On burnout

Or, as alternately titled by my girlfriend: Effective note keeping is the core of professional responsibility, an essay by Ryn, aged three days older than previous-Ryn, who was terrible.

Previous Ryn, who is generously described as being terrible, had an idea for a blog post. It was going to be a semi-scathing commentary on... something. Not totally scathing, mind you, just partially. You know, par for the course of where my mental state has been these days. Unfortunately, because previous Ryn did not write this idea down in any sensible location, present Ryn has no idea what that almost-certainly-delightful commentary was going to be. One of my coworkers recently sent me this article on the telltale signs of burnout, and as it turns out, forgetfulness is one of them. And it turns out that in addition to forgetting ideas for blog posts, I have nearly all of the other signs of burnout as well.

This is not a blog post where I tell you all about how I magically dealt with burnout, how I came out the other side and it's all better now and if you just use this One Weird Trick you can miraculously vanquish all your burnout-related brain weasels as well. I'm not there yet. I don't have any magical answers. What I do have is honesty, and some things that I'm trying right now, in this moment, to try and get through this.

I'm opening up to people.

For more than several months, when I was first starting to feel burnt out, I tried to hide it. I put on a big smile (ok, relative to my normal resting goth face) and pretended like everything was fine. I know it wasn't very convincing - I've never been great at hiding when something is bothering me - but I certainly wasn't admitting that I was struggling. Recently, however, I've started talking about it. Maybe too much, maybe to the point where people think I'm being too negative, but I've learned that if people don't know that there's even a problem, they certainly can't help you with it.

No really, I'm opening up to people.

More than that, I'm letting people help me. For years I've tried to be completely self-sufficient, but I'm pretty sure burnout at this level is not a problem that can be dealt with single-handedly. There are six distinct factors that contribute to burnout, and none of them are things that you can (or should) just try to power your way through. I've been super lucky to have people around me who are genuinely interested in trying to help me through this, and something I've been learning to do is to let them help. I've learned to ask for help, to recognize when I need someone to talk to or when I need advice or when I need a distraction, but I've also learned that when people are in good faith offering to support you for a bit, you shouldn't turn that down.

I'm building up the non-work parts of myself.

For the past several years I have been very heads-down focused on work, trying to build up a successful and sustainable career, often to the exclusion of other things. One thing that burnout has done for me is throw into focus how unsustainable that lack of balance is. I know a fair number of people who work, work, and then outside of work their hobbies are the exact same activities that they do at work. And if that is genuinely fulfilling to someone, fine, but I'm really sick of the narrative that in order to be successful in tech you have to do nothing but tech. In years past, in lives past, I was a writer, an artist, a musician, and I've been making a deliberate effort recently to try to nurture those parts of myself again. I am so much more than just the labor I give to capitalism.

I'm taking breaks.

I'll admit, this part wasn't always voluntary. In part of opening up to people and letting them help, I had to admit that maybe they had some valid points sometimes, and people pointed out to me that I was not making super great decisions for my own health and Very Strongly Encouraged me to disconnect from work for a bit. This has probably been the hardest part for me, because after so many years of doing nothing but work, I'm not good at not doing work, but this has also been the part that's been the most beneficial so far. Taking breaks has given me perspective, let me figure out what is and isn't important to me, and given me at least some direction for the future. 

I don't know the way forward from here. I'm going to keep trying these things, trying to gain perspective and balance and to let people help me. I'm going to keep talking about this, because we as an industry talk too little about the effects this work has on us. Now more than ever, one of the best things we can do is reach out to and support each other, to listen to each other and help each other. I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but maybe I can at least provide a tiny bit of guidance for someone who might be somewhere in the burnout cycle themselves. And if you are in that cycle and you're reading this, please reach out to someone. If you have nobody else, you know where to find me on twitter.