Lets Talk About Carrying Baggage

Lets Talk About Carrying Baggage

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Here we go Again, With A Deeply Personal Blog Post

I’m a firm believer that we all carry around pieces of our past with us from the time they happen, until the time we leave this world. Some of those pieces weigh more than others and often times that weight is a variable concept that changes based on what’s going on around us. Often times, we might think that eventually they go away. I’m starting to learn (starting, a ways to go…) that baggage never really goes away. We just get better at burying it under other things.

I put out a Tweet about a week ago about going through some personal things, and much like the Imposter Syndrome blog post - the messages I got from people blew my mind. As usual, this community that we’re all a part of didn’t disappoint. I was floored by the amount of support I got both publicly as well as in direct messages/emails/phone calls. I cried multiple times (in a good way) over some of the things that were said. Those of you that reached out - you’ll always have a special place in my heart. That’s real.

What floored me more so was the amount of people that reached out with similar feelings that they hadn’t been able to get off of their chests. People going through their own struggles - and seeing someone else talk about it, made them feel like it was OK to bend the ear of a friend for a bit about it. I’ve wanted to write this blog post a hundred times since then, and every time I felt like it would come off as self serving. Some of you might feel like it is - and thats ok. I can live with that. I can live with that because I know that there are some of you out there who are looking for a post like this, most of us are doing the things we do so we can feel a little bit less alone.

I can’t force everyone to talk about the struggles they are going through; it’s one of those personal journey things that everyone is going on. All I can do is do my best to do my part in welcoming the conversation and encouraging it to continue. So here I go!

The Debt Always Comes Due

For a million difference reasons, we all push ourselves past our breaking point. It’s not always a bad thing. Discomfort isn’t always bad; in fact - more often than not it’s actually a good thing. The thing about discomfort though is that it exposes our weak points. It’s the same thing that happens in fitness, or academic testing as examples. You hit that section of a thing and you find that suddenly you’re lost. When it comes to stress, the body has some very real ways that it responds to stress; and it’s not unlike what the body does when it’s fighting illness. If you want an interesting read on the topic, I suggest giving this a read - [Stress (Biology) Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stress_(biology). The body will always let you know when you’re doing too much. We continue to make bad choices, our bodies warn us. Of course we don’t listen - so our bodies up the ante and bench us.

About a month ago, I had my first ever anxiety attack. Many of the people around me never even knew it happened, for obvious reasons - I didn’t really feel great talking about it. I was confused, scared, embarrassed, angry. I don’t want to turn this post into being about me; but I’ve led a life where it honestly shocks me that it took this long for one to happen. I’ve carried around a lot of unhealthy baggage for a very long time. None of the things that happened were my fault; it just happened. We’ve all got a past - and for all the bad things in mine, there’s been so much good too. The thing about events and situations in our lives, and the way we process them as individuals, is that it’s impossible to understand how those events are going to shape your life. It’s impossible to understand the impact they will have on your thought process, and the way your own personal “river” of thought will change course because of the way your world is reshaped. I had a rough day. During that rough day, a known trigger point for me happened, and I just broke. My body let me know that it was time to sit out a few rounds, and so I did - very much against my own desire. In front of my desk. Hyperventilating, crying, and trying to figure out what in the actual F was going on with me.

Over the past month, I’ve done a lot of soul searching - both on my own, and with some help. I’ve realized how poorly I’ve treated myself for a very long time. I de-prioritized the wrong things in my world to accomplish goals that weren’t aligned with what I actually wanted to achieve; and became a worse version of myself in the process. I spent a lot of time afraid of failing, and feeling unsure if I was good enough, or doing the right things. Those feelings drove me to try and prove that I was all the things I wanted to be - which never works out well. I started to feel very detached from the people around me, like I needed to protect myself from being hurt. I started seeing behaviors in people around me that weren’t actually there - things like being alienated, when in reality, I was alienating myself. I’ve always prided myself on being able to shut down my emotions in a moment and look at things logically - but that “switch” didn’t work here. To put it simply, I was not equipped to deal with the emotions, or responses I was feeling in that moment. It took a few weeks to get past that.

Taking Care of Yourself

As part of working through everything, something I’ve spent a lot of time doing lately is trying to figure out what makes me feel fulfilled in life - both personally and professionally. We all have a job to do - and I’m fortunate to have a job that I love (most of the time…) but what about that role makes it something I love doing? It goes beyond just “loving automation things”. Digging deeper; what’s beyond that job based identity? When I was in Sydney earlier this month, Grant and I had a pretty incredible conversation about this concept - and how often times people chase these concepts of what fulfillment means to them - but they don’t stop to think about what they really WANT out of the exchange. They chase a job title, or a promotion. They chase an idea of a thing because they want the destination; but sometimes if they stayed on their current journey - they would be better for it.

A bit of professional advice, Invest the time in figuring out what your identity is. When I started thinking about what my real identity is, beyond “Technical Marketing at VMware”, it was pretty clear the things that made me feel fulfilled…

  • I have a deep love of learning. Beyond my daughters and my family; it’s the thing I’m most passionate about. In all the lonely times I had as a kid growing up; learning was always something I could do. I never stop being hungry for knowledge. It literally fills my heart up in an incredibly positive way.
  • I love teaching. I love the feeling of taking something I learn, and helping someone else learn it too. I love the feeling of watching their eyes light up when they “get it”, and watching them get excited to use the knowledge they just picked up. this is my favorite part about being a part of a community!
  • I want to be valued by my peers, the community, and my friends. I want the people around me know me as the guy who does the 2 things above. Someone that people feel comfortable coming to, to learn from.

Each of these concepts is equally important to me; and in their own ways - have been shaped by the trials and successes I’ve had in life. I’m fortunate to have a role that allows me to do these things; but I need to also do these things away from work. I need to learn freely; not with a work based goal in mind. I need to do something with that learning to channel it(more on that in a moment) into a teaching opportunity. Every time I’ve ever done something like that, our amazing community has made me feel valued. The cycle completes - and I ride that high for days/weeks.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped paying attention to that. Sure, I still did those things - but it wasn’t about doing it because of the joy it made me feel. It was trying to stop an landslide from coming down. You can only hold the mountain back for so long before it comes down on top of you.

My version of taking care of myself is taking actions that support the bullets above. If I had kept focused on chasing THOSE goals; I would’ve felt very different. I became so wrapped up in this idea of completing “goals” - that I stopped realizing that the stuff that happens on the journey is just as important as what it takes to “get there”.

My Advice

A couple of things I’ve discovered on this trip I’ve been on recently…

Take some time and think about what fulfillment means to you. What fills your heart? What makes you feel accomplished? If you can be honest with yourself, the results might surprise you. Literally make a list of these things, and look at what you can do to align yourself to keeping true to those things.

Give yourself meltdown time. Cry. Cry hard. Nothing good comes from burying that stuff down. Be emotional. Be irrational. The more you fight these feelings, the more these feelings will force themselves up. Eventually you won’t be able to fight them off. Giving yourself time to fall apart puts you in control.

Build a tribe you can trust to be vulnerable with, and talk about this stuff. Work through it. Find people you can be completely irrational around who will talk you through what you’re dealing with. Be that person for other people.

Talk to a professional. No one wants to do this at first, but by far, everyone I’ve talked to has said it’s been worth it. We’ve all got a past; take the opportunity to work through the demons that hold you back.

So What am I Doing About It?

A couple of direct actions I’m taking to work on as a part of “taking care of myself”.

  • I’m going to be starting my own learning channel, #CodingTherapy, where I take code related things im learning about/doing, and turn them into content. Python, Angular, Cloud Native. I’ve got a good chunk o’ stuff planned! This is going to let me get back to learning, teaching, and sharing. Hopefully it’ll be valuable - and that action will solve all 3 of the things that really fulfill me.
  • I’ll be shifting the focus of my blog to be more about Sharing things I’m learning about, as well as how to accomplish them
  • Dedicate time to learning things outside of my job. Get back to playing with technology instead of working for it.
  • Engage in the community MORE. Share more. Find new avenues to content in front of people. Talk in public. Host webinars. Connect with people! Get outside my normal box of talking about VMware (who I continue to love!) and make my world bigger.

Closing - Back to Baggage

The most important thing I want to leave with is that I don’t view any of this as a failure. I did initially. I beat myself up pretty bad about all the mistakes I made, and how did I end up here? What I’ve come to realize is that I’m still learning about myself. I’m still figuring out how to manage the path I’m on, and the truth is - all of us are doing that in some way. I didn’t fail here - I’m learning lessons.

My baggage isn’t always a bad thing, in many ways - it’s also been my biggest asset, personally and professionally. I have no doubt that the things I carry around from my childhood are a huge reason why I want to consume as much knowledge as possible. I know that consuming and sharing knowledge made me feel less alone at times in my life where I spent most days feeling that way. That consumption is how I cope with Imposter Syndrome. It’s also been responsible for some of the closest friendships I have. It’s given my children a life that I never got to have growing up. It’s one of the things my wife admires about me, my drive.

The journey I’m on is how to channel that baggage into good and healthy outlets. Consuming the results of that baggage for energy, instead of being consumed BY it. It’s easy to let your biggest asset, become your largest demon too. I haven’t fully figured out that balance yet; but I feel like im working on it and making progress. I feel like I’ve turned a pretty major page in my life over the past 2 weeks. At a minimum, I wake up excited to see what I’m going to learn “today”, and who I can share “it” with. In my heart I know that if I can keep doing that, I’m going to be alright.