The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

Support Burnout


Support is a burnout job.  Within the industry, this is a known fact.  Good companies have programs to reduce burnout because it’s expensive to replace skilled workers who leave. My company was doing no such thing.  We were getting ridden until we broke.

Two or three months into my third year, I recognized it was happening to me.  Although I’d had been fighting it for a long time, my natural human urge to punch back was leaving me, replaced by something closer to despair.  I wish I were kidding or exaggerating about this – I take little pleasure in revealing personal weakness.

The trigger for me was travel.  I’d been promoted to ‘back-line’ support and also ‘on-call’ duty.  In my company, the next step in career development for a support engineer is to fly directly to customer sites to fix the toughest and most politically dicey issues in person.  My manager, Mr. Data, made it clear that this was the expectation.

So I did it.  My first trip was to ClientSoftwareCompany, in Texas.  The first two days I got nowhere with the problem.  The second day was more of the same.  I was in meetings all day with various technical teams within the company, tracing and analyzing. After a ten hour day, we were no closer to resolving the problem than we were prior to my flight down.  Fingers were being pointed and wagged.  The Blame Game was in full effect.

I still remember getting back to my hotel room that second night, my head full of defeat, reeling.  No one was happy.  Mr. Data was upset that we weren’t done yet.  The client was upset that we still didn’t have any viable theories.  People were getting hostile.  They were paying a lot of money for the on-site service, this special visit from support, and so far they had nothing to show for it.

The failure gnawed at me.  I didn’t want to eat or watch television or do anything at all.  Instead I stayed in my hotel room and let the time pass as slowly as it liked, laying on top of the comforter, tears streaming from the corners of my eyes, looking at the blurry popcorn-textured ceiling above. The more I made the minutes drag out, the more time it seemed I had between me and going back into the client’s office.

I wasn’t sure I could go back at all. Maybe it’d be best if I just went back to the airport and flew home. Yep, that was the best plan of action.

My brain started mapping out my future life.  Trip after trip of this.  Even if, by some miracle, I fixed the issue, I’d shortly be dispatched to another customer to resolve some other problem (a pattern of endlessly repeating discomfort.) These thoughts didn’t exactly make me feel better.

Somehow, I picked myself up and made myself go back in the next day. And the next. And the next.  By the end of Friday, we’d resolved the problem — a complicated son of a bitch, which required a tremendous team effort to ultimately pin down — and sanity had been restored to my world.

But I when I got back to my apartment in San Francisco, I knew that I had to start thinking about making life changes.  This current model was not working.  There was too much pain and not enough pleasure.  I was averaging over 55 hours of high-stress work a week, and the vast majority of those hours were miserable.

I wasn’t sleeping.  I wasn’t exercising.  When I did manage to power down for six or seven hours, I dreamt about troubleshooting.  Sometimes I’d wake up, exhausted, with an answer to an issue;  I was working while unconscious.

Unfortunately, when I looked at my bank account and student loan balance, it didn’t seem like there was much I could do about the situation.

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12 Responses to The Job Experience: Tech Support, Year #3

  1. I still have never read YMOYL. Not sure if I’d get anything out of it at this point, but it’s impressive the number of people for whom that was THE book.

    Financial epiphanies like this, to my mind, are vastly more transformational than any religious conversions (or deconversions, in my case).

    • livingafi says:

      Hey GC, thanks for stopping by. Yes, you could probably skip reading YMOYL because it’s just a reinforcement of things you already know and do.
      If I got my BS in 2009 instead of 1999, I surely would have found MMM’s blog instead of YMOYL. Might not even know what that book was! The internet’s really changed everything… the vast majority of people seek answers to life problems online nowadays. It’s probably for the best –more efficient this way, with search engines and all.

      • Gamergirl says:

        I actually found YMOYL back in 2005, I wish I’d found it earlier, before I went back to school for my masters degree. After I got my bachelor’s degree, I was saving 90% of my income from my job. I thought I was doing something wrong! So I went back to school for my master’s degree. Then I met ex and let him lead me down the path of spending all my money.

        I still love YMOYL and recommend it to people who don’t like blogs.

      • livingafi says:

        I think “I wish I found it earlier” is the number one sentiment from folks who find MMM, EEE, YMOYL, etc. It sure would have helped me in Year 1 as well — although, the counter argument is that people aren’t necessarily looking to overhaul their lives until they’ve identified that they have a problem. It’s sort of like the AA thing: If you don’t think it’s an issue (yet), you’ll never look for a solution. I still shudder to think where I’d be had I not found YMOYL when I did. BTW, super-glad to hear that your spendy and destructive ex is just that — an ex. Without him weighing you down, you’ll get where you want to go for sure.

  2. I’ve picked up bits and pieces from all over, some of YMOYL works and some doesn’t for me (every dollar and every year is not created equal, but I can’t exchange future dollars for earlier years). Probably why I’m still wandering the internet, there are gems everywhere, but no-one source has The Answer. Before YMOYL, I had a ‘Rich Dad’ phase. Although I didn’t want to get into real estate, I did like the concept ‘before you buy a Porsche, buy cash-flowing real estate yield and let your investments buy you the Porsche’. Of course, I dialed it back to a used MiniCooper and a mix of dividends and bond interest, but the general idea was sound 🙂

    • livingafi says:

      Another part of YMOYL that sucks: All investment advice. Completely agree that there are wide differences in opinion when it comes to certain details in the FIRE journey. Some folks like DRIPing, others all paper, some renting, some quit early and find part-time employment just to ‘get them by’ while their initial pile of assets grow. There’s really no single right path and the best thing to do is gather as much data as you can and make an educated decision that works for you. I’m also extremely reluctant to be a landlord. I don’t want the hassle, but some many people on the forums really enjoy it.

  3. Gamergirl says:

    I LOVE this series, and I agree with another poster about the layout being very nice. It is long, but the images and the breakup between pages really aids in readability.

  4. Dwayne Hoover says:

    I really enjoy your blog, and particularly this series. Great stuff.

  5. MilDoc says:

    I’ve been reading a lot of FI / RE stuff for awhile now. Yours is the only blog that I am reading from beginning to end (I came close with MMM though). Your POV just seems to resonate with me the most, though my prison seems much more gilded than yours was. Still, freedom is freedom.

    For some reason, I HATED YMOYL. I sensed there was something to the underlying premise, but the style and diction (it seemed overly sentimental or patronizing or something) made me want to vomit so much, I could not get through it.

    One thing I have noted is that those who “see the light” wrt financial stuff later in life (like myself, though I am not that old but do have a wife and kids) have a more uphill battle with the consumptions side of the equation. It’s not like I can just rip my kids out of their expensive extracurriculars (which easily cost as much as owning an additional unnecessary car) without significant relational and societal repercussions. But there is more than one way to skin a cat…

    • livafi says:

      I didn’t like the writing style in YMOYL either. But I read it for the content and suggestions.

      One of my friends who is my age — 39 — has also been trying to scale back and he is running into some of the same problems you’ve outlined. E.g. Downsizing the house, he will say things like: “Are you kidding me? With a wife and three kids who each need their own bedroom and are used to an abundance of space in an affluent area? Dad will be viewed as crazy and subsequently hated for uprooting everyone.” It seems impossible (although it’s not), and as a result he’s sort of giving up on it. I do see his point of view. It is difficult. People who pretend there is no cost associated with making these sorts of choices are lying to themselves and their readers.

      But there is also a cost in continuing to do what everyone else is doing. These are tough decisions, there’s absolutely no question about it.

      The worst part of the giving up is that he’s going back to his old investment patterns. “Won’t ever be able to have 15% of saved income grow enough in the market with measly returns to enable retirement — need to hit it big” is what goes through his mind most of the time. So he’s doing things like putting money in VIX and hoping the market explodes and buying covered call options… I am aware the entirety of the market resembles one big casino, but that being said, some investment approaches are significantly more likely to result in losses than others.

  6. Vic says:

    Going through burnout right now and I needed this. You are an absolute artisan with words. Thank you so much for writing this account, it makes me (and i’m sure so many others) feel less broken.

    • Mr. RTFM says:

      Keep it up. I re-read his job experience series at least once a year, and recommend it for friends who are looking for a way out, or feeling burned out. His voice really helps.

      I actually just left my job for a higher paying one, mostly because of his posts. If he could manage the Goblin hordes, so could I. by my estimate, this move will shave off about 3 years of my original 15 years to retirement timeline. Hopefully more, when I pay of my mortgage and car in the next 1-2 years.

      The best advice i found in these posts is the daily exercise, after I put in my morning exercise, I found that the problems that used to make me want to vomit, suddenly seem like – if not easy- but at least solvable. On the down side, when I can’t follow my workout routine, I’m just dragging through my day…

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