True North for the Easily Distracted

I’ve had this blog post in my mind for quite some time, but, as is sometimes the case with these things, it did not feel like it was time to meet the public quite yet. Now it is.
The bedrock of my career (and in many ways, my life) is community. I was a lonely child, sometimes by choice, sometimes not, and I didn’t quite see the point of people until a rather late age. It took me quite some time to get to grips with social interaction in general and it is in large parts due to my wonderful wife that I’ve managed to decode “people” and learn to see all the wonderful things that happen when people interact and do things together. (I.e “go talk to them, dammit!”)

As I’ve written before, I kind of fell into the SQL Server / data community by pure luck – Cathrine Wilhelmsen got hold of me one PASS Summit and it has been an epic ride from there. From that point everything clicked into place and I wanted to do more with the community, to share, to teach, to speak – to earn a place in it. I hadn’t quite realized that I didn’t have to “earn” anything at all – I just had to show up, be kind, share and enjoy. Thus – not one for doing anything in moderation, I dove right in and did what I was good at – teach, speak and share knowledge. In order to “earn” my place in said community I made it my mission to learn EVERYTHING in order to give back as much as possible. This is a great idea in theory, however it has some consequences on minor inconveniences such as sleep, spending time with family and friends or other hobbies.

I’ve got another hobby, and most of you reading this blog know what it is. My other hobby is Star Wars – I dress up as different characters and together with my friends of the 501st Legion: Nordic Garrison, we collect money for charity. Add to that I’m almost done with building a full-size replica of the droid R2D2. This hobby combines my love for Star Wars with the opportunity to give something back to people who are not as fortunate as I am. I very recently came back from Star Wars Celebration IX in Chicago – 40.000 Star Wars fans from all over the world descended on McCormick Place, a huge convention center. We stayed for five days – five days crammed from top to bottom with Star Wars of all sizes, kinds, shapes and colors. We had panels, we had cosplay, we had shopping and we had endless hours of discussing Star Wars with friends. This is a very special community in itself – it is not unlike the SQL Server / data community in that it premiers sharing, helping, and empowering people, and I very much like to spend time with nerds as committed as I am.

Going to Chicago made me realize just how important this community is to me – despite all the drama and shenanigans (try getting 12k VERY passionate people from all over the world to agree on things and see how that works out for you!). In short: everything I do in my life is something I love doing (why do something unless you love it, right?)

Unfortunately, a day only has 24 hours. I can’t do it all.

Whenever things pile up, the standard response from people who Know Things(tm) is: prioritize. “You need to figure out what your priorities are”. Plural. Which is kind of weird in itself as a priority, quite literally, means “a thing that is regarded as more important than others”. “A thing”. Singular. So how does one go about prioritizing everything that one want to learn, to do, to see?

Well, I’m glad you asked. The answer? You don’t.

A friend of mine recommended that I read a book by Simon Sinek called “Start with why”. In very broad terms it explains what a why is, why it is important, why it is more important than basically anything else simply because everything stems from the why, and how to go about finding yours. This is the “elevator pitch” of your life. Simple as that. Simon Sinek goes on to explain that after the why come the what and finally the how. The why can be seen as the vision, the what as task management, and the how the implementation.

My different whats – learn about Power BI dataflows, SQL Server Big Data clusters and data science, build another droid, make more costumes – all need to align to my why, otherwise they don’t have a reason for being. Sure, doing all of those things would be awesome, but the cost would be what little sanity I have left. Whenever a client comes to me with a request for something, my response is always “why do you want this?”. Sometimes it is obvious – “unless we can get this contraption of a database to work we’re all out of a job” or “we want to capitalize on all this nifty data we’ve been collecting since the dawn of the millennium”. More often than not this is not the case and a deep silence falls over the room while people stare wide-eyed at each other, trying to come up with a passable reason that sounds more relevant than “it seems cool” or “the other guy did it”. When people try to prioritize their tasks, they tend to try to make sense of the vast heap of what.

This got me thinking about what my why is, and – ironically – why my why is my why.

For me, It all comes back to community. I want to share whatever knowledge I have, I want to empower others to do more and I want to spend time with and learn from like-minded people – all while taking care of myself. This can be applied to all the communities I’m a part of, be it the SQL Server / data community, the Star Wars community or anything else. Suddenly the “what” doesn’t matter quite as much, and the feeling of not being “good enough” of having to “earn” my place in the respective communities by doing more started to dissipate.

Applied to my technical life, this means that despite not being able to learn EVERYTHING cool about Power BI, Azure or SQL Server as soon as the cool stuff comes out (yes, not unlike drinking from a twin-turbocharged fire hose) I’m not ” failure” as I’m still fulfilling my why. By learning something new and try to share that knowledge, empower someone or spend time with people I like while taking care of myself, I fulfill my why and thus I’m doing “the right thing”.

Applied to my “other life” (a.k.a my private life), this means that despite not being able to meet EVERYONE, make ALL the droids or go to EVERY Star Wars convention there is (but I am going to Star Wars Celebration X in Anaheim next year!) I’m not “a failure” as I’m still fulfilling my why. By helping, talking to, or spending time with someone while taking caring of myself I fulfill my why and thus I’m doing “the right thing”.

I have found my priority (singular!) in my why. This why works as true north for my what and my how, respectively. As long as I stay true to my compass, I think I might be on the right track.

In summary – prioritizing all your different whats without having sorted your why is probably not going to help you find inner calm. By changing my rules I have found it possible to overcome most feelings of not doing enough, knowing enough or helping enough. Find your why and give your soul a place to rest and recharge.
We ask our clients “why?” every day – why not ask ourselves the same question?