Playing: 4: Burnout with Tae'lur and Lee
In this episode, we talk to Tae'lur Alexis and Lee Warrick about their experiences with burnout.
Tae’lur Alexis is a front-end engineer, technical content creator, and keynote speaker. She also founded CodeEveryday, an online platform providing developers with access to learning resources, mentorship opportunities and job opportunities.
Lee Warrick is a web developer and co-host of the TechJr podcast. Before pursuing a career in web development, he was a firefighter, paramedic, and critical care nurse.
In this episode, we'll be answering three questions:
- Can you tell us about your experience with burnout?
- Are there particular signs and symptoms that warn you that you’re getting burned out?
- What advice would you give to someone struggling with burnout?
Hello everyone and welcome to Fullstack Health, the podcast exploring mental and physical health in the tech industry. I'm Amberley.
And I'm Kurt.
In our last episode we talked about burnout with Myk Bilokonsky and Dr. Mimi Winsberg. In this episode, we'll be diving into our own experiences with burnout and then chatting with two other tech folks about their personal experiences with burnout. So, Kurt, what has your experience been with burnout.
So I've actually dealt with burnout a multitude of times, even just since I've been in tech, I dealt with burnout before tech as well, I didn't really know what that was, or like, have a term for it. But I'm really just going to focus on technology. So for me, I can think of like three direct times where I hit burnout really hard.
So the first one was my first I guess, like what I'll call major development job, like the first one in New York City, you know, working for this agency, and they're like doing all these e commerce sites and, and like blogs and stuff like that. But it was really terrible. It was like a developer mill, like, you know, people would come in and get worked into the ground until they couldn't take it anymore, and then they would leave. So I worked there for about a year. And I just like, couldn't cope with it anymore is really bad. I was commuting almost two hours, each way to work. And then working like eight to 10, sometimes 12 hour days. So it was just like extremely physically draining as well as mentally. And I just remember, just like hating the idea of sitting down in front of a computer and writing code. It's funny I, this time, I still had like an interest of things outside of work. But anything that was work related, just felt like such like a tear, terrible thing to be doing. So you know, at that time, also, I didn't really know it was burnout, or how to deal with it.
So I actually just switched jobs, like I found, I started looking for new jobs, and I found a new job. And it's interesting, because it took me so long to ramp up with a second job. And what I realized now and didn't then was that, like, really, I was still affected from burnout. And it took me a little while to get over that. Most recently, I got burnout in a different way, not from writing code. But when I was at Major League Soccer, I was working as engineering manager like tech lead on the UI team. And there was a lot of their internalizing tech MLS at the time. And so there was like a lot of processes in place that were counterproductive to internalizing the tech and like building an engineering team. Like a lot of practices that just didn't fit with the way work is done. A lot of times this stage, so like, from that standpoint, I wasn't I didn't get burnt out on the code. But I actually did just get burnt out on like constantly having to like battle and fight for the engineering team just to get like good processes in place. It was very draining. And while I feel like I was super successful in it, it just like definitely took its toll. And that affected me a lot more than I thought.
And actually after that I went to Gatsby, but I like slipped into a really big bout of depression through 2018. And I think like a lot of what that off was that burnout. And so yeah, it was just, you know, those are my most recent, I guess, or like biggest experiences with it. I've hit like micro burnouts, as well, where I just have to, like, take a couple days and not look at a computer. But those two had like serious impact on me. You know, so like, what about you have you have you really experienced like some heavy burnout?
Yeah, it's funny that you mentioned that there were three, three main times that you've had it because for me, there are three main times that I can think of also. And it was funny to talk to me about you know, she said, evaluating whether something else is at the at the root of what's manifesting is burnout is what she considers, like, I consider two of the three in hindsight to be almost complete -- almost 100% associated with depression, rather than, like, workplace-burnout related. You know, not not caused by work stress, like I was actually I think, pretty, pretty lucky to be at the in the positions that I was in at the time when it was happening.
But one of them though, is definitely, definitely work related. And I was managing clients and client projects and agency and the demands pronounced up emails were non stop, the stress was nonstop. And at the time, I had done some web development on my own, like, I built static sites and managed WordPress sites and all that at a nonprofit beforehand. But I didn't really have any engineering experience. And so I was constantly put in, like in hindsight, what are like terrible situations where I was responsible for handling, making decisions and handling situations that like I was really ill equipped to handle. And not to go into details. But that was absolutely the most the most stressful work experience I've ever had. And I would literally go to sleep and like I don't, I don't normally dream. I don't know if that's weird, but I don't really have dreams that I remember. And through that time working at this place, I would dream almost every night, I would dream, a normal work day, it was like I would go to work and have a work day. And then at night, I would go to sleep. And I would have a work day. And I would wake up and do it all over again. And it wasn't anything like Oh, the client turned into a monster. And then, you know, like some kind of fantastical like dream sequence. Yeah, literally just dreaming of work day and then going to work. So it just, it just felt like I felt like I did nothing else for a year.
And so it was it happened to be during that experience that I decided I wanted to do a code boot camp. Because I didn't want to manage projects, I wanted to build things. And I ended up so desperate to leave that I actually gave notice six months earlier than I had planned to I plan to like pick up restaurant work while I was prepping for the boot camp. And they convinced me to stay, which lasted about three months. And then I get noticed again, and then just focused on moving and preparing for the boot camp. But yeah, those those are, those are kind of my my main experiences with I don't I don't feel like it's probably useful to talk about my, the other two that are more depression related. But that's my work. Related one. Um, and it's funny because I haven't really experienced burnout in the tech industry, per se, like post doing the boot camp doing dev 100% dev jobs. I feel like I've been really lucky so far to work at places that have a good, good balance.
But, to me... We're going to talk about experiences burnout, and then signs and symptoms and hindsight since we've experienced that kind of worn, that we're dealing with burnout or getting burnt out. I noticed that when it's depression related, that men have Yes, and needing to be alone a lot more. Like, when I was going through a depressive episode a couple years ago, while I was working in tech, and I was actually working remotely for a team that was mostly on site, I would just have to lie down for like five minutes in the middle of my work day, just to keep going. And just being more reclusive and not wanting you know, the whole thing about like, do not enjoy the things that you used to love. And it's Yeah, you just don't want to do anything you used to really like to do or spend time with folks. And then knowing things are on my to do list that are totally doable, but just not being able to bring myself to do them. Like just, it's a huge effort to get anything done.
But then, when it's work related, the signs for that... Just being that my main experience was that one with the agency, dreaming about work, apparently. And just zero energy or motivation for work, which bleeds into zero energy or motivation for things outside of work. It's nice for you that you were able to still keep some energy and motivation for things outside of work. But I definitely definitely did not experience that zero personal investment in what's happening at work or the outcome of what's happening at work, but at the same time just feeling this totally disproportionate level of stress and anxiety about what's going on around you. And just No, no rest, like no downturns in that, it's just constant.
But are there for you, are there any particular signs or symptoms that sort of warn you that you're either getting burned out or that you're already like total burned out?
Yeah, hundred percent. And it's funny because like, while I did, while I was able to maintain some energy for things outside of work, like I do notice that when I am starting to burn out, I like I have a hard time, like you said, like executing on anything. And then that sort of transfer over to my life as well. Because I'm so I get so burnt out and then I get anxious, right? Like, especially if like work is piling up and I need to get things done. But I keep putting it off. Because I'm having a hard time executing, then that's all I can think about. And so then at that point, it's almost like anxiety, right? And so then I it starts to affect everything. I'm like, Oh, I need to work. Like I can't do this stuff at home, and then I just end up doing none. Like I'm not doing the stuff I should be doing at home. And I'm not doing my work. That is definitely--
It becomes like this guilt driven, vicious cycle.
Yes. Yes, hundred percent, exactly what it feels like, yeah, and so then you just get stuck in this cycle where you just can't move almost right. So I do notice that I also notice that when I start to get burned out, like just that my attention span, the time of that starts to drop. Whereas like when I'm good in a good place. You know, if I'm really working on something, I can probably be there for a few hours, right without really any distractions. But when I'm starting to burn out, like I'm on Twitter a lot more, or I'm watching YouTube videos about programming instead of actually programming. You know, and like, I'll start to procrastinate. So that's also another sign. And as far as when I'm in burnout, for me, that is really just like when I just dread being in front of my computer. And sometimes you know, when it's real severe that might be doing anything. But sometimes it might just be work related stuff that I'm birds out on. And, yeah, just just like, once I know, like, generally, that's what happens. Like I don't catch, it's easy to like hindsight is 2020. It's easy to look back and say these are the symptoms, but I'm not that great at catching them all the time, because I have had burnout multiple times, which means I tend to get into it before I even notice.
Yeah, like you're too close to even see it.
Yeah, yeah. So really, once I know, I stopped executing on things, and I'm not really in front of my computer, or if I am I'm not like actually working, then it's time. And so what I do is like once I catch that, there's like a couple things that I try to do like one if I feel like I'm sliding into burnout, and then things I'll do if I'm in burnout. So if I'm already in burnout, and like I catch it, and I notice it, I do two things. One is like I try and like either take a couple personal days or something that like takes the pressure off. So I don't have to do it, I don't have to focus on anything. And I try to fill my time with something completely separate. And that tends to help a decent amount. But like, I have to be careful because I tend to like look at burnout is like a pendulum, right? Like you really want like almost no swing, so you're like not burned out. And then you're also not not doing anything that you're supposed to because you're burned out. So you don't want to like touch computers for months. So it's like hard, I try to find that balance. So like, what I do to do that is like start with little tasks. I'm like, you know what, I'm going to, like clean out my email, like, you know, something, like, just go through, delete old emails respond to things, it's like little actions, then I'll make like, a to do list as like a couple little things in a bigger thing. And most people will tackle the big thing first and do the little ones. But when I'm like this, I do the little ones. And that kind of like gets the ball rolling. It's like that saying like, don't wait for the motivation, just move in, the motivation will follow. So I kind of like try to, you know, use that and just take like baby steps getting back into it, trying to get back in full swing. Other things I do to avoid it is like I've really focused on work life balance, and like managing my time and having things that I do outside of work. So I used to like code for fun a lot side projects and stuff, but I really don't anymore. I do a couple like to learn or get deeper, maybe experiment with a new technology. But like when I'm not coding for work, I'm generally doing something with a family, or like working out or skateboarding or like something that, you know, takes me away from a computer for a while. Um, what about you? What do you do when you're hitting burnout?
I think very similar. You know, if you notice that you're getting into that cycle, just find any way that you can get some business dance and reflect and try to focus on things that matter outside of whatever. Whatever you're burning out on. Most cases, when we talk about burnout, it's work related, but you know, really, whatever, whatever's burning you out. And then sort of adjacent to what you're talking about, about to do lists like reflecting and reevaluating your goals. Like if you're not in a good place. And you're setting goals for yourself that are like, more aligned with when you're firing on all cylinders and sort of operating at your best, then you're going to set yourself up to feel disappointed with what you accomplish. So you know, reflecting on the goals that you're setting for yourself and the things that you're trying to get done and taking stock and making maybe more creating more accessible goals. Do you know I mean?
Yeah, no, that's a really, really good way to, like, look at that approach.
Yeah, because if you if you set it too high, then no matter how hard you work, or how much you're trying to pull yourself out of it, if you always feel like you're failing, like, I know, that's never going to help me get out of it. So like you said, starting with the couple of tiny things on your to do list, just to get that momentum rolling, it's sort of the opposite side of the same coin. It's sort of what you almost exactly like what you're talking about. And then in the case of being like 100%, fully burned out. Like in this case, when it was a work situation for me. Like in that case, luckily, I was in a in a place where I had the flexibility to quit. And in hindsight, still thinking about it, I really don't know what I what I would have done different. I don't think there's anything I would have done differently. It was just truly a damaging environment. And despite trying to work to change some of the, you know, factors in that setting that were causing that damage, you know, nothing was changing or getting better. And I don't think that anyone should jump to quitting. But I don't think it should be stigmatized, either. Like sometimes after you've tried everything. That Yeah, that's sometimes really all. They're all that's left.
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes you need a new environment, you need to take yourself out of that environment. I mean, it helped me in my first time, like I was talking about when I was at that one agency, it was, it was bad. And like, again, I don't know what I could have done there. That would have made it much better other than the thing.
Right? Yeah, exactly. And it's not it's not that I didn't try. It's not that you didn't try and see, one year seems like the magic number for stuff. Like I feel like when I you said a year and for me at this agency, it was a year. And I feel like when most people talk about it, it tends to be like a year. But that seems to be like the max.
Yeah, I think because for me, at least I was like, Oh my god, like I've been here a year. Do I want to do another year of this? That's what I asked myself.
Yeah. So yeah, that that's what I would say about when it's like, work related or, like, related to what's around you. But again, I really think two of my biggest burnout phases, I really mostly attribute to depression. So in that case, you know, getting the help and support that you need, like I got through some of those burnout periods that I now attribute to depression on my own without getting help. But I do a lot better now that I have more help managing it, and then I'm more aware of it. So you know, not being like, Oh, you know, I can pull through this and get through it on my own. It'll be harder, it'll take a lot longer. You can, you can maybe do it. But it's good. It's good to get to get help for that. And I definitely benefit from that. So that's what I would say, in terms of handling dealing with burnout or getting burned out.
So, well, let's dive into our chats with. First we'll be talking to Tae'lur Alexis, who is a front end engineer, technical content creator, and keynote speaker. She also founded code every day, which is an online platform that provides developers with access to learning resources, mentorship opportunities, and job opportunities.
After that, we'll talk with Lee Warrick, web developer and co host of the tech Junior podcast. Before pursuing a career in web development. He was a firefighter, paramedic and critical care nurse. Also, just to know, we talked about some of the stresses from his earlier careers, including interactions with patients talking about hospice, in a couple other things. It's nothing graphic, but just letting you know, it does get a little heavy for a second, but you should enjoy it all the same.
Yeah. All right. We're really excited to talk to them. So let's, let's get first hear from Taylor.
Alright, awesome. So thank you so much for being here with us today. Taylor. Was there anything that you wanted to add to that intro,
I'll be giving a free webinar on intro to Gatsby, where I'll also be providing accessibility tips and tricks along the way, so they can sign up on code everyday.io to stay tuned for that date on that.
Awesome. This is it's really cool. I'm gonna sign up as well.
I'm personally very excited for that. Yeah.
I always need the accessibility tips. That's like an area that's a little lacking for me. Yeah,
That's a topic I've become like very passionate about over time. And I've been giving a lot of talks on it on improving like this estimated, like you react apps and a little bit in React Native as well. So
Very cool. Seen a lot of that on Twitter, you talking about that? And a lot of the stuff that you're putting out, how did you get interested in that?
Yeah, I'm always curious.
Um, so there was this woman that I met at my first tech conference that I attended, and that was CascadiaJS. In Seattle. It was last November, and I met this woman named Marcy Sutton, who's the, you know, the Head of Learning at Gatsby and --
My co-worker, on my team!
Um, I thought she was a really, really cool like, she just like, embrace me, because I'm, I was giving like a talk. Well, I was part of someone else's talk. And the person, Glenn Block, he was giving a presentation on mentorship. And he had invited me on space on stage to give a, I guess, like a background on how I got into tech as a way to inspire people. And then like, after I got the stage, like, she like hugged me, and she was like, so nice. And I was like, Oh, wow. And, um, I learned like more about what she was doing. And that's how I was introduced to developer advocacy and accessibility was from her. When she explained like, what she was doing, and I was like, Oh, this is something I can really be interested in. Number one with developer advocacy, I was very interested in being able to, like create content for a living that gala help people. Especially like, for instance, if I were to, like, share, like work for like, a product or something. And my goal was to be like, to help other developers use that tool well, and being able to, like improve like documentation and also, Okay, sounds like really, really cool. And then sensibility part. I was, I became interested in that, because I've always kind of wanted to combine, like, my love, like human rights with like, taken away. And so being able to kind of advocate for like users who have disabilities, they became a strong interest for me. And so that's what I've been like studying and like, you know, just improving and getting better at when there's like a bunch of people that I follow on Twitter, one named like codeability, or E.J. Mason. Like, they always give like a lot of like, really good advice on accessibility, like how you can improve that. There's also of course, Marcy Sutton... other names are escaping me right now. Oh, there's also Tatiana Mac. She's really, really cool. I love the way she tweets. She's very poetic, as she like, you know, provides like her like thoughts and opinions and everything. And so that's how I got into it was following people and seeing like, was they're doing, you know, also how kind they were? That really was very, it made it seem very, like inviting, you know, so
Everything you said, makes my heart sing. I agree with everything you said. So,
Switching gears just a little bit. And as we're talking about Twitter, something else is I believe, recently, I saw you tweet out that you were, like, burned out, like maybe just a little bit, but you were like, Oh, I think I'm hitting burnout. So that was like a great lead into our topic. And I was just wondering if you would mind telling us a little bit about your experience with burnout.
So my experience of burnout is a very interesting relationship. And it all started like when, like when I start learning how to code and when I was learning how to code that was back in, like 2017, I would say about like, mid 2017. So when I really started, like learning how to code or web development, and, um, I was balancing my working my full time in retail and fast food, and then like, I would go home. And, you know, after that eight hour shift, I would be spending like another eight hours, like literally just studying and just taking courses and doing tutorials and everything. And because I took the self taught route, like I didn't have the structure of like a boot camp or CS curriculum, you know, someone like my own curriculum in a way. And I didn't know what I was saying, because I'd had like, no exposure to computer science when I was like, you know, at any age at all. So I was like, 21 months learning this, I did not know anything else, like, oh, gosh, I don't even know where to start. And so I just kept like, taking all these, like, different courses and tutorials. And that was kind of like just finding my way through. And, um, you know, I, yeah, I hit burnout, like, straight up, because I was so hungry and like, driven, you know, so it's like, transition into like, a different career, because I was so tired of like, where I was, and, you know, I just became like, so passionate about hitting that goal and about, like, building those projects and everything. And I'm like, oh, gosh, and then like being self taught, it's like, I have to have like a, you know, a solid portfolio and everything. And I'm having like, good resume, but like, how can I have a good resume want to have like, no experience? Right? And so that's when I took on, like an unpaid internship on top of that.
Yeah. And, you know, it was like unpaid internship, it was like, in downtown Orlando, Florida. And it was like, for a, I think it was a nonprofit or something, it was some kind of marketing agency. And I'm trying to like balance, I'm trying to get that experience and everything. And I was also a fatal flaw, which I want to like point out to people, especially those who are, like new to coding is that I would compare my strengths to others, like on Twitter and everything, I always see, like, Oh, this person got a job. You know, like, Why couldn't I get a job? Like, in three months, you know, maybe I'm not working hard enough, you know, and so, I'm being like, harder myself, and not allow myself to, like, be human. It's take breaks, like, that's the lead to burnout. And it led to me like, hating the idea of even like, opening up, like, my sublime editor, you know, and it made me Yeah, you know, I don't want to like learn anymore, I don't want to create another function like, and it's taking, like months to actually get rid of that.
And so, I hit burnout again, recently, because I'm, I've been like freelancing, and like, I have, like, I guess, like, more time, like, in my schedules, but like, I kind of like, overdid it by, like overcommitting. And so like, conference talks, and like, it was just so stressed was like a freelancer, like, you know, it's like a force even go to Congress, especially the ones like where they wouldn't, they don't provide like travel or, like laws that ever some kind of like, you know, find different clients, you know, what I mean? I'm trying to, like, get, like, different projects done. So then I can, you know, be able to afford to go to these conferences and everything. So like, that's what led to like burnout, because I just kept like, kept forcing myself and pushing myself but like, I realized, like, in a way, that drive is a really good thing by just have some just, like, learn how to, like, learn, like that solid balance, you know, like not to, like overdo it. Because like, that's, you know, like, the initiative that have and the ambition that I have, like, that's, you know, those are great things. I just have to learn how to not, I guess, how would I put it? I guess, I have to, like, learn to like, take myself Kelly more seriously. Right. So that's the balance.
Yeah. Can you say more about this, I was completing, like, with, like, learning, like, the different frameworks or something, or?
But getting back to burnout, we could talk about so many things for so long. I wish we had to talk but getting back to burnout. And you started talking about this a little bit earlier. But you know, you mentioned not wanting to open up your code editor and stuff like that. Are there any Are there other particular signs and symptoms that warn you that you're on your way to getting burned out, or that you're fully burned out?
Oh, boy, um, when all you can think about is like, how you need to code but like, you think of it in a negative way. Um, like, when you're like, just, I because I noticed, like, with my friends, or whatever, we could just be like having like coffee or something. And like, all they can think about is, like, how like they have to code and everything, because like, there's certain deadlines to have some me and like, there's like, the pressure and everything. That's definitely a sign of burnout. For sure.
Um, just like, when you feel like anxious about coding and everything. When you dread the idea of coding, those are definitely big signs that you need to take a break. And when you get like overload of information you like study and why research like too much, and you're learning so many different, like technical concepts, and you're trying to like, grasp and consume it all. You know, that doesn't work for everyone. And you should really starts like, you know, pace yourself. Sure. And also, like, I think a key thing to like, know, or to like have is, like effective time management. Being able to, like manage your time is like really, really important. And if you're not able to, if you just kind of like operate like out of like spontaneity like, and without any kind of like order or sensation in your mind, like, I'm back to leave, so you like overdoing it for sure.
So you actually just touched on this a little bit, but it would you have any other advice, aside from that, that maybe you want to give to people who are either struggling with burnout or you know, think they might be experiencing burnout.
Yeah, those are great tips.
Yeah, that's great. And that's, I agree, that's totally my number one is what you said before about, you know, you met, you said two things that I think can be difficult to reconcile four people early on, you said about having like a structure for yourself and what you want to learn and like sort of goal setting, but then also not being like too stringent with your goals. So like, setting setting goals, but then like not judging yourself so harshly based on, you know, where you land and accomplishing those things. It's more about like, Okay, this was the goal, I said, and this was sort of, I was sort of off the mark in terms of what I thought I could accomplish. And this is actually what I got done. So instead of being mad at myself, I'm gonna like this, take that information, and reflect and sort of move the goalposts and like, make a new plan that maybe, is just based on information. And now you have more information about the amount of time it takes you are where you are in your learning.
So being focused on like you said, like 20 lessons a day, versus taking in that new information and changing your expectations of yourself and constantly re evaluating your goals based on what's going on. That's that's exactly how I think of that. I think that's great advice. Thank you.
Um, well, thank you so much for talking to us about about this topic. I think this resonates with a lot, a lot of people. Is there any anything you want to share in closing, before we wrap up?
Um, alright, never compare your journey to other people. Like, there's no way that you can replicate someone else's success or their journey. And any obstacles that you are going through right now. They're really like when you like, look back on them. Because you will get past those like obstacles when like, look back, you'll like small and you'll be so happy that you like survived and you went through it. So if you go through periods of white burnout, be having anxiety about like technical interviews, or about learning like a programming language, just know that you're not alone, and that you'll get through it. So that's what I want to leave people with.
That is great advice to end on.
Yeah, that's perfect. Thank you so much.
Yeah, thank you, Taylor.
Alright, so thanks for joining us, Lee. It's a pleasure to have you here. And before we get started, would you like to take a moment and introduce yourself any further? Or do you have anything you want to add?
Yeah, not much to add. Like I said, I'm a firefighter paramedic nurse, that became a developer. So I did that for about seven or eight years, before getting into developer development, and then kind of have dealt with burnout there, and also as a developer, and have tried to learn some lessons from it.
You know, I forget where we were you and i, you and I connected with your podcast, the tech Junior podcast. But I can't remember why initially, we started talking about burnout. And I thought it was so interesting, your experience and your sort of pre dev life that you had with burnout, because it's so prevalent in the healthcare industry.
Yeah, I think you mentioned it in passing when you were talking about the show. And it's something that's very important to me, because I feel like it's something that I constantly have to check myself for. And I just really saw a lot of, you know, lives kind of goes south, because of things that I guess could have been preventable. Maybe a family had checked in, or if the person had been kind of self aware enough to say like, Whoa, maybe I should kind of stop what I'm doing and take a look at my situation and kind of feel out where I'm really at emotionally and kind of physically. So I think there's there's a lot of exploration that kind of needs to be done in this space, because people just kind of, Oh, yeah, whatever, I can deal with it. I'm tough. You know, they kind of brush it off. So I really want to kind of fight that as much as possible.
Yeah, the whole, I'm tough I can handle it is the tough thing to fight.
Yeah, absolutely. Notoriously, firemen are all you know, there's a lot of ego involved. So they're, they're big, tough guys, they run into burning buildings, we go where you're scared to go kind of mentality first and last out all that stuff. So when it comes to talking about like, stress and dealing with the job, it's it can be a really hard environment to find yourself in, because there's so much like machismo involved,
And sort of stigmatized to talk about,
Yeah, and they have a lot of systems in place to deal with that. But they're just so underutilized, because of the attitudes that are involved. So they've got like, you know, CISM, like stress debriefing type of meetings that you're supposed to have, whenever you run a--
Can you define CSIM, for us really quickly?
It's a, I believe it's critical incident stress management, if I'm remembering correctly, but basically, it's just kind of a debriefing where everybody gets together and talks about it. And I mean, that kind of happens informally, sometimes after a call. But a lot of times, you just go back to the fire department, like back to the station, and you just kind of move on with your life. And you certainly can't take it home and talk to your family about it. Because you're dealing with a lot of heavy things. And you know that you can't bring that stuff home and talk about graphic details and all that stress, because your family doesn't really want to hear it. And a lot of times they can understand it. So
I actually, yeah, I, my best friend is a actually a police officer. And we have started that balance of like, what he can talk to me about and what he can't talk to me about. And there's certain things that like, you can only talk to other people who are dealing with the same thing or with a medical professional or Yeah, friends and family and relation to that line of work, it can be a tricky balance.
Yeah, definitely. So when I was in the fire department and working as a nurse, obviously, there was a lot of stress involved, critical care dealing with patients. But then on top of that, like a lot of weird hours, and not a lot of time to de stress on shift. Because like, while you're clocked in, there's no period where you're like, Okay, I'm safe, I don't have to worry about running a call or dealing with a patient or anything like that. Even when you would take a break, like to go to lunch, as a nurse, there was, you know, you had like a pager or phone or something or radio with you. And you were like constantly monitoring for somebody, like, oh, man, things are going south, you need to come back. So it like long periods of kind of being switched on, or, like fully alert is very difficult to deal with.
Yeah, that's mentally and emotionally taxing, like just sort of existing at that level of awareness and sort of preparedness, I can imagine...
Right. And so because of that, like, for instance, as a firefighter, when the tones go off the station, you know, BBB timer in a call, you can actually get like a real big jolt of adrenaline. And you can, at least I could I could taste it whenever the tones would drop. And so, because of that sort of thing, like, you know, the tones can drop it anytime, you know, all day all night. A lot of firefighters struggle with sleep problems. struggle with heart disease, there's just a lot of ailments that kind of go along with that. And it's really hard to deal with that in that profession. Because they have stuff like things like the fire department is 150 years of tradition impeded by progress and silly stuff like that. So there's a whole culture around, like, don't change, you know, keep doing what we're doing. But then at the same time, like we're dying, and, you know, we're in poor health because of it so
Well, you've done quite quite a lot of quite a lot of things firefighter, paramedic, critical care nurse, can you tell us about your various experiences with burnout?
Yeah, so I mean, I've had personal experience with it, where I've been burned out myself. And I know that I've got certain symptoms that manifest for me. But then, as a whole, like the profession, I've worked with a lot of people that have been burned out. And so I kind of can see that and others. So just, you know, in general, working as a nurse, sometimes you'd be taking care of patients, and you get a patient that's like a retiree, they would have like back problems and alcoholism and all kinds of stuff. And, you know, sometimes you just say, Hey, would you do for a living, and they'd be a healthcare worker or something. So it's, it's very, it's very taxing. But then on top of that, you know, just your, your, your co workers that are still working, you know, they would talk about for instance, let's say they work night shift, okay, I'm going to get off, you know, shift at seven o'clock in the morning, and then brag about, I'm going to go to the bar and drink, you know, a bottle of wine or something. And, you know, people would giggle or whatever. But, you know, to me, looking back on it, that seems very disturbing, because, you know, you shouldn't have to deal with your job by going and drinking. But that's such a common thing like self medicating. To deal with stress that it's just kind of brushed off. And, you know, that's terrible, I've done it myself, like I get off shift, and then go have a beer or something. And that's, it's not a good practice to be in. Aside from that, I've seen a lot of anger and frustration and kind of outburst from co workers. So working in the hospital, for instance, people would deal with a lot of difficult patients. And, you know, on top of that, you'd kind of get in both directions. So you'd be dealing with a difficult patient, but then have to deal with medical staff or the patient's family. So like doctors yelling at you about, you know, medications being overdue or something, and, you know, you're busy with other patients that are very demanding. So there's, there's a lot of getting pulled in different directions. And so you'd see people like going into the meditation room, which is just a locked, quiet environment. And just like crying, or screaming or cussing, or, you know, all sorts of things like that. And also, you would think people, mistreat patients, cassette patients, neglect them, things like that, because they could not, like mentally deal with it any longer. They had to get away from it. But you can't, because you're on a 12 hour shift. And so you, it's like, do you say, fake an illness and say, like, I'm sick, I need to go home? Or do you just like confront your boss, I can't deal with this anymore, I need to be patient, it's really hard to deal with that. And you kind of can't get away from it. So it manifests in all kinds of ways. And I even experienced that myself, with difficult patients were, you know, they would insult you when you're in the room. So for instance, as an ICU nurse, we would have a one or two patients for the entire 12 hours, and you're constantly interacting with them taking care of them. And if that patient was not, in perfect mental health, let's say they had dementia or Alzheimer's, or any kind of ailment like that, they could potentially be abusive towards you. And you know, you kind of have to deal with it. So patients that would scream and cuss at me try and hit me, bite me, scratch me would be non compliant with medications refused to take, you know, critical meds, I couldn't tell you how many times I've had to dogpile a patient to like, keep them from hurting us or themselves. Using restraints, chemical restraints, all that stuff is super, super stressful. And so, you know, I just I see a lot of people take that stuff home, and I've taken it home myself. So it's, it's just a really difficult thing to deal with. As far as my personal struggles with burnout, the way that it kind of has manifested for me is that I will withdraw from my family and friends. And just kind of like, tell them, I just need to stay home and, and kind of recharge and just isolate myself basically. And that could be you know, watching movies all day, or playing video games, reading a book or whatever, but just getting away from society, and not participating in life, basically. So I missed a lot of holidays, I missed a lot of family functions, hanging out with friends for a lot of years, just and not even realizing it. Because I was so worn out from my job. Also, like I said, Before, I would drink not heavily, but regularly, which is, you know, that's still alcoholism. So would self medicate with with alcohol.
And then aside from that, I, you know, I would bring that stress home and I would become short tempered with my family. I would, I guess, really, I would take it out on them. And it took a lot of years before I realized like, this is not a healthy situation for me. And I'm no longer dealing with this appropriately. And then I had to realize, like, I can't do this job anymore, basically.
How... So, we've talked mostly about your experiences burnout, and the healthcare area. But do you? Also you also have experience with burnout in the tech area? And what was that like? And I guess sort of how does it compare?
Yeah. As developers, I think that we, we love technology, at least most of us, right? Otherwise, we wouldn't be here in this field. And because it's such a skill that you can use for whatever interests you, it's so malleable, right to your interest, you can find yourself doing it all the time. So as a fireman, like, yes, we train at work. As a nurse, yes, we practice medicine. But at home, like you're just a person, right? You're, you're nothing without your tools and your equipment, your you know, gloves, anything like that. So you can't really take those skills and that passion and transfer it into your, your off duty time. Certainly, there's conventions and stuff that people go to, but in general, like your work is work, and then family life, family life, for developers like that is blended. Right? So like, working from home? anywhere that you have your laptop? Like, Is there even such a thing as a sick day for a developer, like, unless you're physically so ill, that you can't open a computer and type, you know, you're just going to keep working sniffles or not. So as a developer, like I have a lot of interest, run a meetup, have my own podcast, have my own side projects that I love to do, I like to blog. And so what ends up happening is that I'll work all day. And they're like, Oh, great, now I have free time. And then in my free time, I'll continue to work, but just on my own personal stuff. And so I've gotten into this pattern of working too much, and finding it difficult to stop working, and difficult to take time and do something frivolous, like play video, game, watch, movie, whatever. Spend time with my family. And so it's become a difficult balance of like, how do I continue to be productive and do all the things that I want to do and that are important to me, but also take care of myself, mentally and physically and find time to spend with my family, relax, do something non productive. It becomes kind of like, a little insidious, because you you're just doing you know what you like to, which is be productive, like writing a blog post. So for instance, this weekend, I spent, I don't know how many hours working on my Gatsby site, right. And I would write the post, I would start debugging things. And then before I know it, the whole day is gone. So you know, to my family, that's not really fair. And it becomes very difficult to kind of scope. Hey, I should only spend so much time on this. And then I should you know, give it a rest for a while.
Yeah, I mean, I also struggle with trying to find the right balance between separating work and making, you know, enough time for family and then also for myself. So just a kind of on that note, do you have any advice that you would give to someone who's maybe struggling with burnout or trying to, you know, climb their way out of it?
Yeah. So the, probably the biggest thing that I could think of is that you should listen to the people that are around you telling you, Hey, Lee, you're acting X, Y, or Z, you're different, you're aggravated what's going on, you know, those people are going to show up and say something, unless you live in a vacuum or something, right? So take note of that advice that's coming in, and take that moment to say, hey, what am I doing? And am I am what I'm, is what I'm doing? What I want to do? Or is this the life that I'm meaning to lead? Because, you know, like I said earlier, we all think that we're tough, and then we're kind of that's not burnout, you know, I'm fine, I just need a break, I'll just take 10 minutes. You know, and, and sometimes it's a lot more than that. And knowing the difference is almost impossible in the moment. So when you've got somebody from the outside looking in, and they can say like, Hey, you need to take a break, then it's, you should listen. And I have a hard time listening to that myself. Aside from that, I heard a really good quote, once upon a time, about burnout, being a misalignment of what you're doing with your personal values. And that really resonated a lot with me, because it's really difficult to do work that you don't find value in. And if for whatever reason, you are not finding that, that drive to get something done, maybe it's time to do something else. Because doing something that you hate doing, or that you don't want to do is a really quick path to burning yourself out on something
Was addressing that alignment, what prompted you to do your career pivot?
It was, yeah, so, working as a nurse, for instance, there's a lot of drive to process profit, basically, as hospitals have a lot of admin traders, and there's a lot of bottom line talk in a hospital. And you wouldn't expect that or want that, I don't think, but the reality of it is like, for instance, as a nurse, you do a lot of charting, so recording vital signs and condition of the patient, things that you do. And we're kind of told that it's for liability, and for good record keeping patient health and stuff. But really, a lot of that stuff is billing it so that everything that you do can be itemized billed to Medicare, the patient. So I'm dealing with that kind of stress of like, I did this not to be a profit generator for this hospital, I became a nurse to help people. And when that doesn't line up, you know, in the actual job, it's really hard to not take that home. And so, yeah, we had a not to tell war stories, we had a patient come in, that was elderly came from nursing home, and of his life, not doing well. But he was having a heart attack. And the heart doctor was consulted by the emergency room doctor and said, you know, all this person needs a heart Cath. So go in and remove the blockage. And the heart doctor said, I'm not going to do it because the expectancy of surviving the procedure is not great. But the expectancy of surviving a heart attack with a blockage is like 100% fatal, right? So basically said, well, it's going to mess up my number, so I'm not going to do it. And so we had to live with that, and watch this person die in, in the ER, you know, and having to do that, and work that patient, like doing CPR on him, because we're trying to get a hold of family, and explain and get permission to cease, you know, efforts to keep the person alive. Dealing with all that is very difficult. And I found myself in those situations over and over again. And because that was so misplaced and misaligned with my own values, I had to get out of it. And so in between, you know, taking care of patients and stuff I'd be typing on like Free Code Camp or something. And one time my boss came up and was like, Leo, what are you doing? So I'm trying to learn Python? She goes, Oh, okay, and kind of had this confused look. And she's like, Well, you know, with nursing, you really got upon it. And I kind of internally said, Hey, I don't want this anymore. And I really took that and ran with it and got out of the profession entirely. And looking back on it. I helped a lot of people and I saved some lives in some cases, but the call was too great for me personally.
Oh, man. Wow, I, I don't know, I sorta don't know what to say. Because I, you know, I never been a healthcare worker. But I recently went through hospice with my grandfather.
And, you know, I can see the wonderful people who worked with us, and were, you know, with him through that, and, you know, see you in that. And I thought about it at the time that like I, I can't imagine, like emotionally going, going through that as part of your job that emotional labor. And yeah, I don't know, I the whole time we were going through that I was just so grateful to the people who are helping us through the and it was absolutely amazing to me. So that's one of one of the only one of the only ways I can relate to that.
Yeah, the people that work at at hospice are like, saintly, in my opinion, there. It's really hard to deal with that. And I had to deal with it a lot as an ICU nurse, telling families or communicating to them, this is the status of your family member, and it's the outcome is not good, they're not going to make it right. And in some cases, like, connecting with hospice, and getting that patient to hospice, or being with the family, and, you know, deciding to stop treatment, and let the patient pass away. And being with the family in that moment. And having to do that, you know, twice in a day, is very emotional, as a health care provider. And it's just, it's incredibly difficult to deal with that. So I really respect nurses, health care workers, firemen that have to deal with that stuff. And it, it's just very important that you don't bring that stuff home, and it's so hard not to.
Yeah, my my brother is an ER doctor. So he goes through, you know, some similar situations and like, you can always start to tell when it's taking, it's told he needs to, like, take a vacation and take a break or get away. But it's just pretty interesting. Yeah, he also doesn't, you know, talk about anything really in much detail. But it's always kind of like how you said, you know, listen to the people who are on the outside, because it's easier for them to see, like, I can always tell when he's starting to get pretty beat up and ready for a break.
Yeah, absolutely. Doctors deal with a different kind of, they have to deal with patients, obviously. But they have a different administrative toll that they have to pay, see, as a certain number of patients or do a certain amount of procedures or comply with certain standards, and our healthcare system has is in need of reform. And we're we're kind of kicking the can down the road, you know, as we go by not stopping and kind of paying that that, I guess technical debt for healthcare? I don't know.
Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. We really appreciate it. Is, is there anything before? Before we end our chat that you'd like to? To make sure you share?
Yeah, um, firstly, if you feel like you're getting burned out, or, you know, you or associating with some of the things I've talked about in this discussion. Don't brush it off. Sit down, look at what's going on, get help. Talk to your family, or friends or whoever it is that you think you can talk to? and say, Hey, like, have I been X, Y or Z lately? Have I been short with you or you know, withdrawn or any of those things? And just do what you can to deal with that stuff. And don't ignore it. That that's a huge thing. Don't ignore those feelings.
Aside from that, nothing really stacks up to that, that take care of yourself at the end of the day.
Take care of yourself at the end of the day. Yeah. Well, thank you again, so much.
Yeah, thank you so much for having me on the show.
Thanks so much, again, for joining us, we really, really appreciate you listening. And if you liked the episode, we really hope you'll come back and join us again. And if you know someone who you think would enjoy listening, we would love for you to send them the link so they can check it out as well.
And thanks again to Tae'lur and Lee for joining us. We really enjoyed talking with you and to thank them for their time we'll be making small donations to an org their choice. Tae'lur chose to support Juniors in Tech, a newsletter and job board for juniors and tech or those aspiring to work in the industry.
And Lee chose to support the firefighter cancer support network, which helps support firefighters and their families in dealing with cancer, which firefighters are at a higher risk of because of the toxins that they're exposed to. And we'll have links to both juniors and tech and the firefighter cancer support network in the show notes if you want to check them out.
Thanks again so much for joining us, everyone and be well.