Post-Traumatic Test Disorder

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To the uninitiated, the CCIE lab exam might seem like any other test.  Oh, sure…it’s harder, there’s a lot to it compared to the average test.  You have to study a long time and all that, but in the end, it’s just a test, right?  That’s what people who haven’t been there seem to think.  Now, I don’t want to overstate how hard the test is, nor do I wish to belittle other exams in other disciplines that no doubt require the same dedication and devotion to pass.  But passing the CCIE lab puts a lot of pressure on a person.

I passed the R&S lab at the end of April – a little less than 3 months ago as I write this.  I have to tell you that I’m not entirely recovered yet.  It’s a subtle thing, hard to describe.  Yes, I passed.  Yes, “it’s over”…but I’m not over it quite.  I feel like I need to sleep for a week straight.  Or enter a demolition derby.  Or go bungee jumping.  Anything that would uncap whatever is still bottled up inside me and let it all go.  If I was a girl, maybe I’d need “a good cry”.  I’m not a girl, but maybe I need one anyway.

To be fair, it’s not just the lab exam.  Last year was personally rough for me, with a lot of demands made on my time and talents almost every time I turned around.  My job (which I’m very thankful to have in the down-turning economy) has a lot of high-profile stuff going on.  Various friends always seem to need something or other.  I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in the last six months doing free (or nearly free) tech consulting for friends who want me to help them build a web site, set up an audio streaming server, whatever.

Some of you know that I’m a dad, too, which is a draining job if taken seriously.  Training kids to function in this world is tough.  They need advice.  They need guidance.  Sometimes they just need a hug and someone to tell them they’re loved and accepted at face value.  But being dad also contributes to the wearing out of a person.

I’m writing this from a beach in Florida.  Because I have to?  No.  Because I want to…doing something because I WANT to do it and not because I HAVE to do it is the first step in curing what I am calling my CCIE post-traumatic test disorder.  I need to get over being wound up all the time.  I need to be able to relax and not feel like I have 16 things I SHOULD be doing instead.  The stress needs to go away.  This vacation is much needed…I’ve taken time off here and there over the last few years, but it’s really been 5 years since I’ve had a real vacation.  My lovely wife and I even left the children behind.

This morning, we went out to the beach (after taking a dip in a vat of sunscreen, of course).  We hung out in the water, swam out to the sandbar and back, and watched the wildlife frolic in the water.  We actually saw a manta ray leap out of the water, maybe 50 meters away.  It’s one of those moments that will be etched in my memory forever – the brown/gray skin of the manta, “wings” flapping a bit, while the sun glistened off its body.  We stayed out for about an hour, then came back in to avoid sunburn, despite being dipped in sunscreen before we went out.  I haven’t hit my mellow spot yet, but at least I know how to find it now.  A week ago, my mellow spot was something I thought I’d lost forever.

Serious studying for the CCIE lab can mess you up.  It really can.  I’m going to be fine, as this vacation is going to help, plus I’m re-ordering my life such that people are less likely to come to me just because they need help with something.  I’ve realized now that I was stressed BEFORE I started down the CCIE road, so getting through it with my sanity intact was fortunate.

Why am I writing all of this?  To make this point – find some balance in your life before embarking on the CCIE journey.  I didn’t do that.  I didn’t find any balance.  I just decided I was going to start, and went for it.  I didn’t jettison any of the other responsibilities in my life.  Of course, I had to keep my job – but if you’re single and could live for 3 or 4 months without working, then I would seriously consider CCIE preparation as a full-time gig.  I have a family – that wasn’t going to change.  But if you’re single, stay that way until you’ve passed the lab.  If you have hobbies that eat into your time, especially if that hobby involves other people, dump the hobbies.  For example, I have done web hosting on the side for years, and also done consulting.  I most definitely should have dumped those things before I started down the CCIE road.  Even with CCIE behind me, I’m getting rid of my web hosting and consulting now to get some cycles back in my life.  Oh, and that CertGuard thing was just over the top.  Don’t even get me started with that.  If I hadn’t gotten such global support from the CCIE community, you can bet I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I’m trying to get to a point where when someone asks me, “Hey, are you going to do another CCIE track?” that I don’t mentally curl up into the fetal position and start sucking my thumb.  From a distance, I’m interested in another track.  Practically speaking?  No way, not close yet.  If my life had been better balanced, I don’t think that’d be an issue for me.  I could have passed the lab, felt all warm and wonderful about having my digits, and then said to myself, “So, what next?  Voice?  Storage?  C’mon, big man, what track will you add to your resume?”  But all I’ve been able to think so far is, “So, what next?  Burn the computers?  Sell all my equipment on eBay?  Become a Luddite?  Fall off the grid and become a subsistence farmer?”

Well, I’m off to perhaps swim a bit more.  My sunscreen awaits.  Here’s to better balance out there.

3 comments

  • LOL! Man, Ethan, I almost spit my soda all over the monitor! I gotta kick out out of the “subsistence farmer” option.

    Ethan, just relax with the family, get to know them again. One day, a year or so from now, after full recovery, inform the family that Dad needs to be locked up in the loony bin after another CCIE track!

    Thanks for the awesome blog…

    Acer0001

  • After two failed attempts, I’m in the same boat. Family with young kids, relationships and practically everything else put on hold, etc. This is how bad it is – I volunteered to coach my son’s T-Ball team this year (because that’s what Dad’s do), and I was utterly relieved when our game two weekends ago was rained out. My second lab date was the coming week and I had some anxiety about knocking out some more lab time. This point is to highlight the mental and enigmatic burden that one can’t quite put a finger on. When I do get my number, it will be more relief than jubilation.

    I hope when it’s over, I can get back to being my old self. I have no sense of humor now, am extremely edgy, and from a focal point I can’t seem to focus on anything else except this lab. Thanks for the post, I will probably do the same and take a vacation when it’s over.

  • […] CCIE Candidate was the first to form the link between the CCIE lab and PTSD and called it post-traumatic test disorder. In short these words describe it best “…curl up into the fetal position and start sucking my thumb…”. It has been two months since I got the digits and only now starting to recover. I have noticed that after the lab there were two phases. The fist month was a huge high on adrenaline and the only thought on my mind was “what next? what else?”. To actually sit and not know what to do with the free time was similar to meeting an ex girlfriend you haven’t seen for a few months. Equally awkward as excited. Then the second phase arrive, you remember why you guys broke up in the first place and for some unknown reason become a bit disposed. The last month or so was hopefully the lowest point on the sine wave. I kept wondering whether all the blood, swear and tears was really worth the digits? Before the lab I wondered why it seemed that the ccie blogs seem to fade away after getting the digits. Now I know, I subconsciously block every thing related to the lab out. I still receive the groupstudy emails but the first thing I do in the morning is to delete literally 99% of it. I only read the off topic emails. This is all changing, Im blogging again, I start reading some SP related emails on groupstudy and Im genuinely interested in doing the MPLS exam of the CCIP track. There is still a mental block when I think about the other two subjects required for the CCIP cert. Not more QOS or BGP, Im not ready for them yet. […]

By Ethan Banks

Ethan Banks is a podcaster and writer with a BSCS and 20+ years in enterprise IT. He's operated data centers with a special focus on infrastructure — especially networking. He's been a CNE, MCSE, CEH, CCNA, CCNP, CCSP, and CCIE R&S #20655. He's the co-founder of Packet Pushers Interactive, LLC where he creates content for humans in the hot aisle.

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