The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 24: Coping with the stress #COVID19

I’m not going to lie. The mental stress of being out of a job (ten months, and counting) is affecting me in many ways. I’ll talk about the mental stress (which is what this article is mostly about) in a minute, but before I get into that, let me talk about something that has been affecting me physically.

Last year, gyms were closed down due to the pandemic. As a result, I wasn’t able to attend CrossFit classes. For me, one of the biggest benefits of CrossFit classes was that it created a routine. I tend to be a creature of habit, and as long as I stick to a routine, I’m generally okay. With the gyms closed due to the pandemic, that routine was broken. I didn’t stay active at home as I would’ve liked (although I did attempt a Couch to 5K program). I started developing issues with my back and my shoulder (which continue even as I write this), enough to require physical therapy. Now, the gyms are back open, but I’ve been dealing with physical issues that prevent me from working out as I’d like. Thankfully, PT seems to be alleviating these issues, and I’m hoping to become active again soon.

That said, the past year has affected me mentally and psychologically, and I’ve fallen into some bad habits. I haven’t been as active with my business as I should be. I’ve been moody, and I seem to have mood swings easily. The constant battle of looking for employment has been extremely taxing and frustrating. A lot of activities that I normally enjoy haven’t been giving me much pleasure as of late.

I could keep going, but the last thing I want to do is write a woe-is-me article where I feel like I’m trying to solicit sympathy. I’m not (at least I don’t think I am, anyway — maybe some of you might disagree, but I digress). Rather, I’m laying out the scenario so that I can write about coping strategies (and I’m writing this for myself as much as any of you who might be in the same boat). In my job hunt presentation, I talk about making sure that you take care of yourself. This article is about practicing what I preach.

Before I started this article, I sat in my home office, thinking about “what should I do to get back on track.” I thought about a number of things, and I’d like to share them with you.

First of all, I revisited one of my hobbies: songwriting. I’ve been working on an idea for a new song, and I opened my notation app to revisit it. I’m finding that doing so is pleasantly distracting; it gets my brain working on something productive. Doing this makes an adjustment to my mental activity which, I believe, will improve my mental and psychological state over the long run.

I was also fortunate enough to be contacted by a friend of mine who said he might have a project for me. We spoke, and I told him I’d look at it. It’s not gainful employment per se, but it’s another productive distraction to get me going again. On that same topic, I also have other projects for my clients that I need to revisit as well.

Other friends have other coping ideas as well. I highly recommend Steve Jones‘ series of articles about daily coping. His suggestions make a lot of sense, and I find that they improve my mood (I’ve even told him as such).

I need to do something physical as well. My doctor recommended that I do a minimum of five minutes of physical activity per day. At the time of the recommendation, I was in serious pain (directly related to the conditions I mentioned at the top of this article) so I wasn’t able to do this right away, but now that they’re somewhat better, I feel like I can partake. I do have an exercise bike; I will be making use of it. Additionally, I will be investing in some resistance bands and PVC pipes (to do pass-throughs).

And, if nothing else, I’m also trying to come up with ideas for ‘blog articles.

You need to take care of yourself before you can take on your responsibilities. These might sound like small moves, but small moves add up. Things like this can reinvigorate yourself and get you back on track. And once they do, you can be productive again.

Goals for 2021

So, for my first post of 2021, I figured I should list my goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) for the new year.

  • First and foremost, above everything else, find new employment. I have been unemployed since May 1. For those of you keeping score, that’s eight months. 67% of my 2020 was spent in unemployment. Getting a new job, for me, is priority number one above everything else.

    I do have a couple of relatively promising leads, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Hopefully, things will be turning around very soon.
  • Do more with my business. In 2020, as a direct result of my losing my job, I started an LLC. I managed to pick up two clients. It’s good experience, but not enough to pay my bills (hence why I’m still looking for employment). I haven’t done a lot with it in the last few months of 2020. I want to devote more time and energy into it in 2021.

    I readily admit that I slacked off on this as the year went on, and I don’t want to let it slip in 2021. I intend to keep this endeavor going, even if I do land new gainful employment.
  • Get back to the gym. COVID-19 kept me from getting into my CrossFit gym more than I would’ve liked, but the pandemic wasn’t my only issue. I developed back and arm issues that kept me from being more active than I wanted to be. Simply getting out of bed without pain is a chore for me right now. Hopefully, I can get back to being as active as I was before the pandemic.

    Speaking of the pandemic…
  • Travel. The pandemic is my biggest (but not the only) roadblock for this goal; my other major roadblock is making sure I have the money to do so (see “find new employment” above). I enjoy traveling, and I wish I could do more of it. Since the pandemic began, I can count on one hand the number of trips I took away from home (trips to the grocery store don’t count).

    Trips for SQL Saturday have satisfied my desire to travel for the past several years, but now that PASS will be no more, I might need to find another outlet for my out-of-town speaking engagements (more on that in a minute). I also told my wife that I want to take a relatively significant vacation somewhere once the pandemic is over. She and I have both encountered a lot of stress this past year, and I think we both need to find a way to relieve it.
  • Find speaking engagements. One thing I’ve discovered about speaking for SQL Saturday is that I enjoy presenting. I’d like to do more. My last in-person speaking engagement was SQL Saturday in Rochester last February. I was also scheduled to speak at SQL Saturday in Chicago (which would’ve been my first SQL Saturday where driving was not feasible), and I had applied to speak at a local code camp. Both of those were wiped out by the pandemic.

    My friend Matt Cushing encouraged me to sign up for the Idera Ace Program, which would provide funding for me to take part in more presentation opportunities (not to mention that it would look good on my resume). Since I first started presenting regularly, all of my in-person speaking engagements (with the exception of 2019 PASS Summit) have been within driving distance of my home in the Albany, NY area. There is a reason for this: traveling costs money. The Idera Ace Program would provide more opportunities for me to speak at nonlocal events (pandemic notwithstanding, of course).
  • Do more house projects. These past several months at home made me realize how much I want to do with my house, and how little I’ve done to attain that goal. (I’m talking about “fun” projects, as opposed to chores.) Money has been a major detriment (again, see “find new employment” above) as well as energy (see “get back to the gym”), but time has not; since I don’t have anywhere to really go, I have no shortage of time on my hands. There’s a long list of projects I’d like to do, such as finish my basement, build a backyard patio and entertainment area, build a porch, and so on. While I don’t necessarily expect to finish these in 2021, I’d like to at least take steps toward those goals.

There are a lot of other things that I’d like to do, but I think this is a good list for now. (I reserve the right to amend it.) In general, I’m hoping for a better year, and 2021 supersedes the dumpster fire that was 2020.

The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 13: Running for my life #COVID19

I’ll admit that the COVID-19 crisis has had me fall into some bad habits. This morning, I decided to address one of them.

Since gyms have been shut down due to the crisis, I have fallen off the wagon when it comes to my CrossFit workouts. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting on my duff. Since I work in IT, it’s the nature of the beast and a job hazard. I woke up this morning to a sunny morning (for once — we’ve had a lot of rain, sunny days have been few and far between, and it’s directly affected my mood, not to mention my motivation), and decided to do something.

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It may not be much — I just went around the block a few times — but you gotta start somewhere.

I went to the Couch to 5K website and did a little reading. I’ve toyed with the idea before, but never pulled the trigger on it. For whatever reason, this morning was different. I downloaded the C25K app to my phone, put on my shirt, shorts, and CrossFit shoes, and followed the instructions for Day 1 as I went around the block several times. Day 1 is essentially a 20 minute AMRAP (or maybe EMOM might be more accurate — I’m not sure) that alternates between 90 seconds of walking and 60 seconds of jogging (not including a 5 minute warm-up and cool-down walk at the beginning and end). It sounds pretty easy, but I was still winded by the time I was finished.

Will I keep this up for eight weeks? We’ll see. Right now, the jury’s out. For all I know, I might wake up tomorrow morning and decide that I want to stay in bed. But hey, we all need to start somewhere. Maybe at the very least, when the COVID-19 crisis is over and I’m allowed to go back to my gym, I won’t cringe when the coaches tell me that the WOD is a 5K run.

Memorial Day Murph — crossing the finish line

Yesterday, I did the annual Memorial Day Murph workout. I’ve written about it before. For those of you unfamiliar with CrossFit, the Murph workout consists of a one mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 air squats, and another mile run. Needless to say, it is a LOT of work!

For those of us who aren’t professional athletes, many of us scale it down. Some people reduce the length of the runs. Many others reduce the number of reps. I set a goal of running (well, okay, “running”) the entire one mile lengths for each run. I broke down the reps into ten rounds of 5 ring-rows (since I can’t do pull-ups), 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats. I had every intention of doing the full twenty rounds, but when I reached round 6 and realized how much time had elapsed, I came to the realization that “twenty rounds isn’t happening!”

As you can see in the photo above, I had a nice cheering crew waiting for me as I crossed the finish line! I finished the workout in 1:04:31.

I started doing CrossFit to get into shape. I still continue doing CrossFit because of the great friends I’ve made and all their support. Find something that works for you, and you’ll keep wanting to go back for more!

My first road race — the debrief

Well, I survived my first road race! Wondering how I did? Here’s my official results! Hey, I didn’t get lost, and I didn’t finish last!

And as I write this, my hamstrings are still saying some nasty things to me!

I was hoping to maintain at least a slow jog throughout the race, but that went out the window as soon as I hit the first big hill. The course ended up being more difficult than I expected. (I’ve driven through that area dozens of times. It doesn’t seem too bad in a car! It’s a lot different when you’re on foot!) I tried to jog where I could, but mostly, I walked. I did try at least to maintain a brisk walk, although that didn’t always happen, either. One piece of advice that my CrossFit coach gave me beforehand was, “just keep moving. Don’t stop.”

I did have to stop a couple of times to retie my shoes, but aside from that, I pretty much heeded that advice. I didn’t stop!

One of my favorite moments happened in the middle of the park. A kid had a hand-drawn sign with a Super Mario Mushroom Power-Up and a caption that said “Hit sign to power up!” I don’t know how many people used that to push themselves, but for me, it worked! I touched the sign and broke into a jog — albeit briefly.

A little past the halfway point, one of my friends from the office came up alongside me, and we pretty much did a steady walk together for the remainder of the course, all the way to the finish line.

There were a couple of down moments yesterday. After the race, I parked in a pay lot, didn’t pay, and got towed. (I did manage to get my car back.) Also, they ran out of T-shirts in my size. I was disappointed about not getting a shirt! But nevertheless, it was a good time! It was a beautiful day out — temps were cool and comfortable, and it was sunny. And in addition to my co-workers, I saw several friends at the event. I met my co-workers at a bar after the race (it was while I was here when my car was towed). We ate and drank, and I spoke to a number of people from my office whom I usually don’t talk to!

All in all, it was a good time. I have to admit that I had fun yesterday! Has it changed how I feel about running? Well… not yet. Will I do this event again? Well… more than likely!

Talk to me again next year!

My first road race

A while back, I wrote that to be successful, you need to step out of your comfort zone.

I just stepped out of it in a big way.

I just registered for my very first road race: the 2019 CDPHP Workforce Team Challenge. I have never run any kind of registered road race* before. This will be my first.

(*I have, however, participated in a registered bicycle tour before. But I feel a lot more comfortable about my bike riding than I do my running.)

I will say that running and I have never really gotten along. It is not, I repeat, not one of my favorite physical activities.

I’ve been active in CrossFit since 2015. I’ve made big strides since I started. Although I still have a lot of things that I need to improve, I can do a lot of things now that I couldn’t when I first started.

And as it turns out, one of the things upon which I’ve improved is running. One particular coach tends to push me pretty hard (in a good way). Whenever a 5K run has come up in a CrossFit WOD, I’ve toyed with scaling it down to a shorter distance. It was this particular coach who said to me, “nope, you’re not scaling it. You’re running the full 5K!”

And it’s for that reason why I feel I’m capable of participating in this event.

Granted, I use air-quotes when I say “run.” It’ll probably be more like some jogging, some walking, and some stumbling. (And this event is longer than 5K; it’s actually 3.5 miles.)

If you want to get better, you need to step out of your comfort zone. I’d say that this definitely qualifies.

For reference, my best 5K time is 50:18. We’ll see how this goes. Wish me luck.

The CrossFit Open 2019

This morning, I registered for this year’s CrossFit Open, which starts tonight. This is the third time in four years that I’ve signed up for the Open. (I was unable to participate last year due to commitments and subsequent time constraints.) Thousands of participants from around the world, representing many age groups and skill levels, participate in the Open. The best of them go on to the CrossFit Games. (The Games are represented by world-class-level athletes, of which I’m not even close, so don’t expect to see me participate at a regional anytime soon!)

Why participate in the Open? For one thing, it’s an opportunity for pseudo- couch potatoes athletes like me to take part in such an amazing event. Think of it as a Little Leaguer competing on the same field as, say, Aaron Judge. For another, it’s a measure of how far I’ve come in CrossFit since I started doing it over four years ago. When I first started, I couldn’t hold a squat without falling over on my backside. Now I can hold one almost indefinitely. Granted, I still have a long way to go — I still am unable to do anything involving pulling myself up (pull-ups, rope climbs, etc.) — but I continue to keep at it. Maybe someday, I’ll get them! It’s also a measure of how you do against your peers. You’ll get an idea as to how you stack up against similar athletes.

Other reasons? Well, let me, once again (as I’ve done several times before), quote one of my favorite song lyrics by my favorite band

“Gotta run a little faster, gotta reach for the sky, gotta come a little closer, even if I lose, I gotta try…”

“Inside Of Me” by Kansas

If you want to see how I do over the next five weeks, click here to check out my Open profile. We’ll see how this goes!

Wish me luck!

There’s a first for everything

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

Take a moment and think about your career — where you are now, how far you’ve progressed, and so on. Do you like where you are?

Okay. Now, if you do like where you are, take a moment and think about how you got there. How did you get your start? When was the first time you did (insert the first time you did something to advance your career here)?

For whatever reason (don’t ask me why; I don’t know), I started thinking about first steps in my career. I especially thought about my involvement with SQL Saturday and the steps I took to get here. I’ve written before about how I got my start with SQL Saturday. There were several “first” steps that I took to get to this point. There was my first idea for a presentation. I wanted to take it for a test-drive, so to speak, so I first presented it at a user group meeting. That led me to my first submission to a SQL Saturday event. I enjoyed it so much that it prompted me to submit to my first SQL Saturday out-of-state. I knew almost nobody at this event, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone. (I’ve since become friends with many people I met at this event!) And as they say, the rest is history. That was more than three years ago. I’m still submitting, and now, I’m even getting asked to speak at other events. I’m pretty happy with where this endeavor has taken me so far, but I’m still in the middle of this journey.

First steps don’t just apply to your career. They apply to everything you want to accomplish in life. For example, I’ve been doing CrossFit for over four years now. I’ve come a long way in that time, but there are still a lot of things to accomplish. I wouldn’t be where I am had I not taken that first step into that gym one day.

I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old quote: “there’s a first time for everything.” I’ve taken countless first steps to get to where I am now, and I’m still going. I probably won’t stop taking them until I’m six feet under.

So where do you want to be in your career, or, for that matter, your life? Do you like where you are? What first steps are you going to take to get there? Wherever it is that you want to be, the only way to get there is if you take that first step.

Make goals, not resolutions

My previous post got me thinking about setting goals. I mentioned in my previous article that I hate setting New Year’s “resolutions.” I didn’t want to get into why in that article.

Well, in this article, I want to get into exactly why.

How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions? How many of you made them in years past? How many resolutions did you keep?

If I had to guess, probably not many, if any.

This is why I hate resolutions. They’re almost guaranteed to fail. Case in point: for those of you who go to a gym and work out, how packed is the gym in January? In all likelihood, it’s packed with people who resolved to go to the gym and work out this year.

Now, how many of these people are still at the gym by the end of the year? Or by July? Or even April?

I gave up making resolutions a long time ago. All I was doing was breaking promises to myself. And every time I did so, I just ended up disappointing myself.

Don’t set resolutions. Instead, set goals. If you want to do something to better yourself, setting goals is far superior to making resolutions.

Goals are measurable. Let’s say you make a resolution to lose weight and go to the gym. That’s awfully vague, isn’t it? That can mean almost anything. Let’s say you join a gym on January 1, do one workout, and never go again. You might say you broke your resolution. But did you really? You went once. That counts, doesn’t it?

However, let’s say you set a goal to lose ten pounds by the end of the year. Now you have something to shoot for, and it’s something that can be measured. You can keep track of how much weight you lose until you reach your goal, and you can measure aspects (calories, number of workouts, etc.) that will help you get there.

A goal is a target. In addition to being measurable, a goal gives you something toward which you can aim. You might hit it. You might not. Either way, you gave it a shot. Resolutions, on the other hand, are almost always doomed to fail.

If you miss your goal, that’s okay. When you break a resolution, you feel like you failed. It brings you down. It un-motivates you. However, if you miss a goal, it’s not the end of the world. You can either try again, or reset your goal toward something more manageable.

Speaking of being more manageable…

Goals are adjustable. If you find that a goal is unattainable, you can adjust it so it’s more attainable. And once you reach a goal, you can reset a higher goal, which will make you even better.

Goals can be set any time. Ever make a resolution in July? I didn’t think so. However, you don’t have to wait until the new year to set a goal. You can set them any time you want.

(There are probably a bunch of other reasons that aren’t coming to me right now.)

Personally, I’ve set a few small goals. For one thing, I don’t have much arm strength, so I struggle with any workout routine that involves supporting my own weight with my arms — pull-ups, rope climbs, handstands, etc. I set a goal of doing at least one real pull-up by the end of the year. Also, my home is, admittedly, a cluttered mess (it looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders). I told my wife that I would set a goal of decluttering a room at a time — the kitchen within a few weeks, the living room a few weeks after that, and so on.

There are a number of others I’d like to set as well, but I haven’t yet gotten around to setting them. As I go along, I’ll figure out what I need to accomplish, set my goals, and take steps to reach them. Again, I can set goals any time I want. I don’t have to wait until next year.

So what do you want to accomplish? What steps will you take to reach them? Whatever they are, you will be more likely to succeed by setting goals rather than making resolutions and empty promises to yourself.