Your Power, Your Responsibility

Well, it’s official. My scanner-ness has been kicking in full-force lately (as is probably evidenced by the slight slowdown in posts here; although being sick has certainly played a part).

Part of how being a scanner manifests in myself is changing modes of expression. I’ll go through periods where all I want to do is write, write, write. Other times, it’s one — or more — of verbal communication, drawing, music, or just plain experiencing (also known as ‘chilling’).

The past few days, maybe even weeks, it’s the ‘chilling’ phase that I’ve been finding myself drawn to. Part of that is likely due to a lot of changes in my personal life (work, family, etc.), which have taken up a lot of my energy.

Part of it is possibly due to the rediculous weather we’ve been having: it’s harder to feel ‘up’ when you keep getting teased with nice weather, then slammed with snow. And part of it is maybe due to the fact that I’ve started playing World of Warcraft again, which is just plain a good way to take some time and chill. 😉

Modes of Expression or Modes of Procrastination?

Sometimes, though, I wonder if these modes of expression are really aspects of my scanner personality, or if they’re signs of laziness and procrastination. Don’t feel like writing? Let’s pick up a paintbrush instead.

As I was reflecting on this issue, I realized that — of all my modes of expression — writing is the one that causes me the most difficulty in this area. It’s the one that’s hardest for me to look at as purely a ‘mode of expression’ — I very naturally slip into thinking of it as ‘work’. Maybe it’s because of all those papers I wrote in school, or the fact that usually when I write, it’s because I made a commitment to do so.

The challenge, it would appear, is not so much about the mode of expression but the freedom I feel I have to make the choice. In other words, as soon as I feel that I am being restricted, I push back. The ability to make the choice isn’t just a luxury for me as a scanner, but a necessity.

Power to Choose

In the past, I usually have thought of scanners as being paralyzed by having too many options in front of them; too many interests and too many passions to be able to choose between them. If you had asked me to describe the #1 problem I encountered as a scanner, that’s exactly what I would have told you.

But there’s more to it than that.

Another part of the classic scanner dilemma is having the flexibility and freedom to follow whichever passion calls at the time. It’s not just about being overwhelmed by having too many choices; it’s also about being able to make conscious choices to exercise those passions.

Scanners, by nature, like to move freely between their passions.  But sometimes, restrictions on those passions make a scanner feel trapped and constrained. This trapped feeling does not have to be just ‘par for the course’ for scanners.

Learning by Doing

Years ago, when I was working on my Religious Studies honours thesis, I found myself being drawn down by some serious apathy. I didn’t care to do anything, and the more I tried to force myself to ‘behave’, the harder I found myself resisting. I tried setting deadlines, scheduling my time, getting others to hold me accountable, but all I got was feelings of resentment and apathy.

What I finally realized is that my apathy, resentment and other negative feelings were a direct result of one thing: I had been giving away my power. As soon as I took back my power, and decided that I had the ultimate responsibility to make choices that would be satisfying.

I remember that I had chosen to write a thesis because I enjoyed the subject. I started actively choosing when to work on my writing. I focused on choosing what I was doing in the moment, taking responsibility for what I was doing in the moment. In doing so, I was able to choose those things which would make me happy — simply by exerting my own power.

Great Power, Great Responsibility

In the SpiderMan universe, we are frequently presented with the idea that ‘with great power comes great responsibility.’ It’s a true statement in many ways, but I think it’s actually quite misunderstood. A lot of people take the saying at face value — that there are some of us that have greater power, and that those who do also have greater responsibility.

But here’s the trick. We all have great power. It is not something that ‘comes’, it’s something that we’re born with. We all have the great power to take control of our lives, to make our own choices, and to live according to our own needs, passions and desires.

What that means is that ultimately, the buck stops here. If we are the ones responsible for our current situations, then we must also take the responsibility to change them if we aren’t happy.

If I was unhappy being trapped by the requirement to sit and write my thesis at time X or Y each day, it was my responsibility to do something about it. My choices were still many: I could choose to ‘suck it up and just get it done’, I could choose to write only when it interested me, I could choose to say ‘screw this, I’m not interested’.

But the key was to realize that I was the active chooser, the one with the ultimate responsibility to make a choice that would dignify and uplift my self.

The Scanner Lesson

So, taking this back to the question I posed earlier: is the desire to drop one thing and move onto another completely a scanner personality trait, or is it also a function of procrastination and laziness? The first one is a good thing — it just means you’re exploring new avenues and pursuing new interests. The second one isn’t something we usually like to see in ourselves.

The answer is, it can be either one. Knowing the difference between the two is where the trick comes in, and it really is just a matter of asking yourself two simple questions:

  1. How am I feeling about moving to the next thing? (Am I feeling good about where I’m coming from and where I’m headed to next?)
  2. Am I moving to the next thing because I want to or because I’m supposed to? (Am I moving on to the next thing because I am ready to, or because I’m not actively choosing to exercise my power?)

The lesson, of course, is true for scanners and non-scanners alike. No matter what your personality (and unless you are a child) you are still the decision maker in your life. That means that whatever choices you make are yours to live by. It is your power, and therefore, your great responsibility.

The Private Eye Guide to Self-Discovery

If you’re like me, you’ve spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out who, exactly, you are. What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you enjoy doing? What are your passions? Who are you, anyway?

There are dozens of different ways you can approach this question. You can introspect and examine your life until you come up with an answer. You can ask those around you for their impressions. You can find answers in religion or culture. You can take any number of quizzes to give you your personality types.

Today I want to share with you a fun way to start unlocking some of that self-discovery: 30 minutes as a Private Eye.

The Private Eye Approach

One of the most fun and impactful ways that I’ve found to discover things about yourself is to put on your detective cap and visually investigate the world you’ve created. 

The basic idea for this private eye approach to self-discovery is based on the idea that the spaces we create around us are external representations of our inner selves.

Now, if that sounds kind of esoteric and wierd, stick with me for a moment — it’s actually based on research done by psychologist Samuel Gosling. Gosling did an experiment to determine whether you could learn as much about a complete stranger by spending 15 minutes in the place where they live, as you could by being that same person’s close friend.

The results were remarkable — in many cases, 15 minutes was enough for a complete stranger to come up with a more accurate survey of the person than their friends had been able to provide.

Part of the reason is that we tend to put on faces for those around us. We act in certain ways, disguising our “true nature” (often unintentionally) because we want to make a certain impression. But when we think no one is looking, or when allow our subconscious to manifest itself, a very different picture may arise.

(Thin-)Slice Of Life

The Private Eye exercise is intended to get you looking at your life from a different angle and a fresh perspective.

Your initial impressions can give you accurate insight, even when you only examine something from an abstracted perspective or for a very brief period of time. It’s a technique known as ‘thin-slicing’, and as I mentioned above, research shows that it’s an incredibly accurate way of gathering information and making decisions.

Malcolm Gladwell’s describes some of this research in his book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Here’s a quote from that book:

Gosling says, for example, that a person’s bedroom gives three kinds of clues to his or her personality. There are, first of all, identity claims, which are deliberate expressions about how we would like to be seen by the world… Then ther is behavioral residue, which is defined as the inadvertent clues we leave behind… Finally, there are thoughts and feelings regulators, which are changes we make to our personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them…

Just as important, though, is the information you don’t have when you look through someone’s belongings. What you avoid when you don’t meet someone face to face are all the confusing and complicated and ultimately irrelevant pieces of information that can screw up your judgement.

In other words, by simply taking in all the information and clues that you’ve created in an environment, even a complete stranger can get an astonishingly accurate picture of who you really are — a potentially more accurate picture than if they were to meet you in person.

Pick Your Spots

You’ll need to determine a space that you will ‘snoop around’ in. Bedrooms are good for this, although if you didn’t exactly have a say in designing the room, it may not be as revealing. In general, you want to identify a space that you spend a lot of time in.

It also needs to be a space that you’ve had an impact on — be it the magazine you were reading, the bookshelf you organized, or the bowl you didn’t take back to the kitchen after dessert last night. And it should be a space that you’re in fairly frequently. Daily, or even multiple times a day, is best.

For some people, a home office is a good option. Even the cubicle you call your own at work can be suitable, so long as when you look around it,  you can see that you’ve had an impact on the space. It is important to choose as large a space as possible — for example, don’t just choose the kitchen table, but instead, focus on the whole room.

Really, you only need to identify one space, but if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can do any number of rooms. It can be a good way to spend a lazy afternoon or evening.

Go Under Cover

You may wonder how exactly this space can possibly tell you anything about yourself that you don’t already know. After all, you have already met yourself in person (many times!) and you look at your personal space every day.

The trick is to step back, remove your ‘self’ from the process, and try to look at your surroundings abstractly.

Remember when you were a kid, and you’d play dress up? You’d put on a certain shirt, or hat, or funny glasses with nose attached, and all of a sudden, it was like you were someone else. Actors and actresses experience this too — as they sit in the makeup chair or in costuming, they feel themselves becoming someone else.

This is the experience we want to aim for, in order to look at the space around ourselves with new eyes. It may seem strange that I’m suggesting using detachment from your authentic self as a means to help you find your authentic self, but trust me — it works. And it’s only temporary.

A quick Google search will reveal a number of ways that you can get into character. One technique is to put on an awful hat, pair of reading glasses (pop out the lenses), trench coat and even a pipe if you have one. It can be a fun afternoon to just stop by a thrift store and see what you can find. As a bonus, you’ll have your next Hallowe’en costume all ready to go!

Even if you don’t want to spend the money, feel goofy for playing dress up, or just want to investigate a space that isn’t in the privacy of your own home, there are other non-dress-up options as well. An effective solution is simply to sit, close your eyes, and let your imagination go. Set yourself in a dusty private eye’s office (or however you imagine a PI might work), and spend about 5 minutes mentally exploring the space.

Snoop Around and Take Notes

However you do it, the key is to get into character as much as possible. Become a detective, whose mission it is to discover hidden secrets about whomever lives or works in this space.

Like any good detective, you’ll want to make sure you have a notepad handy to record your findings. I find a digital camera useful, too, since it allows me to capture visual reminders that I can reflect on later, but this certainly isn’t a necessity.

Initially, just make an initial pass through the space — no more than 10 minutes. Look around, under, in, and through. Snoop around, and just try to soak in as much information as you can, taking notes on anything that catches your eye, or any patterns that you identify.

Once you’ve made your way around the room, leave the space and write down your overall impressions. Do this in the third person — “the person who lives here …” — as this will make it easier to keep yourself removed.

Map Your Mind

The last step to getting your space to give up its secrets is to go abstract, and make a map. Barbara Sher refers to this as a Living Quarters Map.

Start by sketching a rough floor plan of your space (be it a whole house or just a single room). Then, walk through your space again. This time, look specifically for projects that you’ve been involved with.

These projects may be things you’ve completed, they may be things you haven’t completed. They may even be projects that you never actually started. The key is to identify any thing in your space that reflects one of your actual or intended projects.

For each project you find, mark it on your map. Take a picture if you’ve still got your camera handy. Don’t dwell on the state of the project, just note that it was important to you at one point, write down a few details, mark it on your map, and move on. The key is to remain in your detached, detective mindset.

Review the Evidence

When all is said and your map is done, put it aside. Give yourself a mental break and leave it for a day or two. After you’ve given it some time, but your detective hat back on, and review your map again.

Do you see any patterns? Maybe you’ll find that in every room, you had a variety of magazines and books scattered about. Maybe you’ll see photos of friends and family. Maybe it will be little trinkets always organized decoratively into little groupings.

Now — look at your map plus all the notes you took on your initial pass through the room. What matches up? By taking these two aspects and putting them together, often even stronger patterns will emerge. Sometimes, the exact opposite will happen, and you’ll see completely opposite sides of your character emerging.

Render Your Verdict

Regardless of what you find, each pattern you find will give you an insight into your interests, desires and passions.

Note that each of those are in the plural for a reason: interests, desires, passions. In all likelihood, you will find a multitude of patterns emerging. This is a good thing. It’s important to not try to artificially boil your interests down into one overriding theme.

If a single, overriding theme emerges, that’s fine, but it’s not necessary (and it honestly isn’t all that common). You are the sum total of all  of your passions. You are a complex person, with complex interests, desires and passions.

Weekly Reads: Facelift Edition

If you keep upon Sententia only via the RSS feed, you may want to stop by the site and check out the swanky new design I activated over the past week.

I can’t take credit for the design itself — the facelift is due to Magazeen, a fantastic free WordPress theme provided by the good folks at Smashing Magazine in conjunction with WeFunction Design.

Normally, I’d think it’s kinda goofy for a web designer to not design their own blog theme (even for a personal site — my design site was designed by yours truly), but when you get a freebie that’s as clean and simple (not to mention reader-friendly), it’s crazy not to take full advantage of it.

I’m still considering doing some tweaks to the theme, but for now, I’m really pleased with the way it all turned out. It’s easier to read, and I love the graphic element that the feature photos provide. Together with some fantastic Creative Commons pics from Flickr, I think it’s a winner all the way around.

Anyway, here’s this weeks’ collections of links from when I wasn’t tweaking design themes.

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

Never Again (from Unclutterer). I have a funny way of being both highly organized and completely disorganized — simultaneously — in different parts of my life. Finances? Highly organized. Laundry? Well… *ahem* … But organization typically implies that you want to be able to find something again, either physically or in memory. So what to you do with those things that fit into those piles? Unclutterer suggests a “never again” filing system for everything from “never again give Mary anything with nuts in it” to “never try to sort socks in the dark.” Hm. Maybe that last one is why the laundry just never seems to get put away…

Simple Guidelines for Workday Quality over Quantity (from Smarterware). Gina Trapani is well-known in the life-hacking blogosphere for the straightforward ideas she has for getting more out of your everyday life. The ideas presented in this post aren’t necessarily novel — they are strongly reminiscent of Tim Ferriss’ illuminating The 4-Hour Workweek — but it’s always worth a reminder. This week, I’m going to try actually putting some of these guidelines into effect myself: setting my e-mail to only check for new messages every 3 hours (and not first thing in the morning). It’s something I did with great success while under the gun last September, but fell away from recently. It’ll be good to get “back in the saddle.”

Do these Mysterious Stones Mark the Site of the Garden of Eden? (from MailOnline). Okay, let me first get this out of the way: the headline for this article is somewhat rediculous, and completely sensationalist. Alright, now that I’ve got that out of my system, the content of the article is pretty neat. After all, it’s not every day that archaeologists find a gathering site with exquisite carvings that dates to 12,000 years ago. Yeah, that’s right — no extra zeros there. Whether the site was the mythical or literal location of the Garden of Eden is beside the point; the fact that something that old even exists is way cool.

Is Marketing Evil? (from Seth Godin). A lot of people like to blame marketing for … well … just about anything. The latest craze seems to be blaming the current economic difficulties (I refuse to call it a crisis) on people for either giving in to advertising and buying to much or not giving in enough and saving too much (what?!?).  The important thing that I took away from this post, wasn’t just about marketing. Instead, I took note of this gem: “Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool.” It reminds me of a saying that I heard often as a kid: “A poor workman always blames his tools.” Good advice to keep in mind, no matter what your craft.

On Leadership

Why You Should Think About Encouraging Others to Be Brilliant (from Zen Habits). I think a big part of being a strong leader is making those around you better. In this post from Zen Habits, Leo explains that there’s a good reason for this: if on your own, you can make a certain contribution, how much greater will the contribution be if you empower others to make a contribution as well? Too often, we focus only on ourselves and what we get out of something — but sometimes, a bigger contribution can be made simply by giving things away.

Review: Results Without Authority (from The Simple Dollar). I enjoy the book reviews that Trent does on TSD, if only because I find we have a lot of overlapping interests. Leadership — formal and informal — is definitely an area of interest and growth for me, personally and professionally, so I’m always looking for interesting resources to help me along the way. Based on the detailed summary Trent provides, I may need to locate this one at the library.

Are You Anonymous At Work? (Guest Post by GL Hoffman, over at ChrisBrogan.com). This one actually ties really nicely into the Results Without Authority review mentioned above. By giving practical tips and specific strategies, GL Hoffman’s post really lays out a clear path for making yourself indispensible at work, and by extension, in other settings as well. When layoffs seem like they can be hiding just around the corner, it’s no time to just sit by and let yourself be anonymous. Taking leadership of your situation can make all the difference.

Blog to Watch

The Audience Matters Most (from Synthesis). In a lot of ways, Synthesis is what Sententia wants to be when it (he? she? what is the gender of a blog, anyway?) grows up. I particularly liked this quote: “[G]reat communication is not about you getting across what you wanted to. It’s about understanding your audience, their interests and needs, and giving them what they need.” That’s an extraordinarily important concept to grasp, not just in marketing but in life. I picked this post because it spoke to a number of my recent interests: the importance of understanding culture when it comes to effective communication. But really, I just wanted to highlight the really cool stuff that Shafeen Charania is coming up with. Very cool — scanners take note, the variety in this blog is fantastic.

Canadians Take Note

A final note, this one is almost more of a personal request. The Federal Budget presented this past week in parliament contained a lot of things, some good, some bad. But there’s one thing in particular that’s important to me, and not for a good reason. I’m going to quote from a petition being organized by Churchill Manitoba MP Niki Ashton:

For more than thirty years, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has been promoting and supporting university-based research and training in the humanities and social sciences. SSHRC funding has been used to complete ground breaking research in countless areas in Canada and around the world.

The Federal Budget presented on January 27th contains a 20% funding increase for this program, with a caveat that has the potential to halt this kind of research: “Scholarships granted by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council will be focused on business-related degrees”.

These measures are backward and insulting to the thousands of Canadians that are students and researchers in the social sciences and humanities.

As a humanities student, finding opportunities for funding was hard enough as it was — most money is funnelled into the science because their “real world” applications are more obvious. But that doesn’t meant that the humanities don’t have a hugely important contribution to make. Just look at my posts above, and you’ll find many examples.

The simple fact is that the SSHRC grants were created to help fund the humanities and social sciences — to help Canadian students pursue degrees that help them communicate, analyse, think critically, etc. Many students rely on these grants to get through school; in many cases, it’s the only viable funding option. Not to mention “it is not the government’s role to direct granting agencies as to what research projects it may or may not fund. This is precisely the reason why such bodies are independent from the government. Each of the granting councils allocates funding based on peer-review of applications.” (quote from the Facebook group “Stop the feds from earmarking SSHRC funds for business-related degrees”).

So, if you’re Canadian, I’d ask you to give some thought to signing your name to the petition against the move to only allow SSHRC funds to be used for business-related research projects. It’s important.

This Time, It’s Time to Connect

In yesterday’s post, I gave a bit (okay, a lot) of background into my experience as a World of Warcraft (WoW) player –focusing primarily on what prompted me to leave the game, but with promises to talk a bit about why I decided to go back.

So I’m back on the topic today, not only to talk about my impending return, but to talk a bit more widely about finding and forming connections online. Call it an experiment or case-study, if you will. Hey, if they can hold academic conferences in WoW, why can’t I use it for my own “research” purposes?

Before I jump right in to my story and explanation, here’s one thing to keep in mind: I haven’t actually returned to the game yet, so while I have lots of ideas about how this could work, I haven’t actually tried any of them yet.

The latest e-mail from Amazon says they have no idea when they’ll be able to ship Lich King to me. *Sigh*. (Have I mentioned I’m not the most patient person in the world?)

Now, Where Were We?

If you’ll recall, I left off my story yesterday by describing how I was very intrigued by the changes to World of Warcraft brought in by its latest expansion, but I still wasn’t ready to just jump back into the game.

Making a long story short, I began to consider that the opportunity to “see all the content” wasn’t the only thing that drove me through the game (as I had long thought) — but that on some level, I also appreciated the game as a social outlet: a means to connect.

What I didn’t explain yesterday was how this came about.

It started off innocently enough, I suppose. See, I don’t usually take much in the way of coffee breaks at work. Sometimes, I’ll get up from my desk and just take a walk around to get some fresh air and/or sunlight. However, for a while in November and December, I actually took breaks with a couple of my colleagues, one of whom is a WoW player.

We spent some time chatting about the “state of the game”, the changes that had occurred, and just general gaming talk. As we talked, though, I found myself becoming almost jealous of his situation. He was in a guild of friends — people he knew in “real life” (or who were friends-of-real-life-friends). They never had drama or stress in-game; they didn’t need someone to consider the needs of the group; the question of commitment wasn’t really present.

Instead, they used their in-game time to connect with each other. Some had moved out of town, others had changed jobs.  Some played every night, others played once a week. Sometimes, they’d go on raids, other times, they’d sit around doing their own thing while just chatting (text-based, or over voice).

Explicit and Implicit Commitments

As I thought more about it, I looked back on the groups I had been a part of when I had played the game. The first main one had, at its core, a group of college friends who started playing together when they spread out across the country after graduation. The second one was comprised largely of people who had been playing online games together for years.

And then there was the 500-person network that I helped co-lead. One of my frustrations with the group is that people always seemed to prioritize their own cliques over the needs of the team they had committed to.

What I realize now is that this is actually fairly normal. Most people will choose their friends over strangers. Where the network encountered issues was that we tried to shoehorn people into making commitments to strangers, without considering that they had already established friendships in the game.

In that way, the failure wasn’t a lack of leadership — it was a lack of understanding. I viewed the game as a constant pursuit of in-game excellence. But for many — maybe even most — of the people on my teams, “excellence” was of secondary concern. And that was why the implicit commitment they made to their friends would often trump the explicit commitment made to the strangers.

Raider Diversion

All you WoW raiders, a quick diversion for you all to clarify exactly what I am and am not talking about. Everyone else, this section might get a bit jargony, so you’re welcome to skip down to the next heading if you like.

I’m not talking about the difference between hardcore and casual players. That part, I do get, and I’ve always gotten. I also fully appreciate how absolutely useless those labels are — maybe now more than ever. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What I am talking about is this: let’s say that patch 3.0 has just dropped, and pretty much everyone is just waiting for LK to come out. What would your honest response have been if you saw the following guild recruitment post in /2:

<Name of Awesomesauce Guild> is recruiting members of all classes for LK. We are a family guild whose goal is to have fun! We have 15+ level 70s and clear Karazhan weekly and we also do BG and PvP when we have time. We have tabard and 4 bank tabs. Pst for info or invite.

I can tell you what my reaction would have been. I would have rolled my eyes, maybe laughed to myself, and wondered who on earth would want to join such a guild. After all, Kara is srs bzns. Surely, they will recruit all sorts of fantastic raiders and will be sure to see all the content that comes out in Lich King… right? Not! Why would I, a progression-minded raider, even give them the time of day.

But here’s something I wouldn’t have considered back then. People are more likely to go to the mat for people they genuinely care about. You’re less likely to have loot drama, clique drama, arguments, forum flame wars and eruptions over vent when you’re playing with friends.

Here’s the bottom line. What I didn’t understand, but now do (I think!) is that putting connections and friendship ahead of progression doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful in-game. That guild recruiting in /2 may be a Twilight Zone killing guild today.

Those connections drove them to ensure that they weren’t letting their friends down. Those connections made them go look at EJ to optimize their gems and shot rotations. Those connections may have caused them to voluntarily passed on a loot drop because it was a bigger upgrade for someone else.

Those connections may well be the very thing that will lead that group of family and friends to a level of success that many so-called “hardcore” raid teams won’t ever be able to attain. And you know what? If they don’t ever see the inside of any instance besides Kara or Naxx? That’s fine too. Because they’re enjoying playing the game the way they want to, with people they want to play with.

That is what I’ve started to understand.

Back for a Brief Time

After the discussions with my co-worker, J (who got me hooked on WoW in the first place) and I decided to activate our free 10-day trials of the expansion together.

And you know what? It was fun. We went and explored the zones, completed quests and tried out new things, without the pressure of having to perform, or the artificial constraints of having to work together with people who we really didn’t know anything about.

At the same time, it was a reminder of the way I’d left the game. On the trial, I chatted with a few people that I had made marginal connections with — caught up a bit, mostly just about in-game stuff. But most people in those communities I’d left behind just ignored me. I hadn’t really made connections with most of them, so there wasn’t really anything to pick back up on.

I noticed how much I missed the chatter of people around me, both about things going on in-game and not. I missed the rare opportunities when a few of us would hang out in voice chat, and talk philosophy or the like. Yes, I also missed the teamwork and accomplishment.

If it was just accomplishment I wanted, I could have signed on for any of the dozens of pick-up groups that were running at the time. Deep inside, though, I knew it wouldn’t be the same as when I’d been running with people that I knew. And then I wondered — how much more would it have been if I had actually connected as me with more than just one or two of them.

Four Ways to Play the Game

And that, I suppose, is why I ultimately decided to come back to the game. In-game, despite all my best efforts to the contrary, I had actually connected with a handful of people on a personal level. Those people had become my social network, but because I failed to recognize the importance of those connections, I didn’t foster the relationships.

There’s a good reason that WoW is considered an MMORPG: a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. It’s because playing the game involves sharing gamespace with other people. How you approach that shared gamespace, and the relationships that follow, will differ from person to person.

When I started to look back at my time in game, I was able to identify four main approaches that people took to the game. Different people would…

  1. Play without forming connections at all (in-game or otherwise),
  2. Make in-game connections, but not let their “real selves” connect at all,
  3. Make in-game connections, that bled over into real, out of game friendships, or
  4. Play with existing friends, strengthening and continue those connections across distance, etc.

Now, going back, I know that some things will be the same — I still would like to play with a tight team, to take on the game’s challenges, and see the content. But I know too that I want to do it with the right people this time. I’ll want to spend more time working on approaches 3 and 4. This time, it’s time to connect.

Connections in Azeroth

About 6 weeks ago, I placed an order with Amazon for a copy of “Wrath of the Lich King” — the latest expansion in the World of Warcraft (WoW) online game. At the time, it was supposed to ship by … well … yesterday, but so far, it’s not even on the horizon.

So, not knowing when I’ll be able to get back to playing, I’ve been left with a lot of time to think about what I actually want to do, when I get back in game.

In some ways, it seems as though this should be a fairly straight-forward process: for as much as there is to do in the game, the general idea is always that you advance your character to the max level, and then take part in the activities that are only available to max-level characters.

But even within that, there are many different ways to play, depending on what you want to get out of the game. After all, if you’re going to have a hobby, it’s good to have a reason for it (in addition to the obvious enjoyment factor, of course!)

The question lately has been — what exactly do I want to get out of the game?

Where I Came From

As I’ve noted before, up until mid-last summer, I played WoW on a regular and fairly serious basis. Now, “regular” and “serious” tend to have different meanings to different people. It’s actually quite a debate in the online gaming community, especially games like Warcraft. What might be casual play to one person is hardcore to another, for example.

For me, regular meant a few nights a week. In general, I set aside about 6 hours each week for group activities known as “raids”, which involve groups of 10-25 (or, in some cases, 40) people getting together to take on large scale challenges.  Initially, I participated in these raids as just an average raid member. My role on the team was to make sure I would help the team meet their challenge for that week.

I also enjoyed the more “alone-time” parts to the game. Some nights, I’d play the in-game market — crafting specialty items, gathering raw materials for resale, completing quests for in-game currency, that sort of thing. Others, I’d let my main characters sit for a while, and try my hand at a completely new way of playing by starting (and re-starting!) a number of alternate characters. Looking back on it, I guess this is the way that a scanner personality manifests itself in this type of environment 😉

A lot of the teams I was a member of had great potential, but never seemed to live up to their potential. In one such case, the leader(s) would occasionally try to rectify the problems, but often seemed to lack follow-through (for example: they would make rules, without having any intention of enforcing them). Seeing this, I stepped down from the team, and began “problem-solving” around some of the issues I’d seen crop up in the group I was a part of. Problems like lack of accountability, transparency and stability.

The Responsibility Builds…

By the time I stepped away from the game, my journey had led me to co-leading a raiding network of over 500 people, some more active than others.

Within that network, I had my own raid “team” of about 15 people who had never really played the game at a higher level — it was like a “training school” for people who wanted to raid, but didn’t know how. I also co-lead a different team of 30, who had aspirations of great things but many of whom ultimately didn’t want to commit to their teammates.

In the end, I got burned out and frustrated. I quit the game, and figured I probably wouldn’t go back. After all, I’d had my chance at leadership, and failed. I had tried to problem-solve my way through the issues I saw, but yet found myself taking one step forward, but two steps back. And as many of us often do when burned out, I blamed myself for the failings, whether they were actually in my control, or not.

They say that WoW is a game that anyone can get into — that it has something for everyone. But by the time I left, I felt almost as though no one wanted to play the game the same way I did. Even if I didn’t know exactly what that meant.

When the Dust Settled

In November 2008, about 4 months after I’d cancelled my subscription to the game, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion hit WoW. Players around the world began raving about it. It was beautiful, creative, epic, expansive, immersive and (believe it or not), fun.

Even with all of the rave reviews, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to pick it back up and start playing again. My disillusionment had grown strong in the weeks before I left, and I saw no signs that returning would have any different outcome. The network I had built to 500-strong was in the midst of falling apart. The people I had played with had either left the game, or had goals that didn’t “feel” right to me.

For all that you can play WoW on your own, it ultimately is a social game — and as far as I was concerned, if I didn’t have a community I could feel a part of, then what was the point?

At the same time, I didn’t completely remove myself from the out-of-game community. I read some of the popular blogs about the game, and kept up with the changes and new things going on in the game world. I guess you could say that in some ways, I almost played the game vicariously. I knew everything that was going on — I watched videos of boss kills, read debates about the way the game had changed, even kept tabs on what was left of my old communities.

But I still didn’t go back. Something was still bothering me, and until I knew I would fully enjoy playing again, I didn’t want to step back in.

What Went Wrong

Being the problem-solver that I am, I first tried to figure out what had gone “wrong” the last time around. I spent some time blaming everything and everyone under the sun (including myself). It was my fault. It was their fault. It was no one’s fault. On and on I went, in circles, confusing myself in the process.

The things was, I knew I could go back, pick the game back up, and get right back into it. I could join up with a new team, become a member of another community (or maybe even connect with what was left of my old one), and maybe even accomplish some of the things I never had a chance to previously.

When I had been playing, I’d always wanted to “finish the game” — to beat the hardest challenges, to feel the thrill of working hard at something with a handful of trusted teammates, and to finally have everything just fall into place.

At the same time, I didn’t want to just “roll over” and dedicate my whole life to the game. I knew it was possible — there were plenty of groups all over the world who managed to “beat the game” with no more time commitment than I’d put in.

I’d sought out that environment, and when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I tried to create it (albeit, with people who didn’t really buy in 100% — they thought it was a great idea, but when push came to shove, they’d be more likely to get shoved). Somewhere “out there”, I imagined there were players doing exactly what I wanted to do. But still, I’d failed.

Old Doubts Arise

Working through all of this was a slow process (and I’ll be honest, it still is in many ways — but I’m getting ahead of myself). Then slowly, I started paying attention to not only what I was thinking, but how I was thinking it.

I started actually listening to what I was saying, and what I noticed was that behind all the blaming, all the talk of failure, and all of the “why couldn’t I just make it work” questions — was doubts.

I hadn’t been able to find a group that I’d “fit” with before. What made me think this time would be any different? And what if — this was a big one — what if I was the problem, not those around me.

I’d been told I was a good player, capable of being in any one of the top teams on our realm. My teammates all respected me, and some of the people I led even went so far as to say I was the strongest raid leader they’d ever raided under.

Clarity Begins to Emerge

As I started to listen to my doubts, I began to notice common themes kept emerging. What I was hearing were actually doubts about my ability to fit in. Doubts about my ability to be accepted. Doubts about myself to find community.

I realized that while I’d been a part of a number of teams and communities — even leading them — I hadn’t really connected with those I’d played with. I didn’t make friends; I had almost more of a co-worker type relationship with the people I played with. Even in-game I’d been aware of this on some level. I left a guild (a collective of players that choose to band themselves together for various reasons) because I wasn’t comfortable sharing as much of myself with others as seemed to be expected.

In many ways, this wasn’t really a surprise. It’s something I’ve even written about before. I tend to be a pretty private person — while I can easily make an initial connection with people, I very rarely take it beyond that. I guess you could say that I’ve mastered the art of making acquaintances, but still struggle with the art of making real “friends”.

Normally, I don’t know that I’d care much about this. After all, I’ve lived pretty much my whole life as a private person, not really opening up to others all that much.

So … Now What?

Just writing this has got me in quite an introspective mood. As you might have guessed, the doubts that I encountered haven’t been fully resolved in my head, although I have made some headway in that regard.

Clearly, I have already decided to give the game another shot — I’ll explain how I came to that conclusion in a bit more detail in my next post — but for the moment, you’ve already read nearly 2000 words of introspection (congrats, and thanks!) so I’ll just close off with a hint of where all this rumination has been leading me.

The question that came out of all of this, out of all of those doubts seemed to be… could playing World of Warcraft actually be an opportunity to change that — to grow and learn to make connections?

Stay tuned. :)

(And, as always, I’d love to hear your comments and feedback!)

Weekly Reads: Battlestar Galactica Edition

I spent much of my spare time during the past week watching Battlestar Galactica (the new version). It was my first exposure to the show — new or old — but from what I hear, I might have had my geek cred revoked if I didn’t. Midway through the second season, I can’t say that I’m necessarily hooked, but I do find it a fascinating show to watch.

For one, it’s deep. Want an action show? Sure, you’ll get bits of that here and there. But it’s a show that is not so much about blowing things up as it is demonstrating all that goes into making a society. From culture and religion to politics and control, from love and desire to hatred and jealousy, from morally right to lawfully right, it’s a show that dares to look at the unvarnished side of humanity — all the while, showing that it is our imperfections that make us what we are.

What’s most phenomenal is that it does it all as a cohesive story, with a flowing plotline. It’s not so much a TV show with independent episodes, as a space drama that just happens to be broken up into 1-hour blocks. Seeing the connections, understanding the relations, and discovering the patterns are part of what is so engaging about the show. So, I’ll keep watching.

Besides, I now understand the namesake for Fathom-Lord Karathress in World of Warcraft’s Serpentshrine Cavern. Although I dare say that FLK was a touch more of a pushover than Starbuck 😉

If you would like to pass on anything you think I might be interested in, post the link as a comment to this thread! I’m always looking for new things to explore. Note that comments containing multiple links are flagged for moderation, so if your note doesn’t show up right away, don’t worry!

Made Me Think

You’ll probably notice a theme in this week’s set of links. There’s a good reason for that. This week, it seemed as though a lot of what I read was really connecting with other reads. Maybe it’s something in the blogging water, or maybe it’s just a connection that my subconscious was wanting me to make. Either way, rather than listing everything I found, this week I’ve tried to pick a select few links that I think show the common thread most clearly.

The Number One Dream Killer: Doing What Works (from Zen Habits). The subtitle kind of gives away the “punch line” for this one. In this post, guest author Jonathan Mead argues that what really kills our dreams isn’t that we do what doesn’t work… it’s that we do what does work. Why I pulled it out is that this is an article about comfort zones — and, more specifically, about how staying with “what you know” (and with “what works”) doesn’t really get you anywhere. The take-away message is that if you want to actually live your dreams, you’re going to have to step out of what you know works, and take a chance on something that may not.

Succeeding by Helping Others Succeed (from Steve Pavlina). A lot of times, we know what “works” for us, and it’s really easy to focus only on that. In this back-to-basics article, Steve Pavlina points out that success isn’t just about us as individuals. If you really have something that works, what good are you doing if you just keep it to yourself? Instead, Pavlina suggests looking for ways to help others succeed — and then takes that as a jumping off point for launching yourself into a whole new direction — for both your life, and your career.

Top 10 Tools for Landing a Better Job (from Lifehacker). And what do you do when you’ve established your new direction, and now just need to get there? For most of us, there are two options: you can either do it on your own as an entrepreneur, or you can do it with others who are already doing it. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of getting that dream job, this list from Lifehacker is a good place to start. While the tips may seem a bit obvious, it never hurts to review even the basics. Current economic climate or not, the little things do still count.

20 Steps to Better Wireframing (from ThinkVitamin). This ThinkVitamin article is targetted to designers and developers who find themselves tasked with the creation of wireframes — those basic outlines which help determine the future form of an application, website, etc. Now, such a topic may not seem to fit the “storyline” I’ve established above, but stick with me on this one :-) First, for some people (like me!) being able to create and design tools that people actually use is part of how we succeed by helping others succeed. The things mentioned in this article provide a good starting point for that career path. That’s the most obvious connection. But when you take the steps out of the designer context, you’ll realize that it’s applicable not only to developing outlines for websites, but also for outlining the life you want to live. Drawing on your experiences, being clear on your objective, and not letting yourself get lazy are good advice for life design, too.