Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Religion Trap

 A lot of people think you should live your life based on what some guy wearing a sheet said, 4,000 years ago.  Because, apparently back then, people were smarter than they are today.  Any ideas contrary to what the guy-in-the-sheet said are thus shouted down.

Religion has made a lot of headlines in the news these days, and often not for the best of reasons.

We seem to be entering an age of Faith, and one that is fraught with difficulty. As people become more and more faith-oriented, there is more and more tension, as different faiths inevitably collide with one another, and also as faiths collide with modern living and social values.

Many others are finding faith to be less important in their lives. The events of 9/11 and the actions of extremists such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda have turned many people off from religion entirely. The attitudes of the Taliban towards women, for example, are not far different than that of many extreme Christian and Jewish religious sects - or even that of Hindus or Buddhists.

Many on the left harbor romantic notions about some far Eastern religions, without fully investigating them. So while they are prepare to excoriate the Pope for his stand on Gay Marriage, they fail to fully appreciate that the Dali Lama feels about the same way.

Religion is based on Faith, and as I have noted in other posts, you cannot argue Faith logically, by its very definition. So agnostics and atheists who try to "prove" that Religion is wrong are not only wasting their time, they are being illogical. Many times, I see atheists trying to argue that "science" disproves the existence of God. However, this would come as a surprise to most Scientists, who, while not Holy Rollers, may have deep and profound religious beliefs of their own (which they usually do not advertise).

Many in the atheism movement have made a religion out of atheism -with Charles Darwin as their holy savior.  Such folks are often not scientists, and often do not understand the underlying science they are asserting as an alternative to religion.  And merely substituting an atheist religious doctrine (or humanist or whatever) for the dogma of a church is really not an improvement.  Oftentimes, such self-proclaimed "free thinkers" are more narrow-minded than snake-handling evangelicals.

The same could be said to be true of anti-cultists. Like most people, I find Scientology to be mildly annoying and perhaps a bit silly.  I suppose the same could be said for the Catholic Church, or EST or some other "new age" religion.  But nevertheless, if people want to follow it, that's their business.  What is often more annoying and sillier is the folks who make a career out of spreading scare stories about these religions.  Folks who feel cheated or mislead, and thus turn their hatred of their former religion - into a new religion itself.

[Personally, I could not join any kind of cult, unless I was allowed to be the charismatic leader.  If there is an opening for me, let me know.  Otherwise, I'm not interested, thanks].

Faith has a place in the world - an essential place.  And churches can and have done a lot of good for society.  Faith is what keeps the worker going to work on a regular basis, and perhaps thinking twice before sleeping with his neighbor's wife.  Faith and religion provide some semblance of order in many parts of the world.  The problem is, of course, that many religions take this too far, and try to control every aspect of a person's life, and also try to control entire countries and governments.

But that's not what this article is about. This blog is about personal finances. And thus, this article is about how religion can be a trap for the individual.

As I have noted before, people can easily fall into psychological traps.  They find it easier to fill out a role than to live.  A kid in high school becomes a "troubled teen" in part because it is a role to play - with expectations and attitudes to fill and even a perverse career path.  The addict follows a similar role, as does the perpetual plaintiff, the "victim" or whatever.  For many these roles help them push aside their daily worries and cares, as they can argue (to themselves at least) that their "role" is more important.

How can I worry about my personal finances when being a community organizer is so much more important?  For many women, the "Mom" role works this way - they view their lives as super-important as they are doing the job of raising our precious children.  It can be a way of drowning out the background noise and also disquieting questions about their lives.

Religion, particularly extreme religions, can also fill this need for a "role" to play.  By extreme religions, I mean ones that require an inordinate amount of your time, energy, and money.  Extreme religions also are characterized by a rigid orthodoxy and a need to tightly control how you think. These can be mainstream religions, or offshoots or sects thereof, or so-called cults (so-called, because they are indistinguishable from other religions, if you think about it) or even these "new age" religions and philosophies.

The evangelical Christian movement is one of the more popular of these in the USA, and I will use that as an example.  However, I am not picking on evangelical Christians, and certainly not all evangelical Christians fall into this category. And there are many forms of Evangelical Christianity, from fundamentalism, so-called "full gospel" to more esoteric forms such as snake-handling, "end times theology" and the like.  Other evangelicals are hardly more than Presbyterians.  So they run the full gamut.

When you visit such a Church, usually after an invitation from a member of members, the sensory experience can be overwhelming.  For many people, with low self esteem issues (who doesn't have these occasionally?) and other troubles, the experience of attending such a church can be very positive. Everyone is so friendly and warm and happy to see you. You are the flavor of the month, the new convert, ready to witness or covert or whatever.  For many folks, this experience fills a desperate need in their hearts - a need for love and acceptance - that they may not be getting from their family and friends.

This sort of sensory overload is often the hook that evangelicals (as well as so-called cults) use to rope in their members. Once inside, they are kept in by a rigid form of thinking and behavior. Members are encouraged - or indeed required - to view the world entirely through the prism of their religion.  Every decision in life is perceived as a religious test.  What Would Jesus Do?

Attending church once a week is not the extent of participation.  Members are encouraged to listen to religious radio shows, which populate the AM and increasingly, the FM dial.  In addition, tapes, books, videos, and other media are available for sale in religious bookstores, or by the church itself.  Many of these media are quite alarming - concentrating on "end times" theology, or spreading of rumors or outright slanders about competing religions or various other groups.

Moreover, the member is also encouraged - again often required - to view themselves strictly in terms of their membership in the church.  So "Jesus Fish" bumper emblems, t-shirts, necklaces and other religious paraphernalia are strongly encouraged.  Businesspersons are encouraged to identify their business as "Christian" by discretely (or sometimes not-so-discretely) adding a fish logo to their signage. Church members are encourage to do business only with other members - marked by this logo.

And of course, the member is encouraged - usually required - to give large amounts of money to the church in the form of tithing.  In some instances, more primitive churches encourage such giving, on the implied promise that a donation to the church will result in a direct give-back from God himself.  For example, one not-very-bright former neighbor of mine gave a staggering amount of her paltry paycheck to a local "full gospel" church.  A month later, she bought a very used oil-burning and rusted Chrysler Cordoba.  She told me "Jesus gave me this car!" and I asked her "Gee, what did you do to piss off Jesus?" She didn't appreciate my humor, to say the least.  But the point is, the church had her convinced that but for her tithing, she would never have had this wonderful clapped-out Chrysler.  From my perspective, for the money she was spending in tithing, she could have bought a new car.  Perhaps the minister did.

(Note that the Catholic Church used to cut to the chase in this regard, selling " indulgences"    which guaranteed the purchaser a passage to heaven.  I wonder if these can be re-sold and if there is a secondary market for them.  But again, I digress.  A Catholic friend of mine says these are still being sold, but on the QT these days, lest it foment another Protestant Reformation.  God Forbid!)

These types of churches play to the Santa Claus model of God - that God lives up in the clouds, knows if you are naughty or nice, and dispenses gifts to his favored peoples.  The problem with this model is that too many religious groups are claiming to be his favored peoples to make the system work.  Moreover, historically, people who fork over large sums of money to a church do not often end up "luckier" than those who do not.  They merely end up that much poorer.

Is there anything wrong with this scenario? Is this any different that any other church, such as the Catholic Church?  Some would argue that the requirements of a "devout" Catholic are little different than those of many of the modern evangelical or cult churches. And there is probably a point to that. Which is one reason we had the Protestant reformation.  But to some extent, all churches fall into this category. The scenario I described above with regard to Evangelical Christian churches mirror descriptions I've read of converts to Islam.  They attend a mosque, and suddenly, everyone is their friend and they get a warm feeling, and before they know it, they've converted.  It's the same old thing wrapped up in a different Keffiyeh.

Another tactic being used by the evangelicals of late is the "Christian Nation" argument.  We are to be lead to believe that the "Founding Fathers" of our country were all a bunch of Religious Fundamentalists - a charge that will surely come as a surprise to Thomas Jefferson, who was clearly agnostic, and made his own "Bible" by cutting out the parts he liked out of the regular Bible and then pasting it in a scrap book.  He also fucked his slaves.

Others, such as George Washington, clearly did not make a large deal about religion in their lives - if anything, Washington spend more time with Masonic ceremonies than he did in church (Masonry is often viewed as an anathema to evangelical Christianity, and yet most of the Founding Fathers were high-order Masons).

When sworn-in as President, Washington added the words "so help me God" as an ad-lib to the Presidential Oath (The phrase does not appear in the Constitution, and neither does the word "God").  At the last minute, someone suggested he swear on a Bible, and a mad dash ensued as the members of the inaugural committee struggled to find one.  So much for our Christian forebears!

Unfortunately, many of these new religions, and indeed many of the old ones, are all about money, particularly your money.  The Pastor of the Mega-Church wants your donation, as the construction of the new church will cost millions - or the church is struggling to pay off the debt they incurred building the church.  For some folks, these churches form a social network, and also provide community support. Many churches provide day-care, 12-step programs, couples counseling, support for the homeless and other community projects.  As I noted, churches CAN do good for society.

But others do very little in the way of community programs, but still extract large amounts of money and time from their members.  For example, so-called "end times theology" churches can be particularly problematic.  These churches teach a depressing lesson of fear and helplessness.  Based on some rather pained interpretations of obscure verses of the Bible, the "end times" adherents argue that the world itself is about to end, and that the events leading up to the end of the world are foretold in the Bible, particularly in the Book of Revelations.

The problem with this "theology" is that it is not an ancient foretelling of the final days, but rather the invention of a fundamentalist preacher in the 1830's, and is based largely in specific translations of earlier Bibles.  Thus, many real theologians would argue that the entire "theology" is based less on Bible teachings than on modern constructs.

People who fall victim to such churches are encouraged to believe that the world is about to end - that any recent event falls into a foretold pattern.  No matter who is elected President, or perhaps leader of some foreign country, that person is said to be the "Antichrist" - and the facts about that person are molded to fit the previous foretelling.  Fitting any current events into such a mold is not hard to do. There will always be a natural disaster or some other event that could be said to fit the pattern - there is no shortage of bad news.

The problem is, if you truly believe the world is about to end, they why bother doing anything at all?  Not surprisingly, most "end time" believers are very impoverished, as they do little to advance themselves or their own lives.   And many suffer from depression.

And this points out an area where all religions can be crippling.  When people start to use their religion as a crutch - to justify or rationalize their own lack of action in their lives, that is when religion cripples (and they need a crutch even more).  Passivity is never a good path to take, as it rarely leads to success. Relying on God or Luck to save you is never a good plan.

"God Helps Those Who Help Themselves" as Ben Franklin once said (another one of those born-again founders).  Or as Jefferson said, "I find the harder I work, the more my 'luck' improves" (this from a man with slaves, of course).

Now of course, the idea that you can totally control your own destiny is foolish, and probably an affront to God. "When a man makes plans, God laughs" goes an old Yiddish saying.  And it proves the point that no matter how much planning you make, the unforeseen will likely change those plans.

But that is not to say that being entirely helpless and passive is God's will. Yes, the Bible says that God will help the helpless, and Jesus said that the meek will inherit the Earth. But that is not the same as saying "do nothing and wait for God to bail you out". At least in my interpretation, what the Bible is actually saying is that, after all else fails, God will be there for you. But that doesn't mean God wants you to do nothing at all.

I have a friend who was drawn into one of those "end times theology" churches.  He renounced his family and friends, and spends all his spare time at the church, and donates every spare dime to the church as well.  What do they give him in return?  Well, they promise him the world will end soon and since he forked over all his dough, he'll be one of the chosen few to be called up to Christ.  He'll get to fly through the air like an airplane!  It's a great story.  But I wonder what will happen when he turns 50, or 60, or even 70, and the promised "end times" fail to materialize as promised - and he realizes he squandered the majority of his life and wealth on a premise based on shaky foundations.  Will the "end times" church be there to support him in his hour of need?  I doubt it.

And they don't expect him to be a member at that point, anyway.  In any cult or far-out religion, there is a constant movement of people through the organization.  According to one study, at any given time, about 1/3 the members are in the process of joining the organization, 1/3 are adherents, and 1/3 are starting to question the whole deal and have one foot out the door.  Any business based on "churn" like this is questionable.  They constantly have to troll for new customers, as the old ones are constantly getting pissed off and leaving.

And when you leave, expect to be shown the door promptly.  The last thing any church or cult needs is someone asking pointed questions about the minister's new Rolls Royce.  People who ask questions cause problems, as it may get other members to think.  So once you are branded a "heretic" you can expect to be tossed out in short order.  Such folks often end up bitter and angry, having been renounced by those they thought were "friends."  There are websites galore filled with former cult and church members, all-too-willing to tell their story of betrayal.  Of course, many end up signing up for the next circus that comes to town.  They really want to believe, in almost anything.

Is your Religion a trap? Consider the following criteria:
1. When joining, are you made the center of attention, lavished with praise and love, at least for the time being?

2. Are you encouraged to sever contacts with family, friends, or anyone who does not believe in your religion?

3. Does the religion foster an "US versus THEM" mentality, where the religion (and its members) are viewed as a persecuted minority standing up for "what is right" against a corrupt and unjust world?

4. Does the charismatic leader have lavish cars, homes, clothing, a jet, or other expensive accessories?

5. Are beliefs tightly controlled and dictated from above, with no dissent or questioning allowed?

6. Are members constantly criticized for purity or correctness of their beliefs?

7. Are those that question the belief structure forced out and ostracized?

8. Does the religion take up more and more of your time?

9. Are you asked to donate large sums of money?

10. Is there a high turnover rate of membership?

11. Are you forced to wear a particular costume or clothing or accessory as part of the religion?

12. Is your diet restricted or dictated as a result of the religion?

13. Does the religion require you to consult with religious leaders with regard to your business or other activities or have them approved or blessed by religious leaders?

14. Does the religion dictate your political views for you?

These are just a few indicia, and not a complete list.  A religion might be a trap if more than a few of these items are apparent.  And bear in mind that this list can be applied to everything from traditional main-line religions, to cults, to "new age" religions and even to political parties.

Whether or not a religion is a trap is of course, up to you.  Faith cannot be logically argued, proven or disproved. If you have a need to dress up in funny hats, that's your business.  All this article suggests, is that you consider whether your faith is being used by others for their own gains and goals, at your expense.
* * *

Your personal views on religion are your business, of course.  But consider carefully how much time and energy you are throwing into a church, cult, group, or whatever, and whether or not this is really what God wants you to do, or whether you are doing it for some other, more selfish reasons.  Also ask yourself if the particular church, group, or cult is really helping you, helping society, or helping themselves.  As I noted in my "Organizations" article, many organizations take on a life of their own, and their own survival and self-interest is often their primary agenda.

Many folks today are realizing that having a relationship with God has nothing to do with an organization or church or building or money.  Like Ralph Waldo Emerson, they can be religious without having to affiliate with an organization that tells them what to believe or do.  Many others are finding out that a religion need not be a money machine, tied in with buildings, salaries, programs, and an endless need to generate cash.

Perhaps religion could be poised for a "new age" after all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Television Warps the Mind a Little

Note: This article is something I wrote for a creative writing class and in response to a writing contest for Gulfstream magazine. I am not sure this is what they wanted in terms of a "memoir" but it is what came out..... RPB

* * * * * * * * * *

Television Warps the Mind a Little

Television warps the mind a little. Well, actually it warps it a lot. As a child growing up in the 1960's, I was one of the first generations to grow up with television as part of the household. Certainly, in the 1950's television became popular. But it was not until the 1960's that it was firmly established in almost every household.

As a "TeeVee" child, I grew up like most kids of my generation: hyperactive, sedentary, and with a short attention span. Of course, I didn't know this at the time. Television was, to me, as natural as the air I breathed. To my parents, it was a marvelous new invention that was one of the wonders of the post-Atomic age. To me, it meant Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. To my Mother, it meant an easy way to park a child for an hour at a time while she got chores done around the house. That much has not changed over the years.

Television initially seemed to be a benign presence in our household. As a family, we would gather around our flickering black and white TV every evening to watch together as a family. Since we all watched together as a family, we had to compromise on our selection of programs. As a result, variety shows were very popular. If you didn't like something on a variety show, just wait a moment, and the show would change to something else.

Jackie Gleason and his June Taylor dancers graced our screen, along with other classics like I love Lucy. But then television started to subtly change, perhaps change with the times, or perhaps it was changing the times. More and more programming was directed at children, whose impressionable minds could be readily sculpted by constant exposure to what many were calling the "boob tube".

Saturday mornings were turned over to kiddie fare. It started out innocently enough with re-runs of classic Warner Brothers cartoons, but soon, newer and cheaper animation took over, designed specifically for the medium. Cecil and Beany, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Tom Slick, George of the Jungle were all fairly inexpensive cartoons, cheaply animated, which mesmerized us every Saturday morning.

My Father was first to sound the alarm that something was wrong. But he mistakenly though it was the children who were at fault, not his precious television. "Why don't you kids go outside and PLAY, instead of sitting in here watching TeeVee all day long?" he would bellow. And he was right. By noontime, we were still in our pajamas, with sour bowls of soggy cereal scattered in the family room, laying in front of the television. And it was a nice day out, too.

But, after hours of laying prone or sitting in other uncomfortable positions, watching episode after episode of "Scooby Doo, Where are You?", "Josie and the Pussy Cats", and our all-time favorite, "Johnny Quest", we were feeling woozy and tired. Not tired enough to sleep, but just a general malaise brought on by extended sitting, too much sugary cereal, and too much sensory overload.

The targeting of children didn't end with Saturday mornings. Evening fare become progressively more and more childish. My brother and I loved watching "Batman" and "Mannix". Action adventure, aimed at a sixth grade level seemed to be more the norm than the exception.

Once I started school, the conflict between television and the rest of my life intensified. Watching TeeVee seemed like a "normal" activity, after all. Everyone did it - my friends, their parents, my teachers. But it was taking up more and more of my free time. After school, my brother and I would flop down in front of it and watch "Films at 4" and "Monster Movie Matinee" along with the "Bozo the Clown Show." While I did get an excellent education about old movies in the process, my homework started to suffer.

Our TeeVee watching formed a preset pattern. From 3:00 to 6:00, we'd watch after-school programming. By then, my Father would be home, and we'd have dinner. After dinner, we'd sit down to "Laugh In," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," or "The Carol Burnett Show," before we'd toddle off to bed. Not surprisingly, this usually meant that we never got our homework done, except what little could be done between classes at school or on the bus.

My report cards started coming back with comments such as "Robert is a bright lad, but doesn't apply himself" and "seems to have a short attention span". Trained since birth to expect something new and different every 22 minutes, I could not sit still in classrooms for very long.

Unfortunately, the idea of "pulling the plug" on television never occurred to me - or to anyone else for that matter. It simply wasn't done. Perhaps it is only coincidence that as television viewing increased in the United States in the late 1960's we also entered an era of recession and decline in world power.

However statistics show that the average American watches 4.5 hours of television per day. Four and half hours. Every day. And that's just the average person - some are watching far more. If you factor in 8 hours for sleep and 8 hours for work, and a few hours for meals and chores, it is clear that the television takes up all the remaining free time of most Americans in a twenty-four hour day.

In High School, the viewing habits didn't change, other than to expand further. After dinner, or sometimes during dinner, my Mother and I would sit and watch syndicated shows that, thanks to new FCC regulations, dominate the airwaves during the hour immediately after the nightly news. We'd watch "Match Game '77" together, or re-runs of "Hogan's Heros" - a show my Mother started to appreciate, only after repeated viewings.

Re-runs brought a whole new dimension to television. In addition to the comfort of familiar characters and sets, we could count on hearing the same story, again and again. And in a way, that's what television had become - a type of comfort food. At the end of the day, we could sit down in a place where "everyone knows your name" and feel that we were with friends, if not a family.

Television was such a large part of my life and such a large part of who I was, that to give it up was not even an issue. I continued watching and continued squandering my life away. In the 1970's the Cable Television companies, once a rural phenomenon, started wiring the cities for Cable TV and petitioning local governments for lucrative franchises. Now, in addition to broadcast TeeVee, I could select from a number of additional channels including page after page of scrolling text, and something called "MTV".

College brought only limited respite from the onslaught of television. Televisions were helpfully placed in the dorm lounges, and many of us brought televisions to our dorm rooms. Today, many dorms are wired for cable. Television expanded into new time periods. Late night television, with the talk shows and "Saturday Night Live" mean that staying up to watch become a habit - along with waking up late and tired, with a stiff neck and that woozy feeling that comes from watching too much Television.

The problem at the time was, I didn't know that anything was wrong with what I was doing. I had watched television all my life - it was part of my life - and also a part of everyone else's. That my studies were suffering was surely because of some fault or weakness of my own, my own lack of skill or native intelligence. The idea that it could be the television that was sapping my life away had never occued to me.

Yet television continued to grow, and my viewing habits along with it. On my own now, I had two televisions, a "big" one in the living room for daily watching, and a small one in the bedroom. The invention of the infrared remote control meant that I could sit for hours at a time, without moving a muscle, and watch program after program, sometimes only brief minutes of each.

I would wake up in the morning and grab for the remote so I would watch the "Today" show while I dressed. Late at night, I'd fall asleep to Leno and Letterman - after an evening's worth of viewing in the living room. And still, it did not occur to me that perhaps television was affecting my life at all. How could it? This is what everyone did - sat in front of a flickering tube for hours on end.

Then things started to change - subtly at first. Watching television became less and less satisfying. The first thing I noticed was that television started advertising television on television. Advertisements started popping up for television shows, in between television shows. This was new and different. Today, they make up nearly half the ads on TeeVee. The idea is to get you to watch more. Instead of selling soap or new cars, television spends a lot of time selling itself.

I noticed this change with quiet outrage. At the time, I would mention it to others, only to be met with a blank stare. "So what?" they'd say. But I knew it was the beginning of something different about television. But still, I continued to watch, cringing internally every time the television exhorted me to watch yet another episode of M*A*S*H.

I also started to notice that I was channel surfing - a lot. The shows seemed dull and boring - or I had seen them many times before, thanks to re-runs. Deregulation meant that some channels had as much as 50% advertising content. A half-hour show was only 15 minutes long.

And then the ads started to increase in volume. Engineers tell me the volume is the same and they use a trick of editing to make the average level higher. But the effect is the same - every time an ad comes on, everyone scrambles for the remote. It was becoming increasingly clearly that television was becoming more crass.

Commercials became shorter and shorter, to the point where they were only five or ten seconds long. Teasers were used to get people to watch the evening news. In the time it took the local weatherman to say, "Snow in the forecast? Stay tuned at 11!" he could have told us whether it would snow or not. But that doesn't boost ratings, and that was what the television was all about.

At about that time, I did some work related to Cable Television Patents and got to meet a number of people in the industry. They explained to me exactly what was going on. It wasn't my imagination that television had changed. And the change was not accidental, but by design.

In the old days, like with radio before it, sponsors would pay to produce and show television shows. Television sold entertainment to its viewers, with the costs underwritten by the sponsors. But in the new economic model, the product was not the television programs, but the viewers. "Selling eyeballs" one Cable executive told me, was now the name of the game. They wanted to keep you watching, so they could sell your attention span to advertisers. And if that meant using trickery or deception to get you to watch, so be it.

Television started appearing everywhere, in elevators, bars, restaurants, airports, and even public schools. In many public spaces, the television blares at full volume, and you have no way of turning it off or even turning it down. Turning off the television and getting away from it became harder and harder. Today they have televisions in cars and on billboards. It will only be time before we wear them as clothing.

I started to notice that a movement was afoot against television. Unlike crusaders of past decades, who tried to "reform" or "clean up" television, these new tele-terrorists advocated eliminating television entirely, at least from your personal life and from public spaces. Their motto is "Kill Your Television!" When I first saw this on a bumper sticker, I laughed. Then I thought about it, and it started to make sense.

I suddenly realized that, for my entire life, I had been lied to at a very fundamental level. Television, being in existence since before I was born, seemed like a natural part of my life. In reality, it was a parasitic drain on my life, and as unhealthy and unnatural as processed white bread. It was making me sick, both physically and mentally, and was draining my life emotionally and financially. It robbed me of nearly every waking hour of free time I had. And worst of all, I had willingly given myself over to the TeeVee without a fight or protest. It was worse that the most addictive drugs, and far more freely available.

At first, I tried the idea of controlling my television habits. But I found this impossible to do. It was all to easy to click on the remote to "see what's on" while making dinner or reading a magazine. Soon, whatever else you are doing is forgotten, and the television has taken over.

So, I took a deep breath and called the cable company and cancelled my account. They asked if I was moving away and offered to reconnect me where I was moving to. I said "No, I'm not moving". They darkly asked if I had switched to direct dish, and I said, "No, it's not that either. I just don't want to watch it anymore."

"What do you mean?" they asked, "Everyone watches television!"

Well, not everyone, as I soon found out. I gave away my big Television to my neighbor before I could change my mind. She was flabbergasted that anyone would give away something as valuable and useful as a TeeVee. But there was no going back.

I found out that people who are effective in their lives don't watch much television - if at all. I noticed in interviews with wealthy and famous people that whenever an interviewer would ask a question such as "what's your favorite television program?" the interviewee would get nervous and uncomfortable and admit, "I'm afraid I don't watch much television".

Even more odd, most people who are ON television don't watch television. Actors and television personalities have busy schedules, and they cannot afford to waste four or five hours a day watching TeeVee. I realize that sitting around all day was ruining my life - and the life of millions of Americans.

Even worse than the time involved was the messages the television was presenting. The advertisements were mostly for new cars - which we were encouraged to lease at low, low monthly payments. Many of the ads were for outright rip-offs like payday loans and rent-to-own furniture. You can get an idea of the type of people who watch television just from the advertisements - people who are not very smart, and not very smart with their money.

The programming was no better. Particularly the news programs, which tended to emphasize the sensation and also bad news. We were bludgeoned to death with the same message over and over again - we are all passive victims of greater powers, and helpless to improve our own lot in life.

So-called "reality" television shows devolved into little more than hissy cat fights between contestants, with viewers rooting for one or the other. This sort of programming catered to the lowest common denominator in human behavior. Not surprisingly, around this time, I noticed an increase of such infighting, backbiting, and gossiping at my workplace. The people watching these "reality" shows seemed to believe that reality meant nursing grudges and getting involved in petty disputes with your neighbors, friends and co-workers. And why not? That was the "norm" the television was selling.

Once I pulled the plug on TeeVee, I realized what they had been trying to do to me all these years. I was angry with myself for falling victim to this trap, and also angry that we allow such an evil propaganda-spewing medium such wide access in our culture - under the control of a very few people.

Once I pulled the plug, my life improved dramatically. I realized that I had been nursing a form of low-level depression for years. I had fallen victim to the television trick of feeling sorry for myself and become fascinated with titillation and superficiality. But most of all, I had lost years and years from my life to the 'Tube." Suddenly, I had a whole new life to live.

With an extra four to five hours a day to live, I found my work a lot easier to get done. I was no longer tired and beaten down when I woke in the morning and was still feeling energized, even when I got home from work. Suddenly, there were enough hours in the day to complete all those home improvement projects - and take on more. I had fallen into the habit watching home improvement shows on TV instead of actually doing home improvement myself. No more!

I quit my job and opened my own business. Running my own business was something I simply could not do if I had the TeeVee habit. Unfortunately, it became all too clear that it was hard to hire employees who were victims of this drug, and no urine test could weed them out. But a casual question "what's your favorite TeeVee show?" during a job interview could tell me more about a person that all the resumes and character references combined.

I started investing in Real Estate, and since I had a lot of free time, I could afford to fix up properties myself, in my newly found "spare" time. At that time, no one was buying Real Estate because the television was still fixated on horror stories of the meltdown of 1989. Television watchers would tell me "You're a fool to buy Real Estate - you'll lose your shirt! You ought to get into this "dot com" business, it's the next big thing! I saw it on the TeeVee!"

I sold out of the Real Estate market and made a cool million. Again, my TeeVee watching friends all said I was a fool. "Everybody's making money in Real Estate now!" they chirped, "Didn't you hear about it on the TeeVee last night?" I asked them quietly how that "dot com" thing worked out and they quickly changed the subject.

Once I stopped getting normative cues and data from the television, I could get a better handle on reality. Reality told me that you can't make money forever, that you can't get something for nothing. Television tells you that for four easy payments of $19.95, you can have "washboard abs" with the "abominzer." Television is simply not real.

And the funny thing is, many people seem to be scared of reality. Reality can seem like a scary place, and the rampant escapism of the TeeVee can be a comforting place - like comfort food, where Hawkeye will surely say something about "this damn war!" and Norm will make a wry crack from the end of the bar, or perhaps Mary will say "Mister Grant!" and pout for the camera.

But once I started to embrace reality, I realized it is not such a scary place after all. But it is interesting. If you tell people you don't watch TeeVee, they give you a weird look, as though you had just announced you are a Communist. "What, No TeeVee at all? No 'Lost'? No "American Idol'? No 'CSI'? No "Evening News'? How can you keep up?

You try to explain to them that watching 15 minutes of sanitized and highly superficial "news" is hardly being informed, but they will have none of it.

On the other hand, you do run into other people who don't watch TeeVee, either, and it is like exchanging a secret handshake, or being members in a private club. And I find their observations about the same.

When you go back to watching TeeVee, at a friend's house, or in a public place, you realize very quickly that it is pretty stupid stuff. All of the shows are aimed at an 8th grade level, if that, with every story stripped of any confusing or threatening detail that might distract the viewer from a compelling graphic. And the advertisements - who buys this stuff? I look back and think "how did I get snookered in by these people for most of my life?"

It is like a great weight lifted from my back or a veil taken away from my eyes. I am like a blind man who can suddenly see, a deaf person who can suddenly hear. My life is now full of optimism and hope, even though I am surrounded by people who are beaten down depressed, and pessimistic by their televisions.

You see, people who watch TeeVee are pretty easy to take advantage of. Just look at whatever they all are doing and do the opposite, and you'll make out like a bandit.

Monday, February 2, 2009

10 Common College Mistakes

10 Common College Mistakes

College is viewed as the key to advancement in our society. Statistics about college are batted about by people who flunked statistics in college. "If you go to college, you'll make 25% more than someone who doesn't go to college!", they will chirp. So we are all encouraged to go to college so we can "make it big".

As some have noted however, statistics can be misleading. The cost of going to college, plus the four years of income lost, are often not factored into the equation. Also, just going to any college and studying anything is not going to insure you have a higher income. Our nation is full of people who went to college and have no marketable job skills to show for it - or any education for that matter. We have college graduates who cannot read and write.

The following is a list of common college mistakes people make. How did I compile this list? Simple. I just added up all the stupid dumb things that I did, and added in the stupid dumb things my friends did. It came up to 10.

It is possible to really screw up college badly. And as a college dropout, let me say this is based on first-hand experience. I managed to do OK, but it could have been a whole lot worse. You can end up flunking out of college, with bad grades on your transcript, heavily in debt, your credit rating destroyed, with no prospects for a job or career as a result. In recent years, this scenario has been made worse by credit card and student loan debt. Starting out life this way is tough, to say the least. Take a moment to read this list, if you are heading off to college. It may help you avoid such pitfalls.

Here's my list:

1. Wrong School

Too many people end up going to the wrong school. By wrong school, I mean one that doesn't cater to their interests or needs, or costs too much for the education they receive. Reputation of a school is important, as people reading your resume will recognize the name of your school, even if it is from the sports team. However, sometimes spending top dollar on a "name" school education can be short-sighted. If you can get into Harvard or Yale, hey, that's great. That sort of provenance will enhance your career - plus I hear they are good schools.

But if you are a young person starting out, and don't have a lot of money to spend on college, you may be better off with a well respected State school. Plus, getting A's in a State School may be better than graduating at the bottom of the class at Yale. Although that didn't seem to hurt President Bush, did it?

Picking a major is often difficult for young people. Many will give you a blank look and say "I don't know what I want to do with my life, so I'll just pick 'general studies' for now". MISTAKE!

Everyone has talents and interests, and young people like to play the game that they have neither. You are better off picking a direction, ANY direction, rather than picking no direction at all. As we shall see, you can change your mind at any time (and most do) so don't worry if you pick the "wrong" major.

I started out wanting to be an Automotive Engineer. This morphed into Plant Engineering with a minor in Industrial Hydraulics and Pneumatics. Later, this changed to HVAC Engineering, and then later Electrical Engineering with an emphasis on instrumentation and control theory. Then.. whoops! I became a Lawyer.

Although I changed my mind several times in the process, each earlier coursework and experience lead to another, and enhanced the overall experience. College is a lot about learning what you DON'T want to do, perhaps moreso that learnnig what you WANT to do. Most of us end up in fields far from our initial goals.

But chosing the wrong goal is better than no goal at all. If it is the wrong goal, you can learn at least that you don't want to follow that path -and learn something in the process. If you choose no goal, you learn nothing.

And when choosing a major, pick something that will eventually lead to a job. Education for the sake of education is fine and all, but increasingly unrealistic in this day and age. In the structured class society of olde England, wealthy young men from proper families could afford to go to Oxford and study the "classics" because they had no need to make a living for themselves.

In America in the 1940's and 1950's a young man with an English Literature degree could find work in publishing and even business. But today, such degrees, while worthwhile for those interested in the field, are a dead-end for most people. It may sound crass and commercial, but you need to think about where this is going and what you are going to get out of it.

Pick your school based on bang for the buck. The end goal, after tens of thousands of dollars in spending, is to have a diploma that will do something for you. For those educators out there who think this is crass, blame yourselves. The spiraling cost of tuition has made a college education something that you have to look at very carefully, on a cost/benefit basis.

Now if you are the son or daughter of wealthy parents, none of this applies to you. Just go to college, party all you want. It's not really important. But for the rest of us, who have to seek our fortune, college is a square business proposition.

If you really don't know what you want to do, taking time off might not be a bad idea, provided you do more than get a minimum wage job and your girlfriend pregnant. The fear parents have is that once you take "time off" the odds you will go to college decrease dramatically. As an alternative, consider a local school, perhaps part time or at night, where you can get basic course credits that can readily be transferred to a University or major College later on. Freshman English is Freshman English, no matter where you take it. Spending $4000 on such a course at a major university, when you are unsure of you goals, could be a mistake.

Also, College is not for everyone. Many folks graduate from lesser institutions, such as Community Colleges, with two-year degrees in things as nebulous as "general studies" or "political science" or worse. While it is good that you've demonstrated the ability to handle coursework, such degrees add little to a resume. What ends up happening is that you either go back to a "real" college or learn a craft at a Trade School.

You know, a lot of plumbers and electricians earn more than Lawyers. And the plumbers and electricians are on the golf course every day at 3:00, while the young Lawyers are hard at work until the late evening. If you really do not feel you are "cut out" for college, then cut to the chase and learn something useful. Better off learning to weld than wasting two years in "General Studies" (IMHO).


2. Too Much Debt

In the old days, the only way a student could end up in debt was through student loans. For undergraduates, the amount you could borrow was limited, based on demonstrated "need". For graduate students, this standard was based on ability to pay back. Today, they lend money until you can't find any more places to spend it. Student loans are like a crack epidemic. Many students are finding themselves saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after graduate school, sometimes with little hope of ever paying it off.

For many graduate students, life as a student is better than the subsequent life as an employee. I knew people in law school who used student loans to buy new cars and rent expensive apartments. They lived a great lifestyle, for a time. When they graduated, they found the pay for lawyers less than what they thought it would be. Suddenly, those loan payments kicked in, and they found themselves poorer as lawyers than they were as students.

If you can live on less as a student, do it. Every penny borrowed is a nickel you have to pay back. So don't borrow if you don't need to.

Since my college days a new trend has popped up. Credit card companies have aggressively recruited students on campus with credit card offers. They use tag lines and arguments like "now is the time to build your credit rating!" when in fact, what ends up happening is the opposite.

The typical student gets the credit card and quickly runs it up to the limit. A new sweater here, lunch out for friends there, and pretty soon, the student is thousands in debt. Late payment and interest charges accrue (often at 22.5% or more) and the student's credit rating is dinged - heavily.

The credit card companies count on Mom and Dad bailing out their kid, and paying off the debt, which is what happens to most middle class kids (along with a lecture from Dad). But now the student's credit rating is trashed. Upon graduation, you'll need that credit rating to get a job (yes, they check this) an apartment (yes, as a landlord, I checked this) and a car. With your credit rating shot, you are now behind the 8-ball.

Yes, it seems that "everyone" at school has a credit card. But don't fall for it. None of us can control spending with a credit card, even after years and years of hard experience. You think at 18 you can do better? The credit card companies are betting you won't.

By the way, with your credit destroyed, you will only be able to qualify for loans on the worst sort of terms. This is one reason they want you to have a low credit score. The credit industry does not make money on "good" credit score people - it rakes it in from those who have bad credit.


3. Party Hearty!

I dropped out of school in part because of drugs and alcohol. I at least lasted nearly three years before dropping out. I've seen friends drop out after their FIRST SEMESTER because of drinking and drugs.

Again, the game has changed since I was a student. Back then, the drinking age was 18, and most students came to college after the novelty of drinking beer had worn off.

Today, many students have their first drinking experience at college, and many go off the deep end. The social aspect of college can be overwhelming for many, and many lose track of the real reason they are there.

College for many is the first time they experience "adult" living. The limited freedom afforded in high school - being able to drive, experimenting with sex, having a part-time job, pales in comparison with the responsibilities of college.

Here, you have to be self-motivating and take care of yourself and think for yourself. For some, this aspect of living overwhelms the studies. Getting your first apartment, setting up house, perhaps with a significant other, living an (apparently) independent life, can be too much.

And to some extent, that is what college is partly about - the transition from childhood to adulthood. But if drugs or alcohol, or partying and socializing take up too much of your time, your studies can suffer, not to mention your emotional health.

Often drug and alcohol use is a cover for underlying emotional issues (next section) or perhaps your mind telling you that you are really, really unhappy with the school and the studies. If this is the case, consider changing majors, or perhaps changing schools. There is no point in staying at a school that isn't working out for you, and possibly flunking out, when you can transfer to another school seamlessly and start over.


4. Emotional Health Issues

The late teenage years and early 20's are a time fraught with emotional peril. As I note in my blog, your emotional state is very important from a financial point of view, as depression and mental illness can make it difficult and expensive to live.

Depression is common among teens. Don't be afraid to seek help if you need it. Most colleges and universities have counseling departments there to help you. Seek them out if you are unhappy in your studies. You may find there are alternatives you never thought of.

More serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, manifest themselves typically at this age as well. Again, there is no shame in getting help for such illnesses. It is not surprising that students have emotional and mental health issues in college - it is the norm.

Many young people also have issues with their personal lives, struggling with family issues, sexual identity, and the like. This is not an easy time, and the added pressure of exams, living independently, and the like, can really crank up the stress.

Take time to be kind to yourself. If it all seems too much, try dropping your course load until you get your head in a place you want to be. Don't feel that you have to plow through this four year process under the threat of constant failure. You are in control of this process!

As we shall see, there is life after college, even if you drop out.


5. Summer Jobs

Some young people view summer as a time to party. School is out, and you might as well have fun. While that might work for High School, bear in mind that upon graduation, you will need to show some future employer that you have at least a modicum of ambition.

Thus, getting a summer job is pretty important. Getting one in a field you are studying in, or related to one you are studying in, is important as well. Even volunteer work or unpaid internships are better than nothing on your resume.

A "McJob" might be acceptable if you need to raise money for school. But as a career enhancer, working at the Hot Dogg Hutt at the Mall isn't going to help. Some jobs are obviously better than others, and an unpaid internship in a related field to your major is probably a better idea that some low paying teen job.

Co-op schooling is also an excellent idea. In the co-op scheme, you spend half your time working at a company, and half in school. You may be able to make enough this way to pay for a substantial part of your college costs. I co-oped with General Motors Institute (now Kettering University) and it was a positive experience - which later landed me a job at UTC, even though I dropped out.

Also, it is possible to work full time and attend school at night or part time. I worked at United Technologies and attended school at night - and they even paid my tuition! Later on, I took a leave of absence from the job to finish my degree - and they brought me back as a co-op! The idea that you can't "afford" school is nonsense.

I also worked my way through law school in a similar manner - working by day and going to school by night - with my tuition reimbursed by my employer. It is hard work, but not unrealistically hard.

If you can't find a job (which might be the case today) consider summer school. If a future potential employer asks what you did in the summer, you are better off saying "I took additional classes to enhance my education" than to say "I bummed around at the beach".

Summer school is a blast, by the way. The whole college is deserted and everyone seems to be on vacation, even the professors, who seem to grade higher. Since you are generally only taking one or two courses anyway (which makes a part-time job feasible) your grades are usually higher and it is easier to study.

Lowering your course load during the year and taking a summer class is a good way to boost your grade average, cut back your work load, and improve your mental health in the process.


6. Knowing How to Drop Out

Many schools, during Freshman orientation, will say things like "look to the left of you, and look to the right of you, one of you won't be here in four years!"

Dropout rates can be as high (or higher than) 1/3 in some schools. Of course, as Freshman, we all like to think it is the "other guy" who is going to fall by the wayside.

However, given the odds of this bet, you should keep a dropout strategy in mind at ALL times. It is highly likely that you will not graduate from the school you start in.

There is NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. People, like my idiotic Father, would say things like"once you start something, you have to stick with it!" and "no one likes a quitter!". This sage advice was from a man who could not keep a job more often than we change Presidents.

Quitting a course of study you find unpleasant and not to your liking is a GOOD IDEA. If you decide you don't want to be a lawyer or a doctor, QUIT! The last thing the world needs is some unhappy doctor or lawyer who is just in it for the money, struggling to pay off student loans.

You get ONE LIFE on this planet, make the most of it. Spend your life doing something you love to do. Don't squander it doing something that you feel you "have" to do to please family or expectations. (for those of you who believe in reincarnation, the same advice applies - you will come back as a sea slug if you follow a career that you dislike).

The key to dropping out in STYLE is in doing it right. Dropping out of college won't ruin your life. It hasn't ruined mine. And that Bill Gates fellow seems to be doing all right, in spite of dropping out of Harvard (OK, bad example, he saddled us with the worst OS known on the planet). But the point is, you will come out the other end unscathed - particularly if you do it right.

First, always keep track of DROP/ADD deadlines. If you see a course that you are not doing well in, try to DROP it before the deadline, and it will not appear on your transcript. You are better off dropping the course and getting no grade than getting an "F", which tanks your GPA. In addition, if you drop before the deadline, you can get your tuition refunded. Sweet!

Second, talk to a counselor or faculty advisor. Be frank. If you are not doing well in your courses and are unhappy with your major, tell them you need to change majors - or perhaps take time off. If you can drop out of college as a PLANNED EVENT, instead as a result of academic suspension, you will not only save money, but your grade average will be better too. Plus you will feel better about the whole process. You may even be able to take leave from college and return later. The point is, you have other options than drinking yourself into a stupor - or worse.

Every year, at nearly every school, some poor student tries to do himself in, thinking that he has no other way out - that his parents will be disappointed and that he will be marked as a failure for the rest of his life. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Did I show you my BMW collection? There is life after dropping out. Quite a good life, in fact.

If you can make a seamless TRANSFER to another school or another major, so much the better. But sometimes, it may be necessary to fall back and punt. I went to work for UTC and kept at my studies at Syracuse University in their night program. Funny thing - the tuition for the night program was less than for regular students. And the courses offered were the same required parts of the curriculum that I needed to take anyway. After two years of good grades in the night program, I was able to transfer in as a full-time student.

Many schools provide such "back door" methods of entry. Just bear in mind that usually less than HALF the overall credits needed to graduate will be transferred from the previous institution. Colleges have to make their money, and when they sell you a sheepskin, they don't want to discount it too much.

Keep your dropout strategy in mind at all times. If you do, chances are you won't need it, as you'll take corrective action in your college career before the worst can happen.


7. Frat Boy!

Fraternities bear special mention as they can be real time-wasters and also lead to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as emotional difficulties. For young women, these can be dangerous places, where date rape is all too common. Frankly, there is very little good to be had from the "Greek System" as many Colleges and Universities are discovering. At best, they are gathering places for elitst snobs. At worst, they are havens for abusive behavior, both to pledges and to others (e.g., young co-eds). Fraternities routinely embarrass and bring down the reputation of their parent institutions. Rarely do they enhance them.

Fraternaties like to sell the idea that being a member will entitle you to special benefits later on in life. That the secret handshake or frat ring will land you a job at a company, if the President also was a member of the same Fraternity at a different school, 20 years earlier. Sure, that makes sense.

The very notion, of course, is absurd. Yes, it is possible that some folks may use non-business indicia in selecting business partners or employees. However, in this day and age, this is becomeing less and less so. Companies have to compete based on performance. So the fact you are wearing the old school tie is of less importance than your overall competance.

To some extent, the Frat promise is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Since traditionally most frats drew their members from a certain upper class social strata, they members would tend to be well off later in life. But this is more an effect of the pre-filtering criteria than and effect of the membership in the group. If all the group members are selected from spoiled rich kids, it is not suprising that later in life they tend to be spoiled rich adults.

Some Frats would like you to believe that they have "Exam files" that have all the answers to exams from years past - and as a result, you can get an easy "A" without studying. In some cases this is actually true. However, professors do change Exams, and woe be to the Frat Boy who memorized the answers to last year's exam, only to find that the prof decided to change the test.

Also, this sort of "learning" is self-defeating. Knowing the answers in advance is just a form of cheating. You can cheat in life and get away with it - for a while. But it has been my experience that it never works for long. Eventually, that sort of activity catches up with a person one way or another.

I knew a girl in college for example, who used to use a fraternity's answer keys to get easy "A's" in classes. When the professor said he was changing the exam this year, she would cry "Foul!" and complain to the Dean (I kid you not). She managaged to graduate with a good grade average and landed a good job with a big company.

10 years later, I ran into her. She lost the job with the big company when it became abundently clear that she really didn't know anything (you can't fake Engineering for very long). She then went to work for her Father's business, which she inherited when he died. Last I heard, it had gone bankrupt and was a hazmat cleanup site.

What was the point of her college career? Her short career? Her life? At the time in college, I was chagrined that people like her "got ahead". But with the benefit of time, I see that she never got anywhere. I feel sad for her, if anything.

I pledged a frat in college, and it was mildly amusing for a while. However, despite the pledges of "brotherhood" and "fraternitity", many of the members actually hated each other's guts. What it really boiled down to was sharing a large apartment with roommates you didn't like. For example, one "brother" routinely beat his girlfriend black and blue. The other "brothers" refused to intervene, even after the Police and Ambulances were called - on several occasions. I guess Fraternaties are like a family - a severely disfunctional one.

I was pretty disgusted by the whole deal, frankly, so I walked away from it.


8. Extracurricular Activities

Like Fraternitites, extracurricular activities can be real time bandits. While some extracurricular activities can be useful on your resume, if they are related to your field of study, it is possible to get involved in too many non-academic activities that add little or nothing to your educational career.

Yes, some are fun, and they can be a great way to meet friends. But try to pick a few or one that is most important. If extracurricular activities are cutting into your studies, your grades will suffer. Glee Club ain't worth it. I enjoyed some organized student groups in college, but they took up a LOT of time, and in the end, cut too much into my studies. They did nothing for my resume later on.

As a student, it may seem like all the other students are out partying and having a good time and never studying. And if you study, they will mock you and say "come on, let's go to a frat party and drink beer!" See my article "They're BAITING You!". Many people like to drag others down to their level - don't be tempted by it. Yes, a lot of freshmen are party animals. But remember, a lot of freshmen won't be graduating in four years, either.


9. Taking the Hard Courses

This topic should be addressed while you are still in High School. For many students, shedding hard courses begins in the 9th grade with math. Many schools do not require it after the 9th grade, so many stop taking it.

And some students will willingly take "B" or "C" level courses and get "A's" rather than take the harder "A" level courses and merely get "B's" or "C's".

For example, when I was in High School, I always was in the "A" level courses, but I never got very good grades. Meanwhile, other students who were dumb as posts were getting straight A's taking remedial Math and English - and making the Honor Roll! It did not seem very fair.

But "Dumbing Down" is never a good idea. When you apply for that first job, your college transcript is the only thing they have to go on. If your courseload is all junk courses, it says a lot about who you are and how you treated the college experience.

For example, my Brother once spend his Junior year at a very expensive University taking courses like "Drugs in Perspective" and "History of War in Films". They sat around and talked about Drugs and watched old John Wayne movies. He thought this was a riot, at $10,000 a year of my parent's money (they ran out when it was my turn for school, but that's another story, not that I'm bitter or anything).

The problem is, his college transcript read as follows: "Party boy, took easy courses that were fun, avoided all hard work and hung out instead". As a potential employer, I would look at that resume and say "this guy is a SLACKER, no thanks!" And employers did just that. He ended up having to go to graduate school in order to get qualified for a job.

And that is the tragedy of college today. For many youth, it is little more than an extension of High School, with partying and the social life taking prominence over the course work. As a result, many are graduating with no job skills or abilities, or even a basic education. Graduate School has become the College Education of today. College is the new High School.


10. Grades & Course Load

Grades are important, but not the end of the world. If you get good grades, you might qualify for a scholarship, as I learned. Taking a heavy load of courses and getting poor grades is often a bad idea, when you can take a lighter load and have more time to enjoy the course work and get better grades.

As noted above, summer school can be a good way to spread out your course load over the year and get better grades as a result. Once I discovered this trick, I was able to get nearly straight A's and also a small scholarship from the University.

Unfortunately, Universitites have these silly rules on how long it can take to get a degree, and how many courses you HAVE to take to be a "full time" student. Rules can be bent in many cases, so don't be afraid to ask, if you need the additional time or space.

Like I said, be good to yourself. No one else will.

* * * *

Again, most of these mistakes I made myself in my college career. College is important in teaching you how to think, not just what to think. It can help you land that first job and launch your career.

But frankly, just as no one cares what you did in High School once you are in College, no one cares about your College grades once you've been out in the field for 10 years or more.

Good Luck!