Taking on my burnout by taking back my free-time

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Last week someone reached out to me and requested we have a quick 30 min ‘virtual coffee’. For the past 3 months I have given the same response to that request: I am not currently taking one-on-one meetings, but I’m happy to answer direct questions in chat/messenger/slack. While most people are understanding when I respond with that, this particular person seemed very dissatisfied with my answer. What this person didn’t know was that he was already the 10th person that week to send me that same request.

When we entered the first lockdown last March, I felt very lucky to be in a position to be working remotely for a company that was not in a position to have to let staff go due to the pandemic. My roommate was in a similar situation and we both talked about the immense guilt we felt for being so lucky in a time that was truly terrible for so many.

I kept asking myself what I could do to help people who had been laid off — many of whom were now looking for an opportunity to break into something new. It wasn’t very long before my inbox was filled with questions from friends and strangers alike asking me if they should learn to code. I found I was having a lot of similar questions so I decided to write my first LinkedIn article about exactly that topic.

Having had experience as a career advisor a few different times in my life, I also posted in multiple groups (tech and non tech) offering to help people with their resume if they had been laid off due to covid. To say that I got a lot of response was an understatement. It made me feel like I was truly helping people when they needed it most, and it was so nice to hear back from someone when my advice or review had helped them later on.

Credit: Adapted from Getty

For a while, ‘virtual coffees’ were embedded in my schedule. I started grouping people together to try to save on time, running informal Q&A sessions to give advice about if and how one might pursue a career pivot into tech. It was important for me to do this because it is how I made the decision to go the bootcamp direction years ago. I think I took 6+ people out for coffee and picked their brains about bootcamps and tech and coding before making the decision to transition into tech.

As the requests piled up, I started writing more articles to try to cover some of the repeated content and most asked questions in a format that would ultimately save some time on zoom calls:

This was a helpful tactic for diverting the easier questions. However the more I posted, the more I positioned myself as a knowledgeable resource, and the more requests I got for those virtual coffees. Between those virtual coffees, my day job at a high growth startup (RE: a lot of extra hours spent studying and learning), and my weekend job mentoring students through Lighthouse Labs, I had lost all free time. And because I was simultaneously experiencing lockdown, burnout hit me super hard. I started to lose sight of personal goals, the code I submitted for work became sloppy and careless, and I just wasn’t enjoying what I was doing anymore. Everything just gave me more stress.

So I took control and gave myself free time again.

I love having one-on-one conversations with people and giving my opinion on career transitions. The issue for me is that when I start these conversations that are meant to be a quick 10–15 min call, they always roll over into hour+ discussions with substantial followup. At this point I receive anywhere from 5–12 requests for ‘virtual coffees’ every week and if you do the very complicated math on that, that means an addition 5–12 hours of zoom meetings on top of my 9–5 and mentoring schedule.

I’m at a point in my career as a junior-turning-intermediate where I need to be pushing myself and learning a lot more in order to become a better developer. I need to be building things and pushing myself forward in my own work so that I can be a better developer. I wish I could say yes to every message I get right now, but it just isn’t feasible anymore.

Old habits die hard because I am yet again doing what I do best: writing an article to explain something that is being asked a lot. So if you are reading this because I shared the link after you made a request to talk: I am sorry. I would love to talk. But it doesn’t seem fair to only say yes to certain requests while saying no to others and it isn’t possible to to say yes to everyone anymore.

Fortunately there are great communities that you can also be a part of that have these kind of conversations all the time! If you are in Calgary, go check out that article linked above about about networking in YYC. I am where I am today because I made myself available to be a contributing member of a lot of those groups and there are so many smart and talented people there (often way smarter than me!) who do have the capacity to help you out and sit down for a virtual coffee.

I do really hope to one day be able to have all of these conversations and meet all of you, but for now I am in the same boat as you: I just want to focus on myself and grow into a role that makes me excited about what I do. Until then, you can catch me on here, over on slack, or on the occasional Q&A panel. Keep those connection requests and messages coming and hopefully we can finally connect when the world is a more normal place!

Kat is a former career advisor turned developer living in Calgary, AB. She is currently re-imagining banking in Canada as a Software Engineer at Neo Financial.