I must warn you, this post is rather lengthy and a bit of an emotionally honest admission of failure, and how those lessons have carried to all aspects of my life. This contest is for charity after all and with doing something for the greater good, comes a mixture of emotions. Believe me, there is a point and a very valid one.
You might be thinking, What? What's football have to do with IT? Don't worry, my wife didn't understand what sports had to do with marriage either. Needless to say I am now separated.
All bad jokes aside, I learned a lot about myself this past year and a little Canadian football stadium in steel town north, was the catalyst for some life changing lessons.
If I were to ask 100 people in the computer field who they feel has inspired them most throughout their lives, I would wage a guess that 90% of techies would say Steve Jobs. If not in life then in death, many of us learned so much more about this highly-driven, outside-of-the box visionary in the stories that have been shared since his passing.
On every level imaginable, life in the 21st century is about networking. Whether it's connecting computers or people, strong communications systems help everything and everyone reach their full potential.
In 2009, Toronto won a bid to host the Pan-American games in 2015. As part of winning the hosting honors, our city - which is 45 minutes west of our provinces capital, was to also host a handful of events meaning after 80 years, our city was finally going to be able to replace our aging stadium.
In August of 2010, I started a blog to fight for that same 80-year-old football shrine that resides in Hamilton, Ontario Canada. For many it was/is just an old dump but for me, it represented so much more.
For 60 of those years, it's been home to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. At 140 years of age, the team itself has a very storied past of its own. Hamilton seemed like the perfect place to embrace history.
Of course, I used examples like Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Our stadium perhaps is neither of those, but Canada didn't have a sports venue they referenced with such historic rhetoric and a 30,000 seat stadium surrounded on three sides by houses, three schools, three baseball diamonds, a minor hockey arena, and an Olympic sized pool built the same year as the stadium - 1930 - it all seemed the perfect make-up for a heritage project.
Nobody wanted to talk about saving the old stadium. It was falling apart, had very little parking directly surrounding it, not to mention it was squished into a residential neighbourhood.
The city had grand visions of a waterfront stadium, and the Tiger-Cats drooled over the thought of 6,000 car parking lots and a home at the end of a highway off-ramp.
Many fans didn't even want to talk about the possibilities of looking at working with what we had. Fans and citizens alike were equally divided between wet waterfront dreams, and a sea of red tail-lights in the name of accessibility and corporate sponsorship visibility.
Yet there were those who wondered why neither side would even entertain the idea of a refurbish plan instead of building new. As it turns out, that in itself has been a long-standing debate [PDF] for our city.
A couple of months into my plea to save the stadium, which saw me delegate in front of City Hall, publish my first article in some eight years, and send many emails to our local politicians urging them to at least consider our history, my wife told me that she wanted a divorce.
Often in discussion going forward, the 'stadium card' was brought up. "If you fought for us (our family), half as hard as you fought for that stadium, we wouldn't be where we are."
She was right in many ways. Although our marriage had struggled and I too had questioned on more than one occasion whether we should part, a big part of me didn't want to give up.
I guess I took for granted that things would eventually turn around for us and that we would always be together. I was painfully mistaken.
I switched my focus to saving my marriage, although I did still throw the odd blog post onto my site and sent the occasional email to our City councillors. I even delegated one more time before the final decision was made on the location of our new stadium.
I broke down in tears on a few occasions as I pleaded for my wife to give us a second chance. My world was spinning out of control and I was desperate to save my family. I tried to take what I had learned about fighting for a stadium - fighting for something I believed in, and carry it forward to saving my family.
There were moments where I saw progress and felt there was hope of a reconciliation. We had filed for legal separation immediately after she had told me she was through with 'us', but I never gave up.
Mid-January of 2011, I started receiving tweets, emails and phone calls. It seemed our Mayor and the owner of the Tiger-Cats had decided to look at rebuilding our existing stadium. Two weeks later, it was approved. People commended me for not giving up. A story was written about me in a national newspaper. I had learned a valuable lesson; anything is possible; never give up on your dreams.
I took those lessons and tried to apply them to my marriage; never give up on what you believe in. My expressions of love however, were never returned. I didn't blame her - I truly didn't, but I wanted with everything inside of me to make it all right again. It was just two months ago, that I finally got the message - it was over.
So why the sad story? What does any of this have to do with IT? Networking and communication.
During my fight to save Ivor Wynne Stadium I met a lot of people - many of whom were also very involved in their community. One of those people happens to be a leader in Hamilton's Open Data movement.
One of the tools him and his team uses in his quest to make our City a more open and connected one, is Google Fusion Tables. I won't go into great detail at this time as to what the tool is or how I use it to better manage my network, but it has proven to be an invaluable tool with great potential, a tool that will become more valuable as I continue to grow my network.
Because of the associations I had built up during my stadium plea, I was able to take advantage of workshops, email support, and forums to learn to use tools I would likely have not otherwise known about.
Getting involved in your community (whether online or in the flesh), surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, and being open to new ideas can truly help you get to that next level and most importantly, keep you competitive in the quickly progressing world of business and communications.
It might have been the least important of the lessons I learned over the past 18 months - although hopefully important in the future of my career in data management - but being introduced to thinking-out-of-the-box individuals and tools that could help me better manage my data in spite of the out-dated mapping systems that I have at my disposal, has both helped me in my day-to-day tasks, and made my work more enjoyable and rewarding as well.
I like learning something new every day and Google's Fusion Tables satisfies that need, not to mention that it causes your mind to spin over the possibilities this type of tool presents.
There is a lesson in everything. With moving forward in life and in our careers, there also comes sacrifice. I paid the ultimate price, but I paid it because I was using outdated communication tools - both interpersonal and electronic. Both still require a lot of fine tuning, but I have seen my life change dramatically for the better both in my performance at the office, and in becoming the father figure I had always wanted to be for my children.
All over some concrete, steel, and well-worn wood bench seats with numbers hand-painted on them.
Be reborn. People and thoughts weren't meant to live in the darkness of a box. Come explore where life and ideas run wild.
Outside is always where life begins.
In 2012, I perhaps assimilated some of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. What better way to honour those accomplishments, than to give to children so that they might be given the tools early on, to help them succeed in life, relationships, and in business.