Aug 11 2012

Thinking of Penguins

Published by at 2:06 am
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Yet another sleepless night thinking about something and needing to put it to “paper” so I can rest my brain.

Yet another super successful end of sprint for the high profile project I’ve been working on for the last 8 months and yet… something feels lacking. I’m working on THE premier project of THE leading company that’s at the forefront of developing THE premier holistic solution for Environmental Health Safety & Sustainability, which is one of THE key passions in my life and one of THE key problems of the 21st century and yet… something feels lacking. Something I had in the past, something I don’t really feel I have today in my work.

I was asked by my boss today, “Why? What was different about back then?

Thanks Phil, good way to get my brain going…


Just as I was about to fall asleep tonight it hit me:
Because I’m not managing, not leading, leading, not empowering change. None of those things.

I miss the days of leading a development team (albeit small). I miss leading SCRUM.  I miss the days of working with subject matter experts directly, talking about the applied science of what we were trying to build and co-authoring requirements with them and the product owner. I miss the day of working with sales and solution engineers, developing long term strategies for a product, establishing estimates, and committing to a road map with my team’s support. I miss the days of reporting to (for the internet name protected) A.B. and being his instrument of change. We did amazing things back then, only 3-4 years ago. I lead all kinds of internal change initiatives. To this day I’m still the owner of artifacts from those days. I authored documents and lead the charge on ideas which are only now coming to fruit in the project I’m now a development team member of. I was taking managerial and leadership training courses on a regular basis internally and externally to the company. As I was wrapping up (finally) my degree at the time, I switched my major to be focused on business administration to support my new chosen carrier path.  I went through internal talent scoping 3 times in a row. I was evaluated as a DI or “Inspirational Pattern” and told that I was one of few people in the company who matched that pattern, those being senior leadership including Jerrie. Everything was sunshine and roses. I was on the path.

A path I’m no longer on today. What do I have to show for it? Yes I’m a contributing member of that development team and I enjoy the project I’m on, but I’m not leading change. That is what I’m built for. That’s what my brain is wired to do. Change management is in my blood. On top of all of that, I’ve too drained every day doing this high profile project I don’t have the energy to lead HILYMI like I used to, it’s fallen after 6 years from a 25-man guild of 100 or so people to a lowly 10 man guild with only about 15-20 active people. Leading 15-20 people is not the same challenge and/or doesn’t seem to have the same reward for me as organizing a larger organization. Furthermore, all my brain power is going toward expanding and honing my development skills while my managerial, organizational, change management, project management, etc skills are falling by the wayside.

I feel like I’ve taken at least 1 if not 2 steps backward in my career from where I was and no one ever explained to me what even happened. Was I not ready? Did I do something to tick someone off? I’ve never been good at politics (too honest and upfront). I frankly have no idea what could have happened over the course of the last absolutely crazy 4 years of my career. All while not being told anything other than “good job” and high remarks on everything I’ve ever done and delivered. “One of the top 3 performers under <name omitted>“, I was told. I don’t know anymore. I haven’t had time to even think much about all this in the last 8-9 months, but today all these thoughts are coming to the forefront of my mind. I was initially so jazzed about this new project I’m on, I doubt I even went into much detail with my last boss about all this, probably a little, but not much. Not like the bomb I dropped on my new boss today.

Maybe I need to focus more on the things I can do within my own team to lead little bits of change within the team. Maybe I should engage with Ted to see what little things I can do with our Sharepoint which will improve something. Maybe I need to work with my P.O. more and volunteer extra time to help work out the backlog. That’s a positive change, adding clarity where the dev team has been asking for more. I want to make a difference. Not like “I build code” kind of different or even “I build code that writes code” kind of difference. Something, I don’t know. I want to do all kinds of things that are completely unrelated to development, but I’ve been to focused on the day to day task at hand on a very aggressive agile project, that I haven’t had the time other than retros to feel like I can even communicate my ideas for change. Maybe that’s why I like retros so much. Maybe I don’t have time to help lead change, but I can at least communicate and inspire others to hear thoughts on it, to rally around my ideas.

I’m rambling at this point, but what I do know is this: I’m a good developer, but I’m a great leader. I have the potential within me to be a world class leader. I know it. I feel it. I want to pursue that dream. Maybe I should listen to the Heart of Change or some other work by Kotter again. I need his inspiration.

P.S. If this plugin I installed works correctly, this should publish an update on my Facebook status.

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Dec 04 2009

Jeere Stead on Bloomberg

Published by at 10:53 am

Jeere Stead, Chairman and CEO of IHS, just the other day was on Bloomberg talking about the economy, why IHS is doing well even in this economy, the effectiveness of diversifying out business globally, and most importantly he commented on the biggest part of our business that is growing: The Environment Domain. I always love an opportunity to hear Jeere speak and this interview especially was great. I love how he corrected the guy and pointed out that we don’t sell “data”, but rather information and insight. We collect data, add meaning to it, and then sell that value added information. I think especially with what is going on in Copenhagen next week, it will be interesting to see the new opportunities that we’re going to jump all over. We have the people, smarts, and vision to be able to provide solutions to tackle whatever the new things come out of the discussions and our domain will grow as a result.

Watch his interview here.

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Oct 19 2009

Reflections on Training

Published by at 9:55 am
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I think it’s always good to sit back and reflect on Lessons Learned after going through a training, especially training focused on soft-skills. Last week I took 4 different courses on “Leading the IHS Way” and while nothing was particularly mind-blowing, there were a lot of little things that added up to some profound processes, new ways of thinking, or even some things I learned about myself.

Personal Strategies for Navigating Change
This was a very interesting class because it was a mix of managers and individual contributors all sharing their own personal ways they cope with change. Probably the biggest take away from this course was the recognition of the four different types of ways people deal with change, how I personally deal with most change, and how I can help others navigate change when I’m either in the driver’s seat, co-pilot, or just early adopter of change (aka a “Navigator). Most of the time I’m the Navigator but often times I don’t take the time to properly assist Victims, Critics, and Bystanders on their way to accepting and embracing change. Recognizing that sometimes I need to put on the breaks and slowly help people catch up to my mindset is important or else I’ll sometimes I’m sure just make things worse.

It was also nice to be able to recognize how I’ve been personally dealing with the recent changes in my role. I’ve been bouncing around between the Victim, Critic, and Bystander a lot recently. There’s a lot of fear, doubt, doubt in others, doubt in the objective, and may other things which has been making me bounce around, stress me out to the point of complete and total physical shut down (my recent neck troubles), and it’s just not healthy. I NATURALLY want to be on board with change. I NATURALLY want to be an influential member driving change. When I’m not, it’s uncomfortable and I want to be in that zone. I think the most important thing is that when I’m being a Victim, Critic, or even a Bystander, I need to focus on the positive and trying to channel all my energy into positive action. It will make me the most happy and before I know it all my critical questions will be answered, I won’t feel like a victim because I’m delivering positive results, and in the end things will work out.

I’m so positive all the time that when I’m not positive, it’s hard to come out of that shell. It’s not something I’m used to doing. So this book has really helped me personally deal with change when I am in that mode. It has also helped me lead others even more effectively.

Behavioral Interviewing
This was a great course without a lot of spin. Simply put it REALLY for the first time brought to home for me some of the concrete ways on how to conduct a behavioral interview. I think before I was a decent interviewer, but I focused too much on hypothetical questions. I quickly saw the power in how to ask behavioral questions properly and what to gain out of it. I also liked the quick reference guide on avoiding illegal and unethical questions. Overall, great book that I’ll dust the cobwebs off of next time I have to interview someone.

Feedback for Accountability
I was most excited about this course because I had hoped it would be the answer to all my problems. Unfortunately I think I over inflated it a bit too much so I was expecting… more or something, but I think in the end this course combined with the two others on change and leadership really turned into a total package of tools I can use to properly lead change in a more concrete way. See the thing is that I understand good leadership philosophy. I also understand good leading change processes as taught by John Kotter, but even Kotter is a bit too high level sometimes so you get lost in philosophy and not action. This and the other two courses focused on real concrete things you can do.

This course in particular focused on how to REALLY drive candid conversations and make agreements that were open, honest, and binding for which you could if necessary follow up on for proper re-commitment, confrontation, coaching, or if necessarily take other steps to follow through on the accountability of that agreement. It also gave me further opportunity to really focus on how to control my own emotions in a conflict by focusing on the other person’s emotions. I know I’m an emotional person and I feel the other person’s emotions as well, but I don’t always do a good job of validating those emotions. Sometimes I’ll even get upset because someone’s expressing their feelings “like I don’t know that or something”. I need to be more reflective and not immediately jump to tell them that I know and here’s the solution.

Overall I think that the biggest take away from this course was how to not bruise and not bail. I want to really stay in the “candor mindset”, middle zone where I can be upfront and honest, but not be blunt about it. I think that many times I use my natural charismatic leadership style as a crutch. 80% of the time I’m really successful in my ability to motivate and lead people, but it’s the 20% of the time I don’t have a framework on how to deal with. I get frustrated and either bruise my way to get my point across (if I think I can “win”), or I bail and then send someone a gigantic email later that day or the next. In the end, I honestly do want a collaborative “win win” solution to the agreement, but it’s my passion that gets the best of me and either I bottle things up or explode (or both). This course really taught me a structured way on how to stay objective and come to an objective, win-win agreement without getting overly emotional on either side.

The Principles and Qualities of Genuine Leadership
As previously stated, I recognize and try to embody the principles and qualities of genuine leadership. To be honest with you, I initially thought this course was going to be the biggest waste of time but attended initially for the “fun” of it. I was dead wrong. This course was fantastic because again, it gave a good framework on how to “respond” to a challenge using leadership principles so in a way your ACTIONS show the principles and qualities of leadership.

I thought the exercise with the “Response Cards” was so good that I took them because I thought that they WERE The big take away from the training. It’s great to take a scenario you are dealing with and just use the cards as brainstorming on how you’re going to effectively lead your change, help people navigate change, create a change vision, or even how to properly form agreements with large groups of people. I think it’s great to line up the individual actions with steps in John Kotter’s framework on leading change.

Overall what is so powerful about the cards especially was they took something as big as the problems I’m facing in leading some kind of common whatever we want to call it, and it allowed me and others to objectively come up with a strategy for leading that change.

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Oct 02 2009

It’s great to be coding again

Published by at 12:04 pm
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Between diving back into ecoAsset Manager 11 and development work for my senior project, I don’t know… I feel like I can take on the world right now.  I feel like I haven’t felt in a long time, just being able to dive in and develop code. Good, clean, functional, fast code.

I’m especially enjoying doing more and more with LINQ and Entity Framework.  It’s so fast to be able to bang out querries which you MIGHT be able to write in as little time in pure SQL, but the beauty of how LINQ handles the queries for you is awesome. Plus, you know that due to the strongly typed nature of the Entity Framework, that your query will WORK as you write it. There’s no ambiguousness that your query won’t work. Maybe sometimes you might still inject some business logic wrong in the query, but basic run of the mill queries are a compile time validation activity. I just hope that in .Net 4.0, they resolve some of the minor annoying things when dealing with the Entity Framework like how to manage related data.

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Sep 28 2009

2009 User Conference and the Architecture team

Published by at 7:03 am

2009 user conference was an absolute hit. They really liked the training on Tuesday, they loved the road map through the end of 2010 and into 2011, they liked what they heard from what was coming in 10.3, they liked the new user interface of version 11, dashboard discussion went very well, and most of all in the end they were very appreciative of the 180 we’ve done on the product in the last year. Most of all the biggest good news came from Minh who gave us a shining review at dinner on the Wednesday night of the user conference. Tim sent Minh’s kind comments to Dave C., Dave P., Jeff T., Jerre S., and many others. Got replies from the four aforementioned folks giving their thanks in drastically improving customer delight in 2009.

After conference was over the real fun began for me. I got to spend an evening with Mike K., Mary Ann C., and Katy G. I even kicked Mike’s butt in a game of air hockey. Good getting to know Mary Ann especially since I hadn’t had any interactions with her previously. Spent the majority of the evening with Katy talking about everything under the sun and brainstorming about how she and I could further interact in the future and bounced ideas off each other. The next day got a tour of the Englewood office thanks to Mike M. and then spent the rest of the day hanging out with the rest of the architecture gang. It was kinda funny when Mike introduced me to the rest of the guys by stating I was on the “Environment Domain Shadow Architecture Team” and something about one of the perks of being on that team was “ninja pants”. Then there was some conversation about Kerrie knitting me ninja pants. Anyhow… was a very good time and we talked a lot about opsInfo while I caught up on a week’s worth of emails and banged out the Facilities management of ecoAsset 11. I also got the chance to meet Dave P. and Keith W., Dave just briefly and spent two lunch hours with Keith.

All and all it was a very tiring week, but very exciting. I think the biggest personal take away for me for the week was that I don’t have any more doubts about my own knowledge, expertise, and skills. After spending a day and a half with the architecture team, I feel like we’re on the same level. I feel like I speak their language and that while I don’t have the same specialties as some of them, I have unique specialties and domain knowledge that others on the team don’t have. Most of all, it seems like the architecture team respects my opinion and if I was chosen to be a satellite member of the team, that they would certainly make me feel at home.

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Sep 15 2009

What DO I want?

I was asked to day by someone today, who I highly respect:

What do you want to be doing?

I didn’t really have an answer for him. Partially because I don’t even know how the cards will fall and what the reporting structure and new career paths will be when things are done. Right now the best I can tell anyone is what I DON’T want to be doing.

I made a conscious effort many years ago to pursue a role in some kind of leadership or management position. I enjoy it. I was given the opportunity. I think I shined in my role I’ve been taking in the last year. Overall, there are very few things I think I would have done differently. Anyone who REALLY knows me, it gives me a lot of personal pleasure helping guide a team, large or small, to an inevitable victory. I get the most pleasure from assisting others than doing individual things myself. While individual accomplishments are great and all, I’d rather see the whole team succeed (of course that includes my success too, I’m no martyr). I think in some level once you’ve reached a certain point in your career, you need to have ownership of something bigger, something visionary. I’m well past that point today. I mean, look at why I keep getting guild leadership on my lap so quickly. I’m hedging bets right now on how long I’ll be in Heretic before I’m approached about becoming an officer.

On top of my personal level of enjoyment in leadership and management, I also personally believe that I’m not all that great of a developer. I know I keep bringing this up. I know that many people SAY that I’m an amazing developer who does wondrous things, has a grand mind for architecture, and has an amazing combination of skill sets… I don’t know I don’t believe it. I think I’m a mediocre developer with lots of crazy ideas and some of those pan out to be good ones and that makes people notice me. As a “skillful” developer, again I think that I struggle keeping up with all the new moving parts and changes to technology. I know enough to be able to come up with vision and product prototypes, but I’m not really great at producing something… well I guess I am. Yeah OK, I am what everyone says, but I think I’m much better at other stuff. I have more POTENTIAL in pursuing a position with some kind of leadership component to it.

Most of all, I don’t want to be an individual contributor on a team that simply writes common components. That’s not fun to me. I don’t think that would have ever been fun for me, even in my early career. I’ve always enjoyed owning a single product or core piece of a product, than writing behind the scenes common components?!? I’d rather be an individual contributor on a single product that I can have some shared personal ownership of something that’s being given to a customer. I’d rather be the leader of a common components team. I’d rather be an individual contributor on an architecture team, due to the fact that even individual contributors on a team like that help guide other teams, assisting them improve how they do things. I don’t know. Maybe I’m overly thinking things, but I’ve never been on a team that built common components for consumption in other products. I really don’t think I’d enjoy doing that work. Maybe leading it, but not being an individual contributor.

Sigh. What’s worse is that as part of my final 2 courses for school, completing in 5 weeks now, I’ve been HAVING to update my resume and talk with career advisers. It’s bad enough that I’m pissed off about how horribly my pay has been handled at work, it’s worse that I have people at my school reminding me of the fact that with my degree, grades, and experience I shouldn’t have to take this crap. The problem is that at the end of the day, I LOVE the company I work for and I think they will do me right eventually. I’m just not sure how much longer myself or my wife can stomach “eventually”.

Right now I’m trying to focus on our yearly user conference next week. I’ve been preparing screen mock-ups of the next release for presentations and working on concept screens of the new development we’re planning for 2010. Hopefully the cards will fall sometime in the next week or two. Maybe once the OTHER stuff is set in stone, things will be easier to see how I fit and where I want to be. Right now, being a nomad in no-man’s land is not fun.

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Sep 03 2009

Limits of Sacrifice

Published by at 5:35 pm
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As soon as I thought life was going back to normal, well it wasn’t quite normal anymore.

I’m in my final classes finishing my degree finally. Career development and my Senior Project. School stress is coming to an end and less than 7 weeks now and I’ll have my degree. Most likely I will be graduating with a 4.0 gpa with highest honors.  I’m done moving into my new house and pretty soon I’ll have 2 wonderful kitties. I’ve given up on guild leadership and joined a well established guild ( so there’s no more stress  in my gaming life anymore. In theory I should be at probably one of the lowest stress points in the last 3 years right now, but I feel like I’m at the peak of it.

My role at work is also changing and it’s probably one of the most stressful career changes in my life. I’m not quite sure how to put it in words what I’m going through. Whenever I’m confused and stressed, particularly at work, I look to HBR and John Kotter.

Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there; they cause change. They motivate and inspire others to go in the right direction and they, along with everyone else, sacrifice to get there. – John P. Kotter

Sacrifice is something that I’m familiar with. But right now I’m starting to wonder if I’m sacrificing too much. I’ve been challenged with a pretty tough new role in the company, but I feel like while I’m putting in a lot into this role people aren’t giving me the support I need. My role isn’t being well defined and on top of that, there’s no real promotion I’m getting with this role change even though it’s more responsibility and stress. I mean I could deal with an ambiguous job description with the right pay or I could deal with continuing to be screwed on pay if there was a concrete job description and level of empowerment / responsibility. I also feel like there is a bunch of stuff people… one person in particular… isn’t telling me. I don’t like being treated like a mushroom. I continue to press forward in my new role, trying to establish vision, coordinate with others, and make myself and the entire domain successful, but I dunno… something is missing. Maybe I should be patient. Maybe things will just work themselves out. I just… don’t know what to think right now.

My general mood is rather manic right now. I swing from overly enthusiastic, ready to face the challenge head on to really self doubting, depressed, stressed out, and pissed off. It’s a very odd feeling. I want to stay positive, but meh. We’ll see. We’ll see…

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Jun 11 2009

Performance Management & Leniency

Published by at 1:19 pm
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Keep in mind that I admit I’m wet behind the ears. On the other hand I do feel I’ve been around the block and am at least well studied on management techniques, HR methodologies, and leadership techniques. I would say I have the most personal experience in leadership and it comes very naturally to me and I while I understand management and HR techniques, it’s not so natural so I tend to stumble. One thing I AM capable of doing most of the time is recognizing the different mechanisms in the system and processes in the organization and realize how they are designed and why they are designed that way.

It’s mid-year review time so I’ve been noodling about a specific technique in performance management that I’ve gone quite a bit into detail on in multiple classes during my time achieving my bachelor’s degree. There are many strategic reasons for a two pronged performance management system such as the one at IHS, one part which has a positive leniency error and one with a negative leniency error. What I mean by that is that every person has a certain amount of leniency or strictness. People are really lenient, really strict, or somewhere in between. Depending on the performance management process, it will either work well for people who are lenient or people who are strict. If you use a two pronged system, it will balance out based on whether the person is super strict or super lenient.

  • Strict people are generally focused on RESULTS. So an objective based system is agreeable to managers who are strict. They will grade people really harshly or really well as appropriate based on their results. On the other hand, lenient managers will struggle with an objective based system because they don’t want to give “good” people a “bad” grade. So lenient people will generally put “meets expectations” across the board for all people unless there’s something REALLY out of place.
  • Lenient people are generally focused on EFFORT and SOFT SKILLS. So a core competency is agreeable to managers who are lenient. They will grade people really harshly or really well as appropriate based on their efforts and soft skills. On the other hand, strict managers will struggle an effort based system because they are so results oriented. So strict people will generally put “meets expectations” across the board for all people unless there’s something REALLY out of place.

So if you use a two-pronged system it should balance out. The problem occurs when either A. the systems aren’t appropriately balanced or B. managers forcefully “monkey” with the system to make the outcome what they wish. When either of these things occur the checks and balances of leniency is destroyed and people who have leniency short comings are not caught. Now I will step back for a moment and suggest that the two systems might not actually have to be perfectly balanced. For example, if the company was TRULEY results oriented, they would put a heavier weight on the object based side of the system vs the competency side.

What is important is that people not “monkey” with the system. In a two-pronged system, everyone will be uncomfortable with either one side or the other side of the system, but at the end of the day that’s what makes the system work. You need to stick to the rules of the system, grade people the way the system tells you to grade, and the human factor will be counter balanced by the system. I don’t know maybe I’m arguing my own point in circles. Maybe the system is designed so that even if people monkey with it, in the end it ends up being balanced. Who knows…

Jun 10 2009

Skin-it-like-I-mean it

Published by at 3:12 pm
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WCSF, MVP, Themes, Master Pages, Nested Master Pages, CCS, Skins, AJAX, GridView, DetailView, Entity Framework, oh my!

I’ve been working on a good working top-to-bottom example of my new “LakeView” project which is the C# rewrite of the project I manage development of  onto the Environmental Domain architecture.

This version demonstrates a proper implementation of WCSF’s architecture, using Mike’s (see “Hoarked” on my blog roll for his blog) SCF project blueprint, utilizing the MVP presentation pattern, using .Net 3.5 controls including AJAX, business modules for business logic, foundational modules for data access including LINQ queries to the Entity Framework. I’m using ObjectDataSource controls in conjunction with GridView and DetailView controls inside an AJAX update panel. The page itself is EXTREMELY code light aka “dry” with only a few lines of code on it. The ObjectDataSource is doing all the heavy lifting, hooking data events from the DataView and DetailView controls to business logic methods in the presenter.

Furthermore, I’m also have implemented Brian’s latest GUI design which is a 100% full height design which dynamic adds a scroll bar in the middle of the page if there is too much content. I’m not using IFrames or anything gross like that, using the CSS property “overflow: auto” to control the scroll bar and adding an inital fixed height which is being adjusted based on the browser’s viewable space dynamically via JQuery. I have Matt to thank me for that tidbit. I also have multiple Mike’s internally who helped me with the new database schema as well as working through the technology portions.

Still have to work on the master pages a little bit more, implementing a few more complex details like a smooth implementation of the tab selecting, product name and version pulled from the assembly file, bread crumbing, and any other updates Brian thinks of before I’m done with this. Then I can start distributing to the other domain teams and making sure they are using it properly with no code changes. I want this to be one of the key pieces that we share with no project custom alterations so that way when we update it, we update it for one product and roll it out to the other projects.

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May 20 2009

It’s been a crazy month

Published by at 9:08 am
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It has been a really busy this month, insanely busy even for my standards. Everything from fishing trips, trying to recover the guild, getting setup for my final term of college while still making A’s and staying focused on the classes I’m taking now, making an offer on the house we’ve been renting, getting turned down by the home owner (she’s crazy I tell you), and now we’ve made an offer on a different house after looking at several with a realtor. All this while trying to stay focused at work, delivering a product release on time, feature complete, with over 100 bug fixes. Everything is moving at the speed of light although to be honest, there’s nothing like shining in the face of a daunting task.

I don’t normally blog while at work, but taking the time to just quickly compose in written form the level of insanity my life is right now.

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