The way of Burnout: My Advice to Graduates

“There’s a great future in plastics.” – Mr. McGuire, The Graduate

I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to go ahead and write a response to an article by Christina Majaski, with the title, “10 Tips for Graduates on Work Life From People Who Have Been There,” over at

I’m not picking on you, Christina!

This post is not about Christina’s fine article. Rather, it’s in response to the weary advice contained therein. Mind you, the advice offered in the afore mentioned article is not from Ms. Majaski herself; they are quotes Gretchen Gavett of Harvard Business Review gathered together which, in turn, are quotes from books by other writers, so they’re totally legit.

I have also been there, been successful then – less so. From 1995 to late 2009, I developed corporate database applications for companies like PartyLite Candles, Novo Nordisk, and Omni Financial. I was the guy who jumped into failing projects and made them right, and I’m going to respond to the above article, drawing from my own experiences, if I may.

My blog, my rules…

… and I say, “Go ahead, you mad genius.”

1. “Don’t Compare Yourself to Other People” – Heidi Grant Halvorson, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently

Shut The Front Door! Did she come up with that all by herself?


Everybody says that. They don’t want to work with yet another whiny little bitch who won’t make a fresh pot of coffee because, “Jerry never makes coffee…” Also, if you never compare yourself to anyone else, you’ll never realize how badly you’re getting shafted on pay day.

2. “Be a Problem Solver” – Daniel Gulati, co-author of Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders

Oh Mr. Gulati… I see a problem we need to tackle: getting you an editor who won’t allow a strung-out title like that.

The man offers sound advice, though. Being a “problem solver” is way better for your extended career than being a “problem creator”.


But take it from somebody who made a career of “putting out fires”, the fall is great – by which I do not mean “wonderful”; I mean big. I will introduce you to a popular corporate phrase now, so you don’t end up looking like a deer in the headlights later: “You are only as good as your latest failure.”

Go ahead, be a hero when you can, but make manageable screw-ups now and then, to keep the pedestal low.

3. “Be the Most Valuable Player” – Dorie Clark, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future

Are these people getting paid by the word for their titles?

This advice smacks of indispensable-ness. No one is indispensable.


Your direct supervisor is the most important player in your life, Sparky, and the instant you forget that, start polishing your resumé.

4. “Follow the Road Less Traveled” – Maxwell Wessel, member of the Forum for Growth and Innovation, Harvard Business School.

Look, when the old-timers tell you, “Yeah, we tried that back in ought-three. It was a disaster,” listen. If something “seems crazy to people around you”, do a reality check and risk assessment. Will there be a place left to go back to work tomorrow?

Road Less Traveled

5. “If You Network Right, Where You Work Won’t Matter” – Nilover Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

It’s true; when I went independent, I used to work almost exclusively at home…


… where the opportunities for networking wrong were endless…

6. “Open Doors With Your First Job” – Whitney Johnson, Dare-Dream-Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream

I’ve got some really important advice, here. Knock it off, with the goddamned colons! You get one frickin’ title, deal!

7. “Figure Out What Really Motivates You” – James Allworth, How Will You Measure Your Life?

I actually like this one. It’s not something you hear every day. He’s not regurgitating the worn-through, “do what you love” advice here.

“Understand the way your mind works in relation to motivation and be honest.”

I found out, the hard way, that someone screaming at me, red-faced, in my cubicle does not motivate me. I have a stubborn streak. Not always in my best interest, but there we are. It’s OK, though; several days later, I called him an asshole to his face, then we laughed and laughed… Yes, I was really that good at being, what my wife used to call, “a manipulative bastard.”


What motivates me is, an interesting problem. I can be content with “reasonable” pay, adequate work space, and no title at all, but if the job does not engage my mind, I’m doomed.

If, for example, you need to be active, do not make decisions that will land you in an office ’cause it pays better. The pay sucks when you eventually quit or get fired. Also, refer to item 1. – your co-workers do not need you sitting there whining about being stuck in an office all day… and how they remedy your problem, well…

8. “Realize that You Are the Shot Caller” – Amy Jen Su, co-author with Muriel Maignan Wilkins Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence

Guys! Writing ridiculous titles is not your job!

I love these empowering phrases – “You are the shot-caller” should be hyphenated, “You are the captain of your fate”, “There is no fate but what we make”.

How about, “You have the choice to work at McD’s, or go hungry,” or call this shot: pay your rent, or get that job that would be cool, but pays shit.

One really bad day, doesn’t begin to describe it I was the “shot-caller” and told the owner of the consulting firm where I worked that I couldn’t work there any more.


After which, I did not work anywhere for a year… Go me!

9. “Do What You Enjoy” – Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, Great People Decisions

… and here it is!

We all knew it would be in here somewhere. And most of us know how practical that advice is.

This is what I like doing…


Job offers? Anyone? No?

Seriously, the bankruptcy courts are crowded with people who decided to make businesses out of their hobbies. Better you should re-read item 7., no? Yes.

10. “Do the Work Everyone Else Hates” – Rafi Mohammed, The 1% Windfall: How Successful Companies Use Price to Profit and Grow

I’ve actually been waiting for this one…

I’m going to introduce you to another common corporate workplace saying: “Those who work hard are rewarded with more hard work.”

Do you think this was my career goal when I went into software development?


OK. That’s a metaphor. But it’s a fairly accurate metaphor for almost every software development project I was introduced to. Why? Because, early in my career, I was willing to try and bail out one project that was going down in flames. I did well.

Ten years later, I did not remember what a happy client looked like, ’cause all I did was smoke-jumping into burning projects, and managers never thank you for completing a project when it was your firm that let it get wildly out of control before you ever heard about it. And so, I was completely burnt out.

I had worked hard to open doors and find unlikely opportunities; I’d been the shot-caller, had found something I enjoyed, with challenges that motivated me and paid really, really well. I’d made myself invaluable. And I still had a nervous breakdown.

How you like me now, bitch?

That was quite some time ago, but one does not forget the lessons learned from that kind of experience.

I’m seldom impressed by motivational advice (duh!), but I’ll give you my own take-away:
You’re new; you should be learning. Don’t try to be a rock star.
Try to be content, but aware of opportunities.
If you cut someone’s throat, they’ll have bled-out when you need them the most.
No, you are not the most clever person in the room.
Believe that previous comment, and listen; listen a lot.
If you’re going to contribute to a discussion, give them something truly original.
Be pleasant, even when you don’t need to borrow someone’s stapler.

… and one last workplace saying: Work to live, not the other way around.



About wned2012

Creative thinker & lover of laughter.
This entry was posted in Better Living, Career, Humor, Not What I Had Planned, Semi-Serious and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The way of Burnout: My Advice to Graduates

  1. I disagree with be pleasant. I don’t see how that’s ever come in handy.

    Nut punches, on the other hand, make people listen.


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