Say you are knee-deep in everyday combat, battling your way through chaos, responding to incidents of all sorts, coordinating your company’s covert-ops and perhaps all that whilst changing your infant’s diapers when in homeoffice. Do this for a continuous period of time without a proper plan and you become susceptible to fatigue.

Any idiot can face a crisis –
it’s day to day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov (although its not clear if he really said that)

Everything that you are fighting for is then being put into jeopardy and the worst thing is that you don’t even know! It’s business as usual, you take decision and push them through, no red flags, no indicators, but once you are there, you have literally no faculty of judgment and should be immediately discharged!

The Situation

It was summertime and I was in Egypt on vacation. Damn I hate being on vacation and exacerbate to being stuck in an “all-inclusive” resort with my wife AND her family, I hate Egyptian food (people of Egypt, don’t be upset with me, not everything is for everybody).

At that time, I was on the crossroads of entering the (web-) developer community, learning how to code and getting familiar with front-end frameworks and server sided scripting languages. I did this not because I needed to but I felt it would bring value to my clients. Of course, my presence in Egypt is nothing short of a glimpse in time when looking at the massive learning curve I endured, however it well contributed to the topic at hand.

So, when you start off something fairly new that you are overly excited with / thrilled by, it is easy to fully immerge. Nothing else matters and everything that you learn is amplified by the pleasure you have in knowing it. The closest I could imagine being tantamount to that feeling would be suddenly having superpowers.

The Consequence

I am being asked questions that I no longer need to circulate around with tech personnel because I knew the answers. I am way quicker in responding to / resolving product mayhem and I figured that it suddenly became painless to parley with my technical peers too. Egypt felt like the turning point, being the place and time, it all started to add up.

The entourage got sloshed by the pool all day long when I would absorb JavaScript, learn how to debug, or dissect previous problems / solutions that I usually just contributed to as intermediary by dispatching messages between parties subject to the matter.

Transitioning

Understanding the mechanics of something so precious almost everyone uses and so little are aware of made it to the top of my agenda. I was actually responsible for totally different tasks inside my organization, but that didn’t matter to me as I would have enough routine to handle them too.

Once I returned home, of course with no tan whatsoever, I’d get involved (at that time some might have called it hijacking) in any technical conversation that wouldn’t actually entail physical programming. Then, the more programming languages I became fond of, the more valuable my opinion was for others.

In hindsight I am not sure how quickly I really transitioned from being confidently incompetent to effectively useful, but I tell you it happened!

Power of Excitement

Unfortunately, a few other things happened too. Being equipped with all that knowledge plus liking the tone of my voice / hear myself talk, would get me a lot of attention, closely followed by countless assignments, resulting in excess workload that I could barely handle.

But the excitement of applying knowledge in time critical circumstances where you are on the edge, deploying a major fix when just boarding an airplane, having the purser threatening to throw you off the aircraft unless you turn off that laptop, is like a drug!

We have a 24/7 business so there is action all day long and you can find that kind of trouble wherever you look. Not only does that environment provide opportunity to apply knowledge but it also caters for collecting experience.

Mental Decay

Although it took long, I found unexpected, non-critical, dull, non-technical trouble that I had no desire to fix.

It started off by being unable to handle trivial matters. It took me 3 months to take an Amazon return parcel to the post office as I was reluctant to go there (no excitement or thrill in getting that done). Eventually it was my wife who did it for me.

Lack of empathy and taking infrastructure for granted caused outrage both in family and work. Non-technical staff meetings or family reunions became unbearable as I’d constantly find myself reiterating over the following topics anyway:

  1. Deliberating their social animosities,
  2. patting them on the back for something I didn’t even consider remarkable or
  3. doing small talk.

As a next step, I unconsciously employed an attitude that would devaluate the sheer presence of certain people that I found to under-perform, including, at times, family. Not that it was overly outspoken, but I apparently made sure you understand your lack of value.

I was terribly exhausted and would not even know!

The Solution

Once I realized the gravity of the situation, I spent some time echoing on my early days. Its been a long journey and I was shocked when I realized that this has happened periodically for all my life! So, what’s next?

Some may recommend taking vacation (which I really don’t like). Others may suggest seeing a psychologist (definitely not, as if I’d go see someone who spent 15 years studying something to then spend their life’s chitchatting with nutcases). And there are many more options, but the truth is, once you have these superpowers, you are not going to surrender them by doing the exact opposite of what you excel at. And I don’t think you should!

Building Endurance

My solution evolves around sports but not in the sense that you should work out regularly!

It is about deducing the methodology on how to improve the performance in whatever you are doing that really matters here.

The great thing about sports is that you find natural barriers which are impossible to overcome unless you do the right thing at the right time. (What knowledge do I have to talk about sport? I don’t have a professional background but am a seasoned runner and consider myself an endurance athlete who recently got into triathlon, so feel free to connect on Garmin [[email protected]] in case you are up for a challenge or wish to exchange some stats.)

When and what to eat is equally important as what to train for. From Brickruns, long swims, high- or low aerobic training’s to anaerobic workouts, … unless you balance them, you top out at a certain level and that’s it. Fatigue kicks in as thresholds are reached!

To make an example, a while back I kept running the same track at the same pace for weeks. And the pace was “scramble mode”, i.e. max heart rate, go as fast as you can, no mercy. Once I topped out, which is when there is no sign of improvement and on the contrary, performance deteriorated, I started watching YouTube and other channels on that matter.

In addition to that, my Garmin watch also provided great insights and suggestions as to how I’d need to change my training and about 12 weeks later I found myself surpassing previous records at a much lower heart rate!

So, when my watch now tells me to have an easy run, maintaining a conversational pace that bores the hell out of me, I do exactly what it says! It is all about identifying and responding to those signals that you are receiving.

Slow your Roll

That same principle applies to business! Working 12 hours for the 15th day in a row on that massive project, becoming itchy a times, causing a stir in baseline harmony around you?

The moment I catch those signals I am slowing down immediately, get the uncomfortable, dull, non-critical, non-technical work done, spend some time with the people close to me and eventually prevent fatigue.

Figure out what the signals are that you are ignoring, catch them and slow your roll. That will do the trick in building sustainable long-term peak and average performance without becoming a mess!

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