Choose Wisely

How do you choose which success to have? At first glance you might think this a silly question.  After-all, life is hardly so tough if you are choosing between a good option and a good option.  Perhaps, and perhaps not.  For everything you choose to do, there is a thing you chose not to do.  It is this consequence that isn’t always so evident, but can as much or more impact.   In this post I’m going to try and catch you up on the choices I’ve been making, and the ones soon to be made :)

Now: horribly out of shape, off my skating groove, overweight, overworked and overstressed.  How did I get here?

Then: 2009.  My employer, Nortel Networks, went bankrupt with seemingly little notice. I had worked at Nortel for 15 years as a software engineer, enjoyed a great career, and incidentally got introduced to speed skating there by local coach Gavin Thulien, during after work learn to skate programming 9back when it was BNR…no not the Big Nerd Ranch.  There is a lot to say about Nortel, but basically it was poorly managed   Truly a shame as for all the bad stuff, there were some great people and great things going on.

But life goes on!  While going bankrupt, many of were unsure of our future and immediately started working on plan B.  For me this was all about working up skills in web development.  15 years of hard core C++/Unix app development doesn’t really help when someone wants you to deliver some Ajax code with cloud services.   Well, general experience helps of course, but you need to have skin in the game. So off came the metaphorical shirt.

Throughout 2009 there was a huge cloud hanging over all of us ex Nortel-folks.  All of our spare time for hobbies, training etc, got re-prioritized really quickly :( I imagine some people were able to hang on to after-work stuff, as for myself I tried, but eventually I just wasn’t able to juggle the job hunting and new skills development with my skating and training.

So I chose.  I chose to focus on developing a plan B.  I started my own web company, knowing pretty much zilch about web 2.0, graphic design, cloud services, etc, etc.  I had  starting point though, I was pretty good already with PHP and content management systems, so I used that to get my foot in the door and get some business.  With a lot of sweat, I actually turned over about 10K in profits over the course of 2009, 2010…even better.  :)   Along the way I leveled up my web skills, reinvested my earnings back into my  little business and genuinely grew.

In fact the clouds parts and sun came through in full force.  Avaya, formerly a competitor to Nortel, bought up our business unit (the Enterprise division).  and I suffered no loss in benefits or pay level.  So by the end of 2009, I actually had two jobs, even more income then before, and I was quickly building a pool of very marketable skills.  Skills that I simply had no way of building up inside Nortel, and to some extent even inside Avaya.

Going into 2010 life was starting to be good.  My choice to focus on career had lead to more security and more green in the bank, and perhaps more importantly, more growth.  I’ve learned so much since 2009, so many new skills and new perspectives on things technical.

One of my core values, maybe my biggest core value is simply growth.  There is very little I value more than personal growth.  While I had to work like a dog, it seems very much worthwhile.  The main reason I continue with my after-job job, is just the learning value. I don’t need the money, Avaya allows me a very healthy salary, and my mortgage is completely paid off.  I only basically need living expenses now.

But the appeal of learning new skills and new technology is simply too much!  This is the real reason I continue with the web stuff. albeit now with a better balance.  Whether its technical development or skating, growing and evolving is something I value and seek out.  For me its one of the reasons I stick with skating, just because it offers so much challenge.

But for every choice you make, there is a choice you didn’t make.  My focus had shifted away from training and skating, and I fell off my normal performance levels.  Throughout 2010, I continued to do my normal day job at Avaya, and get more and more successful at that.  In fact I’m at a point where they simply can’t give me raises any more unless I jump to managed, I’m paid nearly as much as the people who manage me :( Were I to combine my web income with my day job, I would certainly be over. At the same time, I continued to get bigger web customers, and customers from further abroad, reaching into newtechnical areas.  Recently I’ve even started to test the waters with app development.

If I were a police dog, new skills would be my little red ball. :)

But, all of that growth and success came at the cost of my skating.  You can’t be working on your stride, and upping your cardio while you jockeying the keyboard.  :( Although I still tried to sustain my training in 2010, I simply didn’t have time to get across town or over to Gatinaue park, and skate with the club.  Training on my own I made some good progress, bringing my 10k time trial time from an initial 23min down to 19 and change.   But the simple fact is, if you are to skate fast, you have to train with faster skaters.  You need to push towards someone else’s limits.  When you compete against yourself, its far harder to truly challenge yourself.

In the end my 2010 skating just fell off the map, by July and the Canada Day Marathon I was in fair shape, but still not at a level I would have expected of myself.  As the demands of both my jobs continued to grow, my training dropped further off the table.  By the time September and the Ottawa Festival rolled around, I had given up on the mileage club…something that anyone who knows me, would immediately see as a red flag. :(   You might think 3,000+ Km skated in a season is a lot, but in-fact its more than 1,000 Km off my usual.

While I had some fun at the Ottawa Festival, it was just that – fun. I wasn’t really there to compete.  Our team had a great showing, it was simply awesome to have a sea of white skin-suit clad Schankel skaters there to work with.  We had a great time skating together, and it was genuinely one of my most enjoyable races.

After the Festival I pretty much hung up the skates, partly I think because of burn out, but mostly just being focused completely on work.  Once the training stopped, a very simple equation took over.  calories in = calories out.   I kept eating, but without the training, the pounds started piling up.  I wasn’t over eating, but I wasn’t eating healthy either.  More choices and consequences!

The end result is that going into 2011 I was way off my usual skating grove, not even gonig to indoor, once again at weight levels I hadn’t seen in years, and becoming ever more focused on working more and more hours of the day at one of my two jobs.

How bad did it get?  Imagine spending your week like this:  wake-up, work 9Am-10Pm at your day job, then stay up until 2AM working at your other job.  Rinse and repeat.  Not only does that exclude skating and training, but your girlfriend, and your sanity!   After a big glut of getting through a whole bunch of tough deliverables,  things have evened out.

I’ve gotten good enough at both jobs that I can do a lot more, in a lot less time, I’m focusing on the right stuff, and now I’m pushing back on the hours for work, and giving hours back to myself for skating, my girlfriend and remaining sane :)

Next steps: now that my mind set has turned back to focusing on being healthy, and not just being completely focused on job security, I’ve started training again.  Its going to be a while before I’m race worthy, but I have a renewed zeal for getting back into shape.  Over the years I’ve learned a lot about training, about how my body reacts to training and how to mentally work through it.  I intend to use all of that experience, and a secret weapon to get back into shape.

My secret weapon?  My skating friends :)   I will certainly be challenging myself, and racing the clock, and my own limits, but nothing can really push your limit, like reaching for someone else’s limit. So this year I’ll be making the effort to again get back to skating with other skaters.

Plus, I for one would not underestimate the positive energy of training with others.  One of the biggest reasons solo training can be dull is just because there is no shared challenge, no shared accomplishment.  Sure there are times when you have to deal with something, mentally, on your own.  But training with others is a important to.  For me, even though it will be hard to find the time to make that happen, I’m going to.

I have high hopes for 2011.  I may not be out competitively until mid to late season, but I will eventually be back at the races, and not just there to cruise, I’ll be there to compete.  Between now and then though, I have a lot of work to do.  I’ve already started training, and I’ll be making updates about that soon.

The biggest goal this year is Montreal 24hrs.  Our team (Schankel Canada) is making a big push for 24hrs.  I’m planning all of my training to peak for and be optimized for that.  I may do some races before then and after that, but really the only thing I’m truly focused on is being at my absolute best for 24hrs.  I’ve been to 24hrs 5 times, and well know the demands of the event.  I will be no less demanding of myself while training. :)

More updates are coming soon.  I wanted to start off my 2011 blogging at ground zero.  Hopefully my choices above, will help explain what you’ll see in upcoming posts, and also provide some insight into my motivations.  The choices I’ve made were good career choices, but even good choices can lead to bad results, this year I choose skating :)


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Software Engineer and Inline Speedskater
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One Response to Choose Wisely

  1. Christine S. says:

    What a great blog Mike … really enjoyed reading it and am glad that you’re getting back into the training. Joel was talking about another “Niagara Circle Tour” a few weeks ago.

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