Mental Health in Analytics

Hello world,
This blog post has been on the back of my mind a lot this year. The context of the year didn’t help for making things better and it seems that the end of 2020 is also going to be a difficult time.

Words are hard to find on such difficult topic. This is a very personal perception and eveyrone deals with stress, anxiety and pressure differently. There has been this good article of Jan Exner about the impostor syndrom. Because we started to work on internet before it was a thing, before dedicated schools existed for it, we may be more susceptible for it. There is no proof that we actually are “worth our knowledge”. We learned by doing, and it was very exciting times. Now the competition for people coming out of these schools can be ferocious but you have structure of what has been learned on Analytics (ML, Data Analysis, Implementation, etc..).

Everyone is also jumping on the analytics train from every ladder of the organizations. Credibility and confidence are shaked in a way that has never been done before in our field. Remember that we were nerds having fun discovering new things.

So I will talk about this (impostor syndrom) but also on other things. I will share some techniques I find useful to cope with these challenges and, hopefully, these will also help you.

Looking Down

Am I up for it ?

We will start this article by the obvious topic of impostor syndrom and an introduction here is easy to find. Every time that I am brought to a new project, my first question is: “Am I up to the task ? Am I valuable to this team?”.

You probably have a guess of the answer, for me, it is usually “No, there is no reason to have me on this team. I am doing this less efficient that this guy, this other girl is much more knowledgeable than me on this. I can barely speak proper english, my french writting is a joke, and my german is nonexistent. My knowledge in Analytics is OK but nothing that cannot be learned by others. My powerpoint presentation are pretty shameful and my python knowledge is useless in 70% of my tasks. This is a waste of customer time and in 3 weeks everyone will see how much of a fake you are.” (never happened so far 😉 )

This happens to me Every. Single. Time. This is not easy for me, probably a lot of this insecurity boils down to french education system and other child / teen experience, so it is not something that easy to fix. No manager will probably fix this feeling for me. But some managers can try to take profit of it. So you better be careful on how your expose this feeling in your company.

That is no major problem for me because I am able to cope with it (we’ll see later how) but it is a problem because lots of us experience this feeling. This can have terrible implication for young fresh guys/girls starting their career.

For people on the industry, the Analytics field is already very difficult. In Analytics, you have to know so many things, from Marketing to actual Data Analysis, through technical implementation. There is this huge knowledge montain that is lurking in the background of every report people are consuming.
If you aim to understand Analytics, you have this increasing montain to climb. Increasing because things evolve and usually adds up.

Most of us never had proper education on the Analytics fields and now that loads of college graduates are coming out of school with Computer Science or Business degrees, there is a good reason to feel useless or out-of-date.

Delivering and Keeping pace

Adding to the picture, there is this pressure coming from the every day business. At the end of the day, you are part of an organization that needs efficient worker. You better prove yourself being able to deliver results, in whichever forms they are. For my part, it is billable, for others it may be to have a stable running department, other may have pressure to realize objectives not really defined.

There is this urgency of getting the job done. Extra is exactly what is named is: extra. If you want to put extra work on yourself developing python libraries for other persons, be free to do so, but this is not what we expect from you (not far fetch example 😉 ). Rules have been defined and you need to play by the rules.
However this is the moment when you realize that your passion and your work, even if they are related, they are different things. They can rarely really overlap.

The pressure that comes from the organization is also combined with the pressure of the field. As explained previously, the field is moving, and pretty damn fast with that. Trying to keep track of everything is hard. AEP, CJA, new AA API, Launch Server Side, etc… All of these were mere concepts one year ago. Now it is (past) time to learn it.
The possibility that you will miss something is important and you will lose that added value of being the knowledgeable person on this topic.

How long can you keep up with this? How long before you admit that you cannot follow everything ?

Life events

Now more than ever we are living our professional and personal events at the same time. Speaking personally, I am developing into a new role for both my family and my job
– at the same time,
– at the same place,
quite a challenge.

I have always been the lonely guy, friendly but never feeling comfortable on social occasions. I am usually very fine on my own, doing my own activities. Nevertheless, I am feeling that the work-from-home policy put quite a drain on me. I cannot imagine how hard it can be for people that requires more social interactions, or were used to more socialization.
On top of that, we all know that the limit between private and personal life is becoming harder to get now.

Working with the US and being an early bird, not unusualfor me to start my day at 7:30 am to end it up at 6:30 pm. This is definitely too much and at the end, your productivity decrease. The same way than for physical activities, you need rest time to time in order to be efficient at work. I always felt that working is no different than pro sport guys, having a healthy lifestyle (with food, rest) is super important for us to perform.

This is for your interest, and the company interest. If they exhaust every little source of energy and motivation, they will not have the same return of investment afterwards and hurt the global productivity.

Looking up

Personal care

The last point was a very good introduction on managing these different elements. As you may follow some sports, you will easily find the example of the “top performers”. From these players, you can find that they usually are taking care of themselves much more than the recommended practice suggest.
The same should apply to you. My first tip on the list on improving mental health is to take care of yourself. Health first… If you feel sick, go to the doctor, if you need a break, take vacation or a day off. Not every employer are that flexible but it would be in their interest (and yours) to do so.

Being sick, tired, etc… is not good for both of you (your company & you). I hear so many time that people will rest in vacation, but if you take vacations just to replenish the battery, this is not good enough. You should really enjoy your day off. Not resting the weekend to work hard on the weekdays.

We are playing a long game, you need to plan for a long win. The success will not come from the first 6 months in your position.
The sense of urgency that comes from the industry is actually a false one. If a solution is only good in the next 3 months, it is not a solution. If it is that good, it will be there in a year from now, so take time to really be ready for it.

I know that some may be stressed that don’t have time to do everything if they are reducing their speed and take more time for themselves.
This is my 2nd tip.

No time = no time

If you don’t have time to realize everything when you are taking things on a more long term approach, less rushing to get everything and putting stress on tasks. It just means that you don’t have time. Simple as that.

As I remember my past experiences, I remember how hard it was to try to do everything alone. A single-man army… That was working but innefficient and blocked me from other personnal goals. I should have requested more resources and slow down a bit. Time is something that you can’t buy back.

If these tasks are required at your job, there is a misperception between what is able to be done and what is expected within your time from the management. As long as you are really of good will and produce effort towards these tasks, this should be something that your organization can work with.

Thus don’t stress about lacking time, if you do not have time, you don’t want to enter into the loop of working extra hours. Explain it to management and it should be OK. If there is still some irreconcilable positions between you and your management, then it may be time to look for opportunity where your tasks are more aligned with your capabilities (just be sure to know that perfect job doesn’t exist).

You will live 40 years of your life at work, it is an illusion to think that you will not try to reset expectation of the management times to times. You can show them what can be accomplished through different goals being setup. They are not all-knowing.

Step back and get perspective

Personal and professional times are mixed together so tries to set boundaries and when you can’t, try to make sure to enjoy what you are doing and that you are using the best of your capability to achieve it.

There are easy ways to lower the stress of the situation when you are not meeting the goals. Ask yourself these 2 simple questions:

  1. Can I do something about it ?
  2. Am I trying my best for it ?

If yes to 1. then try to do it, if yes to 2. then nothing to really worry. As long as you enjoy what you are doing and try your best to match the goals, the fault is probably on the organization. Either objectives are too high or they are the wrong ones.

I am surprised to see, sometimes, what people are supposed to do without the tool or training to do so. Expectation is that they will learn as they do. That is not always possible, and it usually turns out as a “I would have done it differently” conclusion.

Meeting objectives are not making you a better person, it makes you a better employee. These are not the same.

List the things you have done

Finally, on the impostor syndrom, there is no way to totally get rid of it (at least that I found). After some times, it may actually get worse as you get to know the unknown. More you know, more you know what you don’t know…

However, I always tries to list what I have done, recently or not, and that usually helps reassuring my usefulness and that I am not a “complete trash”. For entry level it will be academic achievement, for older employees it will be projects, and the summum will be remembering people that thanked you for something. You were useful to someone and strangely enough it is harder to get a “thank you” than a successful project completion, so enjoy it when it comes.

My motto has always been that people will remember me as someone helpful and nice. “Smart” and “successful” never gave the real value of a person. (You can be nice, helpful, smart and successful 😉 )

My other motto is that you are not stupider than anyone else. So it may be true that you are not as knowledgable as someone on a particular topic but you can always improve your skills. So you are not a lost cause and can bring value at the end for the project.

I hope that was a helpful article to describe the challenges on working on Analytics and how to face them. Not very technical this time but it doesn’t have to always be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *