The menial tasks are appreciated

Years ago at a previous job, I once had my manager say to me, “Ray, I have a job that really, really sucks, but someone has to do it, and it needs to get done. You game?”

Without getting too deeply into it (mainly because it’s sufficiently long enough ago that I don’t remember the details, anyway), the task was to clean up a conference room after we’d used it for a celebration. (I don’t remember what it was for, but I do remember that there was food involved.) I told him, “I got it. Don’t worry about it.”

So I went ahead and cleaned up the mess we’d left behind in the conference room. I didn’t fuss, and I didn’t complain. It had to be done, and someone had to take care of it. Not the greatest of tasks, but I can tell you that my coworkers appreciated my effort.

I was reminded of that recently, when I had to work on a task that involved a lot of tedious work. My coworker who assigned me the task understands just how much effort and tedium is involved. She gave me a thank-you and told me something like, “I know how crappy this is. I appreciate you taking care of it.”

The point here is that menial tasks are not sexy, glamorous, or exciting. You might not like them. But people appreciate you a lot more when you can get them done. This reflects well on you, and ultimately can even benefit you. You’re viewed positively as someone who takes care of little things without complaint (although, admittedly, I do crack some jokes about it — e.g. “what year is this? Is it still 2022?” and so on).

Menial tasks don’t necessarily add anything to your resume, but they do add style points to your personality. People will appreciate you for the extra effort. And that’s never a bad thing.

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Hey, stranger, it’s been a while…

Yes, I’m still alive.

I haven’t posted a ‘blog article in quite a while; in fact, for the first time since November and December 2016, I went over a month without writing any articles. (If you scroll down and look at my monthly archives, you’ll notice that nothing shows up for September, 2022.)

I won’t get into details, other than to say I’ve had to deal with multiple personal issues, but quite frankly, it’s been a very challenging end of summer (those of you who know me well know what I’ve been dealing with). Even as I write this, I’m not completely over what happened through the last couple of months of this summer. I’ve even mentioned to people that I have definitely not been myself over the course of the past few months.

However, that said, I will say that I’m back on the upswing, and am gradually getting back into the ballgame. I do have a couple of upcoming speaking engagements (SQL Saturday Boston and PASS Data Community Summit) that I’ll write about in future posts. (I’ll try to write about SQL Saturday soon, seeing that that event happens only a week from tomorrow as I write this.)

So if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’m still around, but I’ve been laying low. It will likely take some time, but I’m hoping to be back in the swing of things very soon.

Edit: Today is the last day of September, so I guess I do have something showing up for September!

Take care of yourself first

I very recently had a revelation that aroused a great deal of stress and anxiety in myself. (I won’t get into the specifics right now, but it’s very possible that I might discuss it more later, when — or if — the time is right.) It was bad enough that I ended up not feeling well yesterday, and it carried over into today. I woke up this morning feeling dizzy and abnormally chilly, even though I didn’t feel any other physical symptoms. I also felt extremely anxious and overwhelmed. I went back and forth with my coworker, suggesting that I’d be in late. The feedback I received was, stay home. If it’s something that will effect your focus and concentration, then it’s probably best to take care of it before coming in.

I decided to heed that advice, and am taking steps to take care of myself today (I’m trying to make some phone calls even as I write this article).

This would not be the first time that something like this has taken me down. I wrote that over a year ago, during the height of the pandemic, anxiety led me to the point of ignoring my own well-being to the point that I ended up becoming physically sick, and landing in the hospital.

As I get older, I am becoming more acutely aware that issues with my mindset can be just as big as a roadblock as being physically sick. They can affect your concentration, your focus, and even everyday activities. And if you don’t take the time to address them, they can be an impediment to any progress you try to make.

So take the time to take care of yourself, before you get in over your head.

The meaning of #MemorialDayMurph #CrossFit

This morning, I went and did a CrossFit tradition: Murph. Granted, I’m not the best athlete, and I’m not getting any younger (trust me, I’m older than I look), so I scaled it down to what I call a “half-Murph.” Rather than the full mile runs and the total number of reps, I scaled them down to 800m runs and a rep scheme of 50-100-150, rather than the one mile runs and the 100-200-300 reps that are prescribed. And in case you’re wondering, I finished in 34:53.

I’ve done this workout pretty much each Memorial Day since I joined CrossFit (except for the past couple of years due to the pandemic). I feel it’s my way of honoring what Memorial Day is about.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Murph workout, a little background is in order (those of you who are familiar can skip this paragraph). (Feel free to also check out the Wikipedia link above.) Michael Murphy, for whom the workout is named, was a Navy SEAL who died in Afghanistan. The workout that we call Murph was one he used to do before he was killed in action. Every year on Memorial Day, CrossFit affiliates honor his memory by doing the workout that he used to do.

People honor the memory of deceased servicemen in a number of ways, and this is my way of doing so. What better way to honor the deceased on Memorial Day than to perform the workout of one who gave his life.

Your User Manual

As a technical writer, anything that mentions “manual” (or “documentation”, for that matter) tends to catch my eye. I suppose it’s an occupational hazard. But when I saw this post from my friend, Steve Jones, it made me take notice.

I’m reblogging this for my own personal reference as much as anything else. Suppose you had a set of instructions for yourself? How would it read?

I might try this exercise for myself at some point, but for the moment, read Steve’s article, and see if you can come up with your own manual for yourself.

Voice of the DBA

Many of us have spent time looking through manuals or the documentation for some software or product. I know I’m on the MS docs site regularly for work, and there is no shortage of times I’ve used various manuals to help me fix something around the house. We usually use a manual when we want to learn how something is supposed to work, or how to get it to do what we want.

I saw a post on a personal user manual that I thought was a good idea for some people, maybe many people. This isn’t a manual for how you should live your life or work, but rather, how others might interact with you. This manual describes how you work, what motivates you, stimulates you, what pleases you, and even the environment in which are most productive.

Whether or not this is something you might give to co-workers…

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Make time for your art

This pic above showed up in a Facebook meme, and it spoke volumes to me. To sum up my thoughts in only a few words, I’m an artist.

Okay, I suppose some context is in order; after all, I am writing this as a ‘blog article.

For the benefit of those of you who don’t know me, I’m a musician in my spare time. I started playing the piano when I was seven, the clarinet when I was eight, and I taught myself how to play mallet percussion and the saxophone when I was in high school. I grew up learning how to play classical piano, and I picked up a taste for jazz and classic rock along the way. I played well enough that I easily could have been a music major had I chosen to do so; alas, my parents wouldn’t let me.

I also started writing my own music when I was in high school. I started out writing piano compositions (think John Tesh-like new age piano music) without lyrics. One day, I said to myself, “what would happen if I wrote lyrics for my music?” The result was a song called If She Only Knew. I ended up writing more songs; you can hear many of them on my songwriter’s page (you can even purchase my music on the page or on iTunes). I still have more music that I haven’t finished recording (alas, trying to coordinate time with friends who can actually sing is a major blocker, not to mention that life happens), and it’s only within the past few years that I’ve started writing again, after a long layoff of many years (like I said, life happens).

When I first started writing, I was an isolated, naïve, and lonely kid who hadn’t been exposed to a lot in the big wide world. As such, much of what I wrote was stuff that was on my mind that I was unable to express in words. Music was — and still is — the perfect outlet for me; it enabled me to convey what I was otherwise unable to express.

The pandemic over the past few years has stressed me out in many different ways, as I’m sure it has for many people. Under these circumstances, it’s especially important to maintain your mental health; indeed, it was why I ended up in the hospital last year. We are not robots, so it’s important to maintain some kind of relief valve to release the pressure. This is a huge (although not the only) reason why the arts are important. (I could also talk about how art trains us to think critically and creatively, but that goes beyond the scope of this article.) The arts allow us to express ourselves in ways that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to in the corporate, business, and high-tech world.

Art can take many forms. For me, it’s in my music. For others, it can involve drawing, sculpture, painting, glass-blowing, creative writing, poetry, sewing, video production, theater, collecting, cooking, and so on. (You could also make the case that sports and athletics are an art.) You don’t necessarily even have to be good at it. I once got into a lengthy argument with a friend who said that a picture created with animal feces was not art. What he didn’t understand was that art doesn’t necessarily have to be good or tasteful; it just has to be something that’s expressed, even if it’s (literally, in this case) a piece of crap.

I think art is critically important (I’ve argued that we should be teaching STEAM, not STEM). It’s important for us to develop as well-rounded individuals. And it provides us with a creative outlet that we desperately need to release stress, especially in our current world that is full of it.

Dealing with mental wellness and stress

Last year, I wrote about how stress landed me in the hospital. The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with my job loss, created a large amount of stress over the course of that year. Because of that stress, I stopped taking care of myself. And because of that, I got sick and ended up in the hospital.

That was last year. After more than a year, I managed to gain employment again.

Well, the cycle begins again. Lately, I’ve been dealing with enormous stress; not from one source, but from several. Much of it is deeply personal, so I won’t write anything specific about them. What I will say is that recent events triggered them, affecting me in numerous ways, including my job performance.

Unfortunately, because my job performance was affected, I was told yesterday that I was being let go. Although I was disappointed by the news, it also did not surprise me. My manager had to make a decision, and I didn’t want to be the one bogging down the team. Quite frankly, if our roles were reversed, I likely would’ve made the same decision.

That said, I believe that in order to truly fix a problem, you need to address the root of the problem. I mentioned that I was dealing with multiple sources of stress. I felt I was getting burned out, and that burnout was what ultimately led me to losing my job. But while work stress may have contributed to my issue, I considered that to be a symptom, not the root cause.

Indeed, my job issue wasn’t the only symptom I was seeing. I’ve been feeling a great deal of anxiety. Even activities that I usually enjoy, and am even passionate about, were affected. There were nights where I was scheduled to attend music rehearsals and CrossFit classes — two activities that I usually enjoy — and I had no motivation to go. That’s when I made the decision to contact EAP and get help. They set me up with an online counseling program (my first therapy session was this morning). Additionally, I reconnected with a local psychology practice with whom I’ve worked in the past.

I’ve long stressed the importance of your mental, psychological, and emotional well-being. In my lost job presentation, the very first thing I address is your emotional well-being. You need to get a hold of yourself before you can effectively move forward. If it means (safely) getting it out of your system, talking to friends, finding distractions (such as your favorite activities), or getting professional help, then do it. The online counseling offered by my EAP includes three free sessions, and I decided that I should take advantage of that.

Mental well-being is getting more attention within the fields of technology. My friend Tracy Boggiano does an excellent presentation about mental health in IT (a link to it is available on her website). Steve Jones also posts daily articles about how to cope with various issues. And while I can’t think of articles off the top of my head (if you know of any, feel free to list them in the comments below), I believe there are articles that discuss mental health within the technology industry.

There has long been a stigma attached to mental health. The fact is, mental health deals with exactly that: your health. If you feel that you might not be in “the right frame of mind,” or something might be bothering you, or you feel as though you’re acting peculiarly, don’t keep it to yourself. Get help. Go talk to someone, preferably someone who’s in a position to best help you (such as a mental health professional). These people are there to help resolve your issue(s), or at least come up with an effective way to cope with them. Once you get your mental health under control, many other things — your job performance, your thought processes, your relationships, how you approach life, and so on — will fall into place.

Now, in the meantime, if anyone has any job leads, feel free to send them my way…

Yes, I’m still alive

I haven’t done much writing in this ‘blog since 2022 started. Quite frankly, I’ve been preoccupied with a number of things, including work and personal happenings.

This isn’t to say I don’t have article ideas. In fact, I’ve started a few articles, but haven’t gotten around to finishing them. Hopefully, I’ll get back to them at some point. Bear with me!

So I wanted to write this quick note as proof of life. Yes, I’m still alive. Hopefully, you’ll be hearing more from me soon!

Help for Tonga

I don’t usually use my ‘blog to ask for money, but today, I’m making a rare exception.

You might have heard about the devastating volcanic eruption near Tonga, which has essentially cut the island nation off from the rest of the world.

I have a personal connection to this natural disaster. My wife has a cousin who lives in Tonga (if you’re wondering about how her cousin ended up there, she was there on [I think it was] a Peace Corps mission and met a guy there with whom she fell in love and eventually married). The last I heard, my wife’s cousin and her family are okay, but they are cut off from the rest of the world.

Another one of my wife’s cousins (the Tonga cousin’s sister, in fact) has been organizing relief efforts for Tonga, including a GoFundMe campaign. You can view the GoFundMe by clicking this link.

I kicked in a few bucks, and I’m posting to see if I can get others to donate as well, if you are able and willing to do so.

Going crazy (in a good way)

Every once in a while, I’ll start thinking random thoughts. For whatever reason this morning, on the last day of 2021, my brain randomly started thinking about one of my favorite movies, Field Of Dreams. At the beginning of the movie, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) said this: “And until I heard the Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

Even Billy Joel once sang, “…said he couldn’t go on the American way… now he gives them a stand-up routine in LA…”

And again, my (dangerously) wandering mind started thinking: how many crazy things have I done in my life?

A little perspective is in order here. When I say “crazy,” I don’t mean psychotic, dangerous, or harmful. I’m not talking about a dangerously unhinged person who decided to injure large numbers of people because “the little voices in the head told him or her to do so.” Rather, how often have you done something that’s out of character for you, something you ordinarily wouldn’t do, taken some kind of calculated risk, decided to do something random because “it sounded like fun,” decided to jump in your car to travel somewhere, stepped out of your comfort zone, and so on?

I’ve had my share, some of them significant, some of them trivial. I’ve driven two or more hours to concerts or sporting events on nights where I had some kind of commitment early the next morning. (I’m finding that as I get older, I can’t do those things like I used to.) I’ve submitted presentations to various major conferences, with varying levels of success. I’ve written music that I’ve submitted to publishers and contests. I once randomly stopped by a gym to ask for advice about getting into shape. And I once drove five hours on a whim to meet up with my then-girlfriend.

How have they turned out? Well, let’s start with my music. I had a publisher tell me (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I can’t use your stuff right now, but definitely keep at it, because you definitely have talent!” (The main reason why I haven’t kept up with it is because — well, life happened.) I even got honorable mention recognition for a song contest to which I submitted. For my presentations, I’ve spoken three times at PASS Summit (or its equivalent), and I’ve spoken at many SQL Saturday and Data Saturday events. There are a couple of non-PASS conferences where I’ve submitted (I was recently picked to speak at one, and I was rejected for another). That gym where I stopped? It was a CrossFit gym. That was in 2015, and I’m still going! As for those late night concerts and sporting events? Well, I had to drink extra coffee the next morning, but I enjoyed myself at the events, and I had very few regrets about attending them!

And my five-hour trip to see my then-(now ex-)girlfriend? Okay, so they don’t always work out. Win some, lose some. That said, I have no regrets about that trip.

Many of those calculated risks have bore fruit. Friends and colleagues have told me that I’m a good speaker; Grant Fritchey, a rockstar in the PASS SQL community and a person whom I greatly respect, once told me that “you’re a good speaker, and you deserve the PASS Summit slot” when I was selected to speak this year. That statement from him meant a lot to me. And while I haven’t become a rockstar (I mean that literally — an actual music rockstar), I’ve found that I’ve gained a measure of respect for what I do from other musicians. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in what I do, and I think it’s done a lot to help me advance my career, as well as my extracurricular activities.

There are a number of other friends who’ve had similar experiences. Off the top of my head, one friend decided to audition for an acting part; he is now active with his local community theater. Another friend actually got married on the Today show. (Yes, seriously — the groom is a friend of mine from high school!) While those are two that immediately come to mind, I’m sure there are others. How many of you randomly decided to go skydiving, sing karaoke, speak in front of an audience, write a poem or a song, sent a resume to a job listing for which you thought you had “no chance,” asked out the girl or guy you liked, or tried out for a part? And how did they turn out?

The thing is, if you want to get ahead in life, you need to step out of your comfort zone. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with just maintaining the status quo. If you only aspire to sitting on the couch watching TV, so be it. But if you want to get ahead, make something of yourself, and maybe even make yourself better (and possibly, happier), sometimes, you just have to do something a little crazy.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year. And I hope you all do something a little crazy in 2022.