Category Archives: passion

How I explore my interests

Looking for your passions? You might be starting with the wrong question. Except in rare circumstances, passion doesn’t hit people out of the blue. You don’t just wake up one morning and discover a love for painting or polynomials. Passion starts small.

If you’re caught up in looking for the kind of burning passion that will turn your world upside down, you might miss the little things that lead to interests. Some of your interests will lead to skills. Some of your skills and experiences will grow into passions.

There are lots of guides on how to explore and develop your passions, so I won’t repeat the advice you’ll see elsewhere. Instead, let me share how I explore my interests, in case that nudges your mind.

I lucked into my big passions. I don’t remember learning how to use the computer, and I only vaguely remember teaching myself how to program.

One passion leads to another, almost without choice. My big passions span years and open up other possibilities. A passion for programming turned into a passion for open source, which led to a passion for personal information management and productivity via the unlikely conduit of Emacs. Personal information management led to a passion for social information management, social networking, and collaboration. Computing and open source led to teaching, which led to public speaking, which broadened and became a passion for communication. Looking back, each step—each evolution—seems natural and unavoidable. Each skill is a launchpad for other skills.

I think a lot about passions. I think about what I’m passionate about, how to explore that, and how to articulate that. But I’m not discovering things from scratch—I’m taking something that already exists, and I make it clearer.

This means that it’s difficult for me to help people get started and overcome inertia. Self-discovery is tough. Once you know the feeling of passion, though, it becomes much easier. I’ve thought a lot about accelerating new passions when you already have at least one. I don’t have as much advice for when you don’t know of anything you’re passionate about.

Against the backdrop of these big passions, I’ve explored dozens of interests. Many of those interests contribute to my passions in unexpected ways. Any one of those interests could become a passion—indeed, are passions for other people. I know more about exploring interests and developing them into passions than about finding passions right off the bad.


Where do ideas for interests come from? Many interests start in my curiosity about what my ideal life looks like. I think about what I might do or experience if I had all the time and money I wanted. I look for ways to start experimenting with those ideas now instead of later. It often takes less money and time than I expect.

Many interests grow out of existing ones. Sometimes they’re logical progressions. Sometimes they’re complementary pursuits.

Many interests are inspired by others. I talk to people I admire. I read books and blog posts. I flip through course catalogues. When I come across something that tickles my imagination, I see if I can give it a try.

How do I make it possible to explore interests? Living frugally means I can regularly save money in an “opportunity” fund that I use for experiences or education. This means I don’t have to worry about choosing between interests and bills. Minimizing commitments and keeping work-life balance means I can free up the time to explore emerging interests, which usually end up being quite helpful at work and in life too.

How do I explore interests? I find that teaching myself is more fulfilling and cheaper than taking a class unless I really need other people in order to explore an interest. It’s easier, too. I usually check out lots of books from the library and make time to practice. As I explore, I think about my experiences and share what I’m learning. Is it worth it compared to other ways I can spend my time? Are there more effective ways to achieve my goal?


What are you curious about? What do you want to learn?

Plan how to learn it. Make time and space for it.

Give it a try. If you like it, get better at it. You’ll like it even more as you get better and better at it. And who knows? Maybe someday, it will number among your passions.

Thinking about improving the connective tissue of organizations

Even though I’m a recent hire, people often come to me to find other people in the organization. It’s a powerful way to create value. I’m not the expert they’re looking for, but I can point them in the right direction.

I want to not only to improve my networking capabilities, but to build this knowledge into the organization so that it transcends me. This reduces my direct influence, but strengthens the organization and makes more things possible. Improving the connective tissue in organizations increases efficiency, effectiveness, and happiness. A fully-connected organization allows people to bring together the best talent and the best resources no matter where they are, and it enables people everywhere to develop their full potential.

Little steps matter. Relentless improvement matters. How can I help make that happen?

  • I can teach the processes I use to find experts and resources. This enables more people to do what I do, and provides a platform that people can build on.
  • I can map the different communities, groups, and people for the subjects people often ask me about. Making the map visible brings people together.
  • I can cultivate communities and make them the go-to point for requests. Communities can reach a lot more people, bring in fresh talent, and form more connections. Vibrant communities also mean that individuals aren’t points of failure in the network.
  • I can provide feedback to our toolmakers and cultural influencers. Again, the more things we build into the framework, the easier it will be for more people to make things happen.

It may seem counter-intuitive to spread valued skills, especially if the organizational model is that knowledge is power and scarcity creates job security, but I need to create exponential value. Instead of accumulating and holding skills close, I want to push as much value as I can into the structure and into other people. I want to braindump everything I’ve learned and am learning, opening it all up so that other people can take the next step.

I want to see this smarter, truly globally-integrated workplace become reality. I need to help lots of people know more than what I know and do more than what I do.

I can help make that happen from where I stand and with the levers I have (and build). I’ll get even better as I learn more about different parts of the organization, respond to more requests, and find ways to align my work even better with the organization’s strategies. What we learn here can help other organizations and networks, too.

It’s a worthwhile goal. I’m looking forward to seeing how the adventure will unfold!

A toolbox of questions

Darius Bashar asked Gary Vaynerchuk an interesting question at last night’s DemoCamp24: What questions did Gary ask himself? (Not quite answered, but it might’ve been hard to get the gist across.)

After the event, Darius posted some of the questions he uses to figure out more about passion.

I was thinking about the questions in my toolbox, and I realized that I approach things very differently from the way that many bloggers I’ve read (particularly those who push personal branding) approach this discovery process.

I do ask people about their passions when starting a conversation, but that’s an opener that’s there so that I can see if they light up. It gets them away from the name-occupation spiel. If people stumble and don’t have a clear passion, that’s okay.

Looking at the questions I see on these personal development blogs, I often feel that questions assume you need to have a clearly definable passion that you can easily differentiate from other things you think about. While many people respond to that challenge, others might feel even more discouraged.

Me, I like discovering my passions through small steps. I’m not looking for a huge flame I had been previously unaware of. I’m just looking for a spark I can cultivate. That often emerges when I focus on relentless improvement and on sharing, two of the categories I’ve listed here. Other questions help me clarify, develop, and expand that interest. Passion isn’t something I expect to spring full-formed (Athena from Zeus’ forehead?). It’s something I grow into.

Discovery is shaped by the questions you ask. Some questions are sheer rock faces that are hard to get a grip on. Some questions are paths already marked by others so you know where to go. Some questions give you a lot of holds so that you can work your way around tough parts. Some questions are the shortcut walking trail a sherpa points out to you. ;)

Maybe some of these big-picture questions might help you think about your interests and passions, and maybe some of the more tactical ones will help you think about other things you do. Here’s a Swiss Army toolkit of small questions I use to think about things, and I hope to add more as I learn!

  • Questions

    • Improvement

      • What worked well?
      • How can I make this even better?
    • Vision

      • What difference do I want to make, and why does it matter?
      • What can I do?
      • What can I help other people do?
    • Planning – dreams

      • What do my ideal days look like? How can I get closer to that?
      • What doesn’t matter to me? What can I say no to?
      • What do I want to build, experience, or share?
      • What are the different ways I can make that happen?
    • Planning – Career

      • What kind of value do I want to create?
      • What does wild success look like?
      • What skills can I develop?
      • What do I need to take the next step and scale this up?
      • Who can I touch, reach out to, influence, or help?
    • Planning – long term

      • What’s the best case scenario?
      • What are the curveballs that I might deal with? Probabilities?
      • How can I make a safety net?
      • How can I increase my chances of a favourable outcome?
    • Planning – short term

      • What are my priority items?
      • How much time do I have? Will it fit?
      • What important things should I plan for?
      • How can I have fun, learn, and create value?
      • How can I make this easier, more efficient, more effective, or more fun for myself and others?
      • How can I share what I’ve learned?
    • Sharing

      • How much can I share with the world?
      • Who might find this useful?
      • How can I make this easy to find, especially for me?
    • Conversation

      • What are you passionate about?
      • What does wild success look like?
      • What could make you even happier?
      • What do you need to get there?
    • Delegation

      • What part of this can I delegate?
      • What do people need to do this?
      • What does good output look like?
      • What limits are there?
    • Presentation

      • Why does this matter?
      • What should people do or feel?
      • What do they come in with?
      • What’s my key message?
      • What stories and examples can I share?
      • How can I organize this?
      • What interaction can I build in? What questions should I expect?
      • How can I make this even shorter and clearer?
      • What do I want to learn from this?
    • Evaluating a presentation opportunity

      • Why does this matter to the audience? To the organizer? To me?
      • What can I say that is new, will make people think, and will make people act?
      • How can I scale this up before and after the event?
      • What’s the context?
    • Writing

      • What do I want to say? Why does it matter?
      • How can I illustrate it?
      • Can I make it clearer?
      • What am I missing?
      • What’s related to this?
    • Free time

      • How can I be present and enjoy life?
      • How can I express love?
      • How can I move my goals forward?
    • Figuring things out

      • What’s the end point?

        • What has to happen before that? (and so on)
      • Where are we now?

        • What can we do right now to move toward the goal?
      • Why? (at least five times)
    • Social media adoption

      • What’s the immediate personal benefit?
      • What’s the long-term personal benefit?
      • What’s the social benefit?
      • How can we enable the social benefit with minimum
      • What are the challenges? How do we address them?
      • Who are out there?
    • Finding people

      • What are the details of the request?
      • What communities are relevant?
      • What keywords can I search for?
      • Who else do I know?

Superpowers and vision security

What kind of superpower would you like to have?

When I answered this ice-breaker at a women’s leadership session last week, I said that I wanted to be in multiple places at the same time so that I could explore all sorts of great opportunities and learn all sorts of great things. Most people mentioned time-based powers: having more time in the day, freezing time, and being able to instantly teleport. Me, I wanted to scale.

On reflection, though, I realized that the superpower I really wanted was different. So when the facilitator used the same question with a different group (I was there because they were going to discuss my Remote Presentations That Rock video), I was ready.

I want to have the superpower of being able to effectively teach everything I’m learning to people, to be able to package whatever I had learned and to share that with others.

I realized that what I really cared about isn’t filling the world with clones of myself so that we could explore different things, it’s building foundations so that I can learn from whatever else people create on top of it.

I’m going to figure out how to gain that superpower. And as I figure more of it out, I enable other people to figure it out even faster and go even further than I can.

My passion is helping people connect and collaborate. My vision is a world that’s truly flat, where people can work together and lead from anywhere, where we can fully tap the talent of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, and geographies. To make any real progress towards this, I have to create exponential change. I can’t do that alone. I need an army, and I need to build things so that they transcend me.

People used to think that job security was about keeping knowledge to yourself. Me, I think that vision security is about sharing as much as you can with as many people as you can, so that the momentum transcends you. The more I learn and the more I can help others learn, the more likely it is that the vision will happen, whether or not I’m in the picture.

Fortunately, I don’t have to wait until I’m an expert in order to do this. I can move towards that vision as a beginner and a learner. I have a lever and a place to stand on. I can move my world. As we get better at this, we can move bigger things.

What superpower are you working on?

Of storytellers and pattern-makers; Book: Solitude: A Return to the Self

Of the three phrases in my e-mail signature and business card, storyteller draws the most smiles. People visibly relax. They ask me questions. They talk to me in a way they might not talk to an IT specialist or a consultant. Geek gets grins from people in the know, but storyteller is the one that crosses boundaries.

I added storyteller to my self-descriptors when I noticed technology evangelist needed a lot of explanation. The idea was simple: you can’t get people to explore social media by just showing it to them. You have to show them real people using it to create real value, and stories are a great way to do that. I collected examples from different industries and business units, and I used anecdotes to help people understand.

I was reading Solitude: A Return to the Self (a psychoanalytic exploration of introversion and creativity, drawing on historical examples), and I came across an interesting distinction between dramatists and patterns: people who retell stories and relieve experiences, and people who focus on patterns and regularities.

I stopped, reflected on it, and recognized more of myself in the patterner than the dramatist. At the family table, my father and my sister were always the ones telling stories with accents and sound effects. I spent more of my time thinking and reading, drawing connections among the dozens of books I read on a topic, teasing out common topics and threads.

I didn’t fully recognize that part of myself until I had the words to describe it.

I am more of a pattern-maker than a storyteller. Yes, I sprinkle anecdotes through talks to make them more alive, and I share stories through my blog. But the real value I find myself creating at work is in documenting and improving the way people do things. I build Drupal systems, and more than that, I build people’s ability to build Drupal systems. I use social software, and I train people how to do so. I facilitate workshops, and I improve the way we organize and facilitate those engagements.

What does this mean in terms of playing to my strengths? I’ll write about more processes and look for more ways to improve them. I’ll organize what I create so that it’s easy for people to learn and contribute. I’ll work on being able to see and being able to communicate. I’ll learn about lots of different kinds of patterns, so that I can bring them together.

I’ll still work on storytelling skills. Stories are essential for leadership and connection. I’ll keep blogging, and I’ll keep using lots of examples in talks.

But it’s nice to have a name for what I do.

Here’s a link to the book:

Solitude: A Return to the Self
Anthony Storr

(Disclosure: The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. That said, I recommend checking out your local library. I got this book from the Toronto Public Library, yay!)

Most of it is about Freud and Jung, and various writers and poets who’ve had solitary lives (mostly troubled solitary lives). The key message is probably that being alone isn’t as bad as people think it is. =) And you might pick up something completely different, like I did…

Visual notes – Gary Vaynerchuk and Democamp Toronto 24

Funny aside: When Jay Goldman handed Gary Vaynerchuk a bottle of water, Gary offered it for sale. Little things like that reinforce story.

Key take-aways: Passion and patience are everything. Hustle. Out-care others. Offer good stuff. Pay attention to everything. How do you scale? By trying.


Notes from the demos and the pub, before I broke my fountain pen:


Explanations for scribbles upon request, or when I can make time for it! =)