6 October 2013

a hobby that gives a sense of meaning... and progress

I always had sense of ambition about me that I couldn't explain or even understand myself. When I quit my first job to start working on a PhD (which I later abandoned), some coworkers expressed their non-surprise mentioning that they had sensed some kind of ambition in myself which I hadn't even noticed myself.
What I had noticed, however, is that I like a lot to accomplish things and my work in all the previous jobs has rarely provided me with accomplishments that made me really happy. Conversely, in my free time I am really having trouble to find activities which I enjoy so much that they "charge up my batteries" and compensate for stress I have at work. In fact, I have been looking for interesting hobbies to do ever since my first job and I only had slight success. Two things that worked, but only for a while were sailing (while I learned it and made a lot of progress) and building my own bicycles (but when I had four bicycles, this was enough and I stopped :-).

Currently meditation and personal development is my main "hobby": I meditate since more than a year and I can still feel progress. Additionally, the benefits of meditation radiate into my life and help me with work, relationships, and the things that need to be done for daily life. I also read more regularly now, books about happiness, meditation, finding and reaching goals in life. Those books make for meaningful "edutainment" because they inspire me to new ideas and also to try out new things in my own life.

It actually took me a long time to find this field of interest which both provides me with meaning and accomplishment. I remember that my first "hobby" interest starting in 2004/2005 when I was looking for my first job were trains and public transit systems in general. After many years of reading and thinking about this topic, I found that it just didn't provide me with any suitable way to contribute. I am not the kind of person who's an "activist" for anything and getting a job in the rail or transit industry wouldn't be much different than working in IT (with the additional hurdle of not having matching degrees). As a side note, I even worked at Berlin's public transit company for a while (in the IT dep't, unsurprisingly) and concerning the day-to-day work it wasn't so much different from my previous job in IT for banking.
Because of this, I consciously decided to look for other pastimes which better allow me to accomplish things... and at first I easily found that in the domain of bicycle making. It was really a good experience to "make" my own bicycles. Even though most of the making was just to screw pre-made parts together, with wheel-building from hubs, rims, and spokes being the most exiting part. And it's even better to ride those bikes regularly (or have friends and visitors ride them) and thus be reminded of having build them myself, which gives my a great sense of meaning in the world.
I also read a lot about bicycle gearing, especially epicyclic gears (also called "internal gears" which are usually "hub gears", although not all variants are in the wheel's hub). I had fun disassembling gears to see how they worked. Count the teeth of cog-wheels to calculate the resulting gear ratios. And I "invented" some new gearing mechanisms. But alas, I am not the person to actually go produce such new things (or have them produced or even get the design to a point where it can be produced) and I am even doubting that there would be many people interested in buying such a thing. In any case, this hobby also seemed like a dead end and so it was about a year ago when I decided that I wanted to go back to one of my early-youth pastimes and start again to program computers as a hobby -- but to cut a long story short. This didn't work either.

It is therefore that in the recent weeks (and especially after doing the "realise2" strengths test) I have come back to the viewpoint that it's probably best to have a hobby that is quite separate from work. I think that I could be actually quite happy doing programming for money, if I having something energizing (which uses my other strengths!) on the side and as a hobby.

So some weeks ago, I decided that reading on personal development and blogging about how different books and theories and practices relate to each other. (See my last post for an example.) And since then, I had the pleasure to play the "Jeu du Tao" (exists only in French, see taovillage.com) and to participate in a volunteer-organised self-development workshop and this made me realise how much fun this is and also how deeply meaningful it is to help each other in such a way. I find that this kind of activity uses a lot of my favorite skills:

  • learning and understanding (through listening and asking good questions), 
  • logical analysis (finding contradictions or synergies in people's self-perceptions), 
  • creativity (finding good questions which are both revealing useful things and are confirming/probing what has been found and are of course non-offensive so that a trusted relationship is created)
  • even more creativity (to come up with "homework" exercises and experiments for people to test their believes and get to know themselves better)
And there are many activities in this field which I could try and which seem like very energizing and meaningful activities to me:
  • teaching about self-improvement, happiness, and personal development (most people don't read books, yet many still want to learn, so there's lots of potential here!)
  • participating in self-improvement self-help groups
  • doing one-on-one coaching to help people reach their goals (or find good goals!) or just get out of stuck situations
While this also may sound like a job description (for some kind of "community counselor" or an employee counselor in a large company), I think it makes a lot of sense to do this as a non-commercial exchange-based activity, because:
  • a lot of people don't want to pay for such services because they don't trust people who are taking their money (fearing that the coach is more interested in keeping the clients coming than actually solving their problems)
  • many people feel better talking about their personal issues with like-minded others instead of a professional. 
  • participating in group-sessions with peers helps each person not just to learn, but also to contribute back, giving them a sense of meaning and more motivation to stick 
  • I think that in a way, sharing your personal challenges and life aspirations is just like sex in that many people prefer doing it with a person they know well and who has the same stakes in it, rather than with a paid professional. Most of the world's personal advice is probably asked of and given by friends. You can understand my mission as making those friend-to-friend conversations more effective by adding some psychological knowledge and practice to them.
Of course I am not saying that the whole business of commercial coaching, counseling, and psycho-therapy is wrong. I simply think that there is also a need and purpose for a non-commercial peer-based alternative.

So that's my new hobby! I'll let you know how it goes :-)


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