On Burnout and My Recent Job Change

How the experience of burnout did—and did not!—contribute to my leaving Olo for LinkedIn.

February 02, 2019Filed under blog#burnout#careerMarkdown source

I posted a week ago about my (then-impending, now-quite-actual!) transition from Olo to LinkedIn. My friend Stephen pointed out that, especially for long-time readers of this blog, it seemed a bit odd to write about a job change without so much as mentioning my rather painful experience of job-triggered burnout in 2018. He was right!

I chose not to talk about the relationship between this job change and burnout in that particular post because it’s rather complicated. I did not move to fix the burnout. As a number of things from my writing over the last few months likely indicated to attentive readers,1 I have been slowly but steadily recovering since mid-October.

Mid-October was when I hit rock bottom. On October 15th, I had a panic attack. Thankfully, it was brief and I was at home. (It was just a few hours after I wrote this post, actually.) As is often the case with panic attacks (from what I have read), the specific trigger was not itself that big of a deal; but it was more stress than I could handle. My body responded to one more little stressor by freaking out.

At that point, I pinged my manager at Olo and said, “Hey, I just had a panic attack; we need to change something.” I immediately handed over some high-urgency projects I was working on and took the rest of the week off. It helped. And it helped among other things because it gave me time to get some clarity on why the stressors I was experiencing at Olo were affecting me the ways they were, and what kinds of changes would need to happen for them not to have that kind of affect on me.

I worked with my manager at Olo to make a bunch of changes there which made Olo much better for me. I remain very grateful for those. And I am also grateful that I was able to have a lot of very productive conversations with not just him but others at Olo, including in engineering leadership, which helped me further clarify whether Olo was going to be a good long-term fit for me or not. That I ultimately concluded not is a credit to the openness of Olo’s leadership to having those conversations with me and their desire to see their people succeed. I was not exaggerating when I wrote that Olo was the best place I had ever worked.

But I should also note that I was looking around and starting the ball rolling on interviews as far back as September—precisely because of my experience with burnout, and specifically the values mismatch that it had so thoroughly exposed. Note that when I say “values” I don’t mean in the sense of the ethics with which Olo conducts its business—I found Olo consistently exemplary in that regard, in fact. Instead, I mean that Olo is operating in ways that most people agree make sense for a late-stage startup tracking toward some kind of exit event.2 Unfortunately this left me misaligned with Olo in a very important way besides the scale questions I hit on in my announcement post last week.

That phase of a company built in the way Olo has been—by way of venture capital, with the requisite need for an exit—just necessarily is high on acquiring market share and low on the kind of slow, steady work I so highly value. This means that I constantly found myself at odds with company decisions—not because those decisions were morally wrong themselves, but because I’m increasingly at odds with the entire system of venture capital-driven business development! But every time the company made one of those decisions—however much sense it made for the company—I grew more frustrated. And that frustration was a major factor in my burnout.

(Attentive readers will note that I didn’t go into details about this during the worst of it. This was for two reasons: First, I didn’t trust myself to be able to write well about it given my emotional state at the time. The couple times I started to I found that I could not correctly convey that I both continued to respect and care about my colleagues at Olo and was deeply frustrated by the state of affairs there. Second, and closely related to the first, I wanted to avoid burdening my colleagues with my own doubts and frustrations as much as possible. We were in the middle of a pretty intense deadline push, the stresses of which were enough without watching a colleague melt down because of how this particular crunch loudly surfaced his deep conflicts with venture capitalism. Better, I concluded, to gesture in the general direction of the sources of my burnout and leave this for a later time. And, should any of my former colleagues be reading this now: yes, I disagreed with our taking on that particular project; but you all did a really amazing job executing on it and have my lasting respect and admiration.)

The net of all of that was that changing jobs was an important part of helping me avoid getting burnt out again. The things Olo will be doing at this point in the business’ lifecycle would simply continue to frustrate me, and it could not afford me the opportunities I want professionally. That mismatch is simply too much when stacked on on top of all the other emotional weights of the last several years—some of which I have written about publicly, some of which I may write about publicly in the future, and some of which will never be for general public consumption (though of course I talk about them with dear friends). And, more, a new job with less of that mismatch is the lever I could pull most easily and effectively—a way I could give myself the space I need to deal with everything else which contributed to my burnout.

That analysis carries with it the important corollary that changing jobs is only one part of avoiding further burnout, though. Avoiding overcommitment, keeping what commitments I do make well-aligned with my priorities, taking time to rest, taking time to grieve deep pains: all of these are necessary components of avoiding falling back into burnout once again.

More on this—and, hopefully, some of the promised theological reflection on the subject—as I am able, while not overdoing it!

  1. the decrease in frequency of posts on the subject, a post explicitly about recovering from burnout, past tense language when I did talk about it…

  2. whether that be an IPO, an acquisition, or something else—I am obviously not privy to any information about that; Olo’s CEO Noah Glass has made public statements pointing to exit event in the last month.