Burnout

burnout

I hadn’t heard of Byung-Chul Han before reading this article. He’s a philosopher born in Seoul, South Korea and then moved to Germany where he took up philosophy, theology, and literature. One of his books is called The Burnout Society and his ideas on what’s causing it are both interesting and depressing.

I sometimes struggle with anxiety. Not socially, just general, my brain living in the what if’s” of the future. I also really enjoy self-help or business-related books, podcasts, YouTube videos, whatever. So I felt a little attacked and seen at the same time as I read this article.

You can do anything!

That’s the mantra, and you hear it everywhere. All the messages circulating in our society seem to converge on that same imperative.

But this soon turns into: You must do everything. The symptoms are everywhere-fitness programs, self-help podcasts, inspirational quotes on social media, vitamins and nutritional supplements, constant proclamations about self-actualization, weight-loss fads, life coaches, and countless other schemes for improvement. No boss would ever be as tyrannical as we are to our souls and selves.

I’ve never considered that overdoing the work of self-improvement could be considered harmful. I don’t think that self-improvement is a bad thing. Quite the opposite. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, and had therapy sessions that have been incredibly beneficial for me. I think the key here (and this applies to anything) is moderation.

In this kind of culture, everything takes on an insatiable non-stop quality. Instead of enjoying a mindless sitcom, you binge-watch an entire season of shows. Instead of enjoying dinner, you focus on sharing photos of your masterful culinary efforts on social media. The most banal tasks now become occasions for live-streaming and building your personal brand.

I have a strange hatred of the term personal brand”. This is a concept that really came into being with the rise of social media.

I have nothing against the idea of being famous but it seems more and more people are seeking fame just for the sake of it. You’re not a brand”. You’re actions, opinions, social life, all of this adds to who you are as a person but you’re still just a human being. Constantly being concerned about what you post or take photos of because it might damage your brand is no way to live.

I want to be clear that I’m not against entrepreneurship. I love that more and more people are creating their own jobs and that there are more ways to do it than ever before. That’s not a personal brand, that’s what you do for a living. I think that’s really at the heart of why I hate that term. It’s a blending of who you are and what you do for work. There’s no separation. You can still have a life separate from your business. You are not what you do for a living. When how you see yourself is directly linked to your job and your achievements”; I think that’s when the burnout starts to creep in.

I can’t stress this enough: You do not need to walk in lockstep with everybody else. You aren’t required to accept blindly the dominant values of your society. Even if you work inside the system, you don’t have to let the system work inside of you. No law requires that. It’s not part of the terms and conditions of being a human being.

I wish Han had paid more attention to that fact. But it’s crucial and worth repeating: Even if you work inside the system, you don’t need to let the system work inside of you. And if you summon up the boldness to go in a different direction, others might even surprise you by following along.

March 21, 2022

Failure

I’ve interviewed more people than I can count at this point. One of the very common questions asked is for the candidate to describe a weakness or something they worked hard at but ultimately failed. Most people are not comfortable sharing their failures. I’m here to say I think we have it backwards. Embracing the times you’ve fallen short shows strength, not weakness.

I’m big into the Stoic philosophy. A lot of the writings of Marcus Aurelius talk about looking at our obstacles as opportunities. That sounds great, but in practice it’s incredibly difficult. It’s all about trying to shift our perspective. What might seem tragic to us could look much smaller from someone else’s perspective. From an article by Arthur C. Brooks at The Atlantic:

A professional or personal setback that sends you spiraling into self-doubt might not seem so tragic to someone else. You say you had an ugly breakup after trying to make the relationship work? Who hasn’t? Early in my career as a chief executive, I once made a strategy error that resulted in humiliating treatment by the press. I told my neighbor—a grizzled D.C. political veteran—that I felt like a failure because of the incident. He listened and said, On a 0–10 scale of problems, yours ranks about 0.25.

The entire article is worth a read. Some of the big takeaways:

  1. Stop Angling for Success

Essentially we feel like shit when we fail because we focus so much on success and what it means to us. Why not focus on improving and learning. Our experience, knowledge, and wisdom are what make us who we are, not bullet points on a resume.

  1. Keep your ideals front and Centre

This means setting goals that are aligned with your values and who you are rather than some arbitrary metric. If you’re focused on receiving accolades or a massive paycheque you’re going to be disappointed. Those are sometimes outcomes of focusing our your values, they should not be the reason you do what you do.

I wanted to write about this because I struggle with it. I tend to take things very personally when negative things happen that are outside of my control. Are they really negative”? Maybe I just perceive them that way. The obstacle can instead become the way forward.

March 15, 2022

Parkinson’s Law

Working

Fascinating look at how one video game company made the transition to a four day work week.

In a lot of ways, the belief that the normal job is 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, has been steadily falling apart since the 1970s,” Hyman said, citing the draining nature of modern knowledge jobs, the fragmentation of service work via the gig economy and the need for many to work multiple jobs. There’s been a big reset with covid in thinking about, What is work? Why do I have to go to the office? And if I don’t have to go to the office, do I have to work five days a week?’”

Parkinson’s Law is one of my favourite business theories. Parkinson’s Law is the idea that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion. If you’re given two weeks to complete a project, you will find a way to spread the work over those two weeks. However, if you’re given one week instead you will magically find a way to get the work done in half the time.

A shorter work week is only one possible solution for some companies. It’s not something that will work for everyone. I think the broader conversation should be looking at providing more flexibility regarding when and where people work. Asynchronous collaboration rather than forcing everyone to be in the same room at the same time every day.

March 7, 2022

Demons Hate Fresh Air

Walking

From a chapter in Austin Kleon’s latest book Keep Going. He talked about the benefits of getting away from our devices and just getting outside. I very much relate to this. If I don’t get outside and move at least once during the day, I can feel the difference. I don’t care how cold it is.

From Austins Blog:

Linn Ullmann, in and interview with Vogue, about her father Ingmar Bergman:

My father was a very disciplined and punctual man; it was a prerequisite for his creativity. There was a time for everything: for work, for talk, for solitude, for rest. No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk and then work, he’d say, because the demons hate it when you get out of bed, demons hate fresh air. So when I make up excuses not to work, I hear his voice in my head: Get up, get out, go to your work.”

March 4, 2022

Nice guys

Go ahead and do a Google search of being a nice manager”. There are more articles than I can count. All of them list the negative aspects of being kind. I couldn’t find one that takes a positive viewpoint. Let me share some of the common problems listed when it comes to being a nice leader.

  • You make excuses for underperformers
  • You find yourself playing counsellor.
  • You’re sharing too much information.
  • You’re always sharing credit

Yes, these are all things you shouldn’t be doing as a leader. However, I would argue that they have nothing to do with being empathetic or understanding and everything to do with being inexperienced.

Maybe I’m projecting a little because I’ve been given negative feedback for being too nice as a Manager. There are times when you need to utilize performance management and times when you have to let people go. I believe you should exhaust every possible method of developing and supporting those on your team first. People will surprise you when they’re given the support they need to grow. There’s often potential there. You need to build solid relationships first to see it.

March 3, 2022

The bar for effective leadership has hit a new low

Notes
Notes

March 2, 2022