Only The Focused and Driven Need Apply


One of the enjoyable elements of a technical class is kibitzing with other geeks. You get to hear about their pain and suffering, share your own, learn how someone likes a product you don’t use (but might), etc. You also get into some vaguely personal discussions about study habits, why we’re doing CCIE, etc.

A fact that has come out over and over again in my discussions with other candidates is that you have to be sold-out – completely committed to obtaining the certification. You must be focused and driven. You have to get to that point where you’ve elevated your pursuit of the CCIE above any other extracurricular activities. I’ve said in previous blog posts that excluding your family or spirituality (if that’s important to you) is a mistake, and I stick by that. But outside of those things, everything else must fall by the wayside.

Do you like to ride mountain bikes? Landscape? Mod your car? Pirate terabytes of media from the torrent nets? Go out drinking with your buddies? Get that special axe in WoW? Fill-in-the-blank with your pet hobby? Forget about them, all of them. Once you get past the “have to’s” in your life, the only thing you have time for is CCIE preparation.

You have to have commitment first. The commitment must be real in your mind, concrete. You will have to go back to that commitment again and again during the process to retain your focus. You have to be focused to be able to study. Lose your commitment, lose your focus. Lose your focus, and you will not accomplish the reading and rack time necessary to become a CCIE.

I’m giving myself a pep-talk here, in case you hadn’t noticed. Don’t get me wrong – I’m committed. I’ve known why I’m doing this since the beginning, and my reasons haven’t changed. But the focus waxes and wanes some weeks. Work all day plus maybe some overtime, come home and deal with the kids, then work on the rack for 2 hours? That requires focus, and I don’t have it every night. I have to go back to my commitment for that kick in the head I need to fire up the rack and get working.

Attention span is another problem I’ve worked on. I see it like this – to pass the lab, I’ll have to stay intensely focused for 8.5 hours (including the break). To lose focus is to waste time, make careless mistakes, and ultimately sacrifice points. I don’t want to get beaten by the lab exam because my attention span is too short. That’s why I transitioned in my DOiT work from “a few hours at a time when I get the chance” to “sit down on Saturday morning and don’t leave the room until the DOiT is complete”. That’s helped my attention span problems. But I had to give up things I like dealing with to stay focused during that long stretch. No e-mail. No open web browsers (except for the Doc CD). No BlackBerry. No radio or music (since my little work area is quiet). You get the idea.

When you are focused and driven properly, you’ll sacrifice much time, some (and maybe a lot of) money, and all extracurricular pursuits to become a CCIE. I don’t know how much longer I have to go, but I do know I’ll see it through until the end. I already have goals beyond becoming a CCIE. I have to pass this lab exam so that I can move on to those future goals. Passing the lab is no longer the end of the road.

About the author

Ethan Banks

Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.


  • Let me be the first to agree with you on this one. As some may know I’ve been around the merry-go-round a few times and mostly more than anything else because of one or more of the items Ethan mentions so eloquently.

    And work can be quite demanding as well. Might want to get a less demanding job while seeking the CCIE. Some people quit work for a while just to study and some have passed in one shot. That is focused my friends.

  • Amen….Focus is the key as you well put….one thing that I am doing on sundays is to simulate the actual 8hours labs….I start at 8:00am, stop at 12 for 30 minutes break and then continue until 3:30pm….not tv, email, bb, brownsing….only the lab and the doccd…you need to put your mind into… but what I like about it is the fact that you need to touch all topics from the blueprint….you gain in speed…you learn the typical stupid mistakes that you may do in the actual lab…..right what I am doing is the labs from Narbik every day at night and then on sunday one full lab as simulation of the real thing….. Boy…the ccie lab is the sleeper that you never wanted to wakeup :) but now there is not returned back but foward….like you said this is just the beggining of a long journey……


Most people know me because I write & podcast about IT on the Packet Pushers network. I also co-authored "Computer Networks Problems & Solutions" with Russ White.

Find out more on my about page.

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