How to Leave Your Job (Tip 3)

I use to be addicted to role-playing games. One of the classic aspects of the game was that you often had to “level up” before you could move on to a new and more challenging section of the fantasy world. Leveling up meant increasing your character’s attribute such as strength, wisdom, agility, charisma by earning “experience points” (lovingly known as XP) through defeating a variety of monsters. Depending upon what kind of character you wanted to become – a thief, a mage, a warrior – you would develop certain attributes more than others.

However, the choice of when to move into the new territory was up to you though. Some players would level up until the new challenges would pose little threat. Others would throw themselves into dangerous territory and die repeatedly at the hands of overpowering monsters. The astute player realized though that if you can strengthen your character just enough to defeat one or two of the more powerful monsters, you would level up more quickly.

Leaving a job for new territory does require new “attributes” and perhaps new tools and skills. An engineer co-worker of mine started a successful business selling incredible coffee, but not before spending years studying coffee and running a small tutoring business part-time. He leveled up before he took on a bigger life investment.

Developing these new skills while on the job isn’t easy. With family and work commitments, you can easily find yourself unable to find the time. You may have to slowly develop those skills over many years. But at some point, you’re only going to gain the big XPs by fighting the big monsters.

In your real-life role-playing game, don’t foolishly throw yourself into the jaws of a monster business you can’t possibly succeed at, yet at the same time, don’t wait forever in the safe territory trying to develop all the skills you need. As Ken Low would say, you develop the capacities for the journey by taking the journey.

Chris Hsiung
Better Life… Better Business

How to Leave Your Job (Tip 1)

Imagine if you were laid-off today. What would you do?

If the prospect frightens you or the only response you have is to madly send out resumes for job postings, it might be time to do a checkup on your capacities and see which ones need a tune-up or an upgrade.

Check your Financial Gauges

I was once told by a manager that a mortgage is motivation to perform well on your job. In other words (I thought cynically), one is not a slave to the job; one is a slave to the mortgage! It’s no wonder that the word mortgage comes from the French meaning “dead pledge”.

What dead pledges have you made? Is your lifestyle such that you cannot possibly afford it with any other job? If you made no other income starting today, how long could you last?

The recession has shattered the illusion of the “you can have anything you want” attitude of financial management. As it turns out, every dollar spent on a credit card is another tiny ball and chain snapped on to your neck. What freedom is there when you can’t leave your job? How maneuverable are you if you have no savings?

I use to think that paying down debts, saving money, or cutting expenses was an obligation. But today I see every dollar saved or paid down as building my “freedom” capacity, that ability to respond to challenges or take advantage of opportunities.

Take stock of your financial books, and make some decisions!

Fortunately, finances aren’t the only measure of capacity. If you’re low here, you can draw upon other capacities which will be covered in succeeding blog posts.

Easy Life = Easy Brain

Imagine a world where one did not have to walk because one could be transported magically to wherever one wishes instantaneously. Food is custom ordered and delivered on the spot, and technology allows us to do amazing things with a simple verbal command. Is this the perfect world envisioned by Star Trek with teleporters and replicators? Or is it the pessimistic outlook of WALL-E where people have evolved into fast-food dependent, “always-on” internet connected, pear-shaped blobs?

From the movie WALL*E
From the movie WALL*E

We understand that when it comes to muscles, you use it or lose it. In a world where good food costs more than junk food and technology has rendered much physical labour unnecessary, it’s no surprise that obesity is on the rise in Canada and the US.

But what about the damage to our thinking? It’s not just that junk food has been shown to reduce brain capacity and attention in kids. It’s that in a world where one does not have to do much, one also doesn’t have to think much. When life is easy, what need is there to think?

One of the features of modern civilization is the ever escalating level of convenience in everyday life. I was stunned to see at the grocery store that one could purchase carton of pre-whipped eggs. Convenience is not inherently bad. However, it can add another layer of abstraction where eggs come not from chickens, but from a carton. For a city kid like me, I already have enough dissociations from the realities of food (beef comes from supermarkets right?) that I can imagine a future generation of kids thinking that egg comes freshly squeezed out of a box!

Consequently, we also expect thinking to come out of a box too. Adult learning theory, some of which is good in principle, ends up being applied as “how to do we make learning as easy and painless as possible” such that classes are filled with simple and fun activities that engage and entertain but fail to educate. Thinking becomes divorced from the bloody and visceral realities of life.

Another example is in how we relate to our technology. In Shop Class as Soul Craft, Matthew Crawford laments the disappearance of the dipstick in some models of motorcycles. All the rider sees is a light that flickers on indicating a need to take it into the shop. The user becomes disconnected from the functional need of the oil and hence from how it works.

One could argue that having these conveniences free us to think about and do other things. I’d agree. I’m glad I don’t have to entirely understand my car. But what happens when we also don’t have to understand where our food comes from or where we get our comforts of civilization or how our financial markets works? I worry that when we delegate all critical areas of our lives to experts, we delegate away any sense of responsibility for what is real.

When life is smooth and easy and frictionless, we end up making up drama about little unimportant things. It’s not being able to find parking in a mall or being slighted by a friend’s comment that gets us up in arms. Like the child who doesn’t know how to get his own way, the adult who has not had any real responsibility will throw a tantrum at the slightest disturbance in the flow of the easy life.

Do we do enough then to strengthen our thinking muscle? Are we engaged with things that matter to life? That we care deeply about? That frustrates us and therefore pushes us to be and do better? Do we examine how we spend our time and our money? Or how about how we engage in our relationships with others and with the world?

To you now, how do you keep your thinking fitness up?

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.

Five Foolish Follies

1. Choosing not to think. Have you ever noticed that there are boundaries to what we choose to think about? Religion is certainly one area where we may choose not to apply the usual rigours of thought. Math is another one; childhood school fears are likely the main block. Relationships, too, might not be tested for fear of failure. If you ever find yourself choosing not to think about something, take a step back and ask yourself why.

2. Seeking only evidence that makes you feel good or supports your point of view. Horoscopes, astrologists, and psychics play on this well-known human weakness. We only notice those things that confirm what we want and ignore those things that don’t. I find I have to pay attention when I’m advocating for or defending a position. Am I being reasonable and fair? Am I seeking disconfirming evidence? How are you at searching for contradictions?

3. Being unthinkingly loyal to your friends, your family, your organization, or any of your “in” group. I grew up with this notion that blood is thicker than water. Mafias are loyal to their “family”, but it doesn’t make their actions right. There is, of course, some truth in the saying. I know and trust my family and friends because of my shared experiences with them, but this doesn’t mean that I should excuse anything they say or do. If anything, it is my responsibility to be loyal to their best selves. Do you find yourself unthinkingly supporting your friends or family?

4. Dismissing ideas or people because of their form not their content. If it looks good, it must be good right? Advertisers would want us to believe that of course, but any astute shopper who has been disappointed by a product knows that looks and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand. The corollary then would be that if it looks bad, it isn’t always bad. A documentary film may not have great special effects or the prettiest actors or the right flow… but the truths it speaks may be more fruitful than any Hollywood film. When do you dismiss something, is it because it doesn’t look good?

5. Quitting before you’ve begun. What if you wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle and quit going to the gym after a month? What if you wanted to market your business and quit networking after a month? You’ve stopped before you’ve even begun. Most of the time it’s not for lack of the right direction or technique or skills. It’s a lack of persisting long enough to see the results. Have you quit before you’ve begun?

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.

The Sickening Power of Cliches

From Chris Hedges article:

“Belief can triumph over knowledge. Emotion can vanquish thought. Our demagogues distort the Bible and the Constitution, while their demagogues distort the Quran, or any other foundational document deemed to be sacred, fueling self-exaltation and hatred at the expense of understanding. The more illiterate a society becomes, the more power those who speak in this corrupted form of speech amass, the more music and images replace words and thought.” (

I am concerned about the quality of discourse on TV, in movies and newspapers. Do reality TV shows or entertainment news or 24/7 news really help enhance the quality of our existence? Or does trash into brain equal trash out of brain?

Yet, I feel how powerful a cliche is. When I’m tired, I find myself watching an action flick where I know that there will be large explosions and the hero kills the bad guy then gets the girl. In watching the news, I find it comforting to curse the “greedy capitalists” or if you are a capitalist, complain about “those lazy socialists”. With images of middle-eastern terrorists filling the media and glamourous rich celebrities, I need only to feel good about my beliefs and not be bothered to think too much. A cliche is a formulaic thought, repeated so often that it lacks any real meaning.

Here’s a thought. The next time you (or I) spout or watch or think a cliche, think about what is the real meaning you are trying to create. What do these cliches mean anyway?

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “You have to kill them before they kill you.”
  • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
  • “I just want to feel happy.”

Any ones you’ve come across lately?