Be Yourself

Looking back at my last few posts, I’m afraid someone might get the wrong idea about my job at the school district.  I just want to make it clear that I had a great job.  I had the nicest coworkers anyone could ask for.  The work environment was wonderful.

I know what you’re thinking.  I said before that I was “miserable.”  That’s true.  I was.  But not because the job was bad.  It was just not the right job for me.

You see, I’m a geek.  I’m not afraid to admit it.  Look under my name at the top of the screen.  I’m good at figuring things out and solving problems.  If it has a processor, I can probably make it work. I’m also rather social.  I enjoy talking to other geeks and sharing what I know.

When I started at the school district, this was exactly what I was doing.  I was constantly learning about new technology and sharing this knowledge with the people around me.  I think I even had a hand in turning some non-geeks into geeks.  You’re welcome.

But by the time I left my job, that had all changed.  I felt like I was buried under a mountain of e-mail, voice mail, and paperwork.  I was spending too much time at my desk and not enough time out in the trenches doing the work.  I was responding to complaints and putting out fires instead of figuring out ways to make things better.

And this leads me to the title of this post.   Be Yourself.  This is probably the best advice I could give anyone.  It applies universally – in your job, in relationships, everywhere.  Just be yourself. If you have to force yourself to be something that you’re not, you won’t be happy in the long run.

For some reason, this was a hard lesson for me to learn.

I think I probably knew from day one that the job was not right for me, but I kept thinking that if I stuck it out for a while I could make it work.  The pay was nice, and that made it easier to convince myself to stay.

I also think everyone else could see that I wasn’t happy.  I remember one day someone walked by the door of my office and said “Tony, why don’t you smile anymore?”  I didn’t know what to say.  I’m sure I said something like “Too much work to do.”

When I told my boss that I was leaving, I said “You know I’m not the right person for this job.” and I think he understood what I meant.  He certainly didn’t argue with me.  I feel like I did a good job while I was there.  I know I did my best.  But no amount of work was ever going to turn me into something that I’m not.

Welcome Home

After we closed on our house, we couldn’t wait to go see it.  Our apartment was small and noisy, and we wanted to move as soon as possible.  As soon as we walked in, we found out that the dining room was flooded.

The house had been “winterized” while it was vacant.  Basically, someone turned off the utilities and drained the hot water heater.  We had to pay to have it dewinterized before it could be inspected.  A few days later it was winterized again.

The bank insisted that the house be winterized to avoid damage in case any pipes froze.   They also insisted the utilities be transferred into our name before closing.  Unfortunately, the people who winterized the house the second time didn’t close the valve on the hot water heater after they drained it.

So, when  the water was turned on earlier that day, it went straight through the hot water heater and out onto the floor.  Luckily the guy from the city noticed that the meter was spinning and turned the water off after a few minutes, but the damage was already done.

We spent the first evening in our new house soaking up water with every towel we owned.  The next day, Paige called a company that pulled up the carpet, treated the walls, and setup fans.  A few days later they replaced the carpet pad and put the carpet back down.

The bill for their services was about $800.  We talked to our agent and he talked to the bank’s agent.  The bank did nothing.  Our agent talked to a lawyer.  The lawyer said we should sue the bank, the company that winterized the house, and even the city.

Guess what we did?

Nothing.  That’s right, nothing.  We paid the bill and went on with our lives.  To me enjoying our new house was a lot more important than $800.  Suing everyone involved would only make the lawyers rich, and it would take months to resolve.  It just wasn’t worth it.

I had honestly forgotten all about this until I wrote the post about us moving the other day.  I think too many people spend so much time focusing on the bad things that they miss the great things that are happening all around them.

I believe that you can choose your attitude, and I choose to be happy every chance I get.

Always Writing

It’s strange updating this website after it was stagnant for so long.  I had quite a few drafts sitting around concerning topics that seem irrelevant now.

I deleted most of those today.  I’m sure it won’t be long until I have more half-finished posts sitting in the queue never to be seen, but that’s just the way it goes.

Even when I wasn’t updating the site, I was still writing.  I just didn’t think that most of what I was writing was fit for public consumption.  Most of it was just me complaining about the state of things.  Here’s an excerpt:

My car is filthy.  I park under a tree and birds crap on it all day.  There are no birds in my office, but I know how it feels…

That’s the beginning of a rant that went on for two pages.  Who would want to read that?

I guess some people might find it funny in a dark way. I try to put  a little humor in everything I write, even if I’m in a bad mood at the time.

I feel like I’m in a better place now, both geographically and mentally, so expect more posts around here.  Also, I park in a garage now, so no more crap…

Continuous Improvement

Some people probably think I’m crazy.  I’m always reading at least two books.  I research new things on the web daily.  I love to challenge myself both mentally and physically.  I have an endless thirst for knowledge.

I still remember answering a series of questions offered by the professor in my Object Oriented Programming class while the rest of my peers sat with blank looks on their faces.  One of the other students asked me “So, do you go home and read C++ headers every night?”  I replied with a grin “Not every night.”

I was hired by the school district in the spring of 1999 as a PC Tech.  I went around fixing people’s problems and installing upgrades.  The summer after I was hired, the district starting wiring all of the classrooms and installing servers on each campus.  It seemed natural for me to move up and take over the network.

There was only one problem, I knew little about networking and nothing about servers.  So, I bought a stack of books about Windows NT and started reading.  I would work all morning, go home and read for an hour on my lunch break, then go back and work all afternoon.  I read every evening from the time I got home until I fell asleep.

I tried to stay a few steps ahead of what I was working on.  I still remember trying to set up DHCP for the first time.  I had to bring one of my books to work and follow the steps as I set it up.  This made me a little uncomfortable because I wanted everyone to think I knew everything.  I made sure no one else saw me looking at the book while I worked.

By the end of the summer I knew enough about networking to pass all six tests required to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.  That really made me happy because my boss had recently tried one of the tests and failed it.  There was also a pretty significant pay raise to go along with my new title.

I was happy being the network manager for several years after that.  It seemed like there was always something new to learn about networking.  Once I felt like I had mastered Windows, I moved on to Linux.  I read everything I could get my hands on and even ran Linux on my home computer for over a year.

I was also looking forward to the day my boss would retire and I would be promoted again.  He was already grooming me to take his place.  I was learning about the budget and E-Rate applications, and felt like I had a part in many of the “big” decisions.  It wasn’t as interesting as networking, but it was something new to learn.

Finally, my boss retired and I was promoted to Director of Technology.  The day I had been looking forward to for years had finally arrived… and I was miserable.

Instead of constantly learning new things, I felt like I was in an infinite loop of meetings and paperwork.  I spent most days staring at the dull walls of my office, talking on the phone, and responding to e-mail.

I realized something else after my promotion — this was as far as I could go at the school district.  I would never be promoted above Director.  I didn’t have the qualifications for anything higher.   The thought of staying in the same place for the rest of my life scared me.

So, after working for almost 10 years to finally reach my “dream” position, I started casually looking for a new job.

Crawling Back Out Of My Shell

On September 1, 2008 I took a trip to Austin to interview for a job.  This was not an unusual occurence.  I had applied for other jobs prior to this one, and even been out of town for a few interviews.  But, I did seem to have an unusually optimistic feeling about this one.

Even though it was a four and a half hour drive home, I was back at work the next morning.  Most people didn’t even realize I had been gone.   I was grinding my way through e-mail and voice mail after the three day weekend when my phone rang.  Less than 24 hours after the interview, I was offered the job.  And, they wanted me to start October 6.

This meant we had one month to pack up everything we owned, sell our house, and find a place to live 300 miles away.  I hadn’t even told my boss that I interviewed for the job yet, and now I had to tell him that I was leaving.  That made for an interesting conversation later that afternoon.

My wife and I spent the rest of the week cleaning up the house and working on the yard.  We also starting packing in preparation for the move and gathering up things to sell in a garage sale.

On September 10, the realtor put the “For Sale” sign up in our front yard.  The next day, we received an offer on the house for our full asking price.  (Housing bubble?  What housing bubble?)  The buyer wanted us out as soon as possible.  We agreed to be out by the end of the month.

That weekend we had our big moving sale.  We were hoping to attract potential buyers to the house by having a moving sale with the for sale sign out front, but I didn’t mind that it had already sold.

I spent my days furiously documenting and organizing things at work.  I developed a Google site to document everything I knew about the network.  I backed up everything on my computer and reloaded the OS.  I filed what seemed like years worth of paper work and filled a bookshelf with binders.

One of the last things I did was take down the degrees and photos that I had on the walls of my office.  I still remember one of my coworkers had to leave the room while I did that.  I have a lot of good friends back in Paris and I still miss them and think about them every day.

On September 20, we took another trip to Austin to look at apartments.  We had spent the last week researching online.  We narrowed our search down to two different apartment complexes.  We picked the one we liked and put down the deposit the same day.

The next weekend we loaded up the biggest moving truck you can rent and with the help of my mom and step-dad moved to Austin.  We spent the next 7 days learning our way around Austin and the following Monday I started my new job with the Texas Education Agency.