By Spencer Thompson (original post from Sokanu Posterous blog)
Life is an eternal education. We are almost always students of life, learning more every day. Every person we meet, show we watch and book we read - we are learning. Part of the problem with our society is that we seem to define education as the standardized years in which we go to “school”, when of course this is not the case.
What most people don’t realize is that we are also teachers. For every person we are influenced by, we in turn influence others. Our actions cause other people to stop and question why we did what we did. Our actions show kindness and compassion towards others. We are always leaving an impact, day by day. Our circle of influence grows along with ourselves.
The way that I try to see life is as a giant classroom. In that classroom there are teachers (your mentors, parents, and influencers) and there are students (the people you influence). Your job is to learn and to represent both sides. If you are constantly growing, your platform for teaching will grow. Your words will become more powerful, and your influence will spread further.
One of the things we must realize is that the world is completely open. You are influencing others whether you believe so or not. We are all teachers now, more than ever. We all tell stories every day. Remember:
Every life has a story. Stories are made up of experiences. Your experiences make up the lesson plan for your life. Use your life as a class.
I am a Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Massachusetts. I have a group of 30 researchers working on biomedical applications of nanoparticles, including new anti-cancer strategies and diagnostic tests for cancer and other diseases.
How did you get there?
Undergraduate and graduate school, a postdoc, and a lot of hard work!
Why do you like it?
It’s like running a start-up company focused on making peoples lives better. I work with a great group of students, postdocs and visiting scientists, and have the ability to move in new direction—as long as I can get someone to fund it.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a chemist—I’ve always liked making things, and that’s what we do now.
Get Energy for Your Work Day with a Breakfast Belly
By Sara Halickman
Anyone who knows me knows I love to eat and cook (also a reason why anyone who knows me also knows that I am a very regular gym-goer). I’ve always been an adventurous eater thanks to a pact my parents made with me at the age of three when I swore I would try everything once and only once I had could I decide what I did and didn’t like. I have to say it worked; there are very few foods I turn my nose at.
Lately I’ve become more and more aware of how important what I eat is during a workday; it dictates how tired I am, how productive I am, and how well I feel. There’s nothing worse than feeling sluggish after a big lunch and too tired to get anything done all afternoon, or being distracted by hunger and on a hunt for food (which generally doesn’t end well). I’ve found that it is incredibly important to eat properly for a workday to make sure I have enough energy.
I have always been a huge proponent of breakfast being the most important meal of the day. I can’t understand how people go through an entire morning without eating anything and somehow muster up the energy to get a morning’s worth of work in. I love breakfast. I have been one to admit that upon finishing dinner I start looking forward to the next morning’s breakfast. I’ve gone through a lot of breakfast phases, and the meals that stick tend to be ones that actually keep me full from breakfast until lunch .
A vegetarian friend of mine introduced me to a website devoted to vegan recipes over the summer and recommended something called Vegan Overnight Oats. I was intrigued. I’ve always been a fan of oatmeal in the morning and once I tried VOO (as the website’s creator affectionately calls them) I was immediately hooked. The recipe extremely filling and is one of the few breakfasts that can get me all the way through until lunch. It’s made with rolled oats, almond milk, chia seeds, and a variety of other ingredients that can be used to customize it to your tastes. The secret is in the chia seeds; they act as a binding agent and by some miracle of chemistry absorb the milk into the raw oats and make everything moist but not soggy.
It is my current favorite breakfast to start a workday with, along with a nice cup of coffee. I usually prepare mine when I make my lunch the night before, which is not surprisingly when I start looking forward to eating it.
The Five Things You Need to Know About Finding the Work You Love
Written by Leo Babauta from the blog Zenhabits
“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers … If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” - Steve Jobs in a Stanford commencement speech
One of the keys to happiness — as well as productivity and effectiveness at work — is finding work you love, that you’re passionate about. Work youwant to do, instead of just have to do.
If you really want to do it, it barely seems like work at all.
I’ve finally found that work, in blogging here at Zen Habits and with writing in general. I don’t drag my feet to go to work anymore — now I can’t wait to get up early and start working.
And I’m just one of many who’ve done that — there are people all over the world pursuing their dreams, working with passion, losing themselves in their work. Are you one of them? Do you want to be?
The difficult thing for many people is finding what that work is in the first place. They don’t know where to start, and it seems a hopeless cause.
It’s not. You can find that work, but it’ll take some effort. Here’s what you need to know about finding the work you love:
It won’t find you — you have to seek it. Doing the same ol’ thing everyday isn’t the way to find the work you love. Sometimes, you get extremely lucky and it just lands in your lap. Most people, however, aren’t that lucky — you’ve got to take action, and you’ve got to seek it.
You can’t stop looking until you find it. As Steve Jobs said, never settle. If you find something that’s just a bit better than your current job, that’s better … but don’t stop there. Keep looking. Don’t give up the search.
You’ll have to look in lots of funny places. Really explore. Try new hobbies. Talk to new people. Read articles on different blogs, in different magazines and books. Inspiration might come from someplace you never imagined.
You might not love it completely until you get good at it. Most likely you’ll know that you love something once you find it … but at that point, you’ve got to work at getting better at it, with all your might. Once you get good, it’ll be something you can’t stop doing, because you’ll get a thrill at doing something great.
Once you find it, you have to pour yourself into it. If you find the work you love, you’ve been given a gift. Don’t spoil it — truly pour yourself into that work. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the other loves in your life, including family and friends, but when you’re working, you should devote yourself completely to that work.
Here’s how to go about seeking your passion:
Break out of your routine, and dare to ask. You’ve got to stop what you’re doing (maybe not at this moment, but today, or tomorrow, not next week) and be bold enough to ask yourself if you love what you’re doing. And if you don’t, then what is it you really love? And if you don’t know, then are you going to look for it?
Spend time thinking about it. It’s good to take an hour or two to really think about the question. It’s worth the investment. Really think about what you love, about your life, about what you want to be doing.
Think of what you already love. Do you have hobbies you’re passionate about? What do you like reading about? What do you talk about with others? Is there something you always wanted to do but forgot about, or were too afraid to pursue?
What are your dreams? Is there something you’ve always wanted to accomplish in life? Almost everybody has some dream like that, sometime in their lives, but often they don’t think it’s realistic. Give it more thought now.
What are you good at? What are your strengths? Do you have any talents? Is there something you’ve always excelled at? Pursue these things.
Take action. If you don’t actually do anything, you’ll never find it. Start doing research, start making calls, make appointments, take career assessment tests. Take action, now.
Explore new things. Try out new hobbies that sound interesting. Read about new things. Find new ways to explore — break out of your patterns.
Once you find something interesting, pursue it. Read about it. Learn, and try it, and do it, and get better at it. Don’t be afraid to pursue it — fear is what stops most people from finding this happiness.
Then take action – again. Now that you’ve learned about it, give it a try! You might be able to pursue it within your current job, or do it as a side job or just as a hobby at first. Write to people who are doing it to find out how they got started. Check out a few books on the library and do some research online to find out about the first steps you need to take — and then take them! Pursue your dreams!
“Getting up in the morning and having work you love is what makes life different for people. And if you get into a position where you really don’t love what you’re doing, get off it. It’s easy to be on someone else’s track or something that sounds like a safety play.” -Bob Woodward
By Spencer Thompson (original post from Sokanu Posterous blog)
The world around us moves at the speed of light. With planes, trains and automobiles we can travel to far corners of the earth. With the Internet we can access any piece of information we want. With the advent of social networking, we can connect with virtually anyone we want. But through all of this innovation and the new ways that we can connect with one another, is there really any difference in the way we interact? Humans have always had very poor judgement systems when it comes to meeting other people. Our interactions with one another are interesting simply because of the multitude of ways that we judge instantly.
The world would be a lot simpler if humans were built to be the same, or at least very similar. We would understand how one another are thinking, our paths to get to a certain point in life would be the same and our opinions would be non-existent. But of course, uniqueness is what makes the world go round. I am not going to get into the philosophy behind perspective, as that could easily become a book-length blog post. Instead, due to the nature of Sokanu, I am going to focus on how perspective affects us when it comes to careers and career choices.
Growing up in the Western world, most of us are used to the luxuries that we receive on a daily basis. And no matter how hard we try, we still take these things for granted. If we truly appreciated what we had, each and every one of us would wake up and start jumping up and down because we are living with shelter, have instant access to electricity and can eat anything we choose. A lot of the world does not have the basic necessities of life, and therefore their perspective is based on the first level of Maslow’s pyramid. I will not be talking about that today, as it is extremely difficult to understand the perspective from that world.
Instead, let’s focus on the traditional path that a westerner takes through life. Grows up in a middle class neighborhood, goes to public school, has friends, plays video games, graduates from high school, goes to university, graduates from university, gets a job, gets married, has kids, advances in his career, retires, and eventually dies. This is the typical path of a person from birth to death in North America. Now, where does perspective come in? Well, between each step in life, it’s the blank space that determines what kind of person we are. It’s the non-traditional things that we learn that defines what we believe, how we think, who we talk to and how we live our lives. And the first rule we must remember is, everyone’s blank spaces are different.
Filling In The Blanks
When you take the bus or train to work, do you ever stop to listen to some of the conversations going on around you? If you are someone that just puts in earbuds and shuts out the world, try this on Monday. Check your Blackberry, read the paper, or just sit in silence. Observe the people around you. Realize that every single person sitting around you has had a unique life path to get to this point. No two people are the same. That person sitting across from you can be a banker, lawyer, doctor or he can be a pastry chef or farmer. And his path to get to that point has been totally different than yours. Isn’t that amazing? As obvious as that may sound, every single person sitting around you, at that exact moment, has had a unique life. Their blank spaces have been totally different than yours. Sure they have gone to school, gotten married and had kids, just like you. But that person is so completely different you have no idea.
I’ll explain with a story of my own. On the way back home Thursday evening, I was sitting at the front of the bus. A couple came in and sat down. The lady was older and couldn’t hear very well. Her partner was making sure to talk directly into her ear so that she could hear. As a result, the entire bus could hear exactly what she was saying. He was talking about loan sharks, politics and conspiracy theories. Normally I would internally roll my eyes and stop listening. But I was also reading The Happiness Hypothesis on my Blackberry, and had just read a passage on perspective. I realized that these people may not have gone to Harvard, may not live in a $10 million dollar house, may not have invented a revolutionary technology, but they were still entitled to their perspective on life. And my opinion on what they should or should not believe is irrelevant.
Their blanks in their lives were completely different than mine. I spend my time worrying about financial forecasts, UX mockups, hiring, marketing, designing, reading, writing and thinking about Sokanu. My perspective is generally focused on the tech world. If I had asked these people who Mark Suster or Fred Wilson was, they would look at me with confusion. But on the flip side, if they asked me any question about any other industry, would I be any better off? In each industry, I am beginning to realize certain sets of people have a very narrow view of the world through their eyes. The science world thinks that the art world is flaky, while the art world thinks that scientists just aren’t creative enough. Finance guys think that technology people don’t understand capitalism, while tech people think that finance guys don’t understand entrepreneurship. It goes on and on. We generally exist in one world in our entire lives. Our “tribe” and information is all related to that world. And because of this, all of our gaps are filled with the same thoughts, opinions and beliefs as others in that world. Thus, our view of the world begins to narrow. We begin to realize what “the real world” is.
The Real World
When you were growing up, did your parents ever talk to you about “the real world”? You know, the one where money doesn’t grow on trees, you have to work extra hard to pay the bills, promotions aren’t real, a $20,000 car is all you can afford, owning a house is the greatest achievement you will have, a university degree is a key to life, etc… And the problem is, we are a product of our environment. So whatever our parents deem as the real world, we usually accept as our own. The only issue with that is there is no one real world. There are millions of real worlds co-existing on this planet at the same time.
You create your real world. Every single action that you take determines your world. And that is why perspective is so important to consider. We co-exist with billions of other people that live in their own worlds. And when two people or more share overlapping features from their world, they form a tribe. And collections of those tribes form the industries that we know today. So when it comes to careers, we generally find ourselves funneled into a category that we live our lives in. And this is wonderful, because it allows the plethora of different personalities and talents available on the planet to shine through.
Next time you are talking to someone new to your world, or from a totally different world, don’t just dismiss them. Remember, we live in a world with multiple intelligences, and so what we may be intelligent at, others may be lacking in. But remember this works both ways. There is something to learn from everyone. Sometimes the worlds are so far apart that your perspective can’t understand theirs, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong and you are right.
Choosing a career path is tough, and the education system doesn’t make it much easier. They try to guide you towards one of these worlds that exists on our planet. The problem is that most of the time, schools don’t understand the unique perspective of their students, and they don’t adapt their needs to the situation. This is why finding your passion is so important. Passion is not the be-all-end-all, but rather the guiding force that allows us to make the right decisions as we travel through life. Finding your passion, connecting with your tribe and achieving your goals are the steps that you must take in order to find a career that you will find rewarding. But having a sense of perspective for the world around you allows you to understand that your opportunities are endless.
Never let someone with little perspective guide you away from your passion. Next time you have a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand why you are doing what you are doing, try to understand their perspective. How were they raised? What was their path in life? This will often let you understand why they are making the statements they are. By getting this, you can understand where they are coming from. People that are not in your world will very often not have the same perspective to you. Remember, that’s what makes the world so unique and wonderful.
I’m a composer of “classical” music. I write on commission, mostly chamber works, vocal music, and staged pieces (opera). I work primarily with acoustic instruments, although I also use electronic and mixed media elements on occasion. My music primarily gets played in North America and Europe. Most people would consider what I do to be avant-garde, but basically I just write the music that I’m interested in hearing. I’ve also done a fair amount of private teaching as a percussionist (though less so in recent years), I blog and write actively on musical topics, I’ve led music ensembles/organizations, and I’ve held a range of non-musical jobs. I’m lucky though that I’ve always been able to work in creative fields with forward-thinking people, regardless of the discipline. I’ve never done the barista/bartender, starving-artist-type jobs, and every job I’ve had has done something positive for my musical career.
How did you get there?
As a kid I was always drawn to music. My mom tells me I was pulling out pots and pans to drum on them from the time I could crawl, and not just once or twice—this was one of my favorite activities as a toddler. Naturally, I bugged my parents to let me play the drums when I was old enough to talk. They put me in piano, hoping I would forget about the drums, but I kept at them until they acquiesced when I was in 3rd or 4th grade.
From then on, I became a very serious student of percussion, seeking out the best teachers I could find. I quickly gravitated to jazz, which was my first love. In my early teens, I started writing music. I didn’t think of it as composing, I thought of it as a way to get to play the music I wanted to play. After high school, I attended jazz college, then took an extra year to do the composition option they offered.
Gradually I found myself composing more than playing. I transferred to a full B.Mus program at the University of Toronto, majoring in jazz, but after a few months I knew I would be happier as a composer. At the end of my first year there I transferred into the composition program and I never looked back.
Around the end of my undergrad, I started to have my first career successes. These continued throughout grad school, and I won a number of awards, attended music institutes, and did the other things young composers are supposed to do. Following my graduate degree at UC San Diego, I went to Holland for an extra year of study, where I became quite ill and had to drop out. I spent about half a year recovering under medical care. Prior to then I always assumed I’d end up in academia, but during my convalescing I realized I didn’t want to be in school anymore and wasn’t interested in an academic career.
This posed a problem because most composers survive by working “day jobs” as university professors. There are, however, notable exceptions, and I figured the challenge of not falling back on academia would force me to find a solution like that.
I have, but wow, it has been a hell of a journey! And it’s not over yet. When you’re in a field that does not fit well with mainstream economics, you either need to relegate your work to hobby status or you have to blaze an entrepreneurial trail. I chose the latter, which means I’ve learned a lot about networking, the value of relations, how to be self-disciplined, how to organize my time, and numerous similar skills. I’ve learned that you need to develop the talents that come naturally to you, outsource the stuff that you can’t do yourself, and work around the clock. I gradually started getting up earlier and earlier and I’m usually up these days by 4:30am to get it all in (I felt more than a little smug when I learned Barack and Michelle Obama do the same).
I’ve also learned that the journey is the end goal. Today you’re earning a living on your commissions and grants, great! Next year might be a dry spell and you have to get a job. You just keep at it, and keep trying to do it smarter, more effectively. All the while, you want to grow as an artist, to create work that you’re proud of, that will change history. Composing as a career isn’t about modest goals. You have to want to change the world, otherwise why would you sacrifice so many other comforts?
So in summary, becoming a composer or following any other vocation that is not financially rewarding is a process of self-discovery that never ends. I didn’t “get there” because there is nowhere to get to. I’m constantly going somewhere, and trying to enjoy the journey as much as possible.
Why do you like it?
People become composers because they have a vocational drive to become composers. There’s really no other explanation. I like to work independently, I need creative tasks, I don’t mind details or meticulous work, and I’m a control freak. Those are some of the requirements to be a composer.
Beyond that, the existential, self-discovery aspects are rewarding, if often difficult. I feel like I have a truer outlook on life than many people. My friends describe me as having a certain wisdom.
Somehow though, liking being a composer seems the wrong question to ask. The truer question is, why haven’t you quit? Being a composer is very tough, there are innumerable obstacles, and the rewards are few and far between. The people who keep at it have had numerous opportunities to say, “You know what, this isn’t worth it. I’d doing something else.” But we don’t… That’s the true test of if you’re a composer or not.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a geneticist. I saw a show on genetic engineering on TV around 8th grade and thought it was the coolest thing, changing the DNA of plants in order to make them more resistant to pests or environmental conditions. But in high school I had terrible biology teachers and that completely killed my love of science, at least in the career sense.
80% of the world lives on less than $10.00 a day(1). 50% of the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. The fact that you are able to sit and read this article is a semi-miracle. Our ability to read, interpret and process information is a gift, not a right. We are lucky in so many ways - yet people continue to complain about their “lot in life”, regardless of how bad that lot really is.
The chances that you were born in North America is extremely low. If you were born into a “modern” society, one that values freedom, education, health, innovation & diplomacy, you have already won. You have won The Ovarian Lottery, the greatest leg up you can have in life.
The world is filled with people who love to complain. They complain about how terrible their marriage is, how badly behaved their children are, how soul-sucking their job is, and frankly - how life sucks. And you know what? They are right.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
Most people sit around and wait for their “lucky day”, the day where all of their dreams come true. They sit and pray, hoping they win the lottery, so all of their problems will be solved. What they don’t understand is - they’ve already won. Just by being born here, by being alive past the age of five, by having the chance to be educated in a public school system - you have won. You are in the top 20%.
Life is hard - we know this. Next time you start to complain about how hard your career or life is, think of this.
There are 7 billion people on the planet Earth
80% of them make less than $10 dollars a day
1.2 billion people have a disability
7.6 million children a year die before the age of 5
23 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol
What are you complaining about again? Remember - you have already won. Billions of people would trade anything to be in your position. You are the envy of the majority of the planet. You have already won the lottery. Now don’t waste that winning ticket.
I am a substantive editor of literary fiction for adults and teens and Canadian non-fiction, and teach editing, publishing, and media studies at 3 Canadian universities. I also host a radio segment called Books & Bytes, oversee a literary magazine and online portal, and produce a chapbook series.
How did you get there?
Though in high school I’d written agonizing poems, then a column for the local paper, and finally long expository letters home from travels abroad in the summers, it wasn’t until I’d completed a journalism degree at Carleton that I knew the love of reading and writing was less in the news and more in the arts. I was fine-tuning my media literacy so that it fit my aspirations.
Ironically, the ticket to capturing the esprit of reading as a career lay not in the printed word at first, but in radio features and the bi-weekly on-air program I founded interviewing Canadian writers of fiction and poetry called “Write On.” After 3 years and hundreds of authors behind the mic from Michael Ondaatje to Carol Shields, I learned that where there’s an author there’s an editor and publisher close on her heels, and the show opened several doors that knocking couldn’t have.
The show lead to working on the editorial boards of Quarry and Arc, two national literary magazines, reviewing books weekly for the Ottawa Citizen, Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail, partnering with the national librarian on a monthly panel on CBC, and when one of my interviewees informed me that his press was looking for an Associate Publisher, I crashed its Christmas party at the Chateau Laurier Hotel and was hired the following week. The sound of literature had lead to the practice of actually making it.
Once I caught the publishing bug, I was infected forever – for 15 years I worked in-house as an acquisitions and structural editor of primarily fiction for adults and young adults at 4 Canadian presses (Quarry, Beach Holme, Raincoast, ECW) and my respect for the intellectual gymnastics that goes into creating those spell-binding books only grew as did my gratitude for the privilege of working alongside the talents – Michael Crummey, Bill Gaston, Terence Young, Adam Schroeder, Patrick Friesen, Norma Charles, Andrea Spalding, Julie Burtinshaw, Beryl Young and so many others. So much talent, so little time :)
Why do you like it?
An abbreviated list of the “value-added” benefits of the study and creation of literature reveals all the characteristics that make it my true passion Literature offers us the world around us and worlds we’ve never seen or even ventured to contemplate. It empowers us to silently and individually challenge the proscriptive power of inherited ideas. It creates a private space in which to escape, imagine, muse, and feel while offering a safe site for experimenting with identity. It gives us the ability to fashion a context for our own experience and to communicate with the past. It familiarizes us with the legacy of those who have come before and allows us to commit what is of value to personal and cultural memory. Literature prepares us to recognize ourselves as unique individuals, but also to build community as a member of a family, culture, tribe, or nation, and as a citizen of the world. It teaches us to make sense of our lives through narrative and to identify and test belief systems while believing in the magic of words.
It offers us choice and gives us pleasure, power and the ability to train ourselves as visionaries. It allows for an active rather than passive role in the interpretive process, a creative act that is a revolutionary tool in the fashioning of independent minds. It accepts every reader and offers immersion, focus, quiet, and resistance where needed. Literature retells history and underlines the reader’s role in both sustaining and extending it. It connects us to the stories of our childhood and of our family while inspiring us to make our own new story. It creates a path from one author to the next and convinces the reader she has the right to follow in the footsteps of those who have come before her.
The books that have done this for me are too numerous to list by name, but each new day brings a new literary discovery so the stories eventually speak to each other and speak for me and to me, not to mention all the attendant media that surround them – radio, film, music and theatre among my rivalling passions – layer and enrich these literary experiences in different forms for it is all STORY. My media world also obviously involves the Web as a platform for all these genres and a place to find others who share their allure, as sokanu.com is now, but in the end both literature and media is like mercury on a table, beading, morphing, and reconstructing in a way that is both slippery and fascinating. I would be voiceless without it and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather spend my days midwifing, indulging, and exploring.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Many of us begin our love affair with books as children – being read rhymes or tall tales before bed; discovering a secret realm in a wardrobe, a hobbit hole or a behind a garden gate; staying up late with a flashlight and illicit comic under the sheets.
Who among us hasn’t escaped through the portal of a book, emerging only to select a new title and re-immerse once again into that seductive realm where the writer’s imagination meets our own.
This is a shimmering place where we can be lost to the world we know, but found in a new one, recognized there in a way we often aren’t outside those pages. This is the moment a reader is born, but for me, also an editor.
As much as I loved the company of others, the company of characters was equally compelling and often drew me to quiet corner, the crook of a tree branch, or the tent pole of a fort to sneak a read. When at 11, I entered and won a contest at the local library by reading 100 books in a single summer I knew the passion had well and truly become an obsession. The prize? Lunch and an interview with Vancouver writer W.P. Kinsella, famous for his title Shoeless Joe optioned for the film that became Field of Dreams.Though he doesn’t likely remember my precocious questions, the exposure to a “real live author” made a lasting impression - for a time I wanted to be one, and then in my 20s I wanted nothing more than to work with them.
Editing and publishing books for youth inspired a project that returned me to those halcyon days of my own childhood when I would have wanted nothing more than to go to “book camp,” a place where I could talk, read, and write fiction with others who shared the same sweet affliction. So in 2000 I launched the inaugural summer Canadian Book Camp for 100 young adults 11-13 with the help of Janice Douglas at the VPL and Suzanne Norman at SFU.
I’d surveyed summer camp offerings - sports, the outdoors, performing arts and technology – but hadn’t come across the perfect fit for the budding young reader or writer who kept diaries, wrote and/or illustrated their own imaginative stories, created homemade novels and feverishly devoured works by their favourite authors. We wanted to offer a fun workshop that took them seriously and excited, motivated, and celebrated young readers and writers while exposing them to the contagious thrill of discovering good books. The camp would offer field trips, interactive sessions with well-known authors, editors, and illustrators, a gala reading of campers’ works, and a freshly-minted edition of young authors’ excerpted in an annual anthology.
This camp was for enthusiastic readers and eager writers who love writing, who have questions about the process, who want their work recognized - in short it was for people who feel the need to read (and write)! Through it I have met children who “meditated with their muse,” who said “I used to be bullied for reading on the playground, now I’m with 99 others just like me,” who were so troubled they had not spoken for over a year and then suddenly did when they met their favourite author at the camp and felt heard – these stories are inspiring and haunt me in the best possible way. Now more than a decade and over a thousand campers later, it has been duplicated in Toronto, Brantford, Orillia and anywhere someone has taken up the challenge to “steal this book camp” and adapt one of their own from our Book Camp Starter Kit.
While the camp allowed me to be a child again, I also returned to the classroom as both student and teacher, doing a PhD in Communications and Publishing and teaching these skills at SFU, Ryerson and VIU. In my thesis, I proposed, like Swift, to outline a modest proposal for the uses of literature. While it did not propose a satirical solution as Swift did to the famine in Ireland (eat the babies), it did propose to satiate a reader’s hunger for imaginative fare by consuming literature (varied, relevant, and of excellent quality) that provides the nourishment to grow a child’s dreams from fantasy to reality. After all, I was living proof.
You’ve probably heard before that one of the keys to being successful (in anything) is setting realistic, achievable goals. Personally, I’ve always struggled with this. It might be ironic, but I’ve even had to make “making achievable goals” one of my personal goals. I’m very pleased to say, however, that after working on this skill for the past few months, it’s already starting to pay off for me, and I though I might impart some of the things I’ve learned here.
Back in July I made a commitment to myself to be healthier. While well intentioned, goals don’t really get more vague than that. For one solid week I awoke every day and made a fresh, nutritious breakfast. I got more exercise. I also went to bed at a reasonable hour, knowing full well the effect that a proper night’s sleep would have on my personal wellbeing. All of these things are undoubtedly healthy. The problem was that I didn’t continue those habits. After that week I woke up and thought, “I’ve been so healthy this week, I can let myself slide a little. Just for today.” So I had a bowl of sugary cereal and didn’t exercise. The next day I felt equally unmotivated to going back to being healthy and ended up going out with my friends and having a few drinks, meandering home somewhere in the vicinity of 2 A.M. Now neither of these things are terrible, but I’m sure it’s not hard to see the pattern that’s forming. My original goal of being healthy fell by the wayside, and I had no discernable plan to get back to it. This, I came to learn, is where I failed.
Making goals—even well intentioned ones—too broad destines them for failure. Without clear steps on how to get there it’s doubtful that you’ll be able to stay on the right track. The key that I missed in this instance was to make smaller, more attainable and measurable goals that will build up to a larger objective.
Since the summer I’ve come to learn quite a bit about setting goals, and perhaps more importantly, how to put in place steps to achieve them. It started when I was catching up on some podcasts while doing some household chores. I listened to an episode of This American Life about Superheroes (which you can find here), and a particular story about a lady named Zora jumped out at me. Zora is a real life Wonder Woman. She trained herself to be a superhero ever since she was a girl, learning to fly helicopters, master martial arts, and defuse bombs. She managed all of this by keeping a list (which she referred to as “The List”) that she would constantly update and revise with all of the skills she wanted to learn if she were to become a real superhero. Amazingly, it worked. Zora didn’t become a superhero overnight, but with time and a hefty amount of diligence she’s been able to accomplish some incredible things.
The methodology behind achieving incredible things by setting smaller, achievable goals is well documented. One of my favorite reads on the subject is here at How Stuff Works. It’s great food for thought, and it can be applied to your career, your health, your personal life, or whatever else you choose.
As corny as it sounds, I took this lesson to heart. I made a list, and I didn’t just fill it with goals like “be healthy,” either. Now I wake up every morning and take my dog for a 30-minute walk, come home and make a nutritious breakfast that I’ve laid out in a meal plan the week before. Three times a week I exercise using a set schedule and workout plan. I haven’t started regulating my sleep yet, but that might come in a later iteration of my list. So far, my goal is to keep those habits and eventually bring myself down to a manageable 15% body fat. When I can put a check beside that goal I can readdress my list and work out a new plan for my health and my future. I might even start doing my own 30 day challenges like our own Renee Masur here at Sokanu. The lesson here is that making attainable goals can make all the difference between failure and success.
From The CEO: Acquisition of Knowledge - The Unfair Advantage
By Spencer Thompson
People that know me well know that I love to preach about the virtues of reading. It has single-handedly done more for my personal development than anything else I’ve done. It has affected my personal relationships, my business relationships and my ability to make decisions. Almost all great leaders have the same feeling - that reading has changed their life. Why is this?
Life is like a giant snowball. When we are young, we spend our time cultivating this snowball. We pack it tightly with the bias that our parents, family and friends give us. We take in experiences, changing our brain - and use this change to pack the snowball even tighter. And then we add the “education” we receive - school-based or otherwise.
Most people form this snowball by the time they are 18, and it forms the base of what they believe for the rest of their life. Very few people take the time to add to the snowball, cultivating it for the future. And fewer still focus on pushing that snowball down the hill so it can start to build itself.
Of course this is a metaphor for acquiring knowledge, but it is my favourite one. Our knowledge bases are truly like a snowball - we add to it all the time but very often the size varies amongst people. The reason is simple - some people are better at acquiring knowledge than others.
To acquire knowledge means to take in signal from all of the noise around us, and apply it to the mastery of your craft or your life. When you read articles on the internet, watch TV or check Facebook, you are receiving information. The question is - is that information useful to you? Can you apply it towards something to make you a better and more successful person?
Very often the answer to that is no. The amount of noise we receive on a daily basis FAR outweighs the useful signal. This is a problem if you want to build a competitive advantage for yourself in life.
Those who are masters at filtering this knowledge learn to build a self-perpetuating snowball. Each meeting they have, each show they watch and each book they read adds to this war chest. What most people don’t realize is that while the the world is incredibly complex, many subjects that appear to be different intertwine in ways we would never expect. Psychology greatly affects business, physics influences biology, technology disrupts most industries, economics affects nearly everything we do, etc…
Meeting people is one of the greatest ways to acquire knowledge. You will soon realize that one of the great quotes - “people lead to people” is very true. Each deep interpersonal relationship you build does not only increase your personal knowledge (and hopefully theirs) but it also creates a network effect for your personal network. With focus on getting signal out of a meeting, it is amazing to see the resulting relationships that are built out of a simple conversation. Soon you will begin to realize that because you have been cultivating relationships over a while, your network is vastly larger than you would have expected.
Ultimately the acquisition of knowledge is useful for one task - making decisions. Whether an investment decision, a personal decision or deciding which car to buy - your snowball influences the speed and accuracy of that decision. Your various “touchpoints” of knowledge all cross and allow you to build an amazing filter in which you process decisions. Looking to download a piece of software? Your snowball tells you what a sketchy spamware site looks like, and that you shouldn’t click download. It tells you that even though the person you are talking to is really nice, they aren’t worth continuing a relationship with (or they are!). And on a simple level - it helps you understand why gas prices at the pump are so expensive.
The most successful people in the world do not have some kind of secret that the rest of us do not posess. Most of them were not born into opportunity like we fantasize that they are. (another post - why we create success bias in our minds in order to make ourselves feel better) They just understand the power of their brain - and how to use it as an effective weapon in the game of life.
Going back to the beginning - it is my opinion that books are the single greatest way to build the base of the snowball (and add to it at a rapid pace). Why is this?
Books are usually the culmination of a life of research and thought (the good ones anyway). When someone at the top of their field spends 25+ years thinking about a topic, then decides to put their life’s work into a bound format that is 300 pages and costs under $30, think about it. The fact that you WON’T read that is pathetic. The gains are exponential. Secondly - a book forces your brain to create visual representations of what it is processing. Unlike images that are fed to us through a TV, a book leaves the pathway from the back to the front of the brain open to intepretation.
In conclusion, spend the time cultivating your personal knowledge snowball. The payoff is not linear, it is exponential. The number of connections you are gaining with each piece of signal is amazing. If you can imagine your life 40 years from now with a self-perpetuating snowball, the results are incredible. There is no bigger competitive advantage you can give yourself.
I am a Fundraising Consultant, working with not for profit charitable organizations. In that role I work with clients to help them: do Strategic Planning (particularly with respect to fundraising); develop a 12-, 24- or 36-month fundraising plan; conduct a feasibility study which tests what they believe their Case for Support is and estimates what level of possible support might be available to them in their future capital campaign; and, run a Capital Campaign. In the latter instance, my preference is that the client actually learns how to run, and actually does run, the campaign so that in the future they can do the work and take ownership for themselves.
How did you get there?
My career has primarily been in marketing: in politics, the marketing of (and fundraising for) a candidate; in advertising, the marketing of a product; and, in charitable work, the marketing of the charity and in turn encouraging support / donations for that charity. My first full time job was with a political party and included fundraising components. I continued to do volunteer fundraising work with charities (going door to door for donations, running special events, dinners, etc). At one point, when I was 36 and looking at a career move (in this case out of advertising), the move to work for a charity and running their door-to-door campaign was a natural one.
Why do you like it?
There are three things that I particularly enjoy: building the relationship with and getting to know the donor and their likes and dislikes, which are keys to their decision to making large(r) donations; running strategic planning sessions amongst 8 - 12 people that confirm and focus an organization’s goals and vision, and then developing plans with them that have measurable outcomes for the future; and, mentoring fellow fundraising professionals who need someone to listen to their ideas, give them confidence in trusting their instincts, and occasional direction as they move forward in their job and career.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young and in a church choir, I thought I wanted to be an Anglican minister. Later, in my teens as I headed for university, I thought I’d like to be a mathematics teacher and guidance counsellor.