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Ben Link
Ben Link

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The Adventures of Blink #1: What You Allow Is What Will Continue


For the past few years I've intentionally put myself in really tough spots professionally speaking, to force me to think on my feet and to grow. It's a wonderful growth hack if you can live with greater-than-average uncertainty in your life, and (usually) the challenge is what brings me joy. But when I realized I didn't have that joy anymore... well, that's a tough conversation to have with yourself.

I had worked in one traditional IT shop for 12 years, and the combination of "The Return-to-Office Strategy", Pandemic Fatigue, and some family drama & trauma had left me a work zombie, a mere shell of myself who was shambling through meetings, taking excessive time off and still not feeling re-energized, not dead but not really alive... pretty much all the things that my buddy @sturdy5 mentions in his blog post "Hello I'm Sturdy and I'm Burned Out". I reached that point personally sometime last year... and after wrestling with it for a while, my eventual solution was to explore my professional options elsewhere and see if a change of scenery would help.

It did. Oh boy, did it ever.

A couple of months ago, I found myself with a "unicorn" offer in hand. As you might imagine, I made the leap! So for the last couple of months I've been exploring a different way to work.

I don't know how to act

And after more than a decade in a single culture, I'm here to tell ya: learning a new company is the stretchiest, think-on-your-feet-iest thing you can do to yourself.

Don't get me wrong here - I've been unequivocally delighted as I've run around my new work-home like a kid in the woods, picking up rocks to see what's underneath. And every rock I pick up has the most interesting and wonderful things under it.

This is where it got weird for me. I recovered from burnout... practically overnight. Y'all, I've hit the wall before. I know what it feels like. It doesn't just evaporate, you have to slowly recover and build yourself back up. But this time it DID.

How did THAT happen?

I've been thinking long and hard about this. It's challenged everything I knew and believed about burnout. It's made me question advice I gave to others along the way.

How did I recover from burnout so fast?


I've had conversations with friends, family, mentors... and a comment I've made to them as I describe the difference in company cultures is "I don't even know how to act, it's so different". The cultural differences are everywhere for me. I went from a super-traditional well-established business who celebrated their 75th anniversary recently to a Silicon Valley startup that's younger than my daughter. I went from my most recent role in Infrastructure Design to DevRel in a Sales & Marketing org. I'm here to tell you, these two experiences are polar opposites.

In the old job, I expended tremendous energy on trying to help change the culture. It was a sort of pet project for me, to try to get the corporation to accept that there might be another way to be. I'm not having to do that in the new role... the culture is already in place and working beyond my wildest imagination (as well as beyond the belief of any of the folks I was trying to convince in the old job - if they could see what I see now, I'm not sure it would even compute for them!).

So if we oversimplify this a bit, just to talk through the concept:

I have x units of energy to expend on my career. I was spending n units of energy on culture change, where x > n > 1. That meant that to actually do the job I was hired for, I was left with x-n units of energy. Burnout appeared because of a presupposition that n units would be enough to improve the culture so that my remaining x-n would be enough to complete my work effectively. It was an investment I was making in the future, believing that if I do the culture work now I'd be able to benefit long-term by reducing the total amount of energy required to complete my work.

Summarized for those in the back:
Misaligned culture ate my productivity and burned me out.

You were told there would be no math

Ok, Ben, get to the point.

It was stupid hard to get the culture to shift. Culture work in traditional shops gets treated as an afterthought - "you can do that touchy-feely stuff later after the real work is finished."


Misalignment on culture doesn't just mean that your morale takes a hit. It creates organizational friction that directly eats away at your bottom line.

What's even more insidious about this cultural alignment tax is that it's practically invisible to the company. We know what light is because we've experienced dark; but the company is often blind to its weaknesses here.

What's to be done about it?

  • Intentionally Diversify.

If your company only promotes from within, you're going to build GroupThink. Intentionally hire diversely, and intentionally hire people from the outside at many levels of the org chart. You might feel that promoting from within rewards loyalty, and it does... but those external hires are your fresh eyes on cultural concerns - they've seen things in other companies that were good or bad and they can absolutely help you.

  • Ask... and then Act on the responses you get.

If you ask your employees what they want, they'll tell you. Crazy, huh? This of course comes with a caveat - they have to be psychologically safe! Transparency and openness can go a long way toward creating that psychologically safe culture... which then enables you to gain insights from the people who can tell you exactly what needs to be adjusted. And then by all means, DO something with the information you collect! If you ask someone and they give you their opinion, make sure they don't leave the interaction feeling ignored!

  • Make it easier to gain funding for cultural initiatives. Investing is the act of putting something of value on the line in order to allow it to create a return of increased value. If you want to strangle your culture, just tighten up funding.

I get it, I'm writing this on the brink of a recession, and money doesn't grow on trees unless you're the Federal Government. I'm not asking you to break the bank over mini-golf and axe-throwing outings here. I'm asking you to be thoughtful, and to realize that cultural initiatives do directly affect your bottom line; just in a different way. Acknowledge that, honor the differences, and realize that if you get your culture right, you'll find it much easier to handle a lot of other stuff.

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