It was clear that the work was impossible, but the committee wouldn't budge on the fact that I had to finish it. I was working around the clock and then laying in bed for a few hours worrying before working some more, and I absolutely couldn't take it anymore.
I decided the only solution was to drop out, which meant the postdoc would rescind my offer, and I'd have to break the new lease, cancel the move, etc. I went into the admin office to let them know I was simply not coming into the lab anymore and they could do whatever they wanted to do about it.
Suddenly the "must do" list evaporated and they said I could just write up my work and graduate. So I did, and I got the phd and went off to the postdoc and it all turned out fine-- it turns out all I needed to do was decide to throw my life away and really mean it, in order to call their bluff.
I think the experience gave me a better sense of when I'm approaching the burnout zone, so that I can better avoid it. I've also never experienced anything even close to this in a work environment -- if my job was like that, I'd quit in a hot second and go work somewhere not-awful. It was only the fact that they were holding the degree hostage that caused me to feel forced to overwork myself into an unhealthy state.
I allocated and enforced a timeline of only 3 months for dissertation writing -- to the frustration of my committee -- precisely because I had a sense this was how the game worked.
Though I didn't have as extreme of a situation, I did have to do another year before I could get the PhD. I gained 50+ pounds, stopped shaving, became nocturnal, and averaged ~5 hours/day of sleep. Really don't understand how my SO stayed with me through that.
And I only took ~4.5 years to finish. Can't imagine what sort of shape I would've been in if it was strung out to 6 or 7 years.
It really made me appreciate being healthy, getting 8 hours of sleep, and time. While I don't necessarily recommend going through that, I do think everyone should experience what it's like to work 80+ hour weeks (at least for a short period of time), because it's difficult to convey how awful it is.
Interesting idea. Seems similar to what stoicism recommends, from what I understand. I think they say to give up your comforts once in a while so that you appreciate them more. Which seems sensible to me.
I joined a famous lab in Europe to do a PhD. My second supervisor was and still is a really highly cited. He interviewed me and I got an offer next day.
The odd thing was I got an email a few days after the offer stating a different person I had only briefly met during my interview would be my first supervisor. This made me very suspicious. I did in fact reject the offer initially due to concerns over this, but they did convince me to accept it. Big mistake.
Things started going south after half a year. The group dynamics was very strange. My first supervisor, a young PI, was trying to block all project opportunities I had with my second supervisor. The latter was a very good guy, with some anxiety problems, and did not know how to play this kind of corridor politics games.
After two and a half years, things were in such a bad shape, I started applying to other programs. It's an interesting experience to apply to some places without recommendation letters. I got many weird looks during interviews. Fortunately, my CV is good and I got offers from half a dozen top 10 universities.
When I announced I would leave, shortly before the time I should start writing, everyone panicked. They guaranteed me I would pass, but I couldn't cope with the idea of handing in a rubbish dissertation. Maybe it was the wrong choice. It was a really exhausting situation, and I am still coping with some long-term burnout.
A year after I left, the lab melted down as they exhausted all funding. PIs were living a luxurious lifestyle. We would even have group retreats abroad in 5* hotels. Ridiculous and sad, because it was a lovely place.
But even though the circumstances were different, it led me to the same place eventually. After months of the same kind of lifestyle, I decided I just didn't care anymore, was ready to go be a farmer or something if they failed me, and would just submit what I had. Obviously it worked out fine (so far). But it will be some time before I recover from that level of stress. I developed fairly severe alcoholism that I am just now starting to step down from. As happens with burnout, my efficiency was terrible during this period, which made everything worse.
I hear this kind of experience is pretty common for a dissertation -- everyone goes through some twisted version of the stages of grief before submission.
From personal experience the only advice I would beg people in similar situations to take is to reach out for help on all fronts. Professional, family, work, friends, etc. can all offer advice at times like these. I say this hypocritically because I myself did not choose help throughout my life when I was in similar situations. Getting help is really hard sometimes. But if you are not trying to get help you are not actively accepting all your options.
And I want to say I'm not trying to take away from your story at all. I've just seen many who have thrown it away where it didn't "all turn out ok".
I had a similar experience to the OP, not with burnout per se, but with health issues. I spent 3.5 years in constant, excruciating pain. When I no longer cared whether I would live or die, I just wanted to hurt less, I stumbled across a path forward. It turns out that doing things that genuinely reduce your pain (after pain meds no longer work) tends to get at the root cause of the problem.
I was medically on "death row" anyway. This is not a thing you can recommend for people to just throw caution to the wind and wildly experiment. But, when you are 100 percent clear that this path is so broken that anything else is preferable (even literally death), it can be very freeing in terms of allowing you to make choices that were previously unthinkable.
I think the apathy that accompanies depression and burnout is your body's way of telling you: "your current set of goals and priorities is really, REALLY not working for me, and you need to change something". What leads to burnout is ignoring these increasingly desperate signals from your body and brain.
I just feel way better and am more productive whenever I get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day + don't have to wake up from an alarm.
Did it make a meaningful difference to the conclusions or strength of conclusions in your thesis?
My dissertation was composed of several papers which were each published in peer-reviewed journals, so the last unfinished bit just had a lot of "future directions" and became a different grad student's paper (e.g. I passed on the end of the project to someone else to finish and publish), as I recall.
The CEO of the startup I'd just blown-off a job at (showed up the first week, "worked at home" for another couple of weeks, then stopped showing up entirely) drove over and knocked on my door to find out what was going on. Drunk off my ass, I told him, and that I'd get some help. So I made That Call and got some help. Did about three weeks of inpatient care (Stanford recovery unit, and then a place in the Santa Cruz mountains), then moved into a halfway house and spent a lot of time in AA meetings [AA is controversial, I know]. Never spent another night in that townhouse, wound up selling it. That CEO hired me back as a consultant a few months after I got out of inpatient.
I've got 18 years sober now, much of which I've spent working on software at great companies on products you've almost certainly heard of and probably used. Married, with a teen-age son, and doing better financially than I ever would have imagined. Still going to AA meetings, though nowhere near as often as I probably should.
AA is controversial among a tiny minority of anti-religion internet blowhards. For the vast majority of reasonable folks, it really isn't. Glad to hear it has worked for you.
It is kind of dismaying to get out of nearly a month of expensive treatment and then be told, "Welp, pretty much all we've got for you at this point is for you to attend a crapload of AA meetings, good luck." But I figure that desperation is an important part of staying sober, at least until you've fleshed out some kind of support.
Anyway, similar to you, he'd built a life, had two sons, a wife. Only things weren't that rosey for him. This guy had no filter, he'd sometimes offer up fucked up stories from his childhood at weird times. At one point he went back to drinking and was really unreliable at work, his wife kicked him out. Around that time I moved on. About 6 years later I heard he'd committed suicide.
This always haunted me. I've worked with a few people who've committed suicide. What I have to say to you is; you matter, to your wife and to your family, and to you co workers, although they don't know it. Good luck and please seek help if you ever need it again.
I find it especially difficult to deal with the mismatch between my sense of what I can do, which is calibrated to my former self, and what I can actually deliver. I desperately need to believe that what I am going through is a temporary perturbation, so I keep trying to "shake it off", and I make plans and commitments from a sense of self that is still stubbornly calibrated to who I was then and not what I am today. As the months turn into years, that sense of competence seems increasingly fantastical and dubious. Was I ever good at my job? Did I suck then, too, and just fail to realize it?
These doubts are compounded by the fact that I have changed employers and change teams multiple times so no one I work with now is acquainted with that former self. But he really did exist, at one point. I swear he did. At least I think he did.
> When you are playing really well ... you can’t even imagine playing badly. And when you are playing badly, you can’t even remember what it felt like to play well.
(Tiger Woods: How Low Can He Go http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/tiger-woods-how-l...)
What was the event that caused you to burn out in the first place? It looks like you expected at least social (if not material) recognition for some herculean effort that you went through - it failed to arrive when you cliffed out, and you're not obtaining that due to the circumstances in the meantime?
If I'm right (I may not be). My suggestion would be to make sure you're on teams or a project where there is a direct relationship between effort and reward, or where you can work on small projects that don't come with a 'big payoff' but can rebuild your confidence that you can provide value to your org. You should also try to be under a manager that is good at recognizing (verbally if not anything else) your achievements.
If you don't think you can find that easily, take some time off and go drive for lyft. (Don't expect to make too much money off if it, so only plan to do it for a short bit). There's a direct relationship between effort and reward in that industry.
I left the organization after that and moved across the country to take another job. That was the summer / spring of 2016. My five-year-old, who was otherwise healthy, started having tonic-clonic ("grand mal") seizures around that time. Neither my wife or I have a history of epilepsy in our families and neither of us had seen a grand mal seizure before, so we thought he was dying. My wife called 911 while I ran downstairs with him in my arms and I basically screamed until the ambulance arrived. He had another seizure about a month after that, and a month after that, and so on. The peak came in August 25 of 2016, when he had a series of seizures in rapid succession (status epilepticus), landing him (and us) in the ICU. I will spare you the details.
He is healthy now -- we were fortunate enough to find an anti-seizure drug that is effective at controlling his seizures. But his parents (i.e., us) haven't recovered entirely.
There are other factors that have caused turbulence over the past couple of years, but they pale in comparison. I've had a lot on my plate. I know other people who have dealt with / are dealing with worse, with greater poise than I can muster, but I am who I am.
I can't quit my job and drive for Lyft. I have a family to support.
I swapped into software engineering and I've been pounding the pavement for almost 3 years, and I'm hitting this point. It's not like I don't love what I do... I just sometimes feel like I get stuck, and suddenly - I feel like I'm really not competent. I'm starting to worry that I just can't deliver.
There really should be support groups for this sort of thing - message boards don't quite help it.
I was burned out, not only from the work, but from spending my entire life following orders - from school to the workplace. So I quit my job after 5 months despite the fact that that's considered sacrilege, with maybe $13k in my bank account.
I spent the next 3 months pursuing nothing but my hobby at the time (music production). The first month was possibly the best month of my entire life. It was the first time I truly felt free - no homework, no stress of finding a job, no having to be in an office from 9:30-5:30 M-F.
Then I ran out of money, so I had to start applying for jobs again. Ended up getting a much better job (both pay-wise and quality-wise), so it worked out.
But I continue working because I'm saving a lot of money every month. Currently have almost $100k in the bank. After this job, I'm going to take at least a good year off to do what I want to do, not what the labor markets force me to. I have a lot of passion in certain areas that I'm not able to devote full attention to due to work. I want to have a much greater positive impact on the world than being some menial code monkey working on proprietary software or a corporate Kool-Aid drinking cock sucker.
I've realized that I will never be happy in a traditional job. Being subservient and following orders is not in my nature.
A lot of us have had that experience!
I've realized that I will never be happy in a traditional job. Being subservient and following orders is not in my nature.
This is a good thing to realise, but on the flip side do be aware that it's possible to work with a team without being subjected to a top-down, prescribed style of management. A collaborative team environment can be sought or created, and you can achieve a lot more a lot quicker with a good team than alone. Best of luck finding your groove.
I'm not sure wtf to do to be honest. School has not been my thing since like 9th grade, I barely even attended the last grade. I think the system just totally started grinding my gears and now uni feels similar.
1) I moved from the UK to Australia last year. Having a degree made it a lot easier for me to get the requisite number of 'points' on their visa system.
2) A friend (from University) who just got a government job in Canada, had to dig out his degree certificate for job application process.
We graduated back in 1996 (21 years ago! gulp).
Not sure if you mean for it to be a literal comparison, but I'd find it very difficult to argue that school or work is the equivalent to somewhere where you are forced into doing backbreaking work. That's besides for the physical abuse and risk of murder that often accompanies it.
Looking at the latest wealth distribution data, the wage slavery thing is getting out of hand and we have a growing population without the infrastructure necessary for it. Yet we have the resources to tackle the problem if appropriate attention were given to it.
I'd absolutely love to find a way to break into community organization while also feeding myself, because I see a lot of work that must happen but it's not compensated work at the moment. Lots of urgent needs don't have "market demand" right now because those needs don't have dollars behind them. (And the dollars are increasingly flowing away from needs of the masses and into the wants of the 0.1% as I'm sure you know)
For one, it's boring, monotonous, and soul-sucking. Which might be manageable, except with commuting and such you're looking at 9 hours/day wasted, and the bulk of your mental energy drained. Add in cooking, errands, gym, showering, and decompression time, and you have very little productive free time to do anything else. (Most people are ok with this because they have little ambition outside their jobs)
Most software engineering jobs are boring and unfulfilling. Very few of us are actually working on groundbreaking, interesting stuff (eg. augmented reality, blockchain), and the harsh reality is that the more interesting the work - the worse the compensation and working conditions tend to be because everyone wants those jobs (see videogame industry). Most of us are doing menial work for for-profit businesses. Developers these days debate endlessly over programming languages and frameworks rather than the actual problems that are being solved because they're all working on the same boring shit.
Corporations are the worst because you're literally a cog in the machine and completely replaceable (unless you're a highly valued expert). I prefer startups because at least I feel more valuable, even if at the end of the day I'm still replaceable and my stock options are pathetically low. I hate the authoritarian, hierarchical power structure of companies though. Funny how we claim to value democracy and say "don't tread on me", yet the bulk of our lives are spent working under tyrannical power structures within companies.
Software engineering itself has become a commodity, and going forward this is only going to be more and more the case as every college graduate realizing that there are no good jobs in their major start flooding into the industry, driving down compensation and increasing employer demands. The interview process in this industry is downright obnoxious and absurd, and is a reflection of the oversupply of job seekers relative to jobs (contrary to tech industry propaganda, where Google only hires the top 2% based on esoteric algorithms trivia questions and then turns around and claims there's a developer shortage).
The whole "butt in seat" 10-5pm obsession is stupid and ridiculous. We're not manual laborers - productive mind work doesn't necessarily follow a 10-5pm schedule. If I can get all my work done by 2pm, why can't I just leave? (Sure there are a few companies that claim to allow that, but in my experience, perceptions tends to matter at these companies more than your actual contribution)
It's sad that labor had to fight so hard and literally shed blood for the 40 hour work week that we now take for granted, yet we're now so complacent that we put up with it or don't even realize that we're wage slaves.
If there's one thing I'd like to dedicate my life to, it's to ending wage slavery. I see universal basic income as the first step. (Sorry I kind of got carried away in this response)
This is the most important point that hits home. I've been constantly looking for a job that recognizes this.
I manage people a group of about 20, and I'd love to have a hands-off approach. I.e. Letting them be creative and do their own thing at their own pace. But after a week or two of that with me trying to encourage them to experiment, and absolutely nothing happening, it's pretty obvious that they're not inclined. They want to just be butt-in-seat for 9-5, like a factory-worker, then go home. Maybe they're broken already. Or maybe they don't care enough to apply their creativity or motivation during those 9-5 hours to show me that they can do that.
If you tried to change something, and zero out of twenty people respond well to it at all, have you considered the possibility that it might be you, not them, that should do something differently? A hands-off approach requires a clear mission, motivation, and most of all trust. I don't think "a week or two" of you trying to change something will magically make things different.
To me it sounds like the difference between managing and leading. If you want to be a leader, you might need to invest a bit more time to learn how to do that. Blaming your coworkers for your own shortcomings is the best way never to learn anything. [Again, see disclaimer above.]
I personally think that with the current rate of automation, jobs would be eventually elemntated pretty soon and we need a viable solution, besides creating more meaningless jobs.
I'm also in kind of the same situation as you, the difference being I'm trying to build some software to provide myself income and work for myself and own my time.
Do you worry about money? I have a bunch saved, but if I'm not making money I start to feel sick big physically and mentally real fast.
I have had ideas, but when I'm home and I open the IDE, I sit there a while, stare at it, and then close it.
My first startup, 3.5 years of blood and tears, literally walked away with nothing (internal politics). No equity, I couldn't afford to exercise my options.
Also, wanted to quickly add, i also had to pay out thousands in legal advice to even keep my options! we didn't even get proper option certificates in the years i was there...place was a mess.
The way I see it, this kind of tiredness can't be met by a good night's sleep. It's a tiredness of the soul.
Sadly, what I have found is that to cope with the tiredness, boredom, stress and loneliness of my 'successful' life, I have turned time and time again to pornography. My use has spiralled and includes really quite violent, and in some cases illegal, stuff. And I have hated myself for it. I don't even enjoy it.
The problem is that the porn addiction itself exacerbated and accelerated the burnout process, and further isolated me.
Now I have decided to take some time out, with friends and well away from any internet connection, to break the cycle and re-sensitize myself. I need to breathe and feel my body again and feel connected to life and other people. In a few days I will be away from the Internet in a beautiful place in nature with good, supportive people to be with me.
And for the first time, I intend to be open and share this struggle and let them know really how dark it has gotten in here.
To be honest, the way you describe your burnout seems very close to depression. I'd echo what simbyotic has suggested, in that it's good to reach out for professional help. Support from family and friends is invaluable, but a therapist you feel comfortable with may help you connect the dots in a more complete way.
I hope you find the digital detox gives you a fresh perspective on how your life can move forward, and helps you start healthier habits. We may not know each other, but I felt empathy reading your story, and I wish you the best of luck with the next chapter.
I have been having professional help for a while and it took some time to really open up about the issues, but it's a really positive thing.
I’d recommend going to a meditation retreat.
Last July I ran a migration (SaaS CRM company) that should have taken 3-4 weeks with 1 week of downtime, but the client insisted on 1 week with 4 days of downtime. It was the first major migration moving this platform out of beta and I loved that product (and that client) more than anything, so I said fine.
I made it super clear to my boss that this was going to fucked up and this was a bad idea, but I was down to try. Long story short I work 20+ hours a day for 7 days (heavily helped by, in retrospect, pretty dangerous amounts of adderall/provigil/Ritalin/caffeine/ambien for when I actually did need to sleep) and we got it down.
During the last day of QA I clasped in my office from exhaustion and went temporarily blind, ended up in the ER. That didn't matter though because the migration was a resounding success - client was happy, executives were happy, product was stable.
My boss was incredible (truly the best boss I'll ever have) and was ready to give me anything I wanted... except a budget for more staff, which was really the issue here. This product was my baby and I was going to ensure its success no matter what happened.
Put in my notice three weeks later. They told me to name my price and title bump to stay, but weren't willing to let me hire the two or three staff I knew I needed. I offered to stay as long as they needed to help with the transition but turned down all their bonuses because I didn't want to be beholden to them.
I finally left 6 months later to make slightly less money with a slightly higher title at a company that gave me the team I knew I needed. I still miss that company more than anything, getting to see a mission criticalcproduct go from idea to being used by massive multinational companies was incredible and an experience I doubt I'll ever have again.
FWIW I'm still in touch with people from my old team and the company has since hired three more staff (plus the two existing staff the team already had) and a VP to manage the team. By not giving me to staff support I asked for and letting me burn out the company has "lost" somewhere around $800k in new staff costs alone.
Why would you suffer through that if not?
Also - first real development project from start to finish. Not sure you can put a monetary value on seeing your work actually being used in real life.
Definitely regret letting myself get so burned out / used by the company but don't regret putting everything I had into that implementation. Still miss that job - though I think (hope?) that was professional rock bottom so it's a good force to stop working at a certain point.
If you had ended up permanently blind, or in a chair, would you have had any regrets?
I'm glad everything worked out and wish it happened a different way but if I didn't hit that burn out then I'm sure it would have ended up much worse down the line.
At the very least now I have a better idea how/when to tell future bosses to go fuck themselves :)
The results till that day were modest at best, and that's because stabilizing the transition state is only part of what a real enzyme should do, and even though the professors are supposed to teach you this in your biochem/chemical biology deep-dive courses in grad school YMMV, and it's easy to sell a starry eyed grad student, especially when the prof doesn't know any better, too.
Anyways my buddy's project was even worse - he was supposed to make a protease (an enzyme that degrages proteins). And if you look at proteases, their clefts wrap around the protein even more than an antibody ever could (they have shallow clefts), because burying the reaction away from water is a critical aspect of their function.
He spent three years working in a lab that demanded 80+ hour workweeks. Towards the end his sleep cycle had flipped, he was playing around making geometric designs with his pipet tips, and spending much of his workday playing a flash website gameboy tetris, and many days going to the casino to play poker instead of work.
finally his boss modified his project, instructing him to graft a metalloprotease domain, onto the antibody in an attempt to get it working. A breath of fresh air! Suddenly he was invigorated with a new approach to the project. But not long after that, he was back to the old routine of being burned out, and totally unproductive, spending hours on trivialities, like trying to strip metals from his water supply to really get it right and get it working. In the end, it never worked.
It turned out that the metalloprotease domain was designed by Homme Hellinga. Years after this, the scientific community discovered that Homme Hellinga was faking his enzyme design work.
So your buddy PI slogs through a series of bad 'investigations', and is finally asked to do some work he initially enjoys but later procrastinates on. Wait though! It's all set because, surprise surprise, the as-yet-unmentioned baddie was faking the results all along!
I get the feeling that your last paragraph is supposed to be a stunning wrap up, but after some reflection I've concluded this is only because of the preexisting motif that everything after "and it turned out.." is a galactic burn.
I see a lot of these burnout stories are about PhDs, and I've been there. The key to getting out is frequently to stop listening to your advisors. You're ready to graduate when you tell them what you're doing, not the other way around.
I think your choice of words "spectacular" & "crawl back to reality" shows that our society is still not ready to fully accept mental diseases. This is not personal but why would you think they have to crawl back to reality? I don't think they ever left.
Lost major supplier responsible for about 1/2 our gross profit at about the same time our broad market entered recession, two key employees were mired in divorce proceedings, and another key employee left to fight CNS lymphoma. Three years and about three soul crushing false recoveries later we emerged with a lot of work ahead to rebuild and reduce debt.
The advice... expect nothing. Don't let the highs carry you or the lows crush you. Recognize circumstances outside your control and shut the door on them when it comes to your opinion of yourself. Earthquakes rock the brilliant and dullards al the same and sometimes having survived the experience is accomplishment enough.
When I woke up one morning, everything seemed really blurred. I could not precisely get where I was in the room and, when I tried to talk to my parents, they seemed really far away. I was also deeply tired and just wanted to sleep.
After 2 scary days like this, we went to a neurologist. He looked at me and asked my parents to leave the room. Looking at me, he told me: "I know you take hard drugs. Tell me anything about it so I can help you". I have never taken any drug. When he realized this, he did a lot of tests but found nothing. He just asked me to rest.
After 2 long weeks, I slowly got better and finally fully recovered. The neurologist told us it was probably some kind of burnout. It happened 2 other times few years after but it was less intense and I am now able to feel more precisely when I work too hard or sleep too little and that there are some risks.
I am so glad your doctor not only listened to you but eventually believed you. During non-drug but similar situations, I have found some doctors to be difficult in changing their mind on what is actually going on. "All patients lie" be as it may, but there's some "all doctors know what's right no questions asked" as well. Second opinions may save your life, or at least an uncorrected twisted spinal column's worth of suffering.
Things seeming too far away is called Teleopsia.
I experience Alice In Wonderland Syndrome. Last time I managed to get an audience with a neurologist - the top one in this hospital, because the others didn't have a clue what I was describing - he did the same to me: told me I must be taking lots of drugs. and that I was lying to him when I said I wasn't. Not useful.
Of course it's the Internet and every advice must be taken with a grain of salt. But you never know.
A close friend to my sister was getting more and more tired. She had multiples examination but her doctor could not find what she had.
First luck she had, her father is a doctor, so she could talk to hers more easily that you or I could.
Second luck she had, while one of those talks, another doctor passed by and heard them talking. It appears that she knew the symptoms from another patient she had in her own country and they finally could put a name on her illness (I can't recall what it was, and it's a very rare disease that explained no one knew about it)
Third luck she had is that it was about time. 2 weeks later she would have die.
So my point is, doctors are not as smart as they believe they are. And telling your story every time it's related to the conversation might result in a discovery like that.
Hope your health stays ok !
Then when burnout struck me hard, I realized that I just don't want to open my laptop anymore. Also, even side project started to feel like a burden to me.
Then I decided, enough is enough and I need to do some changes to my life.
- I did join a gym near my house.
- I stopped coding in evenings. I would wake up early and code for 2-3 hours in morning and be content with whatever I achieve during that time.
- Evening hours after office would be only for gym, relaxing, having dinner and watching TV.
Believe me, it was the best decision I did for myself. My health both mental and physical improved drastically and I started loving coding again.
Also, I'm in agreement about the 2-3 hours of "golden" development, with the rest of the day for thinking, planning, or just doing something else. Sometimes I'm inclined to do 2 such sessions in one day, but a) I always make sure that the second session does not interrupt my sleep schedule, b) that I allow for plenty of down-time in-between, and c) that I don't do it for too many consecutive days.
Lessons learned: 1) money does not make you happy. If you don't know how to be happy with little, you won't be happier when you have a lot. 2) job and career is not everything. Healthy work-life balance means a lot.
.. Actually kinda hard to put all the thoughts, feelings and experiences of turbulent 7 years in only some sentences.
I'm really sorry to hear that you have had such a tough time, hopefully this thread shows that many, many people have similar experiences and struggles. You are not alone.
Have you tried reaching out to any organisations that might be able to help you? In the UK The Samaritans are on 116123 (https://www.samaritans.org/)
The way I've found motivation is to do something small for myself. It doesn't matter if it's not a world changing idea, but it has to be for you and it has to be small so that you can finish it quickly.
This is only intended to start working the motivation muscle (the reward system) of your brain. It takes time, but that's how I've done it in the past.
You can do this.
The worst one... I was producing music and sound with a friend for a prime time TV show. We were supposed to start working on the music in February to air the show in October.
The project suffered from many production problems. The executive producer was the son of a billionaire who owns one of the biggest TV networks in Latin America and had never done this before. One of the directors was a junkie and a drunk. Money ran out. Actors were not showing up to the stage. It got ugly.
Eventually we started working on the music and FX in September, weeks before airing. We were 2 guys in charge of producing episodes of 45 minutes. Music, FX, dialog cutting, etc, at the rate of 2 episodes per week. I slept less than 20 hours per week and drank 5+ red bulls every day. I don't know how I didn't end up in a hospital.
Even worse, the mastering engineer destroyed our already bad job. We didn't know about that because we never had time to watch the show on TV and listen to the final audio that was being aired.
This went on for about 2 months until someone figured out the show was crap and they started cutting heads. We were fired, and they never payed us about 50% of the work.
I thought making music for an important TV show would be the best thing in my life, but it killed my musical soul.
Definitely learned my lesson on how important it is to get the initial contract correct, clarifying legal liabilities, responsibilities, etc. All your hard work and savings can go down the drain in a second if your employer wants to screw you over.
As well, being sued for work that you do as an employee can't get you sued, at least in North America. That's like a restaurant owner charging a waiter for dropping plates, that's illegal.
I'm proof that you can be sued for work that you do as an employee. Whether the Plaintiff will win or not is another story, but you can be dragged through years of the legal system.
I continued this habit working long hours once I started my full time job espeixally because I was depressed after breaking up with my then-gf. I would committ 80-100 hours per week. I am talking about 9-9 or longer and on the weekend 9-5 or whenever I get tired. If major outage, I would be up all night. I would drop my dinner and solve whatever issues came up. I would skip lunch to get my code deployed or whatever. I would have 9-5 meetings and then continued my work afterward. I pretty much did everything I can before my offshore team takes over. I would just write an email and tell them I got most of the problems taken care of, just monitor the issues.
Relationship with coworkers and managment, and with my gf all added up.
This went on for about 6-7 years since college.
I am 26 now.
Then I attempted suicide, twice, this year. The second time, a number of HNer might remember, I posted here my goodbye. I still haven't had the chance to thank the dozens of people who sent me emails.
I am doing much better, although I can never work that many hours now , and I also will never do much coding after work unless I really feel like doing so. If I go back to work, I expect myself work 9-5 and only overtime if I have to.
My burnout is continuing into year four. Working at a big name company for a year now and haven't written a single line of code. I feel so apart from the team I'm on. Still have periods where I can't think, but now nobody notices when I don't come in, sometimes for weeks at a time. The big salary doesn't count for much when loan payments and city rent take the majority. Haven't seen my family in three years, missed both my grandparents' funerals.
I still think it was the right decision to leave the Midwest, but I wish it didn't take so much sacrifice.
Took the decision to start from a blank canvas around last September, and up until February I only recall having several days off (Christmas, NYE etc). Worked in the day, the evenings and weekends. Impending sense of doom only seemed to subside when I made progress - this feedback loop kept me hooked and driving forwards.
Launched the site (https://www.construct.net) a couple of months later, but it burnt me out. Had to take a fairly significant amount of time off to switch off. I was waking up in the night with a horrible twisting in my chest and random bursts of adrenaline. Not healthy!
The site has been up and running and selling now for months really well, so I am proud and relieved.
* Learnt how to make a scalable site
* Re-writes are always significantly better written
* Learnt a LOT
* My health!
Also, you can't retrofit scalability which is a lesson I learnt the hard way. Seems obvious but I had a years work at stake so had to give it a try and having the guts to scrap everything and start again was incredibly painful but has worked out well long term. Feels very comparable to learning to backup.
When I look back at those several months - I honestly remember very little of it. As our startup has grown we've also learnt than I'm now becoming a significant bottleneck as my bandwidth isn't unlimited and it's a huge relief that we're now taking steps to address this.
I'm also not someone who can easily ask for help and leave it until it's too much to handle. This was a big contributing factor.
Not a "spectacular" burn out story but I teetered very close on the edge of something quite negative - I'm not exactly sure what but I'm glad I avoided it.
I'm glad yours turned out better :)
The first few months were hell, but I read up on CBT, stoicism, meditation, habits and personal health and slowly, with a lot of work my mental state started to improve. There were a lot of weeks were it felt like I was regressing but I kept practicing healthy self-talk and eventually got through the rough spots. Being out of work, I worked on side projects to keep my skills sharp and learn new things whenever I was feeling good enough.
It's been a year now, and I've never been happier. After maybe 9 months I was feeling strong enough to "re-enter society," so I started applying for jobs. Nothing's materialized yet but I'm confident I'll get back on own feet sooner or later. Regardless of the current job-hunt stress, I think it was unequivocally worth it to straighten out.
The books that helped me most:
Didn't think it'd be so hard to break back in after a successful run prior to burning out, but I'm very optimistic something will turn up. (Please don't turn on me now, economy!)
but maybe that's ok. sometimes life is more exciting than it needs to be.
Here's a picture of it, written GNU pic (I say GNU because I got James to put in a construct called the `i'th so you could do for loops. So the picture is adjustable, I can change the cpus variable and it will draw the picture with the new number of cpus. That's GNU pic unique.)
It was a big failure. For lots of reasons. Scott (ceo) insisted that it ship with Solaris rather than SunOS, nobody wanted Solaris (somewhere I have a tape of me presenting it at the Moscone center and someone was beating me up about the Solaris issue, I finally lost it and said "I know, I hate Solaris too, I was forced into it". My boss said "find all copies of that tape and destroy them". Yeah Solaris).
Sun was focussed on SMP machines, they thought that would solve all the world's problems, clusters just couldn't do it. Which completely missed the point. Sunbox shipped with SMP machines in the rack, I think 4 processors sparcstation 10's.
I pushed it along through sheer will power. It was like a little dude pushing on an oil tanker, I actually pushed Sun a degree or two off their stated path. But there was a ton of "Larry is trying to kill SMP" fud.
But it was too much. I burned out and my boss, Ken Okin (fantastic dude for many reasons), said "Go home, I'll call you when I need you". When I say "too much" I mean it. I was either in, or about to be in, a nervous breakdown and Ken saw that. I came back in after about 3 months and Ken took one look at me and said "I said I'd call you, go home!". Just to be clear, Sun was paying me to stay home.
So I did, for almost a year. My job became playing pool, but that's a story for another day (and probably boring to this crowd).
I did see my product manager years later, up in Tahoe skiing. He came over, bought a beer, and said "I guess you were right about that cluster thing". This was after google did 10,000 machine clusters that worked really really well, way better than any single SMP machine hope to do. Kudos to him for admitting it even if it was obvious.
You were being paid to do whatever you wanted to do. Doesn't sound boring to me! Would you share that story?
I eventually got bored and wanted something else to do and since I was hanging out in bars, pool popped up as an option. Other than some screwing around as a kid, I'd never played pool. So I started learning. Turns out that pool is this neat combination of physics, chess, and a dash of human psychology. The physics part is obvious, the chess part is thinking multiple moves ahead (when you get good you know all the shots you are going to take after you break), the psychology part is messing with the other person (even if they are better and they leave you no shot you can do the same to them).
So my routine became sleep in until about 10:30 or 11am, hop on my motorcycle and go over to a taco place at 11th & Folsom in San Francisco (which is where I was living at the time), get some food, wander over to the Paradise Lounge and practice.
The Paradise Lounge was a bar that opened around noon, and during the daytime was frequented by drunk taxi drivers, hookers, and various low lifes. I hung out there because they opened up the pool tables and let you play for free during the day. And for Ron.
Ron was one of the low life types. He was from Minnesota but he had been pushed out. He got in a fight with his brother and punched him in the chest and the brother died (this is not widely enough known: in young males, in a one second time period, there are about 3 milliseconds in which, if enough of a shock is caused, they will have a heart attack and usually die). So his family threw him out.
He ended getting a job at a pool hall and they let him sleep there. He learned pool there and practiced in a way that he got very good. In pool, when playing 8 ball, there is this thing called "8 ball choke". The 8 ball is the one you shoot last and lots of people freeze up on that shot and mess up easy shots. So Ron took all the 8 balls from all the regular tables and practiced on a snooker table (snooker tables are much larger and have smaller pockets for smaller balls. If you can make shots on a snooker table with regular balls you are extremely accurate). So he got good and no 8 ball choke for him.
By the time I met him he was something of a legend in that bar. As I came to be part of the regular crew everyone watched me play Ron. Well, watched Ron beat me. He could beat me left handed, he could beat me one handed, he could beat me one handed with his left hand, he could beat me in napkin pool (before each shot he would put a cocktail napkin on the table and if the cue ball wasn't on the napkin after his shot then it was his turn).
I kept coming back for more and I was getting better. I'd play Ron from about noon until they closed the tables and I started playing the "bridge and tunnel" people who came in to party in the evening. I dunno if this is a universal thing but in America it's tradition that if you win the game the next opponent pays for the next game. It's called "holding the table" and if you are good then you can play all night for free. I was slowly becoming that good. So long as Ron wasn't there.
Me being the nerd that I am, it's 6 months in, and I own my own cue. Which is a stupid and sort of a douche move, if you are holding anything other than a bar cue it screams "I think I'm better than you" so every pool hall hustler wants to beat you; many did. But less and less as time went on.
Somewhere around 6-7 months into this the unthinkable happened. I beat Ron fair and square. The bar full of taxi drivers and hookers and other random folk, all of whom had watched me go from completely crappy to beating Ron, burst into applause. To give you some idea of how much of a mess I was at the time, I felt like a million bucks. This bar full of people had accepted me and were rooting for me. At the time, it felt fantastic. Later I was like "WTF? You care what a bunch of losers think?" Yep, at the time I did. At the time, they were my crowd. Weird in retrospect.
Remember that I was originally chasing girls? I'd long since given up, I was never good at that until just before I met my wife. And I was becoming frustrated with playing at the Paradise Lounge in the evening because each time a new set of girls walked in you could feel them scanning the bar, checking out the guys, you could almost hear them going "nope, nope, maybe, nope ...". I always got the nopes and it would throw me off my game from time to time.
So I started branching out. Played in lots of different pool halls, joined a league, etc. One night the nope got to me so I packed up and left. It was early and the way I went home was down Market street, through the Castro, over to Noe Valley. There was a place on Market I liked to eat, that's why the weird route. As I was going down Castro street there was a bar open with a pool table. I knew this was the gay district but I thought why the hell not? No girls to throw me off my game.
Into the bar I go. Put my quarters on the table, get a beer, wait my turn. Turned out to be one of the coolest experiences of my life. The gay guys have pretty refined gaydar, or I'm just too damn ugly, because they were completely uninterested in me. It was like I was a fly on the wall watching.
The atmosphere in there was really cool, it was kind of like that playfulness you had as a little kid in a sandbox, playing with trucks and other little kids that were playing with trucks. It felt almost innocent. Except with a heavy dose of sexuality. It's hard to explain, but I was jealous of the gay guys. They get to do stuff that if I did that to a girl in a bar I'd get slapped and/or get sent to jail for assault. I could be in the middle of game, my opponent would be leaning over to make a shot, some other dude walks up, reaches between his legs, and cups his junk. The player would look back at the dude and it would be one of two reactions: "Uh, no thanks dude, I want to finish this game" or "Larry, nice to meet ya, but I gotta go, can you find someone to finish the game?" No drama, it was yes or no, the guy who came onto the dude would be cool and walk away if that was the message. You could never do that to a girl and get away with it, at least I couldn't.
So even though the gay guys have a tough life, what with the stigma, AIDS, etc, they get to play with each other in a way straight dudes could only dream about. Like I said, I was jealous.
I played at that gay bar for a few weeks or a month, it was fun, but eventually I missed the girls even if I was Mr Nope.
So back to the Paradise I go and guess what? This smoking hot mexican girl plays pool with me, she wasn't very good but she was a lot better than average, so it was fun, and I drew out that game until we were both on the 8 ball. Went out with a length of the table bank shot (I had a habit of doing those when I was a lot better than the other person. A little douchey but it gave them a chance because I missed those about maybe 30% of the time). She whistled and gave me her phone number and told me to call her. I think that's maybe the only time a girl did that.
I didn't call her, I was too chicken. A couple of weeks later she's there again, walks right up to me, looks up at me and says "How come you didn't call?". "Oh, I didn't think you really wanted me to call you". "You call me, you hear?" So I did, we ended up dating for a couple of years. She was pretty crazy but man, so hot, as in the bar gets quiet and every dude is looking at her when she walks in, like that hot. So fun but it eventually ended, she had no drive and I needed to be with someone with some drive.
I eventually went back to work, Sun let me do whatever I wanted, I ended up working for Paul Borrill. Did lmbench and some networking stuff. Paul asked me if I wanted to go give a talk at Hot Interconnects on ethernet vs ATM. Hell yes I did! I hated ATM, thought it was stupid, I was pushing for 100Mbit ethernet, Paul knew all that and he knew I'd badmouth ATM, which I think he wanted but he was far too politically astute to say that out loud. So off I went to the conference, gave my rant (because that's what it was) about how Sun's $4000 (their cost at the time I believe) ATM card was never going to be as cheap as the $50 ethernet card I had bought at Fry's on my way to the talk. The room went dead silent, I think because everyone was going "but my boss says I have to work on ATM". Finally, some Indian guy in the back started clapping and then the room exploded. So I think they agreed and history has shown all us to be right on that one. And it helped get me out of my burnout funk.
Fun times, sort of, but I don't recommend getting so burned out that it takes a year of pool to pull you back. But a huge thank you to Ken Okin for letting me take that time and to Paul Borrill for nudging me back into work.
Sorry for the wall of text :)
Edit: typos mostly, and a thank you to Paul.
Late last year while my business hours were at a low ebb, I was asked if I could pitch in for six months as lead developer on a government web portal. I'd taken a similar contract two years before when my own business was ramping up, and not found it too taxing to meet the needs of my own clients on evenings and weekends. I didn't factor in two things: I now had twice as many clients, and a cynical dynamic called "Murphy's Law".
Almost as soon as I signed the government contract, clients began requesting (different) extensions to the framework. Without the contract I would have been at full capacity. I found myself starting work for my own clients at 4.00am every morning, then heading off to lead the web portal development team, then putting in more hours for my own clients at the end of the day ... plus weekends. This state of affairs continued with very little respite for the entire six months.
Knowing normal life will resume at a fixed future point is often enough to get through something like this. But my health suffered increasingly as time passed. In the last few weeks I was very sick indeed. I was asked to renew the government contract for a further six months but had the sense to turn that offer down. Two days after the contract finished I had to be admitted to hospital. I was seriously ill, and it has taken two months to get back to the level of health I usually enjoy.
Yes, I was foolish to accept that contract. I have learnt a lesson I won't forget.
So, it all started last year. My mother who has been suffering from lung cancer for three years was doing pretty well - given the condition she has to deal with.
Then, all of the sudden, my brother has died in an accident. My mom took that with the pain I guess only a mother can feel, but to my surprise she was braver than I thought.
I, however, pushed all the pain away and started to work as hell. Within weeks I took new responsibilities at work place, travelled a lot and to make things even worse, fell in love with a co-worker of mine. This ruined my years lasting relationship, but at that moment, I thought, it was worth it.
Turned out, it was not. My new relationship became a nightmare. Passive aggression all over, paired with depression, illegit accusations and stark disputes all over. Of course, all of this happened only when we were alone.
I have always been a very "stable" person, but at this time, I began asking myself what am I doing here. My mother is about to die, my brother had passed away, I left my girlfriend, who was my partner and my best friend for years for a girl who is so full of negativity. And the few moments I have for myself, I am doing hard work.
It was too much for me. I collapsed and could not do anything. Thanks to a good friend of mine, who brought me to the hospital. I went to a private clinic specialised on trauma and depression in a very nice area.
I had sports, psychological sessions, creativity and relaxation all over the day for a while.
I came back stronger than ever before. For me, key was to really enjoy every single moment. "Love it, leave it or change it", has become my slogan more than ever. Contrary to my situation before, I just applied it also to the very small parts of life. And, my focus changed from "leave it" to "change it". I am thankful for what I have, even if this is something I currently struggle with. But when I am really thankful from the deepest of my heart, I find the strength to change it. I started giving a fuck what people I don't care about think about me and instead started to reveal true feelings to the people I really want to have in my life.
I learnt to say "no". I have never been overloaded with work from mean co-workers or managers who just piled their shit on my table. It was more I actively searched for work that somehow sounded "interesting" or a meaningful CV bullet point. I have been the mean manager of myself. I stopped that. Saying no to a thing that just sounds "pretty cool", but is actually not meaningful in my life, is the best lesson I ever got taught.
And, best of all: I quitted my job and just agreed to to stuff for the company as contractor until they find another person to work on it. I joined the company of a good friend of mine, which is outside the tech world, doing half of the hours I used to do and get the same amount of money. And the best thing, I can now learn and play with technology with no pressure which makes me more productive. And with that knowledge I feel I can help my friend surviving with his non-tech company in the storm of digitalization.
How long were you seeing or in the private clinic?
What did you mom think?
How is your mom?
> I joined the company of a good friend of mine, which is outside the tech world, doing half of the hours I used to do and get the same amount of money.
That sounds like an impractical luxury, I'm glad that is working for you.
Would staying with your other girlfriend have helped? You were bored of it then, and your new slogan "Love it, leave it, or change it" seems to be not new at all, it is exactly what you did before.
A few months.
> What did you mom think?
I had her support.
> Would staying with your other girlfriend have helped?
I think, I wouldn't have collapsed and would not have hit the floor so hard. But it wouldn't have helped me getting priorities right.
> You were bored of it then, and your new slogan "Love it, leave it, or change it" seems to be not new at all, it is exactly what you did before.
I a way, yes. But "leave it" is now my ultima ratio. Before "change it" felt almost always like a waste of time, now I see "change it" more like a passion to work on things rather than just always look for better alternatives.
I loved my job, programming and developing software was what I always wanted to do, and had been very successful doing it for years. My company was shooting for new areas, with underwhelming results so far, but trying nevertheless.
Then, at one point, my personal life took a serious blow, one that relatively quickly destroyed my relationship with my spouse, but without the ability to separate or divorce. Social and family-at-large life, which had never been intense but was always satisfying, vanished. During that time, my company's situation simultaneously degraded in quality of projects, budgets and general outlook, and my job increased in scope with a lot less hands on programming, less resources, more management, more teams and more firefighting (human and technical). Like in the personal side, I was professionally stuck without the ability to make drastic changes.
After a few months of this, with increasingly frequent episodes of stress and anxiety, I ran out of steam and blew up completely. I took a leave under medical supervision, doing therapy and working on coming to terms with all the various aspects of what I was dealing with. Despite the newly available time to do whatever I wanted (within reason), I couldn't do anything at all. My mind ached to do some coding for its own sake, but it took a long time before my body could again be able to keep focus on anything for more than a few minutes.
Time has passed. Therapy helped, coming to terms has continued to advance at a very slow pace but is still very far from complete. My focus came back, and I went back to work in pretty much the same circumstances, professional and personal, that I was before the blowup. Part of the anxiety turned into desire to overcome challenges, another part remained (and still does) as energy-draining anxiety.
I wake up every day knowing that I'm not over it. I remind myself that me and everyone around me wants, and to various degrees needs, me to go on. I hope that things work out, and it is quite possible that they will, although it is impossible to predict how, when or to what extent. I have learned to allow myself some room to, in the bad days, not be the nice and strong person I want to be, and instead let weakness take over while I try to rest. One weak day something bad may happen. Many days trying to stay strong may lead me down the hole again, hard. I just try not to think of, or control, the future much anymore.
After 6 months, I was more or less better again, but picked up some minor bad habits I still haven't really kicked. Quitting PhD was the best thing I ever did for myself.
I've picked up every hitchhiker I could since 2008, during the housing market crash. That was the year I saw a very clean looking man with a dog hitchhiking out of town. Being young and dumb, I picked him up. He was a construction worker, and told me the story of how he'd lost everything during the crash. He'd just sold his truck and was trying to make it to Spokane, where he'd heard there was still some commercial work going on. It took him two days to hitchhike from Seattle to Yakima; that's normally a two hour drive. That hit home. My entire extended family had lost their construction business during the crash. I've been picking people up ever since.
So I pulled over on the side of the highway just outside of Omak and offered a ride.
We start with some small talk. He's looking for work picking fruit and was striking out in Omak, so he figured he'd move along further south. I tell him I'm headed through Wenatchee, which about that time was ramping up for the cherry season. He'd never heard of Wenatchee, but it sounds agreeable to him. I thought that a little odd, but then he starts asking me what I was doing up in Omak.
I tell him about the router I was trying to install. He asks what brand it is (Cisco). He starts asking more questions about what was wrong. We're about 10 minutes in to troubleshooting the problem verbally when I realize he knows way more about networking than I do. Finally I point blank ask him why the hell he's picking fruit.
Turns out he had been working in LA as a Linux admin. He was also working on a side project, basically Pinterest for outfits, when his girlfriend took exception to the time he was spending on the project. He didn't go in to great detail, but it became pretty clear to me he had seriously, dramatically, burnt out, and the girlfriend was just a trigger.
He decided to forget everything and take a bus north to do some manual work for a while. He was still sending money back to her to make the car payments. This guy had abandoned everything, traveled to the middle of nowhere, slept in bushes, and done manual labor in the sun all because he was sick of life as he'd been living it.
I tried offering him a laptop. He wouldn't take it. He didn't want it. Said what he needed was a bicycle. As we crested a hill in to the Wenatchee valley, he became quite excited about the size of the town and the number of orchards he could see in the distance. I dropped him off soon after. I'm pretty sure I saw him riding a bicycle in downtown Wenatchee some time later.
This event still fucks with me years later. It could just as easily become my story, or your story. Mental health is fragile. Take burnout seriously.
A part of me lives to meet such people, the type of person who has a completely different history than you think they have.
To handle stress and not burn out, you need:
1) A sense of self. You need to not just understand but to feel that no matter what happens at the office, and even if things go wrong, you'll be OK. You do this by having a life outside of work - friends and a social life not connected to your workplace or even industry, hobbies or side projects that give you confidence outside of your professional life, and people who care about you for non-professional reasons.
2) To compartmentalize. Work is work, and just part of your life. While it cannot be completely so, what happens at work shouldn't affect your outside life in too large a degree. Success at work should bring you some kind of satisfaction, and failure should make you reconsider your choices, but not to a too large extent. You can only compartmentalize if you have the things in 1); you need more than 1 thing that is important to you in your life.
If you overwork, you can't have 1) because you simple don't have the time or energy to cultivate it; you can't compartmentalize and leave work at the office, and work pressure will cause negative stress in all aspects of your life, resulting in burn out.
Even in high-level positions you should aim to stick to a 9-5 schedule as much as possible because otherwise you won't have the mental energy to be effective.
Last job. Unremarkable but comfortable corporate job in web/backend development. Longest stint I had done in my life, at least going back to elementary school. Been there over 5 years. Got promoted to senior. My boss got bumped up a step and another developer on the team got promoted to his role as my new boss. Long story short, my new boss had it out for me. I started to get reports from fellow team members that my boss was dumping on me to others.
I ignored it until the annual review came up. After years of positive reviews, I got a minimally acceptable review. I challenged it and a couple weeks later I was slapped with a PIP. The allegations in the PIP were complete nonsense. (In one instance, they actually cited a bug I had fixed at the documented request of the project manager on one of our major applications as evidence I had been working on unassigned tasks.) This is when the burnout started.
I talked to a few people whose knowledge and advice I trusted on the subject and they said basically the same thing, "This is a battle you can't win. Get out as soon as you can." I heeded their advice. I put my head down and continued to do my job (more carefully and scrupulously than I ever had) and started looking for a new job. I don't regret this. Actually, I had already been actively looking by this time. But I started broadening my standard. There is one other thing I wish I had done at this point. (Spoiler: this is when I should have talked to a lawyer.)
As I had come to expect being a regular HN reader: finding a new job as a senior developer of a certain age nowadays can be tough. Especially when you're outside a major tech hub and not able to easily relocate. After six month and a couple frustratingly close calls, I still didn't have a new job. Six month review comes around. New PIP. New bogus allegations. I was fuming. This is when my burnout peaked. It was affecting my sleep and I developed a weird hives-like rash on my the back of my legs.
I was ready to quit but a friend recommended talking to an employment lawyer she knew. So I scheduled a consultation. I wanted to know if I could sue for defamation or something like that since the claims management was making about my performance were completely unfounded and I could cite documentation, code, and project management records to demonstrate it. He told me to get real. If I couldn't demonstrate flagrant discriminate on the basis of a protected class (race, sex, or age), I was wasting his time and my money. My company could fire me at will and the only reason they were keeping me around was to "paper my file" so they could quash anything as silly as I what I was dreaming up.
However, he also advised me not to quit my job. That's just what my boss and HR were hoping I would do. He said unless they fired me "with cause", for which poor performance does not qualify, I should stick it out. That way I wouldn't give up my claims for unemployment or COBRA. He said they might even offer my a minimal severance when they let me go. So I resolved to stick around until they fired me. I also started to push back against my manager's harassment. I tried to be polite but firm. But I started openly using the term harassment in talking with him.
Once HR got wind that I had used that term, they were involved. There were meetings with our HR reps and mediated sitdowns with my boss. They even initiated something called a 360-degree review for my boss.
This lasted for another 2 or 3 months. The whole time I knew I was doomed but at least I now had the satisfaction of feeling like I was sticking up for myself and enjoying the chaos that was swirling around the team instead of feeling like I was suffering the brunt of it. Finally, one Friday afternoon, my boss and I got into a voluble debate about some trivial technical matter, some tests I was working on IIRC, that he had called me into his office to needle me about. Monday morning I was called into a conference room, where I found my boss and our HR rep waiting. My boss read a statement notifying me I was terminated immediately. I was walked back to my desk by the HR rep to collect my personal belonging and walked out of the building. I wasn't offered a severance. But I felt liberated. I signed up for Obamacare, kept my dental benefits under COBRA, and HR didn't challenge my unemployment claim. Rash disappeared after a couple months. It took me about 6 months to find a new job. And no joke that 6 months was tough. I had to work much harder at finding my new job than I ever did at my old job.
The one lesson I can offer from this experience, the one thing I wished I had done sooner: as soon as you think your boss is out for you, consult with an employment lawyer. It will be worth the $200-$300 it costs.
I was working at a consulting agency as a linux sysadmin pulling crazy hours for two years. I ran support for a client that had an app that in house devs had 'modified' and a mission critical file transfer service. I was on a team of two with 24/7 on call support. Thing was, no one ever called the other guy so I was always the one getting 5am phone calls on Saturday mornings. Weekly late night (8pm - 3am) deployments were common and considered successful in the eyes of the company.
After about a year of this my lifelong struggle with depression started to reemerge. Feelings of loneliness and doubt began to crop up and I would cry uncontrollably on my commute back home from work. It was around this time that the daily suicidal thoughts took a turn for the worse. It was all I could think about, every minute of the day.
One day I was chatting with a co-worker and my boss when they complimented me on some recent weight loss. I was in a mood that day and told them the truth: I was having trouble eating. I wasn't eating breakfast or lunch and most nights would trade dinner for whiskey. After my weight loss was noticed, I decided to hide the fact I couldn't eat by telling everyone I was on a new diet. Side note: I had gained a considerable amount of weight over the time I spent at that company. I recently celebrated my 100 lbs weight loss.
I continued to lose weight, though not entirely by choice. The suicidal thoughts were deafening, blocking out any hope or joy in my life. I had become my job and saw no way out.
Eventually the client I was working for no longer needed my services and I was removed from the contract. I tried to celebrate but was so numb inside I didn't feel any happiness at all. I took a week off but still had the same feelings of dread and depression. I did a lot of reading on burnout and realized I was on that slippery slope.
After returning from my sole week off, I was placed 'on the bench'. For those who have never worked at a consultating agency, this means you still get a paycheck but have no work to do. It also means you are in a constant state of fear for your job until the agency finds you a new billable position. That didn't help much to lighten my mood.
I made the switch from sysadmin to webdev during this 'bench' period. I was able to secure a position as an internal React.js dev and for a few weeks started to climb out of burnout. I thought I could start being happy again with my new role but my company had different plans for me.
As I was still 'on the bench' and not billable, the company decided to move me to a new contract doing dev work for M$ sharepoint. The project was in shambles, had no tech lead, and the only other dev had decided to format the site with tables (!) as he didn't know any other way. I expressed how displeased I was but my complaint fell on deaf ears. I decided I couldn't take it anymore.
After convincing the manager to make me 'lead sharepoint dev', I put my two weeks in. I had setup a job at a boat rental I had worked at in summers past. I now work the same hours but get paid for every hour, which is great.
I took a full month off after my two weeks. Spent the time laying around the house and playing video games. One of the best months of my life. I thought a lot about where I had been and where I was headed. I started hanging out with friends & family again and realized I was on the right track.
I can now saw I've never felt better in my life. I lost a bunch of weight, met a girl, and genuinely enjoy every hour of every day. The choking thoughts of dread and suicide are gone, replaced by the joy and happiness I thought I would never have again. I recently started my own consulting company and have vowed to never let myself dip back into burnout again. Every day is a new journey; you just have to find a way to make it work while not wanting to die every day.
My advice is to recognize the signs of burnout early. It is far too easy to attempt to 'push through' and stress yourself out more. Many companies are willing to sacrifice your well being only to turn around and ask for more. Dont be afraid to run far, far away from any place that prioritizes their bottom line over your mental health.
apologize for formatting, wrote this on mobile.
What happened : A disastrous startup failure. While the people I worked with were nice, everything we did failed so completely and utterly, that I lost my mind. Part of it was a seriously underperforming founder, partly just really bad situations. We could not achieve even 10% of any of our goals. Everything was a miserable failure, we were living together in an apartment and since the other founders left after the failure, I lost my home too and had to go crawling back to my parents' place to recover mentally. I had no desire or strength to do anything at the time.
The worst part was, that it was a decent idea that has already worked in some markets and I saw myself as the ideal customer. Our team, on paper, was strong and had diverse skillsets. I had put all of my hopes into making this a win.
Now, I am left with no idea of what to do next, and still no motivation to do anything either. The only thing I always wanted to do, is a door that is permanently closed now (due to age. I'm young, but that path closes at 25. I didn't pursue it because I used to be a dumb kid who wasn't mature enough to make hard decisions early on in his life).
My GRE score expires next year, so I am considering a higher degree and a move to the US or Canada. Maybe even a Phd, since I did some research work in college and liked doing it. But I am terrified of a big commitment now.
The quality of startups in my country is really low, and while I have interviewed with a few, nothing stuck out.
A few good, big companies are there, where I SHOULD apply, but haven't. I have failed in everything I have done, even prior to my startup. Nothing has worked, and nothing has amounted to anything. So why even attempt right?
Advice to others : Do what you REALLY want to do, and stick to the most proven/established way of accomplishing it. Startups should be attempted ONLY if there's no other way at all of doing what you love. That precludes 99.999% of the cases.
I poured everything into that role, shunning personal relationships with all but a few very close friends.
I made the calculus that, like others in the same company before me, I'd put my time in and after 5-7 years I'd downshift roles. Write some papers, some patents, put everything I'd learned into product and service development.
Thing is, I didn't appreciate how much the company and company culture was changing even as I was helping drive that change.
The company changed from focusing on experience to certifications. Personal loyalties were almost frowned upon. If you were a technical professional you had to demonstrate that you filed for multiple patents per year (in my role I was actively discouraged from filing patents for corporate politics reasons…I could always file later).
In very short order I lost my team and lost my role. It turned out that while I was excellent at "internet stuff", I sucked at corporate politics. Once real money started being spent on infrastructure and applications I grew a target on my back large enough for its own corporate task force.
Multiple executives pulled me aside to tell me bluntly that I had no future at the company, but I didn't listen, I'd been there close to a decade, doing "internet stuff" most of that time, how could they throw that all away?
I got a consolation role in another organization at the company which lasted a year and then the entire organization was disbanded.
In parallel in my limited personal life, both of my parents were dying, with their deaths bracketing 9/11 by months on either side.
9/11 destroyed the neighborhood I had been living it.
By 2002 I walked away from all of it.
And I've mostly stayed away since then. I made quite a bit of money in the 1990s, not enough to be a VC, enough to semi–retire.
Every now and then I resurface and work with a startup for awhile, but I just can't pour myself in anymore the way people expect. It's just a job. I hope the startup does well, but I've become too jaded.
I briefly tried raising money, but found VCs were turned off that I walked away from the 7x24 lifestyle and my conservative approach to growing a business did not comport with their goals for portfolio returns.
So, yeah, it was a meh experience. I remain surprised that I survived the final year of working insane hours for the company even as I knew that they would jettison me as soon as I was no longer capable of working 18 hour days 6 days a week.
I'm in a much better space mentally, but it took over a decade after that experience before I "felt better".
My family and personal relationships take priority, and I actively turn down gigs and new work if they conflict with that choice.
I don't really have any advice. I feel like I wasted a decade creating capital value for a company way out of proportion to my compensation. And another decade wasted "recovering" from rejection from that company.
I guess my only advice would be, when you do burn out figure out an acceptable cover story if you decide to ever return to tech. Recruiters & head hunters, let alone hiring managers, will avoid at all costs anyone who admits to having burned out.
10 months into the job, CTO #3 had been forced out, DoE #2 had just turned in her resignation and we were completely unable to attract experienced engineers of any quality. COO assumed direct control of the engineers while marketing and sales kept themselves busy as "product people." I was looking for a new job and getting ready to jump ship when marketing and sales, giddy as children, came up with the idea of pivoting into EdTech. I was offered the chance to lead a small team in building out these new products and because I was a young engineer with ambitions wildly out of proportion with my experience and skills, I accepted. What resulted was the most stressful 10 months of my life. The hours (14-18 M-F and 10-12 on weekends) were doable but I was constantly second-guessed and undermined. My engineering teammates were all incredibly supportive and I would turn to the more senior guys for advice on navigating the technical landmines but it was a war everyday with everyone else. We had market research from parents, students, teachers and school administrators that would be ignored by the product guys in favor of "instinct." We had UI/UX designs that we paid for that were ignored in favor of "I like this better though." I can't even count the number of times I had "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me a faster horse" quoted at me. I had marketing guys bully their way onto our sprint boards so they could move their half-baked, pet features onto the top of the pile. I had sales guys promising clients features that weren't even possible given our budget and deadlines.
I finally broke and set up some rules, some bullshit and some good, so we could make some progress. For starters, my team took over our main conference room and kept it locked. I told them to ignore any form of communication about the project from anyone that wasn't based out of the conference room. I would cancel or skip all internal meetings with sales and marketing and would only attend meetings one-on-one with the COO. I made sure that no one went on a sales call for the product we were building unless one of the team was on the call with them. I would monitor our sprint boards to see what features were being pushed up on the sly. And then I would delete them. In the end we managed to push out a fairly polished product (really nice beta) with about a quarter of all the promised features. Our clients did end up buying it but no one really loved it and no one really hated it. I quit 4 months later when I was asked if I was interested in leading the team to build out more features.
The entire experience was terrible during but I kept going because I thought it would look nice on my CV (it does). I took six months off to "crawl back to reality" as you put it and realized halfway through that there was no reality to crawl back to because I had lived reality in all it's HD, 4K shitty goodness. Sometimes when people are assholes you can be a bigger asshole back and win and sometimes you can't. That's all there is to it.
Do you genuinely care about every word that you speak and every action you take? Seems tiresome.
The way you phrased it sounded a bit try hard. "I dgaf, I'm so cool. Look at me."