I caught up with a mate over lunch the other day and we were chatting about a couple of shit jobs we’d both had a few years back.
Later that day I read a brilliant article called Out of the Shadows about handling depression by James Higgis, Technology Director at ustwo.
Together this brought back how wank I felt back in 2011 when I worked as a project manager at a bank. In particular how I felt on a Sunday night, knowing that another week was only one sleep away.
That Sunday night feeling was the worst, I wish it on no-one.
I don’t think I had depression when working in the aforementioned shit job. But I don’t think I was far off. I certainly didn’t feel like ‘me’ for a very long time. I didn’t feel sociable. I was really moody. I didn’t sleep very well.
The following isn’t advice, just some words about how I felt. If this sounds familiar, please don’t ignore it. If you’re struggling then speak with someone. If you don’t have that support, feel free to drop me a mail.
Looking back, my Sunday night feeling started soon after I’d been assigned a big project at the bank. It was the biggest project I’d ever worked on, both size of budget and team. I felt way out of my comfort zone (way, way out).
There were a number of other contributing factors:
- I’d never managed a project with a six-figure budget. It is a different level and I wasn’t prepared
- Trying to manage 20+ people in a project team is a lot, too many in fact
- I never had an opportunity to meet the client
- The client was a massive bellend
- Most people spoke in acronyms that neither me, or they, understood
- There was zero support, both from management and colleagues
- I’m pretty sure too that, as it was a legislative project and if shit happened, I’d be responsible not the bank
Whilst I understood the brief of the project and what it needed to deliver, I didn’t know what needed to happen. I asked lots of questions, got few answers. I spent weeks on end staring at emails, not knowing what to do or how to reply.
I dreaded fortnightly project calls, as I didn’t know what to say, what questions to ask. They ended as quickly as possible, which gave a bit of relief as I knew I had two more weeks which I could bluff through. This carried on for two months.
I felt like a fraud, like I had no right to be calling myself a project manager.
I then became consciously aware that on Sunday evenings I’d start having negative thoughts about the following week ahead. My heart would beat a bit faster. I’d go quiet.
As time progressed, those feelings crept in sooner. First I’d be thinking about work on a Sunday morning, knowing when I next woke up I’d be feeling like crap again. That then crept into Saturdays.
And then it started impacting a Friday evening, taking me hours to unwind from another week of achieving little. As the delivery date for the project loomed, things got worse. My chest started tightening and I’d lie awake at night for hours on end.
I remember vividly when things came to a head. It was a Thursday in mid-August 2011. I was so desperate to get away from work that I logged on to my laptop and then spent most of the day clearing ivy off the garden wall. My wife and I had moved into our first house just four weeks before. The first mortgage payment hadn’t left our account.
When my wife got home from work I clumsily spluttered out that I wasn’t feeling good and something had to change. She said she’d been really worried about me, how I wasn’t being me. She said if I felt that bad and didn’t think things could change, then I should just quit. “We’ll work it out. Things will work out, they always do”. I cried. A lot. I couldn’t thank her enough, she really is the best.
The next day I called my line manager and quit. The physical and emotional relief was instant. I left a month later, no job lined up but with the ‘fear’ of having to find a job.
After my last day I went out for a drink with one person that I’d talked with in the last year, a chap that has since become a brilliant mate. We went to a bar where some people he knew were having a beer. It turned out they were looking for a project manager. I started five weeks later.
On reflection, here’s what I learnt from that god awful year.
- A job really isn’t worth it, especially if you can’t see any chance of things changing imminently
- Have faith and confidence in how good you are
- Talking through stuff helps. Bottling it up doesn’t
- If you need to quit, do it
- Being on top of personal finances really helps that
- If any future employee of Paper, the user research and design studio I set up last year, ever has the Sunday night feeling then I’ve failed