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On Intentionality and Making Paths

Yes. I’m writing a short blog post about a simple topic. At least simple at first glance. There’s a certain irony in this being the post topic I’m writing about tonight. You see, I set out a goal for myself in December – write a blog post every day. At some point, try and write a few to make these come out at a more humane (and internet-populated) time of day for folks who would stumble upon the blog here. The reason I put myself up to that task coincides with the topic of this post… Intentionality.

You see. We can go through this life with “life happening to us” – almost like watching a movie. Or we can take proactive action, be intentional, and set paths and habits.

I’ll be honest – far too often, I’ve been whirring around in the “happening to me” camp in far too many ways. When folks ask me if I’ve grown Straight Path up to the 14 employees “intentionally” or not – and I still say “accitentionally” (yes. I know that’s not a word before you write me a letter)… Anyway.. yeah – being purposeful or intentional is something that, well, requires intentionality – and purpose. Go figure.

That’s not really that revolutionary. So why don’t we do it as much as we could? There are lots of reasons. Inertia is strong, deep down – we like comfort and “easy,” and we can tend towards laziness if we were honest with ourselves.

I’m in the middle of listening to “Atomic Habits,” and I am enjoying it. I suggest you check it out. For now, I want to share two pictures to illustrate what intentionality can look like and show what it looks like when we’re stuck in our ways.

Sheep Paths

As a farmer in my spare time, we have raised a few different types of animals. Right now, we’re pretty set on cows, chickens, pigs (but only from spring to fall, we’ve done the farrowing thing twice. We’re good – see the above note about intentionality and laziness 😉 ) though we have a couple of sheep again. At one point, though, we had many more sheep.

They do a funny thing – they all walk in a single file line – down the same path. Everywhere in the fields. Even now, a couple or a few years after they stopped following each other around – you can see the remnants of sheep paths in our fields. (The cows are much less careful about this. ). The paths and patterns stuck.

That happens to us—the things we do. The habits we build (… and I’m speaking to myself here… ) stick. The paths become easier to walk in. And soon, it’s the way we go. Weeds and grass and obstacles will not grow over those paths we are in much more.

That can be great! That morning workout. That entering of time in a timesheet right after you complete a task. That not resting until all you said you would do is done. These patterns build. Write one blog post on the 1st of the month. It’s easier to write one on the second. And that makes it a bit easier to write on the 4th.

It works against us also. It’s easier to click snooze the second time than it was the first time. It’s easier to cut that corner in the deployment of code the 82nd time than the first. In fact – it’s harder to go and NOT cur the corner on the 83rd deployment when the past 82, you took that little shortcut.

You’re making a path. The habits you employ – they are cutting a path in your life – and we aren’t alone – it disturbs the fields around others, too. The only choice we have is “what kind of a path are we carving? What choices tomorrow will be easier because of the choices we make today?”

Utiltiy Trucks and Cones

I can’t find the picture I took a few years ago when I saw something neat in a parking lot near me – a local electric utility meter reader truck parked at a Dunkin Donuts. I had intended (oops…) to write a post with what I saw. The driver got out, put a cone in front of his pickup and one behind it, and walked into the store to get some coffee.

I waited. And when he came out, he walked 360 degrees around his truck and put the cones in the truck’s bed. “Excuse me, why did you that with the cones?” I asked – expecting the answer I got – “We have to. It makes us walk around the truck and check for hazards, kids, pets, etc.”

I.Love.That. This is a way to develop a habit of “walking around the truck and looking for hazards and risks. It’s a good habit. The insurance companies like not having claims. The drivers like not having to experience something horrible. Parents should be relieved to know this is done.

What small things can you do tomorrow to start building a good habit (or breaking a bad habit?) And you have so many phases of your life to try that in.

A few things I’m trying to do to build some good habits:

  • Not stopping for the day until my desk is clean. You should see the empty water bottles that I used to collect in my office stacked everywhere. GROSS.
  • Writing a blog post each day – even at 10 PM, this month-to build some habits.
  • Skipping the “Political repost and rant” tweet more often than not 😉

Some others I told myself I’d start doing but need to “shut up and do” :

  • Read the Bible each morning and take the quiet time I keep talking about. Consistently.
  • Do something “extra” physical each day (something at the farm that is part of a routine doesn’t count. Waking up and walking downstairs doesn’t count either.)
  • Plan the next day before I go to bed each day consistently.

It works in the office too. Timesheets. Finally, looking into that repeat alert, you ignore each time. Reviewing the health of one of the SQL instances under your care on Monday and picking a different one next Monday. Committing to learning. Start blogging. Start presenting about a topic of interest.

Build those paths. And put out those cones.

Mike Walsh
Article by Mike Walsh
Mike loves mentoring clients on the right Systems or High Availability architectures because he enjoys those lightbulb moments and loves watching the right design and setup come together for a client. He started Straight Path in 2010 when he decided that after over a decade working with SQL Server in various roles, it was time to try and take his experience, passion, and knowledge to help clients of all shapes and sizes. Mike is a husband, father to four great children, and a Christian. He’s a volunteer Firefighter and EMT in his small town in New Hampshire, and when he isn’t playing with his family, solving SQL Server issues, or talking shop, it seems like he has plenty to do with his family running a small farm in NH raising Beef Cattle, Chickens, Pigs, Sheep, Goats, Honeybees and who knows what other animals have been added!

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