The topic for this months T-SQL Tuesday #112 hosted by Shane O’Neill (Blog / Twitter) is about “dipping into your cookie jar”. This reference means “when times get tough how do you dip into your reserves to keep going”. Shane asks the following:
That is what I want from the contributors of this T-SQL Tuesday, those memories that they can think back on for sustenance. Like the humble cookie, I want a humble brag.
Read on as I share some stories…
I have had several experiences at work where I was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t know if / how I would get through it. Dipping into my cookie jar, for me, means to take on the unknown with confidence in your ability.
One story I have told in a recent post: T-SQL Tuesday #107 – My Death March Project. Being the sole developer on a large, time sensitive, and difficult project where your predecessors ran out the door was hard.
Read the post – but long story short – near the end when doom was looking probable I threw out almost all of the code (thousands of lines) and rewrote it in a couple of weeks from scratch.
Remember That Time When…
Years ago, for a time, I was the most senior technical staff member in the office. There were no peer level or higher level technical colleagues anywhere near this time zone I was on my own to learn and prosper.
On-boarding a new job like this isn’t easy. Not everyone makes it. There was the added burden of being more customer facing that back room developer. The level of urgency is higher when dealing with a paying customer and their problem with our software.
There was a lot of self study, long hours, and relationship building to get what I needed to be successful at my job.
Approaching burn-out several times, I came into my own and was handling most everything that came my way.
Sometimes it is sink or swim…and sometimes you get to choose
So what did I do? What channeling of the symbolic cookie jar did I tap into?
How I Got Over
Success breeds confidence. Keeping at it reinforces facing it again. I like to parallel it with cognitive behavior therapy.
Success breeds confidence and continued success reinforces the positive way you will handle the next time.
Some of the priciples of CBT can be applied in our work. Basic things like learning appropriate coping techniques when stressed, self-talk, and regulating your emotions.
As the science puts it you are focused on “guarding against thought distortions and maladaptive behaviors. Find what works for you – a personal coping strategy.
Work through your problems – not over, under, or around
Start with what you know. Then work to what you don’t know (learning). Imposter syndrome is a real thing. Chances are you are more capable that you might think in the moment. Whenever I want to give myself a boost I like to find motivation in previous conquests.
I will give 2 examples of overcoming adversity at work in a database (SQL Server) driven role.
Surviving a Death March Project
When you inherit a mess of legacy code that perhaps never achieved what it set out to do then stress is a given. There’s a range of thinking the previous person was a creative genius and you cannot understand what they did counter balanced by thinking your predecessor was a dolt whose work cannot be trusted.
For whatever reason, I decided the thing to do was to rewrite the work. This was not the easy path. Developing on hard mode isn’t recommended. After suffering through months of effort that wasn’t paying off, I pulled it together and thought how this can be made right.
Having that kind of confidence in your ability to elicit software requirements, develop, and test will boost you in future endeavors.
Facing the Unknown in Technical Support
To contrast with the previous example (teamwork gone bad), being isolated and solo can be tough too. There isn’t a more experienced colleague to speak to and nobody is going to answer your emails until tomorrow. So how did I work through this?
I worked hard for a long period of time. During that time there was plenty of rejection in the form of working hours on a problem then realizing I misunderstood it or missed an easy fix. Sometimes I was completely baffled.
Nonetheless, I did the things I know I could do to improve the situation and studied the rest offline. Setting up a meeting and writing detailed emails to key people you know can help will prepare your for round #2 the next day.
Building off your quick wins – the things you already are proficient at and know well – prepares you to take on challenges you cannot currently do and aren’t sure of where to start.
Taking the first step is often the hardest but in the long run it is more meaningful than all the intermediary steps to reach your final destination.
Fast Forward to Today
I use stories and experiences like this to propel me through when the times get tough. I find fuel in past success to put forth a good faith effort into problems for which you do not know the fix (or root cause). Those reserves have served me well. I wish you all luck and success to build upon!
Thanks for reading!
If you liked this post then you might also like: T-SQL Tuesday #107 Round Up: Death March Project