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.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 7/12/2022) #PASSDataCommunitySummit #SQLSaturday #ProfessionalDevelopment #Networking #SQLFamily

As it turns out, I have a couple of confirmed upcoming speaking engagements! If you’re seeking employment or are looking to advance your career prospects, both of these presentations are for you.

  • Saturday, July 23 (a week from this Saturday as I write this): SQL Saturday #1027, New Jersey — This is the first (as far as I know) SQL Saturday being held in New Jersey, and my first live and in-person SQL Saturday since Rochester, just before the pandemic.

    I will be doing my presentation about surviving an unemployment situation titled, “I lost my job! Now what?!?” If you’re out of work, I’ll talk about coping with unemployment stress and emotions, the job hunt, and how to get through this tough time.

    I also talk about networking in this presentation. Speaking of which…

I also found out this week that there is a SQL Saturday scheduled for October 8 in Boston (well, actually, Burlington, MA). I’m on the fence as to whether or not to submit to it (mostly what’s making me hesitate is my busy schedule, but that said, that date is free on my calendar). I’m leaning towards submitting to it, but we’ll see how it goes.

So, that’s two confirmed speaking engagements, plus one that I might (okay, probably will) submit to. Now that things are opening back up, and virtual conferences aren’t necessarily the current norm, I’m looking forward to seeing people live and in-person again.

Hello, New Jersey — I’ll be there on July 23! #SQLSaturday #SQLSat1027 #Networking #SQLFamily

First, I’ll start with an apology to anyone who’s been looking for more ‘blog articles from me. My life’s been pretty hectic lately (in a good way!), and I haven’t had too many opportunities to sit down at my computer to write. But nevertheless, here I am.

That said, my first article in a while is a speaking engagement announcement! Next month, I will be speaking at my first live, in-person SQL Saturday since Feb. 29, 2020 — right before the pandemic!

I will be speaking at SQL Saturday New Jersey on July 23! It will be held at the Microsoft office in Iselin, NJ. Note: because of the small size of the venue, registration is limited to around 120 people, so if you’re interested in attending, make sure you register soon!

If you’re a job seeker, I will be doing my presentation about surviving an unemployment situation titled: “I lost my job! Now what?!?

After spending a couple of years speaking at virtual conferences, it’s nice to be able to get back on the road and attend in-person again (although I did speak at another in-person event earlier this year)!

See you next month!

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, na├»ve, 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…

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.

#PASSDataCommunitySummit is here! (And I’m speaking!)

It’s here! PASS Data Community Summit starts today!

This is my third straight year speaking at PASS Data Community Summit (or its equivalent), and I look forward to this event each year! This is an event that has become near and dear to my heart, and I try to attend whenever I have the opportunity.

Today and tomorrow (Nov. 8-9) are the pre-con sessions. Unlike the Wed-Fri conference sessions, there is a fee for attending pre-cons. And while I, personally, am not attending the pre-con sessions, I can tell you that they are led by many world-class speakers. Check out their schedule, and if you see any sessions that interest you, they are well worth your time (and your money) to attend!

The rest of the conference (Nov. 10-12) is free to attend this year! There are a number of great sessions presented by many wonderful speakers! Again, if you see any sessions that interest you, I encourage you to check them out!

And, of course, I need to include a plug for myself! As I mentioned, this is the third straight year that I am speaking for this event. My session is titled: “I lost my job! Now what?!? A survival guide for the unemployed.” If you are out of work (or even if you’re looking for employment), this session offers tips on how to survive a jobless situation. I am scheduled to speak on Thursday at 9:30 am EST. Hope to see you there!

There are also opportunities for networking as well! You can speak with vendors, speakers, and other attendees. I encourage you to check out things like the Community Zone and the Expo Lounge.

It isn’t too late to register for this year’s free online PASS Data Community Summit! Just use the link to register and attend this great conference!

See you at Summit!

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 10/4/2021) #ProfessionalDevelopment #TechCon21 #PASSDataCommunitySummit #DataSaturday #SQLSaturday #Networking #SQLFamily

I’ve had quite a bit of movement in my speaking engagements list in the past few months! Here are my scheduled speaking engagements that are coming up. And I’ll admit that I’m posting this as a reminder to myself as much as anything else!

Confirmed

I am confirmed to be speaking at the following events. Note: these are all virtual events, so I will not be traveling anywhere to do these talks, other than to my home office.

  • Wednesday, October 20 or Thursday, October 21 (exact date/time TBD): TechCon ’21: If you miss my talk at Data Saturday #13, you can catch it at TechCon ’21, as I am giving the same talk!

I’ve also asked about speaking at my own user group; it’s been a while since I’ve spoken there. Stay tuned!

I’m in for a busy couple of months. Hope to catch you at one of my sessions!

When is “good enough” good enough?

If there’s one thing that I struggle with (and I’ll bet the house that I am not alone), it’s determining when something I’m working on is at a point where it’s “good enough for government work” (as the saying goes). Whenever I work on anything — whether it’s a work task or an extracurricular project — I always want to put in my best effort. As my personal mantra often goes, always put in your best effort — I don’t care if you clean toilets for a living. Ideally, my goal is perfection every time.

The problem is, perfection is an unrealistic standard. I’ve written about this before, and I still believe it. We’re human, after all, and a big part of being human is that we are rarely, if ever, perfect. I’ve often said that perfection as a goal is okay, but perfection as a standard is unacceptable. Sure, every once in a while, a bowler will bowl a 300 game, or a baseball pitcher will pitch a perfect game, but neither can be expected to do so every time out. Setting perfection as a standard is impossible, and anyone who sets perfection as a standard really needs to rethink their priorities.

For me, this is a constant struggle. I want to do the best job possible every time. However, there are often factors that work against me: deadlines, schedules, task management, work load, lack of knowledge or experience, fatigue, and so on. Additionally, my work often coincides with something else; a teammate is often counting on my part in order for him or her to proceed with their task. We don’t work in a vacuum; we’re often part of a team, and we need to work together. This is true even if you’re an individual contractor; your customer often expects to see results.

So how do you measure when something is “good enough?” This is often subjective and hard to answer, but I’ll take a crack at it.

I’ll use one of my favorite (and oft used) examples: baseball. As I mentioned above, a pitcher isn’t perfect every time. He’ll often give up a few hits and walks. He might even give up home runs on occasion. But was his performance good enough for his team to win? A play-by-play announcer will sometimes say, “he didn’t have his best stuff tonight, but he kept his team in the game, and it was good enough to get his team the win.”

So with that, I’ll often use measures like these: did my team get the win? Did my teammate (or customer) get what (s)he needed from me in order to do what they needed? Did my efforts meet the requirements? Did my teammate accept my results? Did my efforts get the job done? And, most importantly to me, did I give it my best effort, given any impediments (time constraints, fatigue, degree of difficulty, experience — or lack of — with the task, etc.) that might be in my way?

If I’m able to answer yes to questions like these, then in all likelihood, I can say yes, my efforts were good enough.

Upcoming speaking engagements (as of 8/30/2021) #ProfessionalDevelopment #TechCon21 #PASSDataCommunitySummit #DataSaturday #SQLSaturday #Networking #SQLFamily

Now that I have a couple of confirmed speaking engagements, I figured that this was a good time to update my upcoming speaking schedule!

Confirmed

These engagements are confirmed. I don’t have exact dates or times for either of these (and I might not for a little while); all I know is that these events are confirmed, and I am definitely speaking at them!

Note: these are both virtual events. To the best of my knowledge, they are both free to attend (well, I know PASS Data Summit is, anyway), so check the links for more information and to register.

All my presentations (so far) are professional development sessions, so feel free to register for these, regardless of whether you’re a techie or not. Don’t let the “technology” conferences scare you!

Still waiting to hear

I’ve submitted to speak here, but as of right now, I don’t yet know whether or not I’ve been picked to speak.

So, that’s my speaking schedule so far. These are all virtual conferences; I don’t yet have any in-person ones scheduled. Hope to see you at a conference sometime soon!