Networking Your Way to Happiness

Networking. What an amazing word. You hear it all the time, everywhere. This word, though, does not do the power justice that lays behind it. Let’s name it differently:

Making friends.

Because that’s what it is.

“Networking” to me has something strategic in it. I don’t like to think about it that way.

Because every time I “networked”, I have made new friends or connected more deeply to the ones I already had. It enriched my life.

There are three big events that have shaped my life and made me the person i am today, and I am going to tell you about them and what I think happened there – so you can learn about them and find ways to “network” for yourself.

Example #1 – Holstein Chamber Orchestra

-> Leverage your skill.

I play the cello. I have inherited the instrument from my Grandma, and I started playing when I was 14 years old – older than most kids that learn to play an instrument, and people say “you can’t really learn an instrument when you are past 10”.

And like so many things “people say”, that’s almost complete BS. But I digress 😉


Cello Toronto















After three months of daily practicing, I finally got my first clear sound out of my instrument. A great feeling. Soon I played better and joined the school orchestra.

At the same time, my friend Stefan was playing in a youth symphony orchestra. The “Holstein Chamber Orchestra”. A big dream of mine, but he played way better than me.

I forgot about that orchestra, until a few years later, Stefan told me they were looking for cellists.

I jumped at this opportunity… and won a plethora of new friendships. The orchestra traveled all over Europe in summer – what can be better than hanging out with your friends in great summer weather and playing cool music?

Playing my cello gave me access to a lot of people I would have never known otherwise.

And these friendships still last to this day. And generate further friendships.

If you love music and learn an instrument, there are a whole host of amateur orchestras in almost any city of the world you can join. Or bands. Jazz, rock, pop – you name it.

You don’t need to learn an instrument, though. Are you great at a certain team sport? People meet all the time to play. Or maybe you have another trade you can offer?

As long as you can help people with a skill or trade they need, you can unlock a whole host of new contacts and friends.


Example #2 – ORC CUP

-> Dare to be different. People accept you BECAUSE of who you are.
















Nowadays, everyone always stresses the importance of being a “team player”. Don’t ruffle feathers. Be as inclusive as possible. While these are absolutely noble goals to live by, we must not forget that we act as individuals and that simply not everyone gets along with everyone else.

Here is an example from my own life. I studied in Hanover, Germany; ca. 200 miles to the south of my hometown, Hamburg. One day, as fall semester began, I noticed another student sitting in the same train and bus as me.

To my surprise, I saw him next day standing in the auditorium. I just shouted “hey, you must be from North Germany too, am I right?” and at that point he thought I was crazy, because I was just charging directly towards him without a polite “hello” first.

Half a year later, I sat on the chemistry table in the lecture hall with my cello and played when the professor entered. It won me a beer. I wasn’t shy.

I must have impressed my friend Boris with my brashness, though, since he introduced me later on to a Fantasy Football simulation named “ORC CUP”.  This is not your standard fantasy football, though… in ORC CUP, the players manage teams made out of actual fantasy characters, like Orcs, Trolls, Elves, Cartoons or whatever their fantasy permits. And yes, only crazy people would play such a game, and it is likely that Boris would not have asked me if I would have come up as a person that was only polite.

Once again, by doing what I felt like and what I wanted, I made a lot of new friends. One of them, RIPley, is still one of my best friends to date.

Always be yourself, dare to be different. Of course, always be respectful and treat people as you would like to be treated… but if you really really enjoy what you are doing, keep doing it. People don’t really look at what you are doing. At a certain point, they are swayed by the good emotions you bring.

And those that really like you will take you for who you are.

You will build stronger friendships by living life your own way.


Example #3 – my PhD thesis advisor

-> Always catch the opportunities where you can give and do somebody else a favor.

By the end of my University studies, I went to a summer lab course.

I was very excited about this opportunity and loved the research we were doing.

And then, when one of the PhD students had to leave a bit earlier to take care of her daughter, I volunteered to take a plate out for her later that evening. It cost me literally nothing, yet it helped her in her schedule.

We stayed friends.

Then, one year later, when I applied for my PhD in another institute, one of the group leaders there directly asked me if I wanted to join his up and coming lab.

He did not know me, but… he knew that student that I had treated well. And she had fully and completely vouched for me.

It’s absolutely crazy to become aware that that one small act of 10 seconds secured my career in one of the best labs I have ever worked.

The help I offered came back thousandfold.


So there you have it.

1. Learn a fun skill that makes you happy.

2. Be yourself in whatever you are doing.

3. Watch out for the opportunities to lend a helping hand.

If you get together with people and follow either of these rules, you will increase your circle of friends and have new opportunities come your way.


Useful links

If you are further looking to enhance your social skills, these links here have helped me a ton:


Let me know what you think in the comments. Did you have similar experiences? Do you know of other ways you can give value and win friends?

NoNothingNovember, Day 12

Abandon your vices, and your life falls into place.

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 12

Sleep – I made sure I stayed in bed 6.25 hours – even though I woke up after less than 6 hours – and feel really energized now. My body gets used to regular sleep, and the quality of my day gets that much better.

Sweets and snacks – No real cravings. Interestingly, while I am eating a lot of proteins and fat – just yesterday I fried meatballs in a lot of oil – I am losing body fat. From 25.3% when I started almost two weeks ago to 23.7% this morning.

Continue reading “NoNothingNovember, Day 12”

NoNothingNovember, Day 11

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 11

Sleep – Very interesting – while I woke up yesterday after 5 hours instead of 6.25, I needed 7.5 hours of sleep today. Maybe that’s my body still getting used to a regular sleeping schedule.

Sweets and snacks – Today, I was looking forward a bit to the time when I can eat some sweets again, though that weak urge shall pass, too. In addition, I don’t need diet soda, although technically, it would be allowed, since it does not have refined sugar. Actually, though…

Continue reading “NoNothingNovember, Day 11”

NoNothingNovember, Day 10

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 10

Sleep – Today, I woke up early – I made sure I’d finished those 6.25 hours out, though. I had strange dreams – rabbits and crashing airplanes. That may reflect that (a) I feel lucky, and (b) I fear not being able to achieve my goals. I see this as a reminder to stay focussed on my goals and vision – there is no use letting emotions get the best of me. I have to take my goals step by step and not worry too much about what might happen

Never forget that I am a lucky and happy person!

Continue reading “NoNothingNovember, Day 10”

NoNothingNovember, Day 9

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 9

Sleep – Took 6.25 hours of sleep (instead of 6 hours), as I wanted each day of this week. As a result from that, I am full of energy this morning.

Sweets and snacks – No cravings at all. I am sure they will be back, but so far, I can even look at a piece of cake in front of me and don’t have any desire to eat it.

Social Media – I did not waste my time on Twitter or Facebook, although I am still looking at too many different websites that are not really important to me. This problem shall pass, though, as I am focussing more and more on things I need to do.


Continue reading “NoNothingNovember, Day 9”

NoNothingNovember, Day 8

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 8

Sleep – I went to bed at 10 pm and gave myself some time to wind down – I watched Netflix and continued a book on my iPad and went to sleep at 11 pm – to wake up at 5 am today. Just as I had planned.

Watching a movie in bed is probably not the best idea, though – it gets me excited, making it harder to fall asleep.

Sweets and snacks – Avoiding them was not a problem at all. I actually enjoyed my self-made oatmeal with blackberries and apples and did not miss any snacks.

To me, that was surprising – since this past year, saturdays always were my traditional “cheat days”, where I would indulge in ice cream, chips, chocolate etc. That whole “tradition” did not seem to have an impact anymore yesterday.

The most likely reasons for that change in mind are (a) replacing the old habits (unhealthy store-bought snacks) with new ones (healthy self-made oatmeal); (b) tracking my overall progress – weight, body fat, and also working on my manuscript and blog; and (c) having  clear goals to focus on – like getting through the NoNothingNovember challenge, losing body fat, being less distracted.

Actually, candies and chocolate from the supermarket make me tired. A lot. I definitely get less done when I eat chocolate, cake and ice cream. Sugar pushes you “awake” for ca. 30 minutes – then you become very sleepy.

Social Media – Not missing that anymore yesterday. As I said before: Once you lose investment into the storylines that “unfold” via Twitter and Facebook, they have no sway over you, because they are not YOUR stories.

What have I achieved?

Manuscript – I finished some further experiments.

Blog – Published one article yesterday.

Others – There were several smaller items I had to take care of, like financial planning, letters of reference for my Green Card etc. – not much time to spend on blog and manuscript. But that’s ok, I rather work with a clear mind first.

NoNothingNovember continues: Day 9 tomorrow.

NoNothingNovember, end of the first week.

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 7

The first week has already gone by – and it was a success!

Instant gratification – in the form of social media, sweets and snacks, staying awake rather than getting enough sleep – gives me a momentary kick, but deprives me of doing what I really want to do.

Giving in to my vices means I am REACTING to my whims and momentary desires. However, to build something up and to DO what I really like, I have to ACT.

I discovered, that the “pain” of not eating a snack whenever I “feel like it” lasts only seconds. Instead, I have more energy and desire to read, to write and to work out.

My focus shifts from short term fun to long term gratification. Towards working on the big picture, my ideal day. And that, in turn, leads to long-lasting joy.

Indeed, I think an important point in braving this NoNothingNovember challenge so far is to replace my vices with something constructive and positive I am building up.

How did I fare here?

No sweets and snacks

Instead of snacking, I am working on losing weight and body fat. My goal: 225 lbs, 8% body fat (I am 6′ 4″ tall).

I have not eaten any store-bought snack this week, and the one day I bought a trail mix, I made sure it had absolutely no sugar in it.

Getting 6 hours of sleep

Instead of staying awake forever, I take the amount of sleep I need and start the next day full of energy. My goal: 6 h of sleep each night – which I got.

Ironically, I have now more energy between 5 and 9 am after a good night’s rest than I had without sleep from 10 pm to 2 am.

One small caveat: This night, I slept 7.5 hours without using an alarm clock, so my body might still need slightly more than 6 hours of sleep.

Thus, in the future, I will wind down my day by 10 pm, go to bed and read a book, so that I can directly sleep when I feel tired. If I fall asleep between 10 and 11 pm, I can get up the next morning at 5 am and have most often more than 6 hours of sleep.

Twitter and Facebook

Instead of surfing through Twitter and Facebook, I am finishing our manuscript and getting this blog started. Plus I am much more social and talkative. People are “social creatures”. We crave the connections to others. Social media can be a powerful tool, but we also get suckered into pseudo-interactions that really don’t add much to our lives at all.

What have I achieved?


I made an overview over which panels are missing, which data we already have and which experiments we still have to do to complete the figures. This was slower progress than I had hoped, although it was worth taking the time to figure out what is really still missing. On the other hand, the better I plan, the faster I can execute.

Goal for the following week: finish the panels for 3 figures.


I managed to publish an article every day. Because I have not eaten any snacks, I saved roughly $30 that I can now invest towards some plugins or website designs.

Goal for the following week: change the layout and publish three articles beyond the daily diary.

Getting in shape

I have gone from 227.6 lbs and 25.3% body fat on 11/01/14 to 222.2 lbs and 24.8% body fat on 11/08/14. 5.4 lbs and 0.5% body fat lost. Just by cutting out the snacks.

Goal for the following week: continue losing body fat. Ideally 0.5% or more, but anything more than 0.05% is good enough.

One point worth repeating:

The NoNothingNovember challenge is much easier when you don’t only determine what you DON’T want to do – but also what you DO want to do. And keep track of what you are doing!

#1 – You’ll always have something you can replace the vice with. E.g. instead of sharing your opinion on twitter, write a post for your own blog.

#2 – If you get tempted by your vice, you can look at your journal and see what you have achieved. E.g. instead of eating a snack, look at the weight you lost and realize that it’s not worth jeopardizing that.

#3 – You have something positive to look forward to. Over time, you are building something up. Instead of foregoing sleep, you can look forward to having a lot of energy the next day to work on what you really want.

NoNothingNovember continues: Day 8 tomorrow.

NoNothingNovember, Day 6

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 6

Sleep – This week, I am seeing the first success of NoNothingNovember – for the first time in a longer while, I did not fall asleep during any day of the week.

Sweets and snacks – I was actually looking forward to having some German gingerbread and “Dominosteine” my family sent me as a celebration of the end of NoNothingNovember on the first sunday of advent… but have to move that celebration to the second sunday, since the first sunday is still part of november (11/30). I was a bit disappointed at first, but now I like it, since it is an additional test of my commitment.

Continue reading “NoNothingNovember, Day 6”

NoNothingNovember, Day 5

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Day 5

Sleep – Had six hours of sleep – sticking to my schedule. No tribes and tribulations today.

Sweets and snacks – Unlike the days before, I was not missing them at all. Maybe I have gotten through the initial feelings of discomfort?

Social Media – Still only logging on to Twitter and Facebook when I have a concrete goal to post. In addition, I have now eliminated all websites from my browser gallery that do not have anything to do with me – e.g. politics and sports websites, gossip and click-bait.

What have I achieved?

Manuscript – More experiments, more results. Instead of checking my eMail first thing in the morning and THEN start working, I am now visualizing my work 5 minutes before I arrive in the lab. I am much more focussed and committed that way.

Blog – Still writing one article per day, and this weekend, I will focus on improving the layout of this blog and make a blog posts schedule. I have literally hundreds of articles I wrote over the last year, but they are not in any particular order.

NoNothingNovember continues: Day 6 tomorrow.

NoNothingNovember, Day 4

A description of the #NoNothingNovember challenge can be found here:

Half a week done by now…

Day 4

An important part of every challenge is to plan ahead. Sometimes your daily schedule gets “upside down”. For example, we had a conference at work yesterday –  I was meeting some old friends and hung out with them afterwards, getting back home between 11 pm and midnight.

That had the potential to drive my daily schedule off track.

Since I knew about the meet-up before, I made sure I had done all my writing and reading for the day before meeting my friends – even down to the advance preparation of my glass of self-made juice that I am drinking each and every day.

In the end, I could go to sleep without worrying about any unfinished business.

Always think ahead and be prepared.

Sleep – I was able to get my six hours of sleep from 12:15 am to 6:15 am. I really come to cherish that I have cleaned up my bedroom. This room now calms me down almost immediately. All my business for the day seems finished. I am happy to let the day go by and look forward to the next one.

Sweets and snacks – The challenge today was the big amount of pizza we had ordered for the meet-up. I figured that my vow to not eat sweets and snacks also extends to fast food like pizza. I focused more on talking to my friends than having a greasy piece of food in my hands. “Snubbing” the pizza wasn’t easy, but on the other hand – I have lost 4 pounds of weight and 0.5% of body fat since the 1st of november, which is a much better long-term reward than the short-term satisfaction of my appetite.

If you envision your long-term goals and track your progress, immediate gratification loses its appeal. Instead of being a prisoner of your instincts, you build up something for yourself – leading to lasting happiness.

Social Media – Keeping out of time-wasting internet sites gets easier and easier. I think one of the “appeals” of Twitter and Facebook is to “stay in the loop”. Once you “break the loop” and stop checking up on people’s status, you don’t really miss much. Besides, being with my friends yesterday >>> checking their status online.

What have I achieved?

Manuscript – I have continued on and finished some more experiments. Even though it was a bit of slow day, I proceeded.

Blog – I am now able to write at least one article per day.

What a difference #NoNothingNovember has already made in my life! Before, I would not find much time for anything because I “needed to check” Twitter and Facebook.

Now, it’s the opposite – I am less and less online because I am working on my blog and manuscript.

NoNothingNovember continues: Day 5 tomorrow.