Make It Known, Slow Things Down, Don’t Burn Out

Welcome to episode 179 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 discuss what Nick’s been up to while John was on parental leave including some career advice from executive leaders, a burnout revisit, and thoughts on impostor syndrome.

Original Recording Date: 06-25-2022

Topics – Catching up with Nick, Career Advice from Executive Leaders, Almost Burnout, A Disconnected Vacation, The Gift of Feedback, Success and Impostor Syndrome

00:56 – Catching up with Nick

  • In Episode 176 we covered John’s experience with parental leave (planning for it, going on it, and coming back from it). This week we’re going to speak to Nick’s experience during the same time frame (while running the show in John’s absence) and cover two major topics:
    • Career advice from executive leaders
    • How burnout almost got Nick

2:10 – Career Advice from Executive Leaders

  • Nick was in the audience for a panel discussion with a number of executive leaders across HR, sales, and product and engineering teams. He asked one question of the panel – "what is one piece of career advice you would give to people in this audience?" Here are some of the responses:
    • Excel at what you do today, and make it known to your boss that you want to advance in regular 1-1s.
      • Companies have lost talent because not one knew an individual wanted to advance / it was not communicated.
      • If you aren’t doing well and meeting your core responsibilities, that is step 1. Then you have to communicate the desire to advance up the leadership chain.
      • There are people who want to remain where they are and excel in the role for a number of reasons – personal reasons, not wanting to take on added responsibility, work / life balance, really enjoying what they do, etc.
      • It is not a given to a manager that someone wants to move up, advance, or change what they are doing (needs to be communicated). If you are not having a weekly 1-1s with your manager, you need to ask for them.
      • See also Episode 45 on career conversations with your manager to help with the discussion on advancement.
      • Managers can sniff out the people who just want to talk about career all the time without having done the work to justify progression to a higher title or different position.
      • Even if not executing at a high level, it’s ok to communicate to your manager that your long term goal is to is to do really well and then progress.
      • Looking forward too much may cause you to take the present for granted or be less present to enjoy what is happening now. Balance the looking forward and planning for the future with working on the here and now.
    • Another panelist said the greatest growth they experienced was during times when jumping into something new. We should not be afraid to do that. This person liked to make a 3-5 year plan for their career and make decisions based on it.
      • If you are comfortable, you are not growing.
      • Growth involves doing something you aren’t good at yet (kind of the definition of growing).
    • We should remember how much we can learn when we go and do something different.
      • It’s important to remember what it is like to be in the process of growth where you’re not the expert. It helps us show empathy to others going through this same process.
      • This makes Nick think back to Steven Murawski and the mention of the beginner mindset back in Episode 106.
    • Be self-aware enough to know your strengths so that when opportunities open up to do something different you can take advantage and match your strengths to the requirements for a new role.
      • Some of this you may be able to get through feedback (things others see that you do not see in yourself).
      • What is it you are interested in doing? Sometimes that is the same as what you’re good at doing (i.e. your skills) but likely not a 100% intersection.
      • We should recognize what we are good at doing, even if we don’t like to do it.
      • Be aware of skills that may not immediately translate to a job you can think of today. If we think back to Episode 178 with Stephanie Wong, remember she had a background in communications, being a dancer, and digital humanities which eventually led her into developer relations (not something on her radar when she was in school because it did not exist then).
    • Do not assume people know you want or what you need.
      • It’s one thing to make it known that you want to advance, but you may have certain needs in a position you are / want to pursue (more support, help on a project, more space for a personal project, greater flexibility of schedule, etc.). Make a conscious effort to make these known also.
  • This discussion reminds Nick of a recent trip to the Grand Canyon in which he and his family rented bikes to ride up to look out points (in high heat(.
    • The ride started off with a nice downhill coast to the bottom of a rather large hill.
    • It took struggle (sometimes getting off the bike and walking) to get up the hill to the point where everyone agreed it would be wise to turn around. But the best part was coasting down the hill.
    • Perhaps the ride down is like a reward for all the work put in on the way up (i.e. the work to make something new for you possible). It doesn’t mean you won’t be placed at the bottom of another huge hill soon though.
    • You can’t expect your career to be a series of downhill bike rides.
    • When things are made easy for you the payoff isn’t as big.

14:58 – Almost Burnout

  • Nick mentioned in Episode 161 that he really enjoys reading biographies and has continued the trend this year of reading almost exclusively biographies so far in 2022.
    • Nick ended up reading Mellencamp by Paul Rees.
    • Mellencamp suffered panic attacks when he was younger (early 20s). Despite the fact that he stopped drinking, he drank lots of coffee, was a chain smoker, and didn’t get a lot of sleep…leaving him somewhat on edge.
    • Mellencamp demanded a lot from the people be worked with (the band, production team, etc.).
    • He had a great memory for music, which Nick believes may have come from John Mellencamp’s dyslexia.
    • One night as he was becoming very popular, Mellencamp brought the house down and quit the tour. He said he was angry with the fans, holding them responsible for him having to be out there.
      • "I found myself on top…but with nothing there of any interest…or at least nothing I was interested in." – John Mellencamp
    • Nick read the story and thought "that could be me." It hit close to home (the burnout aspect).
    • Mellencamp had been taught to paint at a young age by his mother. When he quit the tour he decided he would tour only when he was ready, converting his garage into a studio for painting.
    • He became hard to reach and would paint for hours, getting distance from the situations. The music started to come back, and he wrote the music he wanted instead of what he thougth w
  • John finds it interesting that these patterns cross industries (not just tech).
    • Being driven forward, very little sleep, lots of stimulants (coffee), and losing the love of the thing – this happens to tech professionals too.
    • Getting called on the weekends, working 80 hour weeks, and getting calls in the middle of the night can all make someone forget why they loved technology in the first place.
    • Mellencamp was pushed to the breaking point. Not everyone is and can stop it before that happens.

19:19 – A Disconnected Vacation

  • Nick went on vacation a few weeks before John’s parental leave started in March, feeling like it was a bad time to be away from work.
  • There were a number of important projects in flight, and Nick was not sure he could take a 100% disconnected vacation.
    • Nick was encouraged to keep the vacation disconnected from work, and he did. Thank you to those who encouraged this!
  • The vacation was great. During that time, Nick listened to The Practice by Seth Godin again.
    • In the book there were excerpts about the practice of morning pages.
  • It was a time of change for Nick and his family.
    • His daughter was changing schools, which required research and discussion.
    • They were trying to decide when to return to in-person worship services.
  • Nick also felt a little overwhelmed at work.
    • He was working late into the night and checking e-mail as soon as he woke up to make sure nothing was missed (back into a bad habit).
  • All these things together made Nick feel like he needed to slow things down so he wouldn’t "quit the tour" one day.
  • John references some episodes that stuck out to him after hearing all this:
    • Episode 82 – Why Vacation Won’t Cure Burnout and Effective Mental Health Days Off
    • Episode 78 – Burnout and Recovery with Josh Fidel
      • Just taking time off didn’t help Josh.
  • We as workers and as members of families and communities need to recognize what burnout is (or evidence of it) – elevated stress hormones, suppressed immune response, lack of sleep, lack of motivation, etc.

23:01 – The Gift of Feedback

  • Without hearing so many stories of burnout on the show combined with the books he read, Nick might not have seen this coming.
  • Nick talked to some people about feeling overwhelmed. The feedback he received was that he need not go straight to using sandpaper (i.e. extreme effort).
    • The spirit of the advice was getting to good enough in certain scenarios and accepting it. You cannot overclock the CPU all the time, or it will overheat.
  • As John describes it, calibrate the level of effort and stress based on the task at hand’s needs.
    • This feedback Nick received was a gift because he was neglecting self-care.
  • Nick shares more detail on morning pages and his experience giving it a try.
    • Each day, write 3 pages about anything you want by hand in a notebook somewhere. Most people do it first thing in the morning, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
    • It doesn’t matter what the pages are about. What matters is that you write them.
    • As of this recording, Nick is roughly 100 days into morning pages. He wrote at least something each day but on a couple of the days was not able to get to 3 pages.
    • Writing like this allows you to let your mind spin on whatever you want (the goal).
    • The pages are meant to be honest and designed to get things out of your head for increased focus and clarity.
    • You will see quickly what is occupying your thoughts.
    • It is ironic that during a time of overwhelm doing something like this (morning pages) can allow you to slow things down so you feel less overwhelmed.
    • The stress and cortisol response was decreased as a result of this exercise and allowed for higher productivity during the day.
    • The practice of morning pages helped Nick to not feel like he was going a million miles per hour inside for a little while.
    • John asks if you’re supposed to go back and read what was written and do some analysis.
      • Some say don’t go back and read it again.
      • Nick says the writing can help clarify something (i.e. an idea, an opinion you hold, motivations for something, etc.).
      • The writing may highlight a bad situation or certain things that drain your energy. It could be a specific incident, a specific process, destructive patterns, etc.
      • Nick advises don’t approach the pages in a way that expects immediate results. Take the process over outcomes mentality we mentioned in Episode 19.
      • The benefits are gained by following a process, creating structure and safety.
    • John has heard about the practice of freewriting and feels morning pages may be a variation of this.
      • Freewriting requires that you start writing and then you don’t stop writing, even if there is no new thought in your head. Over time you get down to the ideas in your head.
      • To Nick this sounds like what Ben Folds said in his biography, A Dream about Lightning Bugs, about turning on the brown water and letting it run so you can get to the clear water (a process to get to a good idea by being willing to write down ones you feel are bad).
        • This separates the editing from ideation process.
  • Nick tried to combine morning pages with getting more sleep (or trying to), especially after speaking to Evan Oldford about prioritizing sleep in Episode 173.
    • And he tried to get more activity (taking walks, etc.).
    • Getting more distance from our work is important for all of us.
    • Maybe you have a specific shutdown routine and set a boundary like not going into a specific room, for example. Not everyone has the luxury of leaving the room where they work to get distance.
      • One boundary could be not checking e-mail after a certain time until the next morning.
      • This may have something to do with managing notifications and interruptions. See also our Deep Work series starting with Episode 141 and ending with Episode 147.
  • Nick believed this process has helped him pull back a little bit. There is a little bit more of a boundary he’s working to hold.
    • John says the amount of stress and anxiety you have about something is not correlated to how effectively you are working at the thing.
    • You can de-stress and lower anxiety levels and me more effective, and that’s ok.
    • Adding one more thing to your day that could take 30 minutes or more is a barrier for people. Saying they need to write by hand is yet another.
    • Writing the pages is also a time to avoid distractions if at all possible (no getting interrupted by your phone and maybe even putting it in a separate room, etc.).
    • Not everyone has to be good at things. Not everyone has to do things that improve themselves. Not everyone has to advance their careers. We are here to talk about techniques out there to help people do things better, which involves effort and work and sometimes additional tasks.
      • Neither John nor Nick will say this is easy.

39:13 – Success and Impostor Syndrome

  • Nick also read Petty: The Biography by Warren Zane.
    • Even though he was not somoene who liked to party, Petty got deep into drugs and deep into depression.
    • There is a craftsmanship element to what musicians do.
    • Think about being someone who wants to break into the music industry and then gets very quick fame (i.e. hit record catches on well).
    • There is a cycle of writing, getting help with production, releasing and promotion of an album, touring (which could be 18 months), and then you are on the hook to turn out a new album.
    • No one teaches you how to deal with that kind of success.
    • Think about an artist who has a platinum record but doesn’t have the next album do well (too much pressure). There is impostor syndrome lurking here.
    • Trying to duplicate success for technologists can often times create impostor syndrome and a desire for perfection.
    • We feel there is a similar trope for technologists as for musicians – you had your whole life to build up skills to get to this position and have 2 performance cycles to advance to the next level.
    • You have to deal with your own success. Maybe it’s a bigger environment or more influence.
    • When we reach what is for us amazing levels of success, we don’t often say "ok, I’m there" and enjoy it like Don Jones indicated at the beginning of Episode 138.
    • This (impostor syndrome) is a fascinating pattern that crosses industries. We need to be better about recognizing these, but they sometimes get ignored.
      • People think their impostor syndrome is special.
      • The beginner mindset allows you to be ok with what is happening and that you don’t know everything right now, which may make it harder to fall into impostor syndrome.
      • Take joy in the early stages of learning, of discomfort if you’re able, and it becomes more difficult to get overwhelmed. Discomfort may indicate growth.
  • Notice Nick did not talk much about running the podcast while John was away. He does not feel like that in and of itself was a stressor like other things, but it was a time pressure.
    • For Nick, spending time on the podcast is a form of craftsmanship, almost like therapy.
    • There were some times when he wondered if he would have time to finish getting an episode release. But he wasn’t willing to let it drop.
    • Sometimes it’s a million paper cuts that can bring us down.
  • Check out Nick’s blog post on adopting morning pages and his post on stories of burnout.
  • Nick says Jonathan Frappier was right in Episode 132 when he spoke about riding the burnout wave.
    • Nick didn’t know he would need the advice at the time, but he knows he needed it now!
    • Part of the reason we do show notes is so people can refer back to episodes and topics for help when they need it.
    • Maybe John should make tags more easily accessible on the Nerd Journey site (in addition to the search box)?

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