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Put your oxygen mask on first

What’s the most important thing if you are an IT professional? Hint: it’s not making money. Or managing risk. Or helping people. Those are the obvious and easy answers.

The #1 job you have is to not burn out. 

If you quit or otherwise can’t handle the job any longer, or are fired, or regularly numb yourself with drugs or alcohol after a long day then you’re no longer an IT professional. 

Most people think they help “other people” as an IT pro. If you solely focus on helping other people, to your personal detriment, then you’ll not only put your career in jeopardy, but also your mental and physical health, your happiness, and your personal and family life. If something in your job is causing strain on your own happiness and sense of balance and calm, that’s really your number one priority. You may not have the skills or experience to navigate those rough waters. Ask your friends for advice, or your manager, or your significant other, or a mentor. 

That crappy feeling you may have about your work is not just “part of the job”. It’s a symptom of an issue that needs addressing, defining and some sort of management. Maybe it’s that you routinely arrive home late (to a cold dinner and upset spouse?)  because the last item you do each day can take much longer than expected. What can you do? Refuse to take on new projects after 4:30pm? Sure. Does your manager say “no, you have to take work up until the very end of the day”? Explain what it’s doing to your home life. Tell them that it’s contributing to job burnout. Ask them for help. Don’t just accept it as a necessary evil. If you find yourself uttering the “same shit, different day” expression to a coworker, you probably aren’t putting yourself first. Instead, you may be resigning yourself to the fact that certain aspects of your job are frustrating and you may feel powerless to do anything about them.

You will help more people for a longer period of time if you enjoy your work. You may not be good at this part. That’s ok, just accept that “I’m having a hard time enjoying my job” and then ask someone you trust for assistance on how to reconnect with what attracted you to the profession. 

Jobs that involve helping those in need are often filled with stress because of risk, trauma, time sensitivity, fear, anxiety, and other difficult emotions. Developing a “thick skin” or preparing to go into “battle” each day is one coping mechanism. Some people freely give away their willingness to absorb or otherwise “take” another person’s stress or anger. Seasoned professionals often establish boundaries to avoid letting their empathy for their customers create burnout-inducing decay. 

In the event of cabin depressurization, it may seem selfish to put your oxygen mask first before assisting your child. If you’re passed out, however, your child won’t be able to put on their mask. Prioritizing care for yourself enables you to provide more assistance, even though your attention is focused on other people. 


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