Category: Advice


Nurturing Creativity

In a TED Talk titled “Nurturing Creativity,” Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat Pray Love, explores the creative process.  She also explores the word genius.  We usually associate that word with a rare person who is somehow marginalized from society and set under a profound light.  However, Gilbert argues that instead of being a genius, we all have a genius that inspires us.

This genius is a type of muse, which was commonly referred to among ancient Greeks.  A muse can be a spirit, a goddess, or even a real person.  A muse is a source of knowledge or insight. Gilbert mentions that Socrates, the great philosopher, had a “daemon” that occasionally popped by to lend some inspiration.

American poet and author Ruth Stone uses a beautiful metaphor to describe the creative process.  An idea is like a storm, rolling over the hills and heading toward the first writer it sees. If the writer can get to a pen and paper fast enough, the storm will run right through her and spill onto the paper.  If the writer doesn’t get there fast enough, the storm will swell through the writer and search for the next one.

That storm is the muse.  From time to time, the muse enters us suddenly.  We have to use these moments to our advantage and let the muse conduct the writing.  This inspiration is precious and unseen.  It sneaks up on you and it is your job to be ready to use it. When the muse decides to take a leave of absence, or even hibernate, the writer still has a duty to show up for work.  (This “genius” is known for being flaky).

This should ease some writers’ doubt and anxiety.  A common fear among writers is that their work is not as good as former work, or that it is not original.  Now you have an excuse.  Just tell yourself that the muse was absent a lot.  The muse is there to praise but also to blame.  So just keep writing. You will produce some “bad” writing and then you will have surges of great writing, and you have to appreciate those moments.  You have to filter out the bad to get the good.  If you lose inspiration, just remember the muse will come around.  Just be patient.

-Sarah Diedrick

Honor & Integrity Week: “Substance Abuse”

I remember studying for finals last semester and freaking out over my Biology exam. Turning to the help of a few of my smartest buddies, I went to their studying location and was shocked to find that my mastermind friends were high on various substances, including weed, caffeine pills, unprescribed ADD/ADHD medication and cigarettes. Some other kids came in, looking to buy, and another student talked about his future intention to make charts and graphs to determine the cost effectiveness of selling drugs (ADD/ADHD medicine and marijuana) versus getting a legal job. Most of these students are seriously considering becoming professionals in the healthcare industry. Needless to say, my confidence dropped in these future doctors’ ability to propagate physical and emotional well-being to others if they aren’t exemplifying healthful behavior on their own. These particular students posses near genius intelligence on paper (top GPAs in high school, A.P. credits, award winners), yet they deliberately choose to harm their bodies and brains, especially since coming to college.

I remember sitting at the desk, wondering is substance abuse the secret to success in college: using ADHD medicine to concentrate, inhaling pot to dull my anxieties, taking caffeine pills to stay alert and awake, smoking cigarettes to take the edge off. I struggle in the sciences, and just a few weeks before, I experienced a sudden attack of panic because I had spent 13 hours working on a biology lab report and still received a devastating and unacceptable D. Seeing the smartest of my friends on a myriad of drugs made me feel even more inadequate. Sober, I struggle to make an A, so I can’t imagine how appalling the effect would be on my scholastic performance if I started taking drugs, not to mention how drastically drugs would negatively alter the status of my health! Carolina isn’t known as a “party school” and students at Carolina aren’t known to be the biggest party animals; on the contrary, we uphold an image of sophistication and brilliance. Under the pressure to live up to the expectation of collegiate success, some students turn to legal/illegal substances to make it through. They turn to drugs to relax, to concentrate, to remain awake, or to turn off their churning brains.

Let’s explore some healthier and legal options, such as working out (provides a natural high, providing both energy and relaxation) or meditating (provides relaxation and relieves stress). Eating a piece of chocolate or drinking ONE glass of red wine are both good for the heart and provides relaxation. Hanging out with friends, listening to music, practicing a hobby like a sport or crafting… these all provide outlets to release stress. As far as staying awake, vitamin B is a natural supplement that some find energizing. Make healthful choices when eating, and stay hydrated with water for natural alertness. Caffeine is addictive, and yellow stains on teeth are unattractive, so try to nix soda and coffee in favor of vitamin B supplements and fruits and veggies. Also, if you are really stressed out there’s NO shame in talking to a health and wellness counselor. Having someone listen to all of my problems without judgment or interruption and help me make and follow life goals is a productive and healthy alternative to self-medication through substance abuse. Throughout the week, we study relentlessly for exams, listen to our professors lecture us for hours on end, and write long, eloquent papers, so by Friday we are ready to let loose.

Though Carolina isn’t a “party school,” we still like to have fun and party with a “work hard, play hard” attitude. Most first-years aren’t 21, and most sophomores aren’t 21. Yet, the most popular activity to do on the weekends is socialize with alcoholic beverages. I’m not here to preach to you about the legal age. All I want to convey is being safe and smart about drinking. Obviously, don’t leave your cup unattended because date rape drugs may be slipped into them. Don’t drink to the point of blacking out because you may be more likely to engage in unwanted sexual relations, or get used by some jerk and feel horrible in the morning that you can’t remember what happened. Try to make sure to check up on your buddy and leave with the SAME buddy you came with. If you meet someone and want to hook up, know that drinking can influence your decision to hook up with someone you may not ordinarily hook up with while sober, and make sure your buddy is okay with you leaving without her. Make sure she has a safe way home. Use condoms to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Have the number to Safe Ride plugged into your phone. Also, AT&T has a program that allows its GPS to find you if you are in an unsafe situation. Just remember that excessive drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning, and no one feels like spending the night in the hospital having his or her stomach pumped and dealing with the academic penalization of underage drinking when caught. Be smart about your alcohol consumption.

A variety of safe and healthful options exist that provide the same high that can be obtained by substances. If you want to compete in cuteness and energy with the energizer bunny, grab your iPod and take a jog or don a one-piece swimsuit and swim laps in a pool. While your new hot bod will ensure head turns and stares from everyone on campus, you’ll be striding around with boundless energy. If you want to feel as relaxed as if in the sand with an umbrella drink (virgin strawberry daiquiri!) in hand, or concentrate with the fervor of a monk sitting in meditation, take a yoga class on Franklin. Holding the body in long poses and concentrating on one spot on the wall will stop your mind from spinning, and teach you to concentrate on one subject at a time (i.e. spot on wall). You will not only be relaxed after a session, but you’ll also have a natural way to learn how to concentrate, instead of pills. I hope these tips help for you because I too struggle with needing energy and also feel stressed all the time, but I’ve been able to cope with my stressors by following some of my own suggestions! Try it!

-Kristen Cubero

My future still remains unwritten. However, as I take a step back and reflect upon the life that I have written so far for myself, I have realized that, like writing, discovering my truest self is a continuous process of editing and revising as each story unfolds with its own unique cast of characters and plot lines. This collection of stories that I have compiled over the course of my Carolina journey contains a plot for each that usually involves some challenge. These challenges provide an opportunity for me to confront deeply-held perceptions about myself as well as empower myself to take ownership over my thoughts and feelings to overcome adversity. Moreover, it was in my stories of challenge that provided moments for immense personal growth. These moments of personal growth served as a catalyst for an opportunity to reinvent myself towards evolving to a better, more true version of myself.  More than anything, I have learned that my relentless drive to seek the fullest expression of who I am as a human being can only occur through challenging myself towards achieving nothing less than my full potential.

For example, I love the challenge behind articulating the right words to express myself which serves as a way to find my voice-the essence of the many selves that make up my identity as a way of grounding me against the crushing and sometimes overwhelming waves of everyday life; this trail of words becomes a map for how I discovered my truest self. On a more personal level, writing empowers me to accept no one’s definition of my life and to define myself until my words ring true. Furthermore, I am constantly seeking the fullest expression of myself as a human being capable of sharing myself as a whole and authentic being with the world. While much of my future remains unwritten, word by word, I slowly become a little bit closer towards discovering and shaping the person that I desire to become. As I continue to embark on the many adventures that Carolina has to offer, I believe that these words I write will illuminate the path and guide me towards dreams and goals that I have yet to explore. As I continue to change and reshape the words of my story-past, present, and future, I hang on to my blossoming sense of self as a beacon of light leading me toward my truest self.

More than anything, I have discovered that every moment in life is an occasion to rise to the challenge. Rising to the occasion of your own life story requires you to raise the standards of what you expect from yourself. Upon critical reflection of the times that I truly effected change in my life, it was the moments that I strove for standards higher than I expected for myself in times of adversity and challenge. By believing in something greater than yourself-raising your goals and expectations, you empower yourself to become a better and truer you. Our lives are an occasion, let’s make them extraordinary. After all, the rest is still unwritten.

-Michael Lau

Non-Fiction Is Boring, Right?

FALSE.  Non-fiction and memoirs can produce the most honest writing; I don’t mean honest in terms of “oh it’s honest because it’s true because it’s not fiction.”  I mean that it produces a genuine connection with the subject that is obvious through the writing.

How come the negative defines this type of writing?  It’s not fiction.  I think this is what turns writers off to the genre—we are so intrigued by and used to fiction that we are repelled by the thought of writing non-fiction because it is not imaginative or provoking.  Who says that non-fiction cannot incorporate aspects of fiction?  I was in an immersive non-fiction class with Daniel Wallace and the most valuable advice he gave my class is that you can immerse yourself in a non-fiction story in a way that you sometimes cannot do with fiction.  You have real subjects to draw off of and real experiences to be a part of.  For example, I went to a couple of music festivals this past summer and I wrote about my experiences.  I was immersed in the culture of music festivals for three days, so I was able to draw several observations, small and large, from my weekend there.  Another example: I hung out at a tattoo shop and wrote a non-fiction piece about the dialogue that went on, which tattoos people were getting and other observations.  It also allowed me to clear up some stereotypes that are associated with the tattoo world.

Non-fiction does not have to be straight fact— it can take facts and real experiences and then turn them into a story that can be just as intriguing and compelling as fiction.  Susan Orlean is a great non-fiction writer and is widely known for her contributions to The New Yorker.  In fact, one of her non-fiction pieces, titled Orchid Fever, was adapted into a film starring Meryl Streep!  Susan Orlean has a way of turning her non-fiction stories into a journey, one that she invites her readers to experience with her.  She invites us to share her experiences, and because she spends so much time with her subject, we get the feeling that we too have met these people and have been given some insight into their world.

Life is about experiencing other people, other cultures and ways that people thrive in life.  Non-fiction shows us these different aspects of the world in a way that makes us think about them as fiction.

In addition, most of us young writers think that we can’t write great memoirs because we’re young and haven’t had many experiences, so therefore, our lives are boring.  Again, false.  We all have at least one experience that has shaped us in a way that can be turned into a great memoir. So, here is my challenge to young writers: think of a moment in your life— it could be a pivotal moment or it could be a small action—and write a scene from it.  Stay true to your story while invoking aspects of fiction.  Draw out the scene by describing it in as much detail as possible.  Add some dialogue or some pauses for effect.  Relive this moment through all the senses.  You may find a truth within this moment that you didn’t even realize when you were actually experiencing it.

-Sarah Diedrick

Honor & Integrity Week: “Technology”

“File sharing” may sound like an innocuous term, but on UNC’s campus, it is a violation of the Honor Code.  Students who are caught illegally downloading material from the Internet face serious repercussions. And violations are not always as evident as one might think.

Information Technology Services (ITS) was in the Pit last Wednesday for the “Technology” part of Honor and Integrity Week, which was celebrated last Monday through Friday.  The goal of Honor and Integrity Week was to bring awareness to the Honor Code, which involves both cheating and conduct cases, says Outreach Coordinator Allison Hoover. According to a handout distributed at the event, the goal of “Technology” day was to “find out safe, legal ways to listen to the music you love while also discovering how technology applies to the Honor Code.”

However, during a discussion with Ben Bressman, an information security analyst with ITS, it became evident that violating the University’s technology policy – and the law – may not be so clear-cut. For years, campaigns have been waged against illegally downloading music or pirated movies.  However, file sharing is not always as obvious as illegally downloading a song. It has a much broader definition than many students realize.

Copyright and acceptable use policies create strict guidelines for file sharing.  In other words, “if you don’t have the right to redistribute content, you can’t,” Bressman says. When UNC students download copyright-protected content, it is shared on the Internet – a violation of the law. Copyright-protected content can include an incredibly wide range of media.  Music, movies, pictures and TV shows are often protected by copyright laws, which make it illegal to download them.  Even academic journals can be copyright protected.

Bressman says that students usually get caught downloading something they could have gotten for free. For example, students often download popular TV shows illegally that they could have viewed legally – and for free – on sites such as Hulu.

Illegal file sharing has concrete consequences.  If a copyright holder complains about a file-sharing incident, ITS shuts off the offending student’s network access.  In order to have their network access reinstated, offenders must first finish a quiz and then meet with ITS to discuss the matter.

First offenses occur fairly frequently.  According to Bressman, recently there were 45 first offenses in one week alone.  Although this number is unusually high, it does happen. After a second offense, students must take a quiz, meet with ITS and pay a visit to the Dean of Students Office.  Second offenses are less common, but they happen occasionally. However, the third offense means a painful consequence:  permanently losing network privileges. Bressman says he has yet to see that happen.

It is easy to protect yourself from facing violations of both the Honor Code and the law.  Pay for music or listen to it on YouTube.  Watch TV shows on Hulu or network websites.  Do not distribute academic journals without being granted permission.  And if you are ever unsure of rules regarding downloading or distributing content, read a website’s acceptable use policy or visit http://www.unc.edu/filesharing.

If you take the right steps now, you can avoid a trip to ITS – and possibly having your Internet access shut off for good.

-Georgia Cavanaugh

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

This is for all the people who have ever looked in a mirror and listed off numerous flaws with their bodies.  This is for every person who strongly believes he or she is not good enough.  This is for anyone who feels that the world would be better off without his or her body “taking up space.” This is for me and for you and for everyone else who does not believe they are perfect enough.

We live in a society that pushes perfectionism, and an extreme perfectionism at that.  For women, the ideal beauty is a thin but curvy frame.  For men, their ideal figure is strong, masculine and tan.

The South Carolina Department of Mental Health estimates 8 million Americans (7 million women and 1 million men) suffer from some form of an eating disorder.  From anorexia nervosa to bulimia to binge eating disorders, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder. Despite popular belief, eating disorders are about more than just the desire to be thin.   They are an all-encompassing illness that stems from low self-esteem and the desire to be perfect.

It is a heartbreaking disorder, one that some people don’t understand unless they have been personally affected.  As someone who suffers from an eating disorder, I have experienced the consuming cycle of eating and not eating as I try to achieve perfectionism. I have lost friends during my battle, and I have lost time. I have skipped parties because I was concerned with either not eating anything or eating everything in sight.  So much energy and time have been wasted over the past five years.

National Eating Disorder Awareness Week starts today, February 20, and goes on through February 26.  It is a time for light to be shed on an mental disorder that many people do not fully understand.

A few events are being held this week at UNC.  The movie Thin, a documentary about eating disorders, will be shown in Room 3411 at the Student Union tonight at 5:30 P.M.  Viewers will also be able to ask Dr Anna-Bardone Cone, a UNC psychology professor specializing in eating disorder research, questions.

On Monday, February 21, McAllister’s Deli on Franklin Street will donate 10% of its revenue from 5 P.M. to 9 P.M. to Carolina House, an eating disorder treatment center located in Durham.  Make sure to print off the flyer. Interactive Theatre Carolina will also be performing skits on eating disorders in the Union Cabaret on Tuesday, February 22, from 6 P.M. to 8 P.M.

Even after Tuesday, bringing awareness to eating disorders should not end.  If you have friends who are suffering, let them know that you are there for them. And if they don’t have treatment, help them find it.

If you are currently suffering, please seek help.  There are people out there that care for your well-being.  Even I am here to help support you, so don’t be afraid to contact me.  I have been in your shoes, and I still am.

There is one last thing I want to leave.  You are beautiful or you are handsome just the way you are.  You have been shaped into the way you were meant to be. You were given a unique body and your own mind.  Perfectionism is just an idea. It is never tangible.  Accept yourself and others for who they are, and remember that imperfections are what is truly perfect.

-Hillary Rose Owens

Sources:

National Eating Disorders

Mirasol

Something Fishy

Facebook Event for Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Fitness Lines

I readily admit that I have always been one of the more dubious, skeptical types when it came to Valentine’s Day. I never quite understood the thought process behind such trivial and often, frivolous gestures for expressing love. However, a recent conversation with a friend of mine deeply challenged my views on Valentine’s Day. He shared with me that in other languages, there existed nearly forty ways of expressing the word, love, while for us English speakers, we were left with only one word. A thought then dawned upon me: I began wondering about how limited and narrow our perception and definition of love must be with only one word to represent all the various types and manifestations love can take. I propose for a more diverse and open interpretation to the many forms of love.

I am sure that I have not been the first to point out the limitations of using only one word to express love. I propose that rather than view Valentine’s Day from such a narrow definition of love, we instead take this opportunity to celebrate all the wonderful ways of expressing love. Whether that love be the nostalgia of one’s first crush to cherishing the company of good friends to treating yourself out to a manicure, take this Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate the infinite facets of an emotion that goes beyond our one word for expressing love.

As an individual who identifies as gay, I know that I will allow myself, for the first time, to celebrate the nostalgia of my very first crush and how wonderful it felt. The word love in its traditional meaning evokes too strong of an emotion that cannot adequately express how much I enjoyed having my first crush on a guy, and I cannot help but use this Valentine’s Day as a moment to contemplate the wonder behind the feelings of how real and affirming it felt. Who knew how empowering celebrating Valentine’s Day could be? I know that for me it will be a celebration of the deep friendships that I have developed over the course of my college journey as well as how far I have come towards loving myself. For Valentine’s Day, I hope that each of you will find something worth celebrating for-I challenge each of you to expand the definition of love beyond the traditional sense to all the many shapes and forms it can take. Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Michael Lau

How to Combat Adult Acne

Adult acne can be more than just an unsightly annoyance, depending on its severity. You’d think after the awkward pubescent high school years have passed that the pimples would disappear and reveal a flawless face the way braces are removed to expose gorgeous, straight teeth. The same should apply to acne, right? Unfortunately, acne does not always go away after the teen years, and sometimes lasts into adulthood. Sometimes women may find that their acne is related to unbalanced hormones. When acne persists and becomes untreatable with over-the-counter medicine such as Clean and Clear or Neutrogena, women can go to their doctor or dermatologist and get a blood test taken to determine hormone levels.

If imbalances are detected, sometimes birth control pills are prescribed as an effective treatment. There is a major downside of taking birth control for acne, however. Many women find that it is an excellent treatment option when they are on the pill, but a few months after they decide to get off the pill, acne usually comes back with vengeance, worse than ever. Women may feel pressured to stay on the pill for years because they worry that once they stop taking it, the red, bumpy pustules and sometimes painful cystic acne will return.

If your acne is not related to a hormone imbalance, it may be useful to develop a good skin care regimen. I suffered with adult acne for many months, which caused me immense emotional distress and physical discomfort from the cystic growths along my jawline. I tried all the products available in both drug stores and high-end department stores. I spent hours doing research on the Internet and ordered books at the library, until I stumbled upon the site acne.org. This site proved to be a tremendous tool and helped answer some of my questions and alleviate some of my emotional turmoil. I was able to compare products reviewed by other members on the site, and learn what works for majority of people and what doesn’t. I finally decided to order some products off of acne.org, whose founder, Daniel W. Kern, also suffered with severe acne. I ordered the cleanser, moisturizer, and treatment in large 16-ounce bottles, because I knew that it was the most cost-effective option.

Once you establish a skin care regimen, it is important to stick with it. No matter how comfy you get cuddling with your significant other, do not doze off without washing cosmetics off of your face. If he’s good enough for you he will still think you’re beautiful without a stitch of make-up on, so please ladies, wash your face before bed. Then, pat your face dry with a clean face towel and make sure to change the linens that touch your face (face towel, pillow case) once a week because dirt and oils from dirty laundry can cause acne flare-ups. I then moisturize and wait until it’s dry before applying treatment all over my face. Some people may prefer to apply treatment first, and then moisturize. The advantage of acne.org’s treatment is that once it has dried, it’s completely clear and does not leave a filmy residue on the face. I wash my face, moisturize, and apply treatment once in the morning and once at night.

In the morning after the treatment has dried, I can apply facial makeup with ease. I recommend a mineral powder applied with a clean brush (wash your brush once a week because bacteria and dirt build up lead to acne!). After I established this regimen in addition to taking Yaz birth control for my hormonal imbalance, I noticed a huge change in my results. Strangers and friends would come up to me to admire my nearly poreless complexion. I have finally found a host of products that work for me and even though my regimen may sound complex, it means the difference between a face with unattractive and sometimes painful bumps and grooves, and a smooth, confident appearance.

Here’s a list of products that work in my experience:

  • Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask (dries up acne pimples; rated 4.5 out of 5 stars when Googled)
  • Retin-A (Available with prescription. Makes acne much worse for the first couple months, but then uncovers beautiful, nearly flawless skin. Drawback is once treatment is stopped altogether, acne returns.)
  • Acne.org products – I cannot give enough praise to the treatment. Some prescription treatments burn the skin, making it unbearably sensitive, but acne.org’s treatment works just as effectively as prescription without the physical suffering, costs much less, and comes in large quantities.)

In my opinion, I do not think that a poor diet causes acne, but I do know that when I eat greasy foods and chocolate and then touch my face, I will get a pimple. So make sure to keep your hands away from your face, or develop the habit of washing your hands as soon as you finish snacks. Carry sanitizer or hand wipes in your purse when a sink isn’t handy, such as when taking long road trips. It is important to keep your body hydrated with water because it flushes out toxins that may otherwise result in skin problems. Also, sweating flushes away toxins, contributing to better skin. So try to make exercising a priority.

I hope these tips help you in your battle for a clear complexion and remember to browse acne.org for more information and advice!

-Kristen Cubero

Getting Organized

As I flip through the TV channels on mute and listen to the clock tick quickly, I’m struck by the chaos that I’m living in.  Clothes, books and loose papers are strewn across my unmade bed.  My backpack is stuffed with crumpled-up handouts, notes and newspapers.  Although I’ve made it to each class today, I have no idea what my assignments entail for this week.

It’s time for some (early) spring cleaning.

If a messy, disorderly room is making you equally stressed out, look no further.  There are plenty of easy ways to get yourself – and your life – organized in mere minutes.

Get a planner or Google calendar. I literally can’t imagine how I’d function without my planner.  It contains every detail of my packed schedule, from classes to meetings to cocktails.    There’s nothing worse than forgetting about a club meeting, coffee date or deadline.  Putting commitments in writing, whether they’re required or with friends, will prevent you from realizing when you have to be somewhere across campus and have only five minutes to get there.

Organize your coursework. For the past few weeks of class, I’ve been taking notes for all seven of my classes on whatever paper I’ve had on hand.  My Spanish notes are in the same notebook as those from Political Science, and who knows where my News Writing notes have gone.  This system may work for a while, but when midterms roll around, it will be nearly impossible to compile all notes, papers and old quizzes. It’s essential to have a separate notebook and/or binder for each class.  You’ll be so much happier come exam time when cramming in Davis is as simple as opening a notebook and buckling down.  Though it may not be the most appealing pastime, it sounds much more appealing than riffling through knee-high stacks of papers in desperate search of the first weeks’ notes and your (unopened?) textbook.

Keep things neat. Studies have shown that it’s easier to get work done in tidy spaces.  Messes are distracting, stressful and all-around unpleasant.  Taking a few minutes to make your bed, hang up clothes and organize your desk can make studying so much more comfortable and relaxing. This applies to your computer, too.  Clean out and organize your inbox.  It will keep you from losing track of e-mails you were supposed to respond to but forgot about.  As mind-numbing as it sounds, it will help out in the long run.

Make a schedule and stick to it. It’s so easy to put off a night’s readings to hang out with friends, watch TV or catch up on sleep.  But when this happens repeatedly, you’ll find yourself hundreds of pages behind in multiple classes with one night before a test. Set goals for each day, even if it means getting up a few minutes early to read some extra pages.  It will make life so much less stressful.  Plus, you’ll be less embarrassed when the professor asks you a question in class and you can actually answer it.

Getting organized is easier than you’d think.  I just bought notebooks and binders at Student Stores.  Tonight I’m going to print out my syllabi, write down my assignments for this week and catch up on the reading I haven’t done.

…Or maybe I’ll put that off to another night.

-Georgia Cavanaugh

Safe Social Networking

Social media has undeniably become a crucial part of modern life.  From Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, social networking sites have the power to connect friends and family around the world.

But they can also have dangerous side effects.

In this age of communication, it is more important than ever to monitor your behavior and appearance on social networking sites.  Whether it’s the incriminating pictures of drunken, late-night revelries or one too many curse words in your Tweets, you may not be putting your proverbial best foot forward online.

Your social networking profiles can shape others’ perceptions of you – including potential employers’.  Worst of all, once something is put on the Internet, the damage may be permanent.  Though it may seem trivial now, posting graphic details about college exploits could be embarrassing when you’re applying for jobs down the line (case in point:  the recent Duke PowerPoint incident).

A few essential steps must be taken to keep your online profiles appropriate:

-Keep it classy in photos.

Drinking is obviously illegal for those under the age of 21.  If you’re going to drink anyway, make sure it isn’t photographed and put online for all to see.  Even if you are of legal age, no employer wants to hire someone who has drunk-eye and/or is dancing on tables in every other photo. When friends are taking pictures, put down your drink or at least hold it out of sight of the camera.  In the event that someone snaps one too many pictures of you collapsed in a heap on the floor, detag the photos and politely beg your friend to remove the evidence ASAP.

And if that’s the case, it’s probably best to avoid drinking altogether.

-Monitor your Facebook wall.

Everyone has at least one friend with a tendency to post inappropriate comments on his or her wall.  Swear-word-ridden, substance-abuse-referencing posts may seem funny at the moment, but you may not be laughing if those quotes resurface later on.  Be careful about what you let others post on your wall.  Even more importantly, make sure that what you post on others’ walls isn’t something you’ll regret in the future.

-Watch your language.

It doesn’t look particularly professional to write Tweets or Facebook statuses involving illegal substances, sexual behavior, crude language, derogatory language, etc.  Think through what you want to say before you allow your hundreds – or thousands – of friends/followers to read it.

-Alter your privacy settings.

Protect your Tweets.  Limit what others can see on your Facebook profile, including pictures, wall posts and videos.  Be careful about who you friend on Facebook or who follows you on Twitter.

It’s better to be safe than sorry.

-Georgia Cavanaugh