Category Archives: Life

Charisma: It’s not just a dump stat

Social skills have always posed a puzzle for me. While I’m not exactly a shut-in, a lot of setbacks in my life, or so I’m told, can be traced back to my lack of social skills. Whether it’s a job interview that didn’t go well, or a sale that failed to happened, I’m often left asking why, and people tell me that I just need the gift of gab or the ability to sell ice to eskimos, or whatever that means. Even the smallest social situations I’ve always been envious of people who could hold a room with their stories or who never have to deal with those awkward moments of dead air. Thanks to what I’ve learned in Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth, I don’t have to.

We think Charisma is a natural gift because when someone does it well, we experience the results in our unconscious emotional mind. It turns out that charisma, the ability to read people and react appropriately, can be learned just like programming or playing the guitar.

Developing your charisma involves training your brain to control your body language. We have known for a long time that social skills depend on body language, but only recently have we found that all those ticks and micro-expressions on our outside depends a lot on how we treat our insides. There’s a lot of talk in the book about mindfulness and meditation. Naturally, these practices will increase your confidence, but this is different from a lot of confidence techniques that I’ve heard of in the past.

Instead of just focusing on your strengths and good qualities, the mindful approach to charisma requires that you take into account all aspects of your being, even ones that you don’t like. The way I have interpreted this is that while you may not be the best in the world at anything, maybe the best person in the room to do many other things. This especially works for me if I’m the only person in the room.

A technique I was able to use immediately was a habit of waiting two seconds before responding to anybody. If you are in a conversation and someone is talking to you, just say mississippi in your head twice before giving a response. Another technique I liked was diving into sensation. If you focus on the sensations in your extremities, you can take your focus away from your current anxieties and back to reading the current social situation.

Doing was like opening up a third eye for me. Through most of my life, I have been so focused on crafting the right response to whatever I was listening to that I was just not listening at all. For instance, if I was in one of my old tech support jobs, I might try and act contrite if the customer was mad at me. According to the charisma myth, this is not only detrimental to the control of your body language, but It can even escalate things by telegraphing to your conversation partner that they are hurting you and that they are wrong. If you have a negative expression crawl across your face at any point, people don’t think it’s you, they think it’s them.

Reading this book has made me much more comfortable in my own skin. I am much better at small talk. Even though I don’t have a script for most social situations, I at least have a stance I can take so I can observe the situation and not make a fool of myself. I still wouldn’t call myself an expert. I don’t have a daily meditation ritual, and my ability can be limited by my mood and how much sleep I’ve had. At least now I have a direction to go if I want to improve.

It sounds like magic, but it’s not. The Charisma Myth debunked a lot of ideas that I had about active listening and positive thinking. If you go the book’s website there are a few exercises you can try out. You can get better results from the actual book, but try it out and tell me know how things work out.

Dear Internet,


So how am I doing?

I wish there was more to tell you, but things are still going rather well. The day job is still there, the house is still amazing, and my three-year-old has discovered Star Wars. And as it turns out, he is a Jedi like his father before him. Even though I’m living the whole adult lifestyle, with all the responsibilities that it entails, things are pretty quiet. I haven’t had quite a routine like this since I left high school almost 20 years ago. Before, if I wasn’t worried about withering job prospects, I was worrying whether I could save enough money to buy a house, or sell the condo I already owned, or how I could keep my son alive and reasonably well-behaved.

It was only in the last year that all these questions were answered with a resounding yes. Over the past few months, I have had the chance to feel bored for the first time in years. And it feels great!

Still, because life is just fundamentally unfair, I feel like I miss that sense of struggle. I’ve lived with it for so long that I get a little sense of loss as well as a sense of relief. Of course, some other crisis could blunder around the corner and I’d feel like me again, but it just doesn’t feel right to wait for something like that.

I need to strive for something outside of my daily routine. It will help me figure out my own limits, or at the very least keep me sane. I think I can do that through my writing.

I’m not exactly happy with it, and that’s great thing about it. There’s room for improvement. I haven’t done it as much I would like, but that’s because I put most of my efforts into finding and keeping a career. Now that I’m more experienced, I don’t have to busy myself learning every technology, I just have to refine my skills with the tools that will help me with my job. That leaves me time to focus on my other competencies.

So, as of this writing, I have almost completed the first draft of a novel I started a couple of years ago. I’ve been able to finish it by dictating portions onto my phone and having it transcribed by voice recognition software. I decided to keep the writing habit going by recording an audio journal. Most of it is dull and unpublishable, but I found the more I did it, the more I had to say. So, I have two hours a day, to and from work, to write anything I want from the comfort of my car without inconveniencing me, my job, or my family. Of course, I don’t talk while I’m navigating bad traffic, but for the calm spots of my commute, I can write a little bit, every day, without too much interference.

If the material comes out regularly, I can focus on other aspects of my craft. Like if my tone is far too intellectual, or whether I need to start writing fiction, or if there’s an opportunity to get paid for my writing. Money is not the reason I love to write, but if I want a good metric of success, it’ll fit the bill. I can start off by updating this blog once a week, and I’ll look for other places to post my work. To date, I only have one rejection letter from the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. That was 15 years ago. For me, the undiscovered country is my writing career, and it’s time for me to start exploring.

A wish for a Nice and Normal 2016

2015 started out normally enough. I managed to hold a programming job for all of two christmases, and we had saved enough to start looking for a house. The Seahawks lost the superbowl, which may have been an omen or something, but we were all too busy talking about the guy in the shark suit at the half-time show. It wasn’t easy getting our apartment out in the market. While it was spacious with 9 foot ceilings and granite countertops, it nonetheless was only a few blocks from downtown Abbotsford, which made buyers kind of nervous. Still, Sara and I had a lot of emergency cleaning sessions, and we had to hide out at our parents’ houses a few times while strangers were checking out all our stuff.

Trouble erupted when I was laid off at the end of May. I couldn’t even properly languish in self-pity since we had to keep the apartment clean for a showing that weekend. I had managed to avoid commuting for over 5 years, but it looked like I was going to go over the Port Mann bridge once again for my daily bread.

I had buckled myself in for a long an protracted unemployment, when in late July a job offer came into my inbox from a nice online ad company in New Westminster. My luck was about to rebound in a big way. The next thing I knew I was on a cruise yacht in English Bay with my new co-workers for their Summer barbecue. That same week, we found a buyer for the apartment – but we had to move out by the first weekend of September – right when Sara would be starting school!

The race was on to find us a new home. With our apartment sold, we didn’t have to put a “subject to sale” clause on our offer. At our next property tour, we found a nice home on a country main road. It was clean and well maintained, something that we found out was hard to come by when you are buying houses. What’s more, it had a basement. A bunker for Gavin and I to call our own!

We made our offer immediately. Surely, our days of emergency cleaning would be over! The call came on Friday. They had accepted an offer from another buyer. Sara and I tried to come to terms with a possible future in couch-surfing. On Sunday, we got another call from our realtor. The other buyer had called the real estate office, and said that they were retracting their offer due to a family emergency. The house was ours.

We managed to cram everything we owned into my parents’ garage, and for the next two weeks Sara, Gavin, and I lived out of my Parents house. In late September, we moved in. After 10 years of apartment living, I was in a house again.

After a lot of twists and turns, the Strocels have ended 2015 in a safe place with a double a garage and a fridge full of food. There is so much to be thankful for! Our family and friends have given us so much in helping us move. Sara is now team leader at her school, and I love my new job. Gavin is still learning and growing like any three-year-old should. 2016 might have its own hiccups, but for now, I’m just going to savour the present.

May 2015 Review: It’s that time again!

Well then, May sure was super eventful this year! I put 2 hours into my novel, I started a new gaming project with my friends in Seattle, they announced X-com 2, something else happened in the news, and Tomorrow Land was certainly a surprise hit for this Memorial Day. Oh, and I also got laid off.

Don’t worry, I’m okay! There were no hard feelings, we have plenty of savings, and the recruiters were very happy to talk to me last week. Needless to say, it was a bit of a shake up. It probably means I’ll have to commute into Vancouver, but that also means I’ll be in touch with some colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. Last week I managed to get through a lot of IT and sysadmin work at my house. It just seemed to pile up because I was at work all the time. Of course, there’s a lot more time for side projects now.

It’s tempting to spend all my time sending out resumes, but it’s going to be the side projects that land me a new gig. They are actual examples of my work. They will carry a lot more weight than sentences “I am a detailed oriented professional capable of working individually and as part of a team.” I also get the chance to fill some gaps in my knowledge without a deadline getting in the way.

The project that I hope to get finished this month is a seating plan app I started some months ago for my wife. I also want to get really deep into that gaming project I mentioned earlier. As for the novel, well, I think I’ll give it an hour a day and just see what happens. Onward and upward!

Give and Take

 

adam-grant-give-and-take

Another book that’s had a significant effect on me is “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” The theory behind the book is that successful people are distinguished by their reciprocity style. First there are Takers, who focus on how they look towards the group and rush to take credit for their work. Their logic is, if I don’t look out for myself, who will? Matchers rely on an equitable system of favours to get ahead. Givers focus on helping as many people as they can. Givers are a particularly interesting case because they make up both the top and bottom performers in many different studies. Givers who help people with no regard for their own interests make up the bottom performance rung because they are too busy helping other people to focus on their own work. Givers at the top have structured their giving so that a maximum number of people can be helped for as little effort as needed.

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givetakeI took the survey on the book’s website, giveandtake.com. I may have been a little primed by the book, but here’s how my tendency results broke down: 73% giver, 14% matcher, 13% taker. You need to ask your friends to rate you for a better assessment, but I have no idea who will take me up on that!

This could have implications for how I choose my side projects. Now the book hinted at, but never really went into, how Giving can work in the digital age. The Internet is a communications network, and its greatest strength is that the cost of reaching one additional person is zero. That means you can educate one person or a thousand without any additional effort. Does this mean I should choose my projects with a bias towards stuff I could share over the internet? If I’m working on a talk, should I create a video to practice? Should I do a freelancing project that helps one person, or fix an open source bug that helps thousands? Should I take a policy that states, “If I can’t share it, don’t do it”?

I do believe that the internet’s potential remains underused. If I’m going to get anyone else to believe that, I’d better start practicing what I preach. The next time I program in my free time, maybe I should start a google hangout and post it on youtube. Programming projects always take an indefinite amount of time. It could be weeks or months before I produce something I can share. If I post my process for everyone to see, maybe that can inspire more people to take up programming, or at the very least educate people on what I do. It won’t be much, but if I’m motivated to give, I had better start doing it early, and often.