Burnout to Leadership

Special 007: My Story

July 29, 2022 Dex Randall
Burnout to Leadership
Special 007: My Story
Show Notes Transcript

Here is a little of what tipped me in to burnout in my career in software development and leadership.  It was a long, slow grisly drag that ended quite badly, but it contains some elements that may strike a chord with you. I recovered and I no longer fear burnout, because I learned the skill of resilience and tapped in to my passion in a new and more rewarding way. Everything is a blessing, in the end.

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Hi everyone. My name's Dex Randall, and this is the Burnout To Leadership podcast, where I teach professional men to recover from burnout and get back to passion and reward at work. Hello, my friends, this is Dex, and I want to tell you about a boss of mine, a guy I worked for as a software developer back in 1991. His name is Don, consummate manager, unflappable kinda guy. Anyway, I'm parked outside his office at my desk. Now, in case you haven't spotted, I'm a very quiet person, I don't speak to people if I've got nothing to say, which is most of the time, I just get my head down and design software to solve business problems. That's my jam and I must be okay at it because most people let me get on with it, I'm lucky, I understand business and technology and design, I'm a mathematician, an engineer, it all makes sense to me. So I'm at my desk one Thursday with a coffee and a bacon sandwich and I do my thing, I'm engrossed in quite a naughty problem about import tax and manufacturing costs. Three hours in, Don's calm voice summons me to his office. We sit, the client rang, 'My solution is overdue.' Well, I'm still figuring out what the solution even is, it's got tentacles everywhere in the software. Everything I touch affects some other part of the system, and frankly, I'm struggling. Don lays the facts on me. We're three weeks late. He's been around the block enough times not to get overheated when he says this, but the client, a manufacturing multinational, are irate. I shuffle my feet on the carpet because he's right. He tells me he knows the project's a pretty hard one, it's big, it's difficult to quantify. He knows I'm doing my best. So he asks me when it will be ready. I guessed another four weeks. He blanches a bit but says nothing. And without going into technical detail, I outlined why, helped him understand that the change is very big, it's much bigger than I initially thought, I've underquoted both time and money, and I know we can't make money on this deal now because of my estimates and so I'm starting to sweat in my shirt. I got no idea how I can justify this delay to the client and I'm terrified of being in a room full of their executives, I also know the result will save the client hundreds of thousands of dollars, but right now it's holding up production. So Don looks at me solidly, I mean, but a bit jaded, if I'm honest, and I can see he's wondering what to say to them. We sit, and then he simply says, 'Okay, go back to work, I'll talk to them.' And that's it. He dealt with it, never mentioned the losses. And he was always this way, leaving me to do what I do best, trusting I'd done it, and then having my back on everything else, just very quietly. He provided what I now know as psychological safety, a rare resource. Okay, 2015 now, and the company I now work for is shutting down, I've got a great leadership position, I'm running all these big development projects, I'm trusted here too, I make the plans and I execute on them, I launch new products, new services, I streamline operations and I coax teamwork out of the warring factions of the sales department, legal, the advisors and production and we all come up smiling until today, my boss decides to exit the company on a personal journey of his own. Privately wishing I hadn't just bought an expensive property, I leave too. Then 2016, I joined a startup and I found myself every day in there riding this undercurrent of anxiety intention. They have the bravado a startup needs to keep securing funding and they've got the artisan warehouse, they've got table football, the big constant stream of experts, but the chronic fear of failure spikes every time their production overruns a deadline and we don't launch, we never launch and I work with a team of developers on the frontline of that. Directionless, we keep pretending to iterate towards a solution. I secretly know it's busy work that we won't launch, but it's taboo to address this, it's like the emperor's new clothes. Everyone around me is really scared about losing their job, I feel guilty drawing a paycheck and I'm not satisfied with my contribution. I'm burning out, we all are. And eventually there's infighting. I tell the boss, 'One of the other developers is bullying me.' I lose my job. That workplace did not offer psychological safety, I didn't even know that term back then. And now I find it curious that my last two startup roles were like that, I knew I wouldn't be able to deliver on my role, that success wasn't simply unavailable, that actively blocked by founders with a fear of launching, no one ever wanted to burst that bubble, I'd never failed at my job until these two startup experiences, and now I'd crashed outta three jobs in a row, I couldn't complete any of them. It became clear to me that my best efforts were no longer enough, and that as a consequence, 'cause I was over identified with work, failure was all I could see. And that's really how unsafety reached its peak for me, I just simply lost my mojo, and along with it, my invincibility and my health, I got sick a lot, I just basically stopped believing in myself and then I crashed out in burnout and I had a whopping heart attack. There you go. 2022, one road accident, and three covid years later, I found out not just how to recover from burnout myself, but how to teach other people to recover as well. I'm back on song, my mojo returned, I'm still the same numpty underneath but I have re engineered my life and I've refound a sense of purpose and connection with people 'cause well, it's what they say. Right? What doesn't kill us makes us a wee bit more canny. Yeah? So I thought today was time to share a little of my own experience. And in the doing of it, it was a lot gorier than it sounds when I tell you about it here, my insides were very dark and messy and I was pretty lost for quite a while there. But my experience now is you can't stay lost once you find a thing to do, particularly if you're not the kind... If you're the kinda person who ends up in burnout, a thing to do is salvation. Much as I know it shouldn't be, but life's been pretty good at taking me down the road I need to go on, and here I am now and I don't fear burnout anymore, I found a different way of enjoying myself and my work self and being at work and working. So that's a little tiny bit about me, I will see you again next time. If you are in burnout and ready to recover, come and join my Burnout To Leadership program. You can book into a talk with me at burnout.dexrandall.com. Just tell me what's bugging you, and let's make a plan to fix it.