Growing up, like most children, I did not have the perspective to fully comprehend my environment. My father owned a stake in the family companies started by his father. The South Texas companies included construction, cranes, and lumber businesses that started in 1927.

 

Having a 4,000-acre company hunting lease in Frio County to go to every winter, or, if you were broken down on the road, a company tractor-trailer rig that would arrive to pick up both you and your car and take you to the company’s mechanics shop – this was just part of my childhood environment.

 

This made me a lazy person in some ways, but in others, I picked up on the family work ethic. When I was 14, I worked in the summer as a laborer. For $1.50 an hour, I had a number of jobs. Some I remember well, like moving multiple bundles of lumber out of the weather by hand, picking up trash, and sweeping the floor. The floor was 20,000 square feet and the trash filled three thirty-foot dump bed trucks. The truck driver Jesse taught me how to use the PTO and dump the load. It was a lot more fun and easier to unload the trash than to fill it up.

 

My work effort reading and writing in middle and high school is a good example of the bad kind of lazy. Almost all my reading was technical books. I could write process documentation, but hardly anything else. I was in my early 20s when I started reading novels for fun. After that, my writing improved.

 

So, if I could go back and speak to my younger self, it would be to say, “Read and write for fun when you’re young and never stop!”

 

Paul Guido

 

P.S. My grandfather was in his early teens when he and his father immigrated from Southern Italy, coming through Galveston to work in the vast open copper mines in southeastern Arizona. The mines at the time were worked primarily by Mexicans and Italians.  here he met my grandmother and started a family. In 1920, he moved the family to San Antonio.

 

When starting his own business, my grandfather needed to have accounting skills, so he sent off for a correspondence course from Chicago. He would do his homework and send it off by mail, and two or three weeks later he would receive a letter with his grade and the next assignment.

 

How times have changed.

Growing up in the Great State of Texas where every “old-timer” offers a wealth of knowledge, and then being blessed in my “adult” years to travel both the world and country extensively, I’ve collected a ridiculous amount of quotes/euphemisms/sayings/proverbs/what-have-you. While many can seem trite, and there are various opinions about their efficacy in teaching or inspiring [1][2], I do feel their pull and try to find meaning in the ones that catch my eye. With that in mind, in no particular order, I submit to you a small(ish) selection of things I wish I had known and appreciated at the tender age of “younger.” I’ve tried to provide sources where available, but I very well may have missed some. As a result, I do not claim ownership of any of these.

 

  • Your employment does not define your life. However, you will spend a significant amount of time at your job. Find one you’ll be excited about.
    • This is something that I’ve learned through failure. I’ve had several points in my career where I have been in a toxic culture or simply felt unfulfilled in my job. That negativity resonates throughout your entire life and should be addressed as much as possible. Easier said than done, but nonetheless important.
  • If someone is trying to convince you that they aren’t a positive influence in your life, let them.
    • Similar to the above. I like to give everyone the benefit of doubt, but we all need to learn at some point that it’s not up to us to change others. (And sometimes, to attempt to do so would be highly selfish; we’re not always right either.)
  • A falling knife has no handle.
    • Practical, but in my mind, the deeper meaning is that some things need to be allowed to fall.
  • Slow down and watch.
    • I tend to work at breakneck speed in many aspects of my life. One of my hardest challenges, and biggest personal weaknesses, is getting lost in a goal and missing everything around me during pursuit.
  • Work ethic and situational awareness are priceless, but empathy is free.
    • A reminder that efficiency should not replace compassion.
  • Never compete with anyone as hard as you compete with yourself.
    • Personally, I am highly competitive. I’ve learned that I am a much nicer and less judgmental person by keeping that competitive spirit to myself.
  • “Get mad, then get over it.” – Secretary Colin Powell
    • Passion breeds some amazing things. Anger can be an extremely constructive emotion. But brooding has never in my life provided anything positive.
  • It doesn’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
  • Test in Prod.
    • I live by this mantra when I’m developing tools and automation. If you aren’t testing your work in the real world, then you are not testing anything.
  • “PowerPoint makes us stupid.” – Secretary James Mattis
    • I was fortunate enough to work under General James “Mad Dog” Mattis’ command in the 1st Marine Division. Commonly referred to as the “Warrior Monk,” he has achieved a somewhat fanatical following for his attitude, theories, and leadership style. Of all the things he’s said, one of the most influential was this. Contextually, he’s admonishing the focus that existed in many commands that plans need to be packaged in pretty slide decks. Instead, we should be focusing on proper execution of those plans.
  • Strive to be lazy.
    • Lazy admins are the best admins. If you don’t plan to automate your job, someone else will. (I think that just added a quote inside of a quote. #quoteception)
  • Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
    • Be aware that all your efforts may mean nothing to the end result, which is OK.
  • The easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swallow.
    • Own up to your mistakes quickly. There’s a whole internet full of quotes about this concept, and they’re all accurate. The longer you wait to own an issue, the worse it gets in all manner of ways.
  • Sometimes you get and sometimes you get got.
    • You’re going to fail. Learn to embrace it and use the experiences effectively.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.
    • Similar to the above. Don’t be too hard on yourself when a mistake is made. But learn to not repeat your mistakes.
  • You can’t tell how good a man or a watermelon is 'till they get thumped.
    • I have a strong opinion (among hundreds of others I suppose) that convictions are meant to be tested. Some of the most memorable lessons in my life came at the end of trials and tribulations. Being able to maintain your sense of self during the hard times says a lot more about you as a person than anything else.
  • If you get to thinkin' you’re a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else’s dog around.
    • This is one of my favorite quotes from my great-grandfather. I’ve seen it around on the internet, so either he’s SUPER famous or he heard it from someone else. Either way, it’s a good reminder to keep your ego in check.
  • If you’re ridin' ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there with you. 
    • Being a leader in many ways can be a rewarding and sometimes lonely experience. Make sure that your support system and team are still with you.
  • Never miss a good chance to shush up.
    • Another one of my personal weaknesses.
  • A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.
    • Titles don’t mean much. Let’s respect action.
  • An empty wagon makes a lot of noise.
    • You’ll find people who are loud, maybe even yourself at times, can be bereft of tangibles.
  • Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat
    • Fortune Favors the Brave/Bold. From personal to professional life, this seems to hold true. Risk has rewards, if you’re willing to accept them.
  • Understand the importance of compound interest.
    • Seriously. [3]
  • “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
    • No one is going to convince you of your own thoughts. We limit ourselves more than we care to admit.
  • “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” – Erin Majors
    • I stumbled upon this one recently. It struck a chord with me for sure. Maybe it’s the holiday season, or maybe I just needed the reminder.
  • Treat the janitor like the Queen of England.
    • This is one of my top 10 all time. We, all of us, never know the full breadth of someone else’s experiences. Let’s try to treat each other with dignity and respect. It doesn’t cost a thing.
  • “Respect other’s choices.” – Leon Adato
    • This is my newest addition. Leon had this in his Day 1 post [4] and it resonated with me. The full context of the lesson is: “By definition, the people nearest you are the most important. They are the ones who chose to show up, to stay, to be in your company. Give that choice the respect it deserves.”
  • You can’t put the pin back in the grenade.
    • I think we all have said something to someone, be it loved one or stranger, that we wish we could take back. Some of my biggest regrets are surrounded by my words.
  • Leaders eat last.
    • A basic tenant of any and all leadership courses from the Marines. Even in boot camp, this practice is drilled into recruits who effectively oversee nothing. The premise is the belief that leadership is a burden, not a right. Leaders exist because of the people they lead, and for no other reason. You’re not a leader because you’ve earned it by who you are, or even what you’ve done. You earn the privilege in your continual actions, and the privilege can and oftentimes should be taken away if your choices do not benefit the mission or the people. Simon Sinek has a pretty good book [5] on the subject, and I believe there’s some abridged versions he’s thrown on YouTube as well if you’re interested.

 

What I personally attempt is to try and be mindful of my actions and how they play out in the world surrounding me. Particularly as they interact with the experiences of others. I’m not always successful, and many mistakes have been made, and will be made in the future. But I think intent matters.

 

I’m curious, do any of these feel meaningful to your own life/experiences? Also, do you have any items that I can add to my collection? I’m always looking to learn new things. As the artist Michelangelo said (or maybe he didn’t?), “I’m still learning.”

 

[1] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248585
[2] https://www.fastcompany.com/3051432/why-inspirational-quotes-motivate-us
[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/27/nerdwallet-charts-show-the-power-of-compound-interest.html
[4] https://thwack.solarwinds.com/community/solarwinds-community/contests-missions/december-writing-challenge-2018/blog/2018/11/30/day-1-slow-down-you-crazy-child
[5] https://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Eat-Last-Together-Others/dp/1543614620

What’s funny is, in writing this now, I’m on my fourth rewrite. Each time this ends up being several paragraphs too long, going on several tangents Family Guy-style and missing my own point. But if there was something I’d want to tell my younger self, it’s to take to heart a quote that I heard when I was younger. If you haven’t figured out by my handle, I’m a fan of anime, and one show that has stuck with me for the longest time is Neon Genesis Evangelion. In one episode, a new lead character is introduced and moves into the small apartment of the others, and like other stereotypical brash characters, she’s complaining, particularly of the thin Japanese-style sliding doors. The host of the apartment pops in to state, “The Japanese way is to consider the priorities and needs of others before one’s own,” meaning that the openness of the room is way to connect with everyone else. Spoiler, but in the end, it’s when she starts thinking about others that things ultimately start turning to the better for her, ultimately sacrificing her life for others.

So, to make this short and sweet, take care of others first. Everyone says karma is a…well…negative thing, but it can also be good. Making sure that your friends and family are taken care of and that they have what they need should come before yourself. In the end, when you are the one that needs the help, well…good karma will have a way of coming back to you. And never EVER keep track of favors you’ve done for others. “The only time you should be looking at your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.”

When I looked at my calendar five years ago, every weekend was booked, occasionally double-booked, three months out – at minimum.

 

As the kids would say, I am “hashtag blessed” to have a group of girlfriends with whom I’ve grown up with and despite new jobs, new cities, and new adventures, we’ve remained extremely close. With friendships spanning more than a decade, these ladies are my best friends, travel buddies, confidants, second opinions, gut-checks, and sounding boards for the day-to-day. So of course, I want to celebrate every occasion with and beside them.

 

So what happens when your friend group of 10+ very successful, inspiring women start hitting those big life milestones? Your free time, disposable income, and patience dwindle. Life becomes a cycle of happy hours to celebrate promotions, engagement cocktails, bachelorette parties, destination weddings, birthday blowouts, and don’t forget the endless thread of back-and-forth emails to monopolize your time nail down details.

 

The streamers and confetti morph into glitter-encrusted resentment and exasperation. While you’re scouring your closet for yet another costume party ensemble and realizing you don’t have the right components for a “Music Videos from the 90s” theme, you check your bank account to realize that not only is your free time depleted, but you’re one Target charge away from an overdraft fee. But hey! You’ve got a great Instagram feed full of friendship and celebration.

 

Yes, spending quality time with your friends is one of the most rewarding pastimes and yes, those moments are invaluable, and I recognize that as we continue to grow up and priorities shift, we’ll look back on these occasions with a bittersweet nostalgia. That kind of rose-colored perspective that comes when you’ve settled into new routines that now revolve around soccer schedules and team meetings, instead of the #finalflingbeforethering.

 

Was the stress of feeling obligated and burdened by someone else’s joy—followed immediately by guilt for even feeling remotely resentful toward your favorite people—worth it? Maybe most of the time. But time is your most precious, non-renewable resource and something you should treat as such.

 

I’ve learned that while I may miss an inside joke here and there, and I might not be tagged in every photo to hit social media, I’m a much better friend (and human) when I am not over-extended and saying yes to every invitation. Because you can’t show up when it really matters if you’ve exhausted all your energy. You can’t provide the support we all need at some point when you’re sleep deprived and living latte to latte.

 

While FOMO can momentarily sting, embracing the JOMO is paramount to maintaining your sanity, financial stability, and, most importantly, your friendships.

  1. Finances:
    1. Set aside even more money, earlier on, so you can retire earlier. You’ll be financially safe, even if Social Security isn’t secure when we hit retirement age. We didn’t sacrifice comfort, but we might have been able to retire earlier if we’d done without a few luxuries and put aside an extra $25/week in our twenties.
    2. Get a second job and use it to fund that earlier retirement and affording the musical and photographic toys you enjoy so much. Performing music or taking and selling photographs isn’t a bad idea.
    3. The stock market will crash or slump several times. Stay out of it in 1980-82, 1990-91, 2001, and 2007.
    4. Get out of the rat race by living someplace where you’re in the deep woods. By living in an area so nice that people want to visit that part of the world on vacation. Don’t live somewhere that comes with stress, bad drivers, crime, and neighbors with whom I feel you must compete.  For me it was “Head North, Young Man!”
    5. Loans: 
      1. Never buy a new automobile—the depreciation makes it a bad investment. Buy one that’s two years old, with mileage between 20,000 and 30,000. Buy less than you want, and only what you need, and be done with a car or toy loan in two years or less.
      2. Pay extra and have your home paid for in fifteen years—it works. Don’t question it—just do it. Then put the extra money, after things are paid off, towards retirement and travel.
    6. Stock Market:
      1. Buy deeply into Apple Computer stock in 2000. Sell them in 2017. One dollar will get you $220.
      2. Buy IBM in 1991. Sell in 2010. One dollar gets you $180.
      3. Buy Microsoft in 1989. Sell in 2018. One dollar gets you $120.
  2. Laws:
    1. ALWAYS obey the speed limit. Doing so saves you loads of problems. And probably an accident or two in rural Minnesota or at a McDonald’s restaurant.
    2. Integrity and honesty will serve you well. Never make an exception to this. You’ll always keep your integrity intact and people will have no reason to disrespect you. It’s a nice feeling!
    3. Don’t get into the front passenger seat of any vans without seat-belts and you won’t lose your eyebrows (and you won’t get to enjoy having them sewn back on in the E.R.) after you fly face-first through a windshield in 1975. Novocain needles into the eyeballs—that’s something to avoid by wearing seat belts. Stick with the front passenger van seat-belt advice in 1983 and ‘84, and you won’t have to worry about late-night ice-road accidents. Make it simple and ALWAYS wear a seat belt—or don’t ride in that vehicle.
  3. Find an exercise program wherever you live and be actively faithful to participation. Always!
  4. Forty years (and counting) of a successful marriage is something many people can’t claim, but you’ll be able to when you stay true to the girl you’ll meet in college.
  5. Have your children early. Have them in your twenties instead of in your thirties. They’re inevitable, because “If the Mama ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy.” So get over it. Having them when you’re younger has some important benefits (as well as a few consequences if you happen to be selfish instead of selfless). They’re worth it! Never let ‘em outnumber you! The world has plenty of people, and two kids are enough for you.
  6. Don’t trust printed or online car or truck value estimations or reviews. The companies that make them end up being owned by the same companies that make the cars, and their advice is no longer independent.
  7. Treat everyone the way you like to be treated. That includes NOT saying everything that may come to mind. A great guideline to use before saying or writing anything:

 

Is it true?

Is it helpful?

Is it inspiring/interesting?

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

 

  If you’re saying or writing something and you can’t answer “Yes” to all the above, reconsider your actions. Don’t write or say it. Modify what you’re offering to others, so you CAN answer “yes” to all of the above.

Looking back over my life is both exciting and HORRIFYING. Let me explain. I was 18 and graduating LPN school in a little town in Oklahoma. I thought I had life by the horns, let me tell you. I was going to quickly excel and run away in a medical career and never look back. Obviously, you all know me and understand that was not my future at all. However, if you would have told me then my future involved databases, networks, servers, and security, I would have laughed my butt off.

 

How did I have such a pivotal change at 18 that literally decided the rest of my life? I hated being a nurse in the real world. Other nurses weren’t following proper procedures and regulations. I saw friends get placed in bad situations due to other nurses’ negligence. I developed a keen awareness of these things called germs and how I was literally bringing these newfound friends home every day all day to my family. Long story short, I was in a dilemma about my foreseeable future.

 

Immediately after a long shift, I enrolled online into my first A+ and CCNA class at vo-tech. The rest is history. But what lesson did I learn and what would I tell myself looking back on the life I literally had planned since I was 10 years old? Relax, because you’re not going to be in the medical field and you’re a natural learner. Hey, life will fall into place. When I made the decision to get into IT, my family was so mad at me and I was sick all the time because I was fighting my way to the top every day.

 

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for being the only woman in a room and searching and struggling for these answers and defending every idea. But, strangely, I loved the fight and the way it made me be sharper and study stronger. So, to all my family that were against me walking away from my dream and literally allowing me to buy out Walmart of all Pepto and antacids, thank you. Because you helped me to be the independent, pain-in-the-butt, stickler-for-security woman that I proudly am today.

 

To myself, well heck, looking back, I loved every trial. Every teary-eyed moment of rejection of ideas and every win that started to outweigh the losses. In the end, I’d just tell me, “Yeah, you’ll never do that medical stuff,” and to follow my heart instead of the dream I thought I once had.

I found it quite difficult to pass on just one piece of advice when there is so much I wanted to tell my younger self; to prepare her for and to protect her from. But then I realised that if she doesn’t go through it, then we wouldn’t become the person we are today. Instead, I decided to give advice relevant to what is to come but also allows younger me the freedom to make those mistakes, take the unpaved path, and live her life as only she can! So here goes...

 

 

To my younger self,

We were always eager to get to the next stage of everything we did, so would run before we could walk…even as a baby we walked before we could crawl! But while some may herald us as a child genius for this (*ahem* our parents), in life, it brings its own challenges.

 

Because we went straight to walking, we never learned everything we needed to, like that minor yet important step of how to get from standing to sitting. So, after our adventure across the sitting room to reclaim our favourite toy from the clutches of our devious cocker spaniel, we would just stop dead in our tracks, timber like a freshly chopped tree, and face plant! We had our whole family on high alert for that precarious moment when we stopped walking so they could catch us before we fell.

 

What I wanted to share with you is that you might not always have someone there to catch you. So, in everything you do, don’t jump in head (or face) first. Take the time to learn the steps and walk before you run...or in our case, crawl before you walk!

 

 

Now over to all of you: if you had the chance to pass on advice to your younger self, knowing that if you did there was a chance it would change who you are today, would you do it?

In a 2013 interview with Smashing Magazine (https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2013/12/berlin-designer-interview-benjamin-dauer-npr/), NPR Senior Product Designer and Lead Product Designer at SoundCloud Benjamin Dauer said,

 

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Challenge yourself at all times, and learn from every experience — good and bad.”

 

Of all the advice that I've heard, of all the advice I could give, "Don't be afraid to fail" is the single most important lesson we can learn in every part of our lives. Accepting failure is a profoundly humbling experience, and it begins with acknowledging that we cannot know everything, nor can we always make the right choices for any given situation. Deciding that failure is an option allows each of us to accept failure in others. Instead of viewing mistakes as limitations, we can begin to recognize them as an exercise in discovery.

 

I once heard a story of a man who traveled a road toward home only to arrive at an unfamiliar fork in his path. Unsure of which direction to take, he opted for the road to the right. After a few miles of uncertainty, he arrived at a dead-end. Turning around, he drove back to the fork and took the road to the left. His son, sitting next to him, complained about the detour and the delay. The man smiled and responded, reassuring his son, "We had two paths to from which to choose. Having traveled the wrong path, we can be sure that we are on the right path now."

 

When I began my career more than 20 years ago, I saw people that seemed to always make the right choice. They knew things I didn't know. They were able to find opportunities that I could not seem to find. They embraced uncertainty with a confidence I could only dream of possessing. Here’s what I now realize: They made mistakes and made them often. They didn't know everything and often had a very limited scope of knowledge of the extremely broad field that is IT. And those opportunities? They came because they pushed themselves into unfamiliar situations.

 

How do I know? Because I walked that same path. If someone had told my 21-year-old self, who was then commuting 50 miles each way to work as a support technician for a small telecommunications company in Michigan, that I would work from home in Canada's smallest province for one of the largest companies in the world, that I would also operate a successful freelance consulting practice, and, best of all, that I would be Canada's only SolarWinds THWACK MVP, I would have told you that it was impossible. But my family and I embraced failure, and we did fail as I pursued my education and career, but we learned from our experiences.

 

To my younger self, in whichever multiverse you exist and have yet to take those first steps, don't be afraid to fail. Always be learning. Push yourself. You've got this.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my friends, colleagues, and fellow THWACKsters. May 2019 be a year of courage to accept failure for exactly what it is—a challenge to learn something new.

Dear younger me

Where do I start

If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far

Then you could be

One step ahead

Of all the painful memories still running thru my head

I wonder how much different things would be

Dear younger me

MercyMe. “Dear Younger Me.” Welcome to the New, Fair Trade/Columbia, 2014


Kevin M. Sparenberg
Edmondson Heights Elementary School
Mrs. Sarnecki’s 4th Grade Class


Dear Kevin,


First things first, this is you writing from the end of 2018.  I can’t explain how, but I’ve found a way to send back this single letter with advice on your future, hoping that you’ll find a way to live a better life.  Please take this advice to heart and try to incorporate it into who you will become—in essence, me.  Not everything will make sense right now and some of the words may be unfamiliar (I’ve put explanations in parenthesis like this for those words), but please keep this letter, think on it, and read it when needed.

 

I know that you think this letter will be a list of things to avoid, like Marty McFly did for Doc Brown at the end of Back to the Future, but it’s not.  Unfortunately, if I give you too much information about your future, I could irrevocably injure the timeline.  If my calculations are correct, this letter should find you some time before installments two and three of that franchise.  Do yourself a favor and just re-watch the original twice more.  I’d say you’ll thank me later, but that would just be self-serving.

 

Even without seeing you, I can appreciate the skepticism on your face.  “If he’s not going to tell me how to avoid problems, what good is this letter?”  I understand, I really do.  There are going to be things that you cannot avoid, pivotal moments in your life, and for most of them, the pain of the event is outweighed by the experiences you gain beyond them.  There is a television show that Pop watches that I begin watching in 2005 called Doctor Who.  In the show, these events are called “fixed points in time.”  Experiences at a time and place that cannot be changed.  What I will tell you is that although these can’t be changed, you can prepare yourself for them.

 

Well before our time, there was this playwright (person who writes plays) in New York who was the talk of the town.  When asked about the most beautiful thing in the world, George Bernard Shaw is attributed as saying, “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world – and what a pity it has to be wasted on children!”  What I want for you, more than anything, is to not waste your childhood.

 

Later this school year, Mrs. S. will hand out an assignment asking where we will be in five, 10, and 20 years.  I still remember doing that assignment, so it’ll happen.  No, I’m not going to tell you where you’ll be – that would be cheating.  What I will tell you is that although this is a good exercise, you should slow down and not look forward so much.  Enjoy the today, today.

 

In your future there is going to be pain — pain that defies logic to the deepness and sadness it creates — and you’ll think that it will break you.  You’ll ask yourself questions that start with “What if I…?”  You’ll berate yourself with statements beginning like “If I had just…”  All I can say from this side of the fence is that those questions are good, healthy even, but don’t lose track of the good in life.  You are stronger than you think.  Just take the time to appreciate the small things in life between the big stuff.

 

Even now, I’m an introvert (person who prefers to spend time alone).  I don’t find it easy to associate with people, I’m almost always anxious in front of an audience, and I envy others who connect so easily with humanity.  For most of your life, you’ve felt like an outsider, regardless of your qualifications.  In my time, we refer to that as “impostor syndrome”— when you feel like your success isn’t deserved, regardless of your skill.

 

The best way I can tell you to combat this is to surround yourself with cheerleaders.  Now I don’t mean “yes-men” like those jocks and their buddies in high school.  You haven’t met them yet, but they are all jerks.  Worry less about what the general population thinks of you.  You’ve got a few great friends, and in your life, you’ll continue to have friends like this.  They may not be the same people in the future as they are now, but your friends will be in your corner.  They will push you to be better than you are and give you space when you need to have down time.

 

The other thing I can say is that you need to take the time to appreciate the small things in life.  This can be anything from keeping score for Mom and Dad at bowling to watching movies with Mike and Doug.  I know that your brother is frequently a pain but remember that he will always be your brother.  There are things that he can teach you about life. Just take a minute and watch the world from his perspective.

 

For that matter, watch the world from as many perspectives as you can.  Watch people, I mean really watch people, and how they interact with each other.  Stop thinking about how much of a baby your cousin Barbara is when she sings along with Cinderella.  Just look at the joy that she has dancing around the room singing along with the mice.  She’s not out there doing big things in the world yet, but she’s living every moment of life.

 

Find these moments of joy, even if they aren’t yours directly, and capture them as memories to replay in your mind later.  Treasure every hug from each relative, every sunny afternoon in the pool, and the joy in reading a good book.  Find these small things and keep the memories of them close.  Pain and trials lie ahead, because that is life, but holding onto these memories can make you heal faster and be a better person.

 

So, what’s the real message of this letter?  Simple: have fun and enjoy other people having fun.  There are going to be times where fun is sparse, so use the memories you collect to banish some of the gloom.

 

Sincerely,

 

KMSigma

 

Kevin M. Sparenberg
December 2018

 

P.S. – Remember to comment your code.  You don’t know that this means yet, but trust me, it’ll save your hours and hours of time later in life.

What I would tell my younger self:

 

Well, where to begin? If I were given the opportunity to slip an anonymous message to my younger self, a single sentence only… what would I say? When you REALLY start to think about it, and the possible impact that the otherwise innocuous collection of characters could have, it proves to be a surprisingly difficult question, dear reader!

 

We’ve all seen the stories that have touched on this, my favourite being the “Back to the Future” series. The struggles that Marty McFly went through to avoid destroying his parent’s past (and therefore himself!) while at the same time helping his father, George, get noticed by his mother (SPOILER: almost replacing him in her affections at one point!) goes some way to warn us of the dangers of such an opportunity. I will be referring to these films throughout this post, just for fun, if not for relevance!

 

For the purpose of my piece of the 2018 Writing Challenge, I have excluded all obvious avenues of fiscal gain, so no Grays Sports Almanac for me!

 

In my professional career, I have been lucky. Many things have slotted into place, at the right time, for me to arrive where I am today. While I’d like to have arrived at this position five years earlier, I’m happy where I am. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters. In short, I couldn’t be happier, and I wouldn’t want to change a thing.

 

Despite the power for good that advice from the future could be, I would be concerned that if I were to say something to redirect my younger self’s efforts, I would risk erasing my current position, or inadvertently wish my kids out of existence! I couldn’t send anything back through the temporal telegram service that could be damaging. It’s simply too risky.

 

So, what WOULD I send back through timey-wimey snail-mail? It would be this simple phrase:

 

Jez – Always Remember – Est Sularus Oth Mithas

 

Before you reach for your Latin dictionary, I’ll save you the trouble. It’s a quote from one of my all-time favourite book series – The Dragonlance Chronicles, written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (1984-1985). The quote is the oath of the fictional Knights of Solamnia, a group I have always been particularly fond of. In the Solamnic language, it means “My honour is my life,” and it is something that my preteen self really latched on to.

 

Personal honour means something different to each of us, but to me it means, “Do what you say you will do and do what is morally right.” It’s an extremely simple ideal, but one that I brought forward with me through the three decades since I first read those books, and one that I hope I remain true to today.

 

With the message decided, what remains is the timing of its delivery. Like the telegram Marty received from Doc Brown at the beginning of “Back to the Future 2,” I would want it to arrive when it would have the most impact. For me, this is easy:

When I was 18, and finishing up my secondary school education, I had a bit of what we refer to over here as “a wobbly.” I lost faith in my direction, as many young men do at this time. If I were to receive this message back then, I think I would have appreciated both the sentiment and underlying meaning without endangering my future position.

 

We are, at times, our own worst enemy. Receiving this bolt from the blue at that time of my life would help me defeat the lingering self-doubt and regain my mojo a little sooner. A small thing, perhaps, but it would help 2018 me look back on that time with a little less negativity!

So, that’s my story, and my message, dear reader! I do hope you enjoyed reading this small insight into the person behind the moniker “SilverbackSays.” If you are to take anything at all from this lumbering piece of writing, I hope it’s the gentle reminder that every decision we make, every action, has an impact on others. Being honourable is as much about being true to yourself as it is about how you treat others, and what impact your actions have on the world around you.

 

Here’s to hoping you have a fantastic end-of-year celebration, and a prosperous (and dare I say honourable!) 2019!

 

Cheers!

 

 

To ponder the question of “What would I tell my younger self?” makes me think of moments of regret – the “if only....” moments. Hence, the temptation is to pass on knowledge to that younger self that might in some way change my current circumstances. “You should really study that second language. You’ll have opportunities to travel the world later and that will be a useful skill. Plus, thinking in multiple languages can allow for a broader interpretation of your inner and outer world experiences.” “Listen to your mom and practice your piano. You have no idea how much joy music will bring to your life.” Then your younger self responds, “Sure, okay, can we go get some ice cream now?”

 

 

 

 

It might be an excellent exercise to do just that. Sit down and have a discussion with your younger selves. What do you really know of this person anyway? They’re as much a stranger to you as you are to them. They’re just the

collection of stories about significant moments you have recited for years. What is going on inside their heads is as out of reach to you as is what you will have for lunch two weeks from now on Tuesday. Neuroscience and psychology, in recent decades, have advanced human understanding of memory and how imperfect it is. Our recall appears to be a reconstructive process influenced by our current state. If you are a contented adult, you could be more likely to recall the pleasant childhood memories. On the flip side, when you are sad and lonely, you might recall your teenage years when the angst caused by perceived social exile was at its peak. This is what researchers in the field currently call “memory bias.”

 

 

Daniel Schacter, PhD, in his book, "The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers" (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) describes it this way. “Bias is retrospective distortions produced by current knowledge and beliefs. Psychologist Michael Ross, PhD, and others have shown that present knowledge, beliefs and feelings can skew our memory for past events. For example, research indicates that people currently displeased with a romantic relationship tend to have a disproportionately negative take on past states of the relationship.” This especially rings true when I try to teach someone else about something I developed some mastery in. It’s difficult to remember what it was like not to know. It would be helpful to reproduce that state of ignorance because you could more easily guide someone out of it.

 

 

So, who is this younger me? In this state of ignorance about things that will come? Would I be able to talk with them in a way that enlightens them? In thinking about my past selves, my childhood self, etc., I wonder: what do they know that I have forgotten? That is more interesting to me. What can these past selves tell me that might heal a lingering scar? Is there something I am remembering incorrectly? I have so many questions for this past me. So, “Hey kid, let me check with my digital assistant on my smartphone to see where the closest Ben & Jerry’s is, so we can grab some Chunky Monkey. We’ll take an Uber.” To which he might respond, “Okay, sure, but can we go get some ice cream after that?”

 

 

 

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*Any discussion on the merits or risks of time travel should include a warning that anything changed in the past can have unforeseen ripple effects dramatically altering the future, including your own existence in the present.

**Unless, of course, you are like a college friend of mine who got the same dinner from the same restaurant every Friday night for years.

Time travel is an alluring concept, isn’t it? Change your fate, prevent disaster, or give yourself a second chance… all can be enticing ideas. If I was granted one opportunity to have a conversation with my past self, my gut reaction would be to say something silly such as “hold on to that hard drive full of Bitcoin,” or “stay away from spiced rum,” or maybe “that change you’ll make to the network on June 6th, 2017, is going to break everything.” Humor aside, what would I say if a magical wizard appeared and gave me the opportunity to travel back in time and provide myself some advice?

 

Given a choice? Nothing.

 

I’ve never been a fan of changing or dwelling on the past. Maybe it’s the millennial in me (hush, you) but living in the moment is much more interesting. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never experienced true disaster, something I count as a blessing every day, or perhaps I’m just a pessimist. Some folks might try to correct a mistake, attempt to change a negative outcome into a positive one, or simply offer encouragement, but I can’t help but wonder what that small ripple could do over time. Would it introduce doubt and regret? I think I would spend the rest of my life obsessing over how I could have done better or said something different. This kind of over-analyzation is why I should never be granted a Wish spell in Dungeons & Dragons. The point I’m trying to make is that the past makes you… you, and that’s worth something.

 

With that out of the way… let’s stop overthinking this and throw caution to the wind. Imagine this magical wizard was holding a wand to my head, and I had to go back in time and give my younger self some advice. What would I say?

 

During my last two years of college, I worked a full-time job and took 12 credit hours of night classes at the same time. These two years were the most stressful time in my life. The pressure of working my first real IT job as a network administrator and the stress of extending my last year of college by a few semesters, all combined with daily life, was enough to fundamentally change my personality. My poor wife went through the ordeal of seeing the person she was hoping to marry (we were still dating at the time) become an entirely new person.

 

The advice I would give my younger self is this: make time for life. Friends, family, relationships, and your own mental health are so much more important than good grades in your college years. A degree is useful, sure, but to this day, nobody has ever requested a copy of my academic transcript, and likely never will. Those grades didn’t matter, and because I failed to realize that fact, I put my degree before everything else. I experienced burnout so severe that it changed who I am as a person. It changed my thought processes, my sense of humor, and my creativity. During those years, I didn’t make time for the things that really matter, so I would tell my younger self how important it is to be a human first and a homework robot second.

 

So how do you deal with burnout? I’m sure we’ve all been there, and I want to hear about your experiences. At such an early stage in my career, it will be humbling to learn from so many seasoned IT professionals in this community.

To me, 12 years old:

 

Don’t hesitate. Push through your fears and accomplish all the things you were given. Have faith in yourself and remember to always focus on having fun. Don’t let the bad stuff make you forget about the good stuff. Spend all the time you can doing the most challenging things you can in life! Remember that you have an immense amount of love to give out to the world, so be sure to let other people see just how happy we can all be together. All those things that sound cool? Do them!

 

Backstory: I had a lot of opportunities growing up to do a number of different things, but every time they came up, I hesitated and the only one to lose out was myself. I’m incredibly happy with the life I live now, but I would certainly have pursued a lot of different things had I not hesitated when opportunities arose. It is this weakness where I have failed myself, even though through failure I have ultimately found success.

 

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. And with hindsight being 20/20 comes the reality that if you don’t hesitate, you may burn out that much quicker. So, mindfulness and balance become key. Nobody can truly know which leap of faith is the good leap of faith, and which leap of faith is maybe not the wisest leap of faith. I still wonder about the alternate realities of my life and where I’m at, but nobody can guess where those would have ended up in the long term. Had I started a business at 12 when my friends and I were burning to do so, who knows? Had I started a business at 14-16 with other friends when they were desiring to do so, who knows? Would I have been able to? Just as the future is hard to guess, so is the past.

 

 

So the point is, your own natural inclination to hesitate is both right and wrong. Mine seems to have been right every time I’ve hesitated but I still wish I hadn’t all the same.

You’ll live in an era with more technology, more formal education, and more wealth than any generation before you. With the pace of technology, you’ll get to play with things that won’t exist in generations before or after you. Inspiration is everywhere, but you’ll rarely see it if you aren’t looking for it.

 

Discipline yourself to routinely invest time to:

 

  • Find an unanswered question that excites you. There are many questions that are important to answer, even if it takes generations to arrive at the answer. Find a way to contribute! You have more power to change the world than you know.

 

  • Fill your time with unfamiliar experiences and learn new skills. Say yes to opportunities to do things you have no experience with, even ones you aren’t sure you’ll enjoy. Discover something new about yourself and your potential.

 

  • Teach other people. Share your skills! Realizing how much you’ve learned and how helpful those hard-earned bits of knowledge can be to underserved communities will open your eyes to how much undiscovered potential there is in the world.

 

  • Discover more things to be grateful for. When you count your blessings, take an extra moment to list out three things that had to have happened to make those things possible. The randomness and statistical unlikelihood of these things will renew your belief in the overall goodness of life.

 

What are your favorite memories that are exclusive to your generation?

What are your favorite unanswered questions?

Who might benefit from a couple of hours of your time?

Do you have an example of something awesome that’s happened, where three seemingly random or unrelated things had to happen first?

What makes YOU feel inspired?

Advice:

The future is hard to guess, so don’t.

 

Having grown up in the information technology industry, initially as a developer, a product leader, and now as an executive and CTO leading technology for a public company, I have gleaned a wide range of lessons from my professional and personal experience.

 

As technologists, we face a professional landscape that embraces highly charged evolution, where the demand to understand and keep up with innovations can sometimes be overwhelming. At the same time, the pressure to perform and succeed is ubiquitous in becoming a high performer in the tech industry. So… if I were to imagine myself addressing a scrappy and ambitious younger self, stressing about navigating ambiguity and career, what would be my single advice to him?

 

“The future is hard to guess, so don’t.”

 

Abraham Lincoln is often attributed with the following quote: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” This quote perfectly captures my approach to any professional environment. We must be proactive, take ownership, and create the future we want.

 

Today, I spend a large amount of my time thinking strategically about where my team and our organization needs to be to address the needs and demands of our customers. It’s one of the reasons we have such a unique perspective on innovation—we ask our customers directly about the problems they need to solve and focus most of our innovation energy on how to solve them easily and efficiently. The more you try to guess around items like “innovation,” the more likely you will fail.

 

If I foresee obstacles or challenges in a plan that we are working toward executing, I target elements that will influence (or eventually influence) the materialization of a desired outcome, and I ensure those elements are accomplished. This makes it a lot easier to navigate ambiguity and prepare for unknowns. So, what does it mean to create your future?

 

Here are two important practices that I believe will set you on your way to improving the odds of taking ownership.

 

  1. ) Focus on the “HOW.” A lot of people talk about the “why,” and then go straight from that to the “what.” Oftentimes, folks fail to identify how something can (or could) happen. The “how” determines the manner or means leveraged to accomplish a given goal.

 

For instance, take the issue and conversation around global greenhouse emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise even though we are aware of the consequences of this phenomenon and have invested billions of dollars on policies aimed at curbing the rise of emissions[1]. How is this occurring, when it seems that the “why” has been clearly illustrated with a litany of “what” items already implemented like taxation on emissions, timelines on automobile companies to improve MPGs, increase in alternative energy usage, etc.? Well, not having an articulated and agreed “how” that identifies the challenges associated with something this complex leads to the “what” items becoming not as effective to address the problem. I have seen this play out similarly in teams, organizations, and companies throughout my career.

 

How many times have you seen a “vision” (the why) painted clearly with a bunch of action items or mandates that are then pushed throughout the organization (the what)? How many times have you seen this fail? How many times have you seen leadership surprised that it did?

 

Spending more time on developing solutions that address the “how” of a problem you face will inevitably optimize your time troubleshooting and securing a desired outcome.

 

  1. )    Continue to add to your toolbox. Continuing personal development is critical. This is not the same as professional development. Professional development focuses on our ability to maintain the skillsets necessary to execute and perform well in our job, such as maintaining your certifications and developing your emotional intelligence. Instead, I am challenging you to pursue personal development that can support diversified thinking. Educating yourself in an area that has nothing to do with technology is a good thing. Do it, and you will be a better technologist for it and have a diversified knowledge base and skills to help drive strategic objectives.

 

Personally, I diversified (and continue to diversify) my portfolio of skillsets by helping different teams, departments, and companies. I’ve done various things like spearheading a special project supporting our legal team when dealing with contractual matters so that I can better understand contract negotiations. I’ve also become a champion of HR initiatives like college recruiting and leadership development programs to better understand how to drive learning and engagement from a diverse workforce. Taking time and going above and beyond to learn in these other areas eventually led me to be able to take on broader roles like General Manager of business units, not just technology teams.

 

  Creating a sustainable and successful future is not easy. The time you take to invest in yourself and start thinking critically about forging your desired path, whether it be in a professional or personal endeavor, is critical for success. Like me, you will stumble and fail at times; however, that is when you learn the most and will develop the experience necessary to succeed the next time.

 

- Joe Kim, EVP and CTO at SolarWinds


 


[1] https://www.gao.gov/key_issues/climate_change_funding_management/issue_summary

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