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rich_marshall for CTO UK - West Midlands

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Burnout Timeline

Forgive me.. I have two threads of thought concurrently running through my head. They do join up but bear with me..

A little while back I started to write a post about feeling exhausted, tired, uninspired, possibly even burnt out. It was the day after I'd resigned. Over the previous months I'd become depressed, emotional and generally fed up. Work held no interest for me and I needed to rekindle my enjoyment of life.

The day I wrote the post I came to the conclusion that I was burnt-out. Work had been emotionally draining for months on end. The company was running out of money and it was becoming unclear if we'd even be able to pay the next month salary. At the same time I was expected to push the teams to deliver promises made to customers because it was our only revenue stream. On reflection, I don't think it was what is more widely recognised as burn-out but that day I felt a weight lifting from my shoulders and for the first time in months I genuinely felt happy....

Over the past few years I've been acting as a mentor for a very inspiring young gent who seems to have boundless energy. For the sake of this story, we'll call him Dave. Dave had got in touch with me through a bootcamp called School of Code who we both support. He was helping to teach the current cohort and I was helping with some longer term career guidance for the new recruits. When Dave got in touch he asked if I'd be his mentor. I was of course flattered but said at the outset I didn't know what I could do to help but was happy to try, if he was willing.

Our mentor/mentee arrangement seemed to work OK - I'd been given some instructions by someone I'd consider my mentor, though we'd never entered into a formal arrangement, on how we should engage. Above all else, she told me that a mentee should be trying to achieve something and a mentor is there to help guide them to their goal.

Having agreed to a clear objective with Dave and how I could help reach that, we agreed to meet, or at least talk every few months. A few meetings in we were talking about how he was starting to feel worn out, but more concerning how he was doubting himself. I asked what he was doing that was leading to this feeling. Apart from his day job as a developer, he was also working on a side project, and also teaching a day each week at School of Code. He was also keen to shift into a more product oriented role. Wow... So I was just trying to the one full time job - Dave was determined to do 3!

At this point I asked him why he was putting so much pressure on himself "because I want to achieve my objective!". I pointed out how much he was already doing and that struck me as being pretty successful already.

Then I asked him;
"How old are you?"

22 he said :O

And then followed something which I'd paid more attention to myself.

"You're 22. Look at your career as a timeline. You started at 19, 20? Perhaps you hope to retire at 50. maybe 60. many people will need to work until they're 75. Now, look how far you are along your timeline. You've barely started your career! Give yourself a break! I didn't even start to think about my career ambition until I was into my 30s!

Basically, relax, give yourself a break - you're already doing brilliantly. Pace yourself. You need to enjoy your job and your life."

I can't promise this was was exactly what I said, but I know it was close. At the time I said it, it seemed to click with Dave who gave a sigh of relief.

We carried on as mentor and mentee but ended up talking less over the past year. When we did speak again, just recently he mentioned to me that he'd been using that "timeline advice" with some of the people he'd been teaching and mentoring at School of Code, among other places. I'd totally forgotten about it so asked to be reminded. He told me the number of people he'd used it with and how all of them had appreciated the context it gave them and the assurance that they didn't need to break themselves to achieve what it is they hoped for.

I was chuffed to bits to hear that something I'd come up with on the spot was helping him and others and made a note to make more use of it myself in future..

This last conversation happened a few days after I resigned and felt the weight lifting from my shoulders. A few days after that I reflected; why didn't I take my own advice, dammit!?

I came to realise that I'd stuck out the job I was no longer enjoying because I saw it as a stepping-stone or launchpad. Where else was I going to be a CTO at a FinTech, supposedly a prestigious industry? What else was going to help progress my career to the next step? I'd got myself stuck in that "career progression" mindset and I'd totally lost sight of enjoying what I did and importantly my life.

If I'd taken a moment to look at my own career timeline, perhaps I would have seen that I'm also doing OK. That I don't need to get stressed and more importantly, I need to do something I'm going to enjoy.

So you see - the threads do join up, and the result of that is I need to listen to my own advice more.

The other thing I've learned is that there's always a new opportunity out there. I spend most of my professional life encouraging others to embrace change (and get used to the idea that deploying code 20 times a day is both normal and a good thing!). Sometimes I need to believe that myself and believe in myself.

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