For those of us who have been in the industry for a while, and even some that haven’t, there’s a time where you will undoubtedly experience burnout. Now I’m not talking about the type of burnout that makes onlookers excited, fills the air with white smoke, and leaves a nice trail of rubber on the ground, I’m talking about the career burnout. That feeling of mental fatigue, aggravation and disinterest in your work. Do anything long enough and you’re bound to be experience a point where you are just plain old tired and regardless of what anyone else says there’s nothing wrong with it. How you handle it is another issue which I’ll talk about more.
Burnout comes up “around the water cooler” if you will often as most of you may already know. You may be reading this experiencing that feeling now. I myself recently experienced my first truly severe bout of burnout about 11 months ago or so after 11 years in the industry. By severe I mean severe enough that I briefly pondered walking away from IT and not turning back. To add some context, I had recently been promoted about 5 months prior, at a rate faster than anyone else in the company for a few years, my boss at the time worked out a raise much higher than anticipated, I’d received an award for solving a network issue that would’ve cost the company millions had that new service not launched on time, so what was there to complain about right? From the outside looking in I can see how you’d get there, but I just wasn’t happy and couldn’t figure out why.
There were some other inner office issues involving coworkers that I will not divulge happening at the time, and it came to the point where I ended up relocating to the east coast down in Florida. As much as I loved, and I still love Dallas, I thought the burnout was due to living in Texas for the previous six years. Long story short I discovered that wasn’t the cure either, and to my chagrin, only further exacerbated the burnout feeling. So when the opportunity arose for me to relocate back home to my home state of Virginia I took it and I didn’t touch a router or switch for a few months. Literally a few months. I did manage to utilize those few months off to target the source of the burnout, reevaluate some things, start SV Dreams, and before I knew it burnout turned almost instantly to withdrawal. I missed the work, not the circumstances.
If you’re still reading along it’s probably a safe bet that you can relate to what I have described so far in this post and are in what I called my “evaluation phase”. Just the fact that you are in that phase means you still have passion for what you do and you want to solve the problem. Also if you’re reading this and work in network operations I’d like to point you to my post “Networking’s Red Headed Stepchild” and then I’d ask you to come back to this post. Fear not because all hope is not lost. What I found during my “evaluation phase”, the most important part for me, was that it wasn’t the actual work that contributed to how I felt. I love the troubleshooting, learning, and general feeling of satisfaction that I derive from keeping the world connected. However, if it’s anything related to actually performing the job, not the politics and other issues, but actually doing the work, then it may just be time for you to walk away. There are alternate careers you may enjoy that use some of the tools you’ve gained during your time in IT. I’ll detail possible alternatives, including the ones I considered in a separate post.
Consider learning a new skill and carving out a niche within your department, or improving a weakness, adding a new certification or something along those lines. Find a way to reconnect with the work and to challenge yourself and evolve. If you’ve been an architectural (Design) type engineer try a different department, same goes for operations personnel in reverse. Try and move into an engineering role that is more designed based as opposed to break fix. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and find ways to make it about the work.
Office politics getting to you? You’re not alone there either. A hostile and toxic work environment isn’t fun for anyone. I’d advise you to research remote work opportunities, a new company, or something less drastic. Provided you have the expertise and means to do so why not turn that niche you found into your own consulting firm? Becoming your own boss and being free to work with multiple clients is about the best decision I could’ve made, and has afforded me the time to create SV Dreams and truly begin to fulfill my own dreams instead of someone else’s. There are no one size fits all solutions here and throughout the process you must be completely honest with yourself. Do that and it will pass I guarantee it.
An old First Sergeant of mine during my days in the Army used to say “Conflict is good as long as it’s managed” and he was absolutely correct. Manage the conflict within yourself and career to achieve your desired outcome. Find yourself in a situation you don’t like well, thanks to the 401k there’s something you can do about it with relatively no penalty (read no loss of pensions thanks to rollover). Corporations are all about bottom line, as we are too to a degree, but you can never go wrong pursing peace of mind. Don’t let money and fear break you either, because there are plenty of ways to make it with job security and happiness. Take a break if you need it, enjoy life, think about what you really want and then go and get it. Nothing to feel guilty about.
Let me know your plans in the comments and I’ll detail possible alternatives in an alternative post.