Hosts Sarah and Wes discuss how to disengage from work concerns when it's time for a long break and how to avoid vacation whiplash on your return.
Wes Johnson: All right. You ready to do this, co-host?
Sarah J. Buszka: Oh, I'm ready, co-host. Let's light it up this Monday morning.
Wes Johnson: All right then. Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Rising Voices podcast, where we amplify the voices of young professionals in higher education. I'm Wes Johnson, and I'm joined by the amazing ...
Sarah J. Buszka: Sarah Buszka.
Wes Johnson: First, Sarah, how are you doing?
Sarah J. Buszka: I am doing so well today, Wes. How about you? How are you doing?
Wes Johnson: Still got a case of the Mondays. No matter how long I've been away, it still feels like a Monday, but feeling good also after the break. It's been a busy year. It's been a very busy year.
Sarah J. Buszka: I know. I feel like my brain is still somewhere in July. I don't know what happened. I don't know how it's December this month. It's crazy. I don't know. I feel like ever since pandemic times, each year since 2020, I feel like has just been sped up.
Wes Johnson: So with all this work on our plate and talks of break, I guess it makes this a very timely topic for us, which is why recharge is important and how to reconnect and reintegrate after the holidays. I can definitely preach on why recharge is important, so maybe we'll start there. I'm actually very interested in the reintegrating part, because I feel like that's just a bunch of walking in the dark until I get back into my face, so I'm very interested in that part. But let's start with why recharge is important.
I'll tell you now, for me personally, kind of what you were speaking on since COVID, but it feels like IT has been speeding up for forever, and whatever we were dealing with 30 years ago, we're at a much faster pace now, because we've automated the thing that they were dealing with, right? We're always problem-solving, because that's what we're fixing to do, at least in the technology space, we're fixing to problem solve, so we're always jumping from one thing to the next to the next.
I just can't keep up if I don't completely separate from the process. I think the recharge one, of course, it helps me have time for my family, have time for myself, but it also gives me a moment to remember why the heck I'm even coming into this 8:00 to 5:00 to begin with. When you get caught up in the work, at least for me, I lose sight of that. I'm just going from problem to problem. Sometimes, I forget the bigger picture of why I even come in today, why we're here, why these jobs exist. So it's nice to just step away and be able to look at it for a sec, not touch it, just look at it for a second.
Sarah J. Buszka: Just look in the distance. [inaudible 00:03:43]
Wes Johnson: Yeah. Just kind look out and say ... You know what I mean? So what about you?
Sarah J. Buszka: I love what you're saying, Wes, and it's so true. I think what I was hearing a lot from your comments are on perspective and just being able to recognize that ourselves in work, in our work bubble, are not the only places where we exist. And we need to take a step back and see ourselves outside of that space, but also see ourselves in other spaces as well and make sure we're setting time for that.
And I think a lot about when I was an undergrad, this was well over a decade ago, but I remember some advice I got my freshman year from my Russian professor, who was more like a mentor and a friend to me, who I still talk to to this day, but I remember I was studying for my first Russian exam, and it was so hard. I had never taken Russian before. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just thought it was cool and wanted to sign up for it.
Wes Johnson: Sounds cool.
Sarah J. Buszka: So here I am, it was awesome, but it was hard, it was very hard. And I remember my first exam, I was studying, and I was thinking, "Okay, I'm going to pull an all-nighter. I'm just going to stay up and just pack all of this into my brain and keep going until I just can memorize basically every page, every verb conjugation, every vocab word, all of that." And I was telling my professor the strategy, and he was just looking at me and smiling and nodding.
And I have to give him credit to this day. He let me go on and on about how I was going to memorize everything when he could have just cut me off. But he just looked at me, and he's like, "You will literally not be functioning tomorrow to take this exam if you're going to stay up all night." And he's like, "I can tell you, you will not pass." And he's like, "Just go to sleep, just go to sleep. Just get a good night's rest. Just relax. You have to learn how to do this if you want to be successful in college and in your life." And I never pulled an all-nighter, never in my college career.
Even now as a grad student, well over a decade later, will never do it. I always prioritize sleep. That kind of just woke me up, but I think it's something that we all implicitly know and are aware of, but sometimes, we just don't make the time for it and we don't really prioritize it. And it sounds so simple to get some sleep, but it's something that I think is a skill to learn, just like recharging is a skill to learn, just like happiness is a skill to learn. And I think about that often, even when I'm convinced I'm in grad school to stay up and finish my work, I hear that Russian professor telling me to just go home and go to bed.
Wes Johnson: What a great professor. And I'd say there's also a lesson in that it sounds like the professor was kind of setting up an environment to say, "Hey, look. That whole all-nighter thing is not going to work. Hey, you're an adult now. Go do what you want, but I'm telling you, I don't think that's going to work. Go get some rest, come back. If you've been doing what you've been supposed to been doing this whole class, I think you'll be good to go." It is kind of what I'm teasing out in there, and that it is very similar in our roles. I hope that I set an example with my staff and my teams to take advantage of time taking off, and I know that some of that could be as much cultural as it is individualized, but to your point, it is also learned.
Some of us have to get comfortable with even saying, "Hey, I'm going to be," for lack of a better term, "selfish this week. I'm not going to be very easy to contact. No, I'm not going to be problem-solving this week, at least not here. I got some other things that I want to prioritize for the next week, and it's not here. This week, y'all, I'm taking my time." And that could be quite the space to be in sometimes, especially when you have a large amount of people depending on you, whether it's direct report lines or a project you're leading in or just a process that you're the most knowledgeable about.
Sarah J. Buszka: Yeah, yeah, it's so true. And what I'm hearing you say, and another thing I think is a really essential skill for all of us to learn, especially during this time of holidays when we want to disconnect and then later reconnect, is how we state boundaries and how we hold them, and I think those are two very different things and require different skill sets, right? It's one thing to say to our teams, say to our staff, say to our leaders, "I'm not available during this time. I am taking a vacation," or "I'm celebrating my anniversary," what have you, for whatever reason. If you're saying I'm not available, that's one thing, but if you're contacted when you're not available and respond, well, you're not holding your boundary and you're just teaching that person that you are available.
That is something I think is a true skill too, because I think a lot of us, myself included, sometimes struggle with that guilt. Like you said, if you're the only person who knows something, and something happens when you're out, you feel this kind of intense guilt, or some of us might feel this intense drive to jump in and just problem-solve and fix. And being folks in IT, we love to do that, right? It's almost like this adrenaline-pinching experience to just solve a problem and fix something. But if we've said that, "Hey, I'm out of office," or even, "I'm just taking a personal day, sick day, what have you," then take it. You're not at that point being held accountable, and the only person who's holding you accountable to that is you to show up when you've said you're not going to be available.
Wes Johnson: Yep, absolutely. There was a lesson I learned from a previous leader, his name's Mike Lucas, when we were at the University of Georgia, and I was working the help desk at the time. And I was one of those folks, we just got the help desk kind of running smoothly at the time, and we didn't want that to stop. And so none of us, me or my team, had taken much time off over a good one, two-year period just trying to get everything going. And Mike Lucas, who was our CTO at the time, he came to me, and he actually advised like, "Hey, man. Holiday's coming up. I just want to encourage you and your staff take advantage of the time or whatever." And I didn't think nothing. I was just like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. I got some stuff I need to get done, so I might just take advantage of the quiet time," like we all like to say.
And he stopped and he looked at me, he said, "Look, Wes. I get it, because things are going good, and you and your team should be proud of that. This university's been here a very long time, Wes, both before you, it'll be here after you, and there's been a lot of stuff that's broken along the way. Yet the university's still here. Just remember that as you think about if you should be in for that extra few days to get that little bit more work done, the university will be here regardless. I think you're good."
So I took some time off during that time, and that's how I like to frame it sometimes, even with my own staff, it's just like, "Look, I get it. You might be the only person that knows, but you've been the only person for a little while. The university's been here for a long while. I think we'll be-"
Sarah J. Buszka: Right, right. And I guaran-
Wes Johnson: Yeah, "It will still be here when you get back, I promise. And if it's gone, it's not because of what you knew. I promise you it's not because of that."
Sarah J. Buszka: That's such a good point. Yeah, the problem will still be here when you come back. Actually, I want to touch on something, because you mentioned the help desk, and I started my technology career working in a help desk. So I have a very special kind of spot in my heart and respect for folks who work in a help desk just because I think we all know who've been in it, at least, how much of a grueling role it can be just being front lines, working with folks directly who are calling because something's wrong. They're upset, and typically those folks are dealing with hundreds of calls a day of just really upset people, sometimes saying mean things, right? And that's an essential service. It's something that even if there's a holiday, even if there's a break, those services don't stop just because there's a holiday or break. It's a freight train moving at hundreds of miles an hour, and it needs to run to support the university.
And so I just want to kind of call this out, because I want to tease this apart a little bit on the show, because those folks in those positions, sometimes they can't take off. Sometimes, they don't have the luxury of taking two weeks off, three weeks off. Sometimes, they need to work to support their families. Sometimes, they just are willing to make that sacrifice to make sure that they have more money coming in if they're not in a salaried position. And when we're thinking about recharge and how you disconnect, if you really can't maybe physically leave work or physically take that time off, how do you do that? How do you find that respite or that recharge when you still have to come and show up? Do you have any recommendations?
Wes Johnson: Yeah, that's always one of the challenges. At least in the frontline areas, it's likely in some others, but I know frontline feels that a lot. One is the typical times of year to take off aren't the only times is the thing I used to remind my staff. Sure, we might have to cover during the Thanksgiving or the New Year's, and we rotate on who, we keep track of who's here this year, but some people, like you said, they'd rather work and get the time.
But middle of June, when most of your campus is gone and there's no holiday, is also a great time to recharge. It gets to some of your own individual values, in my opinion, too. For some people, you pick a certain field or a certain job, and in my personal opinion, there are certain sacrifices that come with anything you choose to do.
Sarah J. Buszka: And say if you choose to go into IT, and your path starts or is at the help desk, then I think it's best to have an understanding of, "Okay, here's the sacrifices that come with that. If this help desk is 24/7 through holidays, then that means that the typical times I expect to be off, I may not be able to get off. But what can I do to adjust it if I still value this time for myself?" And then work around that. But then also keep in mind that if it crosses a line, then maybe there's another field or another place. Not every help desk is 24/7. I worked at some where we did get the holidays off.
So there's a lot that goes into that, and I don't want to hog the whole episode, but some of it's individualized, some of it is just take advantage of other times that are slow. And I'd say the leaders, particularly those who are management or those that run, you understand the business, I hope. You advocate and push for your staff to take advantage of the times that you know that they can take advantage of, even if it means they can't take a month off, maybe some of their faculty partners or some of their other individuals who have that advantage in their role they are. Take it when you can. What about you? What are your thoughts on that?
Sarah J. Buszka: First, I just want to say I think those are great comments, and I really love how you're framing it from an individual lens, and there's things that are under your control in your agency and that you are responsible for. And then there's, of course, the situation and the role and the company, the organization, what have you, there's responsibility there as well. It's shared. It's not on one entirely or the other entirely, it's shared, and I think it's all of our responsibilities as workers, as leaders, as managers, to know how to advocate for ourselves, for our roles, for our universities, for our teams, and how to negotiate and compromise.
I think there's so many of us, and maybe we learned this, or at least I learned this a lot, during the pandemic is things ebb and flow. Even if you started the year off by saying, "We will do X, Y, and Z," while a global pandemic comes up and well, you have to throw that out of the window. So how are you going to adapt and reframe and recognize that, "Hey, maybe we need to take a step back a little bit and give everyone some time off." But we also are expecting folks if they're working in front lines, like you said, help desk, maybe that there's something that they need to be working on too and taking some agency and accountability for.
Like you said, if they had a realization that that's not their role, that's okay. I think so many of us maybe have felt that or are feeling that now, and I think it's okay to say, "Hey, this isn't for me," or, "This isn't working out," or, "I don't feel like I'm getting recharged in the way that I should." Because I think if we really are in a role that we like, we may not like all of the tasks that we do, but we should be getting recharged or at least fueled and getting some wins in our sales from the work that we're doing if we're really enjoying it, if it's aligning with our skills and our personality and our career goals and all those types of things. So I think it's multifaceted, but I do think that individual component is huge.
And I want to switch gears a little bit and bring up something that Joseph Cottle from Notre Dame, he's our YPCG co-lead, recommended for some ways to recharge as well. It sounds maybe simple and obvious, but he recommended finding some hobbies, doing exercise, just doing something to focus your attention on something else that you love or that you enjoy or that you care about. It could be playing with your dog, being with your family, going outside, going for a walk, right, those little things. I used to do that when I worked in the help desk all the time. I would take 15-minute breaks when I could and just go for a walk outside. And it was so helpful just kind of processing everything, getting exposed to nature, getting that perspective.
And I think that's a really, I think, helpful tool to remember that we all have to be intentional in practicing that. And it doesn't mean you have to go and spend a lot of money and join some fancy gym and all that kind of stuff. It is within grasp if you're willing to make the time for it and to at least bring folks along who you care and love about to help hold you accountable to.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. Definitely doubling down on the walks. I used to do that also. I still do it today, but not as much with this new kind of COVID work environment or, I guess, post-COVID work environment.
Sarah J. Buszka: We do our walks at home to our fridge and back.
Wes Johnson: Uh-huh. Ain't that the truth? So I walk, start the coffee, forget about the coffee after three minutes is usually my walk. But yeah, I used to walk a whole lot on campus, particularly around this time of year. It's a beautiful time if you're out east, in some other areas too, but I know back home, east and south, it's a very beautiful time of the year to go walk your campuses. Also gave me perspective, remind me of this big place that we support and help problem solve for, so I definitely just want to double up on the walks. I used to tell my staff all the time, "Hey, every 10 minutes on the hour, get away from the desk. I don't care if you just walk to the back of the building or take a walk outside. Stop looking at that screen for 10 minutes every hour, please."
Sarah J. Buszka: Right. Let's please save our eyeballs.
Wes Johnson: Yeah. I think we had a couple of more pieces of feedback. "Have something to put on your mind when you're away other than work." I think you kind of spoke on that, but, "Are there hobbies that you do outside of work?" I have a couple I could share, but what about you, Sarah? Are there things that you do when you do get that downtime from work?
Sarah J. Buszka: Yes, I do. I can't wait to hear your hobbies. I think I know some already. Actually, I think two of our hobbies might align, so I'm curious to see how this plays out. But one hobby I love, and I've been doing this since I was in second grade, it's been a long time, I play violin, and I've been just playing for so long in orchestra, by myself, with friends, just kind of the whole smorgasbord, if you will. And right before the pandemic, I was playing, when I was working at the University of Wisconsin, playing in the University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and I was loving it. I was fully committed. I was spending way too many hours a week with it, which was good and bad for different reasons. But when the pandemic hit, that's when everything shut down, so I couldn't play with the orchestra anymore.
And it was something where I was thinking, "Okay, well, what's keeping me playing this? Is it the orchestra, or is it because I really, really like it?" Because at this point, I'm busy with a career, all these other things, and I still kept playing, and I did mini little orchestra concerts and playing sessions on Instagram and all that kind of stuff for months, just playing by myself. And I still am playing, even though I'm in grad school now, I don't have as much time, but I still play, just not for the orchestra. And that's one thing I think that's always been very important to me and just an escape and just a way that I can kind of focus my mind in a different way is through music. And I know that's for you, too.
Wes Johnson: Oh, yeah, yeah, music.
Sarah J. Buszka: Want to do a mashup?
Wes Johnson: Yeah, we should. Yeah. I could wrap off a violin solo or something. We could have you do intro, Sarah.
Sarah J. Buszka: I know. Although I think our intro for this show is really awesome, thanks to you. For folks in the audience who may not know, Wes created our intro music, so that's why it sounds so cool.
Wes Johnson: Thank you for that. Yeah. Speaking of, I do do music. That is a big one. I rap and produce. So I was actually writing some songs a little bit this weekend just for the fun of it. I think the trap that I've sometimes fallen in is because music was my first love, and go back 10, 15 years, I was going to be a rap star. None of this IT stuff, and who was going to work on nine to five? I was going to go be a rap star is what I was going to do, or at least a big time producer. Life didn't necessarily work out that way, but it kind of put me at this line of is music a hobby or is it my other job? And I haven't quite landed on the answer to that question yet. I go back and forth on what that is.
So really the lesson in the tale, it is helpful to know what that hobby truly is, because it can easily turn into work too, which has happened to me.
Sarah J. Buszka: Of course, of course.
Wes Johnson: It doesn't have the same recharge effect once you go that far. But the music definitely, I like getting lost in it. Sometimes during my lunch breaks, I'll make a couple beats as fast as I can and then throw it up on my Instagram or something. So definitely music, but I also enjoy just hikes. So I go on a lot of hikes. Being in the Bay Area, I'm getting spoiled by a bunch of new hikes that I'd never seen before, and it is very beautiful out here in this state. So I've been exploring a good bit on that. It is just real cool when you get to wherever the point of the hike you're trying to go to realize you're just kind of out there. Probably don't have cell reception, you might not see ...
Sarah J. Buszka: "I'm unreachable. Oh, no."
Wes Johnson: Yeah, right, right. It's a beautiful thing. So me and the family do that a good bit too.
Sarah J. Buszka: Yeah, that's really good. I have to say, so even though I'm at Stanford, and you're technically our enemy, being at Berkeley ...
Wes Johnson: Mm-hmm.
Sarah J. Buszka: ... I have to say I love Berkeley's campus. The botanical gardens there, I've gotten lost there just wandering around, spending time there. The views are just incredible, that Redwood Grove is just whimsical and magical, and I feel like I'm literally spirited away when I go there, and it's amazing. So that's another hobby of mine too. We have the same hobbies, music and getting outside.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah J. Buszka: Who knew?
Wes Johnson: I know, right? Yeah, I like the view.
Sarah J. Buszka: Great co-hosts. I like the vibes here. So you heard from us, folks. Get outside and play some music. You're recharged.
Wes Johnson: There you go. I have a buddy, I can't remember his name, I can't think of his name right now, but he also does production. And one of the things he does, he currently lives, I think, out in Tokyo or something like that, and he'll go on hikes and then do a video of him producing or doing some beat at the point of the hike. So there's been a couple where he is sitting on a mountain edge, and he's playing something else. I just thought that was really cool.
Sarah J. Buszka: He's blending the two together. I like that.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, I'm not quite that blended yet. I don't want to carry all the gear.
Sarah J. Buszka: Me either. Actually, this is a quick 30-second story. During the pandemic, I think we all might remember this 2020 March, April timeframe, people were all quarantining or in their homes kind of stuck, and there were so many people going out on balconies and playing their instruments. I was living in downtown Madison at the time, and I did that. I went out on my balcony, played my violin. I played Hallelujah. It's kind of like a melancholy song, but I think we were all feeling that at the time. And it was just was so interesting, because there was kind this cacophony of people who kind of poked their heads out and then also started playing whatever their instrument was or singing along or something. It was just in this really small backyard area, probably only a handful of people actually heard, but it was just kind of fun. It was just a liberating thing to just go outside and play your instrument. So I don't know, maybe that's our homework. Maybe that's our new level of recharging, Wes.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, dope.
Sarah J. Buszka: We go outside.
Wes Johnson: I know, right? I caution y'all. Maybe there was a little bit of COVID effect. I could also see a scenario where you go out there playing your instrument downtown, they're just like, "Hey, stop. I'm working. I'm in a Zoom."
Sarah J. Buszka: Yeah. Now, I feel like I'm going to get yelled at, and people are going to be like, "I am good." But then, I don't know, people were like, "Okay, this is acceptable."
Wes Johnson: So we talked a good bit about things we can do, hobbies that we've done outside by blocking time to take time, but what about once you got that time, so you're in your hobby, what have we done, to your point earlier, about making sure folks know that, "Hey, I'm not actually available for your daily operational stuff. I'm away. I've taken some time for myself." What's some stuff that you've done to make yourself unavailable?
Sarah J. Buszka: One thing I've learned is if I know that there's something where I'm the single point of failure, if you will, or the only person who knows something, before I leave, I make sure I write down whatever it is that someone might need to know. And I work with my boss and/or members of my team directly and say, "Hey, if this comes up when I'm out, here's what you need to know. Here's the history, here's the situation, here's some of the background. This is kind what's been happening and background information that you need to know, names of people, what the project is, things like that, maybe some history if there is any to share. Here's, right now, my current assessment of the situation, what I think is happening, and what might come up. And here's my recommendation if something does come up, what to do."
And almost like somewhat of a decision tree, "If it does come up and it's not urgent and you can wait until I come back, do nothing. Just let me handle it. Make sure you make me aware. But if it is something where you've tried all these steps that I've outlined, and you've gone through everything, and it's still not looking good, then you can contact me or then you can contact my boss's boss," or something like that. It's a little framework I call an SBAR because, I highlight a situation, background assessment, and recommendation. And it's literally only supposed to be one page or less, right? I mean it could be one sentence for each, but it really helps someone readily orient themselves to what's going on and to be able to take some type of action. And sometimes, an action is just telling whomever's reaching out, "Sorry, we'll get to this next week." That's still an action.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, it is an action. I agree.
Sarah J. Buszka: But it's at least acknowledging someone and saying, "Hey, we can't get to this today. Here's when you can expect to hear back by. If not, here's what to do." And I found that that, and not even only for unplugging and leaving work, but that communication tool for any type of communication is so helpful. So that would be a recommendation I think to this podcast and our listeners is to try that out, try highlighting a situation, background assessment and recommendation the next time some problem or challenge comes into your lap as a way to communicate to your boss or your leaders for what to do.
But another thing that I like to do is to make sure that I let the people I'm working with know before I leave, especially if I'm anticipating something coming up, "Hey, I'll be out. Here's who you can talk to." So just proactively telling them that and then telling them when I'll be back and telling them that I will be away and giving them an email or contact for someone else, and letting them know, "Hey, if this is a true emergency, here's who you contact."
And that helps a lot too, because most folks understand and most folks are reasonable. If I say, "Hey, this year, I got married this year," and I was like, "I'm going to my wedding, and I'm going on my honeymoon. Do not contact me." That's what I said, and it's fair. And people get that, right? People are reasonable. No one's going to do that, and no one did, thankfully.
Wes Johnson: You didn't take your laptop to the wedding? What do you mean?
Sarah J. Buszka: Hell, no. No, I didn't, and I took my email off my phone, everything. And to be fair, my team was amazing. I had just had a new teammate start. He had been in the role for maybe a week or two and was already reaching out, trying to get all these things off my plate and help me out. And it was just this wonderful comradery and making sure that I didn't pick up any new projects when I knew I would be out for a month, which I was out for a solid month. So it's things like that, too. It's being strategic. Like you said earlier, your individual agency, I think, is really important, and I think that shows leaderful skills when you're thinking ahead and say ...
For me, I left in March, and if a boss or someone came to me and said, "Hey, we need to do this project," I may or may not volunteer for that, or I'll try to negotiate what my level of commitment looks like and when I start and what the expectations are, knowing that I will be gone for a month. And I think that helps a lot too. But I'll stop there, because I'm curious what you think.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, no, those are great. Within Berkeley IT, we actually have a process very similar in regards to when you were mentioning naming who to contact for this, they have a process to all of us as part of the executive leadership team have to do, we have to go into this document, put the dates, and then name who our backup is. And then, "If there is an emergency, is there any way to contact you?" There's been a couple of times where I'm like, "Nope, I'm hiking in the mountains. You won't be able to contact me at all during this period of time." So there's been stuff like that that we do. And I do similar within my teams. We all share our calendar, et cetera, et cetera.
But speaking of, so something I've noticed, and I'll be curious after I share, Sarah, if you've seen the same is as I've moved up in the org, what constitutes as an emergency becomes more and more gray. It's really not always clear. When you start to be like a leader of directors and their managers and their staff, it becomes a little more blurry on what that emergency is. It's very unlikely to be just some specific, like, "This X stopped working, Wes. What do I do?" It's usually, "X stopped working, and it's broken these other downstream systems, Wes. How do we want to communicate while I'm out in Malibu or something?" I don't know. Just throwing it out there.
Sarah J. Buszka: "I don't know. Figure it out. Bye." No, I'm kidding, I'm kidding.
Wes Johnson: So it gets a little challenging, at least in my personal experience, the more I've moved up, that balance, because it does feel like there's an expectation as you move up where you're a little bit more available in some of these scenarios versus where when someone's more individual contributor-focused, it's more, at least in my experience, more tied to the specific service or system, so the scope of the problems tend to be a little bit more narrow. So I have found some struggles in my, I've only been in this role for a couple of years now, some struggles in knowing when to jump in. So a lot of it comes back now to my own view on things as an individual, with a sense of the team, you got to keep the team in mind, too.
But I have found that the biggest thing for me as far as keeping myself as free as possible when I do take time is really set that tone long before the time comes to actually take time off. Back to what we were discussing earlier, the way that I've supported other folks taking their time off, they'll hear me, and I've had individuals join meetings, because they thought the meeting was super important, but it was the first day I decided to take off for the week. And I've kicked them out of the meeting. Not to be rude, but just-
Sarah J. Buszka: You're holding boundaries.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, yeah. I have to do that with them. And part of is to make sure they understand, "Hey, look. I appreciate you being here, but you don't have to be here. We scheduled a meeting on a time when you were out, so we made a decision that we could still have this meeting without you, or we'll cancel it." So part of it is that, and then the other part of is so when I don't show up to meetings, when I'm out for a week, it shouldn't be a surprise to you, because I don't support anybody doing that.
Sarah J. Buszka: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah, great point. I'm just picturing you kicking someone out of a meeting.
Wes Johnson: It's been surprisingly more than I thought I'd have to do in my career. I thought most folks were more automatically be like, "Whatever's on the calendar, I'm not coming." But there's been a few times where I've had individuals that, in their defense, they were trying to support, they were the ones that were most knowledgeable about something, so they just wanted to make sure we were successful. But nah, I kicked them out, and just say, "Hey, look. If we weren't successful at this meeting, we'll schedule another one, or shame on us for not canceling it. We're good."
Sarah J. Buszka: Right, right. It's all a learning experience. When you were bringing this up, I have a few thoughts, but what came to my mind initially was Priya Parker's book, The Art of Gathering. And I know she was the keynote speaker at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference last year in Denver. And I just thought it was amazing that she was there, because when I read her book a few years ago, and it really helped inform a lot of my wedding planning, actually, and there was a passage that she has in that book where she talks about your responsibility for your guests, for people in your meeting, is to make sure that they are protected and they're having a good time, that they're set up for success, all of those things. And if you just open the flood gates and let everyone and everything in, well, you're not doing your job stewarding that meeting in a leader, or someone hosting a wedding, if you're just letting the floodgates open and just letting everything happen and hoping that it'll be okay. Hope is not a plan.
And what I learned from Priya Parker in her book is it's actually your responsibility to be able to make those decisions and to be able to stand up for what you want and to recognize your role in that. Right? And if you think that adding one person to a meeting may or may not help or bringing one person to your wedding might spoil it for the rest of the folks, well, if you have 300 people going to your wedding, and one person, who you're worried about, well, why would you bring that one person in who could potentially spoil the time of 300 people? But it's a hard thing to do, it's a hard thing to stand your ground and to say no.
But sometimes, saying no is the kindest thing we can do, not only for ourselves, but for those 300 guests, for those folks in your meetings, but also for the person themselves, right, because if they're on vacation and coming into a meeting, well, chances are they probably don't have good reception. They probably don't have what they need in front of them to be effective. They have all these other things in their head. No one's set up for success at that point, and the only thing that that's going to do is have that person coming to the meeting without the right things that they need.
Maybe fail. As a leader, it's our responsibility to make sure they're set up for success. And if we feel like we can have this meeting without you, then we can have this meeting without you, and it's no reflection on you, your character, or your ability to do something or not. And it's not that we don't think you don't care, it's just that we need to move this forward.
It's a hard thing to think about because I grew up in the Midwest. I'm Midwest, modest, nice to a T, almost, and it's something that when I was raised, it was, everyone has to be included. Be nice to everybody, invite everybody in, everybody's welcome. And I think I had to realize that there's a distinction between that mentality and being welcoming and hospitable and also being respectful and caring. And they aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but you are being respectful and caring and welcoming if you do close the door on certain people and on certain things in specific occasions or places. And it's okay to do that, because otherwise, you're perceived as the person who just gets walked all over or lets everybody else walk all over each other at your own venue. People don't have a good time. The likelihood of being successful in any of those situations is probably low. So I think about that a lot, and I think it's a really good thing to do that.
Wes Johnson: Absolutely.
Sarah J. Buszka: And back to your comment, actually, about what an emergency is. I love this one, because when I was working at the University of Wisconsin, my previous role was to lead a team who was responsible for critical infrastructure services. So six life and health safety services. One of them was the door access system for campus. So that included all doors on the university's campus and the hospital, so this is in the thousands. And one of the challenges with that system is if it goes down, well, people could be trapped, people could be stuck in places. Even though the doors should fail open for safety reasons, sometimes things happen. And there is always a lot of fear, I think, with that team I was with of the worst possible outcome happening, which it's a good thing. I think we should be aware of the likelihood of that, we should be aware of what we're up against and what challenges might come.
But the likelihood of those happening, especially how great the team was, were really low. And if something did happen, it would've probably been out of the team's responsibility. It would've been some extreme things. We had thought of everything. We had redundant systems, separate networks. You name it, the DR plan for all of these services was just phenomenal, and that's the credit to the team. We had thought everything through, there's backups upon backups, we had a lot of funding supporting all of it. It was solid. But still, it's easy, and our brains are just kind of designed to go into this kind of doom-and-gloom place, the worst outcome possible. And when you're working with a team of 16, 20 people who focus on that all day, and their primary role is to keep critical infrastructure running, well, it's very easy and makes sense that they're thinking about those things, because they're getting paid to think about them.
But the challenge is how do we put that in perspective and context? And I think what worked well for us in that space is because we would literally talk about scenarios where, "Oh, is there blood on the floor? Did something happen in the hospital where the doors failed shut, and no one can get out, and there's blood on the floor?" We would literally talk about that. And I know it sounds kind of like crazy, because we're in IT, and what does blood have to do with IT? But in that scenario, that was a potential outcome. And so I think from my lens, anything that doesn't have blood on the floor is not an emergency to me.
Wes Johnson: Right. Wow. Yeah, that's like ... Yeah.
Sarah J. Buszka: And I know that's an extreme, but I use that as a perspective all the time, because there's so many things where it's like, "Yes, the system went down. Somebody can't get to a portal or access something," but it's typically not an emergency unless it touches payroll or finance or life, health, safety things. Everything else can wait. It really can. "Yes, will there be an impact? Of course. But there's no blood on the floor from this impact." And that's how I frame it and just work backwards from there. Because my first thought always, and I think it probably will be this way for a long time, is someone hurt? And if someone isn't physically hurt, it can wait. Typically, in my mind, it can wait, unless it's, like I said, finance or things like that. People need to get paid, all that kind of stuff. But if someone isn't hurt, if there's no blood on the floor, I'm like, "We're good. We can figure this out."
It's a completely different headspace, and I think folks who've worked in emergency services or anything like that might understand the headspace that I'm coming from when I share that, and it's not from a place of insensitivity. It's just from a place of perspective, really.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, yeah. No, that's helpful. I actually use my health safety colleagues as my example of non-emergencies with my non-health safety colleagues. I've actually used that metaphor quite a bit, just like, "Well, y'all, we don't work in a hospital, so is it really an emergency?"
Sarah J. Buszka: Right.
Wes Johnson: It's interesting to hear you actually have direct experience in that field. So I've always wondered what is it that you all say to make it a non-emergency. Now, I know.
Sarah J. Buszka: Yeah, it's pretty much like, "Is there blood on the floor? No? Okay. It's fine. We'll figure it out." And honestly, but I also want to say just because something isn't an emergency doesn't mean it's not important or necessary work or anything like that. That has nothing to do with it. And I think that's a distinction that sometimes can be blurred or confused. And like you said, that gray areas, "Oh, if you're not dropping everything, it means you don't care. You're not willing to drop everything and come and fix this." And in the grand scheme of things, if you zoom completely out and you're outside of your department, you're outside of even the university, and you're looking at just a bigger, broader picture of the world, the world will continue moving and circling if we don't get to this in four hours. You know what I mean?
And I know that that's kind of an extreme, and I know I can't generalize everything, but I think that helps at least keep me calm in those scenarios, because there's been many scenarios in my career and experience where shit really did hit the fan, where it truly was an emergency, and I was up at 2:00 AM trying to figure something out, calling my CISO, my Deputy CISO at the time at 2:00 in the morning for something. It really was. Sometimes, it's hard to make that call in the moment, but the only thing I felt like really was my role was to remain calm and make sure everyone else felt like they had what they needed and could get it done. And make a 2:00 AM call.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, I know. And maybe that's a future episode. Maybe we share some stories, the viewers, listeners, you'll have to let us know, share some stories about some efforts that didn't go so well when shit hit the fan. What did we do?
Sarah J. Buszka: We have plenty of those.
Wes Johnson: You got plenty of those stories. So then I guess now we get towards the end of this, I want to ask one question. So we've talked about taking time, protecting your time. We've talked about some of the fun things that we do. So this is going to be episode after the holiday, so let's tell folks in review, right? Your holiday season, your December is now over. We're in January. What did you do, if you don't mind sharing? What's one fun thing you did during the holidays if things go according to the Sarah master plan?
Sarah J. Buszka: Well, actually, my husband and I are going to Mexico. We're going to Puerto Vallarta for Christmas, and the one thing I will be doing is laying on a beach somewhere with a piña colada and not being disturbed. I don't want to look at anybody, I don't want to talk to anybody. I just want to listen to music, drink my cocktail, and be by the water and relax. That's like-
Wes Johnson: Bring the violin? You ain't gonna bring it out?
Sarah J. Buszka: Actually, not in this trip, not in this trip.
Wes Johnson: Not on this trip?
Sarah J. Buszka: I don't think she'd like the humidity. But that's if everything goes to plan. I haven't had a true beach vacation and just a time where I've been able to just turn my brain off in so long, and it'll be my winter break from grad school, and I won't have classes. So I will have finished 10 classes by then. I know, right? So I'm like, "I'm ready just to ..." I don't know if you've ever seen Severance, that show on Apple TV? Yeah. When I first saw that show, it was before I started grad school, and how they just separated work from non-work, just literally in a blink of an eye, just moving out of a space, I really didn't understand that until I started grad school. Now I feel like I can do that better, and I think that's a skill too.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, it almost feels like the show is written by a grad student now, you're wondering.
Sarah J. Buszka: There's some days are easier than others, but sometimes I'm just shutting this, and poof, I just can't think about anything more. I feel like my brain is so stuffed that there's just literally nothing else to do but to focus on something else or just not even think about it. And it's really hard to describe. It's a new feeling for me, for sure, because I've always kind of struggled with shutting that off. But I'm going to be shutting off on a beach in Mexico in a few weeks here. But what about you?
Wes Johnson: That sounds very, very nice. So I won't be going to a beach, but my hope is here in Oakland at the Oakland Zoo, they do a thing every year called Glowfari, where they light up the whole zoo in holiday lights and festival stuff. I have not seen it yet.
Sarah J. Buszka: Oh, that's so fun.
Wes Johnson: So my hope is that we sign up for one of these nights. It's extremely hard to sign up for. They slow down the website and put you in queues during the holiday season, because they get so much activity early on in the season, and then folks book it all the way out. So fingers crossed. We didn't make it last year. Fingers crossed we make it in the list this year and get to go.
Sarah J. Buszka: My fingers are crossed. It's like you're trying to get Taylor Swift tickets for the Eras Tour.
Wes Johnson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's just like-
Sarah J. Buszka: May the odds be ever in your favor.
Wes Johnson: I didn't think it'd be this hard to go to the zoo, but here we are.
Sarah J. Buszka: I know, really. Well, I hope that works out for y'all. That sounds like it'll be fun.
Wes Johnson: Well, with that, thank you, everyone. Happy holidays to you and yours, Sarah, happy holidays to our viewers, thank you to the whole Rising Voices podcast team for all of our work. This will be episode number what, four? So we're four deep, we keeping on going. We hope you all are entertained. I'm Wes Johnson, and ...
Sarah J. Buszka: I'm Sarah Buszka. Thank y'all for listening.
You can also watch the episode on YouTube
This episode features:
Sarah J. Buszka
Senior Relationship Manager
Executive Director Campus IT Experience
University of California, Berkeley