- Expect stress, so prepare for it. Doing something new always introduces stress, whether it’s as simple as cooking (especially if you don’t know how to cook, like me) or as complicated as performing your new role as CEO. It’s OK to feel stressed about it and that’s normal. However, if you let stress take over, you won’t be able to function well. That’s why preparation is key. Having spent more than 3 years in Singapore, I knew what it felt like riding (but not driving) on the left side of the road. I started imagining myself driving behind the wheel, being on the left side of the road and feeling the shifting gear. The mental preparation paid off when I hopped in to the car and turned on the ignition. What I didn’t do was prepare physically. I should have slept well on my flight to the UK to get my body clock in-sync with the local time and not feel sleepy. Unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure that out even though I’m a frequent traveller.
- It’s OK to start slow and make mistakes. Highly driven individuals always feel like they’re on an adrenalin rush. They want things done quickly, efficiently and correctly. So, don’t be surprised when your colleagues or boss can’t deal with inefficiency. They’ve become so used to doing their task efficiently that they expect you to do the same. But taking on new challenges requires a different mindset. You need to be patient with yourself because you’re in learning-mode. You will make mistakes and you will get frustrated. But the last thing you need to do is be hard on yourself. Rarely do we make it right the first time. Remember the time you were learning how to write your name? How many sheets of paper did you end up tearing? In my case, I felt like a new driver again. I stopped in the middle of the road a couple of times because I accidentally switched to the wrong gear while I make a turn. While I’m good with the clutch, my instinct just kicks in and try to reach for the switching gear with my right hand instead of the left and everything goes haywire. After getting back to my normal driving mode, I laugh at myself thinking like I was a kid riding a bike on training wheels.
- Build on the things you already know. I actually used this point in my presentation about Windows Failover Clustering. One reason why most people don’t take on new challenges is because they feel overwhelmed with things that they know nothing about. I hear this a lot from people who get promoted on to a new management role – the technical support guy who is now appointed as the new team lead, the sales guy who just became the director of sales. What they don’t realize is they actually know a few things. They just need to build on them. The sales guy can sell the company vision and the tech support guy can use his analytical skills to fix a teamwork issue. Knowing that you know a few things builds confidence when tackling on a new challenge.
- Observe, pay attention, learn and adjust accordingly. It’s easy to switch back to what we have gotten used to. But to be successful in facing a new challenge, flexibility is a must. Observe what others are doing. Pay attention to even the smallest details. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. When I reached the freeway/highway/motorway, I wondered whether the speed was in kilometers or miles per hour. The on-dash GPS was telling me the distance in miles but the speedometer didn’t give me any hint. I kept glancing at the GPS because I knew how to correlate the speed and the distance traveled (yes, I was doing what I call the driver’s math of figuring out the speed just by using known values when the speedometer doesn’t give you any clue.) When I figured out that the speed was in miles, I realized that I wasn’t shifting gears properly. I knew how to shift gears in kilometers per hour but not miles per hour. Fortunately, the car I rented displayed a number that told me which gear I’m supposed to be on at a particular speed. But that number was very difficult to figure out because it was very small. I had to figure it out while driving by observing it while I change gears. That small detail helped improve my driving.
- Understand what is at stake. It’s easy to give up when the challenge is overwhelming. I bet we can think of a thousand different (even valid) reasons for throwing in the towel. But when we understand what is at stake, we instantly find reasons not to give up. Is the future of your company dependent on you completing the task? Is your job on the line? I felt like giving up after several miles on the road because of the mistakes I made while driving. I thought about finding the nearest branch of the rental car company and just return the car. But I realized that if I don’t focus on driving, I might end up in an accident. And I certainly wouldn’t like that to happen.
- Seek out the right people. I thought I was the only one who tried to drive around in the UK with a different driving background. I talked to some of my friends who were there and realized that there were four of us. Suddenly, I no longer felt alone. We shared stories about how we felt and the different bloopers that we got ourselves into. And, we laughed. Facing new challenges isn’t such a bad idea after all if you know that others are in the same boat. Never face new challenges on your own and be sure that you are hanging out with the right people.
- Celebrate small successes. After a few days, I’ve already gotten the hang of being on the right side of the car and on the left side of the road. I went from feeling like a student driver to a professional one. I knew how to switch lanes properly when approaching the roundabouts. With that in mind, I was now able to stop along the way, taking pictures and enjoyed the scene. What started as a stressful attempt to drive in the UK has now turned into a pleasant experience. Every new challenge that we face will have its small victories. Know when to stop to celebrate them. Pat yourself on the back for taking the risk and facing the challenge. The small victories you celebrate today will be your stepping stones for your success tomorrow.
Are you facing a new challenge? Realize that it can either break you or it can make you a better leader.
Our thoughts lead to actions. Our actions lead to habits. Our habits lead to character. Our character develops our future.
This is the second in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
Planes have attitude indicators. Yes, I myself was surprised when I first heard about it. Also known as the gyro horizon, it’s an instrument that informs the pilot of the plane’s orientation relative to the earth’s horizon. When the plane is climbing, the nose of the plane is pointing above the horizon. When it is diving, the nose is pointed below the horizon. Most pilots will say that the performance of the plane is dictated by its attitude. In order to change the performance of the plane, pilots need to change its attitude.
This was the second slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: ATTITUDE DETERMINES ALTITUDE. Unfortunately, our education system is more concerned about test scores and IQ than emotional intelligence (EQ) or even attitude development. I bet that if you ask a lot of successful entrepreneurs, leaders and business people, they will tell you that their attitude has been a major contributor in their success. Our attitude is the only thing that we get to control 100% of the time. While we don’t have any control of our circumstances, we have full control of our attitude. It’s a matter of choosing which attitude we carry around with us that will determine how successful we will be.
I have to admit that choosing the right attitude is not easy. I wasn’t all that positive in the past. I complained about almost everything, saw myself as way better off than anybody else I knew and blamed others for the misfortunes that I experienced. It took me a while to realize how my attitude is affecting my career and, eventually, my future. My drive to be excellent at everything I do compensated for my bad attitude but it wasn’t long until the bad attitude finally caught up. As I was in the middle of my failed startup, my wife gave me a wake up call. She told me that unless I start changing my attitude, things will only be heading further south. I had to make a choice. The process was painful. It was like unlearning all of the stuff that I’ve learned throughout the years. But I was determined to go thru it. Years later, I was trying to figure out how I managed to go thru the process so that I can share it with others. It’s not that I was smart enough to learn about a process I followed that helped me overcome a bad attitude. I was clueless back then. But here are three things that I did to help me develop a positive attitude:
- WRITE. I wrote down the things that I don’t like about myself. Now, this is a tough exercise. You need to be very honest about yourself - what you like and don’t like. I knew I was complaining about almost everything so I wrote that on top of my list. I was determined to revert that bad attitude into a positive one. I also knew that I was blaming others for my misfortune. I had that item next in the list. I didn’t resolve all of my attitude problems at the same time (it’s probably the reason why some of them still show up every once in a while.) I just wanted to resolve the ones that I think are that bad. As I wrote them down, I thought of an alternative attitude that would replace the bad ones. The bad ones have to be replaced by good attitudes. I wrote those down as well. You could also type it on your mobile device or tablet if you prefer that.
- SAY. I believe in the power of confession. There’s a reason why the Bible talks about the power of our words. Successful sales people understand this concept in that they constantly speak positive words to themselves especially when trying to close a major deal. I practiced the power of confession daily by telling myself the good attitudes that I need to replace the old ones with. It may feel uncomfortable at first but you’ll get used to it. But what’s good about it is that you are now starting to reinforce your belief with your words.
- ACT. I needed to put my belief into action. I needed to practice what I wrote down and told myself. They say actions speak louder than words. I have to act according to my belief. I used to complain about almost everything. I replaced that with gratitude. I felt uncomfortable at first, like the time when I was saying positive confessions to myself. I became grateful even with the smallest things. I thanked people around me. I thanked those who contributed to my success. I still do. Every once in a while, I check my LinkedIn, Facebook (yes, I have a Facebook profile now), Twitter accounts, email archives, etc. to find opportunities to thank others for what they have done for me. I’m not saying I no longer complain. However, gratitude is now my dominant attitude as compared to 15 years ago.
Having a great attitude is key to success. It’s so important that Dr. John C. Maxwell, America’s leadership expert, wrote an entire book about it – The Winning Attitude. But it doesn’t come easily. I still have to work hard at it every day, choosing to start my day with a right attitude. Now, I’m one of those who claim that having a great attitude has contributed a lot to where I am right now.
You might also want to read:
- Self-Discipline Series: Taming Your Thoughts
- It’s all about perspective: An amazing result of the power of positive thinking
Question: What one attitude that you want to change today to become a better person tomorrow? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
– Paul Coelho, The Alchemist -
This is the first in a series of blog posts that talk about success. I had the opportunity to ask the registered attendees for SQLSaturday Philippines to vote for a particular topic that they like best. Since I usually talk about professional development for IT Professionals at the PASS Summit, I provided a list of topics from presentation skills to landing your dream job. This was the one that got the most number of votes: What Your College Education Didn’t Teach You About Success.
If you look at any dictionary, you will find the word FAILURE before the word SUCCESS. I think it was meant for a reason. Real success comes from accepting the fact that one has to experience failure first. I have yet to meet somebody who’s very successful who have not had any failures.
This was the very first slide in my presentation about what our education doesn’t teach us about success: FAILURE IS MANDATORY. The audience was shocked. Indeed, nobody told them that failure is mandatory for success. We all grew up thinking that failure should be avoided like the plague. Our parents have the noblest intention when they told us not to pursue anything too risky. Our teachers penalized incorrect test answers. Our managers confronted us for our mistakes. We’ve been raised, taught, and trained to avoid failure at all cost. Everybody thinks that failure is just that: FAILURE. And that’s where the biggest challenge is. It requires unlearning all those years of getting used to avoiding failure at all cost. It requires a total change of mindset.
During the presentation, I shared a story about me winning the SQLSentry contest last year. The contest was about convincing SQLSentry why I am worth sending to the SQLSkills Immersion Training. Most contestants will think of the different ways that they can showcase their capabilities, their successes, etc. After all, nobody ever won a contest because they were failures. For my entry, I decided to do something different. I listed out some of my failures
- I failed 17 courses while pursuing my undergraduate degree
- My first startup failed
- I crashed production servers at work
People who know me understand that I’m not comfortable with failure. I’m very competitive and I push myself to the limit. Yet, at a young age, I realized that I need to embrace failure as a means to succeed. That was a lesson that I learned the hard way. And it sure wasn’t something taught to me inside the classroom (although it was a side effect of being inside the classroom.) I failed my very first match course in the university. This was despite the fact that I joined math contests during my high school days. I was devastated. I tried to hide all evidences that I failed. It sure wasn’t a good story to tell my former high school classmates who thought that I was pretty cool with math. But then it hit me. The failure experience need to be transformed into lessons learned.
- Failures taught me to refocus on what’s important. Failing doesn’t mean one is a failure. We need to separate the activity from the individual. I failed my math course. That doesn’t mean I was a failure. I am more important than what I can accomplish. Far too often that we associate ourselves with what we have accomplished than who we really are. It should be the other way around. We should be able to tell ourselves this: “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a very big difference between the two.
- Failure taught me to redefine what success means to me. We often fall under the trap of someone else’s definition of success. We think that having a big house, a nice car, a progressive career and a stable job meant success. We’ve been taught and conditioned to think that way. Haven’t we all heard the saying, “Go to school, get good grades, find a stable job and retire” from those who are a generation ahead of ours? That’s because it has worked for them. But what worked for them might not work for us. I realized that I need a new definition of success, one that is aligned with my very purpose. It took me a while to redefine what success means to me because I had to understand what my life’s purpose is. But when I did, it was easier to accept failure. I knew that my purpose was to help people grow and develop their fullest potential. I now see failure as a step towards achieving my purpose. As long as I’m fulfilling my purpose, I’m in good terms with failure.
- Failure taught me that it’s not what happens during that matters. There’s nothing wrong with feeling sorry for yourself after failing. That’s just human nature. However, what you do after the failure determines whether or not you end up being successful. Most of us feel a sense of fear after experiencing failure that we dare not try again. I’ve had my fair share of fears. I almost quit pursuing an engineering degree after failing my first math course in the university. After all, engineering is all about math and science. At the end of the semester, I was more determined to pursue an engineering degree. It took me another semester to pass that math course. But it did give me some sense of fulfillment knowing that I conquered my fear. I still failed other courses in my undergraduate program as proven by my transcript. But that didn’t stop me from continuing with my degree. It’s not what happens during your failure that matters. What does is how you deal with it afterwards.
Learn to be comfortable with failure. It’s a prerequisite for success. So important that Dr. John C. Maxwell, America’s leadership expert, wrote an entire book about it – Failing Forward. It’s a guidebook for turning mistakes into stepping stones for success.
In case you’re interested, here’s my entry to the SQLSentry contest. You be the judge.
University of the Philippines Oblation by randyg
“With rights come responsibilities. If we aren’t willing to take responsibilities, how dare we claim the rights.”
I’m rarely vocal about my political views for “fear” of being branded as a leftist (I used the word fear because leaders are not immune to the feeling: they just know how to deal with it.) When I was in the university, I was almost always associated with the leftist primarily because of what I wear and who I hang out with. Most people know me as somebody who’s passionate about my country – the Philippines – even when I was still a kid. And I consider myself as an “unofficial Philippine ambassador.”
Last Friday, I noticed several media personnel in the University of the Philippines (UP) (Manila campus.) I wasn’t aware of any issues surrounding the premiere state university in the country because I try to avoid reading the news. I was intrigued. When I got back home, the first thing that I did was check the news. It turns out that there was a freshman university student who committed suicide because she was forced to take a leave of absence for failure to pay tuition fees. This became instant news, especially with the upcoming senatorial elections in May of this year. A friend of mine posted a very intriguing question on Facebook regarding the incident: is the University of the Philippines for (a) Poor Pinoy students, (b) Academically Excellent Pinoy students or (c) Academically Excellent Poor Pinoy students? I responded. Not because I wanted to defend my alma mater. I wanted others to understand that there was a much deeper issue that had to be dealt with. It was an issue of the heart. An issue of entitlement. It’s sad to hear about the loss of a loved one. More sad to realize that people are blaming the system without first looking for answers from within. Some say the student was killed by the system. Others say she was a victim of a repressive policy that wasn’t in favor of education as a right. A characteristic of true leadership is taking responsibilities for any actions done. Below was my response to the question.
I try to avoid telling others that I went to University of the Philippines (Diliman campus) primarily because (a) I failed “17 courses” in my undergraduate program and (b) nobody wanted to hire me because of the former Now, when the UP system was founded back in 1908, the ultimate goal was to provide a high quality of education to the Filipino people. Nowhere in the original goal did it mention that it was for “anybody poor.” The system has evolved into what it is today primarily because it was partly subsidized by the government. With the economic journey of the Philippines after World War II, where it used to be a first-world country in Southeast Asia, most people in the government took advantage of the UP system as a means to advance their political career. Because there was an increase in the population of those living below the poverty line, the UP STFAP was born. The UP STFAP program was conceived in the late 80s, following the People Power revolution. This was the time where there was an increasing gap between the rich and the poor. This created an ever increasing “entitlement mindset” among those who are poor-yet-deserving students to go to the UP system. The very reason why tuition in the UP system is way higher than the other state universities is because they subsidize other state universities. So, to answer your question, the UP system is for the academically excellent Filipino students, regardless of economic status. For those who feel that they deserve to go to UP, go ahead and prove that they indeed deserve to go there. I couldn’t afford a UP education because it was relatively expensive for me. I had a choice between not pursuing a university degree (cheaper,) going to other state universities (a little more costly,) going to other private institutions (most expensive) or going to UP (bordering between cheap and expensive.) I chose to go to UP. I fought to stay in UP. I sacrificed a lot to go to UP. Now, do I deserve to go to UP because I was poor? Absolutely not! But I made a choice to go there, stay there and earn my university degree for there no matter what. I knew how it felt like to go from UP STFAP’s bracket E1 to bracket A (during my time, the UP STFAP used a numeric system for the brackets.) I knew how it felt like to scour for funds to finish my degree regardless of what my STFAP’s status was. Education, I believe, should be a right. But with rights come responsibility. If we are not willing to take the responsibility, we do not deserve to enjoy the right.
I was about to deliver my presentation on preparing and delivering presentations when my MacBook just couldn’t get the projector to work with it. One guy from the audience started making comments about using a Windows laptop instead of a MacBook so we switched to one but still without any luck (that proved that it wasn’t a MacBook problem but that of the projector) After almost 3 minutes of trying, I told everyone that I would just skip the slides and proceed with the presentation.
People who have seen me deliver presentations know how engaging my slide decks are because of the amount of effort I put in to preparing a presentation. Everything I do is intentional: from the story line that ties up everything included in my presentation to the font type and color pallet I choose for the slides. The worst part of this is that I am delivering a presentation about presentations and I’m stuck with literally nothing. Prior to going on stage, I was rehearsing my presentation with the slide deck that I will be using. With very limited time, I even rehearsed the stories that I wanted to tell and removed those that weren’t relevant. But when I felt the audience started to feel a bit uneasy waiting for my presentation, I just went ahead without the materials that I was supposed to use.
Most presenters have been in this kind of situation. But, as I commonly say, failure is a state of mind. Whether you’re in the middle of a presentation that’s about to go south or in a middle of a crisis, what you do determines whether or not the outcome will still be a failure. Here are several things to keep in mind when you’re i the middle of a failure situation.
- Recognize that it is happening. Reality bites but we need to face it whether we like it or not. We need to recognize failure as it is happening so we can assess the situation and think of what possible ways can we drive it around to a full turn. When both my MacBook and the Windows laptop didn’t work with the projector, I knew I had to ditch all of the hard work and effort that I have put in to prepare my presentation.
- Quickly think of an alternative. It’s hard to think of an alternative without recognizing that failure is happening. Once we’ve recognize it, immediately switch to problem solving mode. My alternative was one that does not need anything other than me. So, I told the audience that I will be proceeding with my presentation without slides.
- Include others in the process. I’ve seen the other presenters before me so I immediately used them in my opening lines. Since the audience has already seen them before me, they will be able to relate to what I am about to say. I used the two previous presenters as examples to drive a point and that made a whole lot of sense to the audience.
- Tap into your soul. Your experience, your character and your values provide more meaning to who you are. That’s what others see in you. Use it to your advantage as you navigate away from the failure that is currently happening. I’ve almost memorized my presentation because I’ve delivered it a few times now. But that’s not important to me at that point. What’s important is that the audience will still be inspired to become great presenters after seeing me struggle with the projector issue. I told them a story about my presentation at a SQLSaturday event in New York City about failover clustering but wrapping the presentation around the story of 9-11. Everyone remembers 9-11 so the audience understood how powerful the presentation was even without being there. My experience about delivering a previous presentation was what I used to drive another main point in my presentation.
- Realize that you just turned a failure into a success. Failures only stay that way if we don’t learn from them. The biggest impact that a failure can have on anybody is when the very object of failure is what moved them to become successful. After navigating thru the depths of failure towards success, you can pat yourself on the back for doing a great job. That’s another item on the failure list that you can use as an example for success.
After my presentation, one of the attendees approached and thanked me for doing a great job delivering the presentation. I was a bit reluctant to accept it because I knew at the back of my head that I could have done better. What she said to me after wards is what really struck me. Despite all of the problems with the projectors and computers, she remembered the three most important things in my presentation: the goal of delivering a presentation is to educate, entertain and to encourage.
You can find a copy of my “undelivered” presentation slide on SlideShare for your reference.