On becoming me-shaped again
It was with mixed feelings that I announced a few weeks ago my upcoming departure from Etsy. While I am incredibly excited to be joining the awesome team of builders at Travis CI, it was also quite sad to be leaving the place that had been my dream job when I started out in ops. Ultimately, I wasn't able to recover from the burnout I was struggling with back in March (and honestly, for a good 6 months or so prior to that), and I've spent the 3 weeks I've been out of that office so far just figuring out how to be Ryn-shaped again.
There's a tendency I've seen among tech folks these days to turn the places where we work into a huge part of our identities. We wrap ourselves up in company-branded t-shirts and hoodies and socks and messenger bags. When people ask us about ourselves, we reply, "Oh, I work for X" or "I'm an X-er" as if that were the most interesting part of ourselves. I spent nearly 3 years working for Etsy, and several years before that wishing I was "cool enough" to work for Etsy, so having that not be part of who I am anymore is obviously a big change.
In my physical therapist's office there is a so-called motivational poster that reads, "It's not just a job, it's who you are", and it bothers me more and more every time I see it. I think the reason for that is that more and more I don't like this idea of making what we do to stay alive under late capitalism such a core part of our senses of self. Yes, it can be a good thing to be enthusiastic and even fulfilled by what you do for work, but that shouldn't be so all-encompassing that we forget about everything else. Especially for people who are members of underrepresented groups in tech, because this industry is not kind to us. It will never show us the kind of loyalty or consideration that we have been conditioned to show towards the companies we work for, so we need to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves more than we are taking care of an industry that sees us as disposable.
So I've been spending more and more time recently cultivating the parts of myself that have nothing to do with the tech industry. I've been painting, working to improve my photography skills, practicing the instruments I play, even trying to pick up a new one. I've been going to the gym regularly again, spending time relaxing with friends and loved ones (I took an actual real vacation with my girlfriend! Like, probably the first actual vacation I've taken in nearly a decade!), and trying to get my body back onto something resembling a healthy sleep schedule. I'm spending far less time reading tech-Twitter and much more time talking about other things (or more accurately these days, much more time offline and disconnected)
.And I feel better these past couple weeks than I have in years. It's unfortunate that it took me getting to the point where I nearly completely broke before I realized how burnt out and unbalanced I actually was. But it's a good reminder to me to pay closer attention to how I'm spending my time and how I'm defining myself.
This is not to say that people shouldn't be proud of where they work or the work they do, or that anyone who works in tech is required to have non-tech hobbies (though, I can't really think of another industry where it is as commonly expected for people to spend their spare time doing more of the exact same things they do for work). But I think it would benefit all of us to think about why we define ourselves the way we do. During the years I felt like I didn't belong in this industry, where I didn't know anyone in tech in my demographic, a company identity felt safer than an individual one. I didn't feel like I belonged in tech, but surely these tech companies did, so I hid behind their identities as a way of coping with my impostor syndrome.
The "10x rockstar engineer" mythos tells us we have to live and breathe tech 24/7/365 in order to be successful, in order to be a "real" engineer, but that's just not true. That sort of thinking benefits companies (in the short term), not people, and if we want to create a more humane and empathetic tech industry that is better situated to solve human problems, we need to think about how we can make it sustainable for the people working in it. To me, that means encouraging people to lead healthy and balanced lives rather than defining themselves solely by their work. It's not easy, but I'm putting in the effort to figure out what it means to be me-shaped again, and I would encourage everyone who reads this to do the same.