Saturday, September 08, 2018

Safe Channels for Personal Development

Thought I would share something that is possibly novel in the personal development. This comes after thinking about my own hobbies or interests which played a majored role in many of my personal successes today.

I define a Safe Channel for personal development as some means to develop skills and competencies away from society's judgmental eyes. This can come in the form of a hobby or personal interest.

There are three components to having a safe channel.

The channel must develop some kind of useful skill through a regime of deliberate practice.  The second component is that no external party should assess your proficiency in this skill - you shouldn't need to feel that you need to attain a grade when you are in a safe channel.  The third is that developing this skill must be primarily for the purposes of having fun and goofing off.

For most of my life, my safe channel was Dungeons and Dragons. This was a game that does not even declare a winner at the end of a gaming session. Your player character just needs to survive and make it to the next game. Everything else is about coming up with a memorable story that people would talk about decades later. ( Much like my friend who hid in a dragon's anus for an entire fight and was the only PC to emerge unhurt in a battle with a dragon. ) Dungeons and Dragons allowed me to develop mathematical skills and verbal skills which went beyond what most kids were capable of during my time and was quite useful when I finally did my SATs during junior college.

During a presentation on Evidence Law, I noticed that my lecturer was getting sleepy. So during Q&A, I analogized the laws that granted a judge's ability to accept/ignore evidence as being akin to someone wearing three condoms at the same time. It works, but you may doubts after experience this law in practice. We got an A+ for the presentation and the professor stayed awake throughout the rest of my session.

During my NUS days, I had a different Safe Channel. I joined the Toastmasters and made a whole lot of friends who still keep in touch with me today. Public speaking, on hindsight, is a valuable corporate skill but, in those days, we made speeches to amuse our friends. Some of us wanted to see how many sexual innuendoes we can inject into 5 minute presentation. We practically offered the club presidency to this guy who made a 5 minute speech on his squash training but chose to describe how he stroked his ball before a crucial match. Doing research on how make a presentation more compelling was more of a hobby and, unless the speech was particularly bad, most speakers move on to the next project. Having public speaking as a safe channel allowed many of us to become communications experts without the pressure of taking some kind of exam. As for me, my life was also shaped by many law students I befriended doing this ECA.

( This was when NUS authorities still felt safe enough to place law students in a central part of a University campus instead of pushing them to some Gulag along Bukit Timah road. )

At work, there was also a lot of pressure to perform and meet performance targets. I chose a way to make money without going through multiple rounds of assessment. The stock markets do not care about my performance at work. Losing money was a personal affair but generally investment turned out to be a fun and profitable hobby. Not much more need to be said about this.

An then during my time in SMU, BIGScribe was incorporated and I started giving talks using whatever knowledge I gained on investing. Most of the time I spent speaking ran parallel to my time as a law student. did I have plans to eventually start a serious workshop ? Probably not. I doubt a serious financial speaker would build his reputation by talking about "50 Shades of Dividends Investing" and "F*** Y** Money" BIGScribe was a safe channel to find shelter from a stressful study schedule. Meeting like-minded bloggers was also a bonus.

In summary, I think this art of finding a Safe Channel for personal development has been lost. Authorities made it worse by making assessment more "well-rounded". This made CCAs, which are meant to be means to develop a personal hobby and interest, into part of the Rat Race.

To be fair, Gen Z is also shaping up to be a pretty intense generation closer to us Gen Xer than Millennials.

If there is a novel principle in personal development, I would say that finding a Safe Channel to develop some useful skills indirectly through play is probably crucial to survive in an innovation driven economy.


  1. Great post!
    It's like a proof-of-concept in product devlopment. If it fails, monetary loss is minimal.

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