My project life cycle: all of the feels #mixer

While I was working at AIG this summer, I was introduced to a little thing called the project life cycle. It loosely looks like the following: initiate, planning, executing, monitoring, and controlling. If I were to describe my project/portfolio it looks more like this: initiate, planning, executing, sadness, excitement, anger, and then panic. Then it basically cycles around the last four phases over and over again.

All jokes aside, there is a lot between now and graduation, and I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. Granted, my e-portfolio isn’t what I’m most concerned about because I’m quite excited about putting it together, making it look nice, polishing it, etc. I could spend hours on the computer just messing with the portfolio. The main issue that I’m having is working through my project to get it to a point where it actually constitutes a capstone project.

To give you a brief intro, I’m looking at the issues and concerns that college-aged women have when it comes to their professional lives and appearances and how seven women deal with that. I’m basically trying to determine what small things men and women can do every day to help mitigate for those issues. So I’m essentially just panicking about bringing this project into reality. I’ve got a bunch of wonderful material to work with, but it’s a matter of determining how to actually present that material.

The Juggling Act

As if we don’t have enough work to be preoccupied with as it is (view my previous post – The Stretch Run), Michigan basketball also just happens to be in the midst of a potential Final Four run. How can students reasonably be expected to attend to their work with such an extraordinary current event taking place before our very eyes. Every time I think about working on my project I immediate wish that my name was Nik Stauskas, not Benji Shanus. I am short, he is tall. I am an obnoxious American, he is a Canadian Saint. I am procrastinating, he is wowing NBA scouts. Good.

Does anyone have any good tactics of motivating themselves to be productive? I try to break things down into smaller chunks and make a checklist of what I need to do. Each day, I make it a priority to accomplish a certain number of tasks. Today just happens to be one of those days where nothing is clicking. I went to the library with the intention of doing work with a combination of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers in the background. What has actually transpired has been quite the contrary. Bieber and the Brothers have been rocking my world, as I’ve occasionally managed to jot down a few notes. Don’t let this be you. Get rid of Cable and upgrade to Direct TV.

Blind Pig

So absolutely nothing related to the minor/any and all upcoming work (of which there is a ton).  Last night a few friends and I saw a show at the Blind Pig, which was awesome.

The headlining group was called RAC, and they primarily perform/compose “dancey”-pop remixes of popular alternative music.  For example, they have remixed Two Door Cinema Club, Phoenix, Tokyo Police Club, Foster the People, and more. They also have recently started making their own original music.  Aside from plugging this group that I like, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at the Blind Pig.  The venue was fairly small and was a good hike from the diag, but it was well worth it (I took cabs both ways but it would have been a good hike).  The crowd was packed in, but it wasn’t I didn’t feel particularly cramped or like I was constantly being shoved which is a huge drawback of some other smaller venues.  Downstairs there was a pretty cool bar, and some booths for some people to hang around in prior to the show or in between acts.  More importantly, there were a bunch of dart boards for you danger-addicts.  I would definitely recommend you bite the bullet and see a show there before you graduate if you have not.  The tickets typically are pretty cheap; $15-20.

I’ll certainly be back if I have the chance.

P.S. There was free popcorn which was dank

Illustrated Passage: How Businesses Use Your SATs #RayRay

The following New York Times article details that many elite companies such as McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs still ask a job candidate for his/her SAT score when applying for an entry-level position.  Ultimately, the article attributes the desire for SAT scores to help weed out applicants early in the recruiting process.  “They’re most valuable early in the process because we get tens of thousands of applications and we don’t interview tens of thousands of people,” Jennifer Comparoni, head of recruiting in the Americas at the Boston Consulting Group said.

When I recruited for internships last year, I remember both Amazon and McKinsey & Company asking for my SAT/ACT scores.  Yet, most companies did not require them and instead asked for just my GPA, resume, and a cover letter.  A few companies asked me to complete their own standardized mathematics exam and corporate culture survey as a more effective way to evaluate prospective job candidates.  While I do not believe that a SAT/ACT score is a good predictor of success in a full-time job position, I understand the desire of companies to save time in narrowing down their applicant pool.  Instead, I think it’s more effective to use GPAs, recommendation letters, and even the college attended as a better way to evaluate candidates.  And the most effective tool I believe is an internship because over a 10-week period a company gets a really good idea about a candidate’s work potential along with his/her demeanor and attitude.

I’ve chosen the following photo to illustrate my opinion about the New York Times article. Please let me know your thoughts!


Photo Citation:


Who Am I?

First, a little clarification. The paragraphs that follow this one will eventually make up my final essay for this class—a narrative of my evolution as a writer. For now, they are mere first thoughts on the topic, and therefore may not seem as developed as one (aka me) would hope.

Who am I as a writer?  Woah, what a loaded question (and very existential I might add). First I feel like I have to figure out who I am as a person before I decide who I am as a writer. And I feel like we never stop learning about ourselves, so does that mean that we’re always developing as writer?

This idea takes me back to my first essay for this class (Why I Write). I spoke briefly about how the education system teaches us how to evolve as writers, starting with learning the alphabet. After the alphabet comes stringing sentences together, then answering the five W’s (and one H), and then paragraphs. Quickly following, we learned about structured paragraphs, thesis statements, five paragraph essays, research papers, journalistic pieces, free form writing, and now in the 21st century, alternative and new media writing. In a sense, we’ve always had a structure to our writing.

Even in college, the writing has been structured. We know what professors like what (a one sentence thesis vs. a two sentence thesis) and we know how to play into the grade game (what will get me the best way). In a way, we forget about writing to write, and we write what we know will please our professors. The writing that I’ve done in this class differs than other writing I’ve done in college because it’s not purely academic. It allows for a lot more room for creativity, innovation and independence. I haven’t had to follow a format (i.e. thesis statement, 5 paragraphs, research paper), which allows me to refrain from being tied down to a certain type of essay. In addition, the tone has changed, as I’m allowed to be more open and honest with my writing.

As my writing is shifting, and I’m gaining much more independence, I’m trying to think how this is symbolic in my life. As I’ve aged and gone through the education system, I’ve gained a lot more independence. As I learned more skills, my professors have trusted me to play around with what I have. Even thinking back to English 125, my professor always gave us a clear distinction of what he wanted. Now, my professors purposely don’t tell me, so that we have the ability to produce what we feel is important. This relates to my life because as I progress, I grow more independent. Pretty soon, I will be done with my formal education (for now), and I won’t be tied down to a “system.” Therefore, I will lose all formal structure and have to start again.

It’s kind of a scary thought—having to start all over again. But it really isn’t starting again. It’s taking what we’ve learned and applying it to new experiences. It’s not like we become clean slates. We now have so much more knowledge to add. Kind of scary, but also liberating.

The Power of Being Present in Your Writing

As we’ve been thinking about how we’ve grown as writers this semester, it got me thinking a lot about my style of writing, which got me thinking about the words that I use. In class, we recently came upon this online writing tool that basically deconstructs your writing for you and tells you all of the things you need to watch out for. It’s kinda like going to the doctor, but for writing instead. Surprise surprise, I got “flabby” (they use weight terms) for most of my paragraphs, save for one random “fit and trim”. I knew that it was going to happen. For me, writing was sort of a way for me to blab about whatever first came into my mind. Thinking about what I wanted to write was always so much work for me. No wonder I wasn’t particularly fond of academic papers. They never understood why my writing was so confused and broad.

But through this class, I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to different types of advice and ideas about writing from authors of different fields and experiences. Through peer revising, I started to realize that I had to take my writing seriously. Now I’ve always treated writing with importance, but if I speak with all honesty, I would never really think while I was writing. I would never stop to ask myself “What am I trying to really say here?”. Instead, I would mindlessly type the first thing that came to mind for the sake of filling up space and getting a grade. I took Ann Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” to heart (even before I read it) and convinced myself that it was okay to be a bad writer because everybody’s writing was bad in a first draft. It just happened to be that most of my academic papers were first drafts.

I’m trying to be mindful, not mindless

It’s kind of a dangerous mentality. On one side, you’re giving yourself the freedom to write without letting the critical voices get to your head. But it also allows for you to turn in and have people read whatever crap you wrote and then reason with yourself that it’s okay because “all writing starts out bad”. I didn’t want to give myself the opportunity to even change as a writer because that would take work, effort, and the possibility or risk of failure: three things that are incredibly difficult for me to overcome. I always want the easy side of things. The road less traveled is the road I avoid the most. I never push myself or challenge myself to become better in something because I convince myself that “this is just who I am, and I can’t change the fact that I’m a bad writer”. But I’m slowly starting to realize that writing is a fluid skill that is always up for improvement, as with everything else in life. It’s something that’s important to me, and I see it’s power and influence through viral articles, academic papers, and the like.

If the power of the written word is great, and it is something I greatly admire and appreciate, don’t I owe to myself to at least try?

That’s what I’ve thinking about. Isn’t it funny? I’ve actually been thinking about the words I use when I write. I’ve started thinking about why my sentences tend to sound awkward, and why I use certain words more than others. By taking a moment to just think, my attitude about writing greatly changes as well as the process itself. I take it more seriously, therefore creating better quality work.

The power of being present is something that I greatly strive to achieve. In a culture where it’s so easy to be passive and hide behind all our technology, we lose the chance to be present as active participants in our own writing and lives. I’ve been letting my “I don’t have time and I don’t care and I’m not good at it originally so why even bother” attitude stink up my writing and it’s time for me to let it go.

If the attitude changes, perhaps the writing will change as well. One can only hope.

You’re asking who I am as a writer? That makes two of us.

Preface: This is essentially a free-write where I drone on about my “evolution” as a writer, which I’m going to work on for my final essay.

I came into college freshman year Hell-bent on becoming the next Erin Andrews. Looking back at it, I might want to stop saying she was my role model because she shot herself in the foot career-wise. But that’s beside the bigger point here, which is that I wanted to be a sports broadcaster in the worst way. I thought it was so appealing to be on television talking about sports 24/7, but then I found out that it wasn’t all I had chalked it up to be.

After a year and a half chasing that dead-end dream, I decided to switch gears. The greater majority of women in my family are/were in the education field, so naturally I thought about teaching. The only bad part about this idea is that I have about as much patience as a hungry lion standing by an unarmed zookeeper- AKA, not a whole lot.

Finally in the fall of my junior year, I was thinking about writing for a magazine. I write for two publications on campus, so it felt natural to continue this progression after I graduate. Except I have fallen victim to what the kids call “burning out.” Now I am a year away from graduation, writing editorial pieces is growing old, and I haven’t the foggiest idea of where to direct my life.

All that I’m trying to say with this is that my evolution as a college student has been pretty normal. I’m 21 years old and I still have no clue what I want to do when I grow up. All I honestly know is that I’ve been writing throughout this entire journey, for whatever that’s worth.

That sounds rather blazé, but it’s true. These past few semesters I’ve been trying to figure out the importance of having my writing by my side, and working on my minor in writing has only emphasized this more. It’s odd because I’m not quite sure where I sit with writing. Hearing my classmates talk about writing novels or screenplays in their free time makes me feel inadequate, but I think that might be the beauty of writing— it has different meanings for everyone. For me, it’s just something I do, like it’s an extension of myself. I never try to be extremely formal when I write, because, like, what’s the fun in that? Maybe that’s the wrong way of saying that; I just include my personality in everything I write. For instance, I’ve never been one to write a boring introduction, there always has to be a cultural reference or a witty remark (at least it’s witty in my mind).

That being said, writing on this blog all semester has really allowed me to do me (YOLO). The way I see it, there is only so much of your own voice that you can put into an article about a Michigan athlete (a lot of what I write for the yearbook). While it is fun to try to find a new angle to cover a story, nothing really compares to just being completely me in my writing, which I can do in a blog. I feel like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music when she is singing “The Hills are Alive” and dancing in the field of flowers, except I would be having a severe allergic reaction to nature if that were the literal case.

After writing this, I’ve realized I don’t really like calling the past couple of years my “evolution as a writer.” I don’t think that’s the right term. It probably doesn’t sit well with me because I just think of humans evolving from monkeys…thanks Charles Darwin. I just don’t think it’s analogous with my situation. I haven’t really changed, transformed, or become this supreme writer, and I think “evolution” signifies coming from the bare minimum. Instead, I like to think of my life as a map-less road trip where my writing is my only fuel. I don’t really have a final destination in mind, but when I make it there, I’ll be home.

Peer Reviews

In every English class I’ve ever taken, we’ve been required to do peer reviews. In most of my classes, nobody actually wanted to read through three different people’s essays and offer suggestions for improvement, mostly because they were afraid of offending or honestly didn’t know how to improve the writing. I’ve been to countless classes where we did peer reviews that resulted in comments like, “Your essay was so good, I might just consider a title change!” with no new suggested title, or thoughts on where I might go with it.

These types of reviews were always a disappointment and made me feel like I was wasting my time. My English professor freshman year, though, had a different take on things. She said that peer review wasn’t necessarily so that you could improve your paper based on what your peers suggested, but so that you could look at others’ writing and find where their strengths and weaknesses were and apply your own thoughts to your own paper. Many times, she said, she never even looked at comments made by her peers when she was in graduate school, but applied her own critiques to her work.

Either way, I always feel like I fail at reviewing other people’s work. I can offer so many comments of “I like what you did here, that was very clever,” and “That title is so catchy.” What I’m bad at is pointing out room for improvement. I don’t think I’m afraid of offending someone; it just seems to me that every suggestion I make would be a total style call, and mine would be different from the author’s. This way, I don’t benefit from reading my peers’ work, and they don’t get much out of it either.

So far, this gateway course has provided much more insightful reviews, since everyone in the class wants to write. I always get such great feedback from all of my classmates, but I almost never know what to say when it’s my turn to reciprocate. I think I’m too easy to please when it comes to writing, as I’ve always enjoyed reading things. I’m great at sentence-level editing and correcting grammar, but these things are trivial when it comes to reviewing the roughest of drafts.

I guess I need some help on my reviewing skills. I know I’m supposed to ask the big questions: what was the main argument? Was the essay/poem/story effective at getting the point across? Does the tone sound appropriate? These questions should serve as a guide, but it always seems to be the same thing: “Yeah, I totally got the argument, and I love that you used this form to make it. I wasn’t really confused at this part, I think that you’re being too hard on yourself with your comments.”

I think that part of this is because I’m afraid of offending, but mostly it’s because I think everyone is so much better of a writer than I am. I almost don’t feel qualified to comment on their writing because I’m not even close to their level. This is harsh criticism of myself, and I know it’s probably not warranted. But I guess it’s true that we are our own toughest critics, and I’m continually working to grow out of it.

if i had the time

By the Huron River
The Huron River is one of my most favorite–and peaceful–places on campus.

Too many things exist in this world that I want to see, do, and experience, and yet, I seem to never have the time. While having to listen to an episode of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour for my Syntax of Sports class, I couldn’t help but think about how I wanted to become a regular listener of the show, as well as sample many of the options on NPR’s site for podcast and others in the iTunes store or online. This caused me to spiral into a thinking storm about everything else I always want to do but can never get around to do them because life gets in the way. Our hours are tied up in school, work, clubs, and engaging with our family and friends. When we stumble upon free time, it usually goes towards catching up on sleep or de-stressing through whatever means necessary.

If I had the time, I would want to frolic in the Arb almost every day, or at least hold frequent picnics and runs in what I like to think as Ann Arbor’s forest. During warmer times, the Arb is a place free from air air pollution, the hustle and bustle of campus and generally, most people. The steps that lead into the Huron River is my favorite place to hang out within city limits. A close second is the meadow area, vast green open space where frisbees fly freely, kids act as kids, and the occasional lovers embrace each other under the shade of a large tree on a hot day. I spent many summer afternoons there last year tanning, reading, and feeling careless on my blanket I always carried around me. I also got used to taking power naps outside, something I never really embraced until last year either.

If I had the time, I would vary the places and topics in which I expanded my mind more. I’ve always wanted to spend an afternoon just reading a novel for pleasure in the Reading Room of the Law Library. I’ve also wanted to re-familiarize myself with the very particular rules of major sports so that when I watch them I know what’s going on at any given time and can speak intelligently about it. Also, I want to watch more sports documentaries and live of the great stories of our time. While I’ve watched over twenty of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, there’s so much more sports history to explore.

If I had the time, I would binge watch successful shows like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, which until today I have not seen a single minute of. Also, I would watch Academy Awards winners of years past and explore the stories of brilliant cinema throughout time. Then I would re-watch my ultimate favorites more, movies that can make me smile no matter how contrary I may be feeling otherwise.

If I had the time, I would practice activities where I lack good skills, like swimming. Swimming at the Bell Pool in the CCRB is something I do more when in the summer where scheduling an hour swim in my day won’t intrude on other obligations. As someone who only learned to swim when I was a freshman in high school, I still can’t do a regular freestyle stroke and opt for a modified side stroke to awkwardly flow through the water. It feels good and gets my heart pumping, even though it takes me about 50 minutes to swim a mile. I always wanted to swim properly, and would put forth the time required to reach that goal—if I had it.

If I had the time, I would also play the piano more and reignite the mastery I had with it when I played for six years in my youth. If I had the time, I would go on bike rides to nowhere more often, intentionally getting lost so that I may find my way back again and just enjoy the ride. I could go on and on about all the things I would do if I had the time. Hopefully these ideas and dreams can turn into stories of using my time how I’ve always wanted to use it. It’s just a matter of when that will be.

So, y’all, what would you do if you had the time?


My evolution as a writer

I have never written in a traditional way.  I follow whatever format is required of me for an assignment, but I would always interject my own style.  As much as I would like to think my writing style was unique and different, it was also very formulaic when it came to academic writing.  In most writing classes, the expected essay style is a five paragraph essay with an argument and examples to back the argument up.  I got to the point where I had an exact style to my five paragraph essay: thought captivating, serious intro; funny punch line/ humorous take on the argument; serious follow up to previous paragraphs; then finally a conclusion with a casual tone.  I mastered this formula, as it always gave me good results.

This class has challenged me to step away from this formula.  I was able to do whatever I wanted.  I could have easily just kept with my formula- that would have been easy enough.  Instead, I decided to explore different kinds of writing I hadn’t done before.  This led me to write a real-time play by play of my thoughts when I am writing and attempt to write a children’s book.  Even the blog posts we wrote expanded my writing realm.

Since experimenting in these new forms of writing, I have to ask myself, what has changed?  The easy answer is my creativity.  I never would have thought to write a children’s book before this class.  Just coming up with the idea to write a children’s book was a burst of creativity for me.  This was something else I gained from all of the writing we did in this class- willingness to try something new.  I remember getting the first prompt—I knew I could just go the traditional route and write one of my formulaic essays.  But when we were told to try something new and not be afraid of failing, I felt like the way I could get the most out of this class was to do something way out of my comfort zone.  That was how I wrote about what goes on in my head before I write.  I had to use dialogue and I had to describe the situation, both things that I never had to do in my five paragraph essays.

One of the most difficult journeys I have had with these papers was with my confidence.  I would love to say that everything was better after challenging myself and coming up with coherent pieces.  Instead, it has actually made my confidence level rise and fall multiple times.  Of course my confidence level rose when people told me they really enjoyed what I wrote when I felt so vulnerable with my attempt at writing something new.  But, I never felt like I got any of them to be perfect.  When it comes to my writing, I never seem to be happy with it unless it is perfect.  I’m actually not a perfectionist in anything else but my writing.  Since the class was so fast-paced and we got many of the assignments back to back, I felt like I had to settle with good enough and I never had the time to make my writing perfect.  Although this made my confidence level drop, it was probably a good thing, too.  I have learned to see the good in what I’ve done and I’ve stopped focusing on what isn’t perfect about my writing.  I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my writing, even if it isn’t perfect.  After all, the best writers out there didn’t start out with a perfect draft—that’s what editing is for!