Posts / April 17, 2011

Following Your Dharma

On Friday I had the pleasure of speaking at the Six Minute Low Down at Centro Lounge. I was joined by Jeff Nachtigall, Gregg Cochlan, Daren McLean and Krystian Olszanski, we each shared our insights on dharma and using our talents to help others.

Every since I first read Deepak Chopra’s book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, I’ve been consumed by the idea of dharma, which means purpose of life. The Law of Dharma states, that everyone has unique talents, and it’s your purpose in life to discover those talents, and use it to help others.

Two and a half years ago, I made a shift in my career, largely due to this idea of dharma. I’m a software developer by trade, so began to explore ways that technology can be used to help disadvantaged groups, improve civic engagement and promote social change.

During that time, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to both volunteer and work with organizations such as Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, Extradordinaries, Medic Mobile, RTI International and Global Viral Forecasting Initiative. I’ve also coordinated a number of my own initiatives like Mobile Tech 4 Social Change Halifax, Apps4Good, Saskatoon Sustainability Series, Saskatchewan Flood Map, I Vote Because and Repurposed Labs. Along the way, I’ve had a number of insights, which I believe, are worth sharing.

Good Ideas Are Contagious

“Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.” – Plato

One person can make a difference by creating something bigger than themselves, and allow others to share in that vision. I’ve continually been surprised by what seems like a crazy idea, has the potential to both inspire and engage others.

Just Build It

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

Don’t wait for others to lead, simply charge ahead and pave your own way. Do you see an injustice or a problem in your community? If so, then take action, find a way that you can make a difference. I was appalled when I learned that the last federal election in Canada had the lowest voter turnout in Canadian history. So, I created the I Vote Because… map, hoping to spark a conservation in Canada why voting is important, why every voice matters.

The Best Opportunities Are Often The Ones You Create Yourself

“Volunteer—not so you can build your resume, but so you can build yourself.” – Anonymous

Don’t wait for opportunities to come along, take action now to put yourself in a better situation. Have you ever met someone who just seems lucky? Well, as the Stoic philosopher Seneca once said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” I’ve often been surprised that my volunteer initiatives have somehow indirectly turned into interesting work. It wasn’t how I planned it, but through volunteering I’ve proved my value and made valuable connections which led to unique opportunities down the road.

The Best Way To Teach Is By Example

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Gandhi

I’m passionate about the work I’m doing, because I believe it was what I was meant to do. For me, the biggest compliment, is knowing that something I did has inspired others to do great things. And as the quote goes, “activism is our rent for living on this planet”.

Do What You Love And Still Get Paid

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius

I believe it’s possible to do what you love, and still get paid. It’s not always easy, but if you had the choice between a high paying job you hate, or a lowering paying work which you love, which would you choose?

Don’t Be Afraid Of Change, Embrace It

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

Looking back at the last two years, the best opportunities often came following a leap of faith whether that meant quitting a job or moving to a different city.

So how do you know that you are on the right track? When is it time to make a make change? There are two questions that have helped me determine if I’m going in the right direction.

What Are You Most Proud Of?
Looking back at your career, what are the things you are most proud of? Although I’ve been working for over eight years now, it’s the work I’ve done most recently that I’m the most proud of. Prior to changing direction in my career, I volunteered at a soup kitchen in Halifax. During that time I came to realize, that those three hours volunteering on Saturday afternoons, meant more to me, and gave me more purpose than the rest of my work week. This was an early sign that I needed a change.

If You Won The Lottery Today…
…what would you be doing tomorrow? If I won the lottery, I’m pretty sure I would be doing the same thing I am now. In fact, I probably would doing even more than I’m doing now, because I would have the resources to develop my own projects, as well as fund other people’s ideas.

Finally, a quote from Woodrow Wilson which I believe captures the essence of dharma.

“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.” – Woodrow Wilson

It was a real honor to be joined by the four other speakers each doing inspiring work in Saskatoon. Jeff Nachtigall, an artist in residence at Sherbrooke Community Centre is doing visionary work using art and storytelling for healing. Gregg Cochlan, author of World Peace, Really! is using his writing to promote world peace, one reader at a time. Daren McLean, founder of has used his talent for web design to empower community initiatives like Saskatoon Speaks and I Heart Bike Lanes. And Krystian Olszanski, a hobbyist photographer organized Saskatoon’s first Help Portrait event to take portraits for less fortunate families. Each of these guys are perfect examples of dharma, each using their unique talents to help others.

Huge thanks to Jay Parmar and Depesh Parmar from Centro Lounge for hosting such an engaging event and inspiring conversation.