Hello again, everyone. I just got back from a wonderful trip to Europe where I had a blast delivering a pre-conference seminar as well as a session during SQL Rally Nordic 2012. It was a fantastic experience, and I am not only thankful to everyone who turned out, but grateful to the organizers for asking me to do it. I am always pleasantly surprised when people ask me to do things like that. If that sounds weird to you, it shouldn’t. Nothing in life is a guarantee except that at some point we’re all going to pass on. That’s about the only near universal truth there is (not trying to be a downer; it’s just a fact).
Here’s my thinking: I know I’m pretty good at what I do. I’m under zero illusion that there are people who may be smarter and/or better out there. There’s always something to learn even 20 years into a career. If I rested on my laurels, I’d be in deep, deep trouble.
However, lately it feels like some people feel slighted when they don’t get recognized and rewarded for what they do, be it a speaking a slot at something like PASS Summit or becoming an MVP. Huh? When did those things become a “After you do X, Y, and Z, you can then …” type of thing? The MVP thing has been all over Twitter and in blog posts (such as Brent Ozar’s “Congratulations, You’re an MVP! Here’s What You Need to Know“; the comments are worth reading) the past few days because we just hit the new cycle for new awardees and renewals (the cycle is quarterly). This post is not like those because I’m just reacting to some of the ugliness I’ve seen not only around the MVP thing but other things like feeling slighted that they didn’t get to speak at some event.
The speaking thing baffles me. Just because you’ve done SQL Saturdays and user groups – or even a Rally or past Summit – it’s not a guarantee of anything. I don’t care if you’ve done 5 or 50 things. I never assume I get a speaking slot anywhere, am pleasantly surprised when I do, and this coming from someone who has had one at most of the Summits for the past 10 or so years. If I didn’t get one, they didn’t like my topic and/or my abstract. It’s not a reason to get all bent out of shape, nor would I take it as a personal attack or affront. Would it be great to get better feedback on why you were rejected? Sure, but it’s not a license to say an event organizer sucks over your favorite social platform (including blogs) and stamp up and down that you “deserve it”. Here’s another aspect you may not take into account: each year the speakers get better and better, and so do the abstracts and competition. When less than a point separates most speakers top from bottom by looking at the final eval scores, you’ve got a good thing going. You want to play in the big leagues? Swing for the fences, but don’t be shocked if you strike out.
Let’s do some math. Assume a conference has 500 submissions. In the track you submitted to, there were 180. You entered four (4) abstracts. On our first simple math problem, 4/500 = .008 – basically less than 1% of a chance you would be selected. Take that from a different angle – 4/180 = .022. So there your chances went up a little. Let’s say that track has 40 slots. That means that 140 of the 180 are gone. So you’re vying for 1 of 40, which is whittled down from the 180 candidates (40/180 = 22.22 BTW). So you’re basically looking at a one in five shot there. Bottom line here: taking any kind of personal feelings out, chances of getting selected are already tough.
The MVP discussion is a bit different because it’s a community award, so how is community participation measured? Well, it would happen in lots of ways and it’s also somewhat subjective. Being honest, for years I got sick of hearing “so you’re not an MVP?” I was first awarded my Cluster MVP status in 2009 and have maintained it (this is year four for me). Here’s the deal: everything I did before being an MVP I’m still doing now. I didn’t change to be an MVP nor would I if it went away. I give back, and being recognized for it is great and I love the benefits, but I’m not a different person because of it. An MVP won’t turn you into the next coming of anything. While I’ve met many new folks, a lot of those who are MVPs I knew before I was one and I bet they’d still talk to me even if I lost my status, and I would talk to them, too, if they lost theirs.
For those of you who think you should be an MVP or get a slot at Summit, what will happen when that does happen? Have you thought of that? Sure, it’s nice to have goals you can check off (buying garbage bags is something you check off a list, too), but what does that get you? Will you be a fundamentally different person the next day? The day after? NO. You’re still going to be you. And that’s the point. Accolades are wonderful. I am very proud and humbled to be a Cluster MVP to be recognized for what I do, but I would still do what I do even without that. The same could be said for all of my speaking opportunities – I’m very thankful and grateful for them, but not stupid enough to think that I’m the only one people could ask. I try to stay grounded and humble. If I was whiny about stuff, do you think I’d be where I am now? Not on your life. Word spreads if people are good to work with or a nightmare. Achieving goals is absolutely a good thing – but don’t be defined by them. You’re going to fail at things in life. That’s how you build character; those are learning moments, and hopefully not defining ones in a negative way. Sometimes I learn more from things that didn’t go so hot than when things go swimmingly well.
Let me give you another real world example. It’s no secret I love the band Rush. Many fans (not me – more on that in a minute) have been aghast that for years, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame has “snubbed” them by not nominating them. There have been petitions to get them on the list of nominees as well as call for boycotts. From my perspective, I don’t care. Most of the bands I like will probably never get into the RnRHoF. Should I stop listening to them because of it? No. This week, they made the list of nominees. Congrats to them. But now you have some of the fanbase saying that even though they’ve been nominated, that the band should snub them if elected. What? Let me clear the proverbial wax from my ears. So for years you want them to get in and now you want them to give the Hall the finger? You can’t have it both ways. Here’s what Rush had to say:
“We are honored to be among the nominees for this year’s Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame. We are especially thrilled for the many, many dedicated RUSH fans to whom this nomination is so very important.” – Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Now that’s classy. Note that they basically say it means more to their fans than them (but I’m sure it means something to them, too). Rush has had many accolades in their native homeland of Canada that are much more important than the RnRHoF thing. Rush has always been a hard working band that has done what it wants to do (and if you don’t know much about them and their history, I highly suggest you watch the very well done documentary on them Beyond the Lighted Stage). They are one of the few bands still able to play major venue son their own and quite honestly, have had very little chart success in their career. They’ve been around for 40 years, are arguably as popular as ever right now.
Learn from Rush. Sure, I like their music, but they’re a great example of following your heart and that by doing your own thing and being yourself, the success and accolades will come to you. It may not be as soon as you want, though. Success should not be measured by things like speaking slots or MVP awards. I know I don’t look at them as what defines me. I am humbled by them, but not defined by them.