Sleeper Agent

I fell asleep in a meeting at my new job today. Unfortunately, that is not an unusual occurrence. I’ve spent a fair amount of time explaining myself to my new bosses and coworkers. It’s been awhile since I’ve been around people who don’t know that about me who are affected by it after being in my previous job for so long. So I’ve had to give my explanation several times. It generally goes something like this:

“I’ve been like this since I was a kid. In school I would fall asleep during lectures, regardless of whether I was well-rested or not. I upset a lot of my teachers over the years. I know it looked to them like I was disrespectful and lazy, but I’ve never had any control over it. In my adult life, it happens in pretty much every meeting I attend. I can usually manage to have somebody talk at me for about 10 minutes before I start to fade out. My eyes glaze over and the head-bobbing will start shortly after that, then I’m gone. I’ve managed to control the yawning for the most part, at least. But there’s a switch that flips in my brain during periods of non-interaction and I can’t seem to do much to stop it. I try to doodle or take notes to stay with it. That helps, but sometimes I don’t do a good job of that, or looking like I’m doodling comes off nearly as badly as nodding off does.

I also have a hard time reading books. After 10-15 minutes of that, I’m usually out as well. I learn primarily through doing things. Having somebody sit near me and tell me what to do step-by-step and allowing it to go through my own fingertips is highly effective. Absorbing instructions via text book is harder, but expecting me to learn by lecture just doesn’t work for me. I’ll do my best not to embarrass myself or my department by falling asleep in important meetings with VP’s present, but I really can’t control it. Sorry.”

I also fall asleep reading or doing repetitive tasks. This has been a pretty big problem for me throughout my life. I have countless embarrassing stories of things that have happened because I fell asleep at an inopportune time. Many of them happened when I knew I would be highly visible and was on my best behavior. I even fell asleep playing little league softball while standing in the outfield a few times. I resembled a turtle on its back until I woke up with a start. I’ve just accepted it as part of how I am. A part I don’t like very much, but part of me nonetheless.

I thought about it a lot today after I gave that explanation for the thousandth time. “What if there’s something I can do about it, after all? I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Maybe I can get some help and change it.” I’m already wondering how this is the first time that thought really occurred to me in all these years. Seems silly and obvious. Regardless, I’m glad that I had that thought at all.

I’ll be eligible for benefits next month. I’d like to get the ball rolling now in hopes that I can actually get started on treatment soon. I don’t know what it is yet. But the fact that there’s something going on with me that affects so much of my life at least deserves some examination.

If this is something that you or somebody you know has dealt with and you have any treatment suggestions in Columbus, OH, let me know in the comments section, email me (jacki890 at yahoo) or ping me on Twitter (@jacki890).

Update:
I have a coworker who has almost identical symptoms to mine. I talked to her a lot today. She has narcolepsy and has been treated for it the past few years and said that medication has made a huge difference in her life. As soon as I get benefits, I’m going to talk to my general practitioner about having a sleep study done on me to work toward diagnosis and treatment. I’m pretty excited about it. Now I just hope I can get a benefits package that will cover things like this. It would be amazing to finally get a handle on these symptoms.

Work in Progress

I’ve been through a lot of major life changes since I started my blog a couple years ago. My main intention for writing that blog initially was to share one of those big changes from inception to completion to help other people who were contemplating that same change. I wanted to give people a roadmap from start to finish. Leave breadcrumbs…

But it didn’t go the way I planned it. And my feelings throughout much of the process were pretty negative. I didn’t want that to be part of the roadmap, so I didn’t write most of that. And later I felt like it was my duty to write it. And I started to… But it never felt right. And ultimately I deleted my allusions to those posts.

And then I did that a second time. These posts are mostly career-related. I read another post this morning that brought a lot of this home for me. I want to stop deciding for everybody what part of my process is worthy to put out there. Life — raw, honest and true life — is never neatly packaged and a straight line from point A to point B. It’s difficult and full of obstacles. A constant struggle. It’s also amazing, miraculous and beautiful all at the same time. It is our perception and our perspective that changes. But that is not merely all that changes. When our perception and perspective changes, that literally changes us and our world around us.

So this is me changing my perspective. This is me deciding to give you my truth as often as I can. Messy. Unfinished. Unpolished. But honest. Me.

Because ultimately, it’s not for me to decide who and what I am to you. That is your perspective to cultivate. I might bring you hope. You might relate to something small I said that seemed insignificant to me. That tiny thing might be enough to shine a light into your world brighter than I ever could’ve imagined when I said or wrote it. I might upset or frustrate you. Or you may just feel indifferent. That’s all up to you. But what’s up to me is getting myself out there. Not waiting to see if the story has a happy ending before writing its beginning and middle. Not waiting till I’m “done.” Not waiting…

I started this post when I got on the bus to work this morning. I finished it about halfway there. I’m going to post it as is. And I’m going to make a habit of this.

Just Need a Belt

I noticed something simple a couple weeks ago. And though it was simple, this thing made me question the way I think about the world I live in and the way I perceive and interact with it. It’s not all that important in and of itself, but it sparked an avalanche of ideas in its wake. What else is like this in my life? What else is there that is not what I’ve taken it to be at face value? How many of my other perceptions are just… wrong? Curious…

I worked from home the last couple years until I quit my job in January. Then I went from working from home to just BEING at home. My wardrobe has gotten quite relaxed in those years. I went from having casual Fridays to “Oh, I’m going somewhere today, so I should probably put on some clothes.” On one of those days when I went somewhere, I put on my pair of brown corduroy pants. They’re kind of stretchy and fit me comfortably with a belt. I went about my day and my pants went with me. It was a long day, and I was really tired by the end of it. So tired that I fell asleep on the couch still wearing my clothes.

I groggily made the five step journey from my living room to my bedroom to get some proper rest. But in my foggy state of being half-asleep, I did something new. I just yanked my pants off without first unbuttoning them or unzipping the fly. And they came right off. I don’t think I cared much about it at the time or really even noticed. But the next morning, I picked up the pants to throw them in the hamper and noticed that the fly was still zipped and buttoned. I left it that way and pulled them on. Huh! There was no struggle. They went on fine and just conformed to my waist as they usually did. Pulled them off again, and again there was no struggle.

I’ve had those pants for about three years now. My body shape hasn’t changed very much in that time. So how long has this been true? I have other pants that are similarly made with a little stretch to them. I tried them all on. SAME THING. I didn’t need to touch the fly on any of my pants to be able to get them off and on easily. Most of them just need a belt to keep them where they belong during the day’s many standing ups and sitting downs. Revelation!

How much time have I spent dealing with a vestigial structure on my clothing? It adds up, surely. I can remember some pants I’ve worn in recent years that were form-fitting enough and lacking stretch that this wouldn’t have worked with them. But I hadn’t even TRIED before. The thought never even crossed my mind. Button, zip, buckle; unbuckle, unbutton, unzip. Over and over for years.

Perhaps what’s more interesting is that even after making that discovery… Now that I KNOW there’s no need to fiddle with those fasteners… I STILL DO IT. It’s over 30 years of autopilot at work. It’s hard to rewire those neural pathways to stop myself from doing something that is so habitually ingrained. But still, the new way is more efficient, so I’m going to retrain myself. It’s not that it takes a lot of effort. It’s more that I have to be more mindful of something I haven’t thought about since I was a little kid.

It’s hard for us to remember what it was like when we were little. Tiny fingers just starting to figure out how to work things in the big new world. Putting buttons through buttonholes, putting on socks, getting shoes on so the socks aren’t all bunched up in the toe, tying shoelaces! Working forks, knives, spoons, bowls, cups, straws, stairs, everything!!! You work and struggle at each new kind of clasp or fastener until you finally get it to work that first time. And every time after that is practice until it’s something that’s automatic in your muscle memory. Much like I’m typing these words on a little keyboard as a touch-typist… My fingers are in the right place because the letters are coming out in the expected order. There’s an upraised bump on both the “F” and “J” keys. I had to rewire my brain a bit to use this particular keyboard, though. The “;” key has been replaced by a “‘” key. I have to use the Fn key to get the semi-colon and colon now. I would argue that it’s a slight improvement over standard QWERTY, but it has made making emoticons a lot more annoying. And then it’s a pain to switch back to a normal keyboard, so I do most of my writing on this one.

But I digress… Anyway, I’ve been trying to approach many aspects of my life right now with the same level of mindfulness. I do so many things simply because that’s how I’ve always done them. But as I approach things with a higher level of awareness, I hope to find more ways to improve things.

A lot of this thought has helped me to see that though I have a lot of interests, skills and talents, I believe I am a designer at heart. Always trying to make things better, more efficient, work more smoothly… I’ve always been that way. But I feel like I’m taking it to another level now. Not just coming into a field where I’ll be a designer by trade. But also designing my life. Cutting out the things that don’t work, improving on the things that do, but could be better… It’s an interesting, exciting and sometimes scary time in my life right now. Sometimes the changes I make are huge and obviously life-altering. Other times, it’s just learning that all I need to do is buckle and unbuckle my belt. But they’re all making my brain work differently. And somehow, that seems pretty significant when you think about it.

Without a Net

I’ve worked at the same place for seven years now. That’s more than twice as long as any other place I’ve worked previously. I got my start there as a help desk technician. After more than a year of that, I transitioned into a Junior Oracle DBA role. And I’ve been there ever since. The amount of years I’ve occupied that role allowed me to drop the “Junior” from my title and add “SQL Server” and “MySQL” as well. It was a good move to get me beyond phone-in help desk support, which I had been in for about 6 years at various places before that.

I went into a lot more detail about that in my Pre-beginning blog post. Three years ago, I tried to find another DBA job elsewhere. I worked at that for a year or so before deciding that I probably didn’t want another DBA job. This time last year, the winds of change blew me into the possibility of being a Ruby programmer. I was excited about it and felt good about it. I liked the people in the community and it seemed it would be a much better fit for me than DBA work. But I kept my DBA job, because I valued the lifestyle it afforded me. It seemed like the sensible thing to do. Keep the steady paycheck coming, the 21 days of paid time off, the health, dental and vision insurance… After all, I work from home 100% of the time and have for a couple of years now. I had enough flexibility to be able to co-work somewhere else and still meet my expectations at the DBA job.

So I worked hard to make room for Ruby. I delegated off a lot of my DBA responsibilities to capable help desk technicians and often I had very little DBA work to do. It seemed like that should’ve been enough. And it probably could’ve been. The opportunity I had there didn’t pan out very well for me. But I ultimately feel that was for the best. I think that if it had worked out, I probably would’ve done it for a year or two, but I feel I still would’ve arrived at the conclusion that my calling is in User Experience Design (UX).

In keeping my DBA job, I played it very safe. And what I was really saying with that decision was “I really hope this Ruby thing works out, but if it doesn’t, I still have my day job.” And more pointedly, “I’m afraid I might not be able to do this, and I’m not willing to put my security on the line to give it all I’ve got. I don’t believe in myself enough to make a leap of faith here.”

A year later, I have learned from that. I DO believe in myself. I don’t know where I’ll land yet, but I know that I’ll hit the ground running wherever that may be. I submitted my letter of resignation at 11:00am this morning. My boss responded a short time later that he was sad to hear that I was leaving, but that he’d work with me to make my transition out as smooth as possible. He also made sure I knew he’d give me a good reference if need be. He’s a good guy. If it hadn’t been for him, I would’ve left there long ago.

Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And I do believe that to be true. I feel better having made my decison to leave official. I’ve only told a few people at this point, so it’s quite possible that you are one of my close friends and this is the first you’re hearing about it (please don’t be offended if that’s the case). I figured that writing a blog post was the easiest way for me to handle letting people know about this. Good friends included. I only really decided to do it about 24 hours ago.

So what comes next for me? I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to find out! I don’t have any savings or a nest egg. I don’t even have a credit card. So I’m well-motivated to find something soon. If I’m really lucky, it will be a start somewhere in UX. A place where I can start, learn and grow. If not, I’ll figure something else out. I believe in myself. For me, life isn’t about being comfortable and settling. It’s about learning, growing, expanding, and pushing boundaries. I have an exciting new journey I’m taking. And I’m getting started right… NOW!

Pre-beginning

Hey there. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m still deciding what I’m going to do with this odd little corner of the internet. I want to document my journey from the very beginning, so that years from now when I’m a solid Ruby programmer *cough*, I can look back on all this and remember that I started from square 1. Going back to square 0 for a moment, I am coming from the background of being an Oracle DBA. Back in square -1, I spent 6 years as a help desk technician at a few different places. I gained a wealth of knowledge on a wide variety of things in those years. I became familiar with several operating systems and the gamut of personality types. I was an excellent help desk technician; a bit of a rare breed. No matter what the end user’s comfort level was with computers, they generally got off the phone with me feeling better than they did before they called. I had end users send me chocolate, small gifts and even flowers as tokens of gratitude for simply doing my job and not making them feel like an idiot in the process. I can’t say I really enjoyed that job, but I was good at it, and I learned a lot about myself in the process. Mainly, I was amazed at the level of patience and compassion that I had when dealing with strangers who called me in distress and frustration. Also, I am a very quick learner. And when I learn on the job, I have a high retention rate. Even more so when somebody is helping me along the way.

Square -0.5

I worked all those years in the help desk, and refused promotions to management and any tracks that would get me closer to being a manager. Though I have good people skills and feel I could be a good manager, I’ve never wanted that. In my last job as a help desk tech, I had been there for a bit when they announced some new positions opening up. I remember seeing the proposed org chart on the video screen in an all-hands meeting. There was a box with a dashed outline containing the words “Jr. Oracle DBA.”

I lit up. That was my new job. Not just a ticket out of the help desk, but my way to change my career path from lifer help desk tech to something more challenging and satisfying. The “Junior” part of the title was very attractive to me. It implied that I would be just starting out and receive training. Also, presumably, there would be a Senior to my Junior. A mentor and an apprentice. Yes! I had been waiting and hoping for this opportunity for years. I always learn best when there is a mentor there to help point me in the right direction when I get stuck… who can explain in a couple sentences the things it would’ve taken me hours of painful research to figure out on my own. Somebody who I could learn from. Yes!!!

I was so determined to get that job. It was almost as if it had been created for me. I worked really hard and got the job. Hooray! Now what? When I started, there were two Senior level Oracle DBA’s. I figured I would report to one or both of them, or perhaps their boss. I was so excited, but didn’t know what to do. I thought they’d surely send me to some training classes. Something, right?! Wrong. No training. Just me hanging out with the senior DBA’s who had no better idea what to do with me than I knew what to do for them. I didn’t know where to start. I asked around a bit, and eventually was able to get my hands on some Oracle CBT’s. I installed those and started working through them. And that’s about all I did for the first month or so that I was in that position. They didn’t need me yet. I was only in that position because I had insisted on it. Nobody knew what to do with me, so I figured out how to make myself useful.

Square 0

Nearly five years later, I am an Oracle and SQL Server DBA. I fought hard to keep from becoming the latter, but it was unavoidable at my current workplace. I’ve gotten pretty comfortable working with Oracle on Unix. I started out forcing myself to use the command line and to run my queries in sqlplus without a GUI. I like to learn things that way so I understand the nuts and bolts of what I’m doing before I get distracted by the pattern on the curtains and tablecloths. Now I use Toad for Oracle all the time. I feel alright about it, as long as I continue to know the SQL behind the slick interface.

Square 0.5

Several months ago, I met a new friend who was passionate about Open Source and reignited my interest in it. At the time, I was still pretty comfortable on my career path. Though I was dissatisfied with the conditions at my current workplace, I felt the obvious next step for me was to become an Oracle DBA elsewhere. Over the following months, several things happened to change my mind. I worked with about 14 recruiters, and with each promising prospect, something always went awry. I felt I should genuinely make a go of improving my skills as a DBA. My workplace wouldn’t pay for training, of course, so I set out to really dig into Korn shell scripting and PL/SQL. My weakest area has always been scripting.

Square -10

Over a decade ago, I got the bright idea to try programming in C+. It made no sense to me, whatsoever. And try as I might, I could not get my stupid “Hello World!” program to compile and run. I let that experience define me as somebody who could not code. I know. It is kind of sad. There are so many other languages out there I could’ve tried, and I’m sure one of them probably would’ve made more sense to me, but that’s how it went down. I developed a mental block around coding akin to my mental block with calculus. I did fine with math until I got to geometry. And most of the time in geometry, I just got caught up in the thought that I should understand it, because it was based in logic with all the proofs and theorems, and I tend to be a logical thinker. Anyway, once through that and back to algebra, all was well. And then… calculus. Brick wall.

And I have been stuck at that brick wall of “I can’t write code.” since then. *sigh*

Square 0.75

A few months ago, that new friend introduced me to what would become a pervasive undercurrent in my life. He told me about Ruby, PostgreSQL, Linux and FreeBSD. He invited me to meetups and suggested books for me to read. The spark started there. But in the back of my mind was that pervasive thought; “I can’t write code.” However, my desire to continue in my career as a DBA began to wane. Every time I really tried to dig into more shell scripting, I backed away from it. I couldn’t stay motivated to learn more of it. Another part of that has been because of the 24/7 availability. I never wanted to be one of those people. Always attached to their Crackberry and laptop… But in the past four years, the only time I’ve been inaccessible to work was for a single week when I vacationed on Grand Cayman island. And that was because my phone didn’t have international coverage. Bliss. Suffice it to say, I am one of those people now. Every time I check my Crackberry to see what’s coming down the chute, another piece of me dies inside. I want my life back. And if something is going to be commanding that much of my time, it damn well better be something I’m passionate about.

Square 1

Early last month, a life-changing event occurred. I completely hit the lottery of Twitter friends and lucked into going to JRubyConf. Though I was among many strangers, I felt like I had come home to my people. Rubyists just seem to get it in a different way than most of the IT folk I’ve been around for the 13 years or so I’ve been in the field. I was so inspired by the people I met there. I still can’t quite put it into words. That is a whole other set of blog posts. For now, I’ll say that after JRubyConf, I decided that I no longer wanted to pursue a career as an Oracle DBA. I want to work with Ruby. I want to be a part of the eclectic, robust and growing community of Rubyists. I’ve been reading The Pragmatic Programmer, The Passionate Programmer and Why’s (poignant) Guide to Ruby. This language makes sense to me. I am understanding it as I learn it, and I am enjoying it.

I’m at an awkward stage, though. I understand a lot more Ruby than I did just a month ago, but I’m still at the beginning of my journey. I very much want to get things up and running, but it’s not so much that I’m learning to walk before I run as it is that I’m learning to crawl before I can walk. This part is so frustrating and painful. If I hadn’t experienced how amazing the community is at JRubyConf, I probably would’ve given up by now and defaulted back to my “I can’t write code” comfort zone. I’m determined to keep going, though. I don’t know what I’ll be doing with Ruby, or what lies ahead for me along that path. I just know that’s the right direction for me to go in at this point. That’s good enough right now. I’d say “baby steps”, but it’s more like “baby wiggles” since I haven’t learned to crawl yet. I’ll get there, though. One wiggle at a time…