Archive for October, 2011

Are you investing in your personal growth?

October 22, 2011 2 comments

WARNING: This is not a blog post about financial management: I try to stay away from anything like that as most people think that I have ridiculous financial management skills (or maybe I should save that for a future blog post, if you insist.)

I love reading. I spend a lot of time on printed books as well as digital ones. And I am not really a gadget guy but about five months ago, I’ve decided to make one of those purchase decisions that my instinct  would have immediately disagreed with. I never looked back after that. I got myself an Amazon Kindle (with the keyboard but without the 3G) thanks to the wonderful sponsors at PASS SQLRally 2011 in Orlando. At first, I thought about giving the Amazon gift card to somebody who really needs it more than I do. But my wife has been trying to convince me to reward myself for all the hard work that I am do. So, I bought the Kindle. Enough said.

I’m an advocate of professional and personal development. It’s one of the reasons why I speak at conferences, write articles and provide mentoring and training to people who are committed to continuous personal growth. However, growth comes at a PRICE. Remember the time you had to learn how to write your name? The price you had to pay to learn the skill was the time to practice (and probably the foot-long ruler hitting your fingers when your teacher didn’t like how you were doing.) You also might want to include the sheets of paper you needed to write on, the pencils that you needed to use, and maybe the amount of orange juice and sandwiches you consumed while practicing your handwriting skills. Or maybe you’ve already forgotten. Maybe because handwriting now comes naturally (I still have an awful handwriting that I can’t even read sometimes, to be honest.) You’re not alone. The majority of the population thinks that growth comes naturally so they do not plan for it. What’s worse is that this mindset is reflected in organizations and corporations around the world.

Let me teach you a natural principle that I’ve kept over the years when it comes to personal growth: Plant trees. When you plant a fruit-bearing tree, you start by planting a seed. The seed comes at a price as you need to buy it maybe from the nursery or some place else. Then, you plant the seed. You would need tools to bury the seed on the soil. The tools also come at a price. Then, you water the seed. The water also comes at a price. If you are storing rainwater, the storage that you use also comes at a price. But does the seed turn into a tree overnight? Of course, not. You wait, you aerate the soil, water it some more, and you wait some more. The waiting comes at a price – your time.  Your heart smiles with you when you see the seed turn into a small plant. And you continue to do what you’ve done. Do you see where this is going? It is only after paying the price that comes with planting the tree that you see the fruits and enjoy its benefits. Most people call it cost. I call it an INVESTMENT. Why? Because you are getting a return on what you spent. If you are expecting a return without the investment, that violates the natural principle. It’s like expecting a fruit from a tree which you didn’t plant.

So, what are you willing to pay for as part of your investment for your personal growth? Time? Money? Commitment? Mine started with the books that I read that led me to that Kindle I purchased. I’d like to hear about what you’re doing.


Gratitude and Thanksgiving – In All Circumstances

“Be thankful in all circumstances”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (New Living Translation)

Today, and every second Monday of October, Canada is celebrating Thanksgiving Day. Wikipedia traces the roots of Thanksgiving to the celebration to give thanks for a good harvest. Most of us find it easy to be thankful when good things happen – getting that job promotion, receiving a gift you’ve always wanted, or even as simple as being treated out to a sumptuous dinner at a fancy restaurant. But what about when things didn’t go as planned? Or when you feel like the world is against you? Would you even think about being thankful?

That proved to be a powerful thought for me these past few days. About three and a half months ago, I blogged about the opportunity to speak at the 2011 PASS Community Summit. As I do a lot of technical presentations and speaking throughout the year, the PASS Community Summit happens to be the highlight of them all. This event has a special place in my heart as it has taught me to dream big and accomplish the seemingly impossible. It’s why I make it a point to attend the annual event and, if selected, deliver a technical presentation. Being selected to deliver a presentation is, in itself, an honour and an accomplishment. Imagine being picked from a hundred of potential speakers that are definitely a lot better and smarter than I am; it’s like making it in the NFL Draft. After receiving confirmation that I will be speaking at the conference, I immediately started preparing for my presentation – preparing a storyline, creating an outline and  preparing my slide deck. This preparation has helped me a lot in delivering the webcast equivalent last month at the 24 Hours of PASS Fall 2011 event. I’m all hyped up and ready to go. To top it all up, the much awaited SQL Server MVP Deep Dives Volume 2 book will be launched with schedules for author book signing. I didn’t make it to the book launch of Volume 1 so I was really excited to make it this time around.

That was until I knew I couldn’t.  Not being a Canadian citizen, I would need to have the proper immigration documents when travelling to and from Canada. I can go to Seattle to attend the conference but that would mean not being able to legally come back. And that is something that I simply can’t risk. Imagine how it felt like for the past two weeks for me – calling the immigration office to inquire about the status of my application, corresponding with the conference organizers telling them about my situation, and checking my mailbox every day to see if my immigration documents are already in. I was (and still am) hopeful that I can make it in time for my presentation schedule. But knowing how tight the timing was and that the long weekend could affect the mail delivery, I’ve finally made up my mind not to go. Those who knew about my situation were very positive and hopeful that I can still make it. But as far as I’m concerned, none of these things matter anymore. What matters now is how I look at the events that happened and how I can be grateful even when things didn’t happen as I wanted them to.  You see, the true meaning of Thanksgiving is when you know you’re thankful even when it’s hard to be thankful – being fired from your job, losing a loved one or missing out on an opportunity. It wasn’t easy for me and I’m sure it wouldn’t be for you. But we can always make that choice to be thankful “in all circumstances,” good or bad. What’s really amazing is that, years after those things have happened, I look back and really have a genuine feeling of gratitude for what happened. Do I miss being at the PASS Community Summit this year? Oh, I definitely do. But I sure do look forward to that day when I can look back at what happened and utter a sincere prayer of thanksgiving.

To all our Canadian friends, wherever you are, Happy Thanksgiving!

Categories: Positive Mindset

The Daily Grind: On Becoming an Expert

October 4, 2011 4 comments

There are a few things that have been keeping me busy learning these past few weeks – my MacBook Pro, the Nikon D5100 camera that I got my wife for our anniversary gift and re-learning jazz and blues piano on my Korg X50 music workstation. This is over and above the stuff that I keep learning and re-learning about SQL Server and anything about Microsoft technologies. As a teacher-at-heart, I am a strong believer of learning by doing and that most of the stuff I am learning will only stick if I practice on a regular basis. But sometimes, I fall into the trap of wanting to get things done with excellence immediately. I wanted to master all the commands on my MacBook, configure my DSLR camera to the settings I want for my photos and mastering the keyboard licks for a fancy jazz piano solo. And I get frustrated if I can’t. I feel that if I’m very good at doing high availability and disaster recovery for SQL Server databases, why can’t I even get my camera settings correctly? And, then, it hit me. I was never good at what I do the first time I did it. It took me years of practice, simulation and preparation to get me to where I am now. It’s like learning how to walk the first time. I don’t remember how hard it was for me to start walking when I was a toddler but I’m pretty sure it didn’t happen in an instant. And when I knew I can walk with ease, I bet I started running.

Leaders face the same challenge every day. Whether it’s a new leadership position, a new task they haven’t done before, or simply learning a new skill, the feeling of incompetence is always lurking nearby. While any task seem to be overwhelming at first, the good news is that there’s always an opportunity to become an expert. The secret lies in what we do on a regular basis. I’ve listed down a few things that I’ve done in the past to master a particular subject matter. You can use them as your guide to build your own list:

  1. Read the manual. Leaders are readers. They continuously try to learn more about becoming a better leader – whether it’s about how to improve their business model or developing their communication skill. The more you read, the more you know. And the more you know, the more ideas are available to you to get your job done easier. It’s the same thing with learning something new. I’m reading the user manual that came with the DSLR camera so that I know what it’s capable of doing and how I can make modifications to the settings to get the results I want.
  2. Learn the basics. When I was still in the university, one of my professors always reminded us students to go back to the basics. Understanding calculus meant learning the basic arithmetic. Similarly, knowing how to play the blues meant understanding the foundation concepts that form the complex musical chords. Leaders sometimes feel that they need to understand the complexity of their job to become effective – understanding operational efficiency, communicating vision, etc. Just go back to the basics. Financial accounting can be as simple as understanding how much you’re making versus how much you’re spending.  You’ll be surprised that anything complex can be narrowed down to its basic principles
  3. Practice. Consistently. This is a tough one. If we really want to be good at something, we need to practice. Convert theory into action. It makes learning a bit easy when you roll up your sleeves and practice. The practice part is easy. What’s challenging is being consistent. I can learn a new shortcut or command on my MacBook and apply it the next time I need to use it. But if I don’t do it consistently, I can easily forget about it in a week or less. In order to make it second nature, I have to consistently apply what I have learned. The challenge with leaders is consistently applying the new concepts learned. Want to be really good at managing your finances within the organization? Evaluate both profits and revenues consistently. Want to be a great speaker? Practice. Consistently. It could just be as simple as 20 minutes every day. But those 20 minutes could be the most important investment you can make on your journey to become an expert.

Are you trying to learn a new skill? Do you want to become an expert at what you do? While I don’t promise that you’ll become an expert in a short span of time, you definitely will become one if you follow this simple guide. If you have a guide of your own, I’d appreciate if you can share them here.