Category Archives: passion

Let’s talk about passion

Of all the small-talk questions people usually ask, the one I avoid asking is “What do you do?” I’m not interested in people’s job titles, which rarely lead to conversations. You know how it goes: “What do you do?” “I’m an IT consultant.” “Oh.” If you’re particularly diligent, you might ask a number of questions like “What kind of consulting?” “Software.” It’s like pulling teeth, and it doesn’t tell me anything about what lights people up.

When people ask me, “What do you do?”, I often answer that with something along the lines of “My passion is helping people connect and collaborate,” followed by a brief description of what I do and maybe a recent story showing how I work.

I picked up that tip from Make Your Contacts Count, where the authors advised people to introduce themselves using the “best-test” structure: teach people what you’re best at, and show them a test of that.

But I usually like preempting the question of “What do you do?” with a question of my own: “What’s your passion?” That makes people stop and think. If I know someone already, I ask, “What have you been excited about lately?” It’s much better than “How are you?” because the other person actually thinks about the answer instead of just tossing off the customary “Good. How are you?”

Mireille Massue sent me this link to 25 Passion-Finding Questions to Invite Someone to Talk about What They Love. The list has lots of variants on the questions I like asking. Pick a couple of those questions and use them in your next conversation, and see how much more interesting things get!

Creative encouragement and following passion

Over lunch at the Craft Burger at Yonge and Bloor, Stephen Brickell and David Ing gave me advice about life, careers, and all sorts of other great things. (I’m such a lucky newbie!) Here’s a story from that conversation that I knew I just had to share with others.

Photo (c) 2007 grendelkhan (Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 License)

Stephen told me about the advice he had recently given Philip, his 18-year-old son. Philip had initially thought of taking engineering in university, probably because that was what he felt his parents wanted him to do. Stephen and his wife reminded their son that while they were happy to give advice, it was ultimately Philip’s decision, and he should take full responsibility for it. Stephen also shared how people who find and follow their passion end up doing much better than people who just focus on the money.

After a lot of consideration, Philip realized that he was really interested in horticulture. He worried that he’d regret taking horticulture instead of a more promising (and lucrative) career. What if he made a mistake and it wasn’t his passion after all? He didn’t feel that it wasn’t a university-type course, and he knew that his parents strongly wanted him to go to university.

Stephen told him that with global warming and other changes, food is going to become even more important – and an expertise in horticulture could very well be a way to make money. He also encouraged Philip to keep an eye out for opportunities to connect studies, entrepreneurship, and other things. For example, Philip enjoyed the culinary arts course he took in high school, and he could combine that with horticulture and entrepreneurship by growing restaurant-quality herbs in a greenhouse.

What I liked was the creative encouragement that Stephen gave. We’ve all heard advice to “do what you love and the money will follow,” but Stephen went one step further and helped Philip imagine concrete ways to make money doing what he loves.

What if Philip made a mistake and horticulture wasn’t what he really loved to do? Stephen reassured him that even if it was a perfect fit for him now, there’s still a chance that he’ll change his mind, grow out of it, or discover something new–and that’s okay. When that happens, Philip can just figure things out again. (And he might be surprised at how much of his skills he can transfer over to whatever new field he becomes interested in!)

I liked the way that Stephen made it clear that it’s okay not to figure everything out the first time around, and that life is about continuous learning.

What about university? Stephen said that he wanted his son to attend university because it would expand his mind. That said, Philip could go to university later, or take a business degree, or learn about all of these things later. Horticulture seemed to be a better fit at the moment, and the credits that Philip could earn there would be recognized by partner schools.

I liked the way that they had clearly thought out reasons for university, but they weren’t tied to the convention of university immediately after high school.

I’m glad Stephen shared that story with me. I asked him right away if I could share it with others, and he was happy to agree. There are a lot of interesting things in that story that I’d like to learn how to do well, particularly when it comes to encouraging others to find their passions and create opportunities.

From reactive to proactive, from inboxes to goals; thinking about the big picture

There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.

Peter Drucker

I’m a couple of weeks into my experiment with outsourcing to and managing virtual assistants, and I’m thinking about how to take it to the next level.

After I had cleared my backlog of lots of little things I had been thinking of delegating, I found myself mostly outsourcing trivial tasks. There’s nothing wrong with delegating trivial tasks. Although I might not get as much leverage on time, I can minimize distractions and avoid getting frustrated with interfaces. But I’ve never been the kind of person who’s happy just reacting to the numerous things that come into my inbox. I like thinking about my own projects and planning what I can do to make them happy. The difference between reactive and proactive is the difference between doing only things other people want you to do, and doing things that you enjoy doing. Reflecting on what I want to accomplish in the long run will let me identify further opportunities to make the most of virtual assistance, whether it’s the 15-minute trivial task model favored by Timesvr or the more in-depth tasks favored by the other assistants and companies with whom I’m working.

On a related note, one of my virtual assistants in the Philippines has asked me if there’s anything else I’d like her to do. Yay taking the initiative! By thinking through and sharing what the big picture is for me, I can help assistants proactively find ways we can help each other succeed. I may even be pleasantly surprised in the process. =)

So, what do I want to do? Long-term is a good place to start looking. I’ve got a good idea of my current strengths and some ways I can get even better at them. Here are some broad themes in my life:

Energy and enthusiasm: I’m good at motivating other people with my energy and enthusiasm about technology and life. I’d like to someday be able to motivate thousands of people to make a difference, make a change, or make something awesome. =) I can get closer to that by:

  • learning from great speakers
  • learning from great coaches and practicing motivating other people through presentations, writing, and coaching, and
  • continuing to explore what I’m passionate about in order to expand my breadth and depth.

Communication: I’m good at writing and speaking, again about technology and life. Aside from what I’m learning because of my passion for developing systems and improving processes, I also bring my energy and enthusiasm. =) I’d like to someday be able to reach tons of people and share what I’ve been learning, and to help them share their stories, experiences and insights with others. I can get closer to that by:

  • practicing writing and speaking,
  • turning more thoughts and experiences into blog posts, articles, presentations, and maybe even (e)books,
  • trying other media, like podcasting or videocasting
  • developing tools and processes for organizing information and taking care of administrative details

Developing software and tools: I’m particularly good at figuring out people’s source code, remembering where things are, and writing things that generally fit within that structure, thanks to my open source background. I’m also good at coaching other people along the way, breaking problems down and pointing people to relevant resources. I’m good at improving our processes, too. The automated builds and regression tests I helped my team adopt are saving us lots of headaches. I hope to someday help lots of developers pick up all sorts of great habits and skills, so that they can make lots of great systems. I can get closer to that by:

  • working with bigger and more complex systems (perhaps looking into scaling up, too)
  • learning how to split up work and coach people
  • learning how to communicate more explicitly
  • sharing what we’re learning on my blog and in presentations
  • looking into even more advanced practices, like code coverage testing

Brainstorming and experimenting: I’m good at generating lots of ideas, at making ideas or processes a little bit better, and at combining wildly different ideas for fun. This helps at work, too – I often get asked to help people brainstorm. =) I hope to be able to look back and say that my life was one of constant learning and teaching. =) I can get even better at this by:

  • picking up lots of different experiences and metaphors
  • practicing relentless improvement
  • developing processes for trying little ideas out, and then growing that until I can experiment with big ideas easily

Connecting the dots: I’m good at thinking of other people, books, ideas, and tools that other people should know so that they can make things happen. I hope to someday have tons of stories about what people did and how I helped them. =) I can get closer to that by:

  • developing a contact management system and process that makes it easy for me to keep notes and to follow up
  • following up more effectively and in a more timely manner
  • finding a way to organize my notes so it’s easy for me to recommend tools, books, ideas, and other things
  • finding more opportunities to help
  • learning more about how to organize events such as virtual conferences

and I’m also slowly getting better at bringing people together to make something happen, which is why I’m experimenting with delegating to virtual assistants and figuring out how to make the most of their strengths. =)

I’m sure I’ll discover other strengths along the way!

That’s the very high-level picture of where I am, where I’d like to go, and a few ways on how I can get there. The themes are all related to each other, so it’s not like I’m being pulled every which way. Maybe they’re all facets of one thing I still have to figure out how to express. =)

So, what does that mean in the next year, in the next few years?

For communication, energy and enthusiasm: I would love to improve my processes and tools for organizing raw material for talks, and I would love to learn how to illustrate my presentations with my own sketches and photographs as well as material from the Net. I would also love to tweak my speaking style. I need to be able to slow down, use dramatic pauses, or lower my pitch when needed! ;)

A virtual assistant can do web research on how other writers and speakers organize their raw material (some people call it their morgue ;) ), help me get my old notes together, help me look things up, help me clean up my sketches or come up with inspiration, find stock photography and Creative Commons-licensed photos on the Net, give me feedback on my speaking style, edit podcasts, transcribe speeches, and so on.

For developing software and tools: Over the next few years, I’d like to learn how to help the developers on my teams grow even more. I could prepare webinars, presentations, and articles. Most virtual assistants probably won’t be able to help me with anything but formatting, but who knows, maybe the skills I develop during outsourcing will help me get work opportunities to grow teams too. =)

Brainstorming and experimenting: I think it would be fantastic to learn from virtual assistants who work with lots of clients and are exposed to lots of different working styles. I also enjoy helping people improve their processes, and it’s a great opportunity for me to tweak my own. I’d also love to figure out a process or build a system for quickly testing small ideas, like articles or e-books or webinars…

Connecting the dots: Oh, there’s definitely a lot here for a virtual assistant to help me out with! =) Managing my calendar (which I’m relieved to have someone else doublechecking), following up with people, reminding me of things, taking care of little tasks, helping me refine my process, looking for information related to people’s requests…

So I’m pretty flexible, and if a virtual assistant can figure out how he or she can help me create value, I’d be happy to share that learning opportunity with them. =)

What else am I missing? How can I make life even awesomer for people around me and on the Net?

Passions, Strengths and Goals

I asked Joy Soria (another virtual assistant from the Philippines) to put together some career advice and stories to share with students around the world. Her first draft was okay, but generic; I challenged her to bring her own experiences and insights. I’m thrilled by the results, which I’ve shared below. I would never have discovered those facets of hers in the normal course of work, and I really appreciate getting a glimpse into her world. I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did! - Sacha


Passions, Strengths and Goals

Maria Victoria (Joy) Soria


Your passions and interests motivate you to be your best in whatever endeavor you are in.

When I was three years old, I used to listen to my older sister every time she played the piano. When she practiced her musical pieces, I found myself interested in knowing how those pieces were played. I really enjoyed listening to the melodies. I became curious and I asked my mother: I ran my fingers on the keys, could I make the same music played by my sister? My mother asked me if I would like to learn how to play the piano, and I eagerly answered yes.

I was so excited about starting right away. When the piano teacher came to our house, I was overwhelmed with joy. Thus began my passion for music. I learned to play the piano quickly, because even at the very start, I was fascinated by it. I easily memorized the musical pieces the teacher taught me, and I began playing them by heart.

As I grew up, piano playing became a part of me. My colleagues noticed my talent and passion for music, frequently asking me to play for occasions and even contests which needed live accompaniment on the keyboard. So even when I was teaching computers, I was able to share my passion for music.

It is also important to examine yourself objectively and be bold enough to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

When I was a teacher, I used to encourage my students to join school organizations in order to further develop themselves and enhance whatever talents and skills they had.

One student named Melba asked my advice on what organization to join, because she was so shy. I told to her to write down her strengths and weaknesses so that we could identify what she needed to develop and what she could enhance.

After examining herself, Melba found that she had a very good voice for singing. However, she was too shy to sing in front of people. I recommended that she join the school glee club where she could sing with a group. This enabled her to gradually overcome her shyness, build up her self-confidence and became bold enough to join singing contests.

Melba won almost all of those competitions.

She was so happy and grateful. Aside from being able to share her talent in singing, she had also successfully conquered her shyness, come out from her shell, and become a winner–not only in singing contests but also in acquiring self-confidence to discover and to explore more of her hidden talents.

Don’t be afraid to find and develop your strengths.

Define your goals.

The goals we set become the targets we aim for as we face the challenges in life.

I set personal goals for my teaching career. When I was assigned as an adviser for a graduating class, I aimed to have no student drop-out from my advisory section until the end of the school year. My desire to really have all of my students successfully graduate at the end of the school year made me set this as one of my personal goals so that I could prove that I could be a very effective class adviser.

I wanted to make a positive difference in my students’ lives. This goal paved the way for me to establish open communication not only with my students, but also with their parents and guardians as well. I made myself approachable and accommodating whenever they needed me. I made it a point to always monitor each student in my class, especially their attendance and class performance, so that I could keep track of their progress and spot potential problems.

I noticed that one of my students seemed to misbehave in almost all of his subjects. His other teachers complained about how  annoying he was and even threatened to drop him from the course because he habitually cut classes. I called him to my office so that I could talk to him privately and find out the core of his problem. I was concerned that he might not graduate. In the course of our talk, he shared what made him so defiant and stubborn. He told me how his parents would always quarrel violently in front of him, that his father was a drunkard and would hit his mother when they fought.

I assured him that I would help him anyway I could. I told him that if he did his best in school, he’d have a better chance of building a better future and becoming financially independent. He could graduate and start his own career, rather than allowing himself to develop anger and hatred that could destroy his whole life. I told him to pause for a while and listen to himself and his heart so that he could find out who he wanted to become in the future.

We stayed in touch. I helped him think about his personal goals in life, combining his talents and interests with his strengths and determination. I also went out of my way to invite his parents to school so that I could talk to them about how we could team up to help their son in his studies, helping them understand his needs–not only financially but also psychologically and emotionally. As parents, they were touched when I told them of the effect of their constant fighting on the school performance of their son. I told them that if they went on, unmindful of their son’s needs, he would be the only one who would not be able to graduate. All of his classmates and their parents were cooperating with me. This challenged them. They promised to do their best to avoid fighting and to provide their son the support he needed to succeed.

Their son passed all his subjects and graduated. I could see the happiness and fulfillment in the parents’ faces as we celebrated the success of my students, their children, who were proud of all the challenges they had conquered. I had helped all of my students graduate during that school year, fulfilling the personal goal I had set as a class adviser.

What are your passions, strengths, and goals?



Maria Victoria Soria had been a public high school teacher for more than 14 years. At present, she’s using oDesk to further develop herself as a  data entry specialist, virtual assistant, and proofreader. If you’re looking for a virtual assistant, invite her to an interview!

Cultivating enthusiasm

W- turned to J- and asked, “So, why don’t you want to go to summer camp?”

“The first reason is that I want to spend my time more wisely,” said the 11-year-old. I cheered.

“The second reason is that it’s just like daycare. If I go to daycare during school and camp during summer, then it’s the same all year round.”

“Variety!” I said, nodding.

“The third reason is that there are all these young kids running around,” she continued.

“So you’ve outgrown camp,” said W-.

J- nodded.

“Well, if you can take the responsibility for spending that time wisely, sure!” I said.

Kudos to her for knowing what she wants and going for it.

So we’re going to build photography experiments into our summer schedule.

We played lacrosse catch in a nearby park, and then we took pictures. J- was delighted with her silhouette experiments and her flower photography. She likes taking macro shots.

As the light faded, we switched to panning shots, catching cyclists and cars. Even when we were walking back home, she’d sometimes run ahead to take a picture of a passing car.

When we got home, she skipped ice cream time to play on the piano instead. She has figured out how to play both hands for “A Whole New World”, and she’s been learning “Part of Your World” and the introduction of “Fur Elise” almost entirely on her own. She asked me how to play parts of Fur Elise, so I showed her that the notes she wrote down were correct.

“This isn’t the real song, is it?” She asked.

I laughed. “Play the demo again, and look at the notes.” I traced them with my finger, like the bouncing ball of karaoke lyrics. “See, you haven’t been playing with training wheels. You’ve been learning the real thing.”

“Ooh! Cool!”

“Terrific! And what would let you enjoy piano even more?”

“Well… What about the Star Wars music?”

“Dum-dum-dum-dum-dah-dum-dum-dah-dum…?”

“No, the one at the beginning.”

“Oh! Okay, let’s go look for that…”

And now she’s off teaching herself the Star Wars Theme. =)

I tell this story because it’s a wonderful thing to help cultivate enthusiasm. We were watching J- chase cars with her camera, and W- said, “That’s the kind of enthusiasm I was thinking about.” I smiled and said that it takes only one interest. Once she knows what it’s like to be passionate about something, she’ll discover other things as well.

Ah, Mondays. =D

Reflections on passion: Don’t let your job get in the way of your career

“We criticize senior management when they focus only on short-term issues, allowing quarterly results to interfere with longer-term developmental needs. We should be equally tough on ourselves when we allow our jobs to get in the way of our careers.”

- a consulting client quoted on p.25 of

Million Dollar Consulting
Alan Weiss, 2009 (4th ed)

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

In my two years an at IT specialist / consultant at IBM, I’ve been lucky to have excellent engagements that helped me develop my skills and create real value. I have a great job, and I’m sure it will get even better as I learn how to consciously build a career. What kind of career do I want to grow into?

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. I want people to be able to contribute their talents from anywhere in the world, and I want to help organizations get better at finding and tapping those skills. I want to reduce the friction in collaboration and make it easier to get leverage on time and effort. I want to increase the serendipitous connections and innovative cross-pollinations that come from diverse conversations. When people can connect with others who are passionate about the work that they do, energy spreads and is reinforced, and people can make things happen faster and more effectively. People are happier, too.

The past two years at IBM have been almost a perfect curriculum for this. I started out by building systems with social components. Then I moved into providing consulting services to our clients, sharing the lessons we’ve learned about strategy and adoption. My current engagement is an even better fit for my passions. Now I’m learning even more about tapping the strength of a global organization, finding experts and resources in response to client needs. I’m not only building training communities and facilitating global conversations, I’m describing how we do this and working on training other people on how to make the most of these social networks.

In addition to that, I’m helping develop leadership training materials around virtual communication and connection. This has multiple benefits. The better we get at leading online through virtual presentations, meetings, and collaboration, the more effectively we can share help our globally distributed workforce develop skills, learn from insights, and create value. The better we understand how to do this, the more we enable people in far-flung places to step up and lead from wherever they are.

It all goes back to that passion: helping people connect and collaborate.

Looking ahead, how do I want to develop this over the next few years? What do I want to grow into once we’ve done the heavy lifting of training a thousand specialists around the world?

I want to figure out how social tools can help us transform our processes and interactions, and what those processes and interactions look like. I’m doing a little of this now, experimenting with and documenting how we use the tools. I can’t wait to see what this will be like years from now, as the tools improve and the culture adapts. I’ll get better and better at seeing patterns, suggesting improvements, documenting practices, helping people change the way they work, and measure the results. I want to create value both inside and outside the company.

I want to not only connect people, but also help other people connect people more effectively. I’m doing a little of this now by directing people to communities and sharing tips on how to reach out, but it would be amazing to help hundreds or thousands of connectors add more tools to their toolbox. It’s like working on the connective tissue of an organization. The better we get at this, the faster and more effectively we can respond to the changing environment.

I want to help people get that Aha! moment. This is why I love learning about communication. Good questions and good explanations open up new horizons of possibilities, simplify complex issues, and energize people. I can get better at this through practice and through learning new skills.

IBM is an excellent laboratory in which to learn about all these things. Even tasks that don’t seem to align with my passion end up being related to it, as I’m good at drawing connections to things I like. If I was forced to do work that drained me and I couldn’t flip it around and figure out the kernel that’s related to my passion, I can see myself exploring this passion independently. After all, you shouldn’t let your job get in the way of your career.

How does your work support your passion? If it doesn’t, what could?