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To Share or not to Share?

To share or not to share?

Every now and then people tell me they could never share personal things the way I do on the internet. I never quite know what to do with a comment like this. Some people seem to feel the internet is not for personal things.  

Private or Personal?

Superficially it is easy to agree with that. I trust that the majority of users with a sense for boundaries would instinctively keep private things private. The concept of privacy has undergone a strenuous journey, though. A few decades ago we were able to disappear, i.e. truly disengage, for any period of time by physically removing ourselves from home, office or the everyday focus of life, and then simply not leaving a phone number. But today, our personal lives seem to disappear like the dry part of a kitchen tissue that’s placed on a wet spot. Privacy is becoming rare and we feel we need to protect it.

It may be generational, but what I see happening is a confusion about what is personal with what is private. I address this point because – other than feeling like lecturing today – in my view there is an important distinction sharing something which is private versus something that is personal.

Private information is truly only for the people directly concerned. A medical condition or a relationship issue would fall into that category. Think of it like private property: only the owner(s) and those who are invited are allowed to be there. It is not open to the public. Your passwords are private. Private, by definition, means something that, whilst it visibly and objectively exists, such as facts and data, is not meant for the public.

Many people get uncomfortable, or even recoil, when others share private information too freely. I have vivid memories of an evening, a few years ago, with some women I hardly knew who freely shared sexual preferences that made me want to get a lobotomy.

Personal, however, is different. It really can only relate to one individual. A personal story, a personal preference or a personal problem… whatever follows ‘personal’ is related to one person only. My personal view belongs to me in the sense that I decide what to do with it: keep it, share it, change it… whatever. And the personal perspective also makes things interesting, otherwise you can stick with facts and statistics.

Sharing personal experience online

Here’s another filter I use for sharing personal things on my blog, along with most writers. It goes way beyond sharing personal experience and is all about making what’s out there relevant, useful, entertaining or, hopefully, fun to read.

I learned this first when I started out as a travel writer two decades ago. My editor reminded me to think about how my personal experiences would affect my readers, such as: when you come to beach x in August, you can witness how waves, testosterone, and alcohol can turn a scenic spot into a party venue for sun burnt teens. But get there between September and the first half of July and this 2-mile beach will be yours to hike, surf and relax. The reality was  that when I went in July prior to writing about it, I was shocked to see so many drunk youth. But my editor’s point was that writing I was shocked to see so many drunk youth would not do much for readers.

Under my editor’s watch I had to consistently turn my personal experience into useful travel guidance: how I dined in a restaurant, talked to the chef and found out that despite slow roast lamb being his most successful dish on the menu, the chef himself is vegetarian and makes pumpkin ravioli that is truly worth traveling for across the country to try. How I slept in a supposedly haunted country house is relevant when I find an angle that is most likely to interest other travelers too, such as the fact that the hotel’s priciest bedroom is facing the farm side of the estate where you will reliably be woken, if not beforehand by a ghost, then definitely by a rooster at 5am.

Sharing one’s journey of life – forgive the tired metaphor – is a similar process, but I decide what to share, and how. It is a great experience when readers tell me they were moved, inspired or amused or when something I wrote affects them. It means it was relevant to them, and that of course is personal too.

In my blog writing I allow myself to be personal, explore experiences, views, reactions and thoughts, and I get to know myself and others, possibly at the expense of being relevant only to some readers. But best of all, I am in my happy place. Here, I can say what I think. It means I have to think first, and that I truly love.

What’s the deal with oversharing?

Some people choose to share with the world where they are spending the weekend, what they are eating and yes, the cute kittycat… It is fashionable to nitpick those posts on social media. A friend recently complained how very irrelevant most postings are. But then, isn’t that the nature of social media? Agreed, some stuff out there is perfect troll-food or, at best, annoying, and also agreed that there are more effective uses of social media, which I make a point of supporting. But trivia will always happen. The self-nominated internet police may watch and criticize, but within boundaries we decide to share what we want to share and what not – it is the beautiful nature of an evolving medium that does not have an editor.

Open or closed?

I used to be extremely private until I realized that there is nothing hugely unique about my life’s journey. Many of us have similar experiences but perceive them differently, or, vice versa, come to similar conclusions from different angles. The only thing that makes anything unique at all is our personal perspective. I noticed, getting older, that a well reflected experience can encourage others to travel their own lives more consciously – and to find the better beaches.

What about undersharing?

And yes, pitching it like this this means there is a possibility of undersharing as well: Some dismiss social media as a platform for themselves, yet keep feasting on what other people put out there. This is a personal preference and as such perfectly legitimate.

I would like undersharers to consider this, though:  there are a lot of people who share quality content, life hacks and expertise. For some it takes courage to write. It is encouraging for any person who creates content of value to get feedback. Instant feedback is one of the unique and fabulous features of publishing on the internet. When I published my first print book in 1997, I sometimes would get a critical letter (!) from a disappointed reader in 1999, telling me that a Bed& Breakfast I had raved about has just closed. This would make it into the 2000 edition. Times really have changed.

My point is, undersharers: as digital citizens, learn to appreciate good content, give feedback if you can, share things you like and by those actions make the internet a more relevant place for yourselves and those you connect with. Clicks are one of the core organizing principles of the editor free world. It is an easy way to help those who put themselves out there to learn from their online audience, and your response will feed positively into the selective nature of the internet’s google-shaped content offer. It is a unique chance to co-write our cultural history in digits and pixels.

So instead of simply removing yourself from the evil digital troll-forest, reward what matters. Define and shape the internet with your choices. It is a great time to get noticed.

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living, living abroad, Reader's favorites, writing

How to get back to a Good Habit

good habit 2Despite being a dedicated writer, in the last months my family and other animals required my full attention. The habit of getting my articles in shape on a daily basis seemed unachievable. So how would I repair a broken relationship with a good habit?

We are indeed talking about a relationship. Whenever we need to get back to something that we value, that we know is good for us and that requires energy we do not seem to have, we are looking at a neglected relationship that we want to turn into a friendship again.

Writing for the hongkonqueror is an example, as it behaves a bit like our family dog: until lunch he rests from his morning walk. After that, he follows anyone who is home around and settles, ever so slightly sulking, on the floor in full sight whilst following everything we do with his eyes, head resting on the floor. To the innocent bystander it looks cute. As his pack leader, I know that underneath he is wondering: When are you taking me for a walk in the woods again? Hm? When? Do you have to sit there and stare at that square thing or can we go walkies nows? No pressure, just wondering… a dog can pull that guilt evoking presence off perfectly, but a half written blog post, a rolled up yoga mat or an inbox full of flagged emails can do the trick too. It is a phenomenon most humans walking on civilized earth experience at some point in their life: occasionally, what we value ends up on the back burner whilst we’re putting out the fires close to us. In coach-speak that would be looking after the urgent at the expense of the important. It happens. And it’s a big deal.

I found that three things work well in bringing a productive habit back to life. There are plenty more ways that behavioral psychology has identified, but I want to limit it to the essential ones. Before you get going, remember why that habit is important to you. If you need to do some self-study, I recommend Gretchen Rubin’s valuable insight into how habits work: Better Than Before is a book that deserves not just space on our shelves, but more so, to be read. I listened to the book several times on audio whilst walking the dog.

  1. Start small, but start. My yoga training & teaching days required a lot of discipline with regard to home practice and preparation. What always worked was to start and not to get hung up on how long I would practice. The most basic requirement was 90 minutes practice daily, but whenever I was pressed for time I broke it down and did standing poses in the morning and inversions at nighttime – a more realistic schedule for me. Woody Allen’s co-writer Marshall Brickman says, in reference to his friend’s famous quote Showing up is 80 percent of life, says:” Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed. I’ve done both.” So have I, and the showing up works better in 80% of the time. I remember a guy I met 30 years ago who mocked my running efforts with the words: unless you do it every day for at least an hour, don’t even start. He is sick, depressed and overweight now, because he put the bar too high when what mattered was to show up in the first place. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially with so much perceived perfection around us.
  2. Put those important habits into the diary and treat them like an appointment. Plan. Show up. It doesn’t matter whether we do the best workout, change the world, eat the perfect diet or write the most profound viral article on day one. Nike has made a success of JUST DO IT, because habits work exactly like that: once we made a decision, there’s only one way to go and that’s to go. Once you are past the reasoning, stop reflecting and do it. A habit forms over about an average of 60+ repetitions – that’s what it takes to rewire our brain to take a shortcut that makes it harder not to do something that doing it.
  3. Make change as easy as possible. Nudging is one of the most effective ways to overcome obstacles: Put the mat out, keep your running shoes handy, plan healthy meals way ahead and simplify, simplify, simplify.

Regular readers know I advocate reflection, and of course, that is an essential part of my daily practiced behaviors. However, when it comes to an abandoned healthy habit, it is important to stop reflecting after we made a decision and to make it as easy as possible to be consistent. Gretchen Rubin’s success in part is that she consistently publishes what she’s experiencing.

Habits are like good friends. We don’t think about whether we are friends, we are connected without a thought process and make that relationship a priority which will override the supposed urgent. Friends – just like good habits – claim our time and attention without us reasoning whether or not we want to invest into this relationship. They are here to stay, no questions asked.


living, writing

12 Things I learned from a Year of Writing Online

birthday-1073573_1280In a few days, the hongkonqueror will be one year old. Like many avid readers of others’ blogs, books and articles I used to believe people write because when they have something specific to say.

But sharing thoughts or stories is only part of the picture. The process of writing and publishing online holds a completely different set of rewards that I had not expected when I wrote my first post in January 2015.


Here’s what I learned in a year of hongkonquering:


  1. I commit to my own ideas and to my readers, not to clicks. This is my focus and the reason I write.
  2. I am glad I learned about traffic and search engine algorithms. I will continue to put this knowledge to a better use in 2016, but it is a completely different job than writing.
  3. Starting out in the print media decades ago gave me practice in learning from editors about the importance of a good editorial process.
  4. The discoveries I make when I dig into my personal thought process give me the material and purpose I work with, and nothing can replace that process.
  5. Although I write based on personal experience, I research where it will add to the credibility or relevance of a subject.
  6. Writing – next to yoga practice and dog walks – is the best way to tidy up my mind. It is endlessly liberating when I feel I have captured a complex issue and defined my relationship with it.
  7. Speaking of relationships: my connections with people have become more distinct and deliberate since I’ve been working on the hongkonqueror.
  8. I have grown a completely new appreciation for other writers of blogs, books and articles.
  9. Surrendering to the writing process brings unexpected results: PLAN B would not have happened the way it did if I had not connected to stories of single expats.
  10. I arrived at the conclusion that expatriatism is much more a mindset than a technicality or a circumstance of living. Some people never become expats when living abroad, and others started out as expats even at home. I will explore that subject in 2016.
  11. Gratitude to readers triumphed over fear: online publishing can be intimidating. But the feedback I get from readers is far more rewarding than the occasional criticism.
  12. Writing on the hongkonqueror has given me the writing routine I need to work on a novel… I have started in November and it wrecks my mind. It’s not a piece of cake. But it has become an integral part of my day.

I actively want to encourage readers who feel they want to explore writing. Here is a place to do this. Setting up your own blog can be – whilst easy in theory – a big job. It takes time. Check out the hongkonqeror’s writing challenge and publish your work here – that way you can explore if you want to take your writing further.