Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Just received notice that I passed the VCP5. I took part in the exam beta back in (when was it?) July. Nice to have the results. I celebrated by updating the list of my certifications in LinkedIn and my previous blog post.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

I don't know what it was like for prior generations, but if you're from mine you likely remember being admonished by teachers not to plagiarize. According to Merriam-Webster, to plagiarize is to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source.

Admittedly, the first time the issue was brought up is lost in the fuzzy recollections of my childhood, so I don't recall exactly how the concept was presented to us. We were pretty young, so I doubt whether the word "plagiarize" actually worked its way into the discussion. More likely, our introduction to the concept was formulated as a reprimand to "stop copying directly from the encyclopedia".

Scholars are not made overnight, so I suspect our teachers' hope was to first get us to understand that copying verbatim was A) intellectually lazy, B) unethical, and C) not going to fly. I can't speak for all of my fellow classmates, but I suspect the way most of us adapted was to continue consulting the encyclopedia, but to leverage and hone new found skills. We learned to reword and reorder the information we found in the encyclopedia. I doubt those techniques reached our teachers' highest hopes for our intellectual pursuits, but it was a start. Some time later on our educational path we learned that we could quote verbatim provided that we properly credited our source.

I have been a technical trainer for more than fifteen years, and I still love it. Looking back, I was always teaching in some form or another long before I was ever granted the title. Two aspects of teaching have always given me great satisfaction. The first is that it continually challenges me to learn more about subjects that interest me. And the second is that class after class, I get to watch as the light bulbs go off above students' heads.

All of the above are simply the unsolicited ruminations (Uhhh... Isn't "unsolicited" the core essence blogging?) of one on a never-ending path of learning and a long way of excusing the following cut-n-paste from Wikipedia:

Labor Day ... celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers.

Would you look at that! Here we are back on the subject I originally set out to write about.

Good news! While I could easily launch into a diatribe about how the US seems to be heading the wrong direction in so many ways - labor issues being one of the many - that's not what I set out to write about today. The polarization of our political landscape is sad. Many of us feel that our country has been hijacked and is being misdirected. The bizarre thing is that folks on the opposite sides of the various issues facing our country both feel the same way. Right or left, conservative or liberal, few of us seem to be pleased with where we are heading as a country.

So you'll hear no long, ranting diatribe from me. I won't even weigh in right or left. I won't weigh in on the plight or the privileges of the working masses. Instead, I want to talk about the one worker that I know best: me.

I recently came across some items I wrote many years ago - sixteen years to be precise. I wrote:
"I paid off all my bills tonight including my last credit card! And I sent my bill to [a company for whom I'd done some consulting]. And I reconciled my [banking] accounts. I’m free! I’ve only got $200 in the bank, but it’s done!"
Let me put this quote in context. In particular, I need to provide some context for the "it's done!" proclamation to make sense.

I wrote that quote some five or so years after I had graduated from college. In my last year in college, I landed a part-time job that turned into a full-time job that turned into the beginnings of my career. Even though it was a well-paying job, I somehow managed to never quite get ahead financially no matter how many raises I received. I was never especially deep in the hole, but it always drove me nuts that I never seemed able to climb out.

The "it's done!" proclamation was in recognition that I'd finally climbed out of the hole. In hindsight, I can see many of the reasons I had had difficulty getting ahead financially. I'd acquired too much "stuff." I'd spent every raise the moment I received them. I'd shied away from staying on top of collecting money that I was owed by customers. Issues like that. But I'd finally done it. I'd turned the cash flow situation around.

And I had a whopping $200 in the bank to show for it.

But here's where things get interesting... It was at that very point in my life where I was re-evaluating my place in the world - in particular my place in the work world. I was fed up with the direction of my <sarcasm>lengthy</sarcasm> career. I was in a position where I was responsible for the management of several strategic accounts, but the company I worked for never seemed to get around to granting me the authority to do what needed to be done. Consequently I kept  striving to serve my accounts as best I could to meet their various needs, but doing so involved me calling in all the favors and good will that I had built up in my career. I couldn't keep drawing from that well, and it was obvious that the company I was working for had no interest in prospecting for more wells. My well was running dry.

But even more fundamentally, I knew that I'd bought too deeply into the mentality that I - like all workers - was trapped in a job whether or not it was fulfilling for me. I'd bought into the belief that I was at the mercy of my job. I'd lost sight of the potential to live a more prosperous, rewarding, and fulfilling life. I was stuck in a rut.

So I'd been thinking about how to break out of that rut. I'd worked for several months in England a few years earlier. I'd traveled to Canada and Mexico (if Tijuana can be considered Mexico) in my childhood, but travel had never been a big deal to me. During my stint in England, I took advantage of the opportunity to travel. I took side trips to Scottland, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and France. And it was then that I was afflicted with a terminal case of wanderlust that has never subsided.

There I was re-evaluating my career. Since I'd returned from England I'd wanted to resume my travels. Somehow those two ideas gelled together into one clear goal: I decided to quit my job and to travel to Asia. Initially I had Nepal and India in mind, but I decided I was open to additional destinations if I could work them in.

Funny thing is I never made it to Nepal or India. And I still haven't been to either after all these years.

So what happened? Did I get beat down by "The Man" and resign myself to a life of drudgery in an unfulfilling career? No, something entirely different happened.

Before I retell the tale of what happened, bear in mind what I said in the quote above. I had $200 in the bank. I had forgotten that not-so-tiny aspect of the story until recently when I came across that quote. I've got $200 in the bank, a career that I no longer want, and a seemingly deluded desire to travel to Asia for a few months.

Long story short... Instead of heading to Nepal and India as I originally planned, I traveled around the world for more than six months. I traveled to twenty-three countries and five continents. By my estimates, my journey covered more than 75,000 miles (three times the circumference of the earth). My journey cost approximately $20,000 (that's 1995 dollars).

I started dreaming up this journey when I had a piddly $200 in the bank. When I returned from the trip, I was still out of debt. I had more than the $200 I'd had previously. I picked up a new job in a field more suited to me and making almost 50% more than I was making when I left the US. And when I outgrew that job, I founded my own training and consulting company that I ran for almost a decade.

I've been very fortunate in my life, but I try not to flaunt that good fortune. I strive to be modest, but I've long felt that one of my callings in life is to bear witness for others of the abundant goodness in life. Those who know me know that I've continued to travel. The travel bug never stopped biting. I don't know that it ever truly will.

Re-reading the "Long story short" paragraph above, it sounds like someone selling false promises on a late night infomercial. But I'm not selling anything. I just feel that every now and then I ought to share the story of my good fortune to spread a little light into others' lives. I know that in my own journey through life, I've had the good fortune to meet people who, through their own stories, have lifted up my thoughts and beliefs to a higher plane from which I could see that life didn't have to be drudgery, I didn't have to be stuck in a unfulfilling job, and that I could do what I wanted to do in life.

[ Jody, you needn't feel awkward for giving thanks for the good in your life. :-) ]

If you're a worker and you stumble upon this, my Labor's Day blog post, take heart. Life can be and is so much more than so many of us settle for.

In case you missed it, that last paragraph is the big climatic moment in this blog post. The rest of this is just denouement...

Re-reading my sixteen year old quote was a big part of the impetus behind this blog post. But another part of why I set down to write is because I've been re-evaluating my career once again. While many in our country have been struggling with unemployment, I've been getting contacted regularly by head-hunters this year. Maybe that's the result listing my certifications (VCI, VCP3, VCP4, VCP5VCAP-DCA) on my LinkedIn profile.

I've had the good fortune to receive two very attractive offers from two pre-IPO companies this year. Both offered extensive international travel - something I've been missing in my career the last few years. But after agonizing over the offers, I turned both down. Seems I've got a case of golden handcuffs. That's not the worst problem in the world to have, but I'm starting to feel that same constraining feeling that I felt so many years ago. I'm much happier with my current career than that old career, but I can feel something gnawing away in me that says there's more to life. That's a fun and exciting place to be in life.

Wishing you all well and a prosperous, rewarding life this Labor Day.

P.S. Ask me some time how Alicia and I finagled our Antarctica journey for far less than the typical cost of such a trip.