Burnout: (not) Paradise
Having experienced burnout in academia as well as an internship, I definitely identify with Shirley and Andrew’s experiences. At the outset of whatever new adventure one’s embarking on, there is a tendency to let the adrenaline or anxiety carry you through the days. Unchecked, this leads you to work strenuous hours in hopes of reaching your goals in as short a time as possible. When in this situation, it’s really difficult to have the foresight to temper one’s workflow. In Andrew’s case, slowing down during an upswing in a startup’s performance sounds ridiculous. In Shirley’s case, slowing down when one perceives a gap between oneself and one’s peers also sounds ridiculous. However, in both cases they quickly realize the pace is unsustainable. This is generally the progression I experienced this past summer.
I entered my internship with a mindset that I would work hard but I would avoid burnout. I tried to maintain a good work life balance by leaving work at a reasonable time and not taking work home with me. A few weeks in I started experiencing some of the same things Shirley did: interns started comparing how many diffs they had submitted for code review, and how late they had stayed the day before. I started perceiving a gap between my work and theirs. I really wanted that return offer, so I decided I’d ramp up my workload. It started off modest at first, but soon it got out of hand. I was staying around until 10pm and working weekends. I started realizing that all the food, showers/hygiene products and napping rooms provided by the company was all there to keep me working there for as long as possible, so I bit. At it’s worst I stayed overnight at the office, eating dinner at the cafeteria, showering in the bathroom and sleeping in one of the nap rooms.
Surprisingly, it sucked.
After that experience, I totally burnt out. I suppose fortunately for me it was towards the end of my internship, so things were ramping down already. Thus, I can’t really say I overcame the burnout, but I definitely learned what not to do when I enter the workforce. I definitely think Andrew’s advice of finding an unwinding activity towards the end of the day is valuable, as well as Shirley’s advice of not comparing myself to others through arbitrary numbers like code review volume. I definitely will approach my work experience with more perspective and foresight than before. I’m going to be going to a startup after graduation, and I know there will be high stress situations where I have to work late nights. What’s important for me during those inevitable times is that I find time to balance out my stress. Whether it be taking a day to get off the grid, or defining a list of actionable goals, I’ll do my best to minimize the stress associated with work, and adjust as I go.