How I became an addict!
It’s midnight on a Holiday and everyone in the home is asleep! I’ve been going back and forth between the computer and the fridge 3, maybe 4 times now. Nothing inside seems satisfying to my disturbed mind. I finally reach out to the cupboard and grab the Nutella chocolate spread. The feeling is greater than me — I greedily shove 3 big spoonfuls into my mouth!
As the sensation moves down my throat and reaches my pleasure centre in the brain, I check my email, Twitter and Facebook for the hundredth time. I’ve been doing that for the past two hours, sitting helplessly in front of the screen in a wonder what happened to the world — why there’s no one out there sending a new message for me to read?
Maybe if I tuned into one of those chatty Twitter accounts that send a barrage of messages streaming down their channel I could find something useful?! No, I needed a person to send me something interesting, not some software scheduling a large queue of tweets that mean nothing to me. I needed to be able to reply back with a witty comment or enter into a discussion over a thought-provoking question.
This is when it struck me! A shiver ran through my spine and I felt I can’t move. I don’t know if the weight of the realization caused the shaking. Or maybe the high cocoa dose in my brain activated too many senses. Whatever it was, it certainly felt gravely cold in the room! I could think only about one thing — I am an addict!
It wasn’t always like this. Almost 5 years ago I moved to Canada with my wife and my 2 years old daughter, leaving our culture, extended family and friends behind. Life started getting strange ever since.
I didn’t notice for a while, but things started changing rather drastically for me. I was proud to be in control of my life back in my home country. I was the ruler of my emotions and together with my wife we held supreme authority over our decisions — the world begone!
But Canada was different. I mean, what in the world do all those people that keep chatting with me wherever I go, want? I go to a supermarket and not only the guy at the counter wants to know what plans I have for the weekend, but the lady behind me in line wants to know how many kids I have and what I do for living!
Then there is the girl in the train I catch to work that wants to know if the book I just started reading is good and if I can recommend it to her, — the guy in the coffee shop wants to know if I’ll watch the hockey game tonight and who I think will win, — and the old man waiting on the bus station wants to give me an advice about raising my kids!
What is going on people? Why are you all intruding in my life? What happened to the good old questions around the weather?
And then the feedback giving came too! In my country feedback equals criticism and no one likes to hear one. But nobody cares about my feelings in Canada — everyone thinks they’re not only invited to give me feedback but they seem to do so with authority!
My first reaction to all this was to turn on defensive! I was loosing my supremacy in my own personal life and had to struggle to still keep some of it. At least that is what I thought at the beginning — until I started getting high from experiencing what now I know is my fix!
One of the first times it happened — with me noticing that is, which was hard given my state at the time — was just few months into my new job at a big software company in Vancouver. My manager asked me if I could cover for him as a lead for a sizable area in an important project while he goes on a vacation — with no email access! Being new, I couldn’t say no, though I had my doubts around the motivation.
So many things went wrong while I was replacing him, but I got overwhelming help from colleagues across the world and with a lot of effort on my side I was able to get things back to normal. When my manager got back, he asked me if I wanted to finish the project as a lead, utterly shaking my belief system. I was dumb-founded by the show of unjustified (in my mind) trust. That is when I experienced true inspiration from someone’s actions!
The next blow to my beliefs happened with feedback. No matter how much sugar coding you add when you tell someone about their “areas of improvement”, they will always see it as criticism — or so I saw it that way when a manager from a totally different team gave such feedback about me to my own manager. At the same time, nothing can inspire you more to accept such feedback, but when that same person you hated for criticizing you vouches for you when recommended for an important role!
By now, two cornerstones of my views got shaken — I saw giving both trust and feedback for what they really were. My feelings started to get all mixed up and I could sense my throne over my personal kingdom sliding down!
This is the state I was in when I got introduced to TED! Wow, what an amazing opportunity that was. A top-notch elite conference where the likes of Bill Gates and Al Gore get to speak to others like them has been suddenly opened to me — for free! Besides Bill and Al, I could now hear the thoughts and ideas of great thinkers and inspiring scientists, leaders, designers, etc. I suddenly got free access to Richard Dawkins, Sir Ken Robinson, Steven Pinker, Dan Gilbert, Susan Savage-Rumbaugh, Malcolm Gladwell, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stefan Sagmeister, Dan Dennet, Jared Diamond, Jane Goodall, Aimee Mullins, Jill Bolte Taylor,… the list went on and on and on!
I was like a child given a new toy, but unlike the child, who is excited to learn how to play, I was excited with the stories told by the speakers at TED. I was truly inspired by what these people — these strangers! — had to say. And this is when my belief system encountered the third blow and would never recover since. I learned to appreciate stories more than facts!
What did I feel like at those moments? The appropriate questions is not what, but when? When was the last time I blindly trusted people? When was the last time I was freely saying what I had in mind? When was the last time I was entranced by stories? In childhood, of course! I really felt like becoming a child again. My senses changed, my fears slowly dissipated and my heart started to open up.
And I started seeking for more! I no longer dreaded people’s questions on the streets, or buses, or shops, or elsewhere — I even started asking questions myself! I eagerly listened when someone had a comment or feedback on something I did or cared about and I tried to give valuable feedback back! And I did my best when someone trusted my a new responsibility, trying to do the same when on the giving end!
But I ran into a problem — the inspiration I was getting from engaging with the people at work, my friends circle or on the street was no longer enough! I needed more and more of it! I realized that what inspires me is not just the stories these people were telling me, nor the ideas or thoughts they were willing to share — it was their excitement to engage with me, it was their passion to show me what they value, it was their efforts to help me, even in a tiny little way.
Again, TED gave me a clue where to get more to satisfy my increased cravings! With its openness, TED managed to build an enormous community of volunteers and supporters that were eagerly engaging with other members of the community. It truly showed what can bunch of passionate volunteers do when motivated and empowered, a result of which is TEDx — numbers and numbers of TED-like events being organized around the world by TED community members and volunteers.
I thought: Volunteers, of course! To volunteer you must be passionate about something and you must have a story — let me hear it! I decided, then, that volunteering is a great way to get more to keep my cravings satisfied.
But TED showed me another way too. One of the secrets of their success was their move to open the talks online, free to the world. Millions of viewers got to watch them and, more importantly, comment and discuss with other people around the ideas presented in those talks.
This led me to jumping the social media bandwagon, as the ultimate medium that lets you reach to many people around the world. It was one of the few final bastions in my heart and it got surrendered.
Once I dreaded the idea to send messages publicly to the world using something like Twitter — now I cherish the opportunity to check what some of my favorite people like Jamie Oliver are doing, the chance to bring something to attention to someone like Sir Ken Robinson and most importantly, the ability to ask questions, give feedback and engage in discussion with people I would have no other chance otherwise.
Believe it or not, that is still not enough for me! That is why I am still disturbed and check my email and Twitter and Facebook for the hundred and first time tonight, while still feeling the taste of Nutella in my mouth. That is why I shivered — my life is no longer the same as 5 years ago. I am no longer in total control of my emotions and have no supremacy over my personal kingdom, because I let others invade it!
The shaking came when I realized that I’ve become vulnerable and I need meaningful interactions with people to stay happy. Without that, I will only have limited opportunities for inspiration. That is why I started this blog, even if I haven’t realized it at the time!
I am an addict — and inspiration is my fix! Will you help me stay high? 😉
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I am curious about everything and this blog is my way to ponder the meaning of the hard questions of life, mind, culture, future...
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