Stop calling yourself an idiot.

“Be you, love you. All ways, always.”
Alexandra Elle

You’ve probably heard it a lot; in the workplace, at home, from yourself. The dreaded phrase “oh sorry, I’m just being an idiot.” It doesn’t always have to be “idiot”, it can be “moron”, “I’m being stupid”… the list goes on and on.

I’m going to say something you may or may not like, whether you do or not is irrelevant as it does not diminish it’s truth.

You are not an idiot. Nor have you ever been one.

Many people use this phrase to excuse mistakes they make or to emphasize that they know better but had followed a gut instinct to do something forgetting the best or ‘correct’ way of doing it, but that is neither stupidity nor idiocy. It is being human.

I work with so many intensely clever people, not just when it comes to knowing about DevOps, or knowing about SQL Server, but about things in general. Regardless of what the thing you know is, you know something and in many cases more about it than many people around you and you should take pride in that. I’m not by any means insisting that you should be arrogant or full of yourself, but you should be confident about the things you know and the experiences you have had that got you to that point.

Thinking less of yourself for simple mistakes (and that’s all they are, small, easily rectified things) is damaging not only to other people’s perceptions of you but it’s how you are reinforcing your negative perception of yourself. The more you repeat this to yourself like a mantra you undermine the self belief and self love you have for yourself, you are making a very simple but very effective statement to the world that you are not worthy.

Do you really believe that? If so, then it is time for introspection and a more fundamental soul searching exercise to lead yourself to acceptance and contentment. My feeling is though that 99% of people reading this will know that they are worthy, both of the love of other people as well as the love of themselves.

It is deeply rooted in the language we use and is an observed behavior that we grow up with and adopt into our own personal idiosyncrasies, so it is time to change up the language we use about ourselves. Take each mistake or negative feeling you have about your own knowledge, observations and/or performance and simply change the way you describe it to yourself, which can have a huge impact on how you remember and feel about that event. Challenge the use of negative terminology and use updated and positive self-affirming phrasing – you can find some great examples of this here: https://www.healthline.com/health/positive-self-talk#examples-of-positive-self–talk

I’ll give you a key example as I am very guilty of doing this myself, in the hope’s that giving a personal context will allow you to more easily identify where you can give yourself some more love. Yesterday I had a meeting with the wonderful Kendra Little (who I have already spoken about a number of times on here, but yet again she comes to the rescue) where we were discussing an upcoming webinar that we’ll be conducting together. I asked Kendra for some additional time for us to sync up later in the week so we could best discuss the format for the webinar, do a run through and (ad verbatim):

“I need to know roughly when each of us should be talking, because whilst I would naturally be more quiet and let the super-expert speak, but I don’t want to come across as the creepy guy who joins a webinar and sits there in silence not contributing anything for an hour.”

Can you see what was wrong with that? The language I used to immediate diminish my own value, without even being conscious of it at the time?

Quite rightly, I was met with silence on Kendra’s part which was immediately followed up with: “Chris. You just managed to describe all of the key benefits of this model over the more traditional single models in detail, in a way that people will understand. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”

That stuck with me all evening and on reflection on how I spoke about myself I realize how right Kendra is. I am here for a reason, I was invited to participate in the webinar for a reason, and people care what I have to say.

So take some time for you, take a good hard look at how you speak about yourself, your accomplishments and your mistakes and realize, you are anything but an idiot. You are wonderful.

Not letting stress take over, give yourself a moment

“The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.”
Sydney J. Harris

I work in a bustling, high-pressure environment. As a Sales engineer I could be called on to do, well, pretty much anything at the last minute – and particularly at the end of quarters when there are big pushes to try and hit various targets you never know quite what you’ll be doing day to day. Will I be on site with a customer this week? Will I be doing 6 product demonstrations in a single day or one long 3-hour remote troubleshooting session?

It could be anything.

It makes my job exciting and I love the prospect of having to be on my metaphorical toes, but for me and those around me it can be exhausting. Yes it’s exciting, but never getting what I like to call “work down time” i.e. time you can use to learn something knew, tinker with a problem you’ve been thinking about for a while, can become detrimental to your mental state as the pressure starts to build.

This problem isn’t restricted to a sales environment – it can occur anywhere there is a high pressure workload, deadlines or unpredictability.

Stress is a hormonal response from the body. Adrenaline and cortisol (and others) force your body into this “ready” state where you’re constantly ready to fight or flee and it is a state that should be reserved for occasions we require it. To be in a high pressure, high stress job where you constantly feel worn out, over worked and anxious for what the day holds in store can be not only problematic for your workload as you try in vain to keep up with everything (and potentially let standards slip) but it can also have big ramifications for your health, including (but not limited to):

  • Less and/or worse quality sleep
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Skin irritation
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches / Migraines

It’s obvious when you’re giving in to stress because you start making excuses. When we’re most stressed that’s when we find ourselves identifying ways to put off tackling the thing that is causing us the issue(s) or normalizing and rationalizing the problem. We’ve all been students at one point, putting off working for deadlines “well, I can pretty much get it done next week I’m sure” and even now as adults we start figuring out how much time we can sacrifice around it “well if I come in at 5am and just crack on with it, because no one else will be in the office…“. This is just another way for stressful activities to play on your mind and eat into our personal time and even our sleep. But that stuff is muy importante and actually, you don’t have to put yourself through that; many people consider stress to be a normal part of the job they lead like prison guards, astronauts and doctors. The key is to use stress to your advantage, be focused on the job at hand, but don’t let it overwhelm you, whatever it is you do.

Stress has always been something I’ve had difficulties overcoming and it wasn’t until 2019 when my wife and I ran an Action For Happiness “Exploring What Matters” course (check here for any courses running near you – they’re super cool!) that I realized I didn’t have to be a slave to stress.

There are so many coping techniques for stress but I wanted to just share 1 with you today (and maybe others in the future), but this is a technique I discovered in that Exploring What Matters course that you can put into action right now.

It has long been proven that meditation can have incredible health benefits for those who practice it, but the common feedback I hear on it is “but I don’t have time to meditate in the middle of the day! I have a job to do!” – whilst this may be true, meditation doesn’t just have to be sitting in a quiet room, cross-legged saying “hummmmmm” whilst sniffing incense for an hour until you find inner peace.

The video below will walk you through taking just a moment in the middle of your day to re-focus, to help you deal with stress. Sometimes we carry stress with us from call to call or meeting to meeting and all it can take is for us to deal with that build up to prevent it from affecting us and our work. I loved the course because it made me look at stress for what it was – not a big ball of mess that I had to carry everywhere with me and could do nothing about – rather, something I could choose not to feel if i didn’t want to.

I hope this video helps you as much as it’s helped me.

One thing I will say in closing though, and that is if you find stress is a big part of your daily life and it makes you agitated, anxious and weary, meditation might not be enough to help you get through. Stress can be like a big heavy ball you constantly feel is hanging from your neck, pulling you down and restricting your airways. However, things can change and you can change them. Speak to your boss, your friends and family, even a therapist about what is stressing you out; they may hold the key to help you unlock the root of the stress and therein lies the way to releasing it.

You are not alone, ever.

New Years Resolutions: Be more good.

“Work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. How many of your New Year’s resolutions have been about fixing a flaw?”
Jonathan Haidt

On New Years Eve just after midnight, my wife asked our teenager and I what our New Year’s resolutions are and that got me thinking. I’m famously very very bad at this.

Like. Really bad.

My resolutions in the past have always been about fixing a flaw, which is why I like this quote and why this year I wanted to change things up a bit. My wife’s advice, naturally because she is a superstar and very good at setting herself goals, was to set S.M.A.R.T goals (more on those here, pretty good for meetings!) so that by the end of the year I could measure success.

But I’m going a slightly different direction with 2020. It’s a big year and I would like to change for the better this year, but I should point out early that I’m happy. I’m happy with how I am, who I have in my life and my work. Contentedness is not to be feared, it doesn’t mean that you have just accepted a fate and you’re going to sit back and let it happen, and it’s not to be underestimated because it means that you can more easily fight the stresses of everyday life. I realize I need to lose some weight, but that’s not really a NYR, it’s a lifestyle change down purely to how I eat/drink and move.

So after some thought, here are my 3 New Year’s resolutions:

1 – Spend more quality time with those who mean the most to me

I have the most amazing family. My wife is incredible; people meet her thinking I’m nice and then they’re like “Ooh Chris is an OGRE by comparison!”. Our teenager is wonderful; she’s smart and driven and just generally going to smash 2020, of that I’m sure. My sisters, mum & step-dad, dad & step-mum, best friend and my close group of friends enrich my life and without them I would be no where near as happy and fulfilled as I am today.

I want to make sure I prioritize time with all of them when making decisions, but that’s not to say I’m going to be able to spend a lot MORE time with them necessarily – I will certainly try, but I want the time spent with them to be quality time. That means putting my phone down more often, listening better and offering help where it may be needed, making a conscious decision to work on my relationships and to think more about what I’m saying and doing to try and make their lives as wonderful as they make mine.

So this decision isn’t SMART in the sense it’s not really measurable. But it’s a conscious choice I’ve made and one I have already started to work on.

2 – Do more of what I love / be good to me

This may seem in direct conflict (or indeed the same as) the previous resolution, but it is in fact very different. The goal of this resolution is to take some of the time that was otherwise “dead zone”. You get 168 hours in 1 week – take away 56 hours for sleep at least, 40 hours for work, 10 for commuting and 2 hours a day (14) for sundries like showering, getting ready, food prep etc. and what are you left with? 48 FULL hours! What do I even DO with that?

I don’t even know.

But it’s time that changed. I’m going to do more of what I love, like blogging, cooking, walking, playing video/board games, learning Romanian and spending time with friends / calling loved ones. From now on, I’m going to walk in the door from work, or wake up on weekends and I’m going to ask myself how long I have before bed and how I want to utilize that and it’s going to be something that ultimately makes me smile.

Again, not super measurable, but a concerted effort to choose to be happier is going to do a world of good for me and everyone around me.

3 – Be a better human

Ok, this one is kind of an obvious one but I feel if you don’t specifically address it and call it out then it’s almost like you’re not taking accountability for it.

I’ve made concerted efforts over the past year to be vegan, primarily on the grounds of trying to lead a cruelty free lifestyle, but the one animal I want to help this year more so than ever (and we jolly well need it) is ‘people’.

As we enter 2020 we enter an era of unprecedented change. The climate is at crunch point, Brexit is causing a huge amount of uncertainty and people are struggling to be happy, healthy and loved.

So this point is a very simple one. I want to take every opportunity to:

a) Make a climate conscious decision – greener choices from removing single use plastics to ethical, sustainable foods and beauty products.

b) Volunteer for and donate to more charities who are helping the planet or helping those in need and don’t necessarily have the ability to help themselves

c) Make someone smile. Simple as. Try to spread some of the happiness wherever possible.

This is perhaps the simplest resolution in terms of scope, as every action is easily definable, but it’s going to the the hardest to enact. So that’s why this isn’t a SMART goal, because if I manage to do at least a little bit of the above, certainly more so than I have done in previous years, then I’m moving in the right direction and adding a little positivity and sparkle to the world.

So those are my resolutions

I decided I don’t really want them to be measurable because I don’t want to compare me as I am to my ideal version of myself. The moment I compare me to how I wish I was, I feel regret or shame for not achieving that ideal, two things no person should feel, because we should focus on our triumphs. If you have struggled with shame in the past, I highly recommend this video from Brené Brown.

Happy New Year! So. What’re your New Years resolutions?

A brief history of PlantBasedSQL

There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.”
Charles Darwin

Note: The post below is my viewpoint on going Vegan and is not designed in anyway to attack or criticise anyone for the choices they make. I will not describe in depth what I witnessed during my research into making this choice for myself but I will provide optional links at the end of the post if you wish to start looking into Veganism. Thank you.

In December 2016 I went vegetarian. I had been living with my then-partner, now-wife for about 9 months and things were going great. When we got together though, I was a vehement meat-eater, in fact eater of all things animal; meat, dairy, eggs, you name it.

I even remember arguing with one of our friends over Christmas in 2015 that, and I quote, “I can’t see myself ever NOT eating meat. Ever.”

My wife though, at that time, was mostly pescatarian and therefore we never really had or cooked meat at home. I love to cook so from the moment we moved in together into a tiny (TINY!!!) flat in March 2016 I saw it mostly as a challenge that I could rise to, to cook more vegetarian food; so I started doing some research.

What I found horrified me to my core.

Many of the vegetarian and vegan bloggers I started to check out included (as part of their blogs and recipes I was following) justification for their lifestyle, reasons why they chose a vegetarian or plant based lifestyle and I was intrigued. I checked out the references, the sources and studies and documentaries, I made notes and discussed my thoughts with my wife and family and others I knew who were veggie or vegan and realized I had lived a life in ignorant bliss of the suffering that took place to fulfill my need for a burger, or bacon, even sweets like wine gums (which I loved but are full of gelatin).

So I made the switch and honestly, it shocked everyone around me (particularly my family) that I, the meat eater, the lover of BBQ, meaty curries and Tex-Mex, would give it up for the rest of my life. But everybody blamed my wife for this. Perhaps blame is too strong a word though… they attributed it to my now living with a mostly-vegetarian.

But no, I came to this conclusion myself. From pictures of slaughterhouses, caged animals and intense farming of everything from cows to pigs to fish, I realized that I would never see meat in the same light again, and it’s not as though I didn’t KNOW this happened. When I was a meat eater of course I knew this was the case, but when I really looked, I realized that my personal dinner preferences should never, ever cause something like this.

The research continued and just over 2 short years later on 1st January 2019 I did something great, I tried Veganuary. Veganuary is a vegan-January challenge that asks only that you give up animal products and try eating and living a Vegan lifestyle.

At this point the teenager in our house had already been vegan for some time; she had come from a predominantly meat-eating country (Romania) and so at home we were mostly cooking plant-based so we could all eat together anyway! Curries, stews, soups, pasta, pizza, nut-burgers, salads, buddha bowls, our diet was not restrictive – but i was still eating eggs and cheese at work, and when we went out for dinner. It wasn’t long before the articles and documentaries led me to look at the dairy and egg industries.

Again, absolutely terrifying.

Shortly before trying Veganuary, in September or October 2018 I had a nightmare. I won’t go into detail but involved trying desperately in vain to free cows from a dairy-slash-slaughterhouse and it was harrowing. I woke up completely drenched in a cold sweat and decided that it would not be long until I completely phased out all animal products, and January was the time to do so.

I don’t miss cheese, or eggs. I thought it would be hard, but it wasn’t. Yes, vegan cheese isn’t quite there yet (unless you’ve tried the new Applewood UK Vegan cheddar OHMIGOSH) but honestly, even if the alternative isn’t there yet – it’s still better than the version requiring we first exploit a living being that doesn’t have the means to defend itself.

Now, almost 12 months later, I still maintain that (besides the decisions to marry my wife, to look after our teen and to join Redgate) it was one of the very best decisions I have ever made.

I encourage you, if you’ve ever been curious, to try it for yourself. It’s surprisingly easy, but most of all it gets you to think about what you eat, how you fuel yourself and about the well-being of all life on the planet. If you need some resources, or want to answer some common questions, I’ve included some resources below:

Where do I get my B12 and Protein? Watch the Game Changers Netflix Documentary – trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSpglxHTJVM

Is a plant based diet healthy? Watch the Forks Over Knives documentary on Netflix or Youtube – trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZb-35oV_7E

How would eating vegan help to stop animal cruelty? Watch the Earthlings and Cowspriacy documentaries – trailers here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hm7Babs_FJU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV04zyfLyN4

Where are some good resources for plant-based cooking? You can follow the below leaders in this arena (there are loads on YouTube in general though):

Where can I eat Vegan? There are tonnes of good places that have their own vegan menus and options, a few chain restaurants in the UK who offer great vegan alternatives inlclude:

  • Bella Italia
  • Pizza Express
  • Frankie & Benny’s
  • Zizzi
  • Wagamama
  • Byron Burger
  • Pret a manger
  • Giraffe
  • Pizza Hut
  • Papa Johns
  • and Subway!

Happy holidays and here’s to a happy 2020!

Why I dont work on planes, and why I dont think you should either.

“Work, love, and play are the great balance wheels of man’s being.”
– Orison Swett Marden

I’m a big supporter of mindfulness, and treating yourself with the kindness and compassion you deserve, and which we as human beings need. When you go to work I’m sure many of you (like I do) give the metaphorical 110% to make sure that when you get a job done, it is done well… but it shouldn’t be at the cost of your mental well-being.

Some countries and businesses practice 4 day work-weeks to help people maintain a work life balance; others provide longer breaks, mindfulness rooms or meditation sessions (among others). Why do you think they do this? First and foremost, we can trace it back to the old saying “happy workers are productive workers” and assuming we, the employees, don’t get complacent with the benefits / perks our employers provide us, this really rings true and it enables us to do the best work of our lives and feel valued doing so.

I love what I do (notice I didn’t say my job). Having the ability to help people tackle some of the hardest problems they face in day-to-day life is a benefit all in itself, and hearing about your input being revolutionary to someone else just really can’t be beaten. So when I frequently come into the office at 6am to answer a tide of emails or prepare for multiple back to back demonstrations, or when I reply to colleagues in offices across the globe from my phone at gone 9pm at night; I don’t resent that fact… I thrive on it. I feel like I truly make a difference.

But what about when I’m asked to travel for work?

“Chris, can you take the train down to London? There’s an event we’d like you to be at!”

“I need you to fly to LA/Austin in a couple of weeks to help with some inter-office training”

“We’re attending an event in the Netherlands, can you fly out Friday and spend your Saturday on site?”

That’s great – I can’t wait!

But. Travel is work too. It involves taking you out of your routine, away from your family/friends for any length of time and genuinely requires you to be “on”. The whole process is exhausting; waking up early, getting home late, bustling airports, overcrowded train stations, uncomfortable hotels and sitting in traffic for hours on end – does that not sound like work? Especially for those of you (us) who suffer with anxiety in these sorts of situations. Even if you get that time back in lieu, it is time you will never really get back.

When you work whilst you’re travelling you just add stress to your existing stress and double-stress™ yourself – and the effect of stress on our body is well documented and blogged about (see here and here and all the smart people here!) and this creates negative associations and resentment. Resentment kills your passion for the thing you love to do, and turns it into “just work”.

So what do I actually do when I travel instead of pulling out my laptop and replying to someone’s questions about database deployments?

I stop. I relax.

Invest your time in what brings you joy and actually turn something tedious, time-consuming and stuffy into a fun and exciting journey. For many this could be anything from watching a film or reading, to personal development and learning something new, or even just watching the trees go by out of the window (not so easy on a plane but you get my point!) – but it should be something that makes you happy, we can thank Stephen R. Covey for this nugget of wisdom: “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” and this is something we can all stand to be reminded of occasionally.

You don’t need to feel guilt at the thought of not working when travelling, 7/8 hours at work followed by 4, 5, 6+ hours travelling is still at the very least an 11+ hour work day. Ultimately, taking time for yourself is the very least you deserve when you are travelling for your business.

If you’re struggling with this same stress though, you might well take the opportunity to explore what matters in your life and build a happier you. Happiness is a choice we make for ourselves.

So, what’re you going to do on your next business trip?

The 2020…ish blogging challenge

“Embrace each challenge in your life as an opportunity for self-transformation.”
– Bernie S. Siegel

I’ve always been a fan of a challenge and my family and wife will attest to the fact that I can be highly competitive. So needless to say on that day I sat with Kendra (see previous post) when she mentioned any kind of challenge I knew I would try and rise to it!

The idea behind this was that Kendra and I would blog every single week starting from… well, now actually! This is my (official) first blog in the 2020 series and it’s going out *hastily checks the date* on the 29th November 2019. “Why now?” I hear you ask, well it’s a great question. Kendra and I agree that having this challenge as somewhat of a “New Years Resolution” just gives us an opportunity to fail, like many resolutions do. There is no time like the present and we very much intend to live by that! So from now until 29th November 2020 I will (hopefully) be blogging… Every. Single. Week.

Utter madness, I know!!! But exciting nonetheless, and I can’t wait.

The rules are very simple:
1) Blog every week
2) You can blog about whatever you like, and
3) If you miss a week £10 (or $10 for Kendra) goes into a pot that at the end of the year gets donated to a charity of your choice.

I’m going to go ahead and supplement the 3rd rule with the fact that I intend to meet this challenge, and as that really only helps me, I will be donating a MINIMUM of £120 (£10 for each month) so that whatever the outcome I am still able to contribute to a great cause.

The charity that I have chosen is Mind, a fantastic UK based mental health charity which provides advice, support and information to help you through whatever mental health issues you may be facing. It is a charity very close to my own heart, not least because it’s a subject that affects us all but because Mind themselves have helped many people; not just in general but those close to me, and myself directly. They helped me to do the very thing I found impossible at one time, talk about it, and I will be forever grateful for that.

With this all in mind I look forward to steaming ahead into 2020 and (hopefully) filling this page with exciting and informative posts – just a sneak peak at what I have lined up, you can expect posts on:

  • Living a plant based lifestyle
  • DevOps
  • Data Masking
  • Azure
  • PowerShell
  • Travel and Culture
  • My feeble attempts at learning Romanian
  • and much much more…

So. Let’s go.

A retrospective on blogging and my journey so far

“We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”
– Rick Warren

Welcome!

It’s not how I thought I would truly begin my blogging journey but there you have it. Woefully unoriginal and yet beautifully simple. Just like me (!)

Once upon a time (aha, a slightly better start!) I actually had a blog. It was called CupcakesAndCircuits and it was to be a combination of the things I loved most which were: getting my head into the tech world and baking. This started out as a Tumblr blog (this was 2013, be kind) where I wrote my own posts and also re-blogged things shared by others, but as I rapidly sped down the Tumblr rabbit hole it became more about the queuing of blogs to go out at certain times, and getting as many followers as I could – at one point i reached over 1000 people with what I wrote but the quality of things deteriorated from there.

So I came to WordPress.

I ported everything that I would consider was ‘me’ to a new blog format and spent money (even though I had little at the time) and had a nice shiny page that looked great, was easy to find and over which I had significantly greater control. I published my first post and… got distracted. I only ever made it to about 5 posts, garnering a solid 10 or so likes and falling directly out of the start gate.

Why? I couldn’t say. There was a bit of an upheaval in my life and things went a bit… squiffy for a time. All I know is that it never went anywhere, despite still having the ideas for posts.

Roll forward a few years to PASS Summit 2019 in Seattle – I’ve been at the Redgate pre-con all day and gotten to know some lovely and inspiring people, talked about nothing but DevOps all day (whoop!) but I’m still feeling beat because, you know, Jet Lag is a thing. We all head out for some post-pre-con drinks and everyone is talking about getting some food but at this point there’s nothing left in the tank; I look to make my polite excuses and head back to my room (post something greasy, quick and convenient) but then hear Kendra (the almighty, inspiring, wonderful, incomparable Kendra Little) was doing the same.

So we decided to excuse ourselves together. Defeats the point of an early night but hey-ho off we went. We settled into a lovely stool at MOD Pizza just around the corner (hats off to MOD for one of the best vegan pizzas I’ve had!) and we talked about life, the universe and everything.

For a while I had been mulling over the idea of starting a blog, some kind of independent page that I could host my thoughts and posts on – these thoughts had been inspired by conversations with Alex Yates (DLM Consultant, rock star, all round fantastic guy) and Kathi Kellenberger (one of the loveliest, most incredibly knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet, and I hope you do!) but I had never acted on them due to the failure of my previous blog.

But Kendra wasn’t having any of it. She came up with the most fantastic idea for a blogging competition of sorts (more on that later!) and really pushed me to not let the past be my prison. I have learned so much, come so far and if I never fail, then I’m never trying anything new!

So do you know what I did? I went back to my hotel room, enthused and reinvigorated. I purchased some domain names, I set up a new WordPress blog and I got to work, no matter how tired I was.

Thus, PlantBasedSQL was born and this is where we find ourselves today. Will this fail? Will anyone hear what I have to say? I cannot be certain. But I am certain that I am trying something and I am very glad I am.