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The Broken American DBA

The Broken American DBA

I recently finished reading The Broken American Male by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and wanted to share a few thoughts. Congress and I found his show on TLC a while back (it is no longer on the air) and were disappointed that he did not continue to make additional shows. Of course after I read the book it makes a lot of sense as to why he would not continue.

See, the idea is that most men in American society will drive themselves to be the best at something and in their efforts to do so will end up sacrificing other things in their life. For most, sadly, it is their family. The book goes into a lot more detail and in some cases he repeats himself which tells me that either he cannot remember things he has already written, or the book is a compilation of short essays, or that he has a bad editor. Probably a mixture of all three, I suspect.

The reason I bring this up is that for a while now I have been trying to come to terms with the fact that I cannot be everything to everyone (and that includes myself). I need to focus on the one or two things that are most important and not worry about all the other stuff. Last year a friend of mine was pointing out something he noticed about “guys our age”, and it went something like this:

…haven’t you ever noticed something about ‘that guy’ who is really good at something? Perhaps he runs a marathon in under three hours, or he is a scratch golfer, or whatever. In almost every case, his family hates him because he is spending all his time doing something else and not being with them…”

When I came across the book a few months later something in my mind clicked, and I remembered that conversation. And then things really started to come into focus for me. I am not going to write blog entries that are as good and as technical as others. That is not who I am. Could it be? Sure, but at what price? Besides, why work twice as hard to be the best DBA in the world when I can just call myself “America’s Most Exciting DBA“? I need to do the things that come easily to me, and not try to master everything under the Sun.

Recently there was a debate about specialization versus generalization going on and I could not help but wonder to myself “what does it matter”? I mean, the person should do what makes them happy. If they want to know a little about a lot of things, then do that. If they have an interest in one area and want to focus on that area, then they should do that instead. But what they should not do is feel pressured to be so good at what they do that they start to lose touch with those around them.

I am currently a production DBA, actually the manager of the team of production DBA’s. Much as we would like to be more involved in database design and tuning, we still have to spend time troubleshooting issues that arise when data loads fail. As a result of my role, I do not get to spend a lot of time playing with features that would make me a specialist. So, I am a generalist. To be a specialist would require more time out of my day, time I do not have. Well, I would have if I decide to sacrifice time with my family.

Now, I can look at this in one of two ways. I can accept where I am, what I do, and be comfortable with my skills. Or I could become upset, angry, and frustrated that I am “falling behind”. This would lead me to be misreable, and cause others around me to be miserable, which is not going to be good for anyone.

Am I saying I should just accept who I am and never try to be or do something different? No, not at all. I am saying that you need to understand where you are, understand where you want to go, and understand what it will take to get there. I am not in a position to have a technical blog that would rival the two dozen technical blogs I subscribe to right now. I am in a position to offer some levity on situations that arise from time to time and offer brief tips on some aspects of SQL. Since that is easier, and I enjoy doing it, then I will continue. And no, I have no idea where it will take me, but I hope one day that someone will pay me to write, blog, and tweet for ten hours a day.

I do, however, consider myself to be a specialist in production monitoring, and have spent considerable time with Operations Manager, but who wants to read a blog only about Operations Manager? Not even me. So why publish things even I wouldn’t want to read? Just to “have a name”, or “get some street cred”? At what cost? And if I don’t enjoy such things, why do them? Just to stay competitive? Who am I competing with anyway? Myself? For what? To what end? And why all the questions?

At the end of the day we should all be so lucky as to have the ability to go home and spend a few hours with our family. Ask them how their days were. Tell them about yours. Connect. Learn. Share. Yeah, it works on many levels. I even took the Rabbi’s advice and now have my children run to meet me at the door when I come home. I love that feeling I get when for those few moments we have a nice hug and say hello.

And I would much rather be doing that than anything else. If that means I fall behind someone else, so be it. Because I know I am getting way ahead of them when it comes to the rest of Life in general.

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  • Well written – I’ve had the same discussion with myself. I’m sure I could be better at a lot of things, perhaps even among the top in my field, but there could come a point when career eventually overshadows everything else and other “distractions” including family, health, and me-time are just blips in the rear view mirror. It’s important to constantly improve oneself, but setting goals that are consistent with one’s situation – including aptitude, family situation, and mental state – are just as important.

  • cherie sheriff

    This is true for women too. I actually had to give up the most exciting part of my career for my children’s sake for many years. It does make a huge difference on both sides. In that gap, I felt I was often far behind what I should be, but I had to be there for my family. Now that my children are teenagers almost off in college, I am back in my chosen path of specialization and excellence, but still only to the extent that they are ready to give me up. It was extraordinarily hard for me, but it has paid off in quality of life. Telecomuting options also help out. Being able to go home, fix dinner and spend time with the family, then get back to whatever I am working on after they go off to bed helps me keep a little ahead of the game.

    The only difference is, my children (plus some usually) and my dogs meet me before I ever get in the door. I wish they would at least let me in my own house before attacking me. 😉

  • Mary Lee

    Well said! Thanks!

  • SQLBatman


    Yes, it absolutely is true for women as well. in the book Rabbi Shmuley talks about the problems women face as they an innundated with images of Hollywood models all day long (TV, magazine covers, etc.) For guys, it is mostly about the perception of being a success. Rabbi Shmuley tries to point out how ordinary people are heroes to their children, and he does get his message across.

    When you read about guys who made ten million dollars last year and they are depressed because they didn’t make more it really hits home. And it is not about greed, it is about your being perceived as a success or a failure by your peers.

    It is a fascinating look into our society and, in my opinion, it is not unique to the USA, nor to one gender. It is a human quality, one that needs to be kept in check.

  • Thank you for writing this!! Very inspirational. Needed to hear it; totally made my day.

    • ThomasLaRock

      You are welcome, thanks for reading.

  • Arnie Rowland

    Nicely said Tom.

    I’ve had too many conversations with successful, middle aged men, who lamented that they didn’t know their children. They had sacrificed family to be successful so that they could
    provide the ‘things’ that they believed their family should have. Unfortunately, often their family didn’t have the most important thing -a highly involved and caring father.

    I, too, have struggled with those internal conversations. Yes, I could give up more to be seen and recognized at ‘one of the best’. But I long ago decided that the cost was more than I wanted to pay. I learned to be content being a generalist, being the resource called in to help with the ‘big picture’ problems. Besides, my internal self just HAS to know about a lot of ‘stuff’ -I just recognize that I’m not inclined to be the ‘specialist’ with most of it. Having a great roladex (age showing here -aka, contact list) is extremely important to being a successful and sought after ‘generalist’.

    To succeed, you don’t have to be just be the ‘best’ in a increasingly narrow ‘niche’, but there are places where dedicated ‘generalists’ are valued If that is your calling, be one of the best -but don’t sacrifice your family and health. It you are drawn to be a specialist, accept that you can’t be a generalist too. Find the balance.

    • ThomasLaRock


      Thanks for the comment, I agree completely. Decide what you want to be and focus on that, and don’t compare yourself to others. If you do, you will always be second best.

  • Meher

    Tom you are a true Rock Star. Thanks for putting things in perspective.

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