Like many others, I’m planning a few changes for my life for next year. I’m a believer in finding one’s own way, while still abiding the advice of the wise. Often called upon for inspirations are the timeless words of Confucius, the inspiring speeches of Martin Luther King, the controversial yet insightful analyses of Sigmund Freud, and the various authors of the Christian Old Testament book of Psalms. I find value in all of these, but for next year, I’m trying something a little different. I’m going to look a little further off the beaten path to the words of one of the most unforgettable personalities of the twentieth century.
That’s right. I’m invoking the wisdom of Vanilla Ice.
His hair was whack. His clothes were loud. His ink was plentiful. His bass line was
stolen catchy. But in the words of his best known contribution to pop culture, I’ve found inspiration for the next twelve months of my life.
In 2012, I’m living out Ice Ice Baby.
All right, stop. Collaborate and listen.
I spent almost two thousand hours working last year – and that’s just my “official” work which doesn’t include after-hours writing projects, travel time, speaking, and professional reading. But as I look back on the year, I can enumerate only a few new things that I learned. Sure, I got incrementally better at the things I already knew, but 2011 is the first year in several that I can’t say that there’s one particular new thing that I’m proud to have truly conquered.
I’ve given this advice to others, but it seems that I’ve failed to follow it this year: Stay on top of your professional development. Don’t just stick with what you now know – branch out and learn. I’ve had a “do” mindset this year, which is noble, but one also has to take pause to learn new things to continue growth.
Looking forward to 2012, there are several things I plan to either a) learn for the first time, or b) take my existing knowledge of that thing to the next level. Among them:
- Data Quality Services – there’s not a huge amount of buzz around this yet, but as a business intelligence consultant I see grand potential in this tool. Every organization, without exception, has bad data. I’ve spent very little time getting to know DQS, but I’m planning to dive in to it in 2012, and I expect to be knowledgeable enough to be blogging about it by midyear.
- Analysis Services – Although I’ve been working with SSAS for a couple of years now, there are still a few facets of the product that I haven’t yet mastered. I expect to remedy that next year as I explore the product more thoroughly.
- Kimball – I use the Kimball data warehouse methodology every day, but there’s so much more left to learn. The Kimball Group has published dozens of books, and I’ve read only parts of a few of them. To a BI professional, this collection is The Bible. I commit to not just own and reference these works, but to consume them with vigor.
- Photoshop – Yes, this is completely unrelated to my BI career, but as many of you know, my wife and I started a photography business this year. Although she’s running the business, I want to be in a position to help her out as much as possible. I’ve been using Photoshop (the consumer version) for about a year now, and I have learned enough to perform most basic and a few advanced operations. Toward that objective, I’m acquiring some training materials and am planning a self-guided education to take my postproduction skills to the next level.
Quick to the point, to the point no faking
There’s a dirty word that I keep overusing. I’ve tried not to say it, but it just keeps slipping out. Sometimes I say it subconsciously, and other times I blurt it out in the heat of the moment. As yet, nobody has said it to my face, but I suspect that others may be talking behind my back about my overuse of this word.
The word: Yes.
“Tim, do you want to serve on this committee?” “Yes, I will!”
“Tim, can you proof this white paper?” “Yes, I’ll get right on that.”
“Hey Tim, can you round up and manage some volunteers to help us do this thing?” “Yes, I’m your man.”
Individually, a Yes is a good thing. Helping a friend, leading a team, and participating in a charity event are all great things to agree to. Saying Yes isn’t the enemy. Saying Yes too much, however, can get you in trouble. I’ve been too quick to say Yes to almost every request, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s put me in a bind a few times this year.
Saying Yes isn’t just a way to end a conversation – it’s a commitment. When you say Yes to something, you’re telling someone, “Don’t worry about the thing you need done. I’m going to take care of it for you.” It’s a transfer of responsibility. Even if it’s not in writing, it’s a contract. To say Yes with no reasonable possibility of delivering is self-delusion. Faking.
So for 2012, I’m going to continue to say Yes as much as I can, but I’ll do so more cautiously. The three big F’s – family, friends, finances – take priority for my Yes. When opportunities arise that I simply can’t fit in, I’ll have to politely decline. It takes too much effort to pretend that I have more time and energy than I actually do. Life is simply too short to worry about being overloaded, which leads to my next point…
If there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.
I have to admit that I wasted a lot of time and mental energy worrying about stuff in 2011. I made some big commitments in this past year and for the most part I’ve delivered (albeit late, in a few cases) on those commitments. However, my tendency to procrastinate was in high gear this year, and I put off until the last minute some tasks that I could have easily checked off my list. This behavior turns into a vicious cycle – procrastination leads to worry when the deadlines start to close in, the worry becomes a distraction that makes it difficult to concentrate on the thing that needs to be done, and the distraction makes it easier to keep procrastinating.
I’m setting a different standard for myself in 2012. If something needs to be done, I’m just going to do it. Is it really that simple? It can be, yes. As an incentive, I’m reclassifying some things that I have previously considered to be entitlements. Watching TV (even my favorite shows), recreational reading, Facebooking, playing Wii, and other similar downtime activities fall into that group; rather than doing these things whenever I choose (or to avoid doing something else), I’m developing a realistic reward system to help balance work with play. By prioritizing the things that need to be done over the things that are enjoyable but not necessarily productive, I expect to reclaim the time I’ve been wasting in worry.
Take heed, 'cause I'm a lyrical poet
I really enjoy writing, and I’m a pretty decent writer. So why don’t I do more of it? Oh, that’s right – I’ve been procrastinating (see previous bullet).
In years past, I’ve been quite an active blogger – I’ve consistently blogged as frequently as once or twice a week. These days, that number is more accurately measured in blogs per month (or even per quarter). That’s simply unacceptable. It’s not that I’m not capable of writing more, nor do I have a lack of material. I’m a consultant – the world is my muse. The only explanation is that I’ve not chosen to make blogging a priority this year.
Now to be fair, I have been busy writing this year – I contributed to the MVP Deep Dives V2 earlier this year, and I’m currently wrapping up another book (SSIS Design Patterns) to be released early next year. However, this is still no excuse to skip out on blogging, which has a faster turnaround, generally requires less effort and research, is more flexible in terms of content, and often reaches a larger readership than book projects. For someone with so much to say, blogging should be a part of my regular routine, not just something that I do when I have spare time.
I’m going to light the fire in 2012 again. I'm setting a goal of one professional blog post per week, with the expectation that I’ll do more than that. I’ve proven that I’m capable of more than that, and by removing the distraction of worry, I haven’t the excuse of not enough time. Further, I’m setting aside weekly time – two hours per, as a start – for blogging, and I’m considering that block of time to be wholly reserved for blogging and not a flexible time slot to catch up on whatever task happens to be overdue at the time.
Word to your mother
In the same vein, I’ve recently revived my personal blog and will continue to share on that forum. In the past, I had posted to my professional blog just about anything, including items that would be of little interest to those who don’t know me personally. Having the separate personal blog allows me to blog more frequently about topics that interest me without annoying the professional audience on my technical blog. Plus, I want to be able to share a piece of myself with my kids when they’re old enough to understand, and I don’t want them to have to try to distill the personal stuff that interests them from the professional stuff that doesn’t.
I haven’t made a hard commitment on a number of personal posts, simply because of the variety of frequency in which a bloggable event occurs. Some might be deep and insightful monologues (I blogged last week about my mom’s house fire back in December of 1980), but others may be quick thoughts about my day. I’ll blog on my personal site as often as appropriate, and I’ll let that play out however it will.
I'm killin' your brain like a poisonous mushroom
My job is literally killing me.
(pause for effect)
I really, really like what I do. I work with great people, I get to solve difficult and interesting problems, and I don’t have to brave the elements while I work. Plus, my job isn’t physically strenuous. And while that last part is a good thing, it’s also a bad thing – it means that I spend almost all of my working hours (sometimes 70-80 of them per week, counting my writing, photo editing, etc.) sitting on my posterior.
Although my numbers (weight/BMI/cholesterol/blood pressure) are reasonable for my age, I’m in the worst shape of my life. I don’t walk enough and hardly ever run. I’ve worked up a sweat maybe four times in the last two months. I deal with a higher-than-average amount of stress. Any M.D. on the planet who read the last two paragraphs would scream at me that I’m headed for really bad stuff in a couple of decades (if not sooner).
There’s only one way to change this. I’ve simply got to get off my can and get active again. I’ve resolved to do this at least a dozen times over the last several years, but the initiative always dies off quickly. In 2012, that all changes. My kids are old enough that we can get out and enjoy physical activities together, even if it’s just playing chase-and-tag in the back yard. There’s a fitness center less than a half mile from my house, where I already have a membership. There are dozens of people in my local and national circle of friends who are involved in fitness initiatives, and many of them are distance runners. I’ve got the motive, means, and opportunity to get in shape – and as of today, I pledge to do so. (Note: I’ll be publishing a separate post on my personal blog with the specifics of my goals.)
Yo man, let's get out of here
The year 2011 is almost done. As you can infer from the above, I’m not altogether happy with my progress this year, and as of now I wash my hands of that old way of thinking. Now that it’s in writing, I’m committed to follow through, with the expectation that both of my loyal blog readers will call me out if I stumble.
And perhaps by this time next year, you’ll all be jealous 'cause I'm out getting mine.