I’ve written many posts on SQL Saturdays , especially the one at Louisville. This one is a bit different. This is my last time co running an event and also marks my move from the town I lived in for almost two decades. This is a story of my personal growth along with the event. Read on if you don’t mind a bit of rambling 🙂
I’ve had a mentor/coach for many years – he has told me about two key challenges in life that I would have to deal with on an ongoing basis. These are different from person to person – in my case they happened to be dealing with chaos and being able to let go.
Dealing with chaos – I’d say, is a challenge with most people who end up being DBAs. We want to bring order and structure into chaotic situations. We love to automate, love to be cautious so that nothing falls apart and structure things in neat little boxes. But life happens to be quite the opposite many times, and there is no automation available in dealing with that.
I didn’t quite realize that running a SQL Saturday would be the perfect example of learning how to deal with chaos. It is. Nothing about running an event is predictable. Funding is not, venue is not, volunteer availability is not. You can plan and structure things but most things only fall into place at the very last minute. And as far as people go – you have to be willing to do the triple W – as I call it. ‘Work With Willingness’. They have no obligation to do anything for free. You can fire them but you will learn, as I did, that willingness is actually pretty darn hard to find. You have to work with the fact that people will do what they can, and the rest is on you to handle. It is actually an invaluable lesson for life and will get us through most people issues – be it family or work. Most people do what they can, and the rest is on us to handle.
The next lesson – on letting go. Am hardly the first organizer struggling with this. A lot of us get seriously attached to our events or running user groups or doing anything that gives us pride and ownership. It has given us visibility as committed, hardworking people who care for others, it has helped us find jobs, and make friends who are just not professional contacts but soulmates in a way, on our life journey. To me – in Louisville, running sql saturdays made me known to most businesses in town. I’ve been hired without tech interviews because they were so impressed I did that. And, it was my baby – I loved and relished every part of it, from ordering shirts to food to everything. So..how does one let a ‘baby’ go? I considered two things that were not pleasant to think about but are necessary.
1 It eats into a considerable part of your life even when it is not happening. As I was telling another friend in the community – anything in excess can cause issues, and that includes volunteer work. It is the same 24 hours all of us have – to do certifications, trainings, spend with family, and take care of ourselves. There are times when this has a slice of that time, there are times when other things can/have to take that place.
2 You’ve done enough of it for people to know who you are – it is time to move on to doing other things. SQL Saturdays were at their peak when Andy Warren/Steve Jones sold the brand to PASS. They were also doing great when Karla Landrum stepped away to other things…all these people knew they had given it what was needed, and it could be handled now by others. They are people I look up to, and I considered their example worthy of following.
There is a third cause too. I had some personal values I bought to the event. Different people value different things as organizers – and these are mine. I believed, very strongly, in three things.
1 I had to be transparent about finances to everyone on the team.
2 The event was primarily about training and other things like big swag or grand parties were secondary or even not needed,
3 We had to treat volunteers with courtesy, love and respect and not just as task doers. We had to give them what they enjoyed doing, respect their feedback and value their personal situations if any.
I saw these values reflected in John Morehouse and Chris Yates who took over the team from me. I was very impressed by how they treated my team and their ethical values with regards to finances.
Given all this coming together, I decided to let the baby go. It was still hard – but it was time and it was necessary. The saturday evening after the event and after the post event social – I was looking out my hotel window at the venue. We had done five events there.
My grandmother used to say that you don’t just let go of people, you have to let go of places and anything that carries memories to make peace with it. There were lots of memories around this venue – our volunteers showed up at 5 am to put out signs on the highway, there was a flutter sign proudly waving around telling the world we were there, hundreds of people can come and gone over these years, one volunteer had sadly passed away, many people have thanked me (and many speakers) for bettering their careers doing this. Lots and lots of memories, happy and sad. I took my umbrella out and went for a stroll in the summer rain, slowly savoring all this. There is a road right opposite the venue. It is a little hill and you can’t really see what is on the other side. If you walk over the hill , it leads to a busy highway with lots of buzz. But you really can’t see that from where you are. My life as of now is on this side. And it was the same way 20 years ago. It has taken time, hard work and patience to get to the busier side and the same is true now. And to get there, I have to leave this behind. Savor it and leave it behind. Which is what I finally did. So long and good luck, SQL Saturday, and the little town of Louisville – the team, and the town – thank you for the gifts and lessons you bought me.