Category Archives: career

Book: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One

Worth reading! The Renaissance Soul gives down-to-earth advice for
people who thrive on variety and challenges in a number of deep and
rich interests. The book helps people identify their passions
(plural!) and follow them without feeling overwhelmed by choice. It’s
also clear, well-written, and full of concrete stories. I like it!


A number of people have told me that they admire the way I know what
I’m doing. My grade school teachers were completely unsurprised by my
choice of a college major. My love for technology can be traced to
childhood, and on the surface it can seem like I’m one of those people
who know what they want to do and how to do it.

However, my teachers and friends have also always known that I can
have a hard time focusing. In university, I switched from mobile
computing to wearable computing to personal information management to
education. I take up hobbies and let them go at some point.

The best thing I took away from the book is the idea of a focal point
sampler. Identify four things you’re passionate about. Figure out if
you’re the kind of person who pursues things sequentially or who
prefers to enrich life by blending things together. Make it happen.
Key point: you’re not stuck to these four choices forever; you can
change your mind and try different flavors next time. It’s like
sampling flavors in an ice cream shop…

I think my sister Kathy should read this book, too. =) Good book.
Thumbs up!



55 The people who are most secure are not those who pick one career and stick with it. They are the people who follow their passion—or passions. [Quote preceded by clear, concrete example.]
55 Only by staying in tune with your passions will you acquire the glowing references and kindred-spirit networking contacts that will pull you through times of change, whether that change is imposed from without or within.
66 [Describes terrific exercises for figuring out which values are important to you overall and which ones are important right now.]
70 Five from fifty exercise. Choose the five values most important to you at this moment.
76 Throw your own birthday party. Write toasts for yourself from different perspectives.
81 Mine-Theirs exercise. Three columns: activity, justification, does this reflect my values of theirs?
98 Focal points: a sampler of interests, not just one primary interest. Four seems to be a good number.
106 Jobs. [J-O-B: get/make a job that includes some of your focal points. Think of it as a stepping stone.]
114 You must always answer any ritual questions about what you do in terms of one or more of your focal points, not your job.
133 [Story of Tracy Kidder, who’s totally awesome.]
154 [Brainstorming extravaganza. Invite a dozen or so friends/colleagues/whoever over.]
158 [Resource party. Kinda like a silent auction. Hand out index cards with numbers written on them, and arrange people in a circle. Person 1 asks a question. Anyone who can help raises their number, and the person writes down their numbers for later conversation. (Don’t take other people’s time with the details!). Go a few rounds, then take a break for conversation.]
162 [Guidelines for volunteering: create your own volunteer position by bartering your services for what they can provide, make contact with the right person (someone who can make things happen for you and doesn’t mind sharing opportunities).]
165 [Four-frame approach: big picture, why you selected this situation, what you would like to gain, what you can give in return]
168 Mentorship has traditionally been a less formal affair open to everyone. [You can find mentors everywhere.]
211 Price, Reality, Integrity, Specificity, Measurability – PRISM test for focal points
218 [Take a look at the list of possible intentions / qualities. Pick two that are crucial to your focal point, but personally difficult for you. I intend to be ___ enough in the way that I ____ to make the most of this focal point.]
221 [Set intention markers – milestones – which show you how you follow through with those milestones.]
233 [Schedule in focal point blocks and then work on whichever focal point is appropriate for the moment. You can color-code your schedule according to the focal point in order to see if you’ve been balancing things well.]
244 [Multitask in one direction. Don’t do other things during focal point time, but mix focal stuff into other activities.]
246 Fresh ideas for your daily TODO list
256 [Have three candidates for asking for help with different things, prioritize and load-balance]

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The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One

Three questions for success

Via the Business Opportunities Weblog comes this awesome story about Farrah Gray, who made his first million by age 14. Want to be a Millionaire? Ask Yourself Three Questions

“Ask yourself three questions. First, what comes easy to me, but harder to others? The second question is, what would you do for work for years and years and never have to get paid for it? And the third question is, how can you be of service and how can you give back?” Gray advises.

Same questions my parents taught me to always ask myself. =)

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A passion for social systems – clues to my next short-term step?

Each day brings an opportunity for me to reaffirm my decision that
connecting with people is important to me and that I want to learn how
to be really good at building and maintaining relationships. I’ve been
spending a fair bit of time thinking about the tools for doing so,
from my extensive customizations of the Emacs Big Brother Database
to why I like OpenBC.

Every time I use Emacs+Gnus+Planner+BBDB, LinkedIn, OpenBC or even my
little black Moleskine notebook and fountain pen, I always find little
things to improve. I’m in that zone again, and I’m having *so* much
fun. Emacs and my Moleskine are nearly infinitely hackable within the
constraints of computer and paper, respectively. As for LinkedIn and OpenBC—that *itch* is making me want to write code for someone else.

The last time I felt like this was when I was in the thick of Planner
development, working with a fantastic community of enthusiastic users
around the world. It was *amazing* being able to make all these little
differences in people’s lives. I stayed with the project until I found
myself too content, and then I turned it over to someone else because
it was something that deserved passion.

Maybe I’ve found my coding passion again, something wider in scope
than the little ways I customize my blog or my e-mail client or my
contact database.

The more I think about it, the more attractive it is. How strange that
low-key services like LinkedIn and OpenBC appeal to me more
than the big names in the industry! I have the feeling that I’ll be
able to make more of a difference there (at least for now) than in
companies like IBM, Google, or Yahoo – although those three are
certainly exciting in terms of the other cool geeks I’d get to work

… but oooh, imagine the opportunity to work directly with really
cool users? I could so totally rock. I’d *love* to be able to bring my
technical *and* social passions to the table. That feels like a good
short-term next step.

Figuring out my options…

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More thoughts on what I want to do with my life

The Labour Day weekend gave me an excellent opportunity to reflect on
what I can do with my life, and I really appreciated being able to
bounce ideas off Simon.

I have a lot of options ahead of me, and I want to think about this
carefully. My first job doesn’t have to be perfect, but it would be
good to understand what my values and priorities are. I want to be
extraordinary. I know, I’m 23 and my direction in life will change as
I discover more about myself and about others. =) But it’s good to
think about it every now and then…

So here’s where I stand, so far:

Technical: Social systems: Improving a social system such as
LinkedIn or
OpenBC would probably be the best fit for
me in terms of technical work. I would enjoy listening to users and
figuring out things that can make the tools easier to use or more
powerful. I’m more interested in systems that help people connect in
real life or in one-to-one relationships than in things like social
bookmarking, where the social aspect is often secondary. I’m also more
interested in facilitating introductions than I am in supporting
groupware, although I can do that as well. I would love to help build
systems that make it easier for people to keep in touch with lots and
lots of people (attention-based aggregators, etc?), introduce people
to others, move online connections into the real world and vice versa,
and so on.

Management: Outsourcing: The Philippines has a lot of talent,
and there are plenty of opportunities to outsource. I want to learn
how to help people set up outsourcing relationships, specify and
manage projects, and manage and train people.

These are the two prospects I feel most passionate about, and I may be
able to pursue them both. I don’t want to be so heads-down in tech
that I serve a narrow audience—only the users of my system—nor do I
want to be so heads-down in management that I lose touch with my
technical side. I think I can make this happen, though.

So, how can I go about doing that?

For social systems, there are all sorts of little things that I would
like to build for myself or suggest to other people. I can learn good
design through exposure and experience. I can write about features and
systems I would like to see. I can even prototype them. I should spend
some time learning how to make better user interfaces (a proper mouse
may help!) and prototyping things on Rails or some other quick
platform. Easy enough for me to get into.

For outsourcing, there might be a good opportunity to help set up a
relationship between Direct Leap and either QSR or Exist. I know a few
people who want to help me learn how to do this. I’m all for it!

My master’s degree can help me with both. My research is related to
the former, and my coursework is related to the latter.

Hmm. Sounds like a good plan. I’ve got other plans, just in case, but
these are the two best plans at the moment.

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Looking for a personal board of advisors

I won’t be going to the Free Software and Open Source Symposium tomorrow because
I’m meeting Stephen Perelgut and a possible mentor for lunch.

I’m really lucky to know people like
Stephen Perelgut, who reminded me in his

And, for the record, you are in a rush. You may not know it yet, but you’re
very ready for a mentor. Just accept that the inner-parent in me “knows”.

I need a mentor. I need more than one mentor, actually. If I’m
thinking of being in Canada for a while, I’ll need a whole new
personal board of advisors. I miss talking to my parents, my
godparents, and other people back home. It’s hard to talk about
everything, though, because so much context is missing. I can’t blog
everything, and it’s hard to explain things over the Internet! I need
people I can talk to here.

I’m growing rapidly, and opportunities unfold everywhere I turn. I
need to make sure that I’m growing sustainably and in the right
direction(s). I have a lot of hats on at the moment, and I’m having a
hard time fully living up to some roles. Here’s what’s on my plate:

  • Graduate student (MIE1402, KMD2004)
  • Researcher (IBM CAS project, University of Toronto)
  • IBM 2.0 evangelist – I could do a whole lot more than I am right now
  • Graduate House Council member – sustainable
  • VP Education, Toastmasters – I don’t do enough to help out with this
  • Daughter, sister – I don’t keep in touch well enough
  • Friend – I don’t keep in touch well enough

And somewhere in there is the networking I also care about and love

I have a number of goals, too, and I need help figuring out which
goals really matter to me and how I can go about accomplishing them.
My short-term goals are easy to figure out:

  • Finish my schoolwork.
  • Finish my thesis.

But I’m not spending all my waking hours doing these things because
I’m also trying to build a few more things before I need them. An
excellent professional and personal network. A personal brand. Useful

I remember how my very first roommate finished her project with CAS,
looked up, and found herself without any job offers despite having a
MS from the University of Toronto. I don’t think I’ll be in that
situation, and even if I were, I have confidence in my contingency
plans. (I can do a lot of cool stuff in the Philippines!) So it’s not
that I’m in a rush to do all of these things, to write that
bestselling book, etc. I know there’s time.

I have to admit, though, that it’s *very* hard to resist the urge to
focus on things outside my short-term goals. I feel that I could make
such a difference if I concentrate on, say, IBM 2.0 evangelism: pour
myself into it, devote my energies to it, make it happen. I feel that
the time would be right for such things, too. Thanks to the constant
reminders of my research manager (Hi Julie!) and the occasional
restraining hand placed on my head (Stephen’s figured out how to get
me to stop bouncing, at least temporarily), I do manage to resist it.

This is one of the reasons why I really need a board of directors whom
I can tell about opportunities, ask for advice, think things out loud
with, hold myself accountable to…

And I’m surrounded by wonderful, wonderful, wonderful people whom I am
glad to have as part of my life and whom I would love to include in
whatever successes I may have.

Quinn Fung, Dan Howard, and Jed Smith have taught me so much about
love and friendship. I owe them big time.

Stephen Perelgut is practically on my board already, what with all his
help and support. I’m really, really grateful for his help.

Gabriel Mansour has volunteered to be on my board. He’s my crazy-idea
go-to person who can enthuse about my crazy ideas and help me figure
out how to make things happen.

Ian Garmaise has taught me a lot about networking and speaking, and I
look forward to learning more from him.

There are others, but it’s 2 in the morning and I need to sleep at
some point. =) And of course, there’s my extended circle of mentors,
and that could include you reading my blog: thank you for putting up
with my random thoughts and telling me about everything from how to
prepare really good oatmeal to free software evangelism opportunities!

So yeah, I need a board of directors. They don’t have to read my blog
(I write way too much), but I’d like to keep in touch with them
quarterly at least. Probably monthly, as I’m changing so much. I need
that help as I’m growing. I also need to find role models who have
succeeded at the things I want to do, so that I can learn from their

I’m 23 years old. I haven’t quite figured out life yet. With your help
and theirs, I’m slowly getting there.

E-Mail from Stephen Perelgut

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Random Emacs symbol: ps-mule-plot-composition – Function: Generate PostScript code for plotting composition in the region FROM and TO.

UPDATE: Changed “directors” to “advisors” now that I understand more. =) Dec 10 2009