What I Had In Common With A Fisherman

I took these photos on the day before the New Year of 2013. As the guests at the beach resort prepared for Media Noche, I saw a fisherman getting ready for the day’s catch. For him, there was no holiday to celebrate. It was just another day of catching fish to make sure he can put food on the table.


We spent that New Year’s eve at this beach resort about 4 hours northeast of Manila. The weather was the total opposite of what we had in the freezing regions of Canada. I had a few more days to soak in all the heat before I go back to below freezing temperatures. And despite the contrast in the weather conditions, I saw myself in that fisherman. No, I wasn’t getting ready to hop on a boat and cast my nets for the day’s catch. I was the one taking pictures, remember?

The reality was that I wasn’t really in full vacation mode during those days. While my entire family was enjoying the holidays, I was strapped to my phone and my laptop the days prior. We’ve already planned this trip months ahead. There’s no way we’re going to cancel it just because I needed to work. So, we did what we had to do. We took the trip.


During the days leading up to the New Year, I was working nights from 10PM to 7AM to cover the Eastern time zone. While my family slept at night, I was trying to keep my phone from waking them up. Being assigned on-call duties meant my phone would constantly make those annoying sounds whenever I receive an alert from our monitoring tools. If you think your phone notifications sound cool, try getting about a dozen alerts in a few minutes and not be able to turn them off because every alert is critical. I was wide awake at night and barely slept during the day. Can you blame me? I still wanted to enjoy the time I was “on vacation.


Imagine how it felt like on Christmas eve. Because our Christmas eve was still a regular work day in North America. So, while everyone in the family was getting ready for the feast, I was still trying to shush all the alerts that came in. It was the very same experience I had two years prior. And I thought I was done with this. It’s a good thing we had Christmas and Boxing Day. I had two days to catch up on sleep and get some rest before getting back to the grind. And I was really looking forward to taking a day off for the New Year. Because it’s all I had before flying back to North America to do onsite client work in North Carolina.


I had some time to reflect and catch up on sleep on my flight back to North America. The reality was, I did more sleeping that reflecting. But it was enough for me to really think about how every IT Professional deals with this kind of challenge. We took on a job with certain responsibilities. But nobody talks about unrealistic expectations during job interviews. So we end up working 60+ hours a week putting out fires and responding to critical alerts over email. We’re strapped to our phones (or pagers for those who still remember) and laptops wherever we go. We’re physically present but not available. We’ve missed special family events because we’re overwhelmed with work. And we’re not even talking about the learning and keeping up with new tech during our spare time. As if we still have spare times. Nobody told us that we needed extra 12 hours in a day as IT Professionals. But that was the expectation. And it still is.


It’s no wonder so many of us are overworked and stressed out to the point of burnout. And it’s as if sleeping or taking naps would cut it. We can’t even get a good enough hours of sleep. That feeling of being awake every night, wondering if we should just quit. And even when we do get some sleep, we still wake up feeling tired and exhausted. We can’t give work our all anymore. And we wonder when all this is going to end.


Don’t ask me how I know. Because I was in this same mess years ago. I hated being assigned on-call duties. It messed up my sleep cycles. I think I averaged around 4.5-6 hours of sleep every day. I took naps in buses on my way to and from work. You know you can’t be effective at work as an IT Professional if you don’t get enough sleep. I missed birthdays and special family events unless they fall on a Sunday. I barely talked to my family. Until I asked myself, “Is this really what I want for the rest of my career? Or is there something better?


Everyone talks about and wants work-life balance. Yet so many of us are still struggling. There’s a big difference between wanting something and stepping out to get it. I decided to do something about it. And I’m glad I did. Now, I get to enjoy life the way I want to. I get to spend quality time with my family. No more 60-hour weeks. And especially no more on-call assignments. I have had the opportunity to travel to more countries in the last 4 years than I did before that. I didn’t think it was possible back then. But my lifestyle is proof that it is.


In my consulting work, I see a lot of IT Professionals struggle. I remember doing consulting work for a global travel website. As we were discussing the new architecture of their database platform, I asked the engineers what their biggest struggle was. Their response was unanimous: burnout and work-life balance. I could see it in their face. These are some of the smartest people I’ve had the chance to work with. Yet, they’re struggling. And it breaks my heart to see them struggle.


If you know any IT Professional struggling with burnout, do them a favor and send them my way. Because you’re not just helping them break free from the struggle. You’re literally saving their life.


Tell them that they don’t have to suffer. But they won’t have a clue unless someone tells them.


I’m happy to help in any way I can. Better yet, get them to book a call to speak with me. I can guarantee you, it will be the best 60-minute investment of their life in this season.


The Myth of Working Longer Hours & Productivity

We’ve all been told that highly productive people get more things done. And if you’ve got a massive pile of work that needs to get done, you instantly feel like you need to work longer hours.


You work insane amount of hours that gets you constantly tired and frustrated. Because you think you can get more done by working longer hours.


It doesn’t matter if you’re being thrown tickets and issues and expect to either sink or swim. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always been able to complete the ticket work and resolve issues or challenges whenever you make mistakes.


The fact is working longer hours doesn’t guarantee you’ll be productive and finish all of your work.


The good news is you don’t have to constantly work long hours to get more stuff done and be highly productive.


In this video, I deconstruct the myths of working long hours and productivity for IT Professionals.


I do these videos on a regular basis in my private Facebook Group – IT Professional’s Guide to Break Free from Fatigue, Overwhelm, & Burnout.


Click the link, request access, and check out the video (again – membership in the Group is free):

Link to watch inside the private Facebook Group.

If you need help to get the right strategy so you don’t end up working longer hours, knowing how to identify deep work, and avoid spending more time just to finish your work, book a call with me. I can help you create the right strategy that fits your needs. Let’s have a chat.

What The Dollar Bill Trick Can Teach Us About Leadership

When I was a kid, I’ve learned a very neat trick about making paper money smile or frown. The trick was very simple that I picked it up real quick and showed it to a few of my friends. I did use the Philippine Peso to try it out instead of a US dollar bill. If you are not familiar with this trick, check out this video to see how it is done.

While the video has garnered a large number of views and likes on YouTube for being cool, I think there is a more meaningful lesson to be learned from it. While on the bus one day, I showed my son this very trick that I learned more than 30 years ago. After showing him the trick, I asked if he could make the face on the dollar bill smile or frown. And while he was having fun doing it, I told him this very important lesson.

It's the same dollar bill, nothing has changed. What changed was how you handled it. Click To Tweet 

We are faced with different challenges everyday – paying the bills, completing projects on time, or even as worse as dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak. Situations may or may not change but understand that we hold in our hands the key to whether or not we end up being happy or otherwise. Great leaders know that when facing challenges, they need to do the following:

  1. Face reality. The dollar bill trick reveals two faces – smiling and frowning. That is the reality that they need to face. Leaders understand that in order to deal with challenges, they need to get the facts right and face reality. Otherwise, they would be living in an illusion and may not be able to measure the enormity of the situation. This is what I call the “reality check.”
  2. Take Responsibility. In order for the dollar trick to work, you need to pick up the dollar bill and tilt it yourself. Otherwise, the visual illusion would not be as effective. Leaders know that they need take personal responsibility for their situation. They literally put their necks on the line especially when the stakes are high.
  3. Make Positive Moves. I bet that you smiled when you tilted the dollar bill to make it smile. And I also bet that you made it smile more that you’ve made it frown. Leaders know that they need to keep a positive environment and promote hope in spite of the realities that they need to face. A pat on the back, a good word of encouragement, even to a point where they remind themselves of the good things that have happened to them in the past. They understood the power of feeding their mind good stuff.

In case you want to try out the dollar bill trick, remember how you can handle a challenging situation while making those creases on George Washington’s eyes.

The Smart Way to Deal with the Inevitable : Part 2

People photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com

I’m rarely on social media. But the COVID-19 outbreak has got me thinking, “how can I serve others in the midst of the fear and panic?” While these may be challenging times, we have the opportunity to help make this world a better place.

I’m writing a series of Life-Pro Tips (LPT) to help you navigate these challenging times. Feel free to share this in your groups, with your friends and family, and anyone who you think will benefit from this.

I was just talking to a friend from back home on Facebook Messenger. Instead of relying on the news for updates, I ask people I know. Their first-hand experience of what’s happening around them tell a better story than what the news usually say. The challenge, however, is that the way they tell their stories are often tainted with their emotional state. This one was no exception.

He was laid off from work because of the government’s directive for a lockdown. The lockdown has slowed the economy down with businesses being closed. No business, no revenue. And no revenue means no money for payroll. And he’s not alone. Nearly one million Canadians applied for jobless claims since the COVID-19 outbreak started. In the US, it’s 3.3 million. That’s 4.3 million people in North America alone that lost their jobs in the last 2 weeks alone. And the numbers will continue to rise. What could have been a week to spend some time off work for spring break ended up being the most stressful week of 2020. With bills to pay and no financial reserves, it’s no wonder people are terrified of what’s going on around the world. Imagine what it feels like checking your bank account after getting laid off and seeing only $300 in your balance. How are you going to survive until the situation gets back to normal when you know you have limited supplies and no means to get more? You can feel your heart skip a beat when you get that phone call from your bank telling you of non-sufficient funds.

It gets worse. Research from previous economic downturns like that of the 2008 global economic crisis suggests that unemployment has a negative impact in an individual’s physical and mental health. Unemployed workers are clearly in worse health than their employed counterparts. They are less self-confident and appear overwhelmed by their problems. I don’t blame them. When you don’t know where to get the money to pay the bills or buy groceries, when nobody wants to hire you because the economy is just bad, it’s easy to fall into depression and hopelessness. Their self-esteem and self-worth drops. Couple that with the fear of contracting the virus or the anxiety of staying indoors most of the time. It’s overwhelming.

And as I mentioned in the previous post, while we cannot control the things that are happening around us, we can certainly control these two things – our actions and our emotions.

Write down your wins daily

Growing up, we were told we’re not enough – not good enough, not smart enough, not fast enough, not artistic enough, not strong enough. If you failed in a test, you were labeled “not smart enough”. When you didn’t make it to the track team, you were “not fast enough”. We compare ourselves with others who are better, stronger, smarter, faster. It’s no wonder we don’t accomplish much. And why would we when we feel that what we do doesn’t quite make it – because it’s not enough.

But we don’t seem to notice that we now know how to use a smartphone when most people older than us don’t even want to be anywhere near the alien device. We know how to do our jobs well. We know how to earn a living, to make money. We know how to make someone laugh and brighten up their day. I’m sure this made you feel good about yourself. Yet, we reduce, if not ignore, their importance.

I learned this exercise from one of my coaches a few years back. And I struggled with doing it the first few months. My coach told me to do this together with my gratitude journal. And while I was already doing my daily gratitude for months, I still couldn’t get myself to do it. I felt like I was so conceited, self-absorbed, proud – you name it. Yet I was ignoring the very essence of why I was given this assignment. It was meant to remind myself of my greatness. Because I was created in the image of my Creator. I have unexplored power within me that can be harnessed if only I choose to search for them. And that’s what this exercise did for me.

You might think, “nothing spectacular happened to me today, so what would I write?” It doesn’t have to be something that happened today or anything recent. It could be something you’ve done a long time ago, something you can be proud of. Here are a few things I’ve written down when I first started doing this daily exercise.

  • I hate hostility. I avoid it at all cost. One thing that I learned in Aikido is to strive to remain in harmony. If somebody wants to pick a fight, I avoid it or, if I can, de-escalate by being calm. That’s just who I am. But I remember a bully in high school who, together with his friends, started verbally assaulting a younger student. I heard it from afar and was about to avoid it when I recognized the bully. He knew me thru a common friend. I approached them, asked in a very respectful and calm way what’s going on as he was about to punch the kid on the face. The bully looked me in the eyes – he was way bigger than I was. I’ll admit I was scared, I don’t want his clenched fist anywhere near me. Yet, I remained calm and relaxed. I guess that got him to calm down, lower his hand, and have a conversation instead. I can’t remember exactly how the heated argument started but I do know how it ended – with me standing up to a bully and saving a kid from being punched in the face.
  • Almost 20 years ago, I learned how to program in Visual Basic in 2 months that allowed me to write software for a small business – even when I failed my computer programming course in college. I spent an average of 16 hours daily in front of a computer, reading books about programming, and asking questions on chatrooms about how to write Visual Basic code. My eyes hurt from looking at the computer screen for so long and I developed back pain during those 2 months. But a happy customer was more than enough to convince me to become a computer programmer earlier in my career regardless of what my university transcript showed.
  • I was buying French macarons when the store clerk was struggling to place them nicely in a box. It’s her first day at work and was getting stressed out for not being able to do her job well. It didn’t help that a young family with a kid entered the store and started ordering in a rushed tone. Good thing they didn’t need the pastries to be in a box. I told her to serve the family’s order first and I’ll patiently wait until they’re done. Once she got back to my order, I started to tell her how she was doing a great job being her first day at work. I told her that the French macarons required special handling due to the nature of the ingredients and how they were baked. Yet she handled them with grace, as if she was the one who baked them. In less than 5 minutes, she managed to properly place my order in the box, something she struggled with for more than 20 minutes before the young family came into the store. I saw with my very own eyes how encouragement and motivation can increase employee productivity.
  • I got caught up in a lockdown and couldn’t fly back home. I don’t have everything that I need to do my work. So, what do I do? I took inventory of what I have and started thinking about what I can do. While I may not have everything that I need, I have the bare necessities – computer, internet, my resourcefulness, my creativity. Given the limited resources that I have, I decided to do a special run of my SQL Server Always On Availability Group: The Senior DBA’s Ultimate Field Guide and the SQL Server DBA’s Guide to Docker Containers training classes online. I have what it takes to make the most of any situation.

Your list doesn’t have to be spectacular. It could be as simple as waking up early without hitting the snooze button on your phone alarm several times. Celebrating that small win gives you the motivation to do it again tomorrow until it becomes a habit. Or making someone laugh because you’ll never know what they’re going thru. Or telling someone you appreciate what they did for you. Or making the effort to physically move when you’re locked down at home.

I can’t count how many times I had to read what I’ve written in the past. When I feel so discouraged that things I’m doing aren’t making any progress. When I couldn’t figure out how to do something. Or when I feel devastated because of what’s happening around me. Reading my wins gives me the confidence that I have what it takes to make things happen. It changes my emotional state and gets me going again, like a battery that was recharged  

Doing this on a regular basis develops your self-worth and improves your confidence. And when you face a challenging situation like getting laid off from work, you are absolutely sure you can get thru it because you have evidences of your wins written down in a journal.        

Now it’s your turn. What 3 things are you proud of?

Pushing Past the Pain Towards our Purpose

One of the best investments I’ve made 13 years ago. And it has served me well.

Growing up, I was told I was very sick. I couldn’t do sports. I couldn’t play rough. I couldn’t do anything that would get me really exhausted. It’s the reason I ended up learning to play the piano.

Realizing that the things others said I couldn’t do was preventing me from growing, I decided I had enough. I joined the army reserve training in my university days. And was I in for a big surprise. First weekend of training, we were told to run around the university campus – a distance of 2.2 km. I’ve never done that before. But if I were to survive the first weekend of training, I needed to do it.

Surrounded by 30 people in my batch, we ran. Those were the most grueling 50 minutes of my life. For an entire week, my legs hurt. My entire body hurt. Even my arms hurt. I didn’t know your arms could hurt from running. And knowing that another weekend of intense physical training was just a few days ahead, I wanted to quit. Besides, everyone told me I was sick when I was a kid. I had all the reasons to bail out.

But I didn’t. I persisted. I pushed thru. I ended up doing a lot of physical activities throughout my university days. I didn’t do sports. But I chose to run. Because it was proof that I can push past the limitations that people place on me.

These days, I run in spite of the titanium rod in my right leg. When my therapist told me it would take months to fully heal, I decided to push myself physically. I hiked and climbed mountains when I can. I ran on uneven roads when I can. I can still feel a bit of pain in my right leg where the screws were attached. Yet I still do it.

Because growth only happens thru pain.

The irony of life is that we live in a world where we all want to avoid pain – at all cost. If there’s an easy way out, we take it. We look for shortcuts. The easy road to an easy life. If something is uncomfortable, we avoid it. If the task is too hard, we excuse ourselves from it.

If only we learn to accept pain as part of our road to greatness. That challenge that we have been avoiding all our life might just be the thing that can lead us down the path to greatness.