Yoga lessons from IronViz qualifier season

In case you live under an actual rock, or by some sleight of hand or twist of fate are not involved in the exciting world of data visualization, tonight is the deadline to submit an entry to Tableau’s IronViz Qualifier Contest.

Actual rock. Photo by Winggo Tse on Unsplash

The purpose of the contest is to select the trio of participants who will compete in this year’s live Tableau Conference event, the world’s largest data visualization competition. IronViz pits three amazingly talented data practitioners against the clock, the formidable skills of their opponents, and Tableau’s fastidious panel of expert judges.

Last Friday evening, I had a choice to make — work through the whole weekend to finish my IronViz qualifier entry OR get some much-needed rest. Super competitive and passionate about data visualization, normally I’d weigh these options for about 13 seconds and then get vizzing.

But a quote from my favorite yoga book, Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living by Donna Farhi, sprang to mind:

“When we cultivate the discipline to pause, it becomes possible for us to make a choice that is outside our normal habit pattern.”

I guess I could just not finish it, I mused. I could also choose not to feel guilty about not finishing it. I could finish it later, because I want to and when I want to.

I’m a very competitive person, but I’m also aware of the immense volume of talent participating in the qualifier. My main reason for participating in the contest was not to “win”, but to have fun and enjoy the camaraderie of the #DataFam along the way.

Oh, and to challenge myself. Now, if you know me at all, you know I don’t cut myself any slack when it comes to academic, professional, or intellectual pursuits. Most people would consider entering the contest enough of a challenge. Not me.

I required myself to manually curate the data, analyze it in a new Python package, create several amazing charts, tell a clear and compelling data story, and wield Illustrator — which I just started using a few months ago — to create a flawless visual backdrop for my supercharts. You know, HAVE FUN. 🥳

Despite the straight-up ridiculous requirements I handed myself with a totally straight face, I did have fun working on my viz. NLTK, the Natural Language Toolkit library for Python, in the hands of an English major-turned-data geek analyzing a classic piece of literature? SO. FUN. Playing with fonts in Illustrator? ALSO. VERY. FUN. Not to mention the usual fun — I love analyzing data and making vizzes.

I was having so much fun. Until Friday when, exhausted, a familiar feeling washed over me. It was that feeling from college when you procrastinate to the point where you have an exam in 36 hours and haven’t even cracked open the textbook. That feeling is decidedly NOT FUN.

I paused and gave myself the option to not finish this viz. (At least not by today.)

So I chose to rest. I spent the weekend napping, discovering the amazing HBO series Euphoria, lounging on the porch swing while my dogs played in the yard under the glorious Florida-in-February sunshine, baking banana bread, and watching the truly incredible and gravity-defying women snowboarders compete in the slopestyle Olympic event. It was lovely.

The best thing about not completing my viz was the joy I experienced viewing many of the brilliant, beautiful, and inspiring entries the DataFam posted on Twitter today.

Enjoying the many skillful and beautiful takes on this year’s theme, Visualizing the Arts, I was reminded of a snippet from a verse in the Yoga-Sutra (1.33, I found out after looking it up). This sutra is advising aspirants regarding how to achieve the ever-elusive state where we have total peace of mind. One translation of one of the directive is to “be happy for those who are happy” or to celebrate others’ successes. The Sanskrit word for this idea, mudita, can be translated as “joy” or “delight.” I realized that’s what I was doing as I clicked on the links to various entries. I was delighted by their work and felt so happy for and proud of them. (The Olympic women snowboarders know this feeling, too.)

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Data analytics, data visualization, cute photos of my dogs, vegan baking tips, bonus colorful language. I’ll probably also rant about healthcare policy, mental health (in general and my own), yoga, and interoperability. NOW DOESN’T THAT SOUND FUN?! YES, IT DOES.

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Nicole Lillian Mark

Nicole Lillian Mark

data visualization engineer at Cart.com | Tableau Desktop Specialist | Tableau Public Featured Author ‘22 | Vizzies ‘22 nominee x 3 | dog mom | vegan | yoga

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