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December Writing Challenge: Week 2 Wrap-Up

Level 18

All of the thoughts in week 1 were so deep, so thoughtful, so wonderfully personal and insightful that it's hard to imagine this week matching it. And yet, if you were following along each day, you know it did.

Once again I'm going to divide my summaries between our incredible lead authors and the insightful and honest comments that the THWACK community shared.


**** The Authors *****


Kevin Sparenberg, Technical Product Marketing Manager and THWACK MVP

Kevin begins with what is becoming a common theme among all us nerds, geeks, and sci-fi fans on THWACK—a statement about the dangers of time travel and altering past events:

"There are going to be things that you cannot avoid, pivotal moments in your life..."

But then he takes a turn, and this begins what was, for me, an emotional ride:

"...and for most of them, the pain of the event is outweighed by the experiences you gain beyond them."

The pain he's alluding to is laid bare in an essay on Kevin's personal blog: Once you know the content of THAT post, the next words in his Challenge essay are a punch to the gut:

"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."

To Kevin's credit, he doesn't lapse into non-stop foreshadowing. And some of his insights are truly inspiring (and once again, wonderfully personal).

"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."

But perhaps the most important piece of advice he gave his younger self comes at the very end:

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

Josh Biggley, MVP

The rawness, the purity, the sincerity of the wisdom and advice that folks have been sharing, both in the lead articles and the comments below, continues to take my breath away. While I don't know what the posts tomorrow (or for the rest of the month) will hold, few so far match Josh's insight:

"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."

But the advice to embrace failure—taken alone—can seem like a sentence to a life of disappointment and struggle, which is why Josh's final piece of advice is so necessary, containing both confidence and hope:

"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."

Catherine O'Driscoll, Customer Marketing Manager

Like so many of our lead writers, Catherine struggled with the idea of offering advice that was so specific that it would change the course of our lives and fundamentally alter who we are. But I thought her solution to this conundrum was wonderfully unique and inspirational:

"I decided to give advice that is relevant to what is to come but also still allows younger me the freedom to make those mistakes, take the unpaved path and live her life as only she can!"

And what was that advice? It was short and to the point, but also focused and relevant. The essence of it was, "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!"

Destiny Bertucci, Head Geek

Destiny is the second of the Head Geeks to chime in, and also one of the few (so far) not to worry too much about "breaking the timeline" with her advice. I also found it fascinating that she focused on a single pivotal moment in life when everything changed.

"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 ‘Yea, you’ll never do that medical stuff’ and to follow my heart instead of the dream I thought I once had."

Richard Schroeder, MVP

Like I said, many of our authors fretted about the effects of telling our past selves about the future. Like Destiny, Richard took the road less traveled, and fully embraced this possibility, offering up advice that is at once incredibly specific to his situation:

"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"

...but also useful for all of us to keep in mind:

"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."

...whether that's our younger selves or our present-day incarnations.

Chelsia Johnson, Senior Marketing Communications Manager

From the first word, I was struck by the difference and originality of Chelsia's take on our theme; as I read further, her raw honesty and sincere assessment of the choices she had made and how she would go back and offer her younger self advice spoke to me in a way that few of the essays have.

At the heart of it, was the idea of embracing "JOMO" (the Joy Of Missing Out), and how that would have helped her in the intervening years:

"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 am 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."

Matthew Quick, Sales Engineer

I loved how, in true geek fashion, Matt derives life lessons from pop culture sources—in this case, a single episode of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. I also appreciated that Matt isn't trying to tell his younger self some new piece of information that he could never have known, but instead that he should take to heart something he already knew:

"...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."


*** The Comments ***


That's it for the lead essays, but the comments this week were no less insightful, deep, heartfelt, or meaningful. Here are just a few that caught my eye.

Day 8

Zack Mutchler  Dec 8, 2018 10:34 AM

Such a strong chunk of advice. Especially for those of us who can't seem to naturally make these connections, being mindful of how others relate can be eye opening and provide valuable lessons and insights. Thanks for being my friend and cheerleader, buddy.

Jan Pawlowski Dec 10, 2018 6:08 AM

Remember none of us are perfect, and in the words of Bill and Ted, "Be excellent, to each other."

Joshua Smith Dec 10, 2018 7:54 AM

"Not everything will make sense right now..." - This... this is something I wish people would've told me at times. Even now, I can think of times that I wish some people would've told me this in my professional life. Always consider the possibility that there are intentions and plans that you just aren't going to know about until later.

Day 9

Tregg Hartley Dec 9, 2018 11:11 AM

We are encouraged to fail. We work in an integration environment. Failure is going to happen. Just document it so you don't repeat it.

Matt Riley Dec 10, 2018 9:34 AM

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – RFK

Diana Simpson Dec 10, 2018 9:46 AM

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently." Henry Ford

"Success and failure are both part of life. Both are not permanent." Shah Rukh Khan

Day 10

Thomas Iannelli  Dec 10, 2018 5:42 AM

I might tell myself this, "Don't be so concerned about what your classmates think of you. The vast majority of them won't be in your life for long. Don't treat them lightly or bad, but don't let their opinions carry so much weight. Just be you."

Peter Wilson Dec 10, 2018 9:51 AM

When I was learning to SCUBA dive many many years ago, we were taught a simple mantra for when things would eventually go wrong underwater.




  1. ACT.

It works for pretty much every situation.

Louise Cannon Dec 11, 2018 4:31 AM

I'm not sure I could ever talk myself out of running before I could walk. Running is too much fun! And the face-plant is always worth it 😉

Day 11

Jan Pawlowski Dec 11, 2018 7:54 AM

Overcoming challenges can be the greatest achievement in life. I got a degree in Business and Management, and never used it. I should've studied computer science or similar, but it was hard, and I wanted the easy life. Wasn't until 8 years later that I realized that I had the ability and inclination to do IT properly, so I got back on that horse, and set a path, small achievable goals along the way, so I wasn't daunted by the mountain I had to climb. Few years later, and I’m now designing and implementing networks, having worked my way up from service desk, with multiple qualifications in multiple fields. Who could say where I would've been had I done what I really should have? Probably not in IT.

Nick Zourdos  Dec 11, 2018 8:39 AM

I love hearing the stories of those who migrate to IT from other fields. In our IT department alone we have a former accountant, project manager, event coordinator, teacher, and even someone who was an Air Force pilot.

Diana Simpson Dec 11, 2018 10:05 AM

Great article Dez! Like kremerkm (I work with that yahoo), I also have my BA in Communications (Com Management with minors in psych and marketing). I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out (and if you ask me today what I want to do when I grow up, I still have no idea), but I have evolved from PC support to network design to network security and technical writing. Back in high school and college I told myself "nah, I'll never do that" about writing—but here I am.

Day 12

Ryan Wagner Dec 12, 2018 8:30 AM

The section on finances is especially good. I wish I had been more financially responsible when I was single and could have worked extra and set aside the money without having to sacrifice family time. There's another piece of advice: work extra, get your education, and save hard before you get married. If you can barely support yourself, you most certainly cannot support a family. Trust me, financial stability will make married life a lot easier. (I'm pretty sure the only reason I'm still married is because my wife is a saint.) Loans and credit cards are a trap to avoid at all costs. If you can't afford it right now, don't buy on credit, save for it and pay in full.

George Sutherland Dec 12, 2018 9:51 AM

  1. Rick... your thoughts mirror mine in many ways.

The most important is relationships... my wife is my best friend... 41 years married.

Diana Simpson Dec 12, 2018 10:45 AM

There a quite a few things I wish I had done differently....maybe have kids earlier (than in my early 30s), definitely hire a wedding planner than doing it myself (try moving a wedding date 4 x thanks to a was-to-be-sister-in-law complaining and then pulling the plug on their wedding plans while I was on my honeymoon) ...bought stock...

Your five questions/guidelines are great! I wish more people would follow it...

Day 13

Richard Schroeder  Dec 13, 2018 12:50 PM

I lived that too-full-schedule in the 1970s and 8's. My "Pocket Monthly Minder" 18-month calendar had multiple entries for nearly every evening and weekend. It began feeling tight. Confining. Eventually, I decluttered my schedule, my weekends opened up, and the stress at home reduced dramatically. Now I've found a good balance of family, work, fishing, and occasionally being in four bands at the same time. It sounds like a lot, but my time is my own now, instead of others'.

Phillip Collins Dec 13, 2018 1:24 PM

About 5 years ago I stopped working weekends to spend time with my family. It was the best decision I have ever made. My son and I are now closer than ever. Too much of the time prior to that was centered around work. Now my goal is to work when at work and live my life when away. It isn't easy at times, but it is best for me.

Ethan Beach Dec 14, 2018 1:30 AM

Sometimes to say no is difficult. There have been many times I didn't have the funds or had an early morning and didn't say no to try and fit it. In the end, I do not associate with those friends anymore and went through a lot trying to be friends with them. Missing out isn't always missing out in the end.

Day 14

Ryan Wagner Dec 14, 2018 8:25 AM

My Grandfather lived on a principle of "Never lend, only give." He had money and always gave it away. Not once in the 36 years that I knew him did I ever see him loan money. He gave away large sums to those who needed it, but he never asked for payment in return. His generosity and example is the reason that I practice the same philosophy. He died a man of honor at 96 years old and I will never forget his example. Be considerate of others. Never lend, only give.

Mike Ashton-Moore  Dec 14, 2018 8:38 AM

Yep, the Golden Rule. With so many religions containing this you'd think it would be more widespread, but sadly the current self-centered world view seems the political standard in many places nowadays. Channeling a recent class I attended.... "You have no choice about setting an example—only the example that you set."

Diana Simpson Dec 14, 2018 9:27 AM

As a mom, this is a daily thing...taking care of everything before me... but you do need to take a timeout for yourself once in a while....

Level 14

I agree....this has been incredibly insightful.  It's definitely improved my outlook personally.

Wow, we are a DEEP group, Leon.  My wife (a Business Manager, CIO, QA Manager, Programmer/Analyst, and Project Manager Extraordinaire) is continually amazed at the amount of soul revealed in Thwack.

Maybe it's good for your heart and mind and soul to tell some of your problems to strangers.

And moving that to a lighter interpretation, I'm reminded of a brief comedy routine by Stephen Wright, which I'll paraphrase for family values:

"One day I got on the usual bus, and when I stepped in, I saw the most gorgeous girl... I sat beside her. I said, "Hi," and she said, "Hi."

I said, "Nice day, isn't it?," and she said, "I saw my analyst today and he says I have a problem."

So I asked, "What's the problem?"  She replied, "I can't tell you. I don't even know you..."

I said, "Well sometimes it's good to tell your problems to a perfect stranger on a bus."  (Yes, this is the thing about Thwack)

So she said, "Well, my analyst discovered I only like cowboys who know the Torah ... by the way, my name is Denise."

I said, "Hello, Denise. My name is Bucky Goldstein..."

Frankly, I am exhausted. This is such a stressful time of year and I am doing my best to keep up and it isn't easy some days. So much self-reflection can be draining. 🙂 Ask my wife, I am not that interesting.

I won't believe it.  No one can look at this picture and think "Nope, that guy's dull & boring.  Nothing interesting about him."


Well he is an Orioles fan... 

Level 20

I've got auditors in today... IDK how you all find the time for some of this sometimes.  I try to make time for a few minutes a day but it's hard sometimes.

Hey now! That's a lifelong commitment to misery there. The Orioles don't allow me to be happy.

Umm.... okay! Yea.... I got nothing I can say to this. You got me. Not my finest hour...

Level 9

Sometimes it is from the comfort from home.

Community Manager
Community Manager

I wanna go downey ocean but I'm worried about not seeing dem O's.

Well ya grabby some NattyBoh & some Fishers and I'll meet ya down at Hoopers with the mallets and Old Bay!  😉


Level 13

Great stuff.  Thanks for the excellent summary and reminders adatole​.  Definitely going back for a read through again.

So, Peter, weren't we all just talking in another thread about "regional accents" and "colloquialisms"?  😉  I had to look up 3/4 of that sentence, not being from the area, and now I want to try a Natty Boh, dontcha know!  Thanks for the chuckle...I needed that! 

Community Manager
Community Manager

Don't forget Boh's wife, the Utz girl.  Order my a bushel of jumbos - males only and I'll meet you at Hoopers.  The following day, we can always hit up Dough Roller and definitely get some Thrashers.

(Damn, I miss Thrashers)


The interaction is great and a big part of what makes SolarWinds a great product.

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.