Wow, I couldn’t agree more with you. Thank you for sharing your experience.
I have been reading a lot of articles about burnout lately, trying to understand what happened to me, but I couldn’t relate to any of them. Most of the articles say that burnout has to do with the lack of purpose and not being motivated, but that was not my case.
I’m also a programmer with very high quality standards, and I’m very passionate about what I do. I founded my own startup with a partner, thinking that she and I had the same goals and standards in mind, but things didn’t turn out as I expected. I ended up working nonstop from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. I was aware that working like that was not sustainable, and I tried to explain to my partner that we should slow down by reducing the amount of work, but it’s amazing how sometimes people don’t want to listen or don’t understand you. Eventually, my mind became so exhausted I could barely model an algorithm in my mind. This situation changed my personality so much, that people around me noticed I was different: more cranky, less willing to take on any task, less willing to go to events. Finally, I had to quit my own startup.
It has been two months since I left. During these two months, I couldn’t write a single line of code, my mind was so exhausted it wouldn’t allow it. All this time I was thinking that my partner was responsible for a lot of what happened, because she didn’t want to lower the amount of work and I couldn’t say no if there was something that needed to be done; we had customers, and I wanted my customers to be happy.
After talking to a psychologist and reading your article, I agree with what you say: “Burnout is self-inflicted”. I could have said no when I knew I was at my limit. If a “no” was not enough, I could have left. Eventually, I ended up leaving anyways. I just wish I had left sooner. I guess I was afraid to be seen as a “quitter”, or as a person who can’t “work under pressure”. But I’m not a quitter, and I definitely can work under pressure.
After these two months, I have absolutely no regrets about leaving. It was the best choice I could have made. I am fully recovered, I’m passionate about programming again, I can keep really high standards in the work I do while working a reasonable amount of hours, and I’ve started working as a freelancer with a lot of great ideas to develop in the future.
Thank you again for sharing your experience, I feel much better knowing I’m not the only one that has gone through something like this. People have to know that when things are not working out, leaving is a perfectly valid option.