Energy and Optimism

December 31, 2020

In late 2019, I was burnt out in my Director of Engineering role. I spent several sessions with a career coach outlining my professional challenges. Teams lurched from crisis to crisis. Various teams either lacked a coherent strategy, or lacked the alignment or resources to execute it effectively. Frequent confusion about roles and responsibilities caused tension. I didn’t have the resources to fix it all.

My coach finally asked:

“What would let you approach each day with energy and optimism?”

The question felt like reaching a vista after a long hike. My mood lifted as answers leapt to mind. I love being a small part of a big success. I love coaching and cheerleading colleagues working on something difficult and important. I love pairing—learning and teaching simultaneously—and fist pumping when we track down a bug. I’d be interested and excited to tackle each of my company’s particular socio-technical challenges in a focused, disciplined way. But to make time for that, I needed to significantly change my role.

I shared the revelation with my manager; and a few short weeks later, I handed off management responsibilities to a colleague. I became a Principal Engineer rather than Director. I’ve spent the past year mostly as an individual contributor, and mostly loving my work.

My coach’s question has become my mantra as I set my daily intentions. It’s honed my ability to focus on where I can make meaningful progress, and let go of the rest. It helps me orient my schedule around what’s important rather than what’s urgent.

In 2020, COVID and an immunocompromised family member upheaved my daily routines. My household navigated remote schooling and daycare with two working-from-home parents. Throughout these changes, I’m thankful for many blessings. In particular, I’m thankful for this mantra, which helped me adapt to new roles at work and at home. It’s improved my satisfaction both at work, and with my family.

As I think of goals and intentions for the new year, I’m asking myself, “what could I work on with genuine energy and optimism”?



ktheory.com is the personal blog of Aaron Suggs, a software engineering leader in North Carolina.