How People Give Politics Too Much Weight in their Lives

In my last post I wrote about prepping and how my journey into amateur prepping was caused by political events. However, I want to talk about the true effects of politics on our lives, and how most people who are into politics totally exaggerate its affect on their lives to themselves and others. Prepping by nature is oriented toward statistically unlikely, worst-case scenarios. We must draw a distinction between everyday effects of politics (which are very few) and the outsize amount of weight and stress people give to politics. That is the purpose of this essay.

 

Most politicos are continually glued to the news, now more than ever thanks to smartphones. The read, share, post, repost, and blog about political headlines. While politics and the direction of the country is obviously important to them, if you asked them what they are doing to change things, what would they say to you? I bring this up because I have asked myself this question before. They might say, as I used to think to myself before realizing my error, “I’m staying informed.”

 

While some good can be said of having an informed populace, it’s not the same thing as an educated populace. The difference is that people who are politically educated understand the fundamentals of politics enough to grasp the importance level of a political headline. Informed people simply have information. They have no way of knowing which information is important and which is not, making it easy to stress out about all of it. Political education provides the tools to think critically about politics. Sadly, our society lacks a serious form of political education that could help people stress out less.

 

More specifically, staying informed is not the same thing as activism. People should choose to either be an activist and pursue political activities that create change, or to treat politics casually. Most people should not be activists, so most people should treat politics casually. The Founding Fathers intentionally designed a small government, the kind which the average citizen would have to care about as little as possible. Our Bill of Rights is all about preventing government meddling in our lives except for what is absolutely necessary to have a functioning government. Liberals, who believe there is a government-0riented solution to pretty much everything, do not understand this point. But conservatives get wrapped around axle as well, and again, most people should treat politics casually.

 

The problem is there is a large group of people occupying a middle ground between activism and information. They are too serious about politics to be casual, yet their concern doesn’t motivate them enough to take any action in support of their views. If you think about it, this is a contradiction. It’s like they are simply complaining and not doing anything about the problem. And since most people shouldn’t be activists, it’s safe to say that most people in this middle group should simply devote way less time to reading and talking or posting about politics. They should instead invest that energy in something that actually improves their lives. If they aren’t going to engage in activism, they can vote and give money to political campaigns or organizations or non-profits. But beyond that, there is nothing more they can really do to create political change—thus the choice is to either go all in or start caring less. The feeling of accomplishing something just by following politics is an illusion, one which, as I explained in a previous post about social media and politics, profits our political elites, but in which the individual is not really a free actor, just being used.

 

An out of the box thinker I have read in the past is Winston Wu. As with anyone I mention by name, it should go without saying that I am not endorsing everything they say. I say that because unfortunately, we live in an age of guilt by association. So that being said, a great point he makes is that the average person actually interacts with the government very little. The most obvious examples are going to the post office or going through the security line at the airport. (I would add to that paying taxes and going to the DMV.) Instead, he says, the things that actually do affect people’s quality of life, such as social life, dating life, or psychological health, are things that the government has little effect on, but that the individual has enormous power of choice over. For politicos who are unhappy in life, those are examples of things they should really be focusing on, not politics. Politics is too often just a diversion, a form of time-wasting entertainment.

 

Politics is not unimportant, and I write about it a lot. It’s a hobby for me, yet I am under no illusion that I am making any difference just by reading political news or even by writing about it. I know I have to vote, engage in activism, donate money, or any combination of those three in order to actually make a difference. Voting is the most basic level of making a difference. Almost any American 18 or over can vote. The true path to making a difference in any area of life tends not the be the thing that is easy to do. The second tier is donating money, the lifeblood of political campaigns, and the third tier is citizen activism, especially grassroots activism. This is the hardest level but the most effective. Basically, the harder it is, the bigger a difference it will probably make.

 

But that’s only if you decide to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to create political change. Most people would be better off caring less about politics and investing instead in fixing the things in their personal lives that keep them up at night. So, in summary, don’t confuse staying informed with activism, and don’t invest too much in politics.

Review: Prepping, Part 1

I’ve always been a little bit of a survivalist at heart. I thrive in the rugged landscapes of New Mexico, with its spiky plants, sometimes violent weather, crazy pests, and rustic panoramas. Yet it was only after I moved to lush, green, developed Maryland that I became an amateur prepper.

 

The 2016 election cycle was unlike any other. Then-candidate Trump’s initial comments about Mexico at his announcement speech set off the first of a long chain of firestorms. Seasoned conservatives like myself, used to a certain level of crazy from liberals, initially wrote it off as another liberal outburst. However, as Trump began to elaborate his views on various topics, tossing Molotov cocktails at the Left’s sacred cows, the usual liberal bloviation began to escalate. It wasn’t long before the Left had reach complete hysteria. Everything Trump said was suddenly the most offensive thing that had ever been uttered. The thing is, a lot of what he said made perfect sense to Flyover Americans whose imaginations had not been stunted by political correctness. Liberals were not self-aware enough to stop and question how and why they were so offended over his comments (and generally still aren’t). And so the cycle of mania continued.

 

Things seemed to have hit a crescendo with Trump’s call for a Muslim ban. I maintain that he partially did this to secure a victory in the South Carolina primary that was going on at the time. And win it he did. Over time, his Muslim ban de-escalated down to a travel ban on certain terror-prone countries which happened to be majority Muslim. But the liberals still haven’t forgiven him for the original proposal.

 

This combined with his border wall and his many other offenses continued to drive rage among the Left. We began seeing more and more riots, political violence, destruction of property on college campuses, and street fights between Trumpists and the Hard Left. Similar scenes were unfolding in some European countries as well, like Germany.

 

Around this time I began to wonder how much worse things would get. My mind flashed back to the Baltimore riots, which occurred at the beginning of May 2015, only a 30-40 minute drive from where I lived. I had never seen a riot like that in an American city before (I was too young to remember the LA riots in the 90’s). The Baltimore riots, sparked by the death of Freddie Gray in the custody of the police, created a two day period of complete breakdown in certain parts of inner city Baltimore. I remember watching the news footage and seeing firemenn trying to put out a fire. A masked man in all black ran up, cut a hole in the hose, and ran off. This was on the first day of the riots, before the night the city actually burned.

 

The next day, I was at my brother’s wedding, and the best man, who is more well-read in politics than either of us, explained that career anarchists try to exploit situations like the one in Baltimore in order to collapse society usher in anarchy. The idea of a “career anarcist” blew my mind. As I did more and more of my own research, and Antifa simultaneously began to rear its ugly head, I grew concerned about where far left hysteria was leading, especially if Trump were to win.

 

So it was the threat of civil disorder and breakdown, not natural disasters or other typical factors, that got me thinking about prepping. I knew little about prepping except what I had heard and seen clips of on shows like Doomsday Preppers. I knew there were people who had huge storehouses of canned food in their basement, and I knew that people in rural Montana wanted to live “off the grid.” My journey into (what I would consider amateur) prepping began with basic internet searches on what emergency supplies I should have, and with a copy of American Survival Guide I happened to glimpse in Bass Pro Shops one day back then. It actually had a feature on rioting, which I devoured. My prepper mindset had begun. I started to live with the constant awareness in the back of my mind, and often in the front of my mind, that if society collapsed or the electrical grid failed, things would get real ugly real fast.

 

I was a little surprised to find the plethora of prepper and survivalist websites that existed online. But I quickly snapped out of it: “Wait, this is the internet. Every topic gets blown up into its own universe of websites.” So I dove in. I began to make a list of survival supplies I wanted, and quietly gathered them over the next several months. This started probably June of 2016 and I was “on the clock” to be done by November 7, the day before the election. I was still getting my Master’s at GW at the time, and I sometimes carted the latest American Survival Guide magazine (I had subscribed) to campus with me to read on the metro. I even bought John Wesley, Rawles’ book Patriots, but it proved way too dense and technical for me to make it past the first couple of chapters. (That first chapter though…scary!) I kept my prepping a total secret until right before the election. As I gathered my supplies over the months, I told no one, although I dropped small hints here and there and I think one or two people had an idea.

 

An amazing thing happened after I had assembled my first real collection of basic prepper supplies. I slept better at night. If the economy crashed and there was no food left in the stores, I had probably a month’s worth of food and water, from canned food to MREs to cereal to jugs of water to a Lifestraw for the pond behind my place. This meant I could go a full month without leaving my house if the world became too dangerous. I read online news like a hawk in those days (too much, really) and watched for any sign of impending trouble. I watched footage of the latest riots at university campuses, studying the tactics of the left wing attackers, and read the latest demands of deluded left wing groups. They were getting more and more hateful and vitriolic. It seemed like the various figureheards of the far left could not top themselves fast enough, as if they were competing with each other for share of voice on social media by saying more and more hateful things to get attention (which I’m sure was and is a factor). For example, it’s not enough for white people, or Christians, or men, to do X to expiate their oppressor nature; now they must do Y to appease the anger of deranged lefties. But next month, they have to do Z, and on it goes.

 

For my 30th birthday, my brother got me the SAS Survival Handbook by John Wiseman. I think he knew I was doing some prepping because he bought me this. I had mentioned having gone to a military surplus store in Rockville MD and liking it, which I think gave it away. SAS Survival Handbook is a great book, full of practical knowledge and color illustrations, and I highly recommend it. As I began to think more about a “grid-down situation,” where refrigeration and conventional cooking would be unavailable, I read about how to find edible vegetation, fruits, and nuts. There was a big ravine behind my place that I sometimes walked in and I started imagining how I could forage there. What would the world be like if I had to navigate a concrete jungle alone, eating fruits and nuts and vegetables for survival? These were common thoughts for me at the time, even as I was sitting in a crowded DC subway in a suit trying to make my way home from school at night.

 

The day before the election, I let my mom and dad know simply that I had enough non-perishable food in the house to not have to go outside for a few days should something bad happen. I didn’t want them to worry about me, especially if cell phone service and the internet went down. My car had some supplies in it in case I got caught out somewhere due to a riot. In fact, I took the day after the election off work—planned well ahead of time—so that I would not have to leave the house that day. I stayed up until about 3 AM when they officially called it for Trump, and went to bed happy…after checking the news for signs of rioting.

 

The next day, there were no riots serious enough to worry about. However, as we all know, Trump’s campaign and his victory was just the beginning for left wing hysteria.

 

To be continued…

The 10 Rules of Small Talk: Intro & Rule #10

Millennials today have a small talk problem. That problem is that far too many of us don’t know how to make small talk. We are too used to being able to retreat to our devices. For example, how many times have you been at a social gathering and one or more people are, during a group conversation, checked out and starting at their smartphones? Before smartphones, this was not possible, and those sitting at the table had to at least pay attention to the conversation. I define small talk as generally inconsequential conversations on light topics, leading either to social enjoyment or to fulfillment of unwritten social obligations. That’s a mouthful, but I think it captures the sometimes enjoyable, sometimes obligatory nature of small talk. Love it or hate it, it is a reality we must get used to. The good news, it is way easier to become better at small talk than you think.

 

For most of my life, I generally was not very good at small talk. Things changed when I started attending classes at George Washington University in D.C. and started going to happy hours and networking events in hopes of career advancement. In those settings, you are forced to make small talk because there is no other option but to leave. There is no purpose in being there other than networking, which absolutely requires small talk. Each event I went to cost me a lot of time, effort, and even transportation costs, so I have to dive in. This forced me to improve my skills and helped me see where I had been going wrong. I began to pay more attention to the conversational behaviors of others and see where they too were making the same mistakes I had been making.

 

From what I have observed, no one formally teaches us how to make small talk. You are simply expected to know how, and then execute. Today, however, we need some instruction. The word “introvert” has become very common, and now many introverts and extroverts understand themselves and each other. There is a slight danger though that introverts will simply accept their proclivity against shallow social interaction because the world now accepts that they are introverts. In reality, the ability to make small talk is something to be reasonably expected of any well-adjusted individual. You don’t have to like small talk, but to live a socially fulfilling life (and even introverts need social fulfillment), you have to be able to do it. I say this as an introvert.

 

To help introverts and Millennials navigate the maze of small talk proficiency, I have come up with the Ten Rules of Small Talk. I will provide Rule #10 here, and the rest in subsequent posts.

 

Rule #10: Small Talk is Like Choreography

Dancing. Plays. Movie Fight Scenes. Chess. These things all have a predictable pattern of A-then-B, give-and-take, or move-and-countermove. What most people don’t realize is that small talk is exactly the same way. People who enjoy making small talk never think of it this way. It takes an introvert like me to come along and view it as a system and a philosophical concept. Most of the time, when we engage in small talk, we follow a very predictable pattern (assuming it goes successfully) without knowing it. The trick for the small-talk-challenged is to understand the pattern. Then you will be able to see at which points in the dance you are struggling and put in some extra practice.

I find a great example of this concept in the movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the middle of the movie is the first fight scene between Captain America and the Winter Soldier, the villain. I think it is one of the better fight scenes in a modern movie, because each character always makes the optimal move to counter the other character’s move. They always make the best move based on what was available, like they have an answer ready for every possible outcome. This is how you want your small talk to be. Obviously you don’t want it to seem forced, and it may seem a little mechanical at first, but it will become natural as you get used to it. There is a natural rhythm that needs to develop but can take a little time.

The key in knowing what to say is that there is generally a small pool of “right things” you can say when it’s your turn to speak during small talk. Your goal is to say one of those “right things.” In a fight scene, dance, or chess match, there are only a certain number of possible moves. Small talk is the same way. You can’t just say whatever you want, you have to say something with the narrow range of acceptable options. Further, the more conventional the thing you are considering saying is, the more likely it is to be in the pool of “right things.” That being said, avoid using worn-out clichés because you could end up sounding like a mindless drone. If the conversation leads to a friendship, you can move into more personal topics that actually help you get to know each other, at which point you no longer have to rely on the well-beaten path of conversational convention. The purpose of small talk, assuming you are not just killing time, is to bridge the gap from “Hi”, past the normal/boring phase of being conventional, to getting more personal. What if it’s small talk with someone you don’t like? You still need to be able to fulfill the social obligation side of small talk. If it helps, a good rule of thumb is, “what would a gregarious person say here?”

 

Stay tuned for more Rules of Small Talk!

Why Tech Jobs are a Bubble and What the “Pop” Might Look Like

These days, there is a seemingly endless emphasis on getting a high-paying tech job. In Maryland, for example, the air you breathe is saturated by the belief that tech majors and jobs are the ultimate path to success. Cybersecurity is especially big due to the NSA being at Ft. Meade, with its accompanying defense contractor sprawl across central MD. But even without cybersecurity in the mix, the elevation of tech jobs and tech majors as basically a career silver bullet is unmistakable.

 

I am a skeptic of this trend for several reasons. I have worked two IT jobs in my life, one as a service technician back in 2008-09 and one as an application administrator from 2014 to 2016. I worked a lot with our developers in the latter and got a good glimpse inside the developer world as well. If you look at job announcements in the IT field, the requirements section usually includes an alphabet soup of programming languages, software programs, and IT best practices. This gives the impression that all you need to get a high-paying tech job are specific skills. It follows, based on this logic, that anyone could make the $60-80K average salary of a programmer or network admin—all you have to do is learn those skills. But is this really accurate?

 

I don’t think it’s as accurate as people think. In fact, I’m a skeptic of the rosy tech industry job outlook, for four reasons:

 

1. Easy money. This problem is also found in the US higher ed industry, which I hope to write about at some point. If you walk through the developer area of your company’s building, you may notice all kinds of “perks,” zany creature comforts that companies have essentially been forced to provide to tech workers, especially developers, in the name of retention because it’s “part of tech subculture.” I’m talking about the nerf guns, lounges, treadmill desks, crazy paint jobs, and other odds and ends you would never see in say, the Finance or Supply Chain departments. Since this is a uniquely IT thing, it says to me that companies are coddling tech workers for retention’s sake, and such things can’t go on forever. If they could, then Finance and Supply Chain would still have whatever perks they got back when they were the new hotness. But there are enough accountants and supply chain people in today’s job market that average wages are lower than for your average programmer, and they don’t get nerf guns. This is a sign that the tech job market will reach an equilibrium, at which point the perks will be reduced. Companies will realize that there is no longer any retention advantage to offering such perks because they can replace tech workers more easily. There is a lot of easy money being blown on perks which will dry up just before companies start lowering tech salaries. (The perks will go first.)

 

2. Overemphasizing specific technical skills. It seems as though the mindset of the average developer is that as long as they keep their certs up to date and learn the latest software and coding languages, their job is safe. This is true for the moment, but it completely ignores soft skills and even other hard skills that could enable them to advance into middle or upper management, the levels where you have to manage a budget and manage personnel. For example, the CEO is not asking the CTO questions about code. He is asking questions about the limitations of the business and where the best cost-cutting opportunities are. If you plop the average developer into that scenario as the CTO, he will have no idea how to answer those questions because he doesn’t have business skills, he only has technical skills. But, you say, what if the average developer doesn’t want to move up the ladder and become a manager? He still might have had job security in the past, but read on and you’ll see why he should not rest on his programming laurels.

 

3. Automation. This is the deadliest of all factors that threaten the IT field. “But tech people have to administer AI,” you say. Sure, right now they do. But what happens when we write programs that can code so well that they replace programmers? Perhaps this is already happening—if so it seems like no one is talking about it. To date, I have heard no mention of AI that can process business requirements and write code to build/test/deploy the requirements. Or even one that can operate as an application administrator like I did in my old job. Right now, it’s not very possible because human beings come up with the business requirements. However, if we ever invent AI that can take on that role, by reading business data and determining requirements for itself, it will herald a new dark age for tech workers. At the current pace of AI advancement, I don’t see how it’s possible that we won’t invent AI that can do this. Heck, we may even be able to invent AI that can run the entire technology department on its own, merely taking guidance from the CTO, with contractors doing the moving and installation of physical equipment (or maybe robots doing it). Or perhaps someday the CTO “itself” will be an AI, with a management interface that is non-technical enough for the CEO to interact with. Sound far-fetched? What we have today was far-fetched 10 years ago. The key with human technology is, if we can conceptualize how to do it, all that’s left is the doing of it and the scaling of it, and those latter two things always seem to happen eventually.

 

4. Foreign workers. We all know what this means. Generally, it means American jobs get filled by workers from various countries like India and China. This is something that has really shaken up the tech industry, because—say it with me—foreign workers will do the work for cheaper. Many a programmer has been replaced by a foreign worker, and in some cases they have been forced to train their replacement, a humiliating scenario by any standard. I bring up foreign workers taking American tech jobs only because I see it getting worse. I think the Trump administration has slowed the pace a little or kept it at its current pace, but I think it would have accelerated if Hillary Clinton had won. Either way, I don’t see this situation actually improving short of a massive grassroots movement by displaced tech workers, which I don’t see materializing.

 

Imagine the following scenario. We as a society talk up tech careers into the stratosphere. Parents send their kids to college en masse to get tech degrees. However, more and more of the jobs get taken by foreign workers and automation. Now, those comp sci and information systems grads either can’t get the high-paying jobs they were promised, or can’t get jobs that pay what they were promised, and of course they have accumulated a huge load of student debt, especially since college tuition seems to never stop rising.

 

This becomes a political problem when these recent grads start organizing and demanding mass student loan forgiveness, saying the American economy didn’t live up to what was promised. They can’t directly protest foreign workers taking their jobs, because in today’s America all criticism of immigration policy that puts the needs of citizens over non-citizens is condemned as xenophobic and racist. And in terms of what was “promised,” in reality, only an overinflated promise was made, but no one stopped to question it in time. It becomes an even hotter political issue when you consider the current wave pushing women and minorities into tech. How much of a favor are the proponents of this actually doing for women and minorities? What I fear will happen instead is the situation I described above, but not only will it be unemployed or underemployed twenty-somethings making demands on the government (read: on other taxpayers), they will invoke the same language of discrimination and sexism that always gets invoked. The government will have no choice but to spend taxpayer money to bail them out—money that we don’t have and that will only add to our national debt. Maybe US credit gets downgraded and/or foreign investment in America slows as a result of mounting debt. The whole scenario could have been avoided if people exercised more foresight and stopped hyping up the tech industry as the career panacea.

 

For these reasons, and out of concern for the scenario described above, I think tech jobs are a huge bubble. What remains to be seen is whether it pops suddenly and deafeningly or if it’s more of a slow leak. While all four of the above reasons play a role, the main challenge for today’s workers—in most industries, not just tech—is staying ahead of automation. You do this by developing distinctly human skills that machines are the least likely to achieve. Sadly, I just don’t see most tech workers developing these skills enough to position themselves well in the long run. Don’t be a cog in the tech job hype machine.

Political Parties Use You for Your Social Media Outrage

Ah, social media, unintended battleground of many a political argument, strewn with the wreckage of relationships. We all know people who have unfriended others or maybe even alienated family members in real life over political comments on social media. Maybe you’ve been on the giving or receiving end. The 2016 election took political rage on social media to a whole new level and brought out the worst in everyone.

 

People don’t realize that official content on social media, such as that put out by political parties and any of their affiliated social channels (state level parties, other party organizations), has one purpose: To influence your vote. Every click, share, and comment is tracked back to metrics that digital directors review to see how they can optimize their social media “outreach” (political speak for marketing). Those producing and posting this official content don’t care how angry it makes you or how many personal relationships get torpedoed due to political fighting on Facebook. They will happily step over the bodies to lead you by the hand to the ballot box for their candidate. Of course, they don’t want to see relationships destroyed, but they also are not going to change practices to make the social media political environment less conducive to digital bomb-throwing. After all, they have metrics to meet, and why would they de-escalate the social media arms race when their opponents won’t?

 

This of course doesn’t apply to user-created content. That Dank Meme Stash page, as long as it’s not created by someone who is getting paid to be the admin, is genuine. Of course, it can just as genuinely spark a relationship-ending fight, creating the same problem, but all I’m saying is that when you get into it with someone on social media over a post or meme that came from an official political channel, you are being used. The people using you in this way don’t care that much about what happens as long as they meet their metrics, which is what they’re paid to do. The goal is gin up enough energy in the base to get them to the polls next election. Sometimes that involves sustaining a particular energy level, something that is especially hard to do between a presidential election and a midterm election, like the one coming up this year. But political operators know they need to maintain engagement among the base to meet projected goals for votes, and social media outreach is one part of the portfolio by which they achieve this.

 

For me it gets a little fuzzy with content put out by super PACs. A super PAC is just an organization that is by law unaffiliated with the political campaign it is trying to help win. In fact, super PACs and said campaign are not allowed to communicate with each other. There is no doubt that they find ways around this, but that wall is pretty high and definitely prevents the lion’s share of coordination that would otherwise be possible. So, if you unfriended someone because they shared something that came from a Super PAC, you are being used by the Super PAC and by extension by the people funding it, although I wouldn’t say you are being used by a political party. Still, fighting with people on social media about politics is something I advise against because it really can cause relationship harm “IRL.”

 

It’s true that some social media content posted by the parties and their affiliates is intended for fundraising. However, social media is notoriously not good for fundraising, and other channels are better. And besides, donating money is usually an emotional decision, so the parties still have to create emotion in you to get you to donate, or at least they expect they need to. So, their content, even if it’s more for fundraising than for reinforcing your path to the ballot box for their candidate, will be designed in a way that manipulates your emotions.

 

I would say all of this also applies to content put out by politicians themselves, since their primary goal is to get re-elected. So question that too.

 

In conclusion, the next time you are tempted to get ugly with someone on social media over politics, stop and think. Further, if it’s something put out by someone who is getting paid to put it out, recognize that you are being totally used for your outrage. They have big plans for how they want you to vote. Don’t be a cog in their outrage machine.

How to Plan a Speed Networking Mixer

While I was attending GWU, I was also the alumni relations director for the student association of my graduate program. This was an “elected volunteer” position. My chief accomplishment in this position was having organized and ran a “structured networking event” near the end of the school year that brought in alumni of our program whom our grad students could network with. Planning it was a months-long process.

 

Structured networking is basically speed dating but for networking. We had multiple tables with two alumni at each table, and every 15 minutes students would rotate tables, getting the chance to talk career and exchange business cards with a variety of professionals. I had attended an event like this in my first semester at GW and wanted to mimic it. I worked with the head of the official alumni association to get the alumni needed.

 

I had never planned an event before in my entire life, and this was not an easy first event to have to plan. I made sure to give myself a generous timeline to start putting the pieces together, knowing that we would encounter problems and delays along the way. The first task was to nail down the date, time, and venue. The date and time I decided in conjunction with the other four officers in my org. We basically checked the academic calendar to make sure there were no conflicts and checked that none of the officers were planning anything else at that time. Picking a day of the week was difficult because my grad program is exclusively night classes and has class every day of the week except Fridays, when most people in DC are out socializing (read: drinking at a bar) and often won’t go to something like a networking event. I believe we landed on Thursday because it had the fewest classes. We had to pick a time that was not so late that people would have already left campus, yet late enough to give people off-campus time to get there from work. I think it ended up being a 6:30 PM start time.

 

After that was the venue. This was actually the hardest part, because the Events office at the school was very bureaucratic and not user-friendly. I went back and forth with them in a long chain of emails and even called a couple times to iron out details. At one point I got really upset because the directions on how to get an alcohol permit were not clear enough and jeopardized my timeline once I realized the full extent of what was required. In the end, they worked with me. You may be wondering why alcohol was so important. Actually, you can’t have a networking event or reception in DC without alcohol. In fact, DC has the highest per capita alcohol consumption of any state, which should tell you something about our government. Not that I wanted to contribute to that problem, but I don’t think anybody had more than two drinks (I think we only gave each person two drink tickets).

 

But back to the venue. Hoping for a showing of about 60 people, I reserved a ballroom I had been to for other events on campus. I didn’t want to try to navigate reserving an off-campus location since this was my first time ever planning an event and I felt off-campus would be more complicated. I had to specify the exact furniture arrangement down to number of tables and chairs, as well as the audio equipment required, and tables where the catering and beverages would be set up. I had to reserve it well in advance, and even then the calendar was so booked that I had to push out the event later than I originally wanted. It just goes to show, start early!

 

Next were the alumni themselves. The head of the alumni association mostly handled this. I asked him to cough up 15-20 people who would volunteer to come and mingle with the students. They had a variety of professional backgrounds, some from big name employers, some from smaller ones. Some had worked on the Hill or had been federal employees. I asked for their names, current employer, and what branch of our grad program they had completed. The night before, I made name tags for all the alumni (and the students who had registered).

 

Then I had to market the event. I got our comms director to design a graphic that I could send out in email blasts, since email marketing fares better when it’s all in one big image. I navigated the association email account and learned how much Gmail hates it when you send bulk emails, and how you have to be very careful or you’ll get blacklisted. Thankfully that didn’t happen to me, but I had issues where the emails would not get delivered for some people and would return delivery error emails, one by one for each address in the list, at a slow trickle, and at one point I had to count how many people had not gotten the email the next day before deciding whether or not to do another blast. I searched Google’s forums for help but didn’t find anything, so I just winged it.

 

I also posted a few times on our official Facebook page and maybe Twitter and Insta, can’t remember. I also made an announcement in class with the approval of my professor.

 

I tracked registrations through a Google Form. The back end shows you a spreadsheet with a row for each person who signs up, including duplicates. In the end, we had about 23-25 students sign up. About 15 actually showed up, plus a few who were not on the list. The day of the event, you don’t really care if they’re on the list or not, you’re just happy people are coming to your event.

 

Because alcohol was going to be present, and this event was on campus, we were required to have a GWPD security presence. So, I called the GWPD station and asked what to do. They directed me to an online form to fill out. I also had to take a module online about the responsibilities of having alcohol on campus. Basically, if we messed up, our entire student org could be dissolved. We had to pay for two GWPD officers to basically stand around for three hours. In theory they were there to make sure no one got disorderly (or tried to take alcohol outside of the venue, I guess).

 

The catering was, thankfully, easy. We went with GW Restaurant Associates, the standard vendor who does the lion’s share of GW campus events, and they made the process very easy. Deciding what to order was tough, and I had to brainstorm with the president of my association on how many people could eat how much of which dishes. We paid for the catering out of our budget, but thankfully the alumni association paid for the alcohol, which was great because the alcohol was more expensive than the food. Alcohol is very expensive in DC (and in Maryland).

 

I got there an hour early the day of, and everything was already set up, including a table outside where I could mark people off and give them their name tags. My association president manned the table with me. I felt a sense of pride as people started showing up, including the alumni and the alumni association president.

 

At the official start time, I went inside and my colleague stayed outside a little longer to hand out name tags. I went up to the lectern, introduced myself and explained the purpose of the event and how it would work, and then had the alumni association president come up and say a few words. He echoed me in terms of what we wanted to accomplish—to give the students a chance to meet some of our alumni. Then the event began. The official structured networking was six 15 minute blocks, followed a half hour of “unstructured” (a.k.a. regular) networking.

 

The only real challenge I had was that a lot of times people wouldn’t change tables when I told them to because they were so locked in conversation. (I felt a little silly urging grown adults to move in the first place.) I was glad people were having such good conversations, but it’s only fair to let the other students who are waiting to circulate have the advantage of talking to specific alumni also. I didn’t figure out any great way to get people to comply, but only a few times did people have to wait around.

 

We didn’t have to break down tables when it was over because the school staff would handle it. The caterer came and got everything. We had a lot of food and booze left over (and soft drinks, because you want to have a non-alcoholic option as well). In the end, the event was a success, and during the unstructured networking I joined in. I learned that the president of the alumni association, who I knew had worked on the Hill, had worked under Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who had just been in the news over his remarks about immigration and “someone else’s babies,” which set of a firestorm on the Left (just like everything does). As soon as he mentioned Rep. King’s name, I had a good laugh. Apparently he hails from one of the most conservative districts in the entire country.

 

So there you have it, how I ran a high-profile structured networking mixer as my first ever planned event, with a fun little vignette at the end. If you find yourself planning an event and aren’t sure where to start, feel free to come back and consult the details here.

Why Homes in Maryland are so Expensive

In my first post I gave five main reasons for my decision to move away from Maryland to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those are the main reasons, and there are several more reasons than those. Here I go in-depth on my first reason: Affordability.

 

Housing prices in Maryland are out of control, and everyone in MD knows it. The state is home to many high-salary government workers, scientists, programmers, and rich immigrants from other countries. All of these factors have driven prices so high that buying your first home is nearly impossible if you are not in one of the above-mentioned groups. That’s a problem because the state is pricing a huge chunk of its own citizenry out of home ownership, which as we all know is an important factor for stable communities. All the state government cares about is getting the high-paying jobs into Maryland to bring money into the local economy and thereby have a great economy to get re-elected on. But that big money does not make homes more affordable, it makes them less affordable because of supply and demand. People selling homes in MD know they can get a very high price because someone from the aforementioned groups will pay it. So, they price everyone else out of the market. The state government will never try to change this situation because it has no incentive to. Big money keeps coming in, so why mess with success? Meanwhile, you cannot afford a home on a normal salary unless you want an hour-long commute. If you don’t want a long commute, you can either pay for an obscenely priced home or live in a ghetto—there is no middle ground. Maryland basically has no middle class.

 

So why didn’t I join one of the groups I mentioned earlier, you might ask? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em right? But I am philosophically opposed to being part of the problem. So much of government expenditures, to the case of government workers (and contracts), are unnecessary wastes. Plus, the two big industries in Maryland are defense and healthcare, and in my opinion neither of those should really be an “industry.” Even though I’m a strong Republican, I am a fierce critic of the military-industrial complex. And now, we also have a healthcare-industrial complex. So we have two industries based on the fact that people get ill and the fact that we have to defend ourselves. To me, those are not real industries, they are accidental. But of course, they are propped up by lobbying and campaign donations and will never go away. True capitalism is supposed to be about giving people options, not taking advantage of the fact that people have to buy something. Defense and healthcare are not about options. Yes, there is a bidding process, but how much equipment and what kind we choose to procure in the first place is a choice nowhere near the hands of the taxpayers footing the bill. Trump ran on quasi-isolationist rhetoric. I have been disappointed in some of his foreign policy, because it seems like it’s just been one giant payday for the defense industry that is messing up Maryland. And as to being a scientist, I lack the credentials and the interest in a science career. As far as being a programmer, I will talk about this more as time goes on, but I think there is a big bubble that will burst for IT workers and I want to stay far away from it. And lastly, I’m not a rich immigrant from another country.

 

So those are the reasons why Maryland is so unaffordable. New Mexico is one of the most affordable states in the nation. I went from renting a 11×15 room in a townhouse in Howard County MD with two roommates to renting a 3 bed, 2 bath house by myself in a nice neighborhood in Albuquerque. That’s just one example of why New Mexico is better! I chose not to be a cog in the overpriced Maryland housing market.

Welcome to Don’t Be a Cog

The mission of this site is to help others learn to think for themselves by providing examples of out-of-the-box thinking. I write on topics like politics, religion, New Mexico (where I live), self-development, travel, history, money, and various experiences. I also review other out-of-the-box thinkers who inspire me. THINK FOR YOURSELF…don’t be a cog in someone else’s machine.

 

I recently moved from central Maryland to Albuquerque, NM. I have a lot to say about this move and why I did it. The main reasons were:

  1. Affordability
  2. More dating options
  3. Nicer people
  4. Better climate
  5. Friends from college living here

 

If you live in a crowded, expensive blue state, you might relate to my reasons, which I will write about in depth. The move took months of planning and I will describe this process also for anyone thinking of making a similar move.

 

I grew up in a military family and lived in New Mexico from ages 12-23. After college, I moved to Maryland to start a career. Just before I turned 31, it dawned on me that I could solve a lot of my problems by moving back to New Mexico (not to the small town I was from, but to Albuquerque, the biggest city, and where I still had multiple good friends from college).

 

While I was in Maryland, I attended Master’s level classes at George Washington University in D.C. during 2016 and 2017 (yes, during the election…I have stories). I traveled into town by car and subway twice a week, sometimes more for events, and rubbed shoulders with D.C.’s yuppies and political professionals. I even served as an elected volunteer officer in a student org. All of this was the kind of immersion educational experience I was looking for. However, a year and a half later I was feeling completely differently and decided I never wanted to work or live in D.C. What could change a mind so fast and so firmly? What could inspire a young professional to turn away from one of the most lucrative places in the nation? Read my stories and see.

 

I also do product reviews of products I use, that I find helpful or save me money or help my health.

 

I am a proud Christian conservative and write about my faith and beliefs as well.

 

Have a topic you’d like me to write about? Send me a message or comment!

 

Enjoy your visit to the site, and remember, don’t be a cog.