Apprenticeship update: realising your limits

Zelda, cat, chair, table, desk, laptop
notepad, stress, argh

Things are different now I’ve reached the third month of my apprenticeship.

The first couple of months were a rather smooth ride and I eased into it gently. The data and analytics lifecycles were introduced at the beginning of the course in April, before modules covering the requirements for the End Point Assessment (EPA) and Excel techniques took place in May.

You’d think month three would be easy too, considering it’s all about database fundamentals and I’ve now been working in a database administration role for a while. But although the subject may be a familiar one and last week’s training sessions were pretty basic, the pressure is starting to increase from a number of directions and it has turned out to be a rough fortnight.

At the end of my last post about the apprenticeship, I mentioned that attending the SITS show had reminded me of how much I’d enjoyed my previous career in service management. I’ve been with my company for a long time now but have always switched teams and roles every few years and so perhaps another move was due. Well, that’s kind of now been forced on me and not necessarily in the best way.

Several days after our coaches told us we should decide on the first project for our portfolios, I received a message from my department’s head asking me to call him urgently. A complaint had been received from someone rather high up in the company and investigation was needed to get to the bottom of it. Seeing as I had a history in service management and plenty of experience working with the support teams, he wanted me to analyse whatever data we had to find out what was going on. He gave me a week.

Over the next few days, I manually combed through 5,000 rows of unclean data to get to the details I needed.

There were two issues with this. First, it’s common knowledge that the information captured within our request-logging system is terrible. Catalogues, services and categories should be focused but ours are of mixed subjects, and free-text fields mean it’s difficult to get consistent data without a load of manual cleaning. Second, this work was outside of my normal day-job. I already had several tasks and had also been booked in for a high-profile server upgrade which needed to be completed before a deadline.

But I’m not one to turn down a challenge. Over the next few days, I manually combed through 5,000 rows of unclean data to get to the details I needed. The length of the workday slowly increased as the time for the next meeting with the head got closer and I skipped breaks just to get a bit more time. There were a few points where I had doubts about being able to give him the answers he wanted; it had been three years since I worked in service management, and tiredness was making me start to question myself.

I went into the meeting with a list of three priorities I felt the support teams should be focusing on based on my findings and thankfully, the head agreed with them. The sense of relief we both felt was palpable – he because someone had given him the information needed to respond to the complaint, and me because I’d managed to pull this thing off as well as use it for the first project for my apprenticeship portfolio. Before I could sit back and take a break though, there was another bombshell to be dropped.

He was assigning me to work with a particular director on the solution for another, bigger problem which had cropped up recently. There was a strict deadline of November for this task and there would be important consequences for the business if we couldn’t resolve the situation by then. The head advised I should speak to both the director and my boss to figure out a way for me to move over to her team for the next several months so I could act as their IT Service Management (ITSM) Consultant.

After finishing at 9pm one evening and having a breakdown when Pete asked me if I was ok, I realised something needed to give.

I ran myself into the ground during the next couple of weeks. Despite working 15-hour days without breaks, it was impossible to stay on top of the requirements for my database job, this service management task, the objectives for the apprenticeship and anything else which happened to pop up. I was constantly tired and burst into tears at random intervals because I was so stressed. After finishing at 9pm one evening and having a breakdown when Pete asked me if I was ok, I realised something needed to give.

I arranged a call with my apprenticeship coach the following day to tell him I was falling behind with my objectives. I can’t fault how he handled that conversation and he’s worth his weight in gold. He didn’t care that the upcoming deadlines were going to be missed; he was more concerned about my emotional state and what he could do to help. We talked about how the pressure we put ourselves to never say no to a request can be extremely damaging, along with some techniques for how I could be more aware of my limits.

I sent a message to the director next. Admitting that you’re not doing too well and are struggling to cope is difficult for someone who’s a perfectionist and never likes to not be in control, but it needed to be done. I asked if we could talk about my workload and we arranged to meet in person a few days later. On a personal level, we talked about how women who work in IT can put themselves under pressure to prove themselves and she provided a few podcasts she thought might help.

On a work level though… while I appreciate that time with her and everything she said as a supportive friend, I’m not sure how successful the work arrangements will be. She said she’d raise the possibility of getting a contractor to cover my database tasks so I could focus on service management full time, but I can’t see that happening in the current climate. The current plan is to trial me working alternative weeks with her team and my own but I can already think of a number of logistical problems with this.

Having to admit that I’ve been unable to fulfil the challenge when I pride myself on being able to achieve whatever I set my mind to has been extremely tough.

I haven’t raised my concerns yet. I’m very aware they could simply be in my head due to my current emotional state, and I need to give this new plan a chance to find out if it’s a success. But it’s hard to feel optimistic right now and stress is still having an affect on my wellbeing. Having to admit that I’ve been unable to fulfil the challenge when I pride myself on being able to achieve whatever I set my mind to has been extremely tough, and imposter syndrome keeps telling me I’m just not good enough.

The only thing I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Next month’s apprenticeship module is on SQL fundamentals so I’ve got that covered already, and I’m almost ready to start writing up the report for my first portfolio project. Hopefully I’ll be able to submit that soon and it will help me to feel as though I’ve finally achieved something. As for the service management work, I have to keep telling myself there’s only so much I can do and force myself to disconnect at the end of the working day.

This post has turned out to be far longer than intended. I guess I needed to offload, and putting everything into words allows me to personally acknowledge what’s been happening recently. Please don’t suffer alone if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. There may not be any quick answers but talking to someone can give you a nudge in the right direction.

About Author /

Spreadsheet lover, video gamer and SpecialEffect volunteer. Goes by the name 'kissingthepixel' online. Lifelong fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

6 Comments

  • Hundstrasse
    2 months ago Reply

    Sorry to hear that you’ve been having such a difficult time recently. Sounds like you’ve been pulled in all sorts of different directions. Keeping my fingers crossed that the positive action you’ve taken to speak to all the key people pays off and that the new working arrangements work out.

    Always around if you want to vent about work stuff… Otherwise I’ll just keep taking crap about games and donkeys 😁.

    • Kim
      2 months ago Reply

      Thanks, I really appreciate that. I’m a little concerned that you forgot to include zombies alongside the games and donkeys though. Are you feeling ok?

      • Hundstrasse
        2 months ago Reply

        Broadening my horizons! 😂… Imagine a game where you play as a Donkey taking on zombies! 😱 4 player co-op… Called.. erm… “Donkey-Z”… Or “Resident Hee-Haw”… I’m sure I can do better than that, give me time 😛.

        Seriously though, always happy to lend an ear, or as someone to run things past as an outside opinion. I knew things had been frantic recently for you, but figured that it was just a particularly bad week. Didn’t realise that it’s an ongoing “two-jobs-at-once” type scenario. Having 2 (or more) bosses never seems to go smoothly, but it really does sound like you’re doing the right thing by making everyone aware of the workload that has pushed your way because of it.

        • Kim
          2 months ago Reply

          I have absolutely no idea how the multiple-bosses-thing is going to work out. What happens if there’s an emergency on one team when I’m working for the other, or when the other database admin person goes on holiday? I’m trying not to be too negative right now, so I’m just going to give it a while and see what happens.

          Resident Hee-Haw? I’d play that.

  • Frostilyte
    2 months ago Reply

    Sorry to hear that things have been kinda poo lately.

    Y’all should be proud though. Not many people will admit when they need help. It’s surprisingly hard to do, so it was a big thing to admit to your higher ups that you weren’t ok and needed some help.

    Though I can’t say I’ve ever heard of being handed a job without consent. Is that common, or are you guys having trouble filling spots too? Seems everywhere here can’t get enough bodies for IT work.

    • Kim
      2 months ago Reply

      Admitting I wasn’t coping was the hardest thing. If Pete hadn’t been there that evening and my coach hadn’t been so supportive, I’m not sure entirely sure I’d have gone through with it. But things definitely couldn’t continue the way they were and, even though I’ve yet to see these proposed working plans put into place, I’m at least strong enough to switch off on time at the end of the day now.

      It’s a bit of a weird situation at my workplace. The new senior management team are pretty good and they’re keen to give existing employees opportunities in other teams and projects. Which is great, if you can secure a secondment – but not so good there isn’t one available and you’re then pulled in multiple directions. I’m concerned there are others who are feeling as overwhelmed as I was and it’s just going unnoticed.

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