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That Awkward Feeling Of Being A Noob


Have you ever tried using your left hand to write if you’re right-handed? Or maybe tried driving on the right side of the road? Recall the first time you’ve tried riding a bicycle or learned how to skate (I have to admit that I still don’t know how.) How did that feel? Here’s what’s worse. You’re trying a totally different approach related to your area of expertise. Like the accountant learning how to use TurboTax for the first time.  He knows the spreadsheet in-and-out but just couldn’t get the software’s user interface. This reminded me of how users reacted to Microsoft Office 2007 when it first came out. And because change is constant and inevitable, we’ll always feel like a noob. ALWAYS. And it feels awkward. ALWAYS.

But just like learning how to ride a bicycle, we get used to it. The awkward feeling starts to go away and we start feeling confident. When you’re riding your bicycle without holding the handle bars, you never think about how many times you’ve fallen off or the number of scratches you got. You probably couldn’t even remember. You went from being a noob to being an expert and riding the bicycle no longer feels awkward. You now feel great about it. But it definitely took a lot of trying it out and getting used to it. The path from being a noob to becoming an expert is never an easy one. That, in fact, was the thesis of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and the idea behind the 10,000 hours road to expertise. With the right investment of time and effort, anyone can move past the feeling of awkwardness fairly quickly.

But I think it’s more than the awkward feeling of being a noob. Behind all of that is the feeling of PRIDE. Admitting that you have to throw away all of your efforts and investments does feel a bit awkward. And that feeling where you suddenly have to slide down the ranks from up top all the way back to the bottom. When experts feel that they’re back to being a noob. And because they’ve gotten used to the feeling of being an expert, they no longer want to go back and re-experience how it all started – the fear, anxiety, and frustration that comes with it.

Didn’t I say that change is constant and inevitable? This means we have to get used to being a noob because we will always have to learn something new. But we need to put our pride aside or we’ll never get past this awkward feeling.

Now, go ahead and ride that bicycle.

What You See is What You Get (WYSIWYG)


In order to carry a positive action we must develop here a positive vision.
– Dalai Lama – 

My first introduction to this acronym was during my junior year in high school. My best friend got his very first personal computer loaded with Microsoft Windows 3.1. He was bragging about his expensive new toy and mentioning acronyms that I have never heard before, WYSIWYG being one of them. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was actually talking about something on the computer screen to look like the final product. I thought it was just going to be one of those acronyms that I will have to deal with if I pursue a career in technology.

Fast forward several years later, I was with my wife and kids at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, FL. My kids wanted to try out the Transformers 3D ride just for fun. I knew what it was about because of my early exposure to the world of virtual reality so I wasn’t really that excited. Plus, I’m not a big fan of theme parks nor rides but since my kids insisted, I obliged. I’ve read different reviews about the ride experience so I knew what to expect. However, I was really surprised. The special effects (particularly the visual ones) are remarkable. They make you feel like you are indeed a part of the whole Autobot/Decepticon war. During that experience, I’ve learned several valuable lessons that I didn’t realize were applicable to both leadership and personal life. And I’ve never thought theme park rides can teach you a few leadership lessons.

  1. The unexpected can and will happen. Outside of the ride, I could hear people screaming – both as an expression of excitement and fear. It’s hard to judge based on the sound because they’re a mix of both. So, I made a conclusion based on what I heard: this might be a scary ride. As I was handed out a pair of 3D eyeglass, I expected 3D visual effects but certainly not the heat from Starscream’s engine exhaust nor the splash of water from Bumblebee’s run across a puddle. It’s the same thing in life. We can only prepare for so much but we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. I remember a quote from the TV series Prison Break, “Preparation can only take us so far. After that, we have to take leaps of faith. We must be able to face and accept the unexpected when and as they happen.
  2. Eerie sounds are not as scary as you think they are. Didn’t I already tell you about the people screaming? They sounded scary when I heard them.  So, I reacted based on what I heard. I got scared (laugh at me all you want but I really did feel scared.) I was scared as I hopped into the ride as I could hear the screams growing louder. But I was surprised to know that they weren’t screaming because they were scared, they were screaming because they were having fun. The acoustics of the ride made it sound like they were scared when they actually weren’t. Don’t we all face the same issues when confronting our fears based on what other people say? “Oh, the stock market is volatile and the whole economy is going to crash. I feel inadequate and everyone thinks I’m a loser.” Maybe we’re not listening to the right sounds after all and we need to discipline our ears.
  3.  What you see is what you get. The 3D glasses made the experience really great. But it also amplified the emotions I felt. I saw the ride falling off a cliff as Bumblebee pulls it away from Megatron, I felt like I was falling. I saw metal chips flying towards me as Optimus Prime hits Megatron real hard, I avoided them real quick. My reactions and emotions were intense. But these are all virtual, they don’t exist. I wasn’t falling off a cliff, I was seeing the ride as if it was falling off a cliff. So, I respond,with a mix of thrill and fear. As my youngest once said after a roller coaster ride, “it felt like his heart was coming out of his chest and back.” Same thing in life. We look at the bad things that happen to or around us. How do we respond? We get scared, afraid, restless. What’ worse is we let these things settle in our mind’s eye. We think of them as we sleep, as we eat, even as we talk to others. We even verbalize them until we start to believe that they are true. That is why the Bible recommends not dwelling on the negatives but rather focusing on the positives. Because at the end of the day, we really get what we see.

As we got off the ride, I couldn’t help but ask my kids what they think about the ride. They were exhilarated and felt thrilled. I guess I needed to learn something from my kids as well. All they did was to enjoy the ride. So, I did a little experiment. I asked them if we can do it again. And, since I was wearing eyeglasses, I had a good excuse to not look at the 3D visual effects. And guess what I found out. When I looked at the 3D visual effects, I felt the same feelings I did during the first time I hopped on to the ride. But when I didn’t, I just felt the ride moving. That reduced the fear (and, unfortunately, the excitement as well.) Which really proves the point – what we see is what we get.

As we are still in the early weeks of this new year, we need to ask ourselves this question: Are we expecting a great year ahead of us or do we just want to maintain the status quo? Remember, what you see or decide to look at is eventually what you’ll get.

4 Ways To Face Your Fears


DragonMountain

A couple of weeks ago, our family went to Niagara Falls for a long weekend getaway. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Marineland, a themed amusement and animal exhibition park. As my kids were looking at the list of things to see inside the park, one thing caught their attention – the Dragon Mountain. This was a steel roller coaster located at the north east side of the park. What we didn’t know was this used to be the world’s tallest roller coaster. But my kids insisted that we try it out and so we did. Those who know me well enough know that I don’t really like theme park rides. It’s a subtle way of saying that I’m afraid of riding roller coasters and tall ferris wheels. Now, don’t get me wrong. I dig rock climbing and scaling tall buildings. I was the first in my batch to do the lizard rappel as part of my army reservist training back in college. I still would jump at the opportunity to skydive. I just don’t like theme park rides. But I didn’t tell my kids. So, when I was making every excuse I could think of to not get on the roller coaster, my wife took the hint.  But since both of my kids needed adult supervision, I have no choice but to ride with my youngest. As the over-the-shoulder harness was being locked in, I could feel tension in my legs and the pressure pressing against my shoulders. There was no turning back.

We all have fears. There’s no sense denying it. However, when fear causes us to avoid challenges that will help us fulfill our dreams, we need to take action. Bill Cosby once said that, “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.”  So, if you need to face your fears, keep these 4 things in mind:

  1. Admit your fears. There’s no sense in denying you’re afraid. Admit what your afraid of, accept the fact and move on. Didn’t I mention that I was afraid of riding roller coasters? I didn’t pretend that I wasn’t as the train started its ascent towards the first loop. I could feel my heart pounding as I hear the wheels of the train rolling across the tracks. But I’m already in the train and there’s no turning back so I just have to take it all in.
  2. Set expectations and get your facts straight. Before we hopped on to the roller coaster, I watched how the train went around the tracks. There were two vertical loops and two tunnels to pass through. In my mind, I already knew how the ride would feel like even before the train started moving. Now, I don’t know how fast the train would go so I guessed based on my observations. These information helped me set my expectations right. I realized that there really was nothing to be afraid of.
  3. Envision success. Our success depends a lot on what we see – and what we don’t. If we see a lot of failures, we become afraid to accept and take challenges. That’s why the Holy Book encourages us to think about (or envision) good things. I knew there would be tunnels in the track and that tunnels would be really dark. What I did was to close my eyes as we approached the tunnels and thought about how it feels like as we approach another loop. No scary thoughts. By this time, we’re almost at the end of the ride. And, just when I was enjoying the ride…
  4. Share your experiences. We like to tell our success stories. But not our failures. When you’ve been thru an experience where you needed to face your fears, tell your story. We want to hear from someone who knows what it felt like to be afraid but persisted anyway. As we headed towards the park’s exit, I told my kids that I initially was afraid of the roller coaster. I didn’t pretend like I was ready for the adventure. I was honest about my fear and told them as it was. They were surprised with what I told them because it was nothing like what they saw. Didn’t I mention that I enjoyed the ride as it was about to end? That’s what they saw in me, not my fear. And, they realized that it was OK to be afraid.

I recently had to put this into practice. I realized that most fears are simply frightening stories that we tell ourselves that we keep rehearsing until we believe them to be true. Try changing the stories you tell yourself and start seeing your fears slowly diminish.

How do you face your fears? You can share your experience by clicking here. Remember, it’s OK to share your experiences 🙂

Failure Is Mandatory

April 13, 2013 5 comments

“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.

failure

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Revisiting Your Past For A Better Future


The past, present and future are all interconnected

Dr. Bill Gould

I had the opportunity to spent the last Christmas and New Year in my home country, the Philippines. And every time I do get the chance to go home, I try to create memorable events for both me and my family. I blogged about my community activity with my son before the turn of the new year and it was quite an experience. However, there was one experience that really moved me, one that I didn’t have to create.

I was on my way home after delivering a presentation on SQL Server Failover Clustering to a healthcare company in Manila. As always, I try to take the public transport as much as I can when I’m in Manila.  As I got off the light rail transit, waiting for the next jeepney ride that would take me home, something caught the corner of my eye. There it was, a signage very familiar to me and my wife almost 12 years ago. It was that of a pawnshop. Within a few seconds, it was as if I was taken back in time and my past being replayed right before me.  I couldn’t help but get teary-eyed within that short span of time. Now, you might be wondering why. You see, that pawnshop has seen us more times than we could remember. I remember having to pawn several of my and my wife’s jewelries just so we have something to eat for the next couple of days, not knowing if we will ever see them again.  I remember arguing with my wife to not take her valuable possessions to the pawnshop. She, on the other hand, would always reassure me that everything’s going to be alright and that our marriage was more important than those valuables. A few blocks away from the pawnshop was where we started our family, the place that I was talking about in a previous blog post – the place where we slept in a small-sized bed with barely enough cushion to soften our backs and the buzzing sound of mosquitoes that kept us awake when we didn’t have electricity. I remember feeling a sense of self-pity about not even having any means to support my family despite having a degree from a prestigious university.  And, as supportive as she can be, my wife would always tell me that the time will come when all of our experiences will simply be stories worth telling others. And in a span of a few minutes, I was brought back into my new reality as a jeepney stopped right before me, waiting for me to hop in.

Every time I have an opportunity to do so, I tell people about our stories and our journey as a family. It’s my way of encouraging others that no matter what situation they are in, there will always be a brighter future if we simply look forward to it. More important than telling the story, I take time to revisit my past to remind myself of where I came from. The reminder keeps me grounded that even though my wife and I can now afford to have dinner at a fancy restaurant or travel anywhere we want, we must never forget our humble beginnings. It is those tough experiences that led us to where we are right now. The Bible talks about persevering under challenging circumstances and those who do so will receive the promises of God. In our experiences, that proved to be something very real and tangible. We’ve not only received what we believed God has promised us, we’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to share out stories with others.

Having gone into the first few days of 2013, let’s take stock of our past year (or even years) and revisit our experiences. Are we using those experiences to help us shape a better future?

What The Dollar Bill Trick Can Teach Us About Leadership

September 25, 2012 1 comment

Image courtesy of WikiHow

When I was a kid, I’ve learned a very neat trick about making paper money smile or frown. The trick was very simple that I picked it up real quick and showed it to a few of my friends. I did use the Philippine Peso to try out this trick when I was a kid instead of a US dollar bill. If you are not familiar with this trick, check out this video to see how it is done.

While the video has garnered a large number of views and likes on YouTube for being cool, I think there is a better lesson to be learned from the trick. While on the bus one day, I showed my son this very trick that I have learned more than 30 years ago. After showing the trick to my son, I asked him to make the face on the dollar bill smile or frown. And while he was having fun with what he was doing, I told him this very important lesson.

“It’s the same dollar bill, nothing has changed. What changed was how you handled it.” Tweet this

We are faced with different challenges everyday – bills needing to be paid for, projects that need to be completed on time, or even as worse as dealing with an industry-wide crisis. Situations may or may not change but understand that we hold in our hands the key to whether or not we end up being happy or otherwise. Great leaders know that when facing challenges, they need to do the following:

  1. Face reality. The dollar bill trick reveals two faces – smiling and frowning. That is the reality that they need to face. Leaders understand that in order to deal with challenges, they need to get the facts right and face reality. Otherwise, they would be living in an illusion and may not be able to measure the enormity of the situation. I call this the “reality check.”
  2. Take Responsibility. In order for the dollar trick to work, you need to pick up the dollar bill and tilt it yourself. Otherwise, the visual illusion would not be as effective. Leaders know that they need take personal responsibility for their situation. They literally put their necks on the line especially when the stakes are high.
  3. Make Positive Moves. I bet that you smiled when you tilted the dollar bill to make it smile. And I also bet that you made it smile more that you’ve made it frown. Leaders know that they need to keep a positive environment and promote hope in spite of the realities that they need to face. A pat on the back, a good word of encouragement, even to a point where they remind themselves of the good things that have happened to them in the past. They understood the power of feeding their mind good stuff.

In case you want to try out the dollar bill trick, remember how you can handle a challenging situation while making those creases on George Washington’s eyes.

Question: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from dealing with a challenging situation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Are You Preparing For Your Success?


Earlier in August, I had the privilege of speaking at a SQLSaturday event in NYC. Like most events that I get invited to speak at, I spend a lot of time preparing for and rehearsing my presentations. But unlike most events, this one was special. Having spent quite a bit of time in the Big Apple, I have considered the Microsoft technical communities there like family. This happens to be the second SQLSaturday event that they ran, having done one in the previous year. They already have the experience of transforming this event into a success – and I wanted to be a part of it. While preparing for my scheduled presentation, I thought about the possibilities of doing an additional one, something that I don’t usually do. I was just thinking that, just in case one of the speakers won’t be available, I can easily volunteer to fill in (I’ve learned how to do this when I was still working in Singapore where my desk was almost a stone’s throw away from Microsoft Singapore’s office and had to fill in for a speaker when they urgently needed one.)  So, I picked a topic that I was really excited about and prepared for it as well. Not only did I prepare for the additional presentation, I created an email template with a response to the event organizers about the topic that I was ready to give  presentation on. The only thing that I didn’t do was to hit the Send button.

The day before the event came and, as I was having my first cup of coffee, I felt the urge to immediately open my email client. I felt as if I needed to send that email template that I have written a few days ago.  A few seconds into my inbox and I saw an email that required a response similar to what I had in the template. Unfortunately, one of the speakers could not make it for the event. In just a matter of seconds after reading the email, I hit the Send button with a response that I had already prepared for. And that was the reason for the Twitter update I posted on the day of the event.

Most of us have always wanted to be successful but don’t even bother preparing for it. It’s as if we expect success to be handed to us on a silver platter. Unfortunately, even food served on a silver platter need to be taken in and chewed to be enjoyed. And that’s what it takes to be successful. Successful people know that they can’t just leave it off to chance. From my experience and from learning from others, here are three key steps to prepare for success:

  1. Envision what success looks like to you. We all have different definitions of success. If you’re embarking on a project or planning for your future, paint a picture of what success would look like when you achieve your goal. Mine was to be able to fill in for an additional speaking slot should one of the speakers bailed out unexpectedly. In a previous blog post, I’ve envisioned receiving the prize award that I’ve won. Make sure that you have a clear picture of what your end goal looks like.
  2. Create a plan that will help you achieve your goal. Envisioning what success looks like is just the first part. We need to create a plan that will help us achieve our goal. Lay out the things that we need to do and schedule the activities. As Michael Hyatt pointed out: “what gets scheduled gets done.” Your plan will also serve as your guideposts in measuring your progress. My plan for the event was to spend an extra half an hour a day preparing for the other presentation.
  3. Pay the price. I didn’t say success was easy. In a previous blog post, I talked about how to become an expert. And that included practicing consistently. Practicing consistently requires paying the price – the time, effort and resources you have to put in. Those extra hours I put in for preparation was one of the price that I have to pay. I bet you wouldn’t find any successful person who said success was cheap.

Success requires preparation. By remembering these three things, you can work your way to becoming successful. Are you preparing for your success or just waiting for it to happen? You can leave your comments by clicking here.