Goals, Strategy, Plans, and the Art of Playing the Long Game

yoga_shotGive Me Patience

People that know me well are going to be shocked by this post because they know my lack of patience is “epic” to say the least. However short my fuse may be I tend to be a dichotomy wrapped inside a conundrum with a crusty center and a candy coating. A “Fun Sized” treat of course. But when your profession is that of a DBA as mine mostly is you either learn patience or find a new career.

Your first crisis as a DBA tends to form you – similar to the fact that you’re rarely defined by your greatest success but rather by your last failure. Mine came at the very start of my career. It was the failure of our organization’s only SQL Server instance (managed by the server admins with me as the sole SQL Server developer and a new one at that) which shifted me into the driver’s seat. Ultimately we lost data – and proud to say 17 years later that it was the only time – and it took a couple days to get everything back online but at no point did I sweat it. Rushing things means not thinking through things with the attention needed. It’s like eating junk food or drinking soda: a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. You’ll get things back up but you you may miss things and at a certain point there may be no turning back.

Setting Goals; Developing an Achievable Strategy

Goals are not the end game but rather they’re the beginning and the end. You define goals at the start of any initiative and you work towards those goals for the duration. Setting goals alone takes you nowhere: history is built from those who worked to achieve their goals – not just give them lip service. Once you define your goals you need to build a plan – a strategy – to get there. That strategy is the road map you follow and the constraints you live within along with the timeline to get you there. All of which are always being re-evaluated and subject to changes to reflect the actual experiences along the way and possible uncontrollable outside circumstances.

In 2010 I worked really hard to get into shape having set a goal of simply “looking and feeling better”. I removed fast food, soda, and junk food from my diet and started working out (mainly kettlebells and spinning). In 6 months or so I was feeling really good with the results but then all hell broke loose with the health of my youngest son and it’s amazing what a crisis of 6 weeks of hospitalization, eating cafeteria food at midnight, and not getting exercise can do to you. By June of 2015 I went from 150lbs and 16% body fat to 175lbs and 18% body fat. At that point I knew I needed to change habits and start to get back in shape but I wasn’t ready. I had set a realistic goal and achieved it without a set plan (or a quantifiable goal for that matter) and while I could say I achieved it I didn’t do it properly – I stumbled into success – but over the long term I had not gone about it with a defined goal and strategy and it fell apart ultimately because I hadn’t also set a goal that was a lifetime change of attitude and action.

By the time the PASS Summit rolled around in October of 2015 I had not changed habits much but had started exercising – setting a loose strategy with no defined goal. As October turned to November in 2015 I decided to make a change. I set a defined weight and body fat percentage goal and a timeline of achievement by the next PASS Summit. I started crossfit the week I returned from Seattle in early November and began eating better and earlier: all part of my overall strategy to reach the goal and develop a lifetime of better health habits.  I also reduced my beer intake to 1 per week and perhaps a splurge when traveling (I really don’t miss it much but there are times…)

“What Gets Measured Gets Done”

That message resonated from Buck Woody as part of his professional development session on our first Alaska SQL Cruise in 2011. After 3 months I realized barbells and I were not huge fans of one another and in March 2016 (one year ago today) I started hot yoga. As I’ve lived a life the last 3rd of my life defined by data and upon this anniversary I decided to do a bit of research on my bio-metrics to see what the results were after a slow and steady 12-month approach to reach my goals. The application used to register students (MindBody) collects data on classes a length of time they attend. I also use fitbit to record my weight and other KPIs. Over the course of the last 12 months I took 198 classes (at my studio) which accounted for 226 total hours. I’ve also started hitting yoga studios when I travel and probably could add another 15 classes and 18 hours to that tally. Additionally here is the info from fitbit from the time I committed to this strategy:

November 2015

  • Body Weight: 168lbs
  • Body Fat %: 17.6%
  • Lean Weight: 138.8lbs
  • Fat Weight: 29.8lbs

March 2016

  • Body Weight: 158.8lbs
  • Body Fat %: 15.4%
  • Lean Weight: 134.3lbs
  • Fat Weight: 24.5lbs

March 2017

  • Body Weight: 149.6lbs
  • Body Fat %: 12.8%
  • Lean Weight: 130.3lbs
  • Fat Weight: 19.3lbs

I was shocked today when I looked specifically at the fat weight I’ve dropped: over 10lbs of fat gone! At this point I routinely bounce between 145 and 150 lbs with a fat percentage of 12.3% – 13.4%. My goal weight was 147#, 13% fat and I find myself hitting that after going above and below weekly. I measure myself daily and record it to keep myself honest. If I see a trend up I correct for it by tweaking my strategy. If I didn’t measure routinely I’d never have an idea of how I was doing. When I was at my heaviest I fooled myself into thinking I was healthy because I only had my ego to go on – I didn’t have facts and the data on which they were based. Since I now ping back and forth on each side of my original goal it means it’s time to change both my goal and my strategy.

Switching it Up

Goals are an interesting topic: when you hit them you need to re-evaluate them and when you don’t hit them you need to do the same.

This is true no matter what the goal: losing weight, giving up smoking, reducing stress, earning that extra $20K per year, going a full month without <insert bad work thing you have control over here>, or achieving that promotion you’ve longed for.  In this case I’ve changed my goal: maintain fat % but add 5lbs of muscle back. To do that I need to start incorporating weight training again (yay kettlebells!) and have to endure the continued lack of beer (boo!)

I’m doing likewise with my career. While still a DBA I’m fully aware that role is changing. As the database platform administrative functions become increasingly automated and cloud computing removes many of those routine tasks from the DBA new opportunities are springing up: data science is my current fancy since I get to dig back into my math nerd roots. Do I think I’ll still primarily be a DBA in 5 years? Doubtful, but at the same time I’m not reducing the amount of effort I give for my “day job” either. It’s not fair to those I work for and with.

But it’s also not fair to myself to maintain the status quo. We have one chance at this thing called life so you have to make the most of it.

This begs the question: what are you setting for your goals and what is your strategy to get there?

If you’ve hit your goals what is your next step?

For those looking to step up their Microsoft data platform skills including tuning, internals, Azure, and optimization for modern storage platforms and virtualization I invite you to join us on SQL Cruise. We have three to choose from on the schedule:

  • August 2017: Alaska from Seattle
  • February 2018: Eastern Caribbean from Miami (over Valentine’s Day so 2 birds::1 stone just sayin’)
  • August 2018: Alaska from Seattle

Starting in 2018 we will be adding a second track focused on Development, Data Science, IoT/Intelligent Applications, and Business Intelligence. Stay tuned for more details as we engage speakers and develop event schedules. As is our expertise we will continue to provide soft skills mentoring and free consulting while on board.


Grant Fritchey, whom I’ve considered a good friend for years and who routinely joins me on SQL Cruise as a Technical Lead on behalf of his company and one of our most-supportive sponsors, Redgate, had posted out a challenge to write a blog post around an image from an episode of Dr. Who. In order to tie that in I want to add this additional copy to this post and put a nice bow on the whole thing.

I aspire to be “bigger on the inside than I am on the outside” I’ve done a great job of making the outside smaller. But making the inside bigger is something I’ll do for the rest of my days with the following strategies (all are a work in progress):

  • Constant Learning.
  • Sharing what I learn.
  • Treat others better than I wish to be treated.
  • Call out injustice to others when I see it and take positive actions to thwart said injustice.
  • Fight every day for positive change.
  • Think before I talk, or type.
  • Set a positive example for my sons.
  • Love ferociously.
  • Find the humor in absolutely everything.
  • Do all these things without considering my best interests but rather the best interests of others.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.

There Grant. I found a way to hit that mark… it was my goal all along.