I took these photos on the day before the New Year of 2013. As the guests at the beach resort prepared for Media Noche, I saw a fisherman getting ready for the day’s catch. For him, there was no holiday to celebrate. It was just another day of catching fish to make sure he can put food on the table.
We spent that New Year’s eve at this beach resort about 4 hours northeast of Manila. The weather was the total opposite of what we had in the freezing regions of Canada. I had a few more days to soak in all the heat before I go back to below freezing temperatures. And despite the contrast in the weather conditions, I saw myself in that fisherman. No, I wasn’t getting ready to hop on a boat and cast my nets for the day’s catch. I was the one taking pictures, remember?
The reality was that I wasn’t really in full vacation mode during those days. While my entire family was enjoying the holidays, I was strapped to my phone and my laptop the days prior. We’ve already planned this trip months ahead. There’s no way we’re going to cancel it just because I needed to work. So, we did what we had to do. We took the trip.
During the days leading up to the New Year, I was working nights from 10PM to 7AM to cover the Eastern time zone. While my family slept at night, I was trying to keep my phone from waking them up. Being assigned on-call duties meant my phone would constantly make those annoying sounds whenever I receive an alert from our monitoring tools. If you think your phone notifications sound cool, try getting about a dozen alerts in a few minutes and not be able to turn them off because every alert is critical. I was wide awake at night and barely slept during the day. Can you blame me? I still wanted to enjoy the time I was “on vacation.”
Imagine how it felt like on Christmas eve. Because our Christmas eve was still a regular work day in North America. So, while everyone in the family was getting ready for the feast, I was still trying to shush all the alerts that came in. It was the very same experience I had two years prior. And I thought I was done with this. It’s a good thing we had Christmas and Boxing Day. I had two days to catch up on sleep and get some rest before getting back to the grind. And I was really looking forward to taking a day off for the New Year. Because it’s all I had before flying back to North America to do onsite client work in North Carolina.
I had some time to reflect and catch up on sleep on my flight back to North America. The reality was, I did more sleeping that reflecting. But it was enough for me to really think about how every IT Professional deals with this kind of challenge. We took on a job with certain responsibilities. But nobody talks about unrealistic expectations during job interviews. So we end up working 60+ hours a week putting out fires and responding to critical alerts over email. We’re strapped to our phones (or pagers for those who still remember) and laptops wherever we go. We’re physically present but not available. We’ve missed special family events because we’re overwhelmed with work. And we’re not even talking about the learning and keeping up with new tech during our spare time. As if we still have spare times. Nobody told us that we needed extra 12 hours in a day as IT Professionals. But that was the expectation. And it still is.
It’s no wonder so many of us are overworked and stressed out to the point of burnout. And it’s as if sleeping or taking naps would cut it. We can’t even get a good enough hours of sleep. That feeling of being awake every night, wondering if we should just quit. And even when we do get some sleep, we still wake up feeling tired and exhausted. We can’t give work our all anymore. And we wonder when all this is going to end.
Don’t ask me how I know. Because I was in this same mess years ago. I hated being assigned on-call duties. It messed up my sleep cycles. I think I averaged around 4.5-6 hours of sleep every day. I took naps in buses on my way to and from work. You know you can’t be effective at work as an IT Professional if you don’t get enough sleep. I missed birthdays and special family events unless they fall on a Sunday. I barely talked to my family. Until I asked myself, “Is this really what I want for the rest of my career? Or is there something better?”
Everyone talks about and wants work-life balance. Yet so many of us are still struggling. There’s a big difference between wanting something and stepping out to get it. I decided to do something about it. And I’m glad I did. Now, I get to enjoy life the way I want to. I get to spend quality time with my family. No more 60-hour weeks. And especially no more on-call assignments. I have had the opportunity to travel to more countries in the last 4 years than I did before that. I didn’t think it was possible back then. But my lifestyle is proof that it is.
In my consulting work, I see a lot of IT Professionals struggle. I remember doing consulting work for a global travel website. As we were discussing the new architecture of their database platform, I asked the engineers what their biggest struggle was. Their response was unanimous: burnout and work-life balance. I could see it in their face. These are some of the smartest people I’ve had the chance to work with. Yet, they’re struggling. And it breaks my heart to see them struggle.
If you know any IT Professional struggling with burnout, do them a favor and send them my way. Because you’re not just helping them break free from the struggle. You’re literally saving their life.
Tell them that they don’t have to suffer. But they won’t have a clue unless someone tells them.
I’m happy to help in any way I can. Better yet, get them to book a call to speak with me. I can guarantee you, it will be the best 60-minute investment of their life in this season.