Perfect: The Most Boring Thing You Can Be

Can we pinpoint the moment we collectively gave up on improvement and declared that perfection is not only within reach, but relies solely on the whim of our own feelings?

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We’ve always known, of course, that perfection in a factual sense is impossible. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t throw out, “Hey nobody’s perfect!” to excuse some insult or misstep of my own.

Yet instead of adopting a ‘shoot for the moon and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’ mentality, we’ve simply (read: lazily) redefined the word ‘perfect’ to mean something that’s not only achievable, it’s practically spoon-fed to us.

You’re perfect just the way you are.”

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The problem with chasing perfection lies in its difficulty. How incredibly painful to chase after the impossible, when the result is likely a viral-video-style failure. (Search: “Fail” on YouTube. Apologies in advance for consuming your afternoon.) So to avoid the pain, we sacrifice improvement for comfort. We tell ourselves perfection has arrived.

We sacrifice reality to live inside a comfortable illusion.

For most of human history, comfort was a foreign concept. Thomas Hobbes called life “nasty, brutish and short.” Basically you put in a lot of effort, or you died.

But now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends at least 5 hours a day doing whatever they want. In fact, I can almost guarantee that somewhere in this country there are people who never have to leave their homes. If they have a work-from-home job, order groceries online and have them delivered (along with all their other necessities) then, boom:

They never have to wear pants again.

But humans aren’t meant to be static creatures. We’re not satisfied if we’re not improving. We’re the most successful species on the planet, and we didn’t get there through complacency.

So our generation runs into a problem: We’ve got all this time to waste and it’s oh-so comfortable to waste it. But, we tend to feel a guilty nagging when we do. Maybe it’s caused by the Facebook post of a friend who’s having their umpteenth child or buying a vacation condo in France. Sometimes it’s a rude remark we hear about our own imperfections that hits too close to home. Whatever brings it on, eventually we will feel the nag.

Something tugs at us and tells us we should get up, we should try, we should improve.

Something makes us feel guilty.

You can’t ignore that feeling, it’ll just keep coming back. There are only 2 ways to make it go away:

  • One: Go out and fail. Fail a lot and fail miserably in the name of self-improvement and progress. Maybe succeed a little; but skin all the knees, cry all the tears, and suffer all the growing pains. Chase the impossible.

OR

  • Two: Bury it. Take that nagging sense to become better and smother it with the comforting pillow-shaped-lie that ‘you’re perfect the way you are.’ Smother until that nagging feeling stops kicking.

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Given that the internet lends itself to a reactionary, ‘don’t tell me what to do’ attitude, it’s no surprise that option two often wins out. When someone, rightly or not, points out a flaw – it is much more satisfying to hate the haters and declare yourself the embodiment of perfection.

What a waste! Never before has a generation had such a capacity to work wonders. Issac Newton – 340 years ago – said, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” How much further can we see now? Why would we squander that by declaring self-perfection and then giving up?

I’m perfect just the way I am.”

How incredibly, insufferably boring. Can you really fit that much excitement and variety into your life once you’ve crowded out the possibilities of failure, growth or change?

Instead of tying happiness and self-worth to perfection, anchor it instead to your direction. The anguish of failure diminishes when, at the end of the day, you’re proud of the path you’re on.

Be happy. Be the kind of person you can love. But never be satisfied.

Leave behind a shoulder for someone else to stand on.

 

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#MillionStudentMarch

The students are on the move, and they’re ANGRY!

In case you missed it, let me fill you in. At over 100 college campuses country wide –including University of Utah — students have banded together to protest, joined under the hashtag #millionstudentmarch.

Their demands are simple:

  1. Free College
  2. Erasure of ALL student loan debt
  3. $15/hr. Minimum wage for jobs on all college campuses.

Now before you get your knickers all twisted up and outta sorts, let’s hear this out.

College is expensive and has been getting increasingly more so – this isn’t a surprise, it’s been happening for as long as I can remember. The protests surrounding tuition aren’t new either; I was living in Riverside when UC:R students protested over the same problem five years ago.

The argument is that tuition costs are prohibitively expensive, and that it’s impossible to graduate without carrying a “debt sentence.” Indeed the average student loan debt upon graduation is around $30,000. Basically students are protesting and making demands because they feel like there is no other way to solve this problem.

I’d like to present myself as anecdotal evidence to the contrary:

A typical school day for me goes as follows:

  • 5:15 a.m. – Wake up. Immediately regret this decision. Convince self that showers make everything better. Shower. Hate self for lying about showers.
  • 5:30 a.m. – Get dressed in the dark as quietly as possible so as to not wake my sleeping wife. (On a good day my socks will match. Today is not that day.)
  • 6:00 a.m. – Clock in at work. Spend the next 8 hours (no lunch break) working.
  • 2:00 p.m. – Rush to school, praying for no traffic and good weather because I’m already late to class. Attend classes back-to-back for 6 hours, though usually the last class lets out a bit early. (Not even the professors want to be at school that late.)
  • 7:30 p.m. – Drive home. Cook dinner and spend around 30 minutes watching Netflix.
  • 8:30 p.m. – Homework, average around an hour and a half per night.
  • 10:00 p.m. – Reheat dinner for my wife, who’s just walking in the door from her day of work/school. Talk to wife about day, make-out a bit, brush teeth and get ready for bed.
  • 10:45 p.m. – Go to bed.
  • 11:00 p.m. – Actually fall asleep, maybe.

Rinse. Repeat.

At age 24, I am on track to graduate in a month from Utah Valley University with an undergraduate degree. In total, I will have $2,200 of student loan debt.

I didn’t miss a zero there. Just $2,200 of student loans, which will be paid off before I am even required to start making payments on them.

I have an amazing wife and a big, loving, supportive family. But let me be clear: aside from 3 Pell Grants of less than $1,000 dollars each (a HUGE help, to be sure. I’m not opposed to financial aid.) I have paid for all my tuition, books and – since I got married – my housing costs. I have had no scholarships, and I told my parents I didn’t want them paying for my college.

I did this while never making the coveted $15/hr.

You see, my philosophy on debt is that it’s like picking up after a dog’s ‘surprises.’ It stinks. But sometimes you’ve gotta do it, and you really don’t want it to start piling up.

This attitude towards debt shaped my entire life and how I approached college:

I started taking college courses over the summer during high school from UVSC (now UVU) because they were cheaper for high school students. I started a job cleaning hotel rooms at age 16 and aside from an LDS Mission, I haven’t stopped working. I mastered my current job and endeared myself to my employers so that they would be understanding of my school schedule: I made myself an asset, not a liability. Because of that, I get to work 6:00 a.m. –  2:00 p.m., allowing time for school in the evening. Working full time has slowed down my schooling, but it’s possible. And I haven’t had to sink myself into debt to do it.

Instead of applying to universities across the country I went to one that allowed me to live at home (before marriage) and pay in-state tuition rates. I have taken a total of 1 summer semester off since starting my Bachelors because tuition isn’t as expensive in the summer, and parking is free.

I eat a lot of Ramen.

I didn’t go to a prestigious university, I couldn’t even really tell you which school in the country has the best program for my major. I didn’t pick a school based on what I wanted to do, I picked a school based on what I could afford.

I know that the green UVU seal on my degree won’t impress as many employers as one from an Ivy League or Private school, but it’s enough for me to get a career, so it’s good enough.

I know that I am incredibly blessed, and I’m not saying my situation applies to everyone (I’m anecdotal evidence, remember?). What I am saying is that college, while expensive, is not out of reach. It doesn’t have to carry a debt sentence, and it’s not on somebody else to pay your way.

And so I guess I am also on a march, but mine isn’t taking me to the picket line and it doesn’t involve a loudspeaker. My march includes not making demands of others when I can do it for myself.

Interestingly enough only around 65 people attended the protest at University of Utah, a school of over 30,000. Certainly there are more students than that who detest student debt at U of U, so what that says to me is:

I’m not marching alone.

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YOUR Facebook Is Ruining MY America

The internet was supposed to be the great democratizer. It was supposed to be a place to find all sides of a story, where every voice is heard. Instead we’ve fallen into ideological bubbles of our own creation, otherwise known as Echo Chambers:

An Echo Chamber is just what it sounds like, only digital. It’s a bubble you’ve created for yourself online where the only things you hear are your own preferences and ideas (or very similar ones) bounced back at you.

I’ll explain how these work.

The internet is impossibly large. Just a quick look at this site will make it abundantly clear how difficult it is to even scratch the surface. This means in order to avoid information overload, many companies like Google and Facebook have adopted a method of sifting out content you want to see via algorithms. Essentially as the algorithm learns your likes and preferences it becomes adept at showing content that you’re more likely to enjoy.

That’s the first step in building your very own Echo Chamber.

The second step is your fault. Everywhere you have a social profile online, they’ve probably pestered you about your hobbies, past work, marital status etc… and you’ve likely given them that information. This data serves two purposes:

1st: So they can give that data to advertisers (Remember: if the service is free, it’s because YOU’RE the product.)

2nd: So that they can make recommendations to you about how to connect with others. “Find more friends.” or “Oh look! We’ve found a page that’s dedicated to puppies licking ice cream cones. You told us you like both puppies AND ice cream! Join the conversation here!”

And this makes sense for companies built on connecting people. We are naturally attracted to like-minded individuals, and at this point it’s almost surprising if you haven’t made genuine friendships online. But it also means you might be locked into an Echo Chamber.

To explain, we’ll use politics:

Let’s say, for a moment, that you’re a republican. Not a “I hug my gun every morning while eating steak and eggs for breakfast – hold the eggs” republican. But a moderate republican. You agree with most of what the party does, but you’re not about to make blind judgments based solely on party-lines.

Now when you put yourself online and begin to connect with others, 3 things are going to happen.

1st: The algorithms will pretty quickly pick up on your preferences, and start tossing content your way that agrees with your ideas.

2nd: There such a flood of information online, that most content (especially the political stuff) comes across as more extreme than your opinions (the ‘outrageous’ and contentious content just gets more hits.) So, the much of the content you see will be more republican-y than you are. As this continues, you stop seeing it as extreme and begin to view it as the norm.

3rd: Because your brain is lazy (read: “efficient”), when it’s presented with new information it doesn’t like to spend a lot of effort trying to make it fit into your worldview. So instead of thinking critically about new information, usually it will process it effortlessly by saying, “We’ve already made a decision on kinda-similar info before. Just toss it in with the rest of that stuff.”

In other words, you’ll begin to slowly shift your idea of “moderate” towards the extreme as you are continually presented with only one side of the story.

The cycle continues as marketers begin to see patterns in the data (Just for example: data shows conservatives love Chic-Fil-A and liberals are all about that California Pizza Kitchen). Advertisers then begin to target their ads specifically to one side or the other. Which leads to more lines being drawn in the sand.

Eventually, all of this leads to what we can clearly see today. Two very rabid political parties that simply cannot see eye-to-eye. Both sitting in their corner of the web yelling crass memes about the other that bounce endlessly back at themselves.

Two countries in one nation.

None of this would matter of course, except this is America and we’re supposed to be a democracy. You know, “We the People…” and all that jazz? How on earth can we expect to get anything done if we’ve become so divided that we cannot bear the thought of conversation with the other side?

Just because you don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, even big things, doesn’t mean you can’t still work together.

This past week, The LDS Church donated to the Utah Pride Center to help with their homeless outreach program.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with these two organizations can tell you this is a HUGE example of different ideologies coming together for a common purpose.

You guys, this is OUR America. Yours and mine. For better or worse we’re here together, and I think we’d all do well to burst that echo chamber once in awhile to seek some common ground.

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Utah’s Best Failure

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has recently released a report that applies a letter grade to each state based on their suitability to raise children there. Utah got an F, in fact only Indiana did worse. (I don’t know enough about Indiana to make a state-related burn right now, but if I did. I’d put it here.)

Here’s the map:

Photo: Institute for Women’s Policy Research

According to this, the “worst place to raise kids” is apparently dependent entirely on “paid leave, dependent and elder care, child care, and the gender gap in the labor force.” This map doesn’t look at crime rates, education, cost of living, marriage rates, or you know any other vastly important factors when considering how suitable a state is for child rearing.

Looking at the numbers, a big part of the “F” Utah received is due to our gender gap in the workforce. D.C. only has about 18% of households with children under 18 and had 64.1% of those homes with the mother as the breadwinner – They ranked D.C. as #1 in this category.

Utah, in contrast, has 37.8% of households with children under 18, and only 34.8% of those households had mothers as the breadwinner.

Utah scored a rank of 51 out of 51 here.

So a state with twice the number of child-full households, and nearly half the number working mothers is the failure?

Given the high Mormon population in Utah, and that Mormons have an actual Proclamation on how God has designed the family structure – it stands to reason that as a whole they’ll trend towards more working fathers, and stay-at-home mothers.

I don’t mean to disparage single or working mothers – Women who do so much in a very thankless role, but what it seems like this study is insinuating is that it’s better for women to enter the workforce and relegate the raising of their children to child care facilities or others, than elect to remain at home and do the mothering themselves.

If that’s what it takes to get an A… Utah, let’s celebrate our F.

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Honesty: Not Even Worth 22¢ Nowadays

In case you missed it, “Equal Pay Day” was on Tuesday and it brought with it the usual stories dramatizing the inequalities of pay between genders. Of particular interest was this little map:

HuffPo Map

 

Cute map. I’m sure glad they did it in a pink scale – you know, so we wouldn’t be confused this map was about girls. Anyway, the opening line of the article attached to this map says, “It’s 2015 and, on average, women still make 78 cents to a man’s dollar.” In other words there’s, allegedly, a 22 cent on-the-dollar raise just for having man parts.

This number didn’t sit quite right with me, and so I went and looked at the research article cited by Huffington Post. Ever wonder how they got that 22 cent gap? Where they got that number? Here’s where it came from:

pay gap equation

Specifically, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) took the national median income for women, and divided it by the national median income for men. That’s it. That banner number of the tragic pay inequality is nothing more complicated than that.

It should be.

This number takes all careers from all fields and compares them by gender, with no discretion between jobs. A male psychologist is compared to a female hairstylist, drive-thru employees are stacked up against rocket scientists. This number doesn’t take into consideration age, education, experience, job choices, variations in pay state by state or really any other important factors.

I’m not the first one to say this either – ironically, Huffington Post (the ones who shared that pretty pink map up there) came out with this article almost 3 years ago. They’re careful not to make mention of it in their “Shame On You, America!” map article though.

Essentially the post explains that women are probably a lot closer to equal pay than we are often misled to believe. In fact this 2012 article pegs the disparity in pay (after controlling for significant factors) to be “only 6.6 cents .” and when asked how much of THAT number came from discrimination, Lisa Maatz – spokeswoman for the AAUW – said, “We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Now to address the two largest thoughts I’m guessing are crossing your mind right now:

First – “This article is 3 years old, the data may have changed since then! Hence why it wasn’t mentioned in the more current posting.” I thought so too, but the current research referenced by HuffPo states that after controlling for significant factors there remains a 7 cent gap only. So the data has remained fairly constant.

Which leads me to the second thought I’m sure is just itching to fly out of your fingertips into the comment section: “Okay, great – so it’s 7 cents instead of 22! Yeah that’s certainly an improvement but for goodness sake when it comes to gender there should be ZERO inequality!”

So before you grab your pitchforks please understand I’m in no way supporting gender discrimination. My beef here lies with the fact that the most popular statistic surrounding this issue is horrendously inaccurate. Misleading to the point of being a lie.

It’s a useful lie though – a flashy one. Makes for nice headlines, wonderful clickbait and a lot of shares on Facebook. But a lie nonetheless.

The issue of wages in America is much murkier than just this one statistic or any one study, but if we’re to ever have hope of progress in any discussion it HAS to come from open, honest dialogue on the subject.

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Memoirs of an MDT Trophy Husband

This morning when I awoke, lying next to me was a German woman. As I write this she is across the room reciting counsel to a monarch of some sort.

Last week it was a British florist. And next week I’ll apparently be married to a French maid. Maybe Irish potato farmer. We’ll see.

Dialects class.

For those who may not know – allow me to explain. MDT is Music Dance Theater. You know? “Life’s a drama and all the worlds a stage!” But for these people, so is the classroom. In short:

My wife’s a thespian.

(Sorry to out you, dearest, but we should be proud of our life choices. It’s 2015 for crying out loud!)

Imagine your spouse kisses another man/woman. Your reaction? Anger. Heartbreak. Tears. Maybe you go home and burn their childhood treasures. Me? Well – typically I clap and cheer, and then reward her with flowers after the show’s over.

It’s a strange world I live in, folks.

The thing about performers is that, by very nature of their craft, they have to be in-tune with every speck of human emotion. Middle ground is unheard of – If they’re happy, then they’re happier than you or I (the audience) have ever been. If they’re sad, well, better call Noah because the flood of tears is on it’s way. In fact, you might just want to call him regardless – Once these MDT’ers learn to cry on command they’ll whip out the water works every chance they get.

One time, shortly after we were married, my dear parents took us out for dinner. My wife was sitting next to my mother and got bored. Her solution? Entertain herself by framing me. Instantly calling tears to her eyes — I think she visualizes sad puppies or something but whatever she does, she can go from dry eyes to crocodile tears in approximately 1.25 seconds — She turns to me the conversation went something like this:

Her: “Why would you say that?!”

Me: *mouthful of sweet pork salad* “mmmpphhrr?”

Her: *tears flowing down her cheeks* “Why would you be so mean?!” *cheats out so that my mother can clearly see the tears*

Mother: “What did you do? *sees tears* JARED JEFFERY! I RAISED YOU BETTER THAN THIS!”

Her: *winks from behind the maternal wrath*

Repeat this situation at church, in school, with friends, you know; basically any public venue where in the potential for embarrassment is high.

Now on the topic of embarrassment. Being embarrassed is something of a healthy social construct. I don’t mean public shaming or harassment, but simply that the threat of being embarrassed keeps us commoners (the audience) from doing a lot of foolish things. This, as I have found, puts us at a disadvantage. For those who live on stage, embarrassment is not in their vocabulary.

To explain: Another weapon in the thespian arsenal is their voices. Like vocal ninjas they train day and night to hone their craft which somehow involves: belts or belting or something, passaggios (I think that’s a cheese), mix (mixing? mixes? I don’t know. It’s all very secretive) and scales. They use these tools along with their immunity to embarrassment with deadly results.

If, lets say, you’re in a store and your MDT’er wants to get ice cream: Now she’s got two tubs of other flavors at home, so you suggest that it might be a good idea to finish those first. Cue the warble-y, mock-80-year-old-church-choir voice. The singing will continue until your resolve crumbles of embarrassment. If you try to hold out strong, they’ll add in props and blocking.

But mostly life as a MDT Trophy husband is fantastic. It’s hard to imagine someone able to express love more deeply than those who train constantly to emote. I regularly get to see amazing performances put on by people who have thrown caution (and their nights and weekends) to the wind in pursuit of their dreams. Some of them headed to Broadway, others live for the jubilation of thunderous applause. Some, like my wife, simply cannot contain their desire to share their story.

Yes, the only dull moments in this household are when everyone’s fast asleep. That is, unless someone mistook sleeping pills for the ibuprofen they needed to counteract Modern Marathon. But that’s a story for another day.

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Catcalling Is Not a Problem

It’s a symptom.

In case you missed it, this video of a woman walking around NYC has been making the rounds recently, going viral on YouTube with over 36 million views.

If you haven’t seen it, I’ll summarize: A normal looking woman walks around NYC for 10 hours and gets catcalled by all manner of men. She does nothing to instigate these interactions and doesn’t respond to any of them either.

This video was produced by “Hollaback! A non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment.” The video does an amazing job of showing what it’s like to be a woman on the streets of New York, and has sparked a lot of discussion about this issue, why it’s an issue, and how to resolve it.

With all due respect, this will be about as effective as expecting the morphine you give a terminal cancer patient to put them-somehow-into remission. Catcalling is one of the pains associated with our cultural cancer, not the cancer itself. You can’t expect to cure the disease by attacking its symptoms.

The disease here is a sexually promiscuous culture. America is fighting hard to quell its symptoms while plugging its ears and yelling, “Nyah nyah nyah I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” when someone even suggests that maybe it’s the big festering tumor in our social structure that’s causing all these problems.

But of course we say, “That’s preposterous! Sex is no big deal. We can have sex with whomever, whenever! In our modern society we shouldn’t be held back by ‘outdated’ traditional values! It’s the 21st Century after all!”

And then we’re required to feign shock (or at least surprise) when we learn that over one-third of American children are being raised in single-parent homes or that the country has finally tipped the scales between married and single adults.

And we’re required to be outraged that a woman receives multiple sexual advances just walking down the street. Because it makes for a good smoke and mirrors trick. “No no! It’s not the sex, see! It’s those dirty men on the park benches! They’re the issue!”

While I agree that they are indeed dirty men who are indeed an issue. I can’t say that I’m surprised at all.

What do we expect?

Commitment and respect are intertwined. When we enter into a contract, regardless of what it entails, the expectation is that we will respect both the contract and those we’ve committed to.

So when we allow sex to come without commitment, then it only follows that it will also come without respect. Incidentally, attempts to obtain sex will also falter in their respectability.

The result is a society that does a terrible job of justifying their behavior.

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