Transcript from Wednesday June 7th, 2023
[00:00:00] Carl Vitullo: Hello folks. Thank you for joining us for another Reactiflux Office Hours. I'm Carl Vitullo, the sort of community manager for Reactiflux, uh, here today with Jenny Truong talking about states of burnout. Uh, I met her at React Miami, she gave a talk called States of Burnout, and I just thought it was a really great subject to talk about. So, yeah, Jenny, really excited to have you on to talk a little more in depth.
[00:00:25] So you are head of operations and developer relations at Stately. What is the head of operations and how does that have, what does that have to do with developer relations?
[00:00:33] Jenny Truong: Yeah, so thanks for having me. Operations is basically the, they call me the glue behind the company because I basically do all the paperwork and all the HR related tasks and organization behind the startup. So our team right now at Stately is nine people, and most of them are engineers, but I do the payroll and the administrative and the financial, like all that stuff that like how a business runs, I do. And that's why I put it all under operations.
[00:01:05] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Operate the company can make sure it keeps going.
[00:01:07] Jenny Truong: Yeah essentially, yeah.
[00:01:10] Why do you care about burnout?
[00:01:10] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Very cool. Where does your passion for talking about burnout come from? Your talk was so well researched and so I know it had, it had so many great concepts to talk about. You were clearly so passionate about it.
[00:01:22] Jenny Truong: I really want to normalize the way we think about mental health and how like, We also approach it. I, I want to help people understand that like, we're all human. We all experience like this mental load of like, you know, the things that we keep in our head and how we don't express them is very unhealthy.
[00:01:41] So mental health is something huge that I, I am like trying to spread, if that makes sense. So just, just the idea of like expressing it and, and like having people talk about feelings instead of. Just saying, "hi, how are you" to like, every person we meet, we can either answer the question honestly or just approach the person where it's like, "hi," like take a moment to be like, I've never met you before, or, I've seen you before. I've never had the opportunity to chat. So like, you know, really just have meaningful conversations instead of an empty, Hey, how's it going? Great, how are you? You know?
[00:02:17] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, deep conversation instead of shallow platitudes.
[00:02:21] Jenny Truong: Exactly.
[00:02:23] Carl Vitullo: Okay. Very cool. Yeah, I love the, the backdrop of mental health and, and burnout. Those are definitely very closely related topics. Mental health's very close to me as well, I have some various diagnoses. I definitely have had a very personal relationship with burnout in my career too, so, yeah. Excited to get into it with you.
[00:02:42] Jenny Truong: Yeah. And then with burnout, people have this. Idea that if you work at a startup, you're always gonna be burnt out because they're gonna push you to your limits. But my personal experience with working at a startup that's only two years old, it's like you can define the workload that you're putting on yourself and your coworkers.
[00:03:02] So like, if you can create this movement of like everyone only working as much as they can and understanding your own, like, productivity capacity, or your limitations to how productive you are when you are productive, if you can express that onto your team and that can help them understand like where they are.
[00:03:20] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, definitely. That's reminding me, a couple years ago I wrote a blog post about… I can't remember if it was about burnout, or like, work stress, but one of the things that I researched, I pulled out some government PDFs that were talking about the relationship between productivity and hours worked, and I just, I remember the chart showed that like, okay, yes, at like 30 to 40 to 50 hours, there was a positive correlation between output and time put in.
[00:03:49] But after like two or three weeks of 50 hours a week, it started to fall off pretty sharply. So even, you know, 10 extra hours a week may not sound like totally burning the midnight oil to, to people. But yeah, like data shows, there's data showing that it doesn't help to burn yourself out.
[00:04:08] Jenny Truong: Yeah, and like it's, it's great that you mentioned that because it reminds me of like, in my research leading up to that presentation in Miami, I found out about how as humans we experience different types of rest deficits. And so like, that's something that we're gonna talk about later, but like we, we experienced seven different types of rest deficits that we could explore.
[00:04:33] And that like opened a whole new world on like how we can just be more creative and like have the intention to do something for us. Like do something, whether it's fun, or like new, or uncomfortable. Like, except it's the fact that you're exploring these different areas so then your brain can like just rest for a little bit.
[00:04:53] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. I, we, we can get deeper into it later, but I think even just the, that sentence "seven different types of rest," to me that's very evocative of like, oh yeah, you know, like there are different ways you can become exhausted. You know, I think many people will intuitively understand like, okay, you can be socially drained or you can be, you've worked for 10 hours on a code project and get tapped out on that knowledge work.
[00:05:16] Stress vs burnout
[00:05:16] Carl Vitullo: So let's, let's start a little bit like, burnout versus stress. Like how, how would you distinguish between those.
[00:05:22] Jenny Truong: So I see stress as a positive thing actually, and hopefully I can influence people to see that stress is actually necessary for humans. Cause in our brains, when we experience stress, it's like cortisol and adrenaline to enhance like our current senses, right? Like whether you're hearing or seeing or feeling things more intensely in the moment.
[00:05:47] And so stress to me is like, okay, it's a natural human experience and occurrence in the brain. If we stress for a long period of time, it's going to overwhelm us and like, not deteriorate us, but more of like, it's just gonna bring us down and, and cause a physical, emotional toll on our brains and our body.
[00:06:07] How I see like what stress versus burnout is, is burnout is mostly work related. And what I mean by that is the prolonged experience of stress without an idea of where you want to be. Like, you know, there's a finish line, you don't know how to get there. So burnout, you can think of the things that you are sacrificing.
[00:06:30] Basically you stress to the point where you start giving up these things in life that seem normal, like eating lunch, taking a shower, answering a phone call, and like getting up away and distracting yourself from work. Like those things that you feel guilty about. That's where burnout comes in and differentiates like between what stress is.
[00:06:51] So stress is like, it's temporary. And if that temporary becomes like, Hours long of like constant stress and you start like not being able to see how to get to your end goal. It becomes burnout. Because burnout is like you're sacrificing all that time and all that energy and you're putting it into like all these work related tasks that, or you know, like it needs to be completed with a deadline, but you don't know how to get there.
[00:07:18] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. And so earlier you, you mentioned stress as, sort of like, heightened senses, the cortisol, the physiological reaction. So, so maybe to contrast, stress with burnout is like acute versus chronic. Like stress is the moment where your body says, "Ooh, I need a little extra oomph to get through this." and burnout is the accumulation of, you know, the damage of being on alert for an extended period of time? Does that sound right?
[00:07:44] Jenny Truong: Yeah, that sounds great. That's pretty much what it is, but burnout is what you're giving up as well. Like it's what you're trading that all the things that you're trading out to focus on the work that you're doing.
[00:07:58] Burnout vs depression
[00:07:58] Carl Vitullo: What you were saying about sort of burnout and the feeling guilt about getting up to do non-work things. To me that, that just hits this note that makes me think about, like, some symptoms of depression, like, you know, the anhedonia and loss of things that bring you joy. So what do you think about sort of the, the overlap and where they're different between burnout and depression?
[00:08:21] Jenny Truong: So with my personal experience with depression is that depression's kind of addicting, right? Like what I mean by that is you get comfortable with the idea of like feeling unhappy. So with depression it's like — none of these are choices, by the way. But at the same time with depression, like you are so comfortable with this feeling of like, lack of joy, you're comfortable in this state of like, being unproductive and lazy. I mean, this is just my personal experience, and I hope I don't offend anyone with saying this, but the key difference is that burnout is less of like, you find comfort in, in like the burnout state.
[00:09:07] And you're just pushing through and forcing yourself to like, okay, "I just need to do this, I need to finish this by this deadline." And then it never gets done and you're always unsatisfied. Versus the depression of just like, "Ugh, I don't wanna do anything today." You intentionally want to just distance yourself from the world.
[00:09:27] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. I think maybe another way of saying, "you become comfortable," is like sort of like that sort of stuck in a rut. So if you, you become comfortable with sort of the positive framing of it, of you form these new rhythms in your life around, in some ways it's like, mental health day, you take a day off, you take a day to just breathe, but then you take a second mental health day, and then you take a third.
[00:09:51] Then so that sort of, "treat yourself," like do your, do yourself and your body well, kind of becomes a rut that it becomes difficult to break out of. So do you think it would be fair to say like, burnout can lead to depression?
[00:10:05] Jenny Truong: Oh, absolutely. And same thing with stress. Stress can lead you to depression as well. It's just, so I want to preface this with, I'm not a medical doctor of any sorts. And I can't diagnose you, but there's a lot of research out there defining the difference between depression and burnout. And what we wanna focus on is, is like with burnout, it's, yes, it's what you're giving up and what you're feeling guilty for, but it's the fear as well.
[00:10:34] So it's your intention about trying to, to, let's say, finish up a task. Right? But it's the fear of like, okay, "what if I don't finish this? Everyone at work is gonna think low of me." You know, you're basically, it's hard to explain, but.
[00:10:50] Carl Vitullo: Sort of like an avoidant behavior, like the, you anticipate some harm to your, your, your psyche, your reputation, and so you become avoidant of it?
[00:10:59] Jenny Truong: I think so essentially, but I mean, we all experience this differently. We all experience like different stages of depression and different stages of burnout, and depending on where we are and like how self-aware we are, that's where we can start making a difference. It's not as easy as like, "oh, I noticed I'm depressed, I'm gonna like get out of it." No, it's like the self-awareness really helps guide you on like what your next intention is going to be.
[00:11:25] Mindfulness and self awareness
[00:11:25] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, let's dive into that a little more. So self-awareness, mindfulness, I've heard it called the somatic experience. Just sort of being in tune with what your body is telling you and understanding those messages.
[00:11:37] What are some things people can do, or what are some things you've done, I guess, to be more in tune with your body and pay attention to early warning indicators for burnout?
[00:11:46] Jenny Truong: So I went through therapy and that's how I started learning these exercises. But how I've overcome situations where I feel overwhelmed and even notice if I'm in a burnout state is, you sit in that current emotion, or that current like situation, and you ask yourself, "is this something that I should be upset about?" and then you ask yourself, "what kind of feelings am I feeling or emotions that I'm aware of?" And then you ask yourself like, "is this true?"
[00:12:17] These are really silly questions that I, when I first started asking myself, I thought I was really ridiculous, but once you start honestly answering them, you start realizing like, okay, it is true. Like I'm really angry right now because at myself, because I can't solve these issues and that's probably why it's taken me half the week to just do something as easy as writing a blog post. Right. But with sitting in that current state of mind and, and with working at Stately, I think of everything in, in different states.
[00:12:48] When you sit in that state and you ask yourself like, "is this true? Is this what I want to feel?" And how do I get out of this stuck feeling or this state that I'm experiencing, whether it's angry or like frustrated or you know, sad. You start getting to know what your limitations are and what your preferences are.
[00:13:07] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure.
[00:13:09] Jenny Truong: You can even, what I've done is like write down like maybe I don't feel like visiting it right now, cuz it's a, it's like a big mental toll to like currently sit in that and like be intentional and be curious. What I sometimes do is I just write down a statement in my notebook or like a something nearby, like a sticky note, and I put it somewhere where I know I'm going to revisit like the fridge or the bathroom mirror.
[00:13:31] I just, I put it there and then I revisit it later, like, "oh, at 2:15 PM today, I was feeling really frustrated and disappointed in myself. What was I doing at that moment in time and like, is this something I want to visit right now?" You know?
[00:13:44] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah. I see someone in chat saying, using a notebook to externalize their thoughts. I, I think journaling as a window into yourself, your, your sense of self, what your body is doing, what your mind is doing. Yeah. That can be super powerful. I also have done some therapy in my life and that that was a big tool that I feel like I got out of that.
[00:14:08] You know, I think just being, (frustrated thoughtful exhale) making deliberate effort to be in touch with yourself, I think is, it's not easy and it is challenging, but it is, yeah, it, it is super rewarding too.
[00:14:21] Jenny Truong: It is, and it's really difficult to be curious, because we're like, we've grown in this society where everyone has to have their own opinions and judgment. So when you, you start visiting your thoughts and like different parts of your body, like, "okay, right now I. I feel like my shoulders are really stiff."
[00:14:38] Let me like, make a difference and like lose them and then make the intention to like, "okay, I wanna focus my, my energy here on my shoulders and move them." And then be more curious as to like, why are my shoulders stiff? You know, it's, it's the little things that can make a big difference long term. It's just practicing those little things first.
[00:15:00] Carl Vitullo: Right. Right. And it is, it's, it's all part of a feedback loop. You know, it's all part of your body and your mind. Yeah. I, I think like what you said, just sort of paying attention to, oh, my shoulders are tense right now. Like, that can be, I, that's something I do all the time, is like, oh, I'm clenching my jaw. Oh, I'm tense right now. Let me just relax and then, So like, you know, observe your physical response, adjust that physical response, consciously adjust it, and then you know that, that kind of disrupts that feedback loop a little bit I think.
[00:15:30] Jenny Truong: Yeah.
[00:15:31] States of burnout
[00:15:31] Carl Vitullo: So you, you mentioned thinking in states, so what are, what are, what are the states of burnout?
[00:15:37] Jenny Truong: Okay, so Dr. Herbert Friedenberg discovered that there are 12 states of burnout. Twelve is like an overwhelming number. When I first discovered that, I was like, oh my gosh. There's actually five really common states that you can group them together in, and it all starts in this honeymoon phase.
[00:15:55] You'll start getting burnt out, technically, when you become way overly excited and passionate about... whether it's a topic, or your job, or the specific types of tasks that you're doing at a company, and so we call this the honeymoon phase. Within the honeymoon phase it's just you being way too optimistic and saying yes to all the different things that you can do, but are not necessarily responsible for.
[00:16:23] And it starts there as simple as that. And most people don't consider this a burnout state, but if you really think about it, you are taking on more than you should. You're taking on all these responsibilities just because you're passionate, excited, and you're like, I can absolutely stay up till midnight writing all these different articles and blogs to like output, and you can't.
[00:16:49] Keep that momentum up for like ever, if that makes sense. You can only do it temporarily, and that's because your mind is like so shocked that this is something that you're finally able to do. You're content doing it, and that excitement is what leads you to the next state of burnout, which is this onset of stress that is like, "okay, I took on all these things. I'm totally capable, but why is it taking me longer to do?"
[00:17:16] And then you start realizing like, okay, am I actually capable? Because like I used to be able to write two blog posts a week, and now I can barely get one done.
[00:17:26] So with this onset of stress, you start doubting yourself and you start thinking like, "okay, I should extend my work hours. I should stay up until past 5:00 PM and sacrifice dinner and, and do all these different things to complete all the tasks in the backlog that I should have done last week," and so on.
[00:17:48] So you start making excuses on,, okay. Work is more important than going to my friend's birthday dinner or work is more important than taking a shower right now and eating dinner and so on. You know, those excuses build up. And then you reach the third state of burnout. These are the most five common states, by the way, so I'm only going up till five.
[00:18:08] But this third state of burnout is like this huge onset of stress where there's an end goal that you have, like this deadline you have, but you have no idea how to get there. The self-doubt gets stronger. You become cynical towards people. You start thinking, man, my coworkers are like so much better than me because they're able to make these PRs multiple times a day or even a week, and I haven't even submit one yet.
[00:18:34] Like you start getting jealous, negative views towards not just your coworkers, but people around you, whether it's family or friends. And then if you keep that up, then you'll reach this initial state of burnout.
[00:18:48] You might not be doing a physical workout, but you wake up like stiff and sore, and realizing, okay I don't wanna work right now and every day feels like a Monday. And you just wake up thinking, "Ugh, not another day. Like, where did my week go?"
[00:19:03] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, and I, I just wanna connect back, "waking up feeling like you've done a workout," back to what you said earlier about the physiological response to stress. It, it's not a muscle exhaustion.
[00:19:13] It's not, you know, you worked your muscles and did all that, but it is, you know, your, your body floods with cortisol and adrenaline and all of those chemicals, and it it, it heightens everything in your body. Everything in your body is ready to go. So it's does, it does physically drain you being in that heightened state of stress for, for too long.
[00:19:32] Jenny Truong: It does. And same thing with like how I just mentioned earlier, oh, my shoulders are stiff because I'm a little anxious or nervous. It's the little things that if you don't recognize, later tonight or tomorrow, I'm gonna figure out like, oh man, I felt like I just lifted a whole sofa, because my shoulders are like constantly up towards my ears. Yeah.
[00:19:51] Carl Vitullo: Right.
[00:19:52] Maybe you didn't lift, you know, 50 pounds, but like, what is lifting? It's in terms of duration of a workout, it's a couple of minutes. Whereas if you're, if you're stressed and your muscles are clenched for eight hours. Yeah, I you know, it's, it's a lower expenditure of effort, but it's over a much longer period of time.
[00:20:09] Jenny Truong: Yes. And so that's, that's why our bodies feel that tension, it's like that tension that's held there for like a long period of time, that's why you're sore the next day. And, and, and it's like, it could be natural. It could be like, okay, I'm used to slouching or I'm used to keeping my shoulders like up towards my ears.
[00:20:27] And, and your body's basically telling you the next day, "Hey, you've done this for too long, can you stop?"
[00:20:34] Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah, definitely.
[00:20:36] Jenny Truong: One more. So we reached the last state of the most five common states of burnout that people experience. And that last, that last state is like very bad. So it's technically called habitual burnout, but. It's all burnout in a sense. Like no matter which state that you're in, it's very detrimental to your mental health and physical.
[00:20:57] And so that last state is where it's too late to turn back essentially. And you can't really mentally get out of it yourself. It's very highly recommended that you seek medical or external expertise because at that point, like your mind isn't going to be intentional anymore. It's just like, It's really hard to describe, but in my eyes it's, it's the point where you just become unmotivated to even get outta bed.
[00:21:26] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Okay. Yeah I think habitual burnout, unmotivated to get out of bed, that's where it does start sounding like it has a lot of symptoms in common with depression.
[00:21:37] Jenny Truong: Mm-hmm.
[00:21:38] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure.
[00:21:40] Jenny Truong: And that's where that type of burnout can lead to depression. And there's a lot of similarities between the two, and I highly recommend that you research the difference if it really, if it, if you think it's something that affects you. But if you're intentional, if you can try to be, if intentional with the things that your mind and your body are experiencing, that will help so much in recognizing like, okay. Where am I in this state of, whether it's burnout or in your mind, and how do I get somewhere where I want to be?
[00:22:12] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, so you mentioned these are five stages of burnout that you pulled from what you can, can you say the name of the researcher again?
[00:22:22] Jenny Truong: Dr. Herbert Freudenberger? So he's a German-American psychiatrist that researched, you know, all these different types of burnout. One of the reasons why he researched it is because he feels like helping professions suffer more than most other professions. And what I mean by helping professions is like, People in like sales where they're constantly putting out effort to help people outside of just themselves and people in the medical industry.
[00:22:50] And he also mentions like people in the tech community very briefly, but to me, like I think the tech community and developers we're all in this helping profession because we're building tools that affect people more than just us.
[00:23:04] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Yeah, that makes sense. You're, you're concerned for others' needs maybe in a very abstract and technical way, but Sure. Yeah. So just to, to restate the, those five stages of burnout. So there's the honeymoon period, the onset of stress, chronic stress. Then like initial burnout and chronic burnout.
[00:23:24] Jenny Truong: Mhm, yeah, those are the most common if you were to categorize all 12.
[00:23:28] When to seek help
[00:23:28] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Okay. You know, this is gonna vary a lot, person by person and situation by situation, but, there are tools you can use to sort of manage your own stress and your own levels of burnout. Do you think somewhere along those stages you cross the threshold where it's now the stress has become so chronic, the burnout has become so deep that it's now clear, more clear that external help is, will be needed to get yourself out of that state?
[00:23:57] Jenny Truong: Personally, I like after researching all of this, I think once you reach any state of those five, you should seek help. Because like let's say you're in the first state and you're like saying yes to everything, because yes, you're capable, but you don't have enough time. And I say that because you only ha you should only work 40 hours a week.
[00:24:16] If not less. And so like when you're in that state and you start realizing like, oh no, I don't wanna get burned out. You can, you gotta put up your boundaries, your work boundaries, and you gotta put up, like, you gotta realize, okay, I myself am a priority and if I can't prioritize myself that I won't be performing at my best.
[00:24:36] You know, like any state of burnout that you might think you are in, that's where you should seek some type of help. And it does. Some people don't have resources to therapy, right? So you could reach out to even friends and family that you trust enough to listen and, and that you look up to, to seek advice from it.
[00:24:57] It can just be a relative or a best friend or someone in your life that you highly look up to, and I'm sure they're gonna be concerned for your health as well.
[00:25:07] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Maybe even a Discord community.
[00:25:10] Jenny Truong: Absolutely, and I will say I personally find comfort in talking to a stranger, which is why I talk to a therapist rather than my family, because they're less judgmental.
[00:25:21] Carl Vitullo: Right. Yeah. That is something that I've thought about a lot in my life is there is something a little freeing in talking to someone who, you know, you won't have an ongoing interaction with, an ongoing relationship with it. You can just kind of, you overlap for what, however long you do, and then you each go your separate ways.
[00:25:41] Whereas if you're talking to family, if you're talking to someone who knows you deeply, maybe there's so much context there and so much future that it, it can be hard to get into those harder subjects.
[00:25:51] Jenny Truong: And there's also judgment. We're raised in a society where we have to have all these judgments, and yes, we are allowed to have feelings and preferences, and yes, it is true, but we don't have to push that on people.
[00:26:05] Carl Vitullo: Judgment, I think is I, so something that I think many of my friends would, uh, I, I think I make a point of talking about sort of the contrast between judgment and curiosity, like, uh, So many. I, I think it is so much more. I think it's very freeing in your life to be conscious of, am I assigning a judgment to this?
[00:26:26] And then consciously derailing that and saying, no, like, how can I be curious about this? What about instead of looking to dismiss or assign some kind of value or lack of value to, how can I be curious about this?
[00:26:41] Using curiosity instead of judgement
[00:26:41] Jenny Truong: In therapy, that's where I learned to ask the question, is this true? If it's true, is it an opinion or an emotion or a fact? Like what I mean by is it true? Is is this a fact? And if it's not a fact, then ask yourself why. And it doesn't have to be blaming like, oh, because I, this is what I was raised to think.
[00:27:00] It could just be. Like a curious why, like why do I feel this strongly about this topic or this statement or this emotion, right? And so with understanding, okay, this is not a fact, so it's not true. And digging deeper into that, like that's where the, you can help yourself become more aware and you also become kind kinder to yourself in a way.
[00:27:20] Cuz then you realize, okay, I am being judgmental. Whether or not I have reasons to be judgmental and where they stem from doesn't matter. It's the fact that I just noticed this is not a fact.
[00:27:31] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Yeah. Right. I think that, I think that is really powerful. It, it, it, it feels almost trite and too small to be as. Powerful as it is, but it is, I think if, you know, it's, if, if you can bring that energy of sort of interrogating your own thoughts a little bit just now and again, you know, o okay, there's, there's also unhealthy rumination, like you can do it too much, but interrogating it a little bit and just trying to better understand your deeper assumptions that you bring to the world.
[00:28:02] Yeah. I think that that can be really powerful to inform what am I judgmental against? Should I be, are there good things in there too?
[00:28:09] Jenny Truong: It definitely encourages you to, one, be more self-aware, but two, just be more open-minded.
[00:28:16] Carl Vitullo: Open-minded. Yeah, definitely. There was a, a, a comment in, in the chat that I, I think would be good to talk about.
[00:28:23] What about the junior devs?
[00:28:23] Carl Vitullo: What about the juniors who are trying to get a job? There's no way to work 40 hours and still. Get a place. I think that that's something that I've been aware of in my, my thinking about sort of mental health and where I'm at in my life is I'm 10 years into my career, like I am established, you know, I can go to a conference and network with people and like I'm, I, I have arrived in a se in a way that people who are earlier in their career haven't, and yeah.
[00:28:49] So I guess like thinking about stress and burnout and managing all of that. Do, do you have any, yeah. What, what do you think about, thinking about stress and burnout early in your career when there is so much external pressure to overwork?
[00:29:04] Jenny Truong: I find this as an opportunity to redefine the different rates of productivity for everyone on your team. Right? And I know it's like, it's like a dangerous topic to approach because you're like, well, I wanna overwork because I need to show my worth. And then that's where I move up on the ladder or stay at a company, cuz if not like they'll hire someone else.
[00:29:24] That's the fear. That is all fear that society puts on you and it's all false because, In the end, if you can, like, this is my own personal belief and from my own personal experience, but if you can redefine what your work boundaries are, the people in like, and if they're decent people, they will respect that and say like, okay, this person strictly shuts off and doesn't check their emails after 5:00 PM.
[00:29:50] You know, it's like the little boundaries that you can place to make people respect you more and. I'm going to have a lot of people disagree with me on this, but. It's what I firmly believe and what I have done at, even at this startup, at state leader ai, like that's what I tell people. And then, you know what?
[00:30:08] All my coworkers started doing the same thing after 5:00 PM We don't check Discord, we don't check our emails unless it's an emergency. Then my boss will reach me on my cell phone and tell me like, Hey, we really need this fixed now. Like it's a major bug. And, and that's when I know like, okay, I'll sacrifice this amount of time to fix it, but then the next day, I will remind my coworkers I took three hours, so I'm gonna take like a two and a half hour lunch, for example.
[00:30:35] That's my advice to you, to be that person, to start that movement essentially, and normalize the way we should respect each other in the workplace.
[00:30:44] Contrasting burnout in tech vs other expert fields
[00:30:44] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, for sure I can. Yeah, I can definitely empathize with that. I think it's, cuz it is a, it's a cultural thing on a team. It's a matter of, having healthy boundaries within work is definitely super important. I've thought a little bit about sort of like other career paths. Like, you know, people talk about doctors and burnout and lawyers and burnout.
[00:31:05] You know, those are two industries that in a lot of ways have rigidly codified around, burning out new entrants into the, into the field. And I think tech is not quite so rigidly, you know, in that, you know, there's not like the, you know, you, you graduate medical school and you get your first, your internship and your residency.
[00:31:28] And like I hear, I've talked with friends who've done that path and it's like, " You do what? You worked for, how long straight, and you were responsible for people's health and lives?" So yeah, I think tech does have more of an opportunity than some fields to set those boundaries. But at, you know, on the flip side, when you're scrambling for any opportunity, I guess it can be really hard to come into it with your own, it, it can be hard to set boundaries.
[00:31:56] Jenny Truong: It is hard, but that's where like, that's where you have to ask yourself, like, is this gonna be worth it for me to risk, let's say the next six months on being a pushover and being like, and I'm sorry if I said pushover as a strong word, but I consider myself a pushover when I start saying yes to people, to helping them.
[00:32:16] And so I, I'm basically reflecting on myself. You have to ask yourself like, is this gonna be worth it for six months? Because if it's not worth it and then you find out that you've been putting all this hard work in and your employer is, is just not going to promote you or not even going to recognize your work and then claim that work for their own, that's when you need to get out of that workplace and find better opportunities.
[00:32:39] Cuz there are people out there, there are decent people out there, but there's also a lot of non decent people out there.
[00:32:44] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, a lot of people who will happily exploit you for whatever energy you're willing to
[00:32:49] Jenny Truong: Yes, and that is where you need to understand. This place is not for you if they're going to exploit you for that.
[00:32:56] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. And maybe, maybe another way of thinking about it is, so talking about like the honeymoon period and going, yeah, I can do everything. I can take on everything. And then the, into the onset of stress, maybe a, a similar but distinct way to think about a situation like that if, you, you know, I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of someone early career who wants to get ahead, wants to give it their all.
[00:33:21] Maybe a way of thinking about it is of going into it sort of with your eyes open, aware of burnout and stress as a serious risk, like it is genuinely a risk. It's not something that you can just gloss over and say like, no, it'll be fine. But that, like you were saying about, you know, thinking about it like six months.
[00:33:41] So like if, if, when you take something on, considering how long you are willing to over commit yourself and how much, you know, how long you can go at a, at above your capacity.
[00:33:52] Jenny Truong: This also reminds me of like a practice that I started doing. Uh, so I've only a little bit of background on me. I've only been in tech for three and a half, if not four years, including an internship fresh out of a university. And what I started doing after I found out I was completely burned out the first two years of working in tech was that I don't voice.
[00:34:14] What my limitations are and what my boundaries are. So when you, let's say you're in the honeymoon phase and you're so excited. You just got your first job and this is the first company that is willing to, you know, invest in you.
[00:34:25] What you can practice is, is when people ask you to do these favors or these tasks that 4:59 PM is, you can tell them, " I will do this task even though it's not technically part of my responsibilities. I'm happy to take it on and help you achieve it, but I'm not going to work on this until the following workday." Or you can say, I will work on this, but I hope that my lunch will be extended the following, workday and so on. So like, it's kind of like a trade off you.
[00:34:56] You have them recognize that you're sacrificing something to help them out. And then in trade, like you trade for either more time to do things for yourself or eat lunch, or you just, you gotta put that boundary out there in the beginning so then they can also recognize, oh, you're right. Like I shouldn't be asking someone to do a task at 4:59 PM.
[00:35:20] Carl Vitullo: Right. And so maybe that, that makes me think of boundaries as less like hard lines in the sand. Like, oh, I'm not gonna do anything after 5:00 PM on a Friday. But maybe more like, okay, that's a good boundary. I don't want to say not to do that, but thinking of boundaries as your available capacity, maybe.
[00:35:40] Mental inventories
[00:35:40] Carl Vitullo: Maybe this is a good segue into, uh, as we were preparing to get on this call, you brought up the, the idea of like a mental inventory. And so I'm thinking of sort of like, maybe part of setting boundaries is sort of that, being aware of how much you can work, how much of yourself you can give, and then, you know, the follow up the upkeep work is that mental inventory of saying, what am I doing? How much of my capacity am I using? Could you talk a little bit about that idea of a mental inventory? Um,
[00:36:11] Jenny Truong: Yeah, so part of that mental inventory is, is knowing what your priorities are. So if you prioritize yourself, then you can put that respect and reserve for yourself, so you respect yourself enough to let others know. You can contact me after 5:00 PM. I may or may not respond, but like, just the fact that you can put it out there so people understand, you know, you're not going to be working those prolonged hours just to, just to sacrifice, you know, life.
[00:36:41] And so part of that mental inventory is, is self-awareness and recognizing, but also putting those boundaries out there. So then, you know, Not to burn yourself out. And I know these are like practices that you'll achieve later when you're early on into the burnout stages, you're not gonna know where to start, how to get there.
[00:36:59] It's gonna get overwhelming, but you just start small with either writing those sticky notes and putting them around the house where you constantly visit and then yeah, and then accepting like, okay, you're right. I told my coworkers and my boss, I wouldn't be working past 5:00 PM so I'm going to actually take action on this.
[00:37:17] And then you be responsible for yourself.
[00:37:19] Carl Vitullo: Right. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves. No one else will look out for us.
[00:37:25] Jenny Truong: Yes.
[00:37:25] Personal boundaries and 7 types of rest
[00:37:25] Carl Vitullo: ( nervous laughter) Yeah. I, and I guess I also wanna contrast, we've talked a little bit about, you know, sort of like time cutoffs and keeping like, working hours. I have always been a very erratic person, you know, like ADHD and whatever are among my diagnoses.
[00:37:42] So the idea of like getting up at nine in the morning and like working until five with like lunch break has always been very, I don't know, it's grated against me a little bit. So I, I personally have found it very helpful to say, "I will commit this time, this energy that I have to this project, to this company. But like, don't tell me when to do it." I kind of chased my inspiration personally, just for myself, over working 10, 15 years now. I have learned ways to sort of lean into those quirks of how my brain operates. Like, okay, I'm adhd. I struggle to. Do small rote things, but when I, when I get inspired, it's just best to lean into it.
[00:38:25] And if I get inspired at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday, maybe I'll work until two in the morning because that's how my brain works. Then I'm in it. And if I'm not in it right now, then it's, I'm not gonna do as if I try to come back to it later, I won't get the same out output. Yeah. But like still coming at it with that sense of managing your boundaries, managing your capacity, and being in tune with your, with what your body's telling you. I guess.
[00:38:51] Jenny Truong: I want to start by saying that you're in a very fortunate place where you can work remotely and schedule your own work hours.
[00:39:00] Carl Vitullo: a hundred percent.
[00:39:01] Jenny Truong: And not all of us are able to schedule our own hours or even work remotely. So this is where the seven types of rests come in, that I absolutely encourage people to explore the seven types of rests, whether it's in a book or a podcast that you come across.
[00:39:19] Look up the Dr. Sandra Dalton Smith. Take a look at her TED Talks. Take a look at like different articles that, um, she's put out there and all the research that she's done, and find one of these practices to do for 15 to 30 minutes a day in between the different tasks that you're completing. Because when you are constantly using your brain to solve critical problems, you are becoming deficit in other areas, like in that mental area, but also different areas like haven't been touched yet in your brain.
[00:39:51] And so what she, what I mean by the seven types of rest is that as humans, like we experience so many different things, thanks to the different lobes of our brain being active, you know,
[00:40:02] Carl Vitullo: Sure. Oh yeah, that's actually, I like that framing of it. Sort of thinking of the different areas of rest as different parts of your brain being in use and letting some of them rest and some of them, you know, like, like give an analogy of a workout. You know, you have arm day and you've got leg day.
[00:40:18] Jenny Truong: Yeah. Different parts of your muscles that you are putting attention towards, right? So with your brain and, and discovering like what types of rest deficit you might be in, you can just be like, okay, well you know what? I don't want to like, think critically. Anymore and I need to just take a nap and that's like a physical rest.
[00:40:36] And we can go into the different seven types of rest if you want or if not, I highly encourage, I want to look her up. Seven types of rest by Sandra Dalton Smith.
[00:40:45] Carl Vitullo: Yeah, I, let's get into the seven types of rest.
[00:40:47] Jenny Truong: Okay. Yeah, so within physical, which is the first type, you have passive and active, and so you can look into passive as sleeping. Putting your body and your mind into a state where like it's just temporarily idle and on hold and not like exerting physical activities. And then you have the active rest, which is stretching or massages or doing some type of, just the fact that you can just push your shoulders down when they're like raised up really high because you're stressed.
[00:41:16] Just the fact that you doing that is letting your body physically rest. Then we have mental rest, which is the critical thinking and solving problems in order to rest mentally. You can go shop for groceries and find items in the grocery store or check out your to-do list and start crossing things off that you've already completed or even cooking if, if you're able to cook and follow like a recipe that doesn't require too much thinking and cut vegetables or meat, that activity gives your brain a chance to mentally rest.
[00:41:48] Then we have social rest, which is where you spend too much time and energy trying to have a conversation, like, I'm gonna be socially drained after this. So one of the things I'm gonna do after our chat is to just sit alone and put my phone on silent and not answer any phone calls for 15 to 30 minutes.
[00:42:06] That's how much I've realized that I needed in order to socially rest and distance myself, and then be able to have another conversation again and not feel overwhelmed. Some people it could take five minutes. Some people don't even need that type of social rest.
[00:42:21] Carl Vitullo: Sure.
[00:42:22] Jenny Truong: Yeah. Then we have spiritual rest, which is, think of it as like helping people outside of what can benefit you.
[00:42:30] So you could volunteer, you can do activities that are faith-based, like praying it. It's the fact that you're, the actions that you're doing are not going to just benefit you. That's the type of spiritual rest that you can explore. Then we have sensory rest. So with working in tech and always being on the computer and on my phone, there's always emails and pings that I get from discord of, of people needing me for whatever it is they need me for (laughs).
[00:42:58] Carl Vitullo: Right.
[00:42:58] Jenny Truong: Yeah. That sensory rest could be as simple as like, okay, shutting off your phone, or if you can't do that, put yourself in a dark room and just have your eyes dilate and like, get used to a different type of environment, so then you're not constantly having like sunlight or the light in your room, like glared into your eyes or the screen of your computer, like constantly putting your eyes to work.
[00:43:23] Sensory rest could be as simple as like, what I do is I take a bath once a week and I light candles, and the smell is like a sensory rest. To me because I don't usually smell candles all the time. And same thing with like submerging myself in water, like my body's in a different state where like I could be floating or like it's getting warmed up by the heat of the water and so on.
[00:43:46] You know, that's a sensory rest, which also leads me to creative rest. Creative rest is where you explore different things that are. Not in your comfort zone. So like for example, you might be used to being in your house nine to five, and a creative rest could be just taking a walk. Or what I do is walk my dog.
[00:44:07] Some people don't have pets, so it could be as simple as just sitting outside and like staring at nature and look at the ducks, fly by or like, you know, waddle by or even if it's like, if you're in a cold place, it's probably not snowing anywhere where you all are right now. But if it is like, it's just as easy as watching the droplets fall from the sky and, and that itself is a creative rest or working at a cafe.
[00:44:34] If you work from home and you have the flexibility, put yourself in an environment that you're not commonly like placed in and that you're kind of uncomfortable with. And that's where I don't want people to like force themselves to be uncomfortable, but the fact that you can like place yourself in an area where you're not normally in that itself is a creative rest.
[00:44:54] And then lastly, we have emotional rest, which is where you're intentionally trying to be there in a conversation and, and like uplift the other person. My experience with emotional arrest is that before tech, I was in the beauty industry, the cosmetology industry, and I constantly had to tell people like, yeah, like your hair, your skin, your nails look great, and like, I'm gonna do the best job that I can for you.
[00:45:21] But that gets straining if you're working 10 hour days at a salon, which is what I used to do. And then after a couple days, if not a week, I start getting. Emotionally drained where I can't really fake the, Hey, how are you? Like, I'm so excited to see you anymore, and that's where I need that emotional break.
[00:45:41] And just to be honest with the client and say, listen, I can't do these services for you. It's such a high demand that you're asking from me. So I can either have another esthetician help you or I can refer you to a different salon. Like it's the fact that you're being honest. And you're not forcing yourself to smile and, and put services on the other people where you're not having the most effort put in, if that makes sense.
[00:46:08] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Right, right. As you were saying that, I was just thinking, yeah, that is emotional work that is being responsible for others' emotions is work. Taking a break from that is definitely important.
[00:46:19] Body and mind influencing each other
[00:46:19] Carl Vitullo: I also wanted to go back to what you were saying about like taking a rest, taking a bath with a candle and whatever that was, you know, close to 10 years ago now, I was working with a therapist for the first time, like seriously in my adult life.
[00:46:33] And that was something that they explicitly told me as like one form of treatment that was useful for me. So, you know, like your mileage may vary, but the justification being like, Tying it back to, you know, mu mu musculature and all sorts of those things like when you're immersed in hot water, your muscles relax, the warmth and the, you know, the pressure is a physi, it will physiologically trigger your muscles to relax.
[00:47:00] And so, you know, for me, at that time in my life, I was very stressed. I was very strained. And this therapist I was working with advised me to take a bath, come up with a little mantra that you repeat to yourself and then when you're feeling extremely stressed, when you're in this, you know, in that most acute point of stress, now you have a touch point.
[00:47:21] Use that mantra to summon the feeling in that moment and just to take the edge off of that stress a little bit, and that really stuck with me as such a, it's such an easy and powerful thing to do.
[00:47:32] Jenny Truong: But it's hard to also mentally like pause on what you're working on and like be able to relax and do that. Before I took baths. I would like not be okay. Like when I first started taking baths, it was really hard to like not think about all the different things in the backlog that I was supposed to complete, you know, so, It's practice.
[00:47:52] You just gotta try it gradually. And here's another thing, you can do the opposite of a warm bath and do an ice bath. That actually really helped me snap out of whatever current thing I'm thinking about and like be immersed in fear that this is gonna hurt. And then like, it's like a quick 32nd dip and then like get out and then you feel so refreshed.
[00:48:14] And if you can't, like let's say you don't have a bathtub and you can't like, Take an ice bath. It could be as simple as getting a big bowl that is as big as your face and dipping your face in like a bowl of ice for 10 seconds, for a full minute, if that. So it would be like six times, 10 seconds, ten second rests, or it's not six times.
[00:48:34] It's like three times I think. I can't count. But you know, just the fact that like you can do that to your brain and your body. It could be like a mental pause on like what exactly is stressing you out and then really help you understand like, okay, you're shocking your mind and your body to where it can pause on exactly what is currently freaking you out in the moment, and then putting you in a different state of mind of whether it's fear or relaxation or, you know, that ice bath would make me fearful until I did it, and then I felt so refreshed afterwards.
[00:49:08] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. I, I love that it is like a, Sort of a hacking your body to influence your mind.
[00:49:15] Jenny Truong: Yeah, that's one way to put it.
[00:49:17] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Yeah. I, you know what, like, it's all connected. You influence one thing and it'll affect the other. Well, we're coming up on an hour here. I did want to, so I, I had looked up Dr. Sandra Dalton Smith and found she has a book called Sacred Rest.
[00:49:32] Are you familiar with that?
[00:49:34] Jenny Truong: I am, I actually haven't read the full book yet, but it goes into so many details on like what your human, human body is capable of, and the mind. So if you have the time, let's. Listen to the podcast or read it. There's also plenty of articles that she's written as well.
[00:49:51] Carl Vitullo: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, I came prepared with a link to that, so yeah, definitely, like if you're feeling stressed, if you're feeling burned out, maybe that's a good resource to, uh, learn some tools to rest. Just good for everyone. Everyone gets stressed. Everyone needs rest. All right, Jenny, thank you so much for coming out.
[00:50:07] Before we close, anything else you, uh, you wanna close on?
[00:50:10] Remember you're human
[00:50:10] Jenny Truong: Yeah, so just a reminder that you are human, okay? You can only do so much. But if you push yourself too much, please try to recognize it and realize you're, you're just human. Do as much as you can for other people. You'll get to a limit where you can't anymore. And then you're gonna think like all these negative things about yourself.
[00:50:30] Don't do that. Try to be intent, intentional in experiencing life as a human.
[00:50:35] Carl Vitullo: Yep. We are all human. Be intentional about experiencing life. Great. Great place to close. Awesome. Thanks so much, Jenny.
[00:50:42] Jenny Truong: Thanks for having me.