I recently came across this tweet (and RTd it) which made me reflect on the ride that I’ve been on over the past few months. But how selfish of me – do you hear that? “The ride I’ve been on” as if we all haven’t been on this ride.
Coronavirus and it’s consequences suck. It has killed and mamed. And I could (read: should) end the sentence there. But even if you don’t know someone who has gotten very ill or passed away from COVID, there is still a chance it has impacted you in another significantly negative way. Many of us – some of whom have never dealt with anxiety or depression before – are now looking at the above graphic and thinking “Oh, am I in the Orange? Am I in the Red? Has it gotten that bad? I’m definitely in the Orange. How far into the Red am I?”
Before I go any further I want you to know a couple things. First, you’re not alone. In fact, you are more a part of a group now than ever before. Second, you can ask for help. Speak with a Counselor, a spouse, a friend – anyone. If you feel like you are in any way fading in the wrong direction, please don’t ignore those signs.
We, in I.T., whether I.T. training or SysAdmin or Network Engineer or DevOps, have always felt an abnormal amount of pressure. There are many people who go to work, do their job, go home, and disconnect. That’s not us, is it? Like an E.R. surgeon, the job leaves us on call. The technologies move faster than we do. As soon as we learn something new, there are 2 more somethings that we have to learn RIGHT NOW or else we are irrelevant. So we are checking email, Slack, MS Teams or whatever for any production alerts, and if there are none, we hit the books.
We chose the career in I.T. for a specific reason – working with tech is awesome. It’s a dream. It’s a passion. Unboxing new switches might as well be unboxing a PS5 on Christmas day (depending on the switch, I may want it more than a PS5 tbh). And learning a new tech is rewarding. So we put up with the pressures to pursue the dream of working in technology. It doesn’t hurt that tech careers also pay very well with a relatively low barrier to entry compared to other white collar professions.
With all of these buzzwords and technologies moving faster than you can, what happens? You land a job, and you immediately feel like an imposter. Like, Day 1 = Imposter. So how do you compensate for that? Well, most of the time, people double down on their efforts, dig in, put in the extra hours, learn more, and work harder to prove they can keep up. This is how the 40 hour job becomes the 60 hour job. But it’s ok because it’s tech – it pays awesome, and there is a rush from finally “making it work.”
But you close one chapter, go to Reddit or Twitter to brag about it, and you find out that that was so 2015 and the cycle starts over with feeling like an imposter again.
Then Coronavirus happens.
Take all of that stuff, and throw in a global pandemic that prevents you from leaving the house. Maybe you’re also at home with kids who need your attention and care, a spouse who works, or at-risk elderly citizens. Or maybe all of the above. Your time to do your job has, in the best case scenario, been reallocated to other hours of the day, but the more likely scenario is you’ve just lost time and have to find extra days or hours to make it up. How can you possibly keep up with these unicorns on Reddit and Twitter at this point? So you think “I see other people are landing their dream jobs – maybe its time I search for my own. I don’t belong here anymore, and I won’t be able to keep up.”
In a way, it feels like the rocket ship is taking off without you on board. So you look at job descriptions and, sure enough, the employers are seeking Unicorns.
The downward spiral continues further. You initially felt like an imposter. You now have lost time to get caught up. You try to “escape” the feeling by seeking a new job, only to find out you can’t. Trapped.
And I am saying all this not to make you feel bad. I am saying this because this has been my experience (coupled with losing a job and finding out that I have twins on the way). Again, you are not alone.
So this is how I am pulling myself back into the green section:
First, “not right now” does not in any way mean “not ever” when it comes to your career. When I lost my job and couldn’t find a suitable replacement, it felt like I had peaked at age 34. What opportunities that did come my way, I had to consider how much available time I had, so all of these other opportunities had to be passed on. So I tried to fill the gap or need for achievement with the CCIE, only for the lab centers to not reopen (or at least I suspect they will not reopen before the birth of my twins). Everything had my head spinning, thinking I will NEVER make it back to where I was.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and I still have 30+ years of my career ahead of me. So 2020 may not have gone the way I wanted it to, but that just means 2021 or 2022 might. Which leads me to the next point…
Second, keep it in perspective. It’s natural to feel jealous of people whose career is taking off right now (but you should also feel VERY happy for them, and lift them up!). But if you are home, healthy, and gainfully employed – well, pause for a moment and think about how you would feel if you weren’t. One of the best things about working in tech is how safe of a career path it is. Developers and Engineers will always be in some form of demand (but maybe not Directors as I found out the hard way). We are lucky to work in I.T. for the sake of having a stable paycheck during unstable times. Put another way, if you are employed right now in I.T., you will probably stay employed. CBT Nuggets is the best thing to ever happen to me, I am so grateful to work there, and at many times I sit back and think to myself “I don’t deserve them.”
So many people lost their job and DIDN’T have a dream job to fall back on. Yeah, it stings like Hell when I apply to Network Automation Engineer jobs and don’t even get a declination email. That’s kind of “my thing” – what’s up with that? Really checking my ego, there. But my “care level” is minimal because I am blessed to work for CBTN. And as long as people want a career in I.T., there will be a demand for training, so I feel like I have a stable and secure career with CBT. Besides, “not right now” doesn’t mean “not ever,” remember? The point is, it may feel like rock bottom when you feel “trapped,” but if you are healthy and employed, you have an awful lot to be thankful for right now.
Third, remember those people mentioned above? Kids, spouse (or significant other), elderly family? They need you. But they don’t need MORE of you, which is how I felt for so long. When I was laid off, I felt incomplete, like a part of my identity was taken away. And more so, I felt that I had let my family down. I needed to restore that for them as if that is what they expected me to do (or a $$$ amount expected me to earn, or a title they expected me to have). They don’t have those expectations. Or at least my family didn’t really have that expectation of me. I was placing that pressure on myself. (Well, to be fair, I did mention I have twins on the way, right? It’s not a stretch to think I naturally place additional pressures on myself when expecting the birth of children) If at any point you feel like your employer, spouse, kids, or elders are demanding more of you, you should have a sincere conversation about how you feel, what you are going through, and how they can help you rather than hurt.
Fourth, it’s ok to be happy with who you are right now. There is SO much media out there meant to inspire you and motivate you. Being inspired and motivated are good things, and wanting to strive for more is healthy! But a constant influx of Grind, Hustle, Move, Go! can and will eventually lead to anxiety like imposter syndrome. Something like I really want to master network automation like someone in social media can quickly turn into Everyone knows everything about Kubernetes and BGP and Docker and IS-IS and Jenkins and Spanning-Tree all at the same time – I have to give up sleep for the next 3 weeks to keep up and prove that I can Grind as hard as them! Remember that first part about “not right now” doesn’t mean “not ever”? If you start to feel like you are drowning in studies, take a deep breath and celebrate how far you’ve already come. It’s ok to be happy with where you are right now in your journey, and just have some faith that the journey will pick up steam again in the future when the time is right.
Fifth, you are not an imposter. Employers knew what they were getting when they hired you. And unless your circumstance is special, they screened PLENTY of applications before settling on you. When I was hiring a Business Analyst earlier this year, we posted the job for about 2 weeks. We had almost 1,000 applications, and I read every single one of them. The person we settled on was the person whether they felt like it or not – I knew exactly who I was hiring and why I wanted that person. But beyond that, as a trainer who likes to train in new and emerging technologies, it is easy for me to feel like an imposter. We’re talking about technologies that MOST people haven’t had the pleasure of implementing yet, and I am training people on these things that are basically brand new to the world. There simply aren’t many people out there who have deployed an SD-Access fabric, and there aren’t many resources to train on it either (at least compared to something like OSPF). My method has always been to learn the tech inside and out, then record it so that it is honest and accurate. So that’s exactly what I did with SD-Access. We bought all the hardware, I learned it, I taught it. But without actually deploying SDA with thousands of devices across a huge multi-site campus, there is a little tinge in my head questioning my own validity. Truth be told, maybe that is why I’ve been looking for positions in enterprise network automation – as a way to validate my skills (even though I have experience and all the certifications to validate it already). But as I tell everyone, what really matters for a trainer is the training – not the trainer. As long as people learn how to do it in their environment, I have done my job and am not an imposter at all. The point I’m trying to make is you’re doing great. You’re doing your job, and you’re learning how to do your job (better). You’re not an imposter – you’re exactly who your employer wanted.
Look, it’s a tough time out there. We WILL make it through this! If at any point you look at that diagram and you see yourself going in the wrong direction, please seek help from loved ones, counselors, or wherever you deem appropriate.