Want to get ahead? Don’t get comfortable

“Moving me down the highway, rolling me down the highway, moving ahead so life won’t pass me by…”
— Jim Croce, “I Got A Name”

“It’s important to be able to make mistakes.  If you don’t make mistakes, it means you’re not trying.”
— Wynton Marsalis

“Don’t look back.  Something might be gaining on you.”
— Satchel Paige

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
— unknown

Late last Friday afternoon, our manager stopped by our workspace for a chat.  Some of it was just small talk, but he also wanted to give us a reminder of something, which is what I want to write about here.  I don’t remember his exact words, but the gist of what he said went something like this.

“We want you to develop personally and professionally,” he said (or something to that effect).  “The way you do that is to take on tasks that you know nothing about.  Volunteer to do things you wouldn’t typically volunteer.  If you see a support ticket, don’t worry about looking to see whether or not you know what it is or if you know how to handle it.  Just take the responsibility.  That’s how you develop.  If you want to move ahead, you need to step out of your comfort zone.”

Indeed, these are words to live by, and it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this.  I have had countless experiences where I’ve been told that I need to step out of my comfort zone in order to improve.  In my music experiences, especially in my ensemble performance experience, I’ve often been told by good music directors that I need to attempt playing challenging passages to get better.  When I first started doing CrossFit, one question we were asked was, “would you rather be comfortable or uncomfortable?”  The point was that in order to get better, some discomfort would be involved.  I also remember one of the points of emphasis back when I took a Dale Carnegie course; each week would involve stepping a little more out of our comfort zone.  We would do this gradually each week until we reached a point where we had drastically improved from where we had started.

Falling into a rut is common, and while it happens in all different facets of life, it is especially easy to do in the workplace.  Sometimes, the work environment can slow down, and you have a tendency to fall into a routine.  I’ve had this happen more often than I want to admit, and more often than not, I’m not even aware that I’m doing it.  Every once in a while, a pep talk or some kind of a jolt (such as a kick in the butt — whether it’s from someone else or myself) reminds me that I need to branch out and try new things if I want to get (and stay) ahead.  I am well-aware that I need to step out of my comfort zone to get ahead, but I am also the first to admit that I will sometimes forget about this, myself.

Too often, I see people who fall into ruts themselves, and who have no desire to step out of their comfort zones.  As much as I try to tell these people to at least try to do something about it, they insist on remaining where they are.  These people strive for mediocrity, which is a major pet peeve of mine, and something for which I have no tolerance or respect.  People want to remain in their “happy place,” but what I don’t understand is how these same expect to get ahead, yet refuse to leave their comfort zones to do it.  These people will be stuck in a rut forever, and they have no right to complain about it.

Everyone has a dream, or at least some kind of goal they want to achieve.  The fact is, if you want to reach that goal, or at least take steps toward it (whether you reach it or not), you need to get uncomfortable to do it.

Advertisements

Instant decisions


(Source: New York Times)

A NY Times recap of a ballgame got me thinking about instant decisions.

I watched this game on a TV at a restaurant where I was having dinner with my wife.  I remember watching Brett Gardner getting thrown out as he was caught in a rundown between third and home.  I remember thinking, “now the man on third is erased.  What were you thinking, Brett?”

As the Times article points out, it ended up being a fateful decision by (Orioles pitcher) Dylan Bundy.  Had he thrown the ball to the shortstop instead of his catcher, he potentially could have turned a double play to get his team out of the inning.  Instead, the Yankees, with an extra life, rallied in the inning to go up by a score of 5-0 (highlighted by a Tyler Wade grand slam).  The Yankees ended up winning, 9-0 (making me, a Yankee fan, happy).

But this article isn’t about the game.  It’s about the instant decision.  In this case, a quick decision ended up affecting the outcome of a ballgame.

Think about all the times in your life when you’ve had to make an instant decision on your feet.  We’ve all had them.  How did they turn out?  Good?  Bad?  Did they end up changing the course of your life, or were they just blips on your lifetime radar screen?

I’m sure there’s some kind of psychology as to how your background — upbringing, education, etc. — might play a role regarding the kinds of split-second decisions you make, but this is a subject about which I know nothing.  Rather, it got me thinking about the idea that quick decisions can have consequences.  In the scheme of things, many of them might not have any effect.  But depending on the time, place, and circumstances, such decision-making could have disastrous consequences — or result in the opportunity of a lifetime.

Unite the world

“Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all; together we stand; divided, we fall…”
— Pink Floyd, Hey You

“An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.”
— Gandhi

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
— John Lennon, Imagine

“I have a dream…”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

Just for this one article, I am breaking my silence on all things political.

As is much of the country, I am outraged with what has happening at America’s southern border.  I have my opinions regarding the current administration, and what is happening to our country and around the world.

However, that is not the point of this article.  I am not going to write about my politics, my opinions, or my outrage.  Today, I want to write about something else.

It occurred to me this morning that, more than ever, we are being divided.  We are identified by our divisions: Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, and so on.  And that is the problem.

There have been studies performed in which individuals identify closely with groups to which they relate.  In these cases, people in groups will defend their groups, no matter what the groups are doing, and regardless of whether the groups’ actions are perceived as being good or bad, right or wrong.

I am not a psychologist, so I won’t pretend that I know anything about these studies (disclosure: I did do research on groupthink when I was in grad school).  Nevertheless, what they seem to reveal is that we relate strongly to the groups to which we relate.  And we will defend our groups, no matter how right or wrong the groups’ actions are.

I do understand the effects of group dynamics.  I say this because I am a sports fan, and few things test our group loyalties more than sports.  I root for the Yankees, Syracuse, and RPI.  As a result, I stand firmly behind my teams, and I tend to hold some contempt for the Red Sox, Mets, Georgetown, Boston College, Union, and Clarkson.  Many of my friends are Red Sox fans (heck, I’m married to one!), Mets fans, Union College, and Clarkson University alumni.  Yes, it is true that we will occasionally trash-talk each other when our teams face off against one another, but at the end of the day, they are just games and entertainment.  I will still sit down with them over a drink and pleasant conversation.

Likewise, I have many friends who are on both sides of the (major party) political aisle.  I have friends of many races, religions (or even atheists), cultures, and creeds.  However, no matter where they stand on their viewpoints, I respect each and every one of them.  And there, I believe, is the difference.  No matter where we stand, we need to listen to and respect the other side.  One of the issues regarding group identification is that we do not listen to the other side.  We lose complete respect and empathy for anyone who is our “opponent.”  That is where communication breaks down, and that is where divisions occur.

What we need is something that unites us.  We are not Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Africans, Asians, white, black, yellow, or brown.

What we are is human.

Nelson Mandela united a divided South Africa behind rugby, a story depicted in the movie Invictus.  What will be our uniting moment?  For those of us in North America, I was thinking about something like the 2026 World Cup, but that is a long way off.

I don’t know what that something is, but we need to find it, and fast.  We are being torn apart by our divisions, and it could potentially kill us.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at our past history regarding wars and conflicts.  The American Civil War comes to mind.

I don’t know how much of a difference writing this article will make.  I am just one voice in the wilderness.  But if writing this contributes to changing the world for the better, then I will have accomplished something.

We now return you to your period of political silence.

Humble beginnings

Once again, the Facebook “On This Day” memory feature shows it can be a curious thing.  And again, this is one I wanted to share.

The picture you see above showed up on my Facebook memories feed this morning.  Three years ago today, I gave a presentation at my local SQL Server user group meeting.  I had come up with a presentation idea that I thought would be of interest to my user group, as well as other technical professionals.  I jotted down some notes, put it into a presentation, and presented it at my local user group.

About a month later, I gave this very same presentation at our local SQL Saturday.  It was my first SQL Saturday presentation!

I was curious as to how other events would take to my presentation.  Later that year, I submitted it to, and was accepted at, another SQL Saturday.  It was my second time speaking at SQL Saturday, my first time speaking at an event in “foreign territory,” and my first SQL Saturday — speaking or attending — outside of New York State.

Since that humble beginning, I’ve spoken at 13 (soon to be 14) SQL Saturdays at seven different cities around the northeastern United States.  Thanks to this endeavor, I’ve traveled around the region, met a lot of great people, expanded my professional profile, started a ‘blog (that you’re reading right now!), enhanced my career, gained more confidence, improved my presentation skills, and become a better person.  This all came about because of these conferences and from this simple start three years ago.

I hope I’ll be doing many more!  Happy three year anniversary to me!

Memorial Day Murph

A few of us in the office were discussing plans for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.  I mentioned that I was doing this thing on Monday called Memorial Day Murph (those of you who CrossFit know what I’m talking about).  I tried to describe the workout, and I couldn’t remember the movements and rep scheme, so I looked it up.  In doing so, I came across this article that talks about “surviving” Memorial Day Murph.

First, I want to talk a little about the article.  Doing Murph as prescribed (“Rx’ed,” in CrossFit parlance) is not for the faint of heart (literally — it’s a pretty intense cardio workout).  I generally make it a point to make sure I’m hydrated (I do this, anyway) and to make sure that I’ve had something to eat before I attack it.  I also make sure that I scale.  I am not in the class of Mat Fraser, and likely never will be.  (When I was a kid, I had a dream of playing for the Yankees, too.  You probably can tell where that went.  But I digress.)  I have yet to run a full mile; I have enough trouble running a fraction of that.  I don’t remember how I scaled it last year; I might have done something like an 800m run (admittedly, I usually end up walking a good chunk of it), ring-rows instead of pull-ups (I still can’t do a pull-up to save my life — I’m working on it), and a reduced number of push-ups and squats.  Nevertheless, even scaled down, it still makes for a pretty serious workout.  But I will say that if a longtime self-admitted couch potato like me can do it, so can you.

I also want to talk about the spirit of “Murph.”  Murph is what CrossFitters refer to as a “hero WOD” — that is, a WOD (Workout Of the Day) that is named for and to honor a hero — in this case, Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005.  (Memorial Day Murph was even made into a fundraiser.)  Hero WODs tend to be intense — moreso than the typical CrossFit WOD.  Every Memorial Day, CrossFitters around the country do Murph in the spirit and honor of this fine man who died for his country.  It is a way for CrossFit athletes to honor this hero, but it’s also a reminder as to what Memorial Day is about.

And, of course, Memorial Day is known as the unofficial start of summer, and is usually accompanied by barbecue, burgers, hot dogs, and beer.  My CrossFit gym is no different; Memorial Day Murph is followed by a cookout, along with plenty of camaraderie.  Our gym members are a close-knit group, and I’m sure other CrossFit gyms are similar.

So, I’ll be spending my upcoming Memorial Day holiday hanging out with a bunch of CrossFit athletes while trying not to exhaust myself from a regimen of running, pull-ups (likely ring-rows for me), push-ups, and squats.  And a good time will be had by all.

Ten Years at Redgate

Congratulations to my friend, Steve Jones, for ten years at Redgate!

Voice of the DBA

This year was my 10th anniversary of working for Redgate. The actual date was a bit ago, but they held off my celebration until I came over. These are nice at Redgate, better than at some companies where I’ve seen someone in management just give a mention during a company meeting and a token gift. At Redgate we get a really nice gift, which was a Garmin Forerunner 645 for me.

IMG_20180517_125604

At Redgate, the CEO comes around and does a 5-10 minute speech on the person, with some of his thoughts and memories, and also shares some stories that others in the company have sent in. There is usually a few embarrassing notes, and in my case, I got this picture, which is likely one that everyone thought would generate the most red from me. It didn’t, though I don’t think there are any really embarrassing pictures or video for…

View original post 725 more words

On the road to SQL Saturday

ny-thruway

“I can’t wait to get on the road again”
— Willie Nelson

For this article, I decided that I would take you on the road with me.  If you’re interested in speaking at a SQL Saturday away from home, I figured that you’d like a taste of what it’s like to travel to an out-of-town SQL Saturday.

Of course, people travel to these events in different ways, so everyone’s traveling experience will be different.  Some people fly to these conferences.  For events in New York City, I usually take Amtrak.  People will travel using the means that makes the most sense to them, and especially in a way that’s cost-effective (as I mentioned in a previous article, we speakers mostly make these trips on our own dime).  Most SQL Saturdays where I apply are generally within a somewhat reasonable driving distance for me.  As of this article, my longest distance traveled to a SQL Saturday is Pittsburgh, which was an eight-hour (one way) drive for me.

So, I decided to document my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia.  For this trip, I’m driving.  It’s roughly a four hour drive from my home in Troy, NY to southeast Pennsylvania.  Most of the trip is on interstate highways and through large metropolitan areas (I’ll be skirting the New York metro area on this drive), so the drive won’t seem as tedious as it is on a long stretch of rural highway.

So off we go!

Pre-planning

How early I make travel arrangements depends on what SQL Saturday I apply to speak.  If it’s an event where I’m likely not to be chosen, I’ll usually wait to see if I’m picked before I start making travel plans, although there are some exceptions.  If the event is one where I think I might have a reasonable chance of being chosen, or if it’s one where I can cancel plans if I’m not picked, I’ll make plans as soon as I possibly can.

I’m traveling solo for the Philadelphia trip.  Once in a while, my wife accompanies me on SQL Saturday trips; she knows that she has an open invitation to come along for the ride.  Alas, work and other commitments kept her from doing this trip, so she elected to stay home.

KKPsiBros
Jerry on the left, and me on the right, when we were in college

For lodging arrangements, I contacted my friend, Jerry, who lives about forty-five minutes from the event site — not necessarily right down the road, but close enough to make it convenient.  Jerry is an old college buddy and fraternity brother; we both attended Syracuse University, and we were in the same Kappa Kappa Psi pledge class.  This is the third consecutive year that I’ve been selected to speak at Philadelphia SQL Saturday, and the third straight year I’ve stayed overnight with Jerry and his family.  I’ve joked with Jerry about making this an annual thing; when I left his house last year, I remember telling him, “I’ll see you next year.”  I guess I wasn’t kidding!

MeAndJerry
Me and Jerry — a few years later, a little older, and a little grayer!

I Google-mapped directions to both Jerry’s house and the event site in Blue Bell, PA.  When I spoke to Jerry, he informed me that he would be returning from a trip on the same day that I would be driving down.  It was possible that Jerry’s wife would be at home to greet me when I arrived, but even that was uncertain, given Jerry’s travel schedule.  So I made sure that I mapped directions to go directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night.

A few days before the event, I finally got a location for the speaker’s dinner (until that point, it was listed as “TBD”).  Once I had that last piece of the travel puzzle, I was able to finalize my plans.

Friday, April 20 — heading down to Philly

I decided to take the day off from work on Friday — not just to prepare for my trip and to drive down, but with my schedule the way it’s been for the past several weeks, I decided I could use the mental break.  It felt good to sleep in this morning.

I took a 45 minute walk in the morning; I’ve been trying to get into the habit of doing so each day, especially lately when I haven’t had time to get to CrossFit.  After a quick shower, I left my house around 12:45, got myself lunch at Panera, and got on the road around 1:45.

Along with a couple of rest stops, I made it to the speaker’s dinner a little after 6:00.  It generally wasn’t a bad drive; the worst traffic was the stop-and-go traffic on US-202 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I had thoughts about getting gas on Route 202 before I crossed into Pennsylvania; gas prices in New Jersey tend to be cheaper.  Unfortunately, almost all the gas stations I passed were on the other side of the highway.  (Those of you who’ve dealt with New Jersey highways know what I mean when I say how much of a pain it is to get to something on the other side of the highway.)  I wasn’t in any danger of running out of gas, so I figured I could wait.  Unfortunately, as I would find out later that night, I probably should have stopped.

Many SQL Saturdays have a speaker’s dinner on Friday night before the event.  It’s a great opportunity to say hi to fellow speakers, reconnect with friends you don’t see very often, and maybe even make new ones.  Today’s dinner was held at an Indian restaurant in Norristown, PA, a few miles from the event site.  I saw several familiar faces when I arrived, including (among others) Greg Moore, Chris Bell, Gigi Bell, Grant Fritchey, Eugene Meidinger, Sebastian Meine, Lisa Margerum, and John Miner, among others.  (I hope I didn’t miss anyone there!)  Gigi, who had met my wife the year before, asked where she was, and said that she forgave her for not coming on this trip.  The food was very good; I went back up for several extra helpings of the Tandoori chicken.

WaterBottle
Our speaker’s gift

I left the dinner around 8:30, but not before picking up my ID lanyard and speaker’s gift.

After I left, the first thing I wanted to do was put gas in my car.  This was when I started to regret my decision not to get gas in New Jersey; gas prices around this area were 20 to 30 cents per gallon higher here than it was in Jersey.

I got to Jerry’s house around 9.  I was promptly greeted by their dog, Daisy (for some reason, I keep wanting to refer to her as Sadie).  I spent about an hour or so hanging out with his family in the family room, and decided to go to bed at the same time Jerry put his son to bed.

Something I ate definitely didn’t agree with me this night; I was feeling somewhat queasy when I went to bed.  I fell asleep quickly, hoping that whatever it was that made me feel ill would clear up in my sleep.  Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.

Saturday, April 21 — SQL Saturday

My alarm woke me up at 6 am.  I took a quick shower, dressed, and went down to the kitchen where Jerry had coffee waiting for me.  I didn’t bother with breakfast; I figured there was going to be plenty of bagels and coffee at the event.  And as I correctly guessed, whatever was bothering me when I went to bed cleared itself up by the morning.  I left Jerry’s house a little after 7:30, and made it to the SQL Saturday location a little after 8:00.

SQLSatSign

As with most SQL Saturday conferences, signs were out to direct people to the proper site.

SQL Saturday events usually have a speaker’s room where speakers can park themselves and their things; it’s basically a home base for presenters.  I put my things in the speaker’s room and went out to the main reception area, where the vendors had their tables.

30425324_10216340486090837_3071283422052745216_n
The reception area, with the registration and vendor tables

SQL Saturday is funded by sponsors, who usually set up booths at the conferences and include swag and raffle prizes to be given away at the end of the day.  Attendees enter raffles by dropping tickets (that come with their registration packages) at each vendor’s table.  Vendors will raffle off a variety of items, including software licenses, books, Xbox game systems, drones, tablet computers, Bluetooth speakers and headphones, and so on.  Of course, the deal is that when you enter these raffles, you give vendors the opportunity to contact you via email.

As the day got going, I saw a few more familiar faces whom I didn’t see at the previous night’s speaker’s dinner, including Taiob Ali, James Serra, Tracy Boggiano, and Steve Mokszycki.

I made it a point to sit in on Greg’s presentation about how to present.  Number one, I’m giving a very similar presentation in New York City next month.  Number two, his presentation was in the same room as mine.

And number three, Greg is a friend, and I like to heckle him! 🙂

(I said this to Greg as I walked in the room.  His response: “I know where you live!  Better, I know your wife!”)

Greg, as always, gave a very good presentation.  He mentioned a number of points that didn’t occur to me.

At 11:40, my own session started.  I didn’t count, but I’ll guess-timate that there were about seven or eight people in my session.  There was plenty of discussion and a few questions, which is exactly what I want in my presentations.  Well, I would’ve liked more questions, but at least it was a receptive audience.  I don’t want an audience that isn’t receptive; I’ve had that happen before.

SQLSatlunch

I grabbed lunch after my session; barbecue catered by a place called Mission BBQ.  Very tasty!

A month earlier, I was talking to Tracy Boggiano at Rochester SQL Saturday.  She told me that she had taken a number of SQL Saturday trips (a lot more than me!), and was telling me how she had gained weight from all those trips.  Up to this point this weekend, I could definitely see why.

I also saw that massage therapy students were giving free chair massages.  They said they would be there until 4:00.  I told myself to get one after lunch.

During the lunch break, Taiob came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in speaking for his user group out in the Boston area.  It would most likely be a date next year.  Just another example of my efforts paying off!  I told Taiob that yes, I was interested.  He said he would contact me.  He also promised to pick a month where we were unlikely to have snow on the ground!

Sarah Hutchins, a recruiter from Harrisburg, PA, was doing a presentation called “How to Ace Your Job Interview.”  Because it was related to my presentation that morning, I made it a point to sit in.  It was her very first SQL Saturday presentation, and I thought, for her first one, it went very well.  It wasn’t perfect — there were things she could have done better — but I think (and hope) she was pleased with her effort.

James Serra sat next to me during the presentation.  He commented how it seemed that we saw each other at every SQL Saturday, and joked that all of we speakers should just get a bus and take it from conference to conference together!  Indeed, I regularly see a lot of these speakers I mentioned earlier in this article.  It does seem like we travel from event to event!

Sarah’s session went long; it was a little past 3:30 by the time we got out.  I decided to sit out the last round of sessions; by that time, my brain was cooked, and I could use some downtime.  I went to the speaker’s room to relax a bit.

ChairMassage
Me getting a chair massage!

It was at that moment that I realized that I’d forgotten about the chair massages.  By then, it was 3:45.  I had fifteen minutes to get one!  I managed to get it in, and it was well worth it!

Sessions started wrapping up around 4:30; around that time, everyone started gathering around the reception area.  The vendor raffles began.  Gigi Bell won a set of Bluetooth headphones.

I got back to Jerry’s house around 6:00.  We hung out for a little while; I worked on this article a bit, and watched his son play Xbox games in the family room.  I told his kids that I wanted to thank them for letting me crash there for the weekend by taking them out to dinner, and they could pick the place.  I took Jerry, his wife Debbie, and their kids to a T.G.I. Fridays for dinner, and went to Rita’s to get dessert.

The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful.  Jerry and I chatted in his kitchen, while we watched his son play more Xbox in the family room.  I said my goodbyes to his wife and daughter; with my early morning departure time, I didn’t expect to see either of them the next morning.

Sunday, April 22 — heading home

I told Jerry that I was hoping to be on the road by 7 am; I had a mid-afternoon commitment, and needed to get home as soon as I could.  As it turned out, I didn’t get out of bed until 7:30.  It wasn’t a huge deal; it would take me four hours to drive back to Troy.  I figured that if I could be on the road before 9 am, I would be in good shape.

I left his house around 8:30.  On my way out, I said to Jerry, “I’ll see you next year!”  I fully intended to apply to SQL Saturday Philadelphia again the following year, and assuming I was selected (which might be a safe bet, since I’ve gone three straight years), I’d likely be calling upon Jerry to ask if I could utilize his guest room once again.

I took a slightly different route home, since I went directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, rather than stop at Jerry’s house first.  Really, the only difference was that I drove up to Allentown and picked up I-78 to I-287, instead of taking US-202 like I did on my drive down.

I took a break around 10:45 at the Sloatsburg rest stop on the NY Thruway.  As I get older, I’ve noticed that I can’t really drive longer than a couple of hours at a time.  I took about 45 minutes to use the facilities, stretch my legs, grab a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat, before continuing my trek back home.

od
My trip odometer when I got home

After about four hours of driving (and not including my rest stop), I pulled into my driveway a little before 1:30 pm.  My trip odometer said that I had driven 541.7 miles on this trip since Friday afternoon.

And that ended yet another SQL Saturday on the road for me.  I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home, but nevertheless, I felt pretty good about notching yet another satisfying SQL Saturday trip on my list!

I hope you enjoyed taking this excursion with me!  My next scheduled SQL Saturday is #716 in New York City next month (this time, I’m taking Amtrak, rather than driving).  Hopefully, this gave you a taste of what it’s like to travel to a conference, and further encourage prospective speakers to go outside of their boundaries.

I’ll see you again from the road!