was 300 or so pages into the book I’d started on the morning I’d sworn to stay way from the Internet when I realized my little self-imposed exile was over. I didn’t have to do this any more. I breathed a sigh of relief, licked my thumb and turned the page, wondering what happened next. It would be another day before I came back to the Internet, and another hour before I was swearing never to leave again.

So that’s it; the days In spent away from the Internet and in my own head were some of the weirdest days I’ve ever lived through, filled with longing, craving and then, finally, acceptance. My friend made it through a week; I’d like to think I could’ve beaten his record, but I also like to think I can take Usain Bolt on for at least ten seconds.

Five Things to Think On

1. Get out. There’s a college beyond your dorm room door. Don’t keep it waiting; let it in for a chat, maybe an hour of Netflix. You’ll meet some of your best friends for the next three years in the first three weeks, so get out and get busy putting names to faces.

2. Get some sun while it lasts. Holland’s usually good enough to give us all a roughly two-month long grace period before letting the frost creep in around October. Cherish those months; it’ll be the only time of the year you’ll be wearing shorts outside of gym class.

3. Hit the road. Don’t stay holed up in Holland; its a nice little town, but you’ll have seen all of it inside a semester. Don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons and boldly go where hundreds have before you. Sign up for an outdoors club and explore the wider Michigan area; there are simply way too many beaches and parks out there that desperately need to wind up on your computer backgrounds and Instagram photos.

4. All play and no work… You’ll want to get used to spending some one on one time with your books; getting familiar with the coursework schedule saves you from getting blindsided with unexpected assignments and quizzes. Study regularly enough and it’ll become a habit that gets you a few A’s every semester. Don’t plan to write last minute papers. Inspiration’s a fickle mistress… she might favor you on a night you need her least and abandon you when you need her most.

5. Get some space. Get a couple hours of “Me-time” a week, away from the noise and blur of campus life. Don’t overexert yourself on extracurricular activities every week or you might burn yourself out. Sometimes we need to step out of life’s marching band and play solo awhile, before jumping back in line.

‘Twas the night before snow….

 

I had gone to bed the night before listening to snowflakes drifting into my window, like clouds of silver flies swarming mutely around a lit lamp. The light from the street lamp outside was flecked with the tiny of airborne ice, soft grey shadows against latte-white light. I wondered how many feet of snow I’d get tomorrow, my first winter day. I drew the sheets closer, falling asleep with a smile of warm anticipation, snug as a bug in a rug.

I got out of bed with a much less serene expression. The floor was cold, an unpleasant first- I’d never stepped on frigid carpet in my life. Was the radiator broken or something? I looked over at my roommate, still asleep in his warm blanket cocoon. Wouldn’t’ve killed him to crank up the temperature before bed last night would it? Ack, whatever. I’d be in the warm shower soon enough anyway, getting clean and toasty. It’ll definitely be all uphill from there on out- I’d get warm, bundle up in my new winter clothes and head on out to Holland’s magnificent winter wonderland.  I’ll bet everyone’s out there chucking snowballs and sticking arms on snowmen, just like the movies said they would!

The movies lied. The sky loomed overhead like a floating mass of iron, heavy and grey. The tree branches bowed under the weight of a nights worth of snow, dead and bare as dry mummified corpses. A few delighted gasps escaped into the frozen air in warm clouds, accompanied by sharp hisses of  surprise and whispered curses as people floundered on the icy sidewalk. Green grains of salt crackled underfoot like glass as I walked down the heated concrete, already feeling winters sharp bite. No snowmen in sight and everyone looked far too cold for any snowballing nonsense. What a magical morning this was going to be.

The sky is as cold and grey as a wet tombstone as I stomp my way across the rapidly disappearing greenery across the chapel. I’d learnt to stay off pavements pretty quickly- footing was still tricky work, even with the healthy helping of salt they’d sprinkled on the icy concrete like hard green sugar. The trees seemed to grimace painfully in the silent chill, icy branches frozen at sharp, uncomfortable angles like frostbitten hands. The squirrels had long since retired to their treetop winter lairs, hidden in secret fissures and cracks in the rough tree bark. All was still, save the muffled onward march of college students shuffling and stomping their way to class, kicking up sprays of snow and wreaths of warm air.

Going back into the warmth is an experience made bitter by the painful return of feeling to your digits and sweet by my grateful release from the layers of clothing I’d buried myself under that morning. The carpet glimmered and darkened in the places where icy boots had passed, leaving a snail trail of cold moisture in their wake. The chapel basement classrooms echoed with the excited chatter of students who’d woken to discover “campus covered in soft white frosting”, as the student to my right of the group circle put so poetically. “I LOVE snow!” she enthused as the professor shut the door behind him, trailing a snail trail of his own. He caught my silent scream of horror as he sat down, shooting me a quizzical grin, “What’s wrong Alex? It’s a beautiful day out there!”

The sun finally broke through the skies halfway through the class, bursting through the grey mass like a hot poker thrust through a fog. The stained glass windows flared to life, lighting the walls of the classroom up in a riot of green, red and blue hues like the lights on a carnival ride. A soft ripple of “ooh’s” and “aah’s” whooshed around the room like a warm breeze. “Glory be, here’s the sunshine cavalry!” I thought with an impatient huff of relief.  “Maybe it’ll be a little warmer now the suns out!”

It wasn’t. A wide swathe of crystal blue sky streaked across the horizon, bathing  the whitened grounds with sunlight devoid of warmth. The snow glittered with a prickly, beautiful malevolence, as trillions of tiny ice fragments twinkled merrily in the sun. The air hung as lifeless as a mounted trophy, cold and unmoving. I walked down the salted path back to my dorm room, occasionally sliding on a sludgy patch of pavement with a hissed expletive. I could already feel my fingers stiffening in my pockets and was already becoming aware of the tips of my ears again. Could have sworn it got even colder after the sun came out just to spite me. Barely halfway through the day and I’d already begun hating this terrible, deadening season. How could anyone bear to exist in an environment that actively spent every moment trying to kill every warm-blooded creature in it? Well then again, that’s probably what people here say about the warm, humid tropics. I made a silent pact with myself to spend every moment soaking in Africa’s glorious sun if I survived this winter day.

I fell asleep at my desk and dreamt of sunlit beaches halfway around the world. I dreamt of mellow sea breezes, the distant pulse of afrobeats echoing over the wind-sculpted sand. And of the sun- full and blindingly radiant, riding high in the cloudless afternoon sky. Light so warm and nurturing your skin felt smoother and silkier just drinking it in. The thunder of the cool grey ocean, pawing playfully at the shore with shaggy paws of sea foam before raking them back in its ancient, ceaseless rhythm. All along the coastline families played amongst the waves, swimming against the tides, splashing saltwater around or simply lying down on the shore, rocking gently in the seas rough embrace. Water rushed  between my toes, as warm as….soft wool? I look up, startled; the swaying palm trees now groaned and sagged under the weight of snow, crackling electrically in the setting sun. The sun, so triumphantly high in the blue sky now dipped meekly below a horizon streaked with deep violet and ember-red light. A cold, metallic moon now hung in its place, emanating a halo of pale silver light as a blinding flurry of snow smothered the silent ocean in white….

I woke up grumpy, my feet still shuffling slowly in my damp wool socks, the nightmarish Ghanaian coast still fresh in my mind. There was no refuge from winters cold embrace, even in my sleep. It would haunt me, wiggling its pale blue fingers into every room and under every layer of warmth I hid under. It would always be out there, a leering golem of frost and numbness, waiting to ambush me at the door with a gentle gust of icy wind, sneaking a few stray flakes of ice down my shirt. Oh what a jolly season this was going to be!

Still, it wasn’t all bad- leave it to a guy from the tropics to pout and grumble about a bit of yearly frost! There were snowball fights, fought in the midst of a mild snowstorm with friends and strangers alike. There were snowmen, a rather a rather imposing 12 foot tall snowman, built on the snow-covered greenery in front of the Kletz, where it sat well into spring. And with winter came Christmas and all the hearty cheer with family it brings. Theres a lot I should be thankful to winter for- for all the friends, memories and experiences it brought in its icy wake…though I could do with a bit less snow next year.

Homesickness Hates Company

Homesickness is like chickenpox; I’ve never gotten it, but have been told its a necessary evil of life everyone else has suffered from. I’ve never known why I’ve never been homesick; home is awesome. Home is the feverish, erratic pulse of Accra under the warm afternoon sun, the cries of the hawkers and peddlers toting their wares between slow traffic. Home is chop bars filled with friendly banter and laughter over cold beers and hot soup. Home is the rise and fall of a million voices united by football, the sound of hi-life music carried by the gentle breath of the sea whispering through open windows and glinting palm fronds. Home is Ghana, an oasis of freedom and economic potential. I’ve had good times and more than a few….”misadventures” there, but when all’s said and done, I love Ghana. I just don’t miss it. I’m not entirely sure if that makes sense, but there it is.

I’ve been home twice since my acceptance into Hope College; once during Hope’s month-long Christmas holiday and again on the summer of 2014, just a few weeks ago. And I remember being glad to return home to familiar places and faces both of those times; but in the weeks before my return I just never thought much about it. Guess I’m just wired like that; a drifting vessel at home on any shore with warm beds and good people.

Whilst I might be alone in my immunity to homesickness, for many of my friends it was a virus warm soup and a night under a cozy couldn’t fix. By October it had torpedoed its way through my freshman hostel like a shark in a pool of prime ribs, sinking its teeth into anything with a pulse. Most of my friends were out-of-state students who hadn’t slept in a bed outside their houses since their last road trip or summer camp vacation. They all missed home and all of its comforts and familiarities; the smell of Mum’s weekend waffles, their dad’s model car collections, family pets, even the dreaded roar of a neighbors leafblower on the driveway. It was tough adjusting to a life of shared bathrooms and bunk beds for many and even weirder living with strange new people 24/7. But I like to think they all survived it because they all went down that road together.

Making new friends is tough for everyone everywhere, but consider the plight of the 18 or 19 year old liberated from years of curfews and sleeping down the hall from Mum and Dad. They’re free, but burdened with the weight of responsibility. They’re free to make friends with whoever they please and go where they please, but they’re also old enough to know why the implications of that freedom. There was a lot of gauging and observing in those early days, as people struggled to figure out where they belonged in Hope and why they belonged there.

Acquaintances were as easy to come by as numb fingers in winter; finding a warm inner circle that fits like a glove takes some time. And like warm woolen gloves, they make a world that is often cold a much nicer place to live in.  A room of friends is a room full of company misery and homesickness don’t want to be around. Its amazing to see people who you heard crying softly in bed after their parents left laugh and talk earnestly among each other, their worries as far from their minds as their beds at home are. Find your friends at Hope and you’ll find a place that feels an awful lot like home.