Engineering Mental Health

By Stephanie L. Phifer

June 23, 2020

Maybe you’re here because you want to see what a CTO has to say about Mental Health in an age where burnout is very real, especially in the technology sector. Perhaps you’re curious how someone can “engineer” mental health. Or maybe my biggest fan sent you… thanks Mom! Regardless, you’re here, and I hope you enjoy.

It should come as no surprise that work and life happen at the same time. Every time life and work try to balance it can seem like something gets left behind. So, how do we close the gap? Believe it or not, you already have the key factors to finding what works for you. It will take some time, thought, and work but what doesn’t?

What do YOU want?

Everyone has goals, needs, dreams, etc. inside and outside of the workplace. How do you satisfy each of your needs? Well, first you need to figure out what those goals are. Ask yourself:

  • What is important to you?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • How are you going to work toward your goals?
  • How can your goals complement each other?

Realize this will be different for every person and will change over time. Polling friends, family, and coworkers can add data points, but the solution will ultimately be unique to you and your situation. There are a lot of incredible people in the world doing amazing things that can seem unreachable. Deciding what you want will foster focus and make the unreachable, possible.

Priorities, Progress, and Limits

If you are like me, you are bursting to accomplish all of your goals as fast as possible. At the same time, these goals can seem like mountains that will take forever to accomplish. Even sitting down to work on any one of these goals can be overwhelming. The resulting lack of progress can be disappointing enough to halt a project in its tracks. How can you get past this?

  1. Prioritize Your Goals. Be honest with yourself when you decide what you are going to work on. Tackling multiple projects and goals in parallel can actually slow progress down because focus is divided. Take your time to decide which mountain to climb first and commit to getting to the top. Having this focus can be the difference between success and running in circles.

  2. Define Progress. It is important to break down your goals in to smaller, more manageable milestones. You don’t have to know how to accomplish each milestone, but you should have a general idea of what you need to do to work towards each goal.

  3. Know Your Limits. Most of us are no stranger to being in a position where we have to grind to accomplish a short suspense project. While this can be a necessary evil, it is not the norm and it is not sustainable. Remember to be reasonable and don’t overextend yourself. There will be times to dig in and hyper focus. Those must be coupled with time to recover and relax.

Find Your Tribe

Life is better with friends and you can never have too many social circles, said the extrovert to the world. You are most likely not the first person to set out to achieve any particular goal. I can almost guarantee, whatever your dream is, there is a subreddit about it. Connect with communities of people that have similar interest. Research and talk to other people who set out to accomplish similar goals. These people will be your greatest advocates, collaborators, partners, sympathizers. They will be the ones to help brainstorm and push through tough times. These same people will also be the ones to tell you to relax and step back if you are spiraling. Be inspired by their journey and encourage others to reach for the stars.

Equip yourself with the tools to keep moving forward. Surround yourself with a network that will build you up and remember to pay it forward when you see someone else spiraling. No one can fully engineer mental health, but we can empower each other and protect ourselves from burnout. Stay focused and work strategically towards your goals every day. A small step in the right direction is still progress.

Stephanie Phifer is CTO and founding partner of EITR Technologies. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics with a Minor in Vocal Music Performance from Hood College in Frederick, MD in 2008. Stephanie entered the engineering world as an Intern for Harris Corporation in 2007 through the National Security Scholarship Program. Over her career, she has grown through the stack from UI Design and Development to Service Layer Engineering to Database and Big Data Systems. Her most recent focus has been Cloud based Enterprise Big Data Systems and Analytics supported by robust Automation and Orchestration capabilities. When she is not being a complete nerd she can be found jamming with her favorite local musicians or “momming” for her wonderful husband, two amazing daughters, and their pets.