If someone paid you money to kick a dog, you'd feel a strong urge to do something else. That's because you shouldn't kick dogs. But when we feel the same urge to not work, we read articles (not this one so much) that are essentially lists of ways to trick ourselves into doing things that don't matter or which will make the world a worse place.
You may have an idea that you know will make you a millionaire and which you could build, but you just can't force yourself to because fundamentally money won't make you happy and the idea is meaningless at best.
At least this is often the case for me.
To put it a little more abstract than 'kicking the dog', much of the work we do is in service purely of the bottom line - for products no one demands or needs, that solve no real human needs (of which there are MANY unmet needs), but generate maximum profit often at the expense of others or our collective future. Some work that centers purely around controlling capital serves virtually no real human function and has no actual output except profit (think banking, real estate, etc). Maybe I'm in the minority but these thoughts weigh heavily on me and make it much hard to make myself 'work', regardless of compensation. We keep at it because it's not feasible or enjoyable to be low-income in the world we live in, but we feel the urge that we should be doing something else. I call that a form of burnout.
I'm [finishing] working through burnout from my own consultancy that I closed down a few years ago, reloading fuel for my next heat. Meaning is so important, because after a certain income threshold the money means less and less, too.
As an aside, the people I work among seems to be primo in what fuels my passion, even before getting to the work of the company mission. Always looking for camaraderie (and friendly competition) among peers and an acceptable "mission" that binds us.
Good luck to you!
A key point I think. I'm not sure it is a minority feeling, but more a case of active propoganda/cultural influence that keeps 80-90% of people complacent ("We're the good guys! This doesn't feel right, but they just told us we're the good guys! Keep working!").
I think I found it: edtech. Edtech is a notoriously hard one to crack, and it's a long game. Fortunately I've always enjoyed working with children and philosophising about the best ways to teach and learn. The bad news: most edtech are flops.
Still, it adds a bit of meaning to the everyday hum-drum.
Also, an efficient, nationwide online schooling system (CAVA in California as an example,) would be the end of something like 90% of the teachers in the country. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Who even knows...
Everything has trade-offs.
So that at least frees me from that glum thought of IQ vs Nurture tug-o-war.
While I'm at it, I might as well advertise:
If anyone is interested to join my adventure please feel free to contact me via my profile.
Someone with good tech skills will especially be welcomed, as I'm a bit rusty, and plus it's more enjoyable to make pictures and courses. I'm based in the UK but I'm not fussy about having an online collaborator :)
The anecdote about bank teller jobs and ATMs comes to mind - https://www.aei.org/publication/what-atms-bank-tellers-rise-...
Not saying that teacher jobs are likely to increase, just that I'm not sure they'd go away altogether, either.
"By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method, they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls . . . become 'profiteers', who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished not less than the proletariat."
Doesn't that sound familiar? The quote is, ironically, by John Maynard Keynes, the very person policymakers cite to justify stealing from the poor and giving to the rich via inflation, in the name of "stability".
Inflation is a tax on assets. Isn't that the exact opposite of taking from the poor?
A quick bit of arithmetic reveals that we charge a significant amount ($50k+) for what we do, but put <10% of that back into the final product. (I can only account for about 8% of it.)
Nobody needs what we do. If my workplace collapsed in an earthquake, nobody would notice. Most people don't even know we exist, and are very surprised that such a facility exists here.
As you say, these thoughts have a serious impact on me. Every time we have a new hire I urge them to join the union and to use the place like it's a one-night stand. I would do almost anything I could find, but there is little appropriate work for me.
For example many government and institutional project assignments are a complete waste of time and money to begin with.
Quite often they're a checkbox on some bureaucrat's desk.
Some perfect examples of this is you can find when looking at the (technical) tenders the European Commission issues. Pick your (tech) topic and be sure find a few million being thrown at some research projects that are never being utilised, or of which the outcome literally doesn't matter.
All being funded with taxpayer's money. There are hundreds of these projects being funded every year, and they are a complete waste of money.
While there are people dying on boats to get into the EU, they are funding machine learning and AI research projects that would be laughably outdated 3 years ago.
However, if one company doesn't pick it up, another one will. It is a whole ecosystem of its own of companies and organisations applying for useless EU projects.
Perhaps the problem is not the companies fulfilling these assignments but rather the governments that issue them in the first place. Or the general public that lets their taxpayers money get wasted like that in the first place.
I took long walks, trying to soak up the sun, trees, insects everything. I also walked all over the city and watched different people getting on with their lives; commuting, serving, sweeping, chatting ... and all the while paying attention to their facial expressions and language. And finally I volunteered at a school.
It will bring some calm. You will also realise how envious you can be of those in poverty.
I would like to think there is a happy medium and that there are people who have their priorities straight and are also not poor. But there seems to be a dearth of evidence for this thing I would like to believe. It seems like those unwilling to sell their soul for money often have damn little of it.
So, while I understand your reaction, I can't quite manage to feel offended at what is possibly not the best framing, but possibly not inaccurate per se either.
(Edit: I am not saying everyone who has money has their priorities screwed up. I am just saying it seems to be hard to get both things right. It seems most people err on one side or the other, even if it isn't how they want to live. Those who err on the side of other priorities often seem to really struggle financially. Those who place a high priority on money often seem to do so at a personal cost that those chronically without money are loathe to make.)
Yes, but the notion that the lives of those in poverty revolve less around the pursuit of money seems far removed from reality. Poor people struggle to make ends meet. This means taking awful jobs they don't want, eating low quality food, not affording sick leave etc. Only wealthy people can afford not to worry about it. I can not "place a high priority on money" for a year and still make ends meet while not worrying for a second that I won't be able to get another well-paying job by the time I feel like it. It's because I am not poor.
Sure, there are vagrants and hobos whose lives revolve around the pursuit of food and shelter rather than money, but that's kind of the exception that proves the rule.
I have had a class on homelessness and public policy, I have been homeless for over 5 years and I am the author of the San Diego Homeless Survival Guide. http://sandiegohomelesssurvivalguide.blogspot.com/
I know a hell of a lot more about what "vagrants and hobos" do than you do. And your contempt for people with less money than you is not really pertinent to the point I was making. You clearly don't understand my point at all and are bringing so much personal prejudice to this topic that I see no real point in trying to correct the nonsense you are spouting.
I was so detached from feeling reality, I felt jealous when I saw scavengers in Nigeria finding 'treasure' in the junk yard that they can fix and sell in the market. And when I was in a not so affluent area at one time, and guys in rags gathered around a trolley were chatting away happily. And when a shopkeeper of a small booth looked so relaxed, watching the world go by with his shiny eyes and small smile.
These people I felt was really experiencing life. They're on the knife edge, yet they seem ... I don't know, they had something which I didn't have at that time.
I'm sure alright now. But till today I can't feel sorry for disadvantaged people: they are not pathetic masses, they're people who happen to be born in unfair circumstances and something's gotta be done - and pity is not one of them.
In that context, if I compare a rich person sitting on their yacht, sipping a martini to a scavenger who excitedly sets to work fixing a broken clock in order to eat next week -- which person would I want to be like? I mean, yachts and martinis are great, but they don't tell me what kind of person I am -- only that I am rich. Happily tinkering away while struggling against all odds? I want to be that kind of person. So does everyone -- that's why the motif pops up in virtually every piece of fiction, from the Bourne Identity to Harry Potter.
It's a bit of fiction, but I still think it's important. In truth, having a meaningful, noble challenge is mostly orthogonal to having money. We do see people struggling to gain money so that they can escape challenge -- only to be miserable with the result. However, money can also provide the means to choose your challenge rather than to be forced to always deal with survival.
In the end, though, whether you have money or not, how you choose to respond to challenge is what determines what kind of person you are. I also envy and respect those who excitedly greet their challenges every day.
This. I agree with the comment overall, but just in case someone is reading my comments from last night, there's another thing that I wasn't clear about.
Living to survive is something that no one can't possibly relate to unless they are already in that situation.
Although I never felt it, I have a mixed background and witnessed some realities of poverty. Let's take one scenario, which may be simple to you and me but can throw an entire poor family off-balance:
Say that you're sick. You may not afford to get medicine, and even if you can, it becomes a choice whether to sacrifice something else, like lunch money for your kids. Say that after a prolonged period of time, you decide that you do need that medicine after all. So your children goes hungry, and if they go to school, it will affect their studies. Their school isn't exactly well-off either. And now they have a parent who's sick, and who they have to take care of because there's no one else to - so they may have to miss school too. The parent has always been the breadwinner so the children are stuck in a deeper dilemma - who's going to bring the money in now?
Cue in multiple scenarios like this, where hard choices have to be made all the time amongst an environment where drugs, prostitution, crimes etc are more easily accessible ... what chances do these children have when they're all grown up?
Clearly when I was depressed, I romanticised those who were poorer than me (though it was true that they had something which I didn't have.) And like the commenter above this post, I agree that rich people can sometimes miss the plot of living itself. But poverty is a terrible master of destiny. It's a cycle that not a lot of people, let alone the generations that come after them, can just escape.
If you are reading this, please remember that you're actually wealthy, whether in money, health, youth, have access to the Internet etc. You can most definitely afford to 'tinker' - and go for it! But never forget the majority who are still trapped and have to make hard choices all the time.
In the popular context this always maps onto basic survival since it's very relatable and immediate: but for a person in a slightly more privileged state the problem is one of picking the thing to struggle with, because it's possible to walk away from so much of it, find a distraction and squander one more day. If walking away from everything were really the answer, suicide would be success, and we are disinclined to want to believe that. Neither does it work to try to engage with every problem you see as there are too many of those and you aren't going to be effective at all of them.
This motivates many of the conclusions of Stoic thought: the moderation, the development of awareness about one's sphere of control.
I've always admired stoicism but found that the principles aren't exclusive to this. Buddhism, weirdly Islam too, and no doubt other sub-groups of religions such as Quaker-ism.
You're confusing cause and effect, to a certain degree. The feeling that your work is meaningless can be a symptom of burnout itself. People who do work that clearly improves other people's lives can still feel that their work is meaningless.
I don't think he's confusing cause and effect. There are instances where burnout is caused by a lack of purpose provided by the job. Just because there are instances of work feeling meaningless caused by burnout, doesn't mean the inverse cannot happen.
> People who do work that clearly improves other people's lives can still feel that their work is meaningless.
I can't imagine this is common. For someone to feel this way, I feel, they probably have underlying issues of existential origin. This is assuming the person is directly doing work that is improving someone else's life.
Consequently, the yearly turnover rate is approximately 30 percent.
Most people are employed in the course of something important and/or useful, even if it's tedious or boring.
There's a strong argument that some of the least skilled jobs provide some of our most critically important functions. Those positions are low paid because there are lot of people willing and able to do them, not because they aren't needed.
I think claiming "my work is meaningless" is just a broad expression of workplace dissatisfaction and not really specific enough to mean anything. The position itself likely has an important function or no one would be willing to pay for it.
Quite simply, I love life. I know this isn't true for everyone, but it is for me. I find a lot of things meaningful and exciting. I love watching people on youtube excel at their random hobbies, I love seeing people compete in sports, I love talking about random things with friends and coworkers. I love the feeling I get when I stretch my legs out, I love walking outside and feeling the breeze on my face.
I love watching my daughter learn to walk, I love cuddling with my wife. I love fiddling with computers and getting them to do stuff.
Yes, maybe my job isn't 'meaningful' in some abstract, deep and profound, sense (I work for a large CDN owned by a giant corporation), but I think it makes the world a little bit better for people to be able to stream silly videos, watch live sports, and surf the web faster. I enjoy my coworkers, and look forward to going into work every day to see them and talk about random things we see in the world.
Even the horrible things that go on in the world don't get me too down. Yes, suffering is awful and I want to do everything I can to alleviate it where ever I can; at the same time, it is amazing that we do as good a job as we do. I am always gratified when I think about how many people live together in this world, and we get along remarkably well when you think about how we are really just randomly evolved animals. I mean, look at the complex society we have built! When I drive down the freeway, I can't help but be amazed at the things humans are able to build.
In short, things are fucking amazing. Life is pretty awesome, if you choose to focus on the awesome things.
In short, things are fucking amazing. Life is pretty awesome, if you choose to focus on the awesome things.
I recently rejoined the workforce after taking about 18 months off due to burnout. I had the luxury to do so. During that downtime I gained a roommate who is doing facilities work at a gym. She does not have the luxury to focus on the good things in life.
Everyone can make the most out of their own current situation. Sure, it is easier when your situation is objectively better, but there is no cutoff where you HAVE to focus on the negative.
For example Mario Bros is about saving the Princess (Goal), while Age Of Empires is not (toyette).
Wondering if this applies back to life. Some people put goals, others just like to play with life, to experience it, to see what's about.
Nah... probably wrong re-analogy here, but made me think about it this way... After all there are no save games in life...
Thank you for sharing your experience!
I feel like a lot of very goal oriented people never get to the intrinsic value part, which is where the real purpose in life is. If you are always doing something in order to get something else, you are going to feel like you are on a treadmill. You have to eventually arrive at something you find intrinsically valuable.
Personally, I find a whole lot of things intrinsically valuable, which is probably why I am such a genuinely happy person.
A big part of happiness is enjoying what you have. On the other hand, happiness doesn't really matter all that much. It's only a goal if you don't know how to achieve it. Once you figure it out, you move onto some other goal until you become unhappy chasing that one.
Maybe your life is awesome, but people with chronic depression probably find it hard to just "look on the bright" there way out of it. Kudos to you for being the master of your destiny (honestly), but not everyone has it so easily.
Maybe it's their fault for not having the privilege to be exposed to the comments section of hacker news? :)
I am fully aware of the awfulness in the world. I know millions of people suffer immensely every day, and I want to do my part to alleviate as much suffering as I can. However, I also know that me being miserable will not help anyone. Finding joy wherever you can is simply the best response to a crazy, unjust, and often times cruel world.
As far as depression goes, I hope my comment didn't come across as dismissive of real depression. That is a serious condition that cannot be fixed just by sheer will. It can, however, be dealt with, and I have many family members who are living testimants to that fact. It must be treated like any other serious health issue; I am in no way advocating ignoring your problems, I am saying make the best of it as you deal with them.
Jobs are not just jobs, they're people too. You don't go to work and save the world every day, you mostly work with other people, which can be great, or it can be hell.
I'm still working on accepting this.
: To clarify, I'm not making the claim that all non-profits are vanity projects, just that there are many out there that are. If you ever do want to work in the non-profit sector, doing some due diligence before applying for a job is a must (I recommend obtaining the publicly reported financial records for a non-profit in Form 990; what a non-profit's founder pays him/herself relative to the average employee speaks volumes about their moral character).
I don't this is true across the board, but the challenge is finding a "job" that you love and are excited to tackle every day. This will differ for most people, but the closer you can get to doing something that you would voluntarily want to do even if you weren't being paid for it the better mental space you will be in.
Personally, I'm still searching for that magic job but through trial-and-error I'm getting pretty good at identifying what I don't want to do.
Knowing what you DON'T want to do is sometimes more important and useful than knowing what you DO want to do!
This is great and very important, but it doesn't prevent burnout necessarily. I have a job and career that I really enjoy and consider to be very meaningful (aging research), but I have been severely burned out several times.
In some perverse ways, having a "meaningful" job can increase stress and propensity to burnout exactly because you know it's important. I imagine this is why doctors and lawyers have a lot of burnout, stress, and substance abuse problems. OTOH, you don't really hear about corporate accountants getting burned out.
My personal theory of burnout is that it happens when you start to feel you are on a treadmill -- running hard to achieve an important goal, but getting nowhere. Then the stress and burnout symptoms increasingly make this a self-fulfilling prophecy and feedback loop.
I think burnout fills the same sort of role. When people are constantly called to take on risky, stressful, and high effort activities - essentially, those that raise your cortisol levels - they burn out. Not just one-off ones, but repeatedly over long periods of time. So long-term high cortisol levels paint a picture of a certain narrative/social situation, where it's very much in your interest to "shirk" but you haven't been able to manage doing so because of narratives or social pressure. So your body "helpfully" removes the option of yielding to social pressure to rise to the occasion by making you unable to rise to the occasion in a way that cannot yield to the demands of others.
(very interesting link: http://www.arltma.com/Articles/BurnoutDoc.htm)
Not me; I can't say I've had any big money-making ideas which are morally wrong and the ideas "meaningless". However, I've had lots of ideas for things which are small money-makers (i.e., probably won't make me a millionaire, but can provide a small-to-decent income maybe) but require time and effort to develop. Since I have to pay rent and bills, and I want to have a social life, I have limited extra time to pursue side ideas like this. My ideas/projects may seem "meaningless" to others, but to me they're fun and interesting and would probably make some money, but definitely won't be the next Apple. If I didn't have to work for a living, I'd be happy to spend my time working on these projects instead, because they would be more fulfilling than my day job.
I've met too many people hopelessly throwing themselves against a wall trying to "achieve their dreams"... they see themselves as a Hollywood-esque main character, either aiming unrealistically high or shooting for mundane gimmes. Without a broader vision, those that pick reasonably scoped goals may still end up depressed by their small wins that add up to nothing. Modern mss media and image culture certainly hasn't helped manage realistic expectations or self-perception.
I think it's more important to have a strong life stance - a broader collective vision that adds context to the individual - and a stoic understanding of limitations. That metaheuristic provides deeper meaning while facilitating rational evaluation of our achievements/goals.
Drawing an analogy to software projects, the life stance defines a person's mission and tenets while goals act as milestones or stories. Executing without the broader vision simply doesn't work for humans... our limited and unknown budget of time is constantly burning away.
Personally, I was able to achieve this using the recursive why, or chained why, which is a thinking pattern I'll describe here:
1. Come up with a random statement about anything at all.
2. Ask "Why?" about that statement.
3. When you come up with a reasonable answer, ask "Why?" to your stated answer.
4. Repeat step three until you arrive at the meaning of life
This really works. I did this riding the bus for hours when I was a kid because I had no friends. Now it's like I live on another planet compared to people who have not done this. Stoic, content, and driven is the result
It sounds like you've simply bought modern "nihilism", i.e., the "everything is meaningless and nothing matters" philosophy that a lot of logical types seem to believe but none actually live (since it's not workable).
Digging down to whys requires actually answering them, not throwing your arms in the air and saying that the question is unanswerable. It's answerable, there's a reason that you do things, otherwise you wouldn't even be able to exist. "I do things because that's what my machinery does" is avoiding the question. Well, duh. That doesn't mean there aren't reasons as to why you do or do not eat that donut.
It's like if someone approached you asking how a given piece of software works, and instead of explaining the structure and the business logic, you say that it's a bunch of machine code. Wrong level of abstraction, you just dodged the question.
That's a different sort of trap, as it ignores the effects of circumstance (even minor things, like whether organ donation is an opt-in or opt-out checkbox can have huge real-world effects).
It also leads to blaming the unfortunate for making poor choices when those choices have been both constrained and biased by circumstance.
I strongly disagree with that and I believe this kind of thinking is not actually as logical or as rational as you were lead to believe, and properly asking the why question and answering it is fairly critical to figuring out what should be done.
> go with the flow
Go with whose flow? You realize that this is just you piggybacking on someone else's answer to the "why" and blindly accepting it without any kind of verification? This should be alarming, not calming.
Really, if someone somewhere was able to answer this question well enough that they could create a "flow" for you to go with, you can do the same.
Also, if possible, could you point me in the direction of this "meaning of life" you found. It would really help me out.
It's really the question of why are we here? What are humans and what is our consciousness and emotions?
Humans are the most fit creatures for life on planet earth pre-civilization. We were created by an evolutionary algorithm where the fitness function was our ability to reproduce and live the most effective, longest lives.
Our emotions and feelings are the "emergent behaviour" of our complex system of mate selection, reproduction and raising our young that runs on a chemical system created by that billion year evolutionary algorithm.
So our society is a great big thing that basically determines the lives of 8 billion of these creatures. And the people who are driving the ship don't understand themselves or their place in the universe. They might as well be outside of society altogether, fighting over mates in the forest. But no, here we are, blessed with our language, technology, medical science and all the other blessing bestowed upon us by our prescient forefathers, killing ourselves. Marching towards our own death. Taking human development and the ecology of our planet for granted. The smart among us watch a slow motion apocalypse.
So my life goal is to fucking stop this shit whatever it takes so that I can rest easy knowing I didn't get to see the light and then ignore the answers it showed me
> because I had no friends.
Goals like these seem reasonable to people when they surround themselves with "haves", so they are not exposed to the serious problem of the "have-nots" that have to exist for the "haves" to exist. One can be reasonably happy in this state as long as they dodge the cognitive dissonance, or if they just think this is a good model.
This works neither for people who care about the world nor those who are "have-nots". Which is most people. So most people end up unhappy while reading self-books (if they even have enough agency for that) from the "haves" and trying to figure out what's going on. But nothing is going on, the situation is zero-sum, so there will always be someone in a bad state in the current system. The only thing that changes is who.
The gauntlet cannot be completely ignored because it is necessary for basic agency. But in some cases, the agency is already there, and the person can begin defining their own vision, but they still continue chasing the zero-sum goals due to pressure.
Even if you try to develop your own vision things can get strange.
> our limited and unknown budget of time is constantly burning away.
Well, there are 6+ billion people in the world, and, on average, they have a similar budget. Why the sense of urgency? What is it that is so important that only you personally can do it? It would be very strange if the world was filled with these super important goals for each person that were conveniently person-lifetime sized, but it often feels to me like that's the perception. This often ends up back at the zero-sum issue, in the sense of "lots of people can do this, but I need to be the one to do it". It's thinly veiled status-seeking all over again, which is why it fits so well since in a competitive environment, the goal IS person-lifetime sized.
A broad non-status goal wouldn't fit that paradigm. It is likely to be overwhelming and require a lot of people, or, on the other hand, be fairly straightforward and missed because it's not prestigious. But people find themselves in these insurmountable goals and feel like they need to do so much work, that brings other questions. Why them? What is everyone else doing?
On a certain level, I think most people seek vision that fulfills subconscious nags they may have, and that's the primary reason they seek it. Things in the region of "am I doing something with my life" or "am I a good person". There isn't an actual vision higher level than that, so once those nags are satisfied, the person will stop asking. But this is just chasing the gauntlet in another way.
I think you have it here. There are some very simple, very natural things that can fulfill most of the average individual's basic yearnings, but they're overlooked today, they're regarded as passe or even backwards. These things are not high-glamor nor high-privilege, but they give people a sense of repose and quiet dignity, regardless of their other circumstances
IMO the most important such thing is to have and care for a family. I believe that many contemporary social ills come from an exponentially-increasing generational denial of the importance of stable marriages and child-bearing that kicked into high gear after WWII.
It can be argued that industrial corporate interests have an interest in stripping the dignity and independence of having a family away from workers, hoping they'll search for meaning in their careers and spend more hours at the office instead.
I totally agree. My life turned 180 degrees when I became a father. So much things that seemed to be important are just bs now...
Sometimes it isn't that only you personally can, but rather that only you personally will.
> But people find themselves in these insurmountable goals and feel like they need to do so much work, that brings other questions. Why them? What is everyone else doing?
If you find yourself in that situation, you may want to ask why this is happening, because it's strange. You should also realize that the chance of failure is very high, and if your goal is truly important to you, that should worry you.
I'm not saying this in the sense of "you should/shouldn't pursue your goal", I have no idea, I don't know what your goal is. But strangeness is often a highly valuable source of information. You really, really need to know why nobody else is pursuing your goal, and that information could help you find more people to help with your goal to address the second concern.
On a more fundamental level, answering that question could put the value of the goal in jeopardy, or, on the other hand, make it that much more important.
“There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” - Robert F. Kennedy
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” - George Bernard Shaw
“The sweet spot is in good ideas that seem like bad ideas.” - Peter Theil
“Pursue the good ideas that, for some reason, others won't.” - Chris Dixon
“It's actually pretty easy to be contrarian. It's hard to be contrarian and right.” - Reid Hoffman
Like what? I believe that I'm an incidentally self-aware thermodynamic curiosity; setting any sort of lifelong goal feels like an attempt to fool myself into feeling important.
> I submit that the working person greatly benefits from having a strongly held, over-arching life goal.
I believe having a strong over-arching goal is very helpful for a person (working or otherwise). Helpful in the sense that it can offset certain problems or give the person better tools for working around/through them (i.e., depression, burnout, purposelessness, general decision making).
I don't think this is the same thing as ambition or obsession, although many people do turn that into their drive and I think that's fairly dangerous (the thing one is obsessed about may not work out).
I wouldn't really agree that most people are "fine" in some general sense, nor do most people typically subsist without any kind of life goal (religion is popular).
I distinguish these things by their target of focus:
A "purpose" is concerned with one's place in the world. It's an attempt to fit in. It is also often done in a manner similar to picking your favorite color. "I want to be a star athlete".
A high-level "purpose"/"goal"/etc. is concerned with the state of the world. It's often not too concerned with where you are, it's rather concerned with results, and it can be good or bad, and it needs justification. "I want the game of soccer to be beautiful".
The latter is considerably more resilient than the former, as it is not reliant on personal performance as much, and the latter can guide the former. You might even ask whether the game of soccer needs more athletes to be beautiful, or if you did become one, you'd have a much easier time rejecting things like cheating and doping if you think they do not help, while someone concerned with being a star athlete is very inclined to cheat since that is their purpose and they don't have an overarching goal to stop them. And, in the end, if they nonetheless fail to become a star athlete, they'd have quite the crisis, while the person with the goal will be OK with it as the game of soccer will likely stay beautiful without them, and, even, consider if athletes are not really the biggest threat to soccer right now given their sheer number.
I think this belief comes from highly individualist cultures where you need to do everything yourself, but it's not the only way of doing things. People tend to just focus on themselves, improving themselves, figuring out how they personally can do something, but there's not much focus on involving other people.
On the contrary, "doers" often close up, stop talking to people, stop making friends, etc., in their effort to "do" the thing, which, if anything, makes their network angry at them. Often this /does/ happen because doers think less of everyone else, creating the very kind of pressure that pushes people away.
How do movements start, even silly ones? We've seen plenty of those. They don't really require someone to do some insane amount of work. But they require people to talk about it and to then bear the brunt of ostracism. Plenty of movements, including many people don't like at all, have grown this way. Simply from some people saying "you know, this makes no sense" and other people agreeing.
A lot of things come down to what regular people talk about every day and connecting to them. Even billionaires and writers, in the end, are trying to change the thinking of regular people.
You can't force yourself to build the thing which will make you a millionaire, not because of nihilism, but because subconsciously it's much easier and more rewarding to have an idea that you hope will make you rich than it is to build the idea and know it doesn't work.
It's the same reason there are so many aspiring artists and rock stars compared with the number of failed artists and rock stars.
I [believe] I'm in the latter stages of burnout and while very anxiety-inducing, it's been a great learning and worthwhile experience so far.
For context, I started coding when I was 13 (I'm 29), studied CS, and never had any job outside of software engineering – got started undercutting outsourcers on Elance as a teenager, making below minimum wage with my poor estimation skills.
I was 4+ years into working at a successful company, in a lucrative position, surrounded by interesting people. At first, my enthusiasm started waning and I became more distracted. Then followed a lack of fulfillment punctuated by shame; a shame that I wasn't appreciating my situation. Eventually, I was honest with myself (and my team) and decided to leave.
It was definitely scary to lose interest in one of my oldest passions, but it gave me the mind space for some valuable introspection. Over the last five months I've been moving around (about one city a month), pursuing other passions outside of software. Most recently, I decided to spend the summer living on a farm, with some part time contracting.
Through this process of stepping outside my usual sphere of influence, I've regained an excitement for technology and the meaningful impact it can have on peoples' lives. I've also become more aware of just how truly fortunate we are as engineers around Silicon Valley, when compared to the rest of the world; it's given me a new perspective.
So (as simplistic as it might sound) if you think you're experiencing burnout because your work is "meaningless", stop (budget, adjust your lifestyle, etc.) and try something else; you'll either start missing it and get reinvigorated, or you might find a better way to spend your time.
I'm working on a "may eventually make me money" thing and I do pretty much 100% of the work as far as technical aspect goes (coding) and I'm set to have 30% of this "thing"... 13 hours of coding today, I feel like I achieved nothing. And it's like there is no return, I didn't get paid "someday you'll make money maybe" and I'm not sure I like the idea itself. I don't know I keep asking myself why am I doing this. It may happen.
edit: the thing I did today was un-jQuery the entire "codebase", oh my god so much broke. Also to make the scripts load async, bumped the dom loading from 6 sec to 1.5-2. Developing a site to deploy in a place where network speed on average is around 500Kbps
Also it's funny when people don't know coding, I'm not an expert, I'm pretty sub-par but people are like "Why don't you just do this..." "Do that..." if Facebook can do it why can't you? hahaha, I don't know, pathetic
edit: nothing really against jQuery just that a 1KB file takes almost 1 second to download, requiring jQuery (even min) big file. It's so easy to work with though especially multiple-selectors like selecting by class. the cross browser support... man. something I depended on and take for granted... sorry rambling pointless comment on my part.
Yes when you stop to look back, you do realize how far you've come. It's like when you try to learn a new language and you're just blocked... you know can't just turn an idea into a working reality that others can use.
Somedays though the mind refuses to work haha, then you binge on tv and lay around like a beached whale.
I don't know the site doesn't reward me with money right now. Money is "highly desirable" just because I'm financially destroyed but when passion is in the equation it's nice. I don't expect praise either as it's kind of worthless unless people actually comprehend like what you did. "Good job" haha. I don't know... gotta avoid these essay responses.
It does feel good to get into the groove, get some coffee, music... boom! Entire day gone. Spine and eyes damaged, electrons moved on hard drives.
And yes, people tend to have naive ideas about what is possible and people like to give brag suggestions.
I'll just remember that for future projects and code structuring making things independent or defer/wait for parts to be present due to async loading.
the console internet throttling is a cool tool too with Google Chrome. To simulate poor network speed I have it set to 500Kbps with 300ms delay. That was the latency with our closest "data center" single-core vps hahaha. What a man can do with $4.00 and brute-force-idiocy to get things done.
Oh well. Someday I will escape! haha
I briefly worked for a company and it took 7 hours or so to configure a working local copy of their site pulled from GitHub. Ran into problems with PHP versions, MySQL datetime stuff... that was nuts though they used bower, npm, twig, composer (all related) but yeah.
It's a complicated code/company creating charts/maps from data so it's not "just a website".
crazy too how many years things take to develop. You hear some "popular thing" or something advertised even like "Zip Recruiter" for example, started in 2010.
Oh well the little dopamine hit from making something work is a good feeling.
thanks for the thought
This does not follows though, TCP doesn't works like that, the initial congestion window is usually small and grows as more packets are received, that's why using Keep-Alive is so important, so you don't have to rebuild the socket and TLS connection before every request. Add some ping into the equation and getting the socket up to speed can take several seconds (even minutes) depending on the bandwidth, and the connection's packet loss.
I use Apache, I haven't touched the KeepAlive I guess that is something to look into, a direct ping has a latency of around 300-400ms pretty high I realize... I rent through OVH and their closest data center relative to the Philippines is France... supposedly they have one coming somewhere in Asia like Singapore or something...
We do use Cloudflare but we currently use a free Cloudinary account to host our images and I cached them locally to get around that API/hr request limit. So while Clouflare helps with minizing possibly closer... the "processing" of stuff like querying with PHP/MySQL takes place on the server... I used this awful JOIN or COUNT statement that took like 300ms to execute it was bad... haha. Minor fixes.
Whether you're "doing the right thing", "paying your dues", or just fighting your instincts and hoping that eventually, he/she will come to like you the same way.
One of my greatest challenges in life, has been to fight the messaging that put me on that track -- or the delusion I initiated. And, figuring out which it is and to what extent.
Wouldn't this mean that people who work e.g. in the advertisement industry are overall more depressed or burnt-out than people who work, say, in medicine?
"Breakdown of community"
This can happen if you work remotely, or work in-office with a team that isn't collaborating effectively. If the work you do is isolating and you rarely collaborate with others, you may suffer burnout.
At our core we all want to feel like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. Being part of a team, even if it's as contrived as an office team is, can still be surprisingly important for ones mental health.
If you're feeling burned out consider if a lack of engagement with your peers could be a contributor.
That's my 0.02 at least.
Would be curious to hear if you found a way out, or a way to improve collaboration within a currently flawed group.
In general it's the responsibility of the manager to monitor the health of the team as a unit. If you have a manager it may be worth bringing this issue to their attention and working with them to find a solution. The manager has the authority, and should have the respect, to make the necessary changes to your team dynamics to improve collaboration. What this means for your team, depends entirely on what the source of the problem is.
For as much as managers get a bad rap in the tech community, they really do have an important job. Steering the ship and ensuring the wellbeing of the team is their number one priority. A good manager should be open to your comments and appreciate the opportunity to work with you to increase valuable collaboration.
If you don't have a manager then you may need to wear the manager hat. My recommendation in this case - not knowing you or your team - would be to identify the source of the collaboration breakdown, and then reach out to your colleagues to see if they feel the same way. Assuming everyone on your team is cordial, they should be open to a discussion on how to promote a collaborative environment. If your teammates are NOT cordial, well, you've got an entirely different problem on your hands...
In a previous job, I was nominally a member of a very strong and effective team, but the work I was assigned was isolated from the members of that team. I came to feel like I wasn't "really" on the team (there were some social factors that contributed to the feeling), and I got tired of nobody knowing or understanding what the hell I was doing. Open a pull request and everyone is all "wait, what is this? Why is this thing like this?". It sucks.
I also never work overtime anymore.
Still not totally okay, but not completely burnt out anymore.
So many people seem to believe it's only about overwork - but that's only a small part of it. It's a myth I tried to dispel as best I could in the article.
If you know anyone struggling with burnout or depression, or you just enjoyed my article, I'd be forever grateful if you'd share it with them on Twitter or Facebook, to help spread the word. Thanks so much!
You know, I get what you're saying, but I actually need to stop you here. Because honestly, we can't go two weeks without a post hitting the front page about someone's personal come-to-Jesus moment about burnout. We do talk about burnout and depression, a lot. And nobody learns.
Nobody learns and I don't think anyone will learn. In the 20 years I've been working in the tech industry, I've only seen things get worse. Workers get treated more like cattle every day. Creatives who become founders self-flagellate themselves even more. It's a sick, disgusting cycle, all built on a lie of "just work hard--never mind on what--and you will get your due", and it's one I think companies like Facebook and funds like Andreeson are encouraging so that they can have a constant churn of Jr Devs desperate to get started and Sr Devs desperate to put their lives back together after their own failed startups.
To me it seems much more like a societal/systemic problem - one that will not be easy to fix, especially with the increasing inequality and rise of automation. The demand for achievement and lifestyle upheld by society as something worthwhile to strive for (for happiness, fulfilment, recognition etc), just perpetuates the cycle and will be become harder to attain.
What are those to think/do who did not reach what society taught them they should want and have to be happy and fulfilled? These people put the effort in, but get nothing back. They get burnt out and depressed and even though they later talk about it, others cant understand as they don't have perspective and/or don't think it will happen to them. They are too busy burning themselves out chasing the goal.
I don't think there is a solution that doesn't involve a radical shift in society and work/life balance.
'Work to live' rather than live to work is my credo...
Thanks for writing, but I just don't care.
While chaos and bad leadership were major factors, and meaninglessness was another factor (as mentioned above), so many things changed in the last decade to make root cause analysis difficult. It more feels like systematic rolling failures. Too much risk-taking, fading ethics and morals, decline in quality standards, increasing greed, too many chiefs, too many people jacked up on Adderall, general organizational confusion, more reaction and less planning, longer hours, too much unnecessary communication...
What amazes me is that all of these companies that I have burned out from made a lot of money! I joke now with friends (many who are driven to be entrepreneurs, of course) that even the most average people can now build 100M companies these days. Being able to talk well and know the right people get you most of the way there, and brute force will get you the rest of the way. There's just so much capital out there, it's nuts.
its just alot easier to shrug and cash the check. and spend as much of the rest of your time doing things you think are worthwhile.
ideally as a contractor i could choose to apply myself at places which were better organized and more engaging, its just they aren't as interested in contractors and its hard enough keeping yourself in jobs without firing all* the lousy customers.
body shops will reach out to you - thats usually suboptimal for alot of reasons, but its work
sadly, alot of my contracts come from interviews for full time positions where the customer is hiring for some special skill, but its clear there isn't a long term role for me there. that can lead to work
old contacts are the best way, but you have to stay on people's radar.
sofar I've found gig sites to be pretty useless. the site wants to constrain communication so that you cant have the normal design discussion up front - they just say 'microcontroller work <$250', bid yes or no
my impression is that the mvp webapp space is still pretty easy to make money in. not really in systems - decent employers know that its hard to make a contract work well and would rather have you as a resource ongoing. and everyone is just doing staple jobs these days, so 'kernel' and 'test' and 'embedded', and all the old specialties dont get you anywhere.
i would try to leverage someone you've worked with before who is now in a position to influence a contract decision. someone with whom you have a level of mutual respect. once you have something ongoing, always spend time trying to open up new opportunities.
the thing that i find hard is that as a hired gun, you can present your opinion for consideration - once. its not your role to pursue and agenda, you're there to provide hourly services at the discretion of the customer and you need to demonstrate concrete value.
to circle around, its this carefully negotiated per-task relationship that both removes the pain of trying to work around useless colleagues and eliminates any reward you might feel for shaping a product. this is not your party, you're just serving canapes.
Nailed it. This is the key difference, and matters a lot psychologically: you're not just acting as a waiter during the show, once the party is over you can't stick around you have to let go and move on to serve at the next party.
Comparatively, letting go on an ongoing product in a burnout inducing situation feels like you've given up while sticking to your guns feels like fighting windmills, either of which is just soul destroying in its own perverted way.
The major activities of the individual must directly satisfy his own creative and emotional impulses, must always be something more than means to an end. The great cultural fallacy of industrialism, as developed up to the present time, is that in harnessing machines to our uses it has not known how to avoid the harnessing of the majority of mankind to its machines. The telephone girl who lends her capacities, during the greater part of the living day, to the manipulation of a technical routine that has an eventually high efficiency value but that answers to no spiritual needs of her own is an appalling sacrifice to civilisation. As a solution of the problem of culture she is a failure — the more dismal the greater her natural endowment. As with the telephone girl, so, it is to be feared, with the great majority of us, slave-stokers to fires that burn for demons we would destroy, were it not that they appear in the guise of our benefactors. The American Indian who solves the economic problem with salmon-spear and rabbit-snare operates on a relatively low level of civilisation, but he represents an incomparably higher solution than our telephone girl of the questions that culture has to ask of economics. There is here no question of the immediate utility, of the effective directness, of economic effort, nor of any sentimentalizing regrets as to the passing of the "natural man." The Indian's salmon-spearing is a culturally higher type of activity than that of the telephone girl or mill hand simply because there is normally no sense of spiritual frustration during its prosecution, no feeling of subservience to tyrannous yet largely inchoate demands, because it works in naturally with all the rest of the Indian's activities instead of standing out as a desert patch of merely economic effort in the whole of life. A genuine culture cannot be defined as a sum of abstractly desirable ends, as a mechanism. It must be looked upon as a sturdy plant growth, each remotest leaf and twig of which is organically fed by the sap at the core. And this growth is not here meant as a metaphor for the group only; it is meant to apply as well to the individual. A culture that does not build itself out of the central interests and desires of its bearers, that works from general ends to the individual, is an external culture. The word "external," which is so often instinctively chosen to describe such a culture, is well chosen. The genuine culture is internal, it works from the individual to ends.
It's all built on the fundamental belief that the work these ladies are doing is interchangeable while the men's work is not.
Is that really true though?
And of course sometimes you find a pool of men who will let you treat them interchangeably too...
I learned how to say “no” to outrageous demands on my time, to companies which asked that I give it all in return for some meager equity grant that could be worth millions but more likely not worth the paper it was written on.
Fairly boring, really, but not covered in my CS or liberal arts studies in college.
You get so caught up in the moment: get a job, make money, pay your debts, you don't get a chance to step back and ask what you want out of life.
I've tried working with startups again since I left that world, and I always end up leaving after a few months to a year. Most startups are managed as though everything is a crisis, your hair is on fire all the time (and if it's not, then clearly you're doing something wrong). Firms, capital back companies are not new. Digital technology and communications remove a lot of the friction, but a lot of the corporate politics you find in today's hot startup existed in the 1990s, 1980s, 1970s and so on. It's not just a failure to learn from the past, it's an outright refusal, the constant "it'll be different this time" mantra.
Surprise: it's pretty much the same shit, different logos and domain names (and apps).
It wasn't a situation where you simply remove a stressor and everything automatically gets better. A problem was created in my brain and it took a long time before I was functioning properly again.
Like the author, work overload was not the problem - I almost never worked more than 40 hours per week. Finding support from family/friends has been difficult; I've been desperately trying to avoid the stigma attached to the word ｄｅｐｒｅｓｓｉｏｎ, and as a result I don't think many people realise what I've been going through, and assume I've just decided to bum around for a bit.
But what do you do when both your personal and professional life collapse at the same time. That's the boat I'm in right now. As soon as I'm done with work. I practically start working on salvaging what I can of my personal life. I forcefully have dragged myself to the doctors. But am not getting much help as of yet from that field.
It's cost me so much. My friends, who I've all alienated. My general physical health, which is the worst it's ever been in my adult life. Strained family relationships. Gaining a reputation for being 'unreliable'.
If you notice that feeling of exhaustion/frustration creeping up on you, even though objectively what you're doing shouldn't be that strenuous, stop. Stop right there and take a long break. Don't tell yourself "I'll just close out this project and then take a break". Just stop. The extra couple of months of work you might be able to force out of yourself are not worth the years of hell that may follow.
What helps me in fight with burnout is realising what my strong sides are. I just try to do what I'm good at, and I stop comparing myself to others because of obvious evidence that I'm not. And of course I get more rest, more sleep and switch to creative hobby activities more often. Like an author, I reevaluate my goals and priorities and become in sync with my life again.
"Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem"
Having said that, rebuilding your life post-burnout/depression can be an overwhelming at times. It's helped me to just focus on making one thing better each day, no matter how small the task. Forward momentum is the key ingredient to a come back. Good luck and Godspeed!
There are many factors at play here.
How bad is it? What is the cause? How long does it take to address the cause? Ie if the cause is not having meaning, how long does it take to find something meaningful? If it is a bad community, how long does it take to find people you like?
* Suicide is one terminal option.
* There's a fair history of people who've suffered burnout, or equivalent earlier terms (nervous breakdown, nervous exhaustion, possibly also PTSD and its antecedants -- combat fatigue and shell shock), for the rest of their natural lives.
* Others who've taken multi-year / multi-decadal breaks, or transitioned to other careers or professions.
Again: I suspect considerable variance.
I think the advice to slow down, take a break, refocus is key to figuring things out, however, not everyone can afford to do so. It's a risk, and there is always a trade off. So I wouldn't frame the article as a guide, because it's different for everyone.
So start saving. This was actually my biggest takeaway from the article. The couple had more than 6 months of living costs stashed away, which I think is a very good idea.
I'm considering taking a sick leave till the end of my contract next month, and am wondering this:
If burnout is caused by lack of emotional reward and lack of giving a f*ck, should i pick up a sideproject I've committed to that i kind of care about instead, and think is interesting? Or ditch that as well and just take rest/go travel? Can i still work while recovering? What's a good workload?
Do you have hobbies? There's many to choose from :) Ask yourself, what does have meaning to you? There is more to life than a job.
"should i pick up a sideproject I've committed to that i kind of care about instead, and think is interesting?"
This might be a good idea. If you would find it meaningful and emotionally rewarding.
"Or ditch that as well and just take rest/go travel?"
Is there someplace you have always wanted to go? Rest is good, but it sounds like you aren't overworked, as much as just not being stimulated. As far as I can tell.
"Can i still work while recovering? What's a good workload?"
If you have the savings, I wouldn't.
"I'm considering taking a sick leave till the end of my contract next month"
If you absolutely need to. But it might mean not getting a good reference. Can you stick it out(assuming you dont already have another lined up)?
I'm sure if you read some trade magazines targeted at lawyers, etc you'd find similar sentiments.
Another, slightly more cynical interpretation is that software engineers are "special snowflakes" who are much more likely than legal/financial/medical professionals to complain about long hours and/or burnout. Interestingly those three professions all have gruelingly long hours and require you to "pay your dues" early in you career. Yet those professionals seem to complain far less, perhaps because the long hours are an expected part of their culture. After all, in finance people typically brag about how long they stayed at the office. So there is clearly some difference in work culture between the professions.
Most of my friends and family who went into finance did so knowing what they were getting into, some even _wanting_ that. It definitely cultivates a different culture and set of expectations. (There are definitely some CSers I knew who love the grind, but I don't think I'm making a stretch to assert they were the minority, and often were within a specific slice of CS that requires that more similar culture)
Been working as a programmer professionally since 2001.
(Edit: I just read the article, and see that the author cited Maslach already.)
I think your point about devs/designers/PMs/etc. having a unique culture is spot on. It's a field that tends to attract a lot of high achievers, and a field that people tend to tie themselves a lot to their work. That was one of my main problems - over a few years, I started to define myself based on the work I was doing. It's taken me a lot longer to dig out of it than I thought.
"Lawyers are at especially high risk for burnout, both because of the job and because of the personality traits we tend to have."
From this article:
Yes, I went looking for an article about lawyers and burnout, so it's not particularly telling, but it least it demonstrates existence.
So Devs are promoted into a difficult job without having good management skills, or often even a desire to be the boss.
I also think there is another reason that has been alluded to else where in the comments indirectly: ownership/autonomy. Compared to the other high-skill professions that you mention, software engineering in my opinion is bogged by a near-constant effort to belittle, control, and process-ify the work that we do. Some might enjoy the semblance of order it might bring to their day but it makes me retch. I always found it darkly amusing that a failure on the part of product or management to better predict the market or customer requirements somehow translated into more soul-sucking metrics and process for the development team, enforced by highly-unpleasant PMs who I wish would instead have followed their true calling in life and become serial killers.
I left significant RSUs and took a huge pay cut to get away from a large company that I felt was killing me slowly. I am not saying that I have arrived yet but I haven't had to go through a suck-filled daily standup in a few years and I am very grateful for that.
Fortunately, have some savings like the author and am taking a break for a while. Thanks for this timely post!
To recover from a burnout I have seen that it can be helpful to keep track of achievements. In depression or burnout very simple things become very exhausting. Keeping track of the little things we manage to achieve are like small victories. When we measure and display in a graphic all the things we achieved, we objectivate things and see progress which give back trust and power. It's a vertuous circle. Objectivation is important because we tend to see only the negative side of things, and especially ourselves.
>Burnout offers a hidden silver lining.
In the end this is what leads to satisfaction in life.
I hope you get better soon!
Fool me once shame on you and fool me twice shame on me. So don't get fooled again. And don't forget to remind yourself it's all just a stupid game. Just like musical chairs.
The reason my advice isn't irresponsible is because microdosing LSD has no downsides. If it doesn't work, nothing breaks. Try something else then.
Depression is a real life-killer, and if 10 people tried my advice, and this worked for only 1 of them (although I think at least 5 would), then this advice has essentially saved 1 life, while not harming the others.
There are downsides to LSD. Illegality is probably the biggest. Here's a self-study showing micro-dosing is pointless (for the person) and possibly has harmful trends: https://www.gwern.net/LSD%20microdosing
But I don't think it's safe in arbitrary settings at a high dose, so I am reluctant to say it's safe in arbitrary setting at a low dose. It can open you to traumatic realities as much as kind ones.
Probably most people with depression are over perceiving the harsh, but some are actually in serious harsh harsh and LSD might make that worse. Don't know. Talk to your shaman.