June 6, 2009

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Conversations with the students at Sir Wilfrid Laurier

I was supposed to give a 40-minute talk to International Baccalaureate high school students. I was planning to talk to them about the benefits of posting their writing on the Internet. A few minutes into my talk, I realized that there was no way that my slides and my planned speech could keep up with all the things I wanted to share and all the things I wanted to learn from them. So I leaned over, turned off the projector, and proceeded to have a great conversation with the students.

The key point I wanted to make was that blogging can help them discover how fun it actually is to write, and it’ll give them plenty of opportunities to improve their skills, develop their passions, and connect with incredible people.

Most people don’t ever learn how to enjoy writing because their experience of writing comes from the essays and book reviews they wrote for class assignments and threw into recycling bins as soon as the term was over. I got Ds in my university English classes because I just didn’t like sitting around and analyzing the irony in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (still inscrutable, after all these years). I wrote my forgettable share of everything: essays, poems, lab reports, programs. I wrote because I had to, because the assignment was there.

And on my computer, through the Internet, I discovered what it was all about. In class, I wrote essays about things I didn’t quite understand. Outside class, I wrote about what I was learning about life, and hundreds of people read what I’d written and shared their own thoughts with me.

Powerful stuff.

I learned that writing about what I was learning was a great way to learn even more effectively. I learned that it was a fantastic way to tell stories, to reach out, to make a connection. I learned that writing helped me scale up and reach wide. I learned that it could create opportunities and build connections.

I wish I’d learned earlier! =)

Anyway–back to the International Baccalaureate students, who were getting ready to do a major essay. My advice: write for yourself, and write for more people than you know. Blogging’s a great way to learn and a fantastic way to share.

After I told a few stories related to that, we opened it up for all sorts of questions. Here are a few:

How much do you make?
(immediately followed by another student saying, “Hey, that’s a rude question!”)

My manager knows the value I create for the company, and that I often get unsolicited job offers through my blog. So he makes sure to keep me happy. ;)

Given the opportunity, if you were offered double the pay, would you leave the company? That is, do you like the environment?

I love my environment. The only reasons I’d work with a company are because I love the environment, I love the people, and I love what we do. Never accept work for just money. What I want to say is that it is entirely possible to find something you love doing, to find people you love working with–and to find all of that and make money in the process. It is possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Perhaps it takes more work, more energy and more enthusiasm, but it’s worth it.

A lot of people grow up with this idea that work is supposed to be work–that’s why it’s called work, not play. But if you spend time thinking about what you love, and you find ways to get really good at it, and you find that something which you can do that other people need–if you find those ways to create value for other people, then you’ll create your own opportunities to make whatever amount of money and whatever kind of schedule you want.

So if they paid me twice as much to work at a company where I didn’t like what I was doing… well, life is too short.

Aren’t you worried that people will steal what you share online?

You know what they say about knowledge being power? It used to be that knowledge that you keep secret is power, because then everybody has to come to you. What I find is that knowledge that you share is power. I can post something that’ll get viewed by 30,000 people–which is incredible! Nobody steals that kind of stuff–nobody consequential steals that, because if you’ve achieved any sort of fame or prominence, you haven’t gotten there by copying other people’s work, you get there with your words and your own experiences. So I’m pretty much safe from anybody more famous than I am, and if someone less famous than I am tries to rip off my work, then that doesn’t really affect me either. ;)

I think it’s incredible when people take my ideas and run with it. I give what I know away because I learn even more in the process of doing so, and that helps me go even further. I’d rather teach things and then move on to other things that interest me. It’s a lot of fun.

How do you get people to read your blog?

A lot of people try posting a couple of times, then worry that nobody’s reading or they’re not getting any comments. The trick is to think about it as writing for yourself so you don’t get too worried, and you don’t feel like that unpopular kid who never gets invited to get-togethers. Don’t feel that way. Focus on the things that you’re getting out of it: practice and understanding.

How do you get other people to read your blog? It’s the same way that you get other people interested in you and the same way you get other people to be your friends. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Go out there. Meet interesting people. Share. Get to know them. Be interested in what they have to say, and they might turn around and check you out. Focus on helping other people. That’s how you do it. You do it by creating value for other people. You do it by being interested in other people. You do it by being part of the conversation. You don’t expect people to come to you. You go out there, you get to know people and then you build those relationships over time.

What do you do if you have a big task that’s not enjoyable?

Usually, I go find someone who enjoys doing that kind of stuff. ;) If it’s something I absolutely have to do, then I look for something about that task that I enjoy, or I make it a game with myself. Have you ever noticed that when you’re a kid, you can turn practically anything into a game? “Just time me!” Good stuff.

(And if it’s something I really don’t enjoy, I either just do it and then reward myself with a fun activity afterwards, or I find out if I really have to do it in the first place.)

What do you do when someone is condescending?

People sometimes tell me, “Oh, it’s nice that you’re so happy / you enjoy your job / you’re so full of energy. Enjoy it while you can; you’ll grow out of it.” Best way to deal with that? Collect lots of role models. For example: Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and someone who manages to be even more alive and energetic than I am. Or closer to home: Dr. Oposa, my dad’s knee surgeon, who occasionally wears glasses with blinking LEDs (just for fun). When people tell you something can’t be done, chances are that someone out there’s already gone and done it. And if not, you can be the first!


Lots of other great questions and thoughts. =) Feel free to ask me stuff, too! The more questions we explore, the more I understand, too… =)

More gardening and sewing

We picked up a pair of planters for the porch. One of the planters is overflowing with strawberries, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a few of the hanging fruits. I think it’s amazing that plants will grow with just a little encouragement, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to experience the joys of being a locavore.

The bitter melon seeds (ampalaya) my mom sent me from the Philippines have germinated (and to think I’d given up on those seeds!), and seven or eight of them are working on putting out their first leaves. When they grow a bit bigger, we’ll move them near the fence. We’ll probably have to put in some cold-weather protection towards the end of the growing season, but it’ll be worth a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find bitter melon seeds at a local supermarket, actually. Might not be a bad source in the future.

W- helped me make a duct tape dress form, whom I have named Matilda. Oddly enough, it seems to be a common name for dress forms. ;) I made a quarter-circle skirt (thank you, high-school geometry teacher!) with a bold black/white/red print, which I’ve hung on Matilda so that I can hem the skirt tomorrow. I thought about adding fancy details like a yoke, but I figured I’d keep it simple for starters.

It’s interesting exploring these non-computer things… =)