How the Hell Did I Get Here?

Paul Randal started this chain post. He tagged Steve Jones who, in turn, tagged Jack Corbett who finally tagged me. I’m pretty sure everyone who nominally makes sense has already been tagged at this point thus leaving Jack to scrape the bottom of the barrel.

Like Jack, I think I could approach this in a number of different ways. I think I’ve already answered the professional route that I took. If I haven’t, it’s probably because my professional route isn’t all that interesting and it’s also all available on LinkedIn. You can, and should, fill in the job changes on my resume with something interesting like “After being attacked by a bear in the janitor’s closet at CareWorks Technologies, Jeremiah decided to take a safer job at HMB (they have no bears on staff as janitors).”

Anyway, you asked for it, you got it: how the hell did I get here?

I’m a Rock and Roll Machine

I love being on stage and in front of people, even though it terrifies the crap out of me. Apparently, I like that adrenaline surge. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old. When I was 23 I answered an advertisement and auditioned for a band. I got the job after 5 minutes.

Being a musician takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and practice. You work for hours and hours as a group, and hours and hours on your own preparing for a show. At that show, you’re going to walk up on stage and try to steal the attention of a room full of people who would, frankly, rather be doing one of a million other things – playing pool, talking to friends, hitting on that girl across the bar – than listening to you. As musicians, it was our job to get their attention, hold it for an hour, and make sure that they were happy about it. That job gets even harder when you’re in a band that only plays original material.

What seemed really fun – being in a band – turned out to be a lot of work – practicing three nights a week for four hours a night with the band and then practicing even more on my own. I learned a lot about myself – my tolerance for bullshit, how to get attention, and how to act in front of a crowd of people – while I was in the band. I also learned a lot about how to budget scarce resources – money and time – while still getting the job done – getting to the show.

The band eventually fell apart, as most do, but I learned many valuable lessons that I carry with me – time and resource management, performing skills, and how to make an ass of yourself and be okay with it. Most importantly, I learned that passion alone isn’t enough. You have to work for something if you really want to be good at it.

Everything to Everyone

The fact is, I’m not everything to everyone. But for a long time, I thought that I could do it.

Before and while I was in the band, I was married. The band took up a lot of time and it took a lot of time away from my marriage. While being in a band didn’t cause my eventual divorce, I’m sure it contributed to it (I quit the band about a year before my ex-wife and I quit the marriage). I remarried pretty quickly and that marriage ended almost as fast as it started.

Throughout all of this, though, there’s a huge undercurrent – I was trying to make everyone happy. I was trying to be a good husband, musician, developer, friend, son, brother, step-father, and about a million other things. I stretched myself thin and I broke.

These days, I know that I can only be me and that I’m the only person I need to make happy. There’s a reason why I work with SQL Server but I program with Ruby, why I listen to old school hardcore punk but I play a bizarre blend of folk and country, why I devote more time to my friends and family than I have before – these things all make me happy. If it doesn’t make me happy and I don’t need to do it to live, I don’t do it.

Self-Fulfilling Catastrophe

A couple of paragraphs ago I said “I stretched myself thin and I broke.” I really do mean that. During the first divorce, I moved into a tiny house on the ass end of Columbus, stopped paying most of my bills, and ended up living on as little as $20 a week. The funny part, though, is that I always found the cash to go out and party, or to stay in and party. This became a bad habit even once the divorce was done and I should have been back on my feet. Over the next 4 years everything spiralled completely out of control.

I’m pretty sure there were more than a few times I nearly lost my job. I frequently called in “sick” from the crowded patio of a bar at 1:30AM, had my car repossessed, racked up so much debt that people were calling my family members to find out where I was, and I partied seven nights a week. I lost a lot of my friends and damaged most of my remaining friendships irrepairably in the process. Throughout this ordeal, a few of my friends stood by me. They didn’t give up on me despite my ardent attempts to turn myself into a drooling train wreck of a human being.

In June of 2008, I gave it all up. I realized that I was a total train wreck and that everything around me was completely out of control. My career was stagnant. I was sliding backwards as a person. I wasn’t meeting any of my goals for myself because I was too busy slowly killing myself.

I stopped drinking. I got the help I needed and I began the long, painful, process of pulling myself up by my shoelaces. I dried out.

By August, I had completed the SQL Server 2005 MCITP: Database Developer certification. I started the Columbus chapter of PASS in October. I started paying back all of my bad debt (only a few months left to go). Nine months after I quit drinking, I quit my one to two pack a day smoking habit (sorry about that one, Mom and Dad) – I never would have thought I could end my 13 year addiction to nicotine.

I have a great relationship with my family and friends now, it’s better than anything I could ever hope for.

I learned a lot of things from this.

  1. I can be horribly selfish.
  2. There’s nothing better than not being that selfish.
  3. I can do damn near anything I want to do if I put my mind to it.
  4. There are some things in life that are so important you can’t afford to overlook them.

Afterward

This summer, one of my friends (someone who met me at my lowest and stuck by me through everything) is giving me the greatest honor I could ever hope for: on June 19th I’ll be officiating his wedding. Like a lot of people, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life.

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