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.

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Welcome to 2019

Well, here we are. It’s the new year. Hope you folks had a great holiday season! Personally, mine was quiet; the only significant thing of note was that I followed my alma mater down to their bowl game. (I had the opportunity to attend the game, so I took it. As I previously wrote, once in a while, you gotta say “what the heck!”)

So each new year represents a new start — a clean slate, if you will. There’s a reason why so many people make “resolutions” (and a reason why so many of them are broken — I won’t get into why; that’s not what this article is about). For me, it’s about setting goals (I refuse to call them “resolutions”) and getting some kind of idea as to what I want to accomplish throughout the year.

There are a number of things I want to accomplish, although I’m still trying to figure out what some of them are. One of my CrossFit coaches asked me not long ago, “what are your goals for this year?” I told him that there were a number of general things I wanted to accomplish, but I hadn’t yet identified anything specific. A goal needs to be measurable. For example, “I want to lose weight” is vague and not measurable, whereas “I want to lose ten pounds by the end of February” is something specific, measurable, and trackable. Going back to my coach’s question, I haven’t yet taken the time to hammer out measurable goals that I want to accomplish (being able to do an actual pull-up by the end of the year comes to mind), but it’s something that I definitely want to do.

Since my ‘blog articles revolve mostly around professional development topics, it would behoove me to write about some things that, professionally, I would like to accomplish this year. So, without further ado…

I’m hoping to be speaking at a number of SQL Saturday events this year. I’ve already applied to a few, and am hoping to hear back soon as to whether or not I’ve been picked to speak.

As of today, I’ve applied to the following events, and am waiting to hear back as to whether or not I’m presenting at them.

Additionally, the events listed below are not yet live (they’re listed as “save the date”), but I intend to apply to them once they are.

  • May 18: Rochester, NY
  • July 20: Albany, NY (my hometown SQL Saturday — I’ll be here regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak)
  • October 5: Pittsburgh, PA

I’m also confirmed to speak at the New England SQL User Group in February.

I’ve also set a goal of speaking at an event where it is not feasible for me to drive. All SQL Saturdays I’ve attended so far have been within reasonable driving distance from my home in Troy, NY. So far, Pittsburgh is the farthest I’ve driven (eight hours) for a SQL Saturday. Virginia Beach might equal or surpass it. I told my wife that Virginia Beach would make for a nice trip, and I suggested that we make a long weekend — a mini-vacation — out of it. So in all likelihood, I’ll probably attend that event regardless of whether or not I’m picked to speak.

I told myself that I would submit presentations to PASS Summit this year. (For those of you unfamiliar with PASS Summit, I’ve heard it described as “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays.”) Because of the steep attendance fee, probably the only way I’d attend is if I’m picked to speak. (Some people are able to have their employers foot the bill for this trip; alas, I am not one of them.) Submissions are highly competitive, and as someone who presents primarily about professional development topics, I’m slightly pessimistic about my chances of getting picked to speak. But, I won’t know unless I try. If, by some chance, I am picked to speak, it would definitely satisfy my goal of speaking at an event to which it wouldn’t be feasible to drive.

This year will also represent a possible milestone with my employment. Since July of 2017, I’ve been working as a contractor, and the contract expires this coming summer. I’ll likely have a couple of options: get hired by the client company (which, I think, is the most likely scenario), or look for another opportunity with the contractor. (There’s also the possibility that I’ll seek new employment, but as of now, I don’t intend to go that route.) There are pros and cons to each decision. I have an idea of what I think I’ll end up doing, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

On a related note, I told myself that I wanted to take on more professional responsibilities. I took that step this week when I announced during a meeting that I was willing to pick up the ball on a large documentation project. This is a recent development, and it’s just getting going, but I suspect that big things could potentially be on the horizon.

So what goals and expectations do you have for the new year? Whatever they are, I hope they come to fruition.

Microsoft: a great place to work

“That is nice work if you can get it, and you can get it, if you try…”

— George and Ira Gershwin

This is the last (for now, unless I come up with anything else — which is entirely possible) article that came out of my experience last weekend with SQL Saturday #814.

After last Saturday’s conference, George Walters and a few of his Microsoft coworkers held a session on what was billed as “Diversity, Inclusion and Careers at Microsoft” (or something to that effect).  Unfortunately, I missed about the first half of the session (I had to run up to the speaker’s room to get my stuff out of there before they locked it up), so I’m unable to comment on the “diversity and inclusion” part.  Speaking as an Asian-American, that’s unfortunate, since it sounded like something that could potentially appeal to me.

I want to emphasize again that I am not actively seeking new employment.  However, I’ll also admit that I do look passively.  If something drops in my lap, or if I come across something that looks interesting, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least look into it.  Besides, George is a friend, and I wanted to at least see what it was about (not to mention make the rounds with my friends before I left the conference).  (And on top of that, they had free pizza!)

From my perspective, it seemed like a Microsoft recruitment pitch (and I say that in a good way).  They discussed opportunities at Microsoft, what was needed to apply, what they looked for, what the work environment was like, and so on.  There were good questions and good discussion among the crowd in attendance, and I even contributed some suggestions of my own.

For me, one of the big takeaways was the description of the work culture.  If you decide you’re not happy with your career direction at Microsoft, they’ll work with you to figure out a path that works for you.  It seems like there’s something for everyone there.  Since I’m at an age where I’m probably closer to retirement than from my college graduation, the idea of finding a good fit appeals to me.  (On the other hand, that thought would probably also appeal to a recent grad as well.)  And I’ll also say that a lot of what the Microsoft reps said didn’t sound too bad, either.

While I’m happy in my current position, it won’t last forever (and besides, things can happen suddenly and unexpectedly — I’ve had that happen before).  So it doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes and ears open.  And when it comes to potential employers, you can probably do worse than Microsoft.

“So what, exactly, are you doing in IT?”

“Aside from mediocre marks in his freshman literature courses — even MIT wanted people to be literate, but evidently Peter Zimmer didn’t care for poetry — the kid was straight A.” (bold type added for emphasis)

— Excerpt from The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy

As I mentioned before, a lot of things came out of SQL Saturday #814 — enough that I have enough ‘blog article material for at least a few days.  This is the first of those articles.

At the Friday night speaker’s dinner, Eugene Meidinger asked me what I thought was a very good and valid question.  I’m paraphrasing what he said, but he asked me something like this.

“I’ve been reading some of your ‘blog articles.”  (Ed. note: hey, someone reads my ‘blog!)  “Most of your articles don’t have anything to do with SQL.  Do you ever write anything about SQL?  How did you get involved with SQL Saturday?  Are you one of those people who just happened to latch on to SQL or hang out with SQL people?”

The answer is not simple.  This article is my attempt to answer his questions.

To answer his first question, yes, I have written about SQL, but it’s been a while.  For his (or anyone else’s) reference, here are some of the SQL articles that I wrote.

Yes, I do have experience in SQL Server.  However, I am not a SQL MVP, nor do I consider myself a SQL expert.  As I describe myself, “I fall under the category of knowing enough SQL to be dangerous.”  (Or, as I like to think of it, I know enough SQL to be able to do the job.)  Although I don’t know enough to be able to talk about advanced SQL techniques, I can discuss beginner-level SQL topics that can help people just getting started in SQL.  I’ve been meaning to write and present more beginner SQL-related topics, but (primarily) lack of time has kept me from getting them done.

(I’m also at a bit of a disadvantage because I currently work in an Oracle, not a SQL Server, environment.)

I won’t rehash how I got involved with SQL Saturday (I’ve already done that; I’ll leave it to you to check the link and read it for yourself).  I’ll just simply say that, although I don’t talk extensively about SQL topics, I’ve learned that there is still a place for me within an endeavor such as SQL Saturday.

When I first started my ‘blog, I intended for it to supplement my SQL Saturday presentations.  Since then, however, it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  It’s become a forum for me to express my thoughts in a way that they’d be helpful for both myself and for other people, especially anyone pursuing professional careers.

One thing that has come out of these efforts is that, professionally, I’m finding myself more and more.  I’ve had to come to terms with my own level of technological knowledge and expertise.  For years, I’ve been seeking positions in programming and application development.  But a funny thing happened along the way.  I discovered that while I do enjoy coding, I wasn’t passionate about it.  I wasn’t willing to spend late nights and downtime doing more with it or to immerse myself in it.  As soon as I came to that realization, that was when I realized that I should look into something else.

And as soon as I came to that realization, good things started happening for me.  I became happier and more confident in my career direction.  I started getting more and better opportunities.

It also made me realize that, despite all my jokes about being an odd man out because I was “not a SQL expert,” there is still a place for me in SQL Saturday.  No, I may not be presenting SQL or data topics, but I am still making important presentation contributions to the database and IT communities.

Back when I worked at Blue Cross in the late 90s and early 2000s, I fulfilled a role in which I supplied server staff with information they needed to do their jobs.  As I describe it, my job was to “support the support staff.”  It’s only within the last few years that I really appreciate just how important of a role that was.

Ironically, although Eugene asked me the original question, it was one of his own presentations that made me come to this realization.  The increasing difficulty of keeping pace with technological trends contributed to my waning passion about some technological topics.  I mentioned a while back in a podcast that I thought it was important to play to your strengths.  By focusing on something about which you’re really passionate — in my case, it’s technical communication — there’s no telling how far you can go.

So Eugene, if you happen to be reading this, hopefully this answers your questions and gives you a perspective of where I’m coming from.  (Good to see you this past weekend, by the way!)  And for anyone else reading this, hopefully this will inspire you to reflect upon your own interests and skill sets, and provide you with a sense of guidance as you pursue your career interests.

Email changes and security

When was the last time you changed your phone number?  Let’s say you lived in a house for, say, fifteen years.  In that house, you had a landline phone (yes, young ‘uns, once upon a time, homes had their own phone numbers).  For whatever reason, you had to sell the house, move away to another city, and get a new phone number.  So, you went through the exercise of changing your phone number.

Changing that phone number was sometimes quite a task.  You needed to give your new number to your family and friends.  You needed to update your business contacts and associates.  You set up a forwarding number for people you missed.  And you gave your new number to all your important businesses — your bank, your doctor, your broker, your babysitter, your lawyer, your gym, the people in your book club…

Or did you?  Are you absolutely sure you remembered everyone?

That gives you an idea of something that I’m dealing with now.  I’ve had the same email address for a long time; I’m not exactly sure how long, but it at least dates back to when I was in grad school (which was in the mid to late ’90s).

I was determined to not change my email, but recent circumstances made this a necessity.  For one thing, the ISP behind it used old and clunky technology.  Trying to coordinate it with other devices and tasks (calendars, for example) was a major chore.  For a long time, it was not SSL-secure.  It was not easy to check it remotely; if I wanted to do so, I had to remember to shut off my mail client on my PC at home, or else they would all be downloaded from the server before I had a chance to read them.  The issues got worse more recently; the ISP did not provide an easy way to change my password.  I could either (1) send an email to technical support (in response to this, my exact words were, “no way in HELL am I sending password changes via email!!!”), or (2) call tech support to give them my password change.

The last straw came today.  I was looking for a certain email, but couldn’t find it.  Figuring that it was caught in my spam filter, I logged into it to look for the email.  I didn’t find it, but what I did see were spam messages that included in the subject line…  and I’m repeating this for emphasis: IN THE SUBJECT LINE…  my passwords, clear and exposed.

That did it.  I decided right then and there that I was changing my email, since I couldn’t trust the old one (or the ISP) anymore.  I’ve had a Gmail account for a few years, but I never really used it.  Today, that account became my primary email account.  I’ll still hold on to my old email long enough to make sure everything and everyone is switched over to my new email, at which point I’ll shut down my old account.

I suppose there are several lessons to gain from this exercise.  For one thing (as I’d once written), don’t get comfortable.  I’d gotten comfortable with my old email, and I was determined not to change it.  I paid for that with my peace of mind.  For another, don’t take your personal data security for granted.  Make sure you change your password often (and if your provider doesn’t offer an easy way to do that, then get a new provider).  For yet another, if something can no longer do the job (in this case, no password change mechanism, unable to interface with other applications, difficult to use, etc.), then it’s probably time to get a new one (whatever that “something” is).  And for still another, make sure you keep track of your contacts.

(And I’m sure there are a bunch of others that I can’t think of right now.)

Too many of us (myself included) become lackadaisical when it comes to email and data security.  Don’t take it for granted, or you might wake up one day with your bank account drained and your credit rating slashed.

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.

Keeping up with technology — revisited (again!)

A while back, I referred to Eugene Meidinger‘s SQL Saturday presentation about keeping up with technology.  I came across his ‘blog article where he talks about exactly that.  It’s a very good read, and he gives an excellent presentation.

Eugene will be giving this presentation in Rochester on March 24, which happens to be the same SQL Saturday where I’ll be speaking! </plug>

Hope to see people there!