The Myth of Passion

It seems as though everyone is talking about “passion” these days. From bloggers to career counsellors to even post-secondary institutions. The mantra takes on different forms, but usually contains elements of “find your passion and the money will follow,” “if you do the thing you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,”  and the like.

The implications are usually quite simple: everyone has a passion, a thing they love to do more than anything else, and if you’re not doing that thing, you’re missing out. And how do you know when you’ve found your passion? Well, lightning strikes, the heavens open up, there’s a glorious rainbow — in other words, “you just know”.

Finding Your Passion

So there’s a lot of people out there spending a lot of time (and money!) on books, exercises and programs intended to help them discover their passion.

But what of the people who get frustrated and feel like they’re going nowhere (maybe even going backwards!) every time they try to discover their passion. The message coming from all sides seems to be clear: everyone has a passion. If you can’t find it, there’s something wrong — either with your approach, or (gasp!) with you. Try harder. Try this other program. Do more soul-searching.

It can be devastating.

If you’ve found yourself in that position, I want to let you in on a little secret. There’s a good reason you may never find your one true passion: you may not have one.

The Myth of Passion

Okay, before you all start flogging me or rapidly unsubscribing from the site, hear me out.

Some people simply love many things. Rather than having all their energy funnelled into one passion, they distribute it across many things that they love equally. There are no angelic choirs, no booming voices from the sky, and no electric sparks. There’s never one thing that jumps out above all else as something you were truly born to do.

And that’s perfectly okay.

Yes, it’s okay to love painting and abstract mathematics and classical Latin and quantum physics and playing the jaw harp. It’s okay, even fantastic, to love all of them equally, and to be unable to choose one of them as your “true passion.” And you know what? You don’t need to.

Doing What You Love

The “find your passion” mentality tells us that our life’s work should be related to our one true passion. That turns out to be not very helpful to those of us who don’t have a solitary passion. So what do we do instead?

First, stop focusing on finding your passion. The longer you spend searching for that one thing, the less time you’ll have to actually do the things you enjoy.

Second, give yourself permission to explore the things you love. Yes, that’s plural. Remember, you’re not supposed to be looking for one thing — instead, realize it’s okay to spend your days doing more than just one thing! (This isn’t really all that novel — after all, no one ever only does one thing between waking and falling asleep — but it’s just rarely said out loud)

Third, do that which you love. It’s that simple, really. If you enjoy doing something, then do it. It doesn’t have to have lightning bolts, it doesn’t have to make you boatloads of money (although somewhere along the line, you’ll probably want some income, somewhere), it doesn’t have to be done for more than 5 minutes at a time (unless you want to) and it doesn’t even have to be important. It just has to be something that you like doing. End of story.

What If You Don’t Know What You Love?

Realizing that you can have many loves is liberating — but it can also be paralysing to suddenly be free. It’s like the prisoner who is released from prison for the first time in a decade, who just wants to go back to his cell because the opportunities “out there” are just too overwhelming.

There’s an exercise in Barbara Sher’s bestselling book Wishcraft (available for free to read online) in which you are challenged to describe your ideal day. For a long time, I was stuck trying to complete the exercise. I couldn’t figure out what I would want to do so much that I would want to do it more than anything else on that ideal day.

I’d fallen victim to the myth of passion. I thought my ideal day should be comprised of me doing the thing (or maybe two things) that I loved more than anything else in the world. And I kept drawing a blank; I couldn’t think of a single thing.

So I asked my Twitter friends for advice, and of course, they came through in spades. It’s not hard to figure out what you enjoy, or what you love to do. Simply think back to what you’ve enjoyed doing in the past. When was the last time you had a good time? And the time before that? It might have been a simple 5 minute breakfast with your significant other, it might have been a day out in the mountains, whatever.

What you enjoy and love doesn’t have to be grand, and it doesn’t have to be the first thing that jumps out as “oh my god, do I ever love doing X” (although, you might have a couple of those!). It just has to be something that made you feel good while you were doing it.

And you can have as many of those somethings as you like. The myth of passion is simply that: a myth. You may not have one. You may have as many as there are stars in the sky. And that’s okay.

8 Steps to Creating the Master Resume

Everyone these days is talking about job losses. It’s in the media, in line at the grocery stores and around the dinner table. Many who have lost their jobs spend hours each day preparing and sending out resumes. Many who haven’t are wondering if they should update theirs, “just in case”.

Long job searches — and long periods between job searches — are hard. If the last time you wrote a resume was 20 years ago, it can be hard to remember all of your accomplishments. If you’ve just been laid off, it can be hard to look at yourself in the positive light needed to make a resume shine.

There is lots of resume advice out there. Keep it short. Use active verbs. Show, don’t tell. Tailor each resume to each job. But when you’re applying for dozens of jobs, each with a slightly different description, it can be tedious to write an exceptional resume for each different job posting.

The solution is to create The Master Resume: a tool that captures all your skills, accomplishments and loves, makes it easy to customize a resume for any job, and boosts your ego when you need it most.

When you first create your Master Resume, it will take a while. But once you’ve got it set up and running, you’ll never go back. So let’s get started.

You’ll need a clean (unlined, preferably) sheet of letter or A4 paper, a pen or pencil, your existing resume (if available) and a sample job description (maybe your existing job description, or a job that you find in the classifieds). I also recommend having a spreadsheet program available — Google Docs does a great job, and is free!

1) Set up a piece of paper

Even if you’re a techie, it’s important to start with pen and paper.  Later, we’ll move you over to a digital spreadsheet, but bear with me for now.

Turn the sheet landscape (so that it’s wider than it is tall), and draw a line dividing it into two roughly equal columns. Divide the right-most column into two columns again, and then divide the right-most column again into two more columns. You’ll end up with a half-page column, a quarter-page column and then two 1/8th page columns.

From left to right, label the columns “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”.

2) Convert your existing resume (if you have one)

If you have an existing resume, pull it out now. If not, that’s alright — you’ll just have to make it up as you go along. What you’re going to do now is pull out bullet points from your job history and write them on your paper under “Accomplishments”.

For now, just pick one particular job; the most recent one on your existing resume is often the easiest to start with. You’re going to transfer every bullet point of accomplishment (no matter how large or small) listed on your resume to your Master Resume sheet. One accomplishment per line.

Don’t just copy them down, as-is, though! Take time to transform each bullet into a strong statement of what you accomplished. Make every point stand on its own: short and sweet, full of detail and active verbs, highlighting exactly what you did well. A search on Google will reveal loads of tips on how to write strong resume bullet points.

For each point that you write on your paper, use the “Where/When” column to record the job title, company and start/end dates of employment.

Feel free to add in more lines than just those that are on your initial resume. The goal is to have this list be as exhaustive as possible. Every little thing that you accomplished, no matter how big or small, deserves to go on this list. Make sure that everything gets included, even those things that you hated doing (we’ll come back to those later).

3) Categorize the skills

Here’s where the Master Resume starts to work differently. For every line on your paper, identify the high-level skill that the accomplishment demonstrates and write it in the 3rd column. If a certain accomplishment incorporates more than one skill-set, that’s okay, but only include one skill per line. Copy the accomplishment to a separate line for each skill demonstrated.

As an example, here’s a “bullet point” from my existing resume.

Co-lead communications task team, leading to an open house with attendance over 200% of anticipated.

I’d categorize this as “leadership”, although I could also mark it as “communication”. Others  you might find are things like technical abilities (programming, databases, networking, etc.), reporting, analysis, teamwork, conflict management or teaching. I’m sure you can think of dozens more. There are no right or wrong answers here.

4) Reflect and analyze your skill preferences

Remember in step #2, when I told you to write down everything you had ever done, regardless of whether you enjoyed it or not? Here’s the reason why:

For every line on your page, close your eyes and remember what it felt like to do that task. Were you excited? Frustrated? Bored?

Now, in the last column on the line, rate your enjoyment (regardless of how successful your accomplishment was) from one to five, where one is “if I never have to do that again, it will be too soon” and five is “I really enjoyed that and would love to do it often”.

This information is vital, because it will connect you with what you like to do and what you hate to do. Never put something you hate to do on a resume, no matter how major the accomplishment. You don’t want to get in a situation where you are hired to do something based on a skill that you hate using.

5) Convert to a spreadsheet (optional)

Once you’ve completed steps 1-4 for a few jobs and you’ve got the hang of it, it’s time to up the technical ante. You’re going to now recreate your paper list into the Master Resume by loading it into a spreadsheet. You can use something like Excel for this, but I prefer Google Docs because then I can update and access it from anywhere.

The format for the spreadsheet will be exactly the same: four columns on a sheet which are labelled “Accomplishments”, “Where/When”, “Skill” and “Rating”. This spreadsheet is now your Master Resume document. 

Why put it in a spreadsheet? Well, as I already alluded to, it’s more convenient in a universally available spreadsheet. It also is much easier to copy-paste entries from your Master Resume into your “to-send-out” resume when it’s in digital format. The ability to sorting and filter also makes a huge difference.

If you’re a spreadsheet whiz, you can do some advanced steps, like setting up a filtered table so that you can group entries by accomplishment (Google Docs makes this really easy). You can see a really basic example of this online, where the first tab is allows you to filter and the second is the “raw data”.

6) Repeat for other jobs, hobbies, experiences, education

Technically, you can do this step before number 5, but personally I get squirrely when I have to write too many things out by hand only to copy them into a digital format later.

Basically this step is where you flesh out the rest of your Master Resume. The key is to analyze all of your hobbies, experiences, jobs and educational history in the same way as you did for your jobs. Look at what you accomplished, even if it’s something you don’t think you could ever use in a resume.

Why? Because the Master Resume is not just about making it easier to send out resumes for “the man”. The Master Resume is for you, too. It’s a reflection of how you have lived your life — your talents, experiences, special abilities and more.

The fact that, after 14,000 games, you finally managed to beat your great-great uncle at chess may not ever get you a job (then again, it does demonstrate critical thinking, strategy and persistence!) but it does make you realize that you are actually a pretty cool person. Sometimes, when you’re looking for a job, it can be easy to lose sight of that. And remember to rate them — doing so can also give you hints about what you might like to try next!

7) Test your Master Resume

Finally, you’ve got this Master Resume on your hands. It’s got all of your achievements, the highlights of your life; career history and education, yes. But equally important, it highlights what you love (and hate!) doing, and all of the hobbies and experiences that make you who you are today. It’s got everything broken down by skill, by company and by enjoyment rating.

Now it’s time to transform your Master Resume into a resume you can send in for that job you’ve got your eye on (your “for-the-man” resume). Go get the job description, and with a pen go through and look for skills words — things like “excellent communicator”, “dedicated team member”, “problem solver”.

Now, sort (or filter) your Master Resume for those key phrases. Match your abilities and experiences to exactly what the job is looking for. Any line that has a rating higher than two goes into the first draft of your “for-the-man” resume. If you find you have too many items to make a good one or two-page document, maybe only use those bullets with ratings of 4+, or even just the 5’s.

You can format your resume however you like. Because you’ve got it in a sortable spreadsheet, you can organize your resume by job or year (a chronological resume) or by skill-set (a functional resume).Your content will be great and tailored perfectly to the job at hand, so as long as as your resume template is clean and readable, you’ll be able to send out a custom resume in a matter of minutes.

Another tip: Before you head out to your job interviews, make sure you to review your Master Resume as well. Look out especially for items that were rated 1s and 5s. In the interview, you’ll want to make sure that the job doesn’t have many if any of the 1s, and that it’s loaded up on the higher rated items.

It’s also a good way to bring in additional experience, in case the interviewer asks you about something that isn’t directly demonstrated on the resume you sent them.

8) Stay up-to-date

Last but not least, now that you’ve got your Master Resume built, keep it up to date. There is nothing worse than having to scramble to put together a resume from scratch. By having everything always in one place, updating your resume to capture your latest experiences is much simpler.

How do you know when to add something to your Master Resume? Simple: whenever you’ve accomplished something new or different. Yes, your Master Resume will get long, but that’s the idea.

By creating and maintaining every little thing in your Master Resume, you’ll be forced to recognize that you have accomplished many things, that you do have a wide number of marketable skills, and that you do have a valuable contribution to make. And as a nice bonus, it may even just save you some time the next time you’re looking to change jobs.

Financial Anorexia

It seems as though every other person you meet these days is interested in saving money. Personally, I think this is a good thing (and not really bad for the economy as the media likes to propose).

The way I look at it is this:

  • When times are good, I make conscious spending choices and am able to save a large proportion of my income.
  • When times are less good, I make conscious spending choices and am able to save a large proportion of my income.

In other words, I prefer stable, balanced money habits to the crazy splurge and save cycles of money ‘crash diets’.

I think that our individual finances would be a lot healthier if we took the long view of things — and I think the economy would be better off, too. After all, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a stable pattern of economic expenditure, rather than a pattern of overspending and then massive cutbacks?

When Times Are Good

Recently, J and I went from two incomes to one.  Because we had always been money savers, we didn’t have to change our lifestyle dramatically. In fact, we still are able to save more than many of our friends.

Prior to our collective income being reduced basically in half, we were able to max our our TFSAs & RRSPs (roughly equivalent to American 401ks and Roth 401ks), have a hefty emergency fund. Even with all that, we’ll still have enough left over for some renovations and camping trips when the snow stops falling.

You may think that the reason we were able to do this was because we both made rediculous amounts of money. Not true.  We both believe that there are some things more important than money — work-life balance, for example (I could be earning at least twice as much on my own if I wanted to, but I’m not interested in only chasing the money). So our income even at that time was well below the average family income in the area. And we live in one of the more expensive cities in the country.

When Times Are Less Good

J voluntarily left her place of employment late last year when it became clear that the work environment was negatively affecting her health and our relationship. This was just as the job market went from “we can’t get enough people to fill these jobs” to “we need to lay off half our staff or more.” Despite her best efforts, finding a new position has proven difficult, and so for the past 3-4 months, we’ve been living on half of what we had before.

However, even with this significant change, we still max out our TFSAs, will make contributions to RRSPs (although not max them out — because of tax bracket considerations more than anything), and will even have some cash to do some camping and renos around the house. Even beyond that, despite our income being cut in half, our spending habits haven’t changed. 

Because our finances were balanced between saving and spending, we could withstand changes to our economic system. The result of this balance is that even when that income drops or the economy is in rough shape, we don’t have to worry about finding extra money here and there.

Financial Dieting

Earlier, I likened my approach to money management to nutrition. When it comes to food, you can either choose a balanced, stable diet or you can choose to yo-yo between periods of “eating normally” (also known as overeating) and “going on a diet”. Whether you’re “on the diet” or “off the diet”, you never want to eat less than what your body needs for its basic function.

The same is true when it comes to financials. I like to think that I’ve got a pretty balanced financial diet. I don’t yo-yo, my spending and savings patterns are consistent with my needs both in the short and long terms. I always spend less than I earn, so that whether times are good or bad, I can make small adjustments but still “get all my nutrients.”

Many others — maybe you — find themselves caught in a yo-yo pattern of dieting is like those people whose spending reflects their earnings. Need to tighten the wasteband? Well, we’ll cut down on the dining out this month. Got a raise? Let’s take an extra vacation this year.

Like the dieters who don’t eat less than what their bodies need, these folks don’t spend more than they earn. Sometimes, they’ll take out a 6-month loan if they can get really cheap financing, but their payments are always well within what they can handle and they often even pay their debts off ahead of schedule.

Financial Disorders

If these were the only two scenarios, things wouldn’t be so bad. Spending to the max and then putting yourself on a spending fast is one thing. But there is a problem deeper than these financial yo-yo diets.

A lot of people point to greed as the basis for the economic problems we’re currently experiencing. And there is some truth to that. But I think that greed is just a symptom of a more significant disorder: our societal relationship with money is simply unhealthy.

What a lot of people do is the financial equivalent of binging and purging. They spend, spend, spend while times are good. Then they purge, purge, purge when times are not so good. They gorge themselves, and then starve themselves.

They accrue debt, and then try to cut back their spending to pay it off. Sometimes, there’s just no more room to cut back. And then they lose their houses. Their families. And even their lives.  It’s financial anorexia.

Financial Anorexia

Physical anorexia occurs when you eat less than you need to survive.

Financial anorexia occurs when we spend more than we earn. 

You may think I’m stretching the analogy, or that I’m suggesting that physical anorexia isn’t a serious thing. Please don’t misunderstand me — anorexia is a terrible disease, with very real and terrible consequences. And I’m not suggesting that financial anorexia is a psychiatric illness, or that it has neuro-biological components. I’m certainly not suggesting that it start becoming a medical diagnosis.

But if you turn on the news, you’ll see that financial anorexia also is very real and has terrible consequences. It has psychological compontents. It has sociological components. And, while perhaps not as obviously as physical anorexia, it can kill.

What Do You Do

I haven’t ever been physically or financially anorexic. I have been a yo-yo dieter, both physically and financially, though, and I know that the best way to get yourself out of that situation is to educate yourself.

Go to the library. Take out a book on basic finance or nutrition — just one at a time, though, or you’ll be less likely to actually read anything. Look at some of the great blogs out there; there have been a fair number linked in my weekly reads posts.

Over time, you’ll educate yourself enough to be fairly comfortable with routine, every day decisions. Feeling foggy? Try cutting back on sugar. Want to buy a new TV? Save up and look for sales.

But what if you’ve got yourself in deeper trouble? I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a financial expert or advisor. I do know that some people can get out of it themselves — especially when it comes to debt problems, there are many stories of people who were able to pull themselves out. But you don’t have to do it alone. Check with your city, state or province, or a local college or high school many offer free credit counselling services or financial planning courses. Find a financial advisor who will give you a free consultation.

And don’t forget to educate yourself in the process. The more you know, the less likely you are to go back to your habits, and the more likely you are to live a healthy financial life in the long run.

Reminder: There’s an ongoing poll: How often would you like to see “weekly reads” posted? Find out more and submit your vote!

Weekly Reads: Poll Time Edition

As I was going through the archived posts and adding pictures to them for the new theme, I noticed a trend emerging. Normally, I post 3-4 posts per week. This is actually pretty good (go me!). Then I noticed that one of those three posts is the weekly reads posts — which is fine, but I don’t want Sententia to just turn into a link farm! :)

While ultimately, I write Sententia for me, I would be lying if I said I didn’t also write for all you readers. (Seriously, I get giddy when I show an increase in traffic for a day. And an actual comment? Be still my beating heart!) So I thought I’d pass the question by you folks. Is having one of three posts be a weekly reads post too much? (Poll is embedded, RSS folks, so click your way on through).

[polldaddy poll=”1439550″]

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

What’s the Point of Education (from Early Retirement Extreme). In a world where going to college often means all-nighters to finish papers and cramming knowledge just long enough to write the test, what exactly is the point? In this article, Jacob argues that we’ve gotten way off track with our goals for education. A degree doesn’t so much show what you’ve learned as your IQ and your ability to make a simple problem into an overcomplicated one … can’t say that I necessarily disagree! 😉

The Objective of Education is Learning, Not Teaching (from [email protected]). As a response to Jacob’s question, above, this article from Wharton suggests that education has lost its way. So often, we focus on the experience of the teachers. Are your methods good teaching methods? Are you teaching the right things? After all, our system is set up to suggest that if you provide quality instruction, learning will follow. Right? Not so much. Instead, the goal ought to be to help students explore and learn. Let students direct their learning, and they will end up much better off. Hm… sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Living Paycheck to Paycheck (from Steve Pavlina). One of the things that education can’t guarantee you is safe and secure employment. We’ve learned that much from the past few weeks and months. In this vintage-Pavlina-post, Steve explores ways that living paycheck to paycheck is affected by our mental models. As one might expect, he advocates entrepreneurship as the solution to this problem, but even if you’re not of the self-employment ilk, there is great value in this article. I was particularly touched by his discussion of reasonable vs. unreasonable expense cutting.

Some Thoughts on Starting a Side Business in a Down Economy (from The Simple Dollar). Speaking of entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to be a big, scary, nasty word. There are lots of simple and easy ways to create value and receive income from it. As Trent discusses, the key is to identify those value-adding-areas, and then approach it as a hobby with benefits. Good article for those looking for a bit of extra cash.

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 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.