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Mining The Past

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This week was at least in part supposed to primarily be about generating topics for your blog that you can sustain yourself on for the rest of the sprint.  Unfortunately only one of my posts has actually accomplished this.  I brain stormed together a list of topics on August first and never really revisited it because I was ultimately dealing with some of my own things.  However one of the general pieces of advice I can offer you is to be willing to mine your own experience for topics.  Each of us tends to think our own experiences are banal and not actually worth writing about.  The thing is…  those experiences are unique to you and tell the reader an awful lot about your own feelings on a subject.

This is where I break into a story to illustrate this point.  I started leading guilds with the launch of World of Warcraft in 2004 and since then have been the helm of many offshoots be they connected to House Stalwart or later Greysky Armada.  In addition to that there has been an awful lot of experience leading various communities from the Argent Dawn Exiles that I started when the Blizzard mods made the official server forums completely unpalatable to the things like BelEffect that I largely started as a joke but developed a life of its own.  Every single bit of that experience, while I didn’t necessarily know it at the time was relevant to what I would ultimately do for a living later.

While I have never listed it on my resume, that solid decade and some change has been a hardcore training ground for management in the real world.  I first had my taste for managing others at my first job back in 1999-2000 and I did not like it at all.  The whole setting the vision for the group was fun, but what ultimately broke me was a situation that happened with one of my employees.  I had been placed in a position of power because I was the one with the answers…  not with none of the training to actual manage others.  I had a boss at that time for whom the most important thing you could do was be sitting at your desk at 8 am.  I didn’t believe this and still don’t for that matter…  and was put in the awkward position of having to discipline an employee for an infraction that I didn’t myself believe in.

This bad taste made me actively avoid taking on the mantle of supervisor or manager for a significant time.  However in the gaming space I found myself pushed into that role because no one was willing to take it upon themselves to create the sort of gaming environment I wanted to play in.  So out of necessity I became the Guild Leader and set forth the build the best possible guild I could…  and immediately stumbled about six months into the game.  However I learned how to deal with different personalities and outlooks on the game play experience and about a year and a half into World of Warcraft we picked ourselves back up and rebuilt House Stalwart.

Throughout Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King we forged the guild and the raid associated with it into a strong community.  So strong that when my account got hacked while raiding Ulduar and said hackers disbanded the guild and moved my main off server…  we immediately picked back up the pieces that night.  The community had the guild up and running before I managed to get my account restored, and then handed back over the crown willingly.  The hack itself is a story that is buried somewhere in the annals of this blog, but I had somehow managed to forge something strong enough and loyal enough to keep on going without me even being in the picture.

So much so that all these years later without me really at the helm since Cataclysm…  the guild continues on through a succession of leaders from Elnore, Rylacus and now Kylana keeping things alive and actually in a constant state of growth.  I admit it was a bit of a hit to my ego at first to see that the guild was doing well without me.  However over time I came to appreciate the fact that I built that organization and it managed to survive succession which is a truly rare occurrence in either the gaming world or the business world.  While I spend significantly less time playing Alliance right now, I am still happy each time I hear about them downing some new boss or getting some new achievement.  I am proud of what that guild and community became.

When my boss moved up from Manager to Director, I was presented with another challenge.  Did I stay in the comfortable development lead role I had carved out for myself, or did I step up to management not quite knowing if I would be able to make it work.  The truth is it was the years of experience I had leading other people in situations where I often times had no actual power of authority to use as a crutch…  that gave me the confidence that maybe i could do this thing.  If you can convince forty strangers to work towards a singular goal, then you have a significant bit of work experience there leading people and understanding how to adapt your message so that others will be able to consume it.

So this morning I had sat down and mined a bit of my own experience to convert it into a blog post.  Each of us has deep reserves of information just sitting there waiting to be harvested, talking about past experiences in games or how they have effected you in the real world.  The challenge however is being willing to open up and talk about your past and present it with a new perspective.  I would say most of what I write about draws deeply upon all of the decisions that I made to get me to where I am today.  Often times when I write about things I omit details here and there to clarify the narrative that would otherwise muddy the presentation, but the core of the experience is still effectively what happened.

With time you develop your own personal methodology for which things to talk about and which things to skip over because it won’t translate into words that well.  However the only way to really sort this out is to start trying to adapt your own life story.  Our experiences also change over time…  because how you view something at age 20 is going to be different than how you view an experience at age 40.  In all of my time working there has only been one boss that did not like me.  While I was going through those experiences it was a very dark time for me…  but after exiting that shroud I have come to realize that even that horrible experience was a blessing in disguise.  Effectively it gave me the piece of experience that I was missing…  how not to lead others.  I had a use case of the exact wrong way to do leadership and I have been able to mine it as well to make sure I was not following in his footsteps.

Basically mining your past experiences allows you to dust them off and view them from a different perspective, which is helpful for you to grow personally…  but also can be exploited to make something relate-able for your readers.  Like I have said before… there comes a point where the readers stop caring about the subject matter you are writing about and start caring about you as a human being.  These are the posts that effectively set that process in motion.  When you share of yourself… it makes others more willing to share of themselves.  I realize this has probably turned into a really contorted esoteric topic, but I still feel like it is useful information.  So often we look outside for assistance when occasionally the answers we need are buried deep down inside of our own experiences.

2 thoughts on “Mining The Past

  1. This is fascinating, and I think the whole topic of “what I learned through playing that made a difference in real life too” is a great one. I think I might steal it!

    In my post on “The Necessity of Play” I mentioned the phrase “Some things can only be learned through play”. I don’t know if leadership can only be learned through play, but that might be the best way to learn and develop it. The evidence certainly suggests that people that excel at it and appear to be “born leaders” actually honed their skills over a long period of time, usually starting out with taking the lead in play activities with a bunch of friends as a kid. Afterwards they might get involved in captaining a school sports team, or taking other formal roles in what is still essentially a voluntary play activity. By the time they hit the professional world, they already have more than ten years experience of some kind of informal leadership.

    • I think in many ways, play is a safe way to test things out without any real dire consequences. I think there are more interactions than just leadership that play might be the safest way to hone them. I read an article once about a data scientist that got their start by analyzing video game data from MMOs because it interested them. Then over time they realized that they just plain loved dealing with data.

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