Refuse to Choose: or life is a many-splendoured thing

Posted: - Modified: | life, reflection

One of the things people pick up on right away, whether it’s from a five-minute conversation or a glance at my business card, is that I’m passionate about what I do.

What I do, however, may change, and that’s totally okay.

Whenever I feel guilt about things I’ve left behind, I should reread Refuse to Choose, which has lots of terrific insights into what it’s like to be one of these people with multiple passions. It’s okay to move on to other things. It’s okay to revisit things. It’s okay to explore and have fun.

Whew! That feels better already.

Refuse to Choose proposes this useful four-step system: Learn, Try, Teach, Leave. LTTL. I’ve been doing this all along the way, compressing Learn-Try-Teach into a quick cycle by blogging along the way, so that I can Leave when I feel like it.

I’ve been interested in many things over the years. Here’s a short list of interests and skills:

  1. Computer programming: Started in grade school, went on to join and win programming competitions in high school and university, and continue to do a lot of programming today
  2. Open source: Started contributing to projects in university, went on to maintain some packages, and have since then scaled back my direct open source contribution because of intellectual property guidelines at work. I currently use a lot of open source systems to build applications, though, and I continue to write about it.
  3. Wearable computing: Started looking into this in third year university, went on to do my fourth-year university research project in this area (receiving quite a bit of media attention and one research prize along the way), used many of the ideas when I was in Japan, and have since then let it lapse.
  4. Computer science education: Started coaching my classmates in university. I went on to teach. I presented ideas for improving computer science education at a national conference, and several of my exercises were picked up by other teachers at my school and in other schools. I’m not in the academe at the moment, but I still teach people in a way.
  5. Emacs: Started in university,  went on to contribute source code and maintain modules, became an op on the #emacs channel at, gave well-received presentations like Livin’ la Vida Emacs (DemoCamp10), wrote four-ish chapters of a book on Emacs, then got distracted by other cool things. I still use Emacs to write code, but I haven’t been customizing it lately.
  6. Personal information management: Started learning more about this because I was maintaining Planner, went on to help people develop all sorts of cool stuff, then turned over community and source code to a new maintainer
  7. Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0: Started doing this because of my interest in social bookmarking, went on to do my graduate research in this area, became a subject-matter expert and most valued ambassador within the company, continue to coach people and organizations on this
  8. Managing virtual assistants: Started a little over two months ago and have quickly gotten to the point where I’m helping other people figure this out.
  9. Drupal: Started in early 2008 because of projects at work, went on to becoming one of the subject matter experts in the company, gave well-received presentations on development processes, and am now building systems and coaching people on how to use this.
  10. Public speaking: Started in third year university at technical conferences, went on to keynote conferences. Now reaching out and helping other people improve their communication skills, and enjoying experimenting with techniques.
  11. Gen Y, multi-generational workplace: Started reading and talking about this because it kept coming up at work. Now a subject matter expert within the company.
  12. Technical writing: Occasionally write documentation. Also got four chapters into writing that book about Emacs.
  13. Copywriting: Started reading about this when I was a kid. Occasionally write marketing materials.
  14. Sewing: Started a couple of months ago and am slowly building up a wardrobe of amateurish clothes.
  15. Biking: Learned how to bike when I was a kid. Stopped biking for a while. Got my own bike a month ago. Now lovin’ it.
  16. Art: Had art lessons as a kid. Nothing fancy, just drawing. Now drawing stick figures, occasionally posting them on my blog or sneaking them into my presentations.
  17. Piano: Took piano lessons as a kid. Didn’t like them. Now teaching myself how to play the piano, and liking it. When I started picking my own music and schedule, things got much more fun. =)
  18. Theatre: Everyone did theatre in grade school. I loved it, and went on to take a theatre workshop that summer. Haven’t done anything with it since, although have toyed with the idea of trying out improv. One of my mentors seems quite happy with it.
  19. Chess: Started in grade school, went to summer camps, played on the chess varsity from grade 4 to first year university, stopped because programming competitions took more training time.
  20. Photography: Started really looking into this a year ago or so. Occasionally take pictures, set up lights, etc.
  21. Event organization: Played around with this with LifeCampToronto and tea/dinner parties. Tend to switch between liking events and going into introvert mode. Like hosting events more than organizing them.
  22. Screen printing: Briefly flirted with the idea of screenprinting, but didn’t go far with it. Bought the kit, didn’t use it for much.
  23. Calligraphy: Toyed with this idea after receiving prettily-inked letters from Quinn. Bought a nib, read some books, haven’t pursued it further.
  24. Typography: Learned about making fonts, installed the software for making fonts of Linux but haven’t gotten around to actually making one.
  25. System administration: Started in high school, when my computer teacher introduced me to Linux. Still handle little sysad-type tasks for our team.
  26. Web development: Started in high school. Primarily focused on back-end development, although I’m picking up Javascript now.
  27. Languages: Learned Japanese, passed proficiency test. Occasionally pick up snippets of other languages in preparation for trips.
  28. Poi, diabolo, and other street performances: Started when my sister taught me, then went on to learn more about the diabolo, staff, devilsticks, and other things. Helped my sister do some professional gigs with fire poi. Singed my hair once. ;) Hardly do this now (not because of the hair thing, mind you).
  29. Crochet: Started in grade school. At one point, was even crocheting in class. Haven’t done it much since then.
  30. Singing: Joined the UP Singing Ambassadors’ rehearsals, joined my dorm’s choir, had singing lessons, and joined a U of T jazz choir too. Haven’t done much with this since then, although singing in those groups was lots of fun.
  31. Gymnastics: Did this when I was a kid. Loved the uneven bars and the trampoline. Couldn’t get the hang of doing backwalks on the floor – my arms would always give. Haven’t done anything with this since then
  32. Yoga: Started doing this a year ago. Enjoyed doing this with W- after krav maga, but then the gym I was going to cut down on the frequency of their yoga classes, and we decided to spend our exercise time elsewhere.
  33. Krav maga: Doing this with W- was a lot of fun. Haven’t been to that gym lately, though.
  34. Trapeze: This was tons of fun. I tried the flying trapeze and liked it, then found a static trapeze class and went to it. I stopped when the instructor stopped teaching, and haven’t looked for another place to take it. We’ve put in a chin-up bar, though, so I can work on my core muscles until I’m ready to take this again.
  35. Cooking: Love doing this with W-. =) Baking is lots of fun, too!
  36. Ballroom dancing: Started doing this in high school (swing, boogie, cha-cha). Took this in university, enjoyed it.
  37. Tango: Joined U of T tango club when I was in graduate school, got dancing shoes, enjoyed went to milongas, stopped dancing after a while. (Got busy with other things.)
  38. Renaissance dancing: Started because U of T tango club head was also into renaissance dancing and she needed some people for her group. Enjoyed learning the steps, dressing up in costumes, learning how to work with a hoop skirt. ;) Participated in public performance, then stopped. This was fun, though!
  39. Swing dancing: Tried out the Charleston at an event organized by the U of T Swing Club, and before that, danced a bit at Isaac Ezer’s party. Love the cardio and the rhythm; may pick it up again sometime.
  40. Gardening: Started when I was kid, trying to grow mung beans and salvia on my parents’ windowsill. Lugged home tea roses in high school. Tried to start a herb garden in a planter box when I was in Graduate House, but neglected it. Grew rosemary and sage quite happily in 2008. Now working on a proper herb and vegetable garden! (Update: June 18, 2010 – garden is wonderful!)
  41. Woodworking (Spring 2010): After W- and I built a chickenwire cage to protect the garden from squirrels, we got interested in making boxes and furniture.

And the intersections between those interests are tons of fun.

I’ll have many more interests in the future, and I’ll move on from my old ones. It’s all good. =)

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