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.

The joys and benefits of volunteering

This afternoon, I took part in an STC panel discussion about volunteering — how to volunteer, where opportunities exist, and so on. (A recording of the webinar will be made available; once it is, I’ll post a link to it.)

Those of you who know me well know how involved I’ve been with volunteering. To name a few, I’ve spoken for SQL Saturday and Data Saturday conferences. I’m part of the leadership team for my local SQL user group. I’m a section leader, board member, and secretary for the symphonic concert band in which I play. I play the piano for a local church. I even serve as a mentor for my fraternity and my alma mater. I lend my talents to a wide variety of groups and organizations, and it’s among some of the most rewarding endeavors in which I take part.

Why volunteer? You rarely, if ever, get paid for doing volunteer work, after all. Well, at least you don’t get paid with money. That said, you get paid in a number of ways that don’t directly involve money.

Let’s start with the satisfaction that you’ve gotten something done. I take part in a number of activities. All of these activities need behind-the-scenes work to keep them viable. Who’s going to do the work? After all, most of these positions are not paid, full-time opportunities, and tasks have to be done, including (but not limited to) organizing meetings, finding meeting or event space, scheduling, publicizing events, taking care of participants, paying any necessary bills or fees, and so on. Someone has to do the work. More often than not, that work is performed by volunteers.

Do you want to learn something new, or gain a new skill? Volunteering is a great way to do it. These groups all need tasks to be done, and volunteering is a relatively low-risk way to get experience with those tasks. It becomes a win-win for everyone; you gain new experience, and a group gets their tasks done.

That said, keep in mind that once you take on a task, you also take on a responsibility. Groups look to make sure work is performed, and once you volunteer to do that work, they are counting on you to make sure it gets done. Even if you’re not getting paid to perform the work, any volunteer opportunity should be treated with the same responsibility and respect as a job.

As with any job, you might struggle if you’ve never done it before or are unsure as to what to do. Treat it as you would any job. Use resources at your disposal (e.g. the internet) to get it done. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. And don’t be afraid to say no. Volunteering should be a rewarding, even fun, experience. If you find that you’re frustrated or overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to either turn down the opportunity or pass it off to someone who can get it done. It isn’t worth the stress.

I mentioned above that volunteers don’t get directly paid with money. Indirectly, however, is another story! If you’re looking for work experience, volunteer work looks great on a resume! Maybe you built and maintained a group’s website, managed their finances, taught constituents, organized events, or served as an officer. Even if you weren’t paid to do them, it counts as work experience, which is something that appeals to potential employers.

And if you’re looking to meet people and expand your network, volunteering is a great way to do it. By volunteering, you interact with people in whatever activities you’re involved, which expands your network. Speaking personally, I’ve met many people and made many friends from my involvement with SQL Saturday and other related opportunities. This involvement has helped me to grow, both professionally and personally.

Additionally, when you work with others, you learn people skills, including teamwork, collaboration, communication, delegating tasks, leadership, and so on. And if you feel any trepidation about your skill sets, these people skills might just improve your confidence as well.

So if you’re looking to learn new things, gain more experience, and make new friends, consider volunteering. The rewards you reap can be life-changing.

Support your local artists

A little while ago, a friend of mine from high school sent me a message (along with a link) saying that his band was scheduled to perform a gig pretty much in my own backyard. I added his gig date to my calendar, and I will make the effort to attend.

I have to admit that I really haven’t done enough to go out and attend local concerts and gigs, unless it’s one in which I’m actually performing, and that’s a shame on my part. As a part-time musician myself, I can say firsthand that local musicians (and all artists — not just musicians) take their craft seriously, and they put a lot of time, effort, and soul into what they do. As such, these artists deserve to be recognized for their efforts, whether it’s by purchasing their art, sampling their wares, or attending their concerts and gigs.

Often, whenever my wife and I have an evening free, I’ll often ask her, “you want to do anything tonight?” Most of the time, that involves doing something for dinner. As a sports fan, I’ll sometimes look to see if one of the local teams is playing, and if I’m up for it, I’ll look into getting tickets. But as a musician, I don’t often look for any live music performances that interest me.

Whenever I’m performing, I’ll announce that I have a performance coming up — nearly always on Facebook, but sometimes also on Twitter and here on my ‘blog. I would hope that (at least) my friends would come out to support me and what I do. And whenever my friends tell me they’re performing somewhere, it’s only fair that I reciprocate. Part of it is “professional” courtesy, but mostly, my attendance sends a message that “I support what you do!”

As I get older, I’ve noticed that I’m somewhat less inclined to go out. I used to hit some jazz clubs when I was younger (I love listening to live jazz, among other things), but events like that have lessened as I’ve gotten older. Mostly, after a week of working or free days doing things around the house, by the time a Friday or Saturday evening rolls around, I’m “too tired to go out and do anything.” And that’s a cop-out on my end.

Some people won’t go to a concert unless it’s a big name. Hey, even I’ll admit that whenever my favorite band comes to town, I have to attend. That’s okay. But there’s also likely a number of local artists who also deserve your attention, and a lot of them happen to be pretty good! Not only that, but chances are the price of admission is likely to be a lot less than a ticket to see your favorite nationally-known artist.

Think of it this way — if you like to travel, you’ll likely buy souvenirs that are unique to that area. Sometimes, the wares are pieces of art that are indigenous to wherever you’re visiting. In doing so, you’re supporting lesser-known local artists. So why not do the same in your own hometown?

So whenever I ask my wife (or any friends) if they’re interested in doing something, I’ll make sure I check the local arts calendar to see who’s performing or exhibiting. It makes for good, inexpensive local entertainment, not to mention that you’ll be supporting your local artists, you’ll get a taste of your own local culture, and you’ll likely have a great time in doing so!

(P.S. I put my friend’s gig date in my calendar, and I’ll try to bring some friends along with me!)