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Every year, my college’s athletics program puts on a dinner for the athletes and hand out awards to deserving students for their athletic and academic achievements. It’s a night to commemorate the hard work that is being put in every day as both a student and an athlete, which is not always an easy feat to juggle school work and practice times, along with every other aspect of being a college student. As my final year in college comes to a close, this year’s banquet was extra special to me. As a senior, I swam for all four years, and played softball for the past three. I’ve watched the program grow and improve, making friends and long-lasting relationships along the way. So here’s a summary of all that I’ve learned during my time as a college athlete.

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Everyone likes to win, but more importantly, no one likes to lose. When you put all those hours of practice in, going to a sporting event and doing your best, coming in second or losing a game can be devastating. After that, people can usually take it one of two ways: ask themselves ‘why do I keep doing this’; or tell themselves ‘here is where I can improve.’ Being able to get up after a loss is a feat in itself. Being a swimmer taught me to look at hurdles and obstacles in life in a similar manner. Sometimes, someone is just better than you. Sometimes, you beat yourself, and your best wasn’t truly your best.

Regardless, it’s necessary to understand where you can be better. It’s not easy being rejected from a job or doing poorly on a test, but that just means there is room for improvement. Having never even picked up a softball until my time in college meant that I needed to be clinically and technically good at the sport. I could not just skim on by, only putting in a little heart and energy. I had to give it my all to even be halfway decent, and even then I had to work just that much harder than my teammates who had been playing since they were children. And it paid off. While I wasn’t starting on the field as often as some of the other girls, I still earned a place and respect on the team from my coaches and fellow teammates. Gaining that respect counted as a win in my eyes.

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Know the Difference Between Being Friends and Being Teammates

Sports bring together an eclectic group of people with all different backgrounds and interests. Because of that, you’re going to run into a few people that might not have the same views or opinions as you do. With that, it’s important to understand the distinction between friends and teammates. Oftentimes my teammates become my friends, because of going through the same pain every day and the countless hours spent together. However, there was always someone that rubbed me the wrong way, someone I didn’t always get along with, or just someone that didn’t become a close friend. And that was fine, because we still learned how to work together and be a team, and be the support network we all needed at our lowest points. It didn’t matter if we went out to dinner after a practice as one massive team – it mattered that we came together and worked well with one another when we needed to.

Your Coach Is There For You

Your coach is there to push you. They’re there to find your limits and extend them, break you down just to build you back up. But they’re also there as support, a shoulder to lean on, and a mentor. While not all coaches will be that open, I’ve had the pleasure of having fantastic coaches that let me open up and talk about my personal life with them and help me work through my problems, even if they were minute. Having that mentor in my life was extremely necessary during my time in college. For some, they find that role in a professor or a friend, but with the amount of time I spent with my coach, I developed more than just a player-coach relationship, but a true friendship.

Know How to Trust Your Team

Along the same lines as working with your team, you need to learn how to trust them. You need to learn their strengths and weaknesses to fully understand how you all work together. Similarly when working with a group of people in an office setting, knowing where someone excels more than another can allow for more efficient working. With softball, it was important to know how hard my teammate could throw, or knowing how fast they could run in order for the team to operate as efficiently as possible. With game sports like softball where there is a set number of people playing at a time, there is an automatic sense of competition within a team that is bigger than the number of people playing. When you spend so much time practicing, you want to be able to showcase your talent and make the practices seem worthwhile; yet, when someone is consistently better than you, they are going to take your position and chance to play. So it is necessary to understand and trust your teammates’ abilities, and only use that to drive your own excellence.

Be There For Your Teammates

I spent the last three years as a captain for my swim team, which taught me a lot about people and how to interact around them. Firstly, I learned to never flaunt the title of captain. If anything, I was a teammate first, and a captain second. My role was to be a liaison between my coach and my teammates if need be, a shoulder to lean on for my teammates, and to be a mentor for those in need of guidance. I would always tell my teammates that if they needed anything – a study buddy, a wall to vent to, or just someone to eat lunch with – that I would be there for them, and all they have to do is ask.

Image: Courtesy of Sam Amberchan

CollegeEducation

Okay, that’s only sort of true. Obviously it matters. Apart from your graduate school applications, some say a GPA’s significance is limited to the three years following graduation, and others argue that it has no fundamental value post-education at all. But before taking sides, I have a slightly different perspective.

While currently working in HR for a global cable & wiring manufacturing company, I find myself on the other end of the scavenger job hunt – I’m now the interviewer. I sift through résumés, interview and screen candidates, and aim to ultimately select the best person with the most appropriate set of skills. During my interviews, I take notes on KSAO’s: knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that were reflected on their resume. Those “other characteristics” are the real kicker. They can be a variety of details, such as their potential fit to our company culture, for example.

The truth is, whenever I review someone’s résumé, the last thing I look at is their GPA.

I ask myself questions like, “Does this résumé look like they just threw words together and sent them with 50 other applications?,” “Did they make any stupid grammar/spelling mistakes?,” and “What did they do that makes them more valuable than someone else?” It’s never about the number next to their college degree. Sure, putting your 3.0+ is helpful, but quite frankly, unless you can show evidence that you’re capable of getting the job done, it’s only a fun fact. It’s everything else about that application that either gives them the boot or scores an interview.

Granted, your GPA clearly matters when applying to graduate school – but even then, once you’re in, your grade is not nearly as important as the content you truly learn. The phrase “easy A” exists for a reason, and that is exactly what I encourage students to beware of. It looks great on paper, but means nothing. Ultimately, you’ve lost the battle. It sounds like common sense, yet people don’t invest time in their skills that make them employable: critically analyzing situations, strategizing, networking, and communicating, to name a few.

“But I’m still in school and not working! How am I supposed to make myself employable?!” Good question! There’s a plethora of opportunities around you to help build your skills without having to register for a class. The best way? Figure out what you like doing – something that won’t burn you out because it’s a source of joy – and go for it. If you’re a social person, make friends with as many people as you can! Network like crazy. You never know who you’ll meet, who they’ll know, or how and when they may be helpful.

Yes – I’m literally telling you it’s a skill to make a bunch of friends. And if you’re feeling super ballsy, take that class with that professor that everyone avoids because they’re rumored to grade “unfairly.” Challenge yourself to make them like you and help you – prove to him or her that you’re different from everyone else. The ability to understand a really difficult person is much more useful in life than memorizing that one formula that one time in that class a semester ago. You’ll build the confidence to influence people, and the capability to change a person’s mind, attitude, and behavior is priceless.

Needless to say, going out of your comfort zone is uncomfortable and awkward, but I promise you’ll thank me for it!

Don’t stress yourself out over your grades – go do amazing things in real life and have fun doing them!

Image: Flickr

Skills

For many of us, public speaking had us quivering in the back of the classroom crossing fingers not to be called on.  Speaking in front of a large crowd can definitely be intimidating, especially if it’s not your forte. However, hopefully remembering a few of these tips can help you master this skill in a heartbeat:

1. DO: Embrace Your Nervous Energy

Nervous energy can be the first barrier that a speaker encounters with a crowd if not grounded in a proper way. “How to get rid of it?” you may ask yourself. There are many ways of doing so and one of them, contrary to popular belief, is by making yourself vulnerable. Walking up to the podium and making a light joke about the spilled coffee on your shirt or throwing in a “I’m nervous so please bear with me,” may just save your speech. The audience is not against you; in fact, they are with you. People know how nerve wrecking it can be to stand up in front of a bunch of strangers, and allowing them to identify with you is key.

2. DO: Outline Your Talk

It is vital to begin your presentation by introducing yourself and addressing the purpose of the speech to make clear what you hope your audience will get out of your talk. Who you are is very important and the audience wants to know that. Giving them an outline also allows your audience to create reasonable expectations with what it is you are willing to provide for them.

3. DO: Make Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most human ways of connecting with other people. Of course, it is obvious that one cannot make direct eye contact with every single person in the room, assuming your audience is impressively large. But as you introduce your speech, make sure to begin by turning your head to look at the person farthest on your left to slowly scan the room all the way to the person farthest to your right. This creates a way for you to comfortably glance at different areas of the room while not excluding the people that may not be in your direct field of view. Also, if you are uncomfortable making direct eye contact, try slowly moving your eyes above various heads. It reliefs awkward eye contact and creates the illusion that you are making it.

4. DON’T: Speak in Up Tones

You may not have noticed this, but your tone of voice is representative of how people will “secretly” view you. There are two kinds of people: the kind of people that speaks in up tones and the kind of people that speaks in down tones. It is most common to hear a teenager speaking in up tones while older people tend to speak in down tones. An up tone is the tone of your voice when you are asking a question while a down tone is the tone of voice you use when you are stern. Throughout your speech, especially when you introduce yourself, make sure you always use down tones. Practice it throughout the day to help you achieve this is as your dominant tone. It allows you to sound more confident and legitimate.

5. DO: Utilize Pauses

Pauses are not a sign of weakness. A few seconds of silence may be uncomfortable for you but hold it out – the silence captures the audience’s attention. Silence is power. When you are trying to make a relevant point and have just said something that you want to be remembered, pause and wait for that message to sink in. In addition, if you have forgotten a line or a point, pausing is a great way for you to compose yourself. Pauses are also great for replacing fill-in words: “ummm,” “eeeh,” “errrr,” “mmm,” “uhhhh,” or even the stretching of words. You may not notice it right off the bat, but dropping just one fill-in word is a call for catastrophe. It sets a tone of insecurity and boredom. Practice using pauses instead of fill-in words and you will note just how powerful your talk can be.

6. DO OR DON’T: Use Gestures

There is a common misconception that gestures during a speech are a must. However, one must realize that everyone is different. There are people who convey powerful messages by simply standing still with hands folded in front of them as their words capture the audience. Others have a musical voice which can easily be supported with beautiful hand gestures. It all depends on the person because if a person forces gestures and pacing, it may come off as awkward and stiff. It’s important that every person embrace his or her own style.

Public speaking can get your knees weak – it does for me! Public speaking can be a nerve wracking thing, though it really doesn’t need to be. Overcoming these fears is the key to effectively conveying any message in front of a public audience.

Are you ready to take on this challenge? How do you combat your public speaking nerves?

Image: leahbraun.net

Culture

As soon as the New Year had hit, I realized I had not thought of any resolutions for myself. I brought this up to my best friend who was with me, and she concluded that she was going to give up chocolate; everything from drinks to the actually candy bar. I immediately responded that she was crazy, and that giving up chocolate for an entire year would be a near-impossible thing to do. But after I thought about it, I reasoned that it could be done in steps. Instead of giving up chocolate entirely, maybe I could give up chocolate every other month. And even though giving up chocolate may seem like a trivial goal, it got me to thinking that truly anything can be done if we just break things into baby steps and work toward them day-by-day.

We can truly accomplish so much if we just take the goals that seem too big to conquer and make them smaller. If you have writer’s block, write one sentence a day. If you need to save money but also need to pay your bills, put aside $5 a week. There are so many small things we can do to impact our lives in a positive way.

With the New Year already here and not just beginning, I wanted to share my minor resolution and remind you that you don’t have to wait to chase your dreams or goals. Start traveling to all 50 states now by planning to go to the ones closest to you first. Start running for 15 minutes a day until you can run for 30 with the same energy and then an hour. The opportunities are endless, and a virtual blank slate awaits you. Seize the day and Seize Your Youth.

Image: Nicolette Pezza

Education

As the saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Building up courage after failure can be difficult. Overcoming the disappointment of failure seems impossible. Learning to try again after failure is hard because your attempts are weighed down with doubt and hurt. Trying again requires facing your mistakes so you do not repeat them. It can be daunting, but it can be done.

I experienced failure during my sophomore year of high school, when I fell very ill on the last day of finals. By my last final of the day, I had just managed to sign my name at the top of my math test when I ran to the bathroom. I stayed there until school was out because I was too sick to go back to class. Because I couldn’t go back to class, I failed the class and would have to take it over. It was crushing. I felt sure that I would have passed the test and the class had I not been sick. Yet, this is the way things happened.

Though my failure felt out of my hands, what happened next was all up to me. At our school, we had the option of making up certain classes by taking them over again in the regular school year, summer school or at the local college. You do have to make them up eventually to continue advancing. I put it off for a long time. I felt like it was a waste of my time since I had already taken the class and was about to pass it. It seemed like I would just be learning things I already knew. To be really honest, I was worried about putting in more time and energy and failing again. I was afraid of people learning I was a failure without an “excuse” this time.

I finally opted for a summer course at the college because I could not avoid it anymore. Instead of feeling bad for myself and sitting in class regretting why I had to be there, I mustered up the strength to give the class all my attention and energy, and I focused and followed every rule and instruction. I was never late and never missed a class. I gave it my all because I did not want to have to go through the same thing again. In the end, I had the highest grade in the class. I could finally put the whole thing behind me. It was a relief but more than that, I felt good about myself. I didn’t feel like a failure anymore because I proved I could do what I set out to do.

It wasn’t easy, but along the way and through my own experiences, I learned many lessons from failing:

  • Do one thing everyday that challenges you. There have been times I was afraid of failing so it took me a long time to get stuff done. It’s hard to commit to following through if you are scared. Learn to embrace the hard challenges.
  • If things don’t go right the first time: try again. Even if you have to keep trying, your efforts will eventually pay off.
  • Try to find someone in your life who will be brutally honest with you. It’s great to be self-motivated but I also have people in my life who don’t let me get away with everything.
  • Make peace with the idea that not everything will go your way all the time. It’s okay that it hurts when something bad happens, but you will not fail at life if you get a bad grade on a test. Don’t wallow in what you did wrong. Learn from your mistakes. You have to work hard and give it all you have to make it right the next time.

Through my life, I’ve found the things you put off have a way of coming back. Being afraid of failure has a way of holding you back. It is not just a matter of being held back a grade because you did not pass. Failing has a way of making you feel stuck. If you think that your efforts will get you nowhere, you won’t see the value in trying. An important thing to remember is that you can have failures in your life but no one is really a failure as a person. You can fail but you can always try again. So, face your failures. If there is something still gnawing at you, deal with it. Don’t let your failures hold you back because you have a lifetime of bumps and obstacles that will knock you down more times than you can count. What will set you apart and make all the difference is when you get back up and try again.

Image: Unsplash

Skills

In everyday life, it’s easy to get weighed down by what you are expected to do. Setting a challenge for yourself can be a great way to earn success on your own terms. It is exciting to meet and exceed a challenge. You can be rewarded with everything from material rewards, attention, bragging rights, learning new skills, and even doing some of your best work. Sometimes it is all of the above. Certain challenges have been around for years, and some are attractive because they are trendy. Picking the right event can be difficult. The trick is to find one that is constructive rather than destructive.

Some of the challenges that become the most popular are because they carry the most risk. For example, the Cinnamon Challenge seems fast and easy. All you have to do is swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in a minute. Yet, the challenge is very dangerous. It makes people choke, gag, and in extreme cases, could cause irritation or infection that could lead to death. The resulting challenge videos can be hilarious, but it should not be forgotten that it is a challenge with a risk. Is your health worth a stunt that lasts a few minutes? These kind of challenges will get you a little attention, but they come at a serious personal risk. Think of whether or not this is actually benefiting you. Just because it is popular does not mean it is a good thing to do.

Sometimes it can be hard to evaluate the merits of a challenge because it carries positive and negative repercussions. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge involves pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. It raised a lot of money for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). However, it became popular among celebrities who lived in California, which is currently experiencing a drought. This lead people to complain about the waste of resources. Also, some people completed the challenge instead of donating money to the cause when donating money was the point of the challenge. The challenge was a noble idea in all the awareness it raised, but ultimately people had mixed feelings about it. This is another call to use your judgment. Doing charity work is good, but how many people did the challenge without even knowing what ALS was? Before participating in a challenge, educate yourself about what you are actually getting involved in.

Some challenges help give you the tools to work toward personal goals. Because I enjoy writing, I take part in writing challenges. There are challenges online such as NaNoWriMo, which is an abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. In November, if you manage to write 50,000 words of a novel by the end of the month, you are entitled to prizes like five printed copies of your novel. Your accomplishments get you rewarded. Even without the reward, you will have written 50,000 words, which is impressive on its own. I participated in the challenge for the past few years because I enjoyed it so much. It requires some discipline and determination. That said, it is exciting trying to beat the deadline and it is euphoric when you do. I feel more motivated to write during that time more than any other time of the year because I am a part of something rather than on my own. It helps me work toward my ambitions, so I consider it a positive challenge.

Other challenges help you better yourself. Athletic challenges allow you to achieve a peak physical shape. There are challenges that have been around for years, such as marathons. There are many different fun types of marathons to join, one in particular being the Zombie Run, where runners disguised as zombies chase the other runners. You may win prizes like a t-shirt, but at the same time, there are many benefits to running a marathon. You can get in really good shape just by training for the marathon. Your physical endurance is in many ways its own reward.

Challenges are a great way to motivate and celebrate what we as people can accomplish. The rewards vary based on what you try, but the point is to make that effort and challenge yourself. Just be careful not to do anything that will hurt you or the people around you. Even if you fail, you can always try again. You can start at any time. After you finish one challenge, you can attempt another. I know many people who are always in training for their next marathon. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year because it inspires me to produce more than I ever did on my own. When the challenge is over, I have a manuscript to edit and improve upon for the rest of the year. These are perks that keep you moving forward once the challenge is over. Just knowing you attempted to challenge yourself is something you can carry with you forever. You can bring that confidence to your next challenge. When you do make your attempt, try to keep in mind whether the challenge will make you better, or if it will cause more harm than good.

Image: Picography

Culture

For those who have suffered with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the past years have been ones of little awareness and limited public knowledge about the illness. At one point most of the public only knew the disease as Lou Gehrig’s disease, named for a famous baseball player who was diagnosed with ALS in the late 1930s. However, with young people eager to spread the word, social media has been converted into a catalyst for the ALS cause via the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s difficult to distinguish the exact origins of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but whoever started the challenge is responsible for one of the largest charitable social media efforts to date. The rules of the challenge are that one must pour freezing, ice filled water over their head and/or donate money the ALS Association (ALSA). After partaking in the challenge, the participant will nominate others to contribute to the cause. Those nominees will then have 24 hours to complete the same task. This challenge has brought necessary funds for research along with putting the topic of ALS at the forefront of public attention, which was previously a rarity for illnesses affecting smaller portions of the population.

Despite all of these positive effects, this challenge still does not fully succeed in educating the masses on ALS. In a recent video of the challenge, a 26 year old male, who had just been diagnosed with ALS, expounds upon the disease and the strife it has caused. This video really reminds you of how terrifying the disease actually is for those who experience ALS. The posts on Facebook and Instagram from your friends seem to leave out those harrowing details; they seem to help the cause while protecting their viewers from the chilling truth of ALS.

I was actually talking to one of the kids I babysit after I’d helped her record her challenge video, and she had no idea that the cold water is meant to represent how victims of ALS experience muscle weakness and atrophy. The circulation of these videos have taught the public that ALS is a worthy cause without telling them anything about the disease. Another video that caught my eye was the challenge taped by Charlie Sheen. Instead of pouring cold water over himself, he emptied a bucket of thousands of dollars on his head and explained how he was donating all of that cash to the ALS Association. He also proceeded to chastise those who only dumped water over themselves, which I thought was a little much, but I understand where he is coming from in this situation. Yes, the videos brought attention to ALS, but it has reached a point where some seem to do the challenge in exchange for likes on social media or to poke fun at a friend because they will have to get wet.

What I believe about this whole situation is that the challenge started out as a great idea but has spiraled into something different. The videos were intended to bring awareness, but without illuminating the issues of ALS in the video not much is being taught. Contributing to the challenge is still an awesome way to help with ALS awareness, but don’t forget to mention some of the effects of ALS or even encourage your friends to donate for research.

Image: Flickr

Skills

Steve Prefontaine, a legendary long-distance runner who has held seven American track records, said the inspirational words above. This quote reveals that we each carry a gift inside us, but to develop and utilize whatever that gift might be we must fight hard and not be afraid to give all of our effort to it.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to partake in the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in Washington D.C. It was my very first race of any sort and it was truly one of the most rewarding experiences that I have ever had. I am by no means a trained or skilled runner, but something inside me said “Go for it!” when Nike opened up the race registration nearly seven months ago. Not only did I learn about physical limits and how to push them, but I found new ways to challenge myself mentally and emotionally as well. Leading up to summer I will be cataloging what I learned to hopefully encourage you all and be encouraged in return by your own personal stories!