Troublesome Twenties

I can’t say I’m having a quarter-life crisis, that new phase millennials are experiencing as they reach a certain age at the crossroads of the rest of their lives. Leaving behind what is familiar, a structured educational setting, into the vast unknown. How do we know if we’re “living life right”?

While I’ve always been indecisive and all over the place when it comes to making long-term career and life goals, as I think about graduating college and what path to take, that threat is impending. Unavoidable.

Part of the dilemma is not just our own hearts trying to direct our paths, but also all of the outside factors and influences blurring our vision. Many of us think about our families and loved ones, wanting to pursue a life that makes them proud and can support them in the future. I cannot think of any worse feeling than disappointing those who matter so much to you.

For me, despite my work ethic in academics, I never gravitated toward the scientific fields or anything that would result in a hefty salary. Money, although somewhat naive in saying so, has never been a driving factor for my goals. However, I become anxious about pursuing an nontraditional path of life wondering if that choice is letting my high GPA and studious habits go to waste. That I have the potential to do much more. Fancier titles to tote to others, a signal that I took advantage of my skills and made a life for myself.

Rationally, I know my parents will always support me and want me to be happy. But from an anxious perspective, that puts a lot of pressure on myself. I have to consciously evaluate if I’m living my life for my genuine enjoyment, or I’m going through the motions of what is expected of me. And trust me, it’s not easy.

Young adults, especially college graduates, feel stuck inside a box, a single tunnel to follow without looking outside of what is the norm. We get into office cubicles for 9-5 positions, we climb up the corporate ladder, we get married, settle down and start a family. It certainly makes everything very straightforward as to how to lead a life.

But that’s not for everyone. I think the many thorns that have pricked my feet as I’ve walked through life have all been there to redirect me to the place I’m truly meant to be. I just have to trust the trials and tribulations, that they’re all teaching me lessons required to walk toward my true purpose.

Except that isn’t exactly something to say if somebody asks, “What are you doing after college?” Following the normal path of working offers stability, it’s easy to distinguish, and people know how to applaud those types of achievements. Trying to forge your own journey is unknown terrain. People get suspicious of that, weary that you’re not thinking logically, that your ideal lifestyle won’t be sustainable.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Am I doing this for my own fulfillment, or for others’ acknowledgement?” I’d be the first to tell you, I thrive on encouragement from people I admire, reminders that I’m doing my best. But it’s hard to respond to somebody who seems very clueless. No matter how often people say that the uncertainty will pass, that everything will work out, it still freaks me out. That future possibility of a discernible goals doesn’t help much in the present moment as I’m floundering around, still dancing through different activities and possible paths without anything set in stone.

I admire those who have always had a clear plan in mind, a passion that guides them every step of the way. And I admire those who have no idea whatsoever, that aren’t afraid to try new things and learn everything they can about themselves and the world, perhaps without even truly “settling down” in the traditional sense. Both options are okay. We shouldn’t champion one over the other. We shouldn’t compare our unique lives to one another and expect all the answers for ourselves. We also cannot rely upon others’ personal perceptions of life for you or themselves as the end-all factor of your decisions. Ultimately, you are the one living your life.

It’s very difficult to isolate your own soul’s calling from the outside noise, but we need that time for quiet introspection to at least get a sense of what life might look for us. And even then, there’s no point in setting every goal you have in stone because while we’re living our own lives, we’re also at the mercy of spiritual power (in my case, God) throwing curve balls into the mix. We must be willing to both see a vision for ourselves and a trust in what might come.

Although I’m just into this new phase of life, that doesn’t invalidate my anxieties of what comes next. When it feels like the opportunities you expected don’t work out, what then? How will I know what to do? Will it also not work out, or will everything come together as it should? They call it an existential crisis for a reason. We’re all here on this planet and in this life to fulfill a purpose. Our individual impacts matter. It’s not easy trying to justify and understand that impact, but for now, holding onto that one ultimate truth will be the inflatable lifesaver keeping us afloat in the tumultuous, vast ocean. Waters just waiting to be explored.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Kindle Kindness

We all have plenty of reasons to be bitter in life. It’s not easy facing a multitude of challenges, whether they be within ourselves, a certain combination of circumstances, or other people that really push your buttons. We’ve all been there.

People can just not be fun to deal with, and I know that’s a light way of putting it. Both recently and just in general, I’ve faced my fair share of situations where people have acted wrongly, that they have made a decision that throws me under the bus, that drains and frustrates me. “If -someone- hadn’t of done this, then…”

It’s one thing to think back to your own mistakes and forgive those for yourself and move on, but it’s a completely different case for other people. It’s not like you have control of individuals’ thoughts and words, no matter how harmful. Regardless if we know and understand their intentions, people act as they do.

Admittedly, accepting how others act and what they say is a hard road to take. It’s call people out, to seek some sort of redemption. An eye for an eye, they say. We hope that by trying to reenact the same damage to others as they did to us, we’ll somehow feel satisfied, that justice has been served.

In reality, if you’re seeing this as a game, the other person is still “winning.” They are taking up precious head space as you think about the past, you speculate and scheme and think far too much about the negative situation than you should. It’s not benefiting anybody. And that negativity inevitably reflects in everything you do, extending far behind a single occurrence.

I know I have discussed forgiveness in the past. And even for someone who truly believes in the power of letting things go, I realize certain situations are just hard to swallow. Some things are so shocking or debilitating, saying forgiveness is key and actually following through feels impossible.

Luckily I haven’t had too many instances that I’ve faced this dilemma, but this summer has been full of them. Developments that completely shake my envisioned path into something that makes it difficult to move forward, especially when you have no clue where you’re going. So this is a reminder today for everybody, myself included, to really meditate on your feelings, relationships, and goals.

Whether you’re religious or not, a huge component of faith is loving the people and neighbors around you. I think we can all say we’ve felt unlovable at some point, that we make such mistakes and act irresponsibly that we feel unworthy of compassion. We expect others to lash out and act in revenge.

The best surprise then is to meet empathy and understanding. To encounter someone who, while recognizing anger, does not let that human emotion overshadow the love we all innately share. Just because you or whoever might not be ready to apologize doesn’t mean you can’t be ready to forgive.

So how do we find that zen, that inner peace exuding outward as a loving, accepting embrace? I go back to our quality of empathy. We cannot entirely walk in someone else’s shoes to understand why they do and say certain things, but we can decide to walk beside them and consider everything from another perspective. This doesn’t mean you have to keep in contact with or be close to whoever wrongs you. If the relationship is toxic and harmful, running back to the same situation is lesson never learned. However, you can still take time to yourself to understand the factors involved. Who knows, maybe you’ll have your own reasons to apologize, too.

But there comes a time to move on. How can you just let something that feels shaky, the loose ends never tied up satisfactory, and walk away? Whatever happened, it was for a reason, clear to you now or maybe never. But look at the present moment and, as cheesy as it sounds, count your blessings. Recognize what you’re grateful for. See the changes and growth you’ve experienced. Look forward to the possibilities ahead. What is the end of one thing is a new beginning, new activities and people. Ask for others’ support. Pray on it.

I do think the unjust will receive whatever they’ve given to others, that right ultimately redeems wrong, but you aren’t the one who should be balancing that scale. That’s for God, the universe, whatever to handle. What matters now is that whatever feels like is holding you back, a grudge or regret, is a passing moment. In the grand scheme of life, how much will it matter?

If some sense of redemption is what you seek, the best way to do so is through kindness. When potentially encountering the person on the street, show compassion, be friendly. They are still your neighbor, a fellow human. No human has the right to control your thoughts and peace of mind.

Trust me, I know how hard of a lesson this is to actually embody, to expect everything to come together for some reason immediately, but again, we’re only human. But having faith in growth and kindness is the sweetest treat of all.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Food Pyramid, or Food Box?

Times are changing, that’s for sure, but that’s nothing new. The only guarantee in life is change. But for something simple as grocery shopping or meal prepping, the change has been quite dramatic recently.

With Amazon recently buying up Whole Foods, it’s come to my attention that people are really changing how they buy and prepare their food. Online grocery shopping and meal prep boxes are a new norm that, for someone who is so accustomed to going grocery shopping every week and making my own food when living on my own, fitting technology and convenience into that mix doesn’t feel natural to me. Not yet, at least.

See, unlike most people, I love going grocery shopping. Doing errands in general, but I enjoy going through the grocery store aisles and picking out exactly what I want. It’s the process of it that is somehow enjoyable to me. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

And then comes the freedom, albeit slight anxiety, of living on your own and making food probably for the first time. It’s pretty easy to follow recipes and hope for the best, but there’s also joy from experimentation, the opportunity to really focus on flavor combinations and nutrients you’re putting into your body. You have that utmost control, and that is very satisfying.

I forgot to mention, although it’s not available anywhere near me in the lonely Midwest, applications like Postmates can have food ready and delivered to you from anywhere, from any restaurant. Pizza delivery has become anything delivery. Even a new phone app available through my university’s dining service allows students to order food ahead of time and pick it up, beating out others standing in line. All of these perks, just to have food as soon and as easily as possible.

However, I do see the appeal of these new fads taking the country by storm. I can think of many people who would want nothing more than to open the door and have all of their food delivered to them. The next appropriate step then is to have meals specifically sent to you so that yes, you’re the one cooking, but all the guesswork, the ingredients and measuring out of portions, is done for you. It’s as close as you can get to having a personal chef there curating a menu.

Do I see these changes as bad things? No, because just as we evolve and brainstorm new ideas with convenience and immediate results in mind, something like a meal-in-a-box is the best of both worlds. You have better ingredients than microwave TV dinners, but it’s a similar concept of taking out the guesswork. Obviously at this point, these boxes come with hefty price tags, but as we wade through the many new companies available, inevitably one company will come out with practicality on the chef and their wallet.

But from all of this innovation, are we losing sight of what it means to take individual initiative for our health? In a way, meal subscription boxes are a forward step for people who rely solely on fast food and restaurants. It’s a middle ground to learn the ropes of cooking and choosing healthier options, but it shouldn’t be an end-all, sustainable choice. Besides the cost, I do find value in consciously choosing recipes and foods that work best for you. We aren’t all going to fit into a box of what we want and should eat, no matter how easy that would be. Budgeting out for food, choosing healthy options and preparing them are all important life skills that we shouldn’t take for granted.

Not to mention, I haven’t heard of a solely plant-based meal subscription, as most boxes stick to the same sort of “diet” you choose without much experimentation from there. Except you’ll never know what you might like unless you just go out and try it. Again, the meal prep boxes are a starting point, but from there, you shouldn’t feel reliant on a business for deciding every bite you eat. That’s a stretch right there, yes, but who knows where this trend might lead? It could die off, or it could grow. We should be aware consumers as to what is just a passing fad and is actually a good choice for us.

It goes back to my thoughts on the importance of knowledge, of learning for yourself and not relying entirely upon industries and technologies that leave little room for personal growth. We’ll never learn how to choose the right foods for us and prepare them if we’re constantly using meal prep boxes and delivery services. Just like food, everything in moderation is key.

But I must add, if it’s a better deal to find some pantry staples online, I’m all for a good deal.  We just cannot forget supporting local businesses and farmers. Get produce from local grocery stores and farmers markets. Make sure you’re eating an abundance of whole, plant-based foods. Learn how to seek out the nutrients your body craves and options that not only benefit yourself, but the environment around you. I guess you could say, think outside the box.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

No More Sephora?

In recent years, after growing up as a tomboy who refused to wear pink or let anybody touch my hair (which, I mean, is still fairly accurate), I have transitioned into appreciating the world of beauty.

“Appreciating” might be a stretch. I must say, the industry certainly knows how to suck customers in. With constant releases of new products, all claiming to be the next best thing, it’s overwhelming trying to keep up and feel like you’re still in the loop, still relevant with whatever is trending.

Trust me, I’ve tried. While people may have drugstore or high-end preferences, I immediately gravitated toward Sephora as my go-to for anything makeup and, later, skincare. When you get interested in beauty based on internet influencers, their hauls, favorites, and recommendations are enough to entice you to see what the hype is about. No wonder they have become such a profitably means of advertising for the beauty industry. If you’ve ever looked up YouTube videos of people showing off the PR packages they receive in the mail from companies, it has become almost gaudy the lengths people go to when promoting products.

But hey, for the most part, it works. Kudos to them for that. I don’t know if I’ve ever necessarily seen a Sephora that isn’t at least a tad busy. Which, for someone who doesn’t know, might be an iffy thing. Have you seen the prices in that place? Do you know how much money you can spend on such few ounces of product? Besides printer ink, it has to be some of the most expensive substances out there.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Well, I’ve been a Sephora fanatic for years. I refused to buy products anywhere else. I coveted the hyped-up brands and products that are everybody’s “holy grails.” My wishlists have always consisted of the pricey products I didn’t want to think about paying for myself, as selfish as that sounds.

As I’ve been on more of a buying hiatus when it comes to beauty products, as well as informing myself on the ingredients and industry itself, and I have come to the conclusion that getting off the Sephora bandwagon is my best option. I’ll give up my VIB status for a little more hunting and digging for other face products.

Here’s my reasoning: first off, yes, Sephora is expensive. The cheapest products there are still easily over ten dollars. At first, I assumed this meant that I was paying for a higher quality ingredients to put on my face, but that isn’t necessarily the case. I’ve talked before about my green beauty and life journey as I transition to entirely natural, cruelty-free, vegan and organic products. Not only are Sephora customers paying for products that support corrupt animal testing, but the ingredients are not even necessarily better than a drugstore option. Regardless of the flashy packaging and incredible claims, unless a company clearly says it’s dedicated to sustainability, you never know what might be lurking in there.

For example, pull up the Sephora website and search for a conventional beauty product. Perhaps something from NARS, Urban Decay, or “all-natural” Tarte. Chances are, very few of the substances in those long lists are very pronounceable, let alone something your skin should be wearing. As the largest organ in your body, what you expose to it should be safe and healthy. Sorry, but I would rather not spend all of my cash on products watered down with enough inorganic chemicals.

Regardless if science proves these substances to be toxic to us in the long-run or not, paying money for them only continues their production. What we might not consider when making a Sephora purchase is what happens to the product once we use it up or throw it away. Hopefully you can see where I’m heading, and that is the landfill. Chemicals that wreak havoc in natural habitats. Plastic packaging stuck in this world for decades upon decades.

Even if Sephora has a section on its website for “natural” products and brands, that is straight-up greenwashing, a term used for companies who use environmentally focused advertising to essentially deceive consumers into paying for their merchandise. A big example, as mentioned earlier, is Tarte. Sure they might have a couple extra feel-good ingredients, but for the most part, it’s no different than a drugstore equivalent. I even see it as worse, manipulation in a bamboo tube.

So what is left that fits into the seemingly narrow niche of nontoxic, healthy, sustainable beauty products? Surprisingly, there is plenty of great small businesses out there taking the extra time to ensure that their natural ingredients are ethically sourced (because yes, even natural ingredients can have issues. Rather than chemicals, it’s making sure people aren’t extracting those substances that can disrupt wildlife and cut down on natural resources for those who need them). While Sephora has a few natural brands available, such rms beauty, Tata Harper, and Ilila, there isn’t enough for me to justify the heftier price tags. Just an Amazon search leads to tons of awesome options for all of your beauty needs. Heck, even a run to Target will lead you to brands like Pacifica, Yes To skincare, and even a natural sect of Physician’s Formula.

For as much as I enjoy not having to worry about putting on makeup and going through a skincare routine when I’m dead tired, using makeup and skincare is practically therapeutic to me. I love feeling put together and knowing that I’m taking care of myself. So I know that when I’m completely switching out my Sephora finds for something new, I can feel good about my efforts. Now not only am I taking care of myself, I’m also taking care of the world around me, one tube of mascara at a time.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Get Messy

If there is one thing I feel like I end up perpetually doing, it’s making mistakes. Through trials and errors galore, I’m surprised I’m still able to stand upright after how many times I’ve tripped and have been kicked while still face-down on the ground.

But from all of the seeming “failures” that I have under my belt, I can say that I’m a better person from it all. For someone who strives for perfection, you wouldn’t expect me to be so calm about my pitfalls. I embrace them.

So I sound like a walking contradiction, but what’s new there? As a society, as individuals looking upon ourselves and others, we scour at the idea of being sub-par. Or, dare I say, make a complete and utter mistake. The accompanying shame, guilt, and sense of defeat are enough to keep us “in line,” making sure we perform at our optimal performance in everything we do.

Maybe I’m too critical about the capitalistic mindset, but now more than ever we expect every aspect of our lives to be done perfectly, quickly, effortlessly. We don’t leave much margin for error, and if something does malfunction, if someone doesn’t live up to our high expectations, we exude frustration that reverts the cycle again back to our immediate gratification.

In these moments, we forget our humanity. Our essence that makes us who we are. The word “failure” has a negative connotation that leaves an acrid taste in our mouths. We shun those who fail. We look down upon them as if we are somehow better, that we are of a greater caliber ourselves that wouldn’t dream of “stooping so low.”

Except nobody is better. No amount of success, money, or fame makes one person better than the other. Again, we forget our humanity. We champion those who are invincible, that appear as if they can do no wrong. But for those who exude perfection, what do we learn from them?

No matter how hard we try, we aren’t robots. We cannot always act impartially, without any sense of emotion. We bring different perspectives and experiences to the table, and from that vast array of variance, we inevitably see those who may thrive in certain areas and those face more struggles. But we only values those who end up with “positive” results. We label success and failure as black and white, a strict divide that includes “appropriate” reactions for each that maintain the status quo.

We need to set aside these misconceptions. We must discourage the fear associated with making mistakes in whatever we may do in life, whether it’s a job, school, or any situation we face. We aren’t going to say and do the right thing at every given moment. Nobody is capable of such a feat. Even if someone could theoretically live life perfectly, what does that even mean? How do we define a failure- and mistake-free existence? And from that existence, what would one gain from it?

When we admire those who have seemed to achieve so much in their lifetimes, do we realize that they would not have earned prestige without faults? Best-selling authors who have been rejected by many publishers. World leaders who have faced scrutiny and notoriety. Inspirational figures who use their past struggles as a foundation for their words. The path to fulfilling their purposes came from their flaws.

We need mistakes. Imperfection is a tool for growth. By facing an obstacle, no matter the end result, we are making progress for ourselves. What feels like a step backward acts as an archery bow propelling us to whatever our next target may be. Taking our mistakes in stride, accepting them and utilizing their lessons, is one of the greatest choices we can make.

Admittedly, mistakes are uncomfortable. I’ve had enough of those for a few lifetimes. And while yes, it’s still difficult to accept those flaws without it making me slightly cringe, I have learned that the mistakes are just as, if not more so, than my successes. I am a patchwork of moments, good and bad, interwoven with the takeaway messages and lessons they have taught me. Even when I feel like I’m weighed down by a multitude of difficult challenges, of painful moments, of hardships, that heaviness keeps me grounded and allows me to empathize more with others. It has developed my voice into one now especially honed in on doing good and helping whoever I can.

We cannot grow from flawlessness. Perfection translates into tunnel-vision, a blindness to the reality of living a full and challenging life. Just as perfectionism toward ourselves ultimately holds us back, the same goes for expecting an entirely clean slate from others. Making mistakes shows that we’re trying, that we’re putting in effort and growing from it. Embracing pitfalls means we can wear them on our tool belts with whatever challenge we may face.

We cannot avoid mistakes. We cannot let mistakes hold us down and discourage us from risky, challenging ventures. The more mistakes we make, the more opportunities for us to reflect and grow. Our brain neurologically pays more attention to mistakes. We are more aware of our actions, enabling us to spark more learning. But our greatest mistake as a society? Breeding the mentality that mistakes are not valuable, that they require punishment.

I remember one Pinterest quote asking what we would do if we knew we couldn’t fail. Because we can truly do anything we set our minds to if realize it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to stumble and accept defeat. It’s okay if things don’t work out just as they should. The final product is not the sole display of our work and character; it’s the effort and the process. If we choose to see struggle as productive and not debilitating, then yes, we can truly accomplish anything.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Where We’ve Come

Today is nothing poignant necessarily. Nothing too crazy. It’s just crazy for me, and hopefully others can relate.

When you’ve been through a lot, have had a whirlwind of obstacles and challenges come across your path, it’s weird to even imagine a point where those obstacles become manageable. As if you just got a pair of glasses after years of blurry vision and finally seeing the world as it is for the first time.

That’s how I feel. This has been the longest period I have ever felt this…normal. At a mental state where I have some sense of stability. For me, that is something I honestly never thought I’d find.

Maybe it’s just me trying to block everything out of my memory, but it’s hard for me to go back and think about my past mental states, my self-destructive thoughts. So many days of my short life have been spent covered in a blindfold.

I realize that I’m now trudging in unfamiliar territory. I don’t know what life is like without extra weight dragging me down. It’s weird to not always feel dull, or not have my mind racing to different random scenarios in my head, or not counting every crumb I’ve consumed in a day. With all of the extra head space, I almost feel guilty for not immediately going to do more. Pursuing so many different things I would have never dreamed of before.

No matter how awful mental illness is, when you begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel, you almost feel naked. Mental illness has been an everyday battle for me, and even on days that I felt better than normal, it became an easy crutch and excuse to rely upon. If I’m nervous about stepping outside of my comfort zone, even if I know deep down I can handle it, it’s too easy to just call out depression or anxiety and avoid it all.

But there’s no hiding now. I’m more aware of myself than I ever have been. In fact, it’s as if I am now truly embodying my personality. That can lead to new anxieties, of not being good enough even when I’m present. That I am a lost soul meandering into nothing, no end in sight, because my formative years were spent in fog. It’s scary to realize that vulnerability. It presents an unknown, a potential for relapsing back into my lower moods, a world that I don’t know I can fit into.

I also must realize that some aspects of myself are just me, not my mental illness. No amount of therapy or medication can make me care less about having my life especially clean and organized. I’m naturally very critical of myself. I still desire some sense of control over what I encounter in life. As I continue making progress, it’s all about learning about myself, finding out something new every day to better take care of myself.

Yes, the hesitations are real. I cannot deny those. However, with every fear that crosses my mind, an exponential number of benefits outnumber them all. They often arise in very mundane, normal situations, things that most other people wouldn’t think twice about. Like actually wearing shorts in the summer instead of hiding in long pants, even on the hottest of days. Like completing a school assignment without dazing off every few minutes. Like genuinely smiling and feeling emotions.

This journey is one I know I will travel the rest of my life. My genetics don’t allow for those dangerous tendencies to completely dissipate. But that realization doesn’t deter me from still working every day to be my best self, however that may look each passing day. Some mornings will be easier, and others not. If anything, knowing the potential of those easier mornings is more encouragement to remain hopeful and optimistic because normality and happiness are possible. They aren’t just cheesy motivational quotes.

My normal won’t look like yours or anybody else’s. What is a success for me might be a simple task for everybody else, and that is okay. And by no means am I saying that you can just put on a happy face when you’re depressed and you’ll be cured. Trust me, I know the burden of chronic mental illness.

I hope you realize that no matter your struggles in life, if you’ve come out the other side, you are strong. You are capable of facing anything thrown your way. And if you’re in the midst of the battle, keep going. The storm does pass. The rain and wind will batter against the windows and shake your foundation, but if you’re willing to weather it all, willing to accept help when necessary and patch up any damage, then you will be rewarded.

There’s point in not being hopeful. I know there have been times when I couldn’t imagine anything else or was so blind to my own suffering. But knowing that I am sitting here, feeling like I am, accomplishing all that I have thus far, it’s slightly unbelievable. I don’t know if it will ever really sink in, but if I can do anything with this present moment, I want to encourage others. I want to open the blinds so everyone can see the sunshine. Because the clouds cannot stick around forever.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Uncharitable Charity

I believe in giving. Whether that be in time, support, money, whatever else, our innate desire to charity is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. I will forever be in awe by the efforts of some people, past, present and future, who work hard to make the world a better place, starting with those who need it the most.

So when we think of volunteering or giving money to charity, it seems like an automatic response to do some good in the world. Plus, the “warm fuzzy” feeling of knowing you made even a small positive impact on others’ lives is enough incentive to give even a couple of extra cents to charity.

Except, although it’s not as widely known as it should be, not all charities are created equal. Not every feel-good organization is actually doing much good. The fact that the discrepancy exists in the first place is beyond frustrating. They are not only manipulating innocent people into funding selfish musings, but they are exploiting those in need as a business slogan. And when in 2014 alone, about $350 billion was donated to charity, we deserve to be informed as to where this money goes.

So what “charities” am I talking about here? What constitutes a bad charity? Well, these people know what they’re doing, that’s for sure. These deceptive organizations ask you for your financial support, many lie about where or to whom that money is allotted, sometimes paying themselves “multiple salaries” and “consulting fees.” Considering oneself a charity is simply a front to disguise greedy fundraising intentions, taking money away from reputable charities that actually make a difference and help others.

When a mere fraction of consumer payment is used as direct cash aid, then we have a clear problem on our hands. And disappointingly, many big names in the non-profit world are among some of the worst offenders.

Not too long ago, news broke that the Wounded Warrior Project fired many of its executive members because about half of donations go toward having extravagant events and bigger paychecks for the board directors. Even former employees, as told by CBS News, saw the ridiculous amount of spending on parties, fraud waste and abuse. This is money advertised as going to recovering veterans injured in war. But for some, living a lavish lifestyle is a higher priority.

Another charity I’ve recently gotten word of suspicious work is another familiar one: Locks of Love. I cannot think of the number of times I’ve heard of classmates and peers cutting off significant inches of hair knowing that it will go toward free wigs for cancer patients. Forbes reported that over $6 million in hair donations to the organization are unaccounted for. Compared to other hair donation organizations, it takes Locks of Love seventeen times as many hair donations to make each hairpiece. And many of the hairpieces are not necessarily free to cancer patients, but they must pay for them from their own pockets.

One more charity I’d really like to mention because even a sorority on my home campus supports it, but they definitely don’t deserve any extra funding. That charity is Autism Speaks. According to Autistic Advocacy, less than 4% of Autism Speaks’s budget goes towards the “Family Service” grants that are the organization’s means of funding services. While 32% of its budget goes toward research, only a small percentage of this research is aimed at improving the quality of life of autistic people. Although Autism Speaks has not prioritized services with a practical impact for families and individuals in its budget, its rates of executive pay are the highest in the autism world, with some salaries exceed $395,000 a year. On top of that corruption, Autism Speaks uses damaging and offensive fundraising tactics which rely on fear, stereotypes and devaluing the lives of people on the autism spectrum.

Enough of the negative. Obviously there are millions of charities out there, so the chances that all of them are entirely good or bad is not realistic. However, it’s important to be aware of where your dollar, essentially your consumer vote, is going. The people are the ones deciding what issues are important and what organizations are at the forefront of those issues. We need to choose the best options possible if we truly want to feel good about charity.

Here are my thoughts on choosing your charity. I would say the best options out there are either choosing local organizations that you can consciously know and see the difference its making in the community. No matter how much I care about world issues and want to help every single person on the planet, some of the most overlooked groups are the ones right next door. Even better, if you have the chance, go out yourself and volunteer for the causes you believe in. You can embody the change you want to see, and the personal and collective benefits from that are astounding.

But if you’re still drawn to the larger national and international charities out there, do your research. Educate yourself on how these organizations divide up the income they receive. Know what they stand for. Learn about their history and the impact they’ve made and are currently making.

It’s easy to slap a charitable name onto a business and entice people in. And that’s when pessimism sneaks into our thoughts, darkening our view of the world and our humanity. But we still want to help others. We still act out of goodness. We still have heart at our core. Now it’s just time to have both our brains and hearts at their peaks to make true progress.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Speak Out

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment, a statement plastered throughout the building I have grown quite accustomed to over my college education.

So with all I have learned and experienced, it’s my right to express it. I’m not one to sit idly by while the world spins without me. I won’t accept defeat if I see discrepancy for not only me, but others who may feel helpless in a similar position. We all deserve a voice.

Unlike previous times I’ve felt the need to speak out on my own behalf, to tell my side of a story, I left plenty of holes for outside opinions to pick apart. That wide margin of criticism was my own fault, but it’s not like I had practice doing so. Today, clear facts are dictating my actions and words. There is little room to nitpick this time. I have a valid reason to be speaking out today. This is not only for myself, but for anybody else that may have been down a similar road. Hopefully, this will prevent anybody else from enduring the same frustration.

My entire college education, I have worked for my college’s independently run student newspaper. It has been one of my favorite aspects of being at college. I’ve met great people through the newspaper and have been able to find a passion in opinion writing and editing. I even continued writing columns for the paper while in another country. I have been dedicated to preserving the paper’s integrity and high standards, its reputation as a very professional setting and publication. With every column and editorial I have written, my hard work shows.

After my one misattributed source at my previous internship, leading to the removal of every story and public scrutiny, I received an email from my editor-in-chief. Although no article I wrote as an intern directly involved my work as an opinion writer nor my position for the student newspaper or the college, it’s still fair to ask questions. She understandably looked into two past columns that I quoted students, all of which I could easily refer back to word-for-word emails. From there, I heard nothing until receiving a one-sentence email saying that my work was no longer needed. I respect her position of authority to make such a decision, but to truly learn and move forward from that, I asked her for any sort of explanation. She replied saying, “The decision has been made. I don’t think any further discussion is necessary.”

I have emailed, texted, called, and messaged both the editor-in-chief or the managing editor. I have received no response from either person. I got in touch with former and current staff members. Most have no idea what is going on, but once hearing me out and knowing my character, they stand behind me with full confidence. Upon hearing that my exit from the newspaper comes without even mentioning any sort of context to the decision, staff members have all responded with similar comments, calling the limited interaction “unprofessional.”

I’m not hiding anything I wrote because besides the one piece I wrote, every other piece was accurately attributed to credible sources. Every piece of news reporting and opinion writing has been credible, well-researched and meticulously edited. 

I have received messages from six different sources I’ve quoted in my internship articles, all of which have affirmed their accuracy. Hypothesizing this as a valid reason for my termination, I tried sending those to my editor for greater clarity beyond what has been published by other news sources, but she ultimately blocked me on social media.

At first I thought I was the only one who has faced troubles with professionally resolving concerns with the paper’s current student editors. Again, upon recently talking to former and current staff members, I now see that my semester abroad has left me in the dark to the reality of the situation. My successor as opinion editor was also let go weeks into her work, being told, “Some people aren’t made for journalism.” She ended up changing her major altogether. Another freshman and sophomore dropped their prestigious journalism scholarships. Another columnist who worked under me wrote a detailed account of why, based on my experience, he no longer will write for them. He received a single sentence: “Thank you for letting me know.”

Trying to pursue any avenue I could, I was encouraged to contact department professors for any suggestions to move forward and find some sense of justice. However, because the newspaper is independent and entirely student-run, professors really have no control over it, nor have most shown interest in getting involved. They know of what has been published, as unflattering as it has been for me, and in this smaller scale case, it’s a “personnel issue.”

I know I did all I could as an intern for a larger organization, some of it backfiring on me, but for those directly affected, I made sure to resolve anything I caused based on my actions. I’m willing to admit that yes, one of my published articles had a fault, but I stand behind the integrity of every word I write. 

However, this decision is one meant to be pushed under a rug, expecting me to remain quiet and move on. This newspaper is highly regarded on my campus and beyond. But if current leaders are not supporting their writers and treating them with respect, I do not recommend other students to get involved. If a high-contributing staff member receives not even a chance to communicate to fellow peers nor a reason for those peers’ decisions, what lesson does that teach? How does one truly move on from a situation that could and should have explanation and closure.

I do not want to associate myself with an organization that won’t stand by its members, that won’t take the time to hear those members out and receive every piece of evidence at their disposal. That in of itself demonstrates integrity, maturity, and credible journalism. I’m not willing to settle and accept a flimsy decision and general disrespect toward myself and some of the most honorable, hard-working people I’ve come across.

People deserve to know every side of any story. This is no exception. Students should especially know about the organization that is representing their voice on campus. Students of any major, especially journalism, should be able to express concern and maturely resolve conflict within student-run organizations. How they may find a resolution is a work in progress, but as with anything, awareness is key. It’s our right to learn the truth and speak out for it. If journalism itself won’t do it, then we the people will.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

(Fit)Bits and Bobs

Since the dawn of society, humans have been conscious of their well-beings. Through different methods of tracking and calculation, people labeled and numbered their health. As time progressed, these modes of monitoring became more accurate and scientific through the growing use of technology. Today, society continues to expand health tracking opportunities, even stemming into user-friendly devices available to all consumers. These devices, commonly known as fitness data trackers, calculate a person’s daily steps, calorie intake, heart rate, and sleep pattern, all from the comfort of the user’s wrist. While the implications of these devices are noteworthy, allowing anybody to become more aware of their personal well-being, the technology’s influence through major scopes of life may reveal some flaws. Using the context of medical, professional, and ethical standards, fitness data trackers are still new devices that require improvement and are not best for all people.

From a medical standpoint, fitness data trackers encourage a healthier society, but the methods of doing so are not best for the majority. With the devices’ rise in popularity and other medical advances, the digital health care sector has seen a forty percent growth in recent years. Since the technology is still very recent in its fruition, the concept behind the trackers could expand even more to become more personalized for individual needs. Those who rely solely on their fitness trackers to measure their overall wellness may not be gaining the best perspective on their health. These people could also develop an unhealthy relationship with their tracker, obsessing over achieving certain numbers. Medically, fitness trackers measure everyday physical signs of a healthy life, but they cannot measure mental and emotional well-being, both of which are crucial aspects of a truly well-rounded state. To achieve optimal health, medical professionals must advise patients to not only wear a fitness tracker, but to also learn how to pay attention to their individual bodily cues and needs that a wearable tracker cannot provide. People focused entirely on a device for medical information can lose trust in their own bodies, if they may not function best according to a tracker’s standards, and in turn lose touch with their well-being over a piece of technology. In order to avoid abuse of a fitness tracker, individuals must set guidelines for themselves that place emphasis on traditional forms of health care, including annual physicals and potentially psychological therapy, and utilize a tracker not as a primary source of information. Health is not cookie-cutter, and through medical support, society can learn to both appreciate and criticize fitness data trackers, balancing both physical vital signs but also an immeasurable healthy mental state.

For some professional settings, the fitness data tracker has become a new staple incentive, but relying on collected numbers to provide employees with different benefits is unfair to those not using the trackers or not accurately representing their overall health, potentially affecting workplace morale. For many people—over sixty percent in one survey asking about the interest in wearing a fitness tracker to earn health care benefits—the chance to receive insurance premium discounts whilst providing employers their fitness information is very enticing. Companies can also keep track of how their employees might use a provided wellness program. Without proper consideration of those against fitness trackers, however, the devices bring about consequences hindering the workplace and relationships between employers and employees. Fitness trackers cannot identify specific medical conditions, and employers may easily disregard those situations if their sole goal in using fitness trackers is to lessen company insurance costs. Employers also need to provide participants with privacy rights and legal protections to prevent misusing data and overstepping (ha, puns) boundaries, potentially losing their employees trust and affecting their work ethics. Again, because fitness trackers do not determine overall well-being, employers should not use them as the only measure of their employees’ health. Employers providing wellness programs also need to prioritize giving workers other health care services beyond fitness trackers for the best service possible. Fitness data trackers have the capabilities to allow employers a greater insight into their workers’ livelihoods in and out of the office, but such capabilities come a greater need to redefine legal boundaries and accurate factors of optimal wellness.

Fitness data trackers encounter several instances of ethical questioning, especially regarding the accuracy of calculations and privacy of information. Technology is as flawed as the people creating it, so people must recognize that mistakes in the system are unavoidable. Most fitness trackers on the market are fairly accurate, but the numbers are not specific enough for the devices to give users an overall accurate portrayal of health. For example, if a device measures daily calorie intake without considering the type of calories consumed, such as those from nutritious foods compared to processed foods, the device may be painting a picture of external health while disregarding internal upset. From a utilitarian perspective, each individual must make their own decision to decide whether a tracker’s benefits outweigh its harms. Additionally, even consumers purchasing a fitness tracker outside of the professional sector may still be subjected to privacy violations. As with most software today, companies are constantly taking anonymous information to assess their products, but this fact may make many people feel paranoid, especially when that data pertains to their personal health. A fitness tracker, without any moral virtues, is very honest with the data it collects, and people who desire to keep their daily physical activities private cannot seek refuge. By choosing perhaps to wear the tracker occasionally rather than on a daily basis might alleviate some of this uneasiness, but fitness tracker companies do not endorse this practice, leaving consumers at an ethical dilemma. While every person is different, from an ethical perspective, the choice to support fitness data trackers or not is dependent upon an individual’s values of privacy and honesty, all of which are sensitive topics when involving personal health.

Indeed, from examining fitness data trackers using various scopes of everyday life, such as medical, professional, and ethical perspectives, this new technology is one that requires further innovation and consideration of individual needs. Technology continues to delve into different parts of society, but humans must still maintain their traditional values and practices for achieving wellness. Like any facet of life, balance is key. A fitness tracker is a great tool for mindful awareness of physical health, but other tools should also be utilized to remain mindful of emotional and mental health. Medical professionals, employers, individuals alike must remember to trust their own instincts and best judgments to create guidelines keeping technical and human qualities in mind. Fitness data trackers will not be leaving the marketplace any time soon, so consumers must gain a proactive attitude for deciding their own personal measures of health because wellness has no price tag.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

Aim and Ignore?

Every single year of my public educational career, my classmates and I always knew what was coming. Not the subject material, nor the amount of homework some teachers may give, but the drills the school would perform to practice our safety quota.

Fire drills. Tornado drills. Lock-in drills. Evacuation drills. Rarely, if at all, were any of these drills ever held for real situations. Unless you count a college freshman cooking Easy Mac in the dorm microwave without adding water.

It’s smart to know what to do if anything bad were to happen, to be prepared in where to go and do when fear could so easily take over and completely numb us. If we were ever to be in danger, we must be informed as to how to best protect ourselves and others.

Except there is now a huge discrepancy in the effectiveness in these regularly scheduled practice drills. And it’s not just that when people know it’s for practice, they don’t actually take it seriously. That’s a whole problem of its own, one I’m guilty of myself and wouldn’t know the answer to without leaving everybody paranoid and panicky.

No, the problem here is that our traditional drills do not address a growing occurrence becoming far too common: active shooters. Gun violence of any kind. The fact that I cannot count the number of gun-related crimes and terrorist acts I’ve heard about in this past month alone is scary. With all that our society has endured, with all of the information we receive, we are no longer fazed by a shooting in a public space.

I am lucky enough to have never considered how to handle such a risk, but that is enough to scare me. To think if I was caught in the line of a gun and would have no idea how to safely react is scary, especially if the risk affects other innocent lives. Not once have I been in a public space, whether that’s a school, church or wherever else, and someone mentioned how to handle an active shooter.

I mean, ideally, we shouldn’t even have to face this problem. We should have gun laws that prevent deadly weapons falling into the wrong hands. But the issue of gun violence is not a new phenomenon. Ever since Columbine, gun violence hit the forefront of our lives, a possibility that may strike anywhere and affect anybody at any time.

So it only makes sense that we prepare ourselves and others about how to respond, the lessen the initial frenzied panic that may ensue at the sound of a gunshot. No matter where we may be, we can know we’re doing the best we can to stay safe. Rather than paranoia from including the drill into the swing of the routine, it should provide greater comfort knowing that you’re educated and aware.

Because not having this education available and required for people to learn is a crime in of itself. We should know by now that ignoring our problems do not make them disappear. They only allow those problems to flourish further. If we are at a standstill creating policies that decrease overall gun use and ownership, then the least we can do is prepare our lives accordingly. Having a gun-filled country leads to a greater risk for misuse. The more often we see gun-related crimes, the less we respond to them and the more approachable they are for those wanting to wreak havoc.

Luckily, Homeland Security does have information regarding this topic available. Unlike other dangers, active shootings are quick, only ten to fifteen minutes. That means that whoever is nearby must think and act quickly, and the best way to do so is to have the procedures and drills as common knowledge.

Evacuate. If you can’t, hide out somewhere. If you can’t hide, then take action, at least until law enforcement arrives. The police are the only ones who can effectively stop the situation, leaving victims vulnerable for those precious minutes. Just like any other dangerous situation, no active shooting will look exactly the same, but relying upon history and patterned behavior is a starting point.

I cannot predict the future, but if it looks anything like present day, then gun-related violence is an epidemic here to stay. We must adjust our safety precautions and priorities to fit this growing problem, a problem that has become a prominent thread in the fabric of American society. But the most powerful we should have is our knowledge. Our instinctual drive to protect each other. Our desire to know about the world around us.

Drills or gun restrictions. One or the other is necessary, unless we want to continue down the downhill spiral we’ve been seeing exponentially growing for years. We must pause and think for just a moment and realize this reality, the lives already lost, passing tragedies we have yet to learn from. So let’s learn. Let’s do something. I don’t want to be a sitting duck for the next violent incident. Of course we cannot prevent all violence, but ignorance will certainly fire back against us.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie