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Burnout

If you’ve lived on planet earth long enough, you’ve been here.

It comes and goes, sometimes varying levels from day to day, week to week.

If you have a spouse, they’ve probably commented concern. If you’re like me, you may have even wondered if you’ll crack and what that might look like.

My understanding comes from my own places of burnout. This isn’t my first run-in with it, either. It also seems like everyone thinks they have “the” answer to preventing burnout or getting out of it. Not “an answer”, but “the” answer. Religious leaders, motivational speakers, HR, friends of friends starting their next career newly minted as a “life coach” on Facebook: these are all mostly well intentioned people and typically claim to know something despite half of them appearing clueless to our own specific situation. Honestly, I don’t think there is a singular answer. From what I’ve seen, it is too unique per individual and circumstance. There may be some common traits, but I think the application is likely too unique. That being said, sometimes it can help to read another’s observations and experiences. Hopefully instead of being blinded by similarities, perhaps a difference might spark a thought in your own journey. Perhaps you’re not the burnt out one: maybe you’re the manager, coach, team lead, or spouse of someone and you’ll recognize something.

In my experience, to understand burnout, you have to understand what makes a person “tick”. Or perhaps it would be better to say, wrapping my head around this topic required first understanding what gives myself the drive to be and act…  me.

I may be one of the most left-brained, logical, strategic-thinking, math-loving, computer-coding males around — but I’m extremely artistic. I’ve been playing piano since I knew what a piano was (“Mom, Dad, what’s that big thing in the dining room?”). Problem solving, math, numbers, and logic puzzles are my bread and butter. I love to create, but in my own quirky way. Coding is a creative puzzle where I try to create an interaction or solve problems that result in a harmonious piece of engineering. Math and music are distinctly and divinely intertwined which results in seeing new worlds of beauty and understanding. Never let it be said that I don’t have even a little bit of synesthesia 😉

Coder I may be, and too much geeky trivia knowledge I have, but these STEM traits do not define what makes me be me. Solution-oriented thinking and problem solving isn’t enough — it isn’t about those things. I want to create things for people to have fun with and enjoy. It isn’t enough to create a singular object or an experience that is single-use only. It is preferable for it to be interactive and able to be repeatedly enjoyed by the audience, preferably with other people. If it helps people do a better job together and accomplish more, great! If it’s more geared towards entertainment like a video game, even better! In fact, if it weren’t for first playing Popeye and Avengers on ColecoVision, Oil Strike and Math Blaster on a 286, NHL 94 with my dad on my grandparent’s Super Nintendo, and Microsoft Monster Truck Madness with my parents on PC — I might not be a computer programmer today. Whether it’s productivity software or video games, these interactions are in the vein of skills I have to draw on that feeds this desire to create interaction and harmony. The major draw is that people leave improved together.

Now, that’s all fine and well, but what does that have to do with burnout and everyone else? Suffice to say, companies go through change. Culture changes, people come and go, processes change, and not everyone pays attention. When people in authority drop the ball, it lands on the smaller people below. That loaded sentence is worth an article on its own. When this happens repeatedly, often it results in several key factors crucial to employee morale that get lost along the way.

Clients. We all end up dealing with them in some form. They’re wonderful! Without them, we wouldn’t have a paycheck! They also can sometimes seem unreasonable, regardless of whether or not it really is unreasonable — we all have our biases. However, this is just part of the job. Everything has a cost, and someone has to pay. Either a client pays or the provider pays. When, for any reason, a client does not pay, the provider must pass the stress and monetary cost down to the employee. When bugfixing software, this is fair enough but only if the employees are given the opportunity and backing necessary to make as good of quality software as can be humanly made. Eventually, most people I’ve come across will want to do a good enough of a job that they can leave it in the past and move on. Others, like myself, will want to be able to take pride in our work. People have a need to feel like what they are doing matters, and that it matters enough to be done decently.

Next up — part 2…