Let’s start from the top
OK, so it’s been a good long while since my last post. Let’s see my previous post was from *…furiously ruffles papers and checks notes…* May 26. In that time I’ve done a multitude of things with my company. I’m a manager of some amazing devs, shipping a few products, coded in over seven languages and frameworks, traveled to Copenhagen and Oslo, and tried to keep my head above water the whole time.
But I’m BACK! Not entirely sure where I’m back from, but I’m back from that thing. And since it’s nearly been a whole year since we talked on here, I think it’s time to talk about the hard stuff. The things that people like to pretend don’t happen in our line of work, burnout.
I believe we all have a different feel of what this means to us; we are all individuals after all. I want to talk about my perspective and what it means to me, how I know it’s there, and what I’ve done, or not done, to fight it.
I won’t give some dictionary recap or the allegory; burnout is when each day ends like shit, you have no gas left in the tank, and the only way is to finish the work. It’s that moment you keep telling yourself it’s almost over, I’ve almost finished this feature, a few more bug fixes and we can release. I think we seldom mention it as we are waiting for this freight truck to hit us or a billboard on our daily commute. I think it can present itself to us in a multitude of ways sometimes less profound than others.
When thinking about how to write this or the examples to give I figured it would be best to provide context into my past experiences and hope in some way you can find relatable instances within yourself.
📢 Martin, are you listening to yourself?
Burnout Numero Uno: Long hours. I’ll be the first one to admit when people ask what my hobby is I’ll say programming. I love it, and I get paid to do it, best of both worlds. This was quite a few many years ago when this happened, and I thought I had nothing left by the end of it. It was jumping from one project to the next and hitting the ground running. The ask from me was to build a complete iOS application, I think almost 10–12 screens, in a month. At the time Swift was still a new language and finding support when you hit errors was a learning experience I rarely had time to spare. Days melded into each other, and there were fewer and fewer days I left during the daylight hours.
Burnout Numero Dos: No break. I consider this the opposite of my previous scenario, and this is the long con. It sneaks up on you, and you’ve worked for so long you scantly remember what you were supposed to do in the first place. I start to be in the mindset of what would I do when I haven’t had a break in a while. Where would I go? Why should I spend money traveling when Student Debt looms over my head? The next thing you know the year is ending. The vacation days you are given need to be used, so the last time to use them is the last work days of the year.
After not taking any real vacation or having a break in years I was convinced by a friend to take a trip to Copenhagen, and I took a detour to Oslo afterward. This trip was not only heartwarming but soul warming. For the first time in ages, I didn’t think about work. I had no cell plan, so it was me walking around all day exploring a city with a friend, meeting new people, and enjoying some frigid weather. It was precisely the reset I needed, and it showed me the value¹ of making time for myself, however infrequently I do take it.
I’m not saying go take three weeks off to travel to a new country to find yourself; I am saying take a break. Walk around the block to clear your head, scheduled Friday off during the summer for long breaks during those hot months, or take a long lunch for a mani-pedi session². Don’t hate me for this cliche GIF but it’s accurate and valid in this context.
As alluded to earlier on sometimes we don’t always recognize we are tired and done. There are times when we’ve reached this point, and we keep going, albeit slowly but keep on moving. That was me at one point. If I said something I did not want the perception of failure. In retrospect, I know that was the completely wrong way to look at it. It was a no-brainer I needed a break, but alas I live in America, and our willingness to commit ourselves to work is usually rampant. It becomes a point for the people I manage to think about how long I see them at the office, how long since the last vacation, how long since they have been able to take a deep breath.
I can do something, right?
After that long short month of working, I didn’t do these things. I didn’t speak up; I needed these things. That does happen, and I do not want to fault anyone because speaking up isn’t easy. But I also want to implore anyone reading this, ask your peers, check up on them. It takes a village and together we are stronger than individuals. Take someone out to lunch, post in Slack if anyone wants to walk and grab a cup of coffee, we will all be appreciative of it, I promise.
I don’t have a profound conclusion to this other than talking about my experiences and hope in some way you can relate it to your life. In some way, you might be able to look at things from a different perspective and be more comfortable to raise your hand and ask for a break to take a deep breath. Trust me. You will be glad you did. How do you avoid burnout?
- I wrote power here first, but that was more cliche than I wanted to be in this article
- I’ve done this before, and it is one of the most relaxing ways I’ve spent a lunch. What tops lunch wine and self-care?
- Find more photos from that trip on my Instagram, @mrtnrst