No More Burnout: Reflections after 6 months at Vendia
When Vendia first reached out to me, I was at a bit of a crossroads in my career. I was making great money, helping improve customer and end user experiences and helping other designers grow their careers. On the surface, everything was great, but I knew a shift was coming.
At the time, I enjoyed playing chicken with burnout. How close can I get to burnout without actually burning out? It is possible to partially burnout? Can I schedule my burnout? If so, how long does it take to recover?
You think I'm joking, but I anytime I felt the wave of overwhelm building to crash over my head, I would look at my calendar and say “sorry, I don't have time to burnout this month, but the second week of next month might work.”
It had gotten to the point where burnout was almost a normal thing, that sat with me daily waiting for the right time to jump up and ruin my day. It had become so normal that I didn't know how to get rid of it - or what I would do without it when it was gone.
I started my career immersed in startup culture. I wore all of the hats, did all of the things - this is when burnout and I first became friends. When I started working at big tech companies, I traded in all of those hats to dive deep on UX, while working with the best-of-the-best in the design and tech industries. I'm talking genius level co-workers.
When you're surrounded by geniuses, inspiration is everywhere and it becomes really easy to fall into the harder, better, faster mentality. You start to push yourself even more, inspired by the success of your coworkers and your products. 'Work hard, play hard' becomes your manta, even though you know the 'play hard' portion is just there to distract you from the pending burnout.
But at a certain point you start to ask yourself, is this what I want? Am I doing the things that make me happy? Do I even remember what makes me happy?
The more I thought about it the more I realized that I missed working on the bigger picture. I love UX, but I want to apply it to everything - not just the product. In a perfect world the design process would be applied to every touch point across the company. But how do you convince a whole company to embrace design like that?
The hardest part is that most people just see UX designers as pixel pushers. Contrary to popular belief - we do not just make things look pretty.
We thrive on outlining steps of a process and identifying how to improve that process based on the people that have to work within it. We are problem solvers and puzzle masters.
But often times we are treated like the clean up crew, that just makes things presentable before they go out the door. Take the weight of explaining what we do and why it's important and add it to the already overwhelming workload we face due to lack of design headcount, and what do you get?
You guessed it, burnout.
The problem is a lack of visibility into what we actually do - and in order to overcome that we have to explain our value and set expectations from the start.
When I interviewed at Vendia, I made it clear that design should be embedded at every touch point, from the very beginning. I emphasized that a cohesive design experience can greatly improve the overall experience for our customers.
At this point in my career, I'd had this conversation more times than I can count. And every time I leave the conversation wondering if they actually heard me. In this case, they did.
From my very first day, the entire team has been eager to understand what the design process looks like and how they can best support the growth of design. They continue to ask questions, engage, and give feedback. And best, we celebrate every single win. Every. Single. One. Even when I hand off V1 of a design that I'm not 100% in love with, they still celebrate the growth as a win.
The hard part with startups is that you're wearing multiple hats and your to-do list is exponentially growing. That list has to constantly be prioritize and reprioritized because inevitably - a good chunk of things you want to do, won't be able to happen right away.
Why is this hard?
Because startup life is extremely inspiring and intoxicating. Almost every meeting I attend inspires me with new ideas. I have even found myself working late at night or on the weekends to get those ideas on paper.
How is working nights and weekends work life balance? I happen to have this awesome team of supportive humans that actually care - and they notice the nights and weekends. My boss pulls me aside to tell me that it doesn't matter how long my to-do list is - I do not need to work nights and weekends. And every time he says it, it sinks in a little more.
Not because he says it, but because he lives it - our whole leadership team does. After 6 months, the days of working nights and weekends have dwindled and I no longer play chicken with burnout. It was uncomfortable at first. I felt like I might be crushed by the weight of my constantly growing to-do list. But slowly, the guilt of not doing all of the things all of the time started to fade.
I am surrounded by a supportive team, of genius level co-workers that have all been through the same thing. They all know what burnout feels like, and how important it is to not put yourself and your family through that. I swear they have burnout detectors and are quick to encourage time off if burnout appears to be on the horizon. A healthy work life balance is ingrained in the culture at Vendia. It's not just something we say exists - it really is a thing.
Over the winter holidays I took two full weeks off. TWO WEEKS! I've taken time off in the past but inevitably I end up working through it. I'm the person that will respond to Slack messages while on vacation, sitting in a helicopter, flying over Hawaii (true story) 🤯. But this time was different. I didn't work at all. Not once. I even turned slack off on my phone.
The last day of break, the anxiety started to set in. I had taken two full weeks off of work. What was I thinking!? My to-do list was huge before I left, and there was a good chance it had grown 3x while I was out.
But no. When we returned from break, it was clear that we were all slowly ramping back up to work. The frantic fire drills I was used to being hit with after a long break didn't take place.
They were replaced with “How was your break?” and a genuine desire to hear the answer. Did we have things to do? Absolutely, but we also knew that frantically racing toward that to-do list was not going to help in anyway. It's this type of environment that inspires quality work.
That encourages workers to do their absolute best when its time work, and know that it's ok to actually rest when its time rest.
Because at the end of the day - we are all just humans. And at Vendia, the humans are kind.
A few weeks ago I found out that my cat has cancer. I had to take some time off of work unexpectedly to take her to the vet. I told 3 people at work what was happening. Then a few days later, just before stand up there was a knock at the door. A beautiful arrangement of flowers and a WHOLE, freshly baked pie was delivered to my door with a note of encouragement from Vendia.
I would be lying if I said I didn't cry. I wasn't expecting it, it wasn't necessary at all - but as I started eating my feelings I realized just how much that little gesture did to build me back up. The company I work for isn't just a company - it's a family that I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of.
The kind human values at Vendia, shine through in every interaction I have. Our product it super technical and since we're designing it while building it - it can get overwhelming and very confusing.
I can ask any of our developers a question (even if its the 25th time I've asked) and they are always happy to jump on a call, walk me through it, give me examples and do whatever they can to unblock me and ensure that I have everything I need to be successful. My devs keep me grounded and moving forward - no matter how overwhelming things can feel.
We have a bi-weekly connect meeting where the whole company gathers to talk about what's happening at Vendia. Often times when the updates are quick, we play a game or just chat as a team. I can't tell you how awesome it is to get the chance to bond with people across the company, and find out we like the same books, we love board games or we have a fondness for quality dad jokes.
Possibly my favorite part of the week is our engineering standup - specifically Friday standup. Friday standup is casual Friday. However, it's hard to show your “casual” attire when you are on a Zoom call, so it quickly evolved into “crazy hat” and "crazy Zoom filter” Fridays. I live for Friday standup.
Not only have I had the opportunity to rock every single pair of Disney ears I own, my team thinks its hilarious and if they forgot a hat they quickly scramble to find something festive to wear. Our CEO even donned a lampshade as a hat once, which was probably the best thing I've ever seen on a Zoom call.
Often times when working remote, it can be hard to connect with coworkers and build the bonds that you would normally get working in the office. I have worked at companies where I felt like that, but Vendia is not one of them. I continue to be blown away by how good this company is at instilling a family-like culture in a team that is spread across the globe.
So, do I regret my decision to leave the fortune 100 tech industry and join a rising startup?
No. Not even a little.
Mentally, physically, emotionally - it was the best decision I ever made. When I spend time with family and friends, I am actually present. I am actually able to enjoy the time I have with them because the weight of my job is not trying to crush me every second of the day. I have time to exercise. I've lost 20 pounds. I have hobbies again. I read 12 books in the last month alone. I don't remember the last time I did that.
Did I take a pay cut in exchange for more responsibility and title? Yes, a fairly sizable one too.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Because it turns out - you really can't put a price on happiness.
If you're thinking about joining Vendia - reach out. We are always looking for more Kind Humans.