A career in IT
It all started when I decided to build a PC back in high school. My rig consisted of a super-fast 450Mhz AMD K6 processor with a Voodoo 3dfx graphics card. I couldn’t get enough of games like Unreal Tournament and Starcraft. Connecting gaming PCs during LAN parties brought on further excitement, so I found myself on a career path in computer networking. IT can be fun, but also overwhelming. Don’t fret. In the last two decades, I’ve learned a few things to reduce stress and manage burnout while working in IT.
As soon as I wake in the morning my hand reaches for my phone. Heck, my phone is my alarm. I open up my work calendar, check my personal Gmail, casually browse social media, and slowly get ready for work. That’s unless I have a super early meeting. From there I find myself glued in front of a computer for hours on end. The day I turned 30 I remember feeling like I woke up with new aches, pains, and the inability to stare at the smaller text without experiencing severe eye fatigue. So yes, I’m that guy with the increased font/icon sizes. Technology has embedded itself into our daily lives and the combination of working in IT can be a killer combo. On top of that, the COVID pandemic has only accelerated these effects for us folks working from home.
Burnout can manifest itself in many different shapes and sizes. In some cases, you’re no longer willing to be the friendly neighborhood/family geek squad. I’ll never forget the time my wife told me, “Aren’t you a network engineer? Then why does our home network SUCK?” To my reply, “Just REBOOT the router.” Note: The crappy router with built-in Wi-Fi had to be rebooted at least once a week. In other cases, things can get much worse. Have you ever finished work in a horrible mood only to find yourself fighting with a family member or having a fit of road rage? I’ve been there. More serious effects of burnout can come in the form of depression, severe anger, and/or anxiety. If you’re already feeling that way, please seek professional help. I’m here to tell you there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. If you had a medical condition arise you would see a doctor and this should be no different.
Lessons and Advice
One of the first things you can put into practice is intentionally blocking time on your calendar. Also, remember to plan and TAKE a vacation. I recently had a college of my remind me of this. You can’t be productive if you’re hangry, dehydrated, or having body aches. Be flexible with your blocks of time and find what works best. Don’t fall into the trap of working 10+ hours a day in fear that you’ll “fall behind”. There’s no such thing. Work will always be there regardless of how much you get done.
Lesson two, find a way to get through your frustrations. I remember reading the Oz Principle a book about accountability and results in the workplace. The book describes, “Falling below the line.” You’re fed up, everything’s a mess, and everyone else is the problem. You may have fallen below the line. Find a positive force you can share your frustrations with. Someone who can lift you up and not tear you down. The last thing you need is fuel added to the fire. My wife is one of my biggest support systems. She constantly reminds me to think of all the positive impacts and interactions I have. If you focus on the negative, you’ll tend to react negatively. I had a high school principal who would give the daily morning announcements and end with this, “If you have a positive attitude, you will have a positive day.” Everyone thought it was funny at the time, but I think he was on to something. Now some situations can arise that do require escalation. No one should ever have to endure harassment, bullying, or any form of abuse in the workplace. So if you find yourself in this type of situation, I’d recommend engaging human resources.
And the best advice I can give is to find a hobby. What do you enjoy outside the workplace? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try or find interest in? Sure I enjoy tech, but I also love going on adventures with my wife and kids. I’m also an Adult fan of LEGO and love the fact that LEGO now has “Adult” sets. And I can’t help diving into random automotive projects. Now depending on the hobby or activity, it can become somewhat expensive. My wife and I remember when we worked on cars just because we couldn’t afford to have someone fix them. Now we get to work on cars together for fun. So choose something that fits your budget. The last thing you need is additive financial stress, which is a topic for another day.
So don’t listen to anyone tell you burnout isn’t real, it’s all in your head, or to just get over it. We’re all human, so it’s OK if you hit a wall. It’s all about what we do when we hit a roadblock and not that we’ve hit a roadblock.
Additional ResourcesThe Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability Purchase on Amazon.com
As always feel free to reach out any time,