Thoughts on Life and The Awesomeness of College

It’s official…I’m a college graduate! On May 10 I walked across the stage and had the opportunity to celebrate with my family and friends. It was such a bittersweet day. Although I’m sad to see college career come to an end, I’m excited to take the next steps in my career.

Let the future begin!

Let the future begin!

As we all know, college isn’t just about the books. There are so many life lessons the college experience teaches so well. Here are five of my favorites:

1. If you want to achieve goals, make them happen…starting now.

The summer before I went to college, my church’s youth pastor and his wife coached me on college readiness to help prepare me as much as possible for life as a college student. One of the most valuable pieces of wisdom they shared with me was that if I wanted to instill a new habit, I had to start as soon as I arrived to campus or as soon as my semester started. If not, busyness and routine would take over and any hopes of accomplishing that goal would most likely slip through the cracks.

This was GREAT advice. Right when I got to college, I set aside the time I needed to reach my goals, such as going to the gym, staying in touch with family and friends and practicing (I was a music major at the time).

As I plan out what my life will look like in the future, I know it will be more of a challenge to set good habits, as more responsibilities add up. However, it isn’t impossible and achieving goals is important no matter what stage of life I’m in.

2. Mom and Dad are cool.

There’s this shift that happens usually right before high school ends or halfway through the first year of college where mom and dad are suddenly cool! When I left for college I remember being excited to be on my own, but every time my parents made the trip up to Denton for the weekend I was always very excited to spend time with them.

Not only are they cool but also smart, contrary to what my teenage self credited them. I’m thankful that my parents were so involved in my college experience. My mom basically knew more than my advisors and quickly became a pro at helping me plan out my schedules so I could graduate with a degree and a half in four years. I’ve grown rather close to my parents, as I should. They’re the only ones I have.

3. Detours are sometimes the best things that can happen to you. 

I was a double major in music and public relations my first and second years of college. I knew I loved music and also knew I loved to write, although I wasn’t exactly sure I knew what PR was quite yet. As a music student I participated in music ensembles, took lessons and learned theory and music history at one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. I really enjoyed it, but quickly saw my passion fading after hours on top of hours of practicing and struggling through my music theory assignments.

I finally came to a point where I had to choose. PR won and I’ve never regretted that decision, nor have I regretted the time spent making music at the University of North Texas. Some of my closest friends were made through the marching band and some of my favorite memories were in the music building and performance hall.

4. You don’t have to be the smartest to stand out.

I was honored as the Outstanding PR Student of the Year at the journalism banquet in May, an award chosen by the Mayborn School of Journalism’s faculty. It was a very exciting moment, that’s for sure.

A lot of people who congratulated me said things like, “Wow! You must make really good grades!” The truth is I’ve never been an extremely academic person. I worked VERY hard to make good grades in school, which paid off in the end, but certainly wasn’t a walk in the park for me as it was for some of my friends growing up.

IMG_3676

2014 Outstanding Public Relations Student in the Department of Strategic Communications at UNT

I think the key to being successful and standing out is hard work and being passionate about what you do. During my college career I had seven different internships, was the president of UNT’s Chapter of PRSSA and was the kind of person who attended networking events and watched webinars on her days off. People would always comment on how busy I seemed, but I was just doing what I think is fun! Those internships and tough classes flew by because I absolutely love what I do.

As my youngest sister and cousin graduate from high school this year I sincerely hope they fall in love with their major as I did. It makes college (an life)THAT more awesome and rewarding.

5. Friendships are a gift, not a guarantee

After I graduated high school I started to lose touch with some of people I considered best friends during middle or high school. It was sad at first, but as I changed and grew, my old friends were changing and growing too.

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since :)

These two drove four hours to come see me graduate! Lindsay (left) has been a best friend of mine for 11 years and Kelsey (right) is a friend I met my freshman year. She transferred to UT Austin for nursing school, but we have stayed close ever since 🙂

There are several friendships I have that have lasted more than ten years, but college taught me the value of learning when to fight for those friendships and when to let go to make room for others. Letting go of friendships is bittersweet, but I can’t think of a time where new friendships weren’t blossoming. I’ve been blessed with wonderful friends and as I’ve grown older, I’ve been even more thankful for these gifts and realized that they are blessings that I am not entitled to.

Here are some of the friends that made college such a wonderful time in my life:

This month I’ll be moving to Dallas, standing by one of the friends I’ve known the longest as she marries the man of her dreams, starting the next chapter in my career and vacationing with my family in Boston. I’ll miss the ability to plan my own schedule, nap times between classes and exciting intern adventures as a college student, but I’m so excited to see what the future has in store.

“ Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” – Proverbs 19:21

What are your favorite things about your college experience?

Things Money Can’t Buy

Transcendentalist Theodore Parker once said, “Kodak sells film, but they don’t advertise film. They advertise memories.”

As a public relations student, I’ve taken marketing and other strategic communications courses that have taught the art of “selling” things money can’t buy. This is brilliant when it comes to memories and other warm and fuzzy things, but what about situations where the intangible item the product provides might endorse something a bit more controversial?

For example, many fashion advertisements have very sexual overtones, hint at violence toward women or straight up publish something shocking for the sake of drawing attention to a brand. It’s no secret that advertising (and public relations, while we’re at it) has the capability to bring out the ugliness of our culture. Advertisements have an effect on audiences and if advertisers are not careful, it can get them into trouble. Although there are many blatantly distasteful advertisements, sometimes the ethics of advertising aren’t simply as black and white as we might wish.

Several classical ethics theories lay out groundwork to help us better understand what is ethical and what is not.

Deontology

Deontology is a rules-based approach to ethics. Similarly to the Ten Commandments, if you break a rule, regardless of circumstances, it is considered wrong according to this theory. Although many advertisers do all they can to avoid breaking the law for obvious reasons, sometimes targeting the public can go too far. In January, the Canadian court found Google, Inc. guilty of infringing Canadian privacy laws for targeted online ads that were triggered by sensitive information, according to Bloomberg News. Although this might not have been Google’s intention, other ethics breaches are not as black and white as this example.

Consequentialism

Consequentialism, commonly referred to as ends-based ethics, is the ethical reasoning that actions are neither right nor wrong, according to my ethics professor. This reasoning means that if the consequences are good, the act is good. If the consequences are bad, the act is bad. An example of this in modern advertising is airbrushing models. Although airbrushing is not against the law, it often has an effect on the way women feel about their bodies and sets an unrealistic standard of beauty.  The video below shows an example of the airbrushing process models’ photos go through before being used for advertisements. The model’s before and after shots are shockingly different.

More and more brands are responding to consumers’ demands for realistic models in advertising. One of these brands is Aerie, which recently released the #aerieREAL campaign, which only features un-airbrushed models. Whether this was a clever PR stunt or a genuine interest in reversing the media’s manipulation of women’s bodies, Aerie made a splash and received countless positive media hits because of the campaign. Because the reaction was positive, consequentialism says this was a “right” move in advertising.

Egoism

Egoism is the reasoning that favors whatever best promotes an individual, organization or corporation. This particular line of thinking places a brand’s long-term self-interest on a pedestal. Many brands are guilty of exemplifying egoism. One example is AXE’s “The AXE Effect” commercial. Not only does it make women look like brainless freaks, but it is highly blown out of proportion and completely unrealistic.

Utilitarianism

Lastly, utilitarianism is the most democratic of classic ethics theories. This theory of reasoning, fathered by Jeremy Bentham, views “right” as the path leading to the greatest pleasure or least pain for the greatest amount of people. A great example of this is Budweiser’s recent #SaluteAHero campaign. Although many beer advertisements use scantily clad women and parties to draw in their target audience, men in the 18-24 age bracket, Budweiser took a different approach to expressing masculinity. In the brand’s SuperBowl spot this year, the ad tied in patriotism, something nearly everyone in the brand’s target audience can relate with. This tear-jerker positions the brand as purely American. I think that’s pretty heroic.

Where’s the Bottom Line?

Although it’s easy to victimize advertisers as liars and distasteful creators of propaganda, it’s important to take a step back and objectively view the situation they face in their work on a day-to-day basis.  In Mixed Media, Thomas Bivins wrote, “…advertising is required by its very nature to paint such a picture-consumption leads to pleasure, which leads to happiness.” In our society, each product is bought to fill a tangible or intangible purpose. “Happiness” is not the same thing for everyone, but we all buy products that make us feel more beautiful, in control, fulfilled and accepted by our peers. Advertisers, who are humans too, know these reasons and position their brand’s products to consumers to affect purchasing patterns. As we all know, this is often taken a notch too far.

With so many ideas of ethics and what is right and wrong it’s easy for advertisers to be confused about where to draw the line. Although it can be tricky, it’s vital to have a finger on the pulse of your client’s brand voice and the industry standards to understand what is expected of you and do your job well without compromising professional values and provisions.

Which classical theory do you think is most ethical?

Anyone Can Be an Alchemist

I visited an agency about a year ago and met an insightful account executive who recommended Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist when I asked her for reading recommendations. I finally had time to read it during my time off from school and work during the holidays and I’m glad I did. Although it didn’t directly pertain to PR, it provided inspiration that easily applied to my career and life in general.

The Alchemist is a story of a young boy, Santiago, who embarks on a mission to find his treasure. Along the way, he falls into snares and consequences of naivety, makes immense sacrifices, finds and loses love, and learns life lessons from an infamous alchemist.

As I read The Alchemist, several major themes kept returning:

1. Find your Personal Legend

This book placed an emphasis on chasing after your dreams.  Santiago was on a mission to find his life’s purpose. As many others can relate, Santiago didn’t always know his personal legend and reason for life. If you don’t know, that’s okay. Part of the fun is discovering that one thing that makes you happy and makes you different from anyone else on earth. Are you hoping to discover your personal legend this year? The beauty of this concept is that making a decision is only the beginning of a lifelong journey that can be extraordinarily rewarding.

What are you most excited about in life?

2. Don’t fear the desert

In The Alchemist, Santiago took a journey through the Sahara Desert to go to the pyramids, where he believed the treasure was buried. This was an apprehensive time in his journey. The caravan through the desert was long and dangerous and at times Santiago was tempted to give up.

Sometimes your life’s calling will require you to take a detour. Instead of feeling inconvenienced by these perceived setbacks, see them as opportunities– even in the midst of suffering. You might be thinking, “That sounds a lot easier than it is.” Coelho cleverly wrote, “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself… No heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.” You’re not alone in the desert and when you reach an oasis or your final destination you will be reminded of life’s blessings and be thankful for life in and of itself.

What are you most afraid of? Why?

“Immerse yourself in the desert. You don’t even have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a single grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation.”

3. “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” 

During Santiago’s journey, he finds a beautiful woman and falls in love. She tells Santiago to follow his heart and find his treasure, and then he can come back and they will be together. I admired this selfless aspect of love because she wanted him to pursue his dreams enough to let him go.

As Coehlo wrote, “When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

How can you do a better job of loving your family, significant other or coworkers?

Life is Golden 

The alchemist book

Add this one to your booklist.

I admit… when I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what an alchemist was, but now that I’ve finished this book I understand that life is less about a treasure hunt than transforming what you see as lead to gold.

Would you say your life is more like lead or gold?

Although life will never be perfect, it’s rewarding to follow after your personal legend even if it means you’ll have to travel through a desert for a while. You have everything you need right now to see your life as the sparkling gold it is.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”- Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist

Reflections on a Mason Jar of Memories

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

A Mason Jar of Memories from 2013

I don’t always play board games, but when I do…I typically can’t wait for someone to win so I can do something else.

Maybe I’m no fun, but something about the fact that most board games come with a million little pieces and a novel-sized book of instructions that people don’t read, but still manage to argue about the rules, makes them even less fun. I’d rather do something else, like have a conversation, bake or go outside like people used to do before televisions were invented.

On New Year’s Day I was with my boyfriend, some family and friends, and we started playing his favorite board game. I was reluctant at first, but since I was in the holiday spirit and figured it wouldn’t kill me, I went ahead and joined in. Seeing the delight on his face was something I wasn’t expecting. He was genuinely appreciative that I put aside my preferences and played his favorite game. Although it wasn’t a tremendous sacrifice on my part, it brought me joy in return and I started to think this would be a great continuation of my New Year’s resolution from last year.

Choosing Contentment

In 2013 I resolved to be more content and positive with my life the way it is. I have a perfectionist mindset, which often makes it hard to appreciate what is going right and focus on fixing what isn’t. To help me accomplish this new mindset I wrote down positive experiences and thoughts, and put them in a jar on my dresser. After ringing in the New Year, I read through all the little slips of paper. I remembered sweet conversations over mugs of coffee, thoughtful gifts I didn’t deserve from friends and family members, and the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me after seeing my work in print for the first time. Others included waking up to beautiful sunsets, volunteering at philanthropic community events and random acts of kindness.

Last year wasn’t perfect, but looking back on the positive things reminded me that everything doesn’t have to be perfect for a year to be productive in accomplishing my goals. The strange thing is, I really didn’t even make specific goals when I decided what I would focus on in 2013. In addition, I felt much more successful than I had in years before when I wrote out a ton of things I wanted to change about my life.

Redefining Resolutions

Instead of a resolution that limits your possibilities, why not choose a word instead?

As a former, overly obsessive resolutionist, I know that more resolutions are abandoned than achieved, and the most apparent reason for that is the fact that most resolutions are about the person making them. As I looked back through all of the positive moments from 2013, I was reminded that contentment, which is defined as “a state of happiness or satisfaction,” is the key to accepting what I have without longing for more or struggling to be someone else every time January rolls around. If I’m distracted by what I don’t have, I can’t see past my own failures and can’t possibly be in tune with meeting the needs of others. Contentment is an open door to freedom from greed, envy, selfishness and severe expectations. Although contentment can’t solve all of life’s problems, it’s a great place to start.

Contentment takes discipline and can be difficult in our world where we know little of actual need, but reading through each of the positive things that happened in 2013, I was reminded that the good far outweighs the bad.

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.                                    – Oprah Winfrey

Thankfulness

When contentment is achieved, thankfulness is the result. Thankfulness is a relational benefit of contentment, which is “expressive of thanks,” and “aware and appreciative of a benefit.” Oftentimes thankfulness obliges selflessness, which can lead to making sacrifices for the benefit of others. There are so many people and things to be thankful for and I sincerely hope that this year I will more effectively recognize what is lovely and worthy of gratitude (and even things that aren’t) and respond with self-sacrifice and love.

I would love to hear about the word you’ve chosen to focus on in 2014.

Wishing you a blessed New Year!

Is an #UNselfie mindset possible in a #selfie world?

Shouldn't every day be an #UNselfie day?

Shouldn’t every day be an #UNselfie day?

Forget chocolate. Selfies are society’s new guilty pleasure.

So what exactly is a selfie?

Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year” for 2013 is defined as, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” More than 90 million selfies have been posted across social media channels since the word was first used in an Australian forum in 2002. Since then, selfies have become widely popular among social media users, including celebrities, political figures and athletes.

It didn’t take long for technology to adapt to the trend by creating front-facing cameras and smartphones to accommodate selfie photographers. It’s no surprise that Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram are loaded with them and that Instagram’s most used hash tag is #me.

Don’t you think it’s all a little narcissistic?

Unleashing the #UNselfie

This week was the second annual Giving Tuesday.

A number of what users are calling #UNselfie photos were posted featuring people holding signs supporting charities and advocating self-sacrifice.

This day of giving was initially launched by New York’s 92nd Street Y , the United Foundation and the Case Foundation and has since rallied thousands of nonprofits to reach out to prospective donors and share the importance of giving. The hope behind the campaign is inspiring similar fervor to that of Black Friday sales, according to Forbes.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen people camp out for days in advance and line up for blocks just to help others.

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

Comparison of #selfie posts and posts about giving

An Instagram hashtag search on Giving Tuesday pulled up more than 60 million photos tagged #selfie, but less than 600 thousand photos were tagged with the top five commonly used hashtags about giving: #giving, #givingback, #givingtuesday, #unselfie and #givingbacktothecommunity.

It’s heart-warming to see the reaction to the movement dedicated to giving through #UNselfies over social media and  I don’t want to discount the compassion behind anyone’s efforts to make a difference, but shouldn’t every day be a giving day?

In Conclusion…

Let’s face it; we’re all guilty of taking selfies and putting our wants above the needs of others at one time or another. Living in a #selfie culture makes it easy to forget that giving isn’t only something we should do during the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

I challenge you to give this Christmas season, but to also continue giving long after the tree and lights are packed away. Do your part to make your life a walking #UNselfie. As many have said before, it’s much better to give than to receive.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we greeted every day with thanksgiving without a turkey dinner, gave without expecting anything in return and felt immense joy in the absence of a decorated tree or presents?

Living A Glass-Half-Full Life

Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 4.52.27 PMMy resolution for 2013 was to be more positive and it’s been an insightful journey, filled with ups and downs. However, I’ve been learning a few things about myself and the power of positive thinking.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

1. Balance is key. 

It’s really hard to think positively when you don’t get enough sleep or eat poorly. Exercising, eating right and getting a full night’s rest is one of the easiest way to control emotions and to think more clearly.

 2. Think outside the box.

It’s easy to get in the habit of wanting only one thing and developing expectations. For example, if I make plans to get together with a friend, it’s easy to get discouraged when plans change. Instead, think of alternatives. If this doesn’t work, then I’ll have more time for _______________ instead. Thinking outside your expectations helps ease disappointment if the original plans don’t work. It reverses the situation into a win-win.

3. Q-TIP (Quit Taking It Personally).

Criticism is hard to take, especially when it’s not asked for. Understand, first of all, that what they might’ve said might be a product of a bad day that had nothing to do with you. However, be able to retract truth in their words. Maybe there’s something you’re doing to hurt others. Regardless of what they said or how they said it, think about what you’ll do differently and get past the hurt you might be feeling.

 4. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

One of the best ways to think more positively is to guard what you see and what you say. Our culture can influence the way we think, so it’s important to be careful what you take in. It’s equally as important to think before you speak. Just as we are easily influenced by our culture, others are influenced by our words. Think back to the last few times you’ve posted on your favorite social media platform. Was it positive? The more you speak positively, the more you’ll think positively.

5.  Stop worrying about things you can’t change.

Sometimes in life there will be things you cannot change. Rather than obsessing over them or constantly worrying, think about the many things there are to be thankful for.

6. Cut out the comparisons.

I tend to be a competitive person from time to time. Always remember that comparison will rob you of all joy.  Your life should never be about keeping up with the Jones’ because someone will always be worse than you and better that you at something. Don’t let those distinctions ruin it for you. Rather, focus on doing the best you can do in every area and stop worrying about who might be ahead or behind you.

 7. Kindness goes a long way.

Can you remember a time when someone said something that brightened your day? It feels good to help others feel good. Acknowledge others and make them feel appreciated through random acts of kindness, hand-written notes and positive affirmations. Always try to look for the good in others rather in the bad and it will lighten your mood.

“Welcome every morning with a smile. Look on the new day as another special gift from your Creator, another golden opportunity to complete what you were unable to finish yesterday. Be a self-starter. Let your first hour set the theme of success and positive action that is certain to echo through your entire day. Today will never happen again. Don’t waste it with a false start or no start at all. You were not born to fail.” ~ Og Mandino

New Year, Happier Me

Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 7.38.44 AMNew Years Eve was always the time of year I’d compile a novel of resolutions that would make me a better me. I’d vow to make a 4.0, lose weight, or try a new hobby and stick to it faithfully for about a month, but by the time February rolled around, I’d be back to the same lifestyle I had the year before.

This year, tired of the endless cycle of discontentment, I wanted to try something different. I made one resolution. (Not 100. Just one.)

The resolution I made was to be more content with my life the way it is and to be more aware of the little things that make each special and unique. January has come and gone a lot less stressful than the Januarys before, where I’d scramble from one thing to another, trying to make time to fit in everything I wanted to accomplish.

Don’t get me wrong… I still run around frantically, signing up for way too many things and I still take delight in making goals to help me be a more well-rounded person, but I’ve realized that being a better me is not about spending more time at the gym, studying more or winning an award. Those things are great, but constantly trying to change who I am isn’t helping anyone.

This year I’m striving to think more positively without letting little imperfections weigh me down. I will never be resolution Lauren or the perfect embodiment of the prestigious list I composed every year on New Years Eve. This year I’m just going to be a more content and appreciative me.