I read a lot of posts on medium about burnout and ones that seek to provide self help or guidance on life. Generally they’re by start-up founders so the message can be a bit difficult to relate to when you’re not a founder nor wish to be. However, often the message does cut through, that being the experience of being on the downward and darkness inducing spiral of burnout is always relatable, if of course you understand the situation you’re in.
I’ve suffered with burnout several times in the last 3 years and in a variety of ways. I’ve had hard burnout when I end up super emotional, nearly in tears at a setback, afraid to express myself and hyper-ventilating through increased stress. I recognised this as all three of those symptoms hit at the same time. I immediately booked some time out and went and spent time in Barcelona with one of my close friends. I came back refreshed and rejuvenated. I knew what burnout looked like, or so I thought.
It hit me again a year later but this time the sneaky bugger crept up on me slowly, like a ninja cat, always there but trying hard to never been seen. It caught me by surprise and the symptoms were not the same, I couldn’t understand why I felt down, depressed with no motivation, no will, no discipline until it hit me again, I had let burnout grasp me with its claws once again but it was a different kind. This one was more difficult to diagnose but I realised what the cause was once again. Although successful in my job it no longer fulfilled me and I needed to change it.
So change it did, recently in fact. I got the job I’d been working towards for almost 18 months, with a great salary, great benefits, all the awesome stuff that goes with working for a big technology corporation. But this time a week into the new job burnout hit as I ended up in the situation of my relationship failing and being forced to move out of the house I shared with my now ex-partner whilst still having to pay for it and moving back in with my parents. This happened over the course of a weekend and it sapped all my buoyant mental focus and readiness to take on the world in my new job. This is where I am at currently and once again I know what I need to do. The age old cure, more exercise, better and deeper connections with those around me and just doing more for myself.
That’s the easy part of course but the question I found myself asking the mirror man was why? It’s said that to find the root cause or in fact the root of anything that you should always start with Why. Simon Sinek said so in his amazing TED talk and wrote about it to great acclaim in his excellent book, Start with Why. I’ve read that book twice in the last 4 years and yet my personal Why was always something that alluded me, I often felt that my Why was cloudy, so much so that I couldn’t fathom it. Why am I here? What makes me happy? I still don’t have an answer to that question but I’m hoping meditation will help to clear the fog as it seems to do for many others. That’s part of my journey but there is still something missing.
What’s missing is the part where we’re/I’m still shying away from one of the biggest challenges many who work in and amongst technology face but may not realise. Despite the fact we try and limit our work week to 40hrs, exercise more, socialise more, read more, listen more and all the things associated with trying to find balance, meaning and connections in life. We miss the fundamental difference between us and many others, in particular those that don’t work in tech. Precisely that in fact.
To many, their tech is their escape. Their Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram feeds, their WhatsApp, Telegram, iMessage groups, Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or Steam communities are their escapes from the stresses of life. However to tech people, that’s just more tech. We work with tech, we use tech to try unwind. There is a disconnect there, a crazy, in your face, shocked emoji, facepalm inducing disconnect.
We’re, trying to be like many others, trying to use technology to escape our lives in technology. That makes no sense.
My episodes of burnout have taught me a few things and I learn something new each time, I learn that I am different from the time before so the things I did before (a week away, or speaking in gratitude’s) isn’t going to cut it like before, that the issue is different which fundamentally means I have become different too. This means that I have to think differently about it to overcome it and realise it’s due to a disconnect forming with the self, myself.
As I look back, when I’ve been happiest in the last 5 years there are two significant events that caused a spike in happiness following a period of burnout or self-doubt.
Also becoming less reliant on my smartphone (in both cases I actually quit using my smartphone for up to two weeks at a time).
This has taught me one thing, that working in tech means when I feel the claws of burnout, I should quit technology for a while to reconnect with the self, myself.
If you’re feeling stressed out, tired, cloudy in the mind or absent from life try giving up your technology, that could be quitting social media for a while, leaving your laptop, tablet etc on your desk, put your iPhone in a drawer and get a cheap indestructible Nokia for a few days. Get out and about and experience what life was like in the 90’s, it’s weirdly exhilarating and does wonders for helping you reconnect with yourself.
After all, as Simon Sinek say’s, technology is the ‘dopamine drug of the 21st century’ and it’s overloading our fragile mental wellbeing and taking our minds prisoner.