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December Writing Challenge - Week 1 Wrap-Up

Level 18

Welcome to the week 1 wrap-up of the 2018 December Writing Challenge! If you missed the initial announcement, the structure of our third annual community event has changed this year. Instead of offering a new word each day on which everyone can reflect, we're taking a single idea and hearing everyone's unique view of it: “What I would tell my younger self.”

You can head over to the special forum we've set up just for this event or start with my summaries below and follow the links wherever your whimsy leads you.

I'm dividing my summary into two sections: the authors and the comments.


The Authors


Leon Adato, SolarWinds Head Geek and THWACK MVP

Day 1: Slow Down You Crazy Child

I had the honor of leading off this year. I wrote a few things. I would love it if you checked it out, and maybe even left a comment or two.

Joe Kim, EVP Engineering and Global CTO

Day 2: Navigating Ambiguity is Critical as a Technologist

Joe's message is bold, broad, and not just applicable to his past self but to his future self as well, and therefore advice we all can follow now.

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

Along with that he offers two more pieces of solid advice:

  1. Focus on the “HOW.”
  2. Continue to add to your toolbox.

Charlcye Mitchell, Product Manager

Day 3: Show Up & Pay Attention, Inspiration is Everywhere

Charlcye leads the team responsible for the SolarWinds online demo ( This quote immediately jumped out at me, not only because it was incredibly motivating, but in one sentence it captures the spirit of that team and what they accomplish every day: "Inspiration is everywhere, but you’ll rarely see it if you aren’t looking for it."

But she didn't stop there. She went on to challenge her younger self with four more questions. (As some of you know, I'm a big fan of The Four Questions):

"Find an unanswered question that excites you; Fill your time with unfamiliar experiences and learn new skills; Teach other people; Discover more things to be grateful for."

Matthew Reingold, MVP

Day 4: Post-Recollection

Matt kept it short and sweet, and this line really caught me short: "Don’t let the bad stuff make you forget about the good stuff." We also got to hear a bit of the background and lessons learned that led to this being such an important piece of advice for him, personally.

Nick Zourdos, MVP

Day 5: Burning a Candle at Both Ends...With Napalm

Nick first acknowledged the obvious reality of offering advice to our past selves, which would effectively change the trajectory of our life. Not only that though, but he underscored how inseparable our past experiences are from our current selves, and how that isn't a truth that can be casually waved away: "The point I’m trying to make is that the past makes you… you, and that’s worth something."

With that point acknowledged, however, he nevertheless offered some heartfelt words that might have eased the path for him in his younger years:

"Make time for life. Friends, family, relationships, and your own mental health are so much more important than good grades in your college years."

Thomas Ianelli, MVP

Day 6: Let's Go Get Ice Cream and Have a Little Chat...

In a pattern that is familiar to any of us who work regularly with our MVP community, Thomas took Nick's idea even further, moving past the thought that changing our past selves does us a disservice, and digging into the idea (with citations and references) that we may not even remember our past selves clearly:

"What do you really know of this person anyway? They are as much a stranger to you, as you are to them. They are just the collection of stories you have recited for years, about significant moments."

This led him to give voice to something that I think we all, as IT practitioners and especially those who work in some type of teaching capacity, have run up against:

"It is difficult to remember what it was like not to know."

Finally, a footnote to his whole analysis is worth repeating here, because it is wonderfully geekworthy:

“*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 very own existence in the present."

Jez Marsh, MVP

Day 7: Always Remember

Like many of our lead writers so far, Jez struggled with the far-reaching implications of altering the timestream. Nevertheless, he found a message which was both specific to him and yet general enough that he felt it wouldn't cause too many ripples: "Est Sularus Oth Mithas,” a quote from the Dragonlance Chronicles meaning, "My honour is my life."

I found the meaning behind this message to be wonderfully insightful. "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."


The Comments


***** Day 1 *************


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.

Such a hard, yet important lesson. Being mindful and not taking your support system for granted is a huge sign of emotional maturity that we all should be striving for.


Dear Younger Me:

A world of good will come from treating everyone as you want to be treated.  A world of hurt follows if you don't.

Don't get tangled up in things that aren't enjoyable and interesting and beneficial to someone.  While you have your entire life ahead of you, it's too brief to waste on petty squabbles or major ones.  Spend no time worrying about things you can't change.  They're in the past.  Learn from them, modify your behavior so you don't repeat them, and move on.

Take a note from a song James Taylor recorded; consider making it your motto.

"The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time. Any fool can do it."


I'm an auto racing fan and there's more than one story and/or illustration of drivers learning that you slow down to go fast. Just what does that mean? If you drive just as fast as you can, you don't hit your lines, you don't brake at the best times, you accelerate too hard, etc. When you slow down - in other words, focus on doing things right - you hit the best lines because that is a focus, you brake at the best times because that is a focus, you accelerate best because that is a focus. So, slowing down actually makes your lap times better. The same too with IT work. I've been guilty of rushing through a project only to later see my mistakes and have to redo or repair what I've done. When we slow down and take things carefully and methodically, we are at our best.

***** Day 2 *************


Thanks for the heads-up Joe.

At this point in my life I was about to stop diversifying and wanted to narrow my development in this field (IT), but after reading your experience, I now believe that the diversification that I am aspiring to achieve will further my development more, that aiming for carrier development.

Thanks for laying out there this game-changing perspective.


This is a tricky one for me. My previous department was dissolved and I was moved to a different team, after 11 years with my company. It's hard to forge your own path when you're held inside a box and not allowed any growth at all. It fosters complacency and apathy. I think some people might read "so don't (predict the future) and presume that nothing can be done...” I've been there. I'm fortunate to have leadership that wants to foster growth in many directions now.


This is a terrific read.  Joe outlines and explains two specific ways we can be better people going forward.  I appreciate that he is concise, makes his points and supports them.  I'll read this more than once.

***** Day 3 *************


So often people view everything from the angle of "what's in it for me." Once we begin to look at what we can bring to others our purposes will become more apparent.


I find point 3 most important, giving folks guidance on their own journey...


In my experience (YMMV) I always learn the most when I'm teaching others.  Sometimes you're literally only slightly more knowledgeable than the person you're teaching, but having to teach a concept requires you to wrestle with the knowledge, the right way to convey it, and to come up with multiple analogies or ways of communicating it. You don't really understand something until you can teach it, and teaching it always highlights deficiencies in my own learning or understanding as well as helping to bring more clarity my knowledge.

***** Day 4 *************


One of the long-lasting lessons I've taken from a leadership course I attended in the Marines:

At any given time you have up to 360 choices of direction for lateral movement. Pick one. People who sit in the same spot are the easiest to hit.

(paraphrased to clean up for public consumption)

The point being, when faced with any challenge, you have to make a decision, and preferably quickly, because ANY decision is action, and action begets action. Waiting for the perfect situation usually results in a lot of waiting, in my experience anyways.


Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are 'It might have been.'


I agree, hesitation is natural and something I am very good at. I think it has helped more than harmed. It gives me the chance to think before I leap.

***** Day 5 *************


"Diamonds may be formed under pressure, but never forget they are not formed overnight."


How do I deal with burnout? I literally ran up a mountain! I am not suggesting that for everyone but it has made a huge impact on my approach to life and work since. It was also a #bucketlist and fed into a lifelong desire that I mentioned in my Day1 post.

I as well went through intense stressful periods of my life that has altered my personality permanently... for the worse. Unfortunately I was never able to return and I do miss my old self.


Life is full of choices, whichever you choose can be viewed as the wrong one.  Live life for the moment, and do what makes you happy.  Live life without regrets.  Having worked 16-18 hour days to try and "help" the company, to be overlooked, and undervalued, you soon find out to stop.  Take stock.  And most importantly, do what makes you happy, as no-one else in life will.  If that means working loads, and learning great. But then don’t worry about the things you may miss by not experiencing them.  Alternatively, work hard, play hard and use your time wisely.  There is no simple one answer, there is no silver bullet.

***** Day 6 *************


Choices are made, reality hits hard when you grow up.  Time goes on and that broadens the vision to make you realize what you could have done better.


What does the younger us know that we don't? As you grow you change, was it for the good? Are you still the same person? What a great concept to think about. I moved around a lot when I was young being in a military family. As we moved I would meet new friends that would have an impact on me and change who I was. Who could I have been if I stayed in Hawaii where I was born? Would I still be the man I am in the tech field do what I am doing? This writing challenge gets me thinking, please stop I don't like this.


Great post tomiannelli. It's funny, you absolutely nailed something that has been semi-haunting me (in a good way) recently. I've been thinking a lot about memory bias and am I falling prey to it, and to what extent current events and circumstances are biasing my memories one way or another.  It's an interesting question to think about, and like you, I'd like to go back and ask my younger selves at various points in time what my thoughts and feelings were at the time they were happening.  Not sure if a diary would help or not - you don't always see what's salient at the time. Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post.

***** Day 7 *************

Let's do our best to change the future to the best possible place to be for our next generation . 🙂

Jez I think you're the first person to mention timing. I'm surprised none of us other ultra-analytical IT pros thought of that!

Very nice! If I could, I think I'd do the opposite and have my younger, more optimistic self remind my current self that life is really pretty good and that I should be more appreciative.


A lovely and gracious summary, adatole​.  This year's December offering is a beautiful lesson in humility and consideration.

Nice job choosing a topic that's easy for people get along with!

These have all been good submissions so far. But I'll honest, each response has taken a toll, albeit just a little, on me. Reflection can be difficult sometimes. I'm the type of person who prefers to look forward.

Level 14

I am with you Peter, but at the same time we have to look back, in order to look forward.  I'm enjoying the heck out of these write ups and reading the comments from folks like yourself!

Thanks for the recap adatole​! As always, I really enjoyed the retrospective writing in this year's challenge (emphasis on retro! ).

The rest of week one's entries really made me think on this idea even more. The important thing, though, is that the answer to our question “What I would tell my younger self.” is a personal one, as every one of us are a product of our past! Looking forward to reading the following weeks contributions!

There is a saying that I've taken to heart: The past does not equal the future...unless you live there.  I think this month's challenge has been a great lesson of: 1) learn from your past and 2) make the most of your future.  I agree with tinmann0715 that it can be sobering and somber to reflect, especially if one's past has some unsavory moments in it.  But good, bad, or indifferent, our past has molded and shaped who we are today, and it is up to us to change the future us NOW if we are in any way displeased by who we see in the bathroom mirror.

Sage words of advice from "The King Of Pop", MJ himself:

Michael Jackson - Man In The Mirror (Official Video) - YouTube

Level 20

Some of you people have a lot more time than me to think about some of this... regardless it's been fun to read as much of it as I can.

Level 14

Leon... the subjects and perspectives have been awesome

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.