I’ve never been one who is good at reflecting on choices I made to get to any particular point in life. It always seems that I go with the flow and never decide what worked and what didn’t. I don’t often give myself the space to think about these things either, in fact, I have a notebook sitting next to my iPad with a To-Do list longer than I’d care to admit, but here I am reflecting.
The mind is a funny thing, it thinks about what it wants, when it wants. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, you know that you can’t truly quiet the mind but you can accept and acknowledge the thoughts as they cross your mind. I’ve lived a fairly blessed life, but it has not been without it’s challenges. The challenges are not what I’m here to reflect on, nor the blessings, but more about how I got here.
“Here”. What does that even mean? In my case, “here” means where I am physically, who I’m here with and my mental state in this period of time. I live in Worthington, Ohio, with my wife and two dogs. Easy enough to describe, but what about my mental state? I’m tired. That’s an easy out when wanting to describe deeper things, but honestly right now, that’s the best word I can find for my mental state.
How do I deal with the tired? Mostly, caffeine honestly. I’ve gotten away from my regular sleep and workout routine, primarily because for the last year I’ve been in a place where I don’t really want to go to work. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my company, because I do, I just don’t love what I’ve been up to for the last year or so on the day-to-day. That is changing soon, which I think is the trigger for this reflection.
So how did I get to this place? I think it started with the decision to move to Florida to be with my girlfriend after college. I was offered a job in a medical records warehouse which quickly turned into working for their help desk because I was annoying the IT team. I spent a few years working my way up there, then ended up moving back home to Ohio after separating from my now ex-wife. I met Josh O’Brien on Twitter, who became my boss when I moved back home, and I learned so much from the entire team during my tenure with CNX.
I went from a high level help desk person to an infrastructure architect there in just a few years because of the quality of the team I was working with, the latitude for growth, and frankly, burning the candle at both ends with a blowtorch. At some point, I went from sleeping pretty well, to not getting much sleep at all. It was at that point I approached my Nutanix SE to see if there were any openings.
I originally wanted to go for a SRE role, but did not want to move away from Ohio, but instead interviewed for a SLED SE role. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I probably would have balked at SLED, but I didn’t even know what it stood for - nor did I care. I wanted a change, needed a change.
In the meantime, I had been dating my now wife for a few years and had moved in together. We made the decision that it made sense to make the change in jobs and I pulled the trigger. I’m so glad I did, but what a surprise it was to go from the customer side to the vendor side.
I came from an environment where we didn’t work very closely with our vendors, believing that we knew better, and in a lot of things we did. Now, I see that most of my vendors probably were trying to close their number, but there were a few good ones out there and I mostly missed them because we were too busy trying to fix everything ourselves.
After about 6 months I realized the gravity of the decision to join SLED as a SE. Man, did things move slowly at first. I was used to being able to make decisions on my own as an architect at my previous company, needing very few approvals to make changes. Hello red tape. But, I learned the red tape. I learned the politics. I learned sales. I learned how to build a business. More importantly, I learned how not to build a business. I learned how to become a trusted advisor to my customers. I learned how to take a licking when mistakes were made. I learned how to take a licking when the mistakes weren’t mine. If I had a lot of technical career growth while I was at CNX, while I was an SE for Nutanix, I grew in other ways.
My ego almost five years ago, when I started my SE role, was fragile. I took things personally when something went wrong or customers chose to purchase a competitive product. Today, my ego is much quieter, much less fragile. I feel strongly that the last five years were very necessary to help me grow up and be the man I am today. I enjoyed most of the last five years and I learned that your position in any company can be what you make of it.
I learned that precedents that you create at the start of a position stick pretty strongly throughout your tenure in that position. I set a very strong precedent that my evenings and weekends are for my family and friends. There are always exceptions to be made, but for the most part, I shut work down at 5p. Lately, I’ve been struggling with that as I transition to a new role and cover two territories in my old role, but I will be returning to that precedent very quickly. One of my biggest failings in my last role was not to control my own calendar. My previous rep and the rep(s) that I work with now, both ran my calendar and it made it very difficult for me to get real work done.
As a SE, I needed time for training, engineering work, hands on keyboard time, but instead I’ve spent most of my time juggling meetings and calls. Then I get distracted in emails and Slack, traveling to another meeting, lunches, dinners and drinks. I will be taking back my calendar, making it more structured, and setting expectations around meetings that I take. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to be a team player, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to take calls, it means that I’m going to guard certain days on my calendar to get WORK completed.
I realized in the last six months that I’ve basically not played music for the last 7 years. I haven’t played live in at least 9. For something that basically absorbed me for the first 20 years of my life, this makes me really sad.
Now I sit in my local library, my “co-working” space. My “co-workers” are ephemeral, they keep to themselves and they’re mostly quiet. The WiFi is fast, it’s comfortable, and best of all, it’s “free”. Being surrounded by books makes me comfortable, brings some peace, and I feel much more productive. There’s something about being surrounded with thousands of books, which took people months or more to write, to make me focus on one thing.
My wife and I are dealing with some large decisions that we have coming up, but we’re making things work. The next year for us will be trying. There’s nothing comfortable about dealing with the decisions we are going to be making, but I know that making the decision to step away from sales so I can more reliably be home will certainly help. I want to spend more time focusing on what matters: the health of my family, the health of myself, and finding space to just “be”. I want to spend more time in nature, more time with my wife, more time playing music, more time listening to music, more time doing the things that matter in life.
There is always going to be more work to do. There is always going to be another fire to put out. There is always going to be something that is begging for attention (think that fancy rectangle in your hand right now). Step away, look at what you have, who you have, what you want. Look at the why. Look at the how. Don’t let every day pass by without thinking about these things.