This month’s T-SQL Tuesday is organized by Mohammed Darab(t|b). Mohammed has a really interesting topic – things you would say to yourself if you were 20. I am well past 20, and this is something I think about often. There are many,many things I wish I’d known earlier, that would have significantly changed my life for the better. But, life is intended to be just that – a series of obstacles and lessons we learn as we go along. If we knew everything to start with, there would be no obstacles and that’s not how it is intended to be. But, I would absolutely put down things I’ve learned the hard way that younger people or even older people with dissimilar challenges can learn and understand from. Below are a few of my answers, the answers that age taught me, and things I’ve learned, as a woman, a person of color, an immigrant and a woman in tech. Below are some things I’d have done totally differently.
1 Pick my battles. We live in a conflicted world. There is no way we are going to end up fixing every single thing we see that is wrong. I’d be annoyed or get turned off by a number of things starting with people violating traffic rules to the bro culture at work.It didn’t make my life any better to get involved in all of them. I’d say, now, to pick one or two that really matter, and understand that a lot of life is about just getting along.
2 Watch my back at work. I was given to being very open, and very candid about a lot of things, and often times went into battles without anyone looking out for me. Work situations are complicated, and people are in it mainly to make a living, not fight social causes. Now, I speak up on issues where I am assured of some sort of support. And if I am in unethical or immoral situations I just leave as quickly as I can.
3 Try less to belong, more to be who I am. As a somewhat lonely child I desperately wanted to belong. I’d often times hang out among people who were not like me in any way, or ponder too deeply on why some people are cliquish and others more accepting..on and on. I still sometimes have those feelings. Truth is that you can’t belong among people who are too different than you, and you can do absolutely nothing about other people having their cliques. Being who I am has attracted way more positive energy and like minded people.
4 Networking is about helping people. God, this lesson has taken a few decades. I am not extroverted, and for many years I had no clue what people said ‘networking’ was. I thought it was about brown nosing, going to golf, or visiting bars after hours..on and on. My volunteer work in the SQL community has led me to believe that quality networking is nothing more than honest, open availability to help people, and listen. I cannot even articulate how many doors opened for me after I learned this.
5 Nothing helps your career more than consistent efforts in any direction. As techies there are a billion different ways our paths can go, and most of us constantly worry about if we are doing this or that, compared to those other people who are. I worried a lot about not traveling and speaking as much as most friends do, not being an MVP, or a rockstar blogger..any number of such things. Truth is that consistent efforts in any one or two of those things pay rich rewards and we can’t be doing all of it. Spreading too thin is in fact a serious issue with many people. I’ve limited my efforts to things I enjoy – blogging, occasional speaking, writing, and volunteering wherever I can. That is how much I can do with my limited spare time. And the rewards it yields have been good enough.
6 Set small goals – I was given to setting very big, ambitious goals – like one blog post every week, getting through all certifications, and so on. Big goals are a form of self sabotage, albeit subtle. Few people get to achieve them, and somehow we all feel setting smaller goals is a lowly thing to do. It isn’t. Set small, measurable, easy goals, and document progress. It is true of every single thing – diet, exercise, tech learning.
7 Take vacations seriously – I spent a few decades of my youth working. I was a die hard workaholic, and the need to impress people was very strong. I canceled a vacation with my now late mom because of a reorganization at work. I never got to vacation with her again. We work to live, not the other way around. Vacations matter. Spending time and energy with loved ones is why we work.
8 Maintain community – I can’t really claim this is entirely something that I learned with age. Partly yes. As someone living many thousand miles away I learned the hard way that bonding between people, even people in your own family, needs effort and maintenance. Taking people for granted means you can’t guarantee the responses or regard you need will be available when you need it. It is the same with professional ties and with friends. It is partly why I make it a point to go to the PASS Summit every single year, when I have choices of other conferences. Meeting people in person is important. Saying hello, even once a year, and checking in on them matters and makes a difference. And no, just saying hi online is not quite the same thing. Take time for the people in your life. Invest in relationships. It is important.
9 All good things come to an end – This year marks my 16th year at PASS Summit. For the initial 12 years – I have nothing to show by way of photographs or memories. Some of those people are no longer around. I also don’t have any pictures of many people who were friends with me at earlier gigs, or neighbors or any number of things. These things matter. Nowadays I make it a point to capture those memories. It won’t be too long before many of us are old enough – those will be the only things that remain to remind us of good times.
10 Forgive and let go – Last but not the least. Don’t dwell on disappointments and resentments too much. I spent a LOT of emotional energy on this. One of my favorite quotes attributed to the Buddha is that holding a hot coal hurts the hand the holds it. I’ve basically learned that there are two kinds of people – those who are not worth it, and those who make mistakes and come around. The former are just that, let go of them when you learn it. The latter, forgive, include, accept. We are all human and mistakes happen. When you see that the person has a clear heart, and if he/she does, let go of the small stuff. The others, just not the right people for you, that is all.
I have learned all these lessons the hard way. But I have learned them. And it has made my life better. Thank you Mohammed for hosting!!