Friday, December 21, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

Warning: This is a completely non-technical post. If you want to know anything about SQL Server or SSIS, please skip this one. If you want a little insight into my brain (please don't ask why you would want this - I have no idea) then feel free to read.

On my drive to my users group presentation in Rochester, NY two nights ago, I drove through my old home town. It was on the way and I wanted to stop by an old workplace to share some Christmas cookies I'd baked with some ex-coworkers.

No, that doesn't really cover it. I need to back up a little to do this justice.

Back before I started my career in IT, I worked for a regional retail drug store chain called Fay's Drugs. This was my first job; I started working there when I was 16 and stayed employed there for far too long. Although many people who know me today find this hard to believe, I used to be a seriously under-motivated person. I always pushed myself to do everything that I did as well as I could (these days arguing with the boss tends to get me a raise or a bonus; in those days it got me written up and yelled at, but that didn't stop me) but I wasn't particularly motivated to go out looking for bigger and better challenges like I seem to do today. I was comfortable where I was, and in those days I wasn't compelled to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone.

And Fay's was like a second home to me. Maybe even a first home, because for many years I spent more waking hours there than I spent at my real home. I made friends (and more than friends) and learned all sorts of valuable lessons. I've been known to say that the things that have made me successful as an IT consultant are the things I learned at my "dead-end retail job" and not what I learned in my computer science classes in college. And although I moved on many years ago, I have still kept in touch with many of the friends I left behind. And even though Fay's was bought out shortly after I moved on (it hasn't been called "Fay's" by anyone but me in well over 10 years) it was still home to some part of me.

And in the years that followed, I slowly developed this idealized vision of the "Fay's that never really was." Things truly were much simpler then (of course, when you make 1/10th of the money, you generally get a lot less job stress too) but my mind turned it into much more than it ever really was. When deadlines have loomed in my consulting work, I can tell when I am pushing myself too far, too hard, when I am too stressed for my own health, because I have dreams of working for Fay's again. It's sort of like a subconscious canary in my mental coal mine.

In short, silly though it may sound, I have had a lot of emotional investment in this long-lost part of my past.

So imagine my shock when I discovered that this part of my past was gone.

When I pulled up to deliver those cookies, I found that the store where I had been hired for my first job, where I worked for many years, where I learned so many valuable life lessons and made so many friends, had closed its doors forever. It was like a physical blow.

I couldn't dwell on it then - I had a 75-mile drive ahead of me still, and a presentation to deliver, and I could hardly do that if I were all mopey and distracted.

But this has been weighing heavily on me ever since. I've been down and depressed - not a lot, but enough that I felt compelled to write about it, that perhaps I could achieve some sort of catharsis by putting my pained thoughts into words. Who knows if it will work. I've heard the phrase "you can't go home again" many times in my life, but never until now has it really hit home quite like this...

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