Countdown to Burnout with Tom Hollingsworth (3/3)

Welcome to episode 127 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we share the 3rd and final part of our interview with Tom Hollingsworth. We’ll share ways to determine if you’re burned out or on the brink, ideas to help recover, and how to set goals so you can avoid burning out.

Original Recording Date: 06-01-2021

Tom Hollingsworth has been the Tech Field Day event lead for about 8 years as part of his role at Gestalt IT after serving as a Network Engineer for many years. Catch part 1 and 2 of our interview with him in Episode 125 and Episode 126

Topics – Signs of Burnout, Grinding Away to Nothing, Closing Thoughts

2:11 – Signs of Burnout

  • Tom wrote some very good blogs recently on burnout.
  • Tom thinks his career change was motivated by burnout and at times felt like he was rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
    • It seemed like resellers were slowly getting pushed out of the picture with companies wanting to sell direct or only rely on large partners.
    • "When you are hitting the ceiling and it feels like the walls are closing in on you, that’s burnout." – Tom Hollingsworth
    • We all have times when we don’t want to work on something, but getting to that point daily, it’s a sign.
    • Burnout isn’t always when you don’t care anymore. Burnout can be when you don’t think anyone else does. When you feel like no one else recognizes your efforts or something you put your heart and soul into, you are there.
      • This means you have put more effort into something than perhaps you should have and that you are running your engine in overdrive.
    • In the last year, we are more burned out than we are willing to admit.
      • It’s the stuff on your to-do list that keeps getting pushed down that you never get to that starts to eat at you.
      • How many times have we been dragged into a task that hit us out of nowhere and had to be completed that day?
      • Tom used to write whenever he wanted, but for the past month he has been putting it off.
      • Pretty soon getting to something later means it’s been on your list for 5 months.
      • People can get to the point where they throw their hands up and walk away from everything (and quit). But the burn out will follow them.
      • The physical toll on someone can be high blood pressure, lack of sleep, etc.
        • "The human body is a wonderful machine. You can run it in overdrive until it falls apart. And you will never know until something happens that you don’t get to walk away from." – Tom Hollingsworth
      • Nick references High Performance Habits and the chapter on energy.
      • Pressure and expectation makes it hard on people pleasers, especially saying no.
        • Tom has learned to tell people he can’t help them right now. A couple of years ago he would just say yes and add the one more thing to his plate…which can lead to burnout.
        • Think of Atlas with the world on his shoulders. Every extra thing steals your time, energy, and attention.
        • If your distractions take all of your energy over your priorities, your distractions are your priorities.
      • Tom likes to go for a run in the morning to build energy and get his mind right to start the day, and he definitely notices when he misses a run.
        • Taking time to relax allows you to work on yourself. If you run out of energy because you are burned out, you are no good to anyone.
        • You can tell when people are not firing on all cylinders.
        • Think of taking care of yourself as billable hours for you and not for your employer.
  • It’s hard to recognize your own burnout. Tom has friends who keep him in check when they see the signs. Not everyone has this.
    • The first instinct we have when things get tough is push everything we can away, including those who would be able to recognize our situation.
    • If someone tells you there is a problem, LISTEN! They probably do see something.
      • Maybe you are distracted when you are supposed to be relaxing.
      • You don’t have to agree with someone when they give you feedback, but you should still listen. They are trying to point out something abnormal.
      • Everyone has a level of pressure under which they can work. We all reach a point where we can’t handle it any longer. Have someone in your life who can recognize when you’ve almost reached that point and can help you stop before the last feather falls.
    • Sometimes stepping away is what we need, even if we feel like we don’t have the time.
    • Accept intervention from others as a gift that is to help save you from yourself.
    • Nick shares an anecdote about being low on energy and trying to record an intro for the podcast compared to when he approached it fully rested.
  • Getting rid of that nagging feeling
    • When studying for the CCIE, Tom would put his kids to bed and then fire up his lab. He knew it was time to go to bed when the Late, Late Show came on CBS (which means 4 hours of lab work had passed).
    • Once Tom passed the exam, he felt unsettled in the evenings. It was a nagging feeling that he should be working in his lab and practicing.
      • You have to acknowledge the fact that your brain is talking to you, but you don’t have to agree with it.
      • If you need to do something that feels productive but helps with self care, download a coloring book or PDF coloring sheet and do some coloring. It is therapeutic and solves the voice problem (the voice telling you that you’re not doing anything).
    • Tom is active in the Boy Scouts with his son and goes camping quite often.
      • He can apply the things he is good at in a different way (the organizing and overseeing).
      • He gives the example of spending some time cooking and having a conversation with others about an upcoming trip.
      • These types of activities are valuable and can help recharge your battery.
      • The other day Tom was told by his boss that he did not take enough vacation, He does take vacation, but he takes it in a slightly different way. People at work don’t understand how being involved in Boy Scouts recharges his batteries (i.e. it isn’t sitting on a beach).
        • You have to find the things that are fun for you.
        • If you’re taking time to recharge from burnout, listen to yourself (not the voice chastising yourself for being unproductive but the one that allows you to take time for yourself).

23:25 – Grinding Away to Nothing

  • It is very easy for people to just keep going. We can’t see ourselves when we’re going too far.
  • If you set a goal for yourself to write 1000 words per day for 30 days, you will have written 30,000 words in a month. That’s a book. It’s important not to write 10,000 words on day 1 and leave yourself with nothing else to do.
  • Set manageable, achievable goals for consistency’s sake.
  • It’s very easy when working out, for example, to decide to do just a little more.
    • There is nothing wrong with doing your workout each day or even stopping short of a distance goal.
    • If you don’t set a goal with an achievable end, you will always push yourself past it.
      • Pushing farther than the finish line works in the short term, but beware grinding away to nothing.
      • Hit the target and feel accomplished. Reward yourself with some downtime.
    • What would happen if you just kept increasing the distance you ran each day but eventually reached the point where your body needed to rest?
  • It’s easy to set goals that are constantly escalating. Eventually you will hit the point of "I can’t do this anymore."
    • Then you don’t stop and reflect. You stop and chastise yourself for missing the mark.
    • We do not stop and examine what we have been doing.
  • A stretch goal should be like a rubber band. Stretch it every once in a while but not to the point of breaking the rubber band.
    • Pick a day here and there to work on the stretch goal.
    • Do it often enough that it feels like a special occasion and pushes you past boundaries but not so often that it adds stress.
  • Tom liked writing blog posts, but when he had to write 8 per week he did not love it as much as he used to.
    • Work is the thing you do all the time that doesn’t feel fun anymore.
    • You have to find little ways to keep the work fun.

30:36 – What’s Next and Closing Thoughts

  • One of the nice things about technology is that it changes so much.
    • How different would his career have been if he had a phone at the beginning to look up information?
    • The jobs he used to do really don’t exist any longer. Tom can whine about things that no longer exist or look for things that now interest him.
      • If he does the latter he can eliminate what does not interest him (like being a storage analyst).
      • As hard as saying no is, fear of missing out is even harder. We need to say no and be ok with not being a part of something and not dwell on it.
      • Listen to Tom’s story about the time he went repelling and how he decided it was not for him.
      • If you have a visceral reaction to something long enough, that is your brain trying to tell you to stop doing that thing.
  • The best career advice Tom ever got was when someone told him he needed to always be in a mode where he was learning things.
    • If you are not someone who wants to crack open a book, investigate a technology, or dig deeper into something you will have a rough time in the tech industry. If you have learned all there is to know, you will find yourself obsolete very fast.
  • The worst career advice was "it’s magic. It will figure itself out."
    • Nothing is magic! Magic happens because dedicated people put their effort into making things work. It may look like magic to you because you didn’t do it.
    • Understand that all magic is just other people working really hard to make something special happens.
    • Nick tosses out some of John White’s previous advice.
    • Successful people are not super successful. They are just really good at picking themselves up after every failure, and they are stubborn.
      • If you know you can get something, keep working at it. Eventually it will look like magic.
      • The magic isn’t pulling the rabbit out of the hat. It’s doing the work to put the rabbit in the hat in the first place and carrying it carefully so the rabbit doesn’t hop out.
  • The easiest way to follow up with Tom is on Twitter. His handle is @NetworkingNerd. And his Batman job is as a vendor vigilante, writing blogs at You can also follow Tom at his Bruce Wayne job (the one that pays the bills) at Gestalt IT or Tech Field Day.
  • Check out Nick’s blog post inspired by this conversation with Tom.

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