We had the good fortune of connecting with Darius Koohmarey and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Darius, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Myself, and many others in today’s pandemic ridden world, have found themselves in a period in their career and lives where we face mounting work stress paired with ongoing anxiety around the state of Covid-19. The ability to achieve work life balance has degraded given the reality of remote work and work from home. An important lesson on stress and work life balance I learned is that if you don’t change anything, don’t expect things to change themselves. Hoping that things ‘improve’ without making any changes to the inputs or tolerance of the system is an ignorance of basic control & systems theory. As a result, we need to be mindful to proactive make our resilience strong so we can handle stress, and reactively reduce our workload if we are still feeling overwhelmed. Building resilience begins with enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious diet. Set a goal for a standardized time to go to sleep and wake up that aligns to your work schedule, and that allows for an ideal 8 hours of sleep a night. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sleep on your wellbeing and ability to succeed. The second most important element is your exercise, and I recommend at least 30 minutes of cardio intensive exercise a day. Not only will this improve physical health, but the chemicals released from the activity will help strengthen and improve your mental health as well. If you have larger challenges with mental health, then a therapist can also do wonders to find more tactical ways of solving or helping you identify coping mechanisms for what you’re experiencing. When issues feel too much to handle by yourself, a therapist can help provide additional evidence based methods to help set you on the right track. Surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals. The last item of resilience alongside sleep and exercise is nutrition. I encourage also making a mental effort for sustained healthy meals, which are made relatively fresh and a diverse protein, carb, vegetable mix. Be mindful of stimulants like alcohol or caffeine and wondering why you can’t achieve the sleep you are after. In addition, a good meal will give you the energy you need to achieve your exercise goals. I recommend finding wellness through a supplement like Tok Wellness Support. I had started Tok Wellness Company exactly to try to help solve these types of pains, championing work-life balance, outdoors, and health through nature for the modern human. If you can’t further improve areas of resilience like exercise and sleep, then the other lever to pull is reducing your workload and demands. For people, it’s extremely important to manage the stressors that are affecting their wellbeing. In most cases, mental ailments around anxiety, stress, and depression are related ailments that share a root cause of overwhelming responsibilities. To proactively address this, aim to reduce responsibilities, whether by sharing and offloading work to those around you, to simply reduce your own expectations and goals. If your desire to be a top 1% performer is coming at the cost of your wellbeing, you should consider re-evaluating a top 5% performer as the extra 4% could reduce your burden. Usually societal drive to perform at higher levels (promotions, more status, more money) will set ambitions beyond healthy levels. On the note of reducing workload and stressors, you can also aim to proactively plan to take time off, agreeing to a vacation/rest period with your management. Especially with remote work, disconnecting can be harder then ever and must be more intentionally done. In conclusion, the body is like a system where you need to regulate the inputs to get the desired output. You need to proactively be managing the inputs in the system. This means managing the things you need to be healthy, and as a result, productive. This includes getting enough sleep, getting enough exercise, having a nutritious and balanced diet, and setting goals that are achievable without burning you out completely. It also means giving yourself the permission of taking time off, and making sure that you have a work life balance in place that gives you daily periods of time to ‘relax’ or enjoy your own hobbies. Stress can make tasks you’d regularly excel at feel insurmountable, and in addition can manifest itself in physical ailments you wouldn’t otherwise be able to explain. By mastering your own understanding of the reasonable amount of stress you can maintain, you will be able to upkeep high performance. Putting extra hours of effort in does not mean having to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. By prioritizing feeling your best, you are prioritizing performing your best. If you’re interested in other career tips, you can read other advice I have on how to succeed in the workforce in my book, “Tips for New Grads to Succeed in the Workforce”, available on Amazon. If you’re dealing with a large amount of stress and could use additional support beyond the aforementioned advice, then don’t forget to check out Support supplements from Tok Wellness Company, which are purpose made to help the modern human find health through nature.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
While I’ve found success in tech through the intersection of opportunity and preparation, it was not in absence of challenges. As with any field, grit is a prerequisite to finding and achieving your goals. I wanted to address this topic of adversity that will face you along the way. As you identify your own goals, you may be overwhelmed or discouraged by the distance you need to travel to reach your goals. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the path to becoming your best self in and out of the workforce is filled with challenges and adversity. I’m here to tell you that your past failures, performance, or do not make or break your future success. Your challenges and hurdles, both past, current, or upcoming, are expected and inevitable elements of building yourself and your success in the workforce. To further illustrate the point, I want to take a few moments to share challenges and obstacles of my own, and what you can learn from overcoming them. I’ll begin the stories of adversity from as young as middle school, a time when I was bullied to the point where I had to eat lunch in a bathroom stall to feel ‘safe’. I had things stolen, items thrown on ground for fun, and routinely physically harassed. Fortunately, I had the foresight to realize that this isn’t going to be forever, and that things will get better as I get older. It’s extremely important that you acknowledge the challenges and obstacles that come your way as only temporary situations on your journey to success. During senior year of high school, I watched as all my friends got accepted to their top schools, from Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley to UCSD. Out of my 12 applications, I only made it to my fallback school. While I may have been discouraged, I made the best of my experience and had the best freshman year anyone could ask for. There are times you need to move forward with the hand you are dealt and make the best of what is currently available. While I was generally an above average student in high school, I failed my first class in my computer science undergrad. The concepts presented at the time (assembly programming) were so abstracted and complex that I was a few weeks behind actually understanding what was going on through the semester. While others may see a failure like this as a sign to switch majors, I retook the class immediately and got a high A that next semester. Everything will not go as smoothly as it did before, whether it’s a class, project, or assignment. The key is to get back up and keep trying if it’s in the way of your goals. Another college experience I had was that I needed to get a 4.0 my last semester to graduate with honors. The previous semesters I had never achieved the perfect 4.0. As a result, the advisor of my department laughed at me as I told him I plan to graduate with honors. I am proud to say I did in fact get my first 4.0 that semester and did graduate with honors. There will always be skeptics and those that index on your past performance, without belief that you will grow or improve. It’s twice as important to have your actions speak louder than your words in these cases, as you prove to yourself and the world what you can do. As a graduated computer science major with two coding internships already completed, I began applying to jobs in the area. After 45 applications, the only position that I received a callback for was a non-coding position at a local tech company, ServiceNow. While this could be perceived as another failure, working at a tech company was a step in the right direction, and so I took the leap. And while multiple offers are great, the reality is you only need one to get you in the right direction. I also want to reminisce on my journey to accomplish my MBA, as it is important to state that I dropped out of my MBA program twice. What was meant to be a 4 year, part time program, took me 6.5 years. For someone that had just completed their undergrad (with a minor) in only 3 years, this was quite the shift! The reason however was that I was diagnosed and struggled with severe anxiety and depression after college, being prescribed drugs like Xanax. I felt paralyzed to leave the house, was throwing up in the mornings, experienced heart palpitations, felt like I was unable to breathe, and had my hands and body would routinely flush and sweat and shake. This made both school and work challenging to bring my best self to. It was these experiences that helped me value wellness and proactive focus on making sure my mental and physical health were in check before pushing myself at work. It becomes very clear that you will need to identify the best pace at which you will work and that will still let you achieve your goals. For me, it meant cutting down from 2 classes part time to only 1 class. Don’t treat these concessions as failures, but take them as realities that require modifying your approaches to progressing forward to where you want to be. Head down the road at your own speed, whether it’s one step or a mile. Both are progress in the right direction to your goal. If at any point in the journey I would have given up, I wouldn’t be in the position of success that I am in today. It’s important that you continue to believe in your own vision, and acknowledge these hurdles not as stopping points to your journey, but as simple delays and obstacles that you will overcome in time. The term to keep in mind is ‘grit’, and having it will help you navigate the obstacles that will get in your way from implementing the other recommendations on succeeding in the workforce. Harness it, and unlock and become the best version of yourself!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
San Diego is fortunate for its coastal location, climate, and near access to a number of activities. Enjoying physical activity, outdoors, and the tranquil effects of nature are things I want to share with others. As a result, I would take friends Mountain Biking through PQ Canyon, kayaking, surfing, or snorkeling around La Jolla Shores. I also would bring them to enjoy a good meal and desserts from Convoy.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Nathan, my cofounder for Tok Wellness Company, provides sage advice and mentorship on wellness. He is quick to question norm and helps provide outside in perspectives on issues. Jithin, my boss at ServiceNow helps champion and encourage my wellbeing and work. He is a leader who focuses on bringing the best out of his team and giving everyone a voice.