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Ask HN: What's the best way to recover from burnout?
102 points by techexecadvice 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 84 comments
I've been in a technology executive role at a large company for 6 years. It's been incredibly fulfilling and the best job I could ask for. In the last couple years though, it's also pivoted a bit and become increasingly draining. Because I can affect my circumstances and mitigate the bad parts, quitting has always felt like giving up, so I've found ways to continue. But I've now reached the point where I'm so burned out that I have very little ambition, and find myself just trying to get through the day, avoiding opportunities and social interactions. I've decided I need to quit.

The problem is, I can't imagine what I'd like to do next. As I mentioned before, this has been a fantastically fulfilling job and a promising career. Nothing I can imagine stacks up to it. At the moment I want nothing to do with it, but I think that's fueled by my burnout. If that's the case, it seems silly to switch to a different career. How do I get past this burnout so I can think clearly and be "myself" again?

Best idea I have is to take a couple months off and try to recover from my burnout, and hope it becomes clear what I'd like to do next -- even if it's a similar role at another company. But taking time off with nothing lined up has its own risks, and I imagine there's more to it than simply "not working."

Any advice?




I was a regular dev that got promoted to a position that made me consider getting out of the business for good. I was running on fumes, and fantasized about getting a job as a cashier somewhere.

Quit my job, sold my place and my stuff, bought a one-way ticket to Mexico as the first leg of a one year trip around the world. Been here for 4 years now. Got married, got a bunch of dogs, a kid, a really cool job, and regained my love for coding and life.

Edit: Since this got upvoted a bit I will add some back story.

I was well aware that I was experiencing burn out, and I tried the regular things. I changed my unhealthy eating habbits, I started working out and got the muscle tone up and fat down, I took extended vacations to exotic places -- and while it all did work to stave it off, it was not enough. I returned from a 1 month trek in South America, and when I sat down at my desk at work I knew I was done. I had gained the confidence and perspective I needed to rip the band-aid off.

So while my story above seem drastic, there was a build-up period before I made the big change.


It would be awesome to read the details about your journey. Do you have a blog and if not - are you going to write about it at some point?


I doubt it. I'm ironically busier than ever before, and also don't think I have that much interesting to say. I might start some kind of tech blog for our company once we grow a bit, tho.


Sounds like a nice excuse. You are telling me you do not have an hour a week or an hour once a month to reflect on your life?

I am not saying you have to make your story public by blogging, but you already have some interest from others on the site who may have experienced or are experiencing similar things that you went through.

Sounds like you are rather humble which is fine, but do not think what you have to say is not interesting if random strangers on the internet are asking you about your story.

If that does not trigger alarm bells of you being actually interesting/ having interesting things to say than I do not know what would.


I'm not one for publically sharing my personal life in greater detail than above, so my reflections will remain internal =)


just curious, what job did you get in mexico? When I visited, i fell in love, but sadly I assumed that it's impossible to get a job i'd like there, which paid anything at all.

edit: fell in love with the place, not a person ;-)


I used to work as a full stack dev for a web hosting / data center company in Norway.

What my current position is called I have yet to figure out, but I am designing and developing a control system for growing shrimp for a startup here in Mexico. It sounds super boring, but it's actually pretty cool stuff.

We've got a really cutting edge method of growing shrimp with the help of biofloc. My system started out as a way of monitoring and altering the health of this very fragile eco system of microbes, algae and such, but has since pivoted to a beast of a system which best can be described as shrimp as a service :p You come to us with a bunch of money and we will give you the way to grow shrimp more efficiently and eco-friendly than anyone else can claim to do today -- all without you needing any prior knowledge about the field, and most of the decisions are either digitized or outsourced on the fly. The system can also be used to grow shrimp with traditional methods more efficiently.

Big data is also a keyword, where we will constantly learn from participating farms how we can improve the process, detect known and unknown diseases, etc. We'd also like to get in on the distribution side of things once we have lots of farms under our umbrella, and with the ability to look at data and see where we can improve profitability for our customers we have a big advantage.

It's a lot of work, but it's tons of fun and I'm learning lots about a field I never in my wildest dreams would guess I would work in. And there there is something satisfying with digitizing a very analog field. Soon we will start hires to build my team, and our biggest investment round yet -- which will start a fun new phase for the company. We're looking for american investor money, so please let me know if you have an in ;)

I got the job by sheer coincidence. I was at some house party and met a guy who turned out to be a entrepeneur in desperate need of with the ability to make his idea into a product. I wasn't looking for a job, and he was pestering and begging me for months before I relented and promised to build him a prototype.

It doesn't pay a lot by american standards, but the buck lasts longer here so I'm doing pretty ok.


That sounds super cool, do you have a website?


You can read about the biofloc tech from our lab farm (where we develop and improve the process) here: http://www.aguablancaseafood.com/about#/biofloc/

The control tech is not mentioned, and it does not have a website. The «official» reveal will be in the beginning of 2018.


Congrats on finding happiness!


It hides in the funniest of places =) Thanks


Congratulations!


kudos!


I'll share what I do when I'm burnt out and some of my logic for why I think it is effective:

I love working towards a goal. I find the journey enjoyable and the achievement gratifying. For that reason, idle time simply isn't interesting to me.

But working towards another non-work related professional goal while I'm burnt out isn't effective. It doesn't allow for proper relaxation or repair even though it is a break from my job. And why is that? Because I'm still predominantly using my mind, which is already tapped out, to work towards that goal.

So instead, during times when I'm at or near burn out, I do things that are physically exhausting. Hike, kayak, run. It feeds my desire to achieve (reach the summit, complete a trip, run 3 miles), but in a fundamentally different way. My brain stops trying to logic its way through the problem and instead focuses on the physical exertion. I use it as a weapon against fatigue when my efficiency is declining. One hard physical exertion can be enough offload weeks worth of mental fatigue.


You can of course integrate intense physical exertion into your weekly pattern as well. If the outdoors aren't accessible on a weekly basis, exercise equipment can be used to set and achieve challenges.

I've settled into a pattern of 1000-1500 calorie cardio workouts a few times per week, set to push my performance limits and it's an incredible mood and productivity boost.


Interesting point. I love working on coding side projects, but I can see how that's exercising the same tapped-out muscle. Thanks.


It's a struggle, I feel your burnt out pain. I went through a similar stretch last year...

I tried traveling, I tried picking up new hobbies, I tried not working at all.

2 things that helped the most:

1. seeing a therapist regularly -- wish i started this sooner in my career. 2. taking a break and traveling with a group called unsettled - group of 30 people who are in transition in some way... leaving job, starting new job, switching careers, wanting to leave job, wanting to start a company, starting a company, etc. unsettled gets you a shared house and coworking space. Being around people from all over the world is inspiring and gives you new perspective. There are other companies that offer this remoteyear, etc. but unsettled attracts people in transition which i found to be a good fit for me. see here http://beunsettled.co


> but unsettled attracts people in transition which i found to be a good fit for me. see here http://beunsettled.co

Thanks for this. Was looking exactly for something like this.

Have you done any of their retreats? Can you share your experience if you don't mind? Also, in their F.A.Q, there's no mention of airfare in neither the 'What's included' nor the 'What's not included' section. Do you know?


I was recently burned out due not so much from work but work + side projects + long commute + kids + etc. It may sound obvious but the best way to recover from burnout is to go an a genuinely relaxing vacation. The key is "genuinely relaxing". Most of the time our vacations are jam packed with itineraries and things to do. Don't do any of that. Take as much time as you are able to, hop on a short flight somewhere nice, and plan nothing. Sleep in, eat out, don't lift a finger. Do whatever you want, whenever you want. Just make sure your routine is entirely gone and you can rest as much as you like. I had my wife, daughter, and in-laws on my vacation and I was still able to get fully recharged by doing it this way. I think you'll find your mind wandering when you start getting back to normal and then some answers will probably present themselves to you.


Thanks. How long was your vacation, and how burned out were you before it?


Been burnt out myself. Coached a few friends and coworkers through their burnouts. My advice: See what's the longest vacation you can take.

If you're at the point of quitting - just be honest. Tell your Boss that you're burning out and thinking of quitting. You would like to just take a month off or six weeks to recover. You can phrase it as something else entirely to a different part of the team, but be honest with your boss and see if you can get approval for the time off (even unpaid) so you don't spend your time off worrying about finding a job when you get back.

Then take it, worry free. Don't make any decisions in the first 10 days. If you manage to make it 7 days without touching work things, then start thinking about it. Think about whether you liked what you were doing, whether you want to go back.

I've found this strategy has worked for the handful of people who have tried it.


Thanks. Don't you worry about asking for such a favor from your boss and then coming back only to quit?


Not really: it is a gamble you both are playing.

For your Boss, replacing you will take much longer than the 6 week sabbatical she's giving you, AND it will probably cost her more than your salary in that interim. So if you're quitting today, she'd like to take the gamble that you stay. Her gamble is that you are actually happy at your gig as you say you are, and she can save herself a whole lot of hassle. Worst case scenario she loses a month of lead time on an at-least-3-months headhunt. A bit of a wincer, but you can try to make that easier by letting her know as soon as you know that you're done.

If the job market was different, then I would be much more timid about the open strategy. If you do, in fact, dislike your job and are never going to come back, then you're changing the odds on the gamble and hurting your Boss unnecessarily. This could all backfire if your Boss doesn't value you as much as you think they do, but no one is usually off-base on that.


Good point. Thanks.


You got to find balance in your life - whole life. One of the big issues with burn out is that one thing takes over your whole life. Being the best employee is great but it comes at a cost to you. The sad part is that you can be the best. So good that you kill yourself but ultimately you're just a person that can be replaced. A small cog in the system. The problem is that you stopped looking forward to things because everything becomes the same - never changing, always hard. Reduce your work life and expand your life outside of work. Do things you wouldn't otherwise do. Get to the point where you start looking forward to things. It can be, spending time with your family or learning a new hobby or getting a new job. You need to figure it out for yourself by not just thinking of what you want but actually trying new things. Do a lot of volunteering until you find what you need. You need to get off the never ending merry go around that is your work life.

Also, money is not everything. You might need to get a job that pays less but is more fulfilling. I worked with a project manager that was very well paid and great at her job but she hated the pressure. She eventually decided to quit and now babysits cats and dogs. The job pays less but she loves her work. Good luck.


This is really good advice. It is very important to find balance. Also, I think it is so important to keep trying new things until something clicks - you just don't know what that is going to be until you try it.


It is hard to give advice to people who make it on top of some hill. For me the burnout happened when I was just your typical grunt developer working on string of unsuccessful startups and boring freelance gigs, doing this line of work for about 10 years.

I guess it helped me to have no agenda and no real further ambitions. I just went on extended sabbatical for few years. Making close to minimum wage, wandering around the world, finding and loosing friends and did even acquire small farm (during one memorable drinking session).

I didn't have any plans of ever getting back to technology sector, I didn't have plans at all.

I guess I just needed to hit some point in my life when I stop thinking about my past and early ambitions, before I was able to continue on where I left, just with new energy, drive and outlook. And I still have that farm.


Man, you are describing exactly how I’ve been feeling past couple of years. I don’t have the balls to quit (wife, kids..). The only difference is that I actually hate the industry (gambling) I’m in (started because money was great). I’ve been here for 10 years and have domain knowledge. I don’t know what else would I like to do. I have some money saved for some couple of years off, if I really scaled down, but then what?

Being 41 does not help my prospects of getting a descent job. I am an average dev.

I realize I am not answering your question, just rambling. Maybe there is a takeaway for you here. Don’t be like me. If you are young, do something about it. With time your responsibilites (wife, kids, their school) only get bigger, and your options smaller..


I was in your position aged 40 and didn't do anything about it. I ended up divorced, broke and ill. So, my point is - can you afford not to do something about it?

I would scale down, perhaps downsize if you can, and save more, before that is forced on you anyway. It gives you more options. Talk to your wife so she is fully appraised of how you feel (there are mixed views on this though - that's mine).

So, you then have another problem - you take time out, what to do then? Well, it seems you have a value conflict with the industry you are in. It should not be too hard to transition into a new industry in software.

By the way, if you are feeling like you want to transition out of the software industry you might start trying other things on the side just to see what you like doing.

You might feel old at 41, but when you are 55 like me you will look back and say - God I was young then even though I felt OLD! :)


Interesting how many comments and articles I've seen like this. I haven't seen a comment or article saying they took the leap and regretted it. Does that mean no one ever regrets it, or those comments/articles just don't get upvoted? :P


OK so if you are not happy where you are and you make the leap and it doesn't work out then you can always go back to your old life. What have you lost? The thing is it doesn't have to be a giant leap into the unknown where all is lost if it doesn't work out - that's how people perceive it in their head. I've tried plenty of things that didn't work out, but you back up, regroup and try again from a different angle. I think what you'd regret more than anything is staying in a life that leaves you cold. If you live like that your hand will be forced eventually. Better off preparing for the inevitable.


I hit a really bad burnout four years ago and after reading about peoples’ experience with sabbaticals I took three months off unpaid.

I spent the first month of that trying to “figure things out” until my girlfriend got sick of me and suggested I just try and have some fun. That’s what I did for the last two months and, surprise, the burnout went away and my passion returned.

Depending on how bad your burnout is you may need more or less time off. But after much reading the consensus seemed to be that three months is the bare minimum.

Edit:

I should mention that for the “having fun” part I went out of my way to try new things, travel a bit, and basically do my best to disrupt any ruts I had built for myself.


Would agree with this. Also agree 3 months is the minimum should be thinking of for a sabbatical.

There's a good book on this topic called Play It Away by Charlie Hoehn.


Thanks. Were you worried you'd come back and quit after making such a big ask of 3 months off?


Yes, definitely. But at least if that happened I would know it was the right thing to do and not be stuck in that hellish cycle of “what if”.


I feel you. It's a struggle.

Sherry Walling is a very well-educated and practiced psychologist and she does a great episode about burnout on the ZenFounder podcast. She discusses it both from the hands-on side and the clinical side. It helped me a lot.

https://zenfounder.com/episodes/episode-142-burnout/

The TL;DL from my takeaways are to find time to focus on the challenging and exciting tasks from one's to-do list. Complete that work (I.e., hit publish. Don't let perfectionist tendencies prevent you from finishing). Then reward yourself for doing so.

Also, find social outlets continually and don't allow work to overshadow things like friendships and family.

Those were the ones that hit close to home for me.


Thanks, I enjoyed the episode.


Those are some tangible, useful tips. Thank you!


I once came across a list of burnout drivers, it might help you figure out which aspect is currently "wrong".

- Lack of control. You don’t have a lot of say about what’s going on in your work, or your sense of control is undermined or restricted.

- Values conflict. There’s a disconnect between your own core values and the core values of the organisation.

- Insufficient reward. You feel undercompensated, underappreciated, and taken for granted.

- Work overload. Your workload is too much, too urgent, or too complicated.

- Unfairness. You’re treated poorly by the organisation, management plays favourites, and assignments and promotions are made behind closed doors.

- Breakdown of community. Your colleagues patronise you or others, there’s no-one to talk with about conflicts, and feedback is non-existent.


Great list! Several of those resonate with me. Thank you. I've been able to isolate the things I love about my job, and the things that contribute to my burnout. I can make changes to influence them (not completely change them), but I'm not sure I have the drive to anymore :-/


I was hard burnt out, all the symptoms, literally thought I’d never work again. I’ve come back now and i’ll tell you what worked for me. YMMV.

Didn’t quit. Started working 20-30hrs per week max. Let everything that couldn’t fit in that truly slide. Cultivated DGAF attitude, concentrated on self-care out of the office (with extra time I had from working low hours).

Took a long, long time at this reduced pace, maybe 6 - 9 months of thinking “ok, this is sustainable” and eventually got recharged...


Mens sana in corpore sano.

I was losing grip as well this summer, so I started road cycling: only a few km at first, but now I have no issues with doing centuries (i.e. 100km).

I can't give you any guarantees because I wasn't exactly burned out yet, but it helped me big-time, and I've lost some weight and built some physique while doing it.

Some might say there's a nice metaphor in cycling further each time, but you can be the judge of that.

My mind might be rambling 24 hours per day, but when I get on that bike, it takes about 15 minutes and I'm fully Zen again...

Maybe cycling isn't your thing, and you might prefer running, walking or even putty-golf, but try to find something physical and do it for at least 1 hour, 3 days per week...


I think cycling is also a good idea. If I ever went back to full-time permanent work I would make sure I could commute by bike.


How do you deal with the sore as hell sit bones?


Finding the right saddle for your particular anatomy helps a LOT (I swear by ISM saddles, but lots of people hate them)

So does finding the right cycling shorts (you want a good quality pad, but too thick and you'll chafe).

A good bike fit by an experienced fitter goes a long way towards improving comfort on long rides. You don't necessarily need a $300 3D geometry fitting (unless you're a pro or aspiring pro), but something more than the "free with purchase" fit from your local shop can help.

Unfortunately, a good deal of the fix for sore sit bones is simply putting in the time until your body gets used to the stress you're asking of it. You have to build up the number of hours/miles in the saddle slowly over time until your body adapts. If you're riding for an hour a couple of times a week and then suddenly go out and try to do a 4hr weekend ride... it's gonna hurt.


> good deal of the fix for sore sit bones is simply putting in the time until your body gets used to the stress you're asking of it.

That's my experience.

I also tried a $120 saddle following a fitting session. It was torture (I tried it for months). I picked up a $12 saddle from Lidl and all the pain went away. YMMV.


Take it like a man!

Just kidding... Get some good cycling pants, make sure your bike fit is ok, and apply ample amounts of xyz after the ride in delicate areas (for most xyz is chamois cream, but I'm using coconut oil instead).

After a while you get used to it...


Sometimes you just have to quit and sleep for a few months, and then sit and stare at the sky for a few more months, before you can realize the psychological and spiritual black hole you have been descending into for years/decades.


I took off almost a year. It was so worth it. I coded every day for 8 hrs a day 5-7 days a week and I was doing it for the sheer love of it. I reconnected with why I love coding.

I also worked out, cooked dinner for my wife, did all the errands, etc. Overall, I was never bored a single day, and I would quit in a heartbeat and do the same if I every made enough money (unlikely). I had saved up a decent amount of money, but that time off cost me about $60,000 and it's not something I can afford anymore now that I have kids, unless I hit the jackpot.


but that time off cost me about $60,000

How did that compare with the costs you’d imagined beforehand? Were there any big-ticket costs associated with taking a sabbatical which you hadn’t expected?


>At the moment I want nothing to do with it, but I think that's fueled by my burnout.

To put it into technological terms: if you want to solve a problem, you must first find out why it is there.

In your case: a burnout is not a problem and you cannot "solve" it. Burnout is a symptom, a warning sign by your subconsciousness. You need not to solve it, but rather find out why it occurs and solve this issue. This can be extremely difficult and please do not hesistate to seek professional help. It will be expensive, but worth it. Humans are no machine. If you are male, then please try to ignore society that tells you men must not be weak.

Just from reading your text it might very well be that you live a lie, meaning, that you do not really like your job but just the things that come with it, may it be wealth, status, recognition. If that is the case, quit. Do something that you always loved to do but discarded doing (maybe because you thought it was silly).

You can and you will recover from your burnout, but it will take time. Give yourself this time. You are a person, you are allowed to have feelings.

I wish you the best of luck! If you need anyone to talk, you can comment below and I will give you my email :)


Thank you!


Sure thing! If you wish to speak to (anonymously if you so wish, no problem at all for me), just shoot me an email at proshaft188@gmail.com :) I believe in such times talking about how you feel helps recovering.


> Best idea I have is to take a couple months off and try to recover from my burnout, and hope it becomes clear what I'd like to do next -- even if it's a similar role at another company. But taking time off with nothing lined up has its own risks, and I imagine there's more to it than simply "not working."

I've been there. My advice is that "not working" probably isn't enough. You need to focus on something. For me a non-trivial part of it was regaining control of my life, but also not having too many things to stress about.

If you have a couple months my advice would be to hop on/in your favorite vehicle of choice: bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, car, truck whatever as long as it travels on the ground.

Assuming you're in the US then head south, for one month, and north for one via another route. No, it does not matter if you know Spanish. You only need a handful of phrases to get by and you can pick up the rest along the way. You should be able to make it past the southern border of Mexico. Stop at some of the amazing ruins. Eat whatever random meat is being cooked on the roadside. Smile, and laugh.

You will be in control of every decision that affects you, but there will be very few. Get up. Choose a road and a goal to attempt to reach before the day ends. You may or may not make it. It doesn't matter. Choose when to eat. Choose where to sleep. Repeat.

I spent 4 months with my wife http://www.corporaterunaways.com/trips/boston-to-ushuaia/ heading to the bottom of South America. It was completely rejuvenating and life altering (in a good way).

Want something a little easier? Head north to Prudhoe Bay Alaska then make your way back home.

If you're not in the US do the same thing over some other countries. I swear to you that the hardest part is leaving. Traveling through foreign countries where you don't speak the language is actually pretty easy. ;)

Things to note about this strategy (especially if you travel through notably different countries): It gives you lots of time to relax (many miles between places). You see amazing and beautiful things that will inspire you. You have lots of time to think (many miles between places). You meet wonderful people who will help you just because they're good humans. You will remember why life can be good. You'll be reminded just how amazing we have it in our 1st world countries.


Wow, that sounds like an incredible trip! Thanks for taking the time to reply.


If it's a large company I imagine there are many positions open. With enough clout - why not become an executive, or even take a step lower, in another area of the business? Hopefully the company values your leadership and managerial skills (and less so your tech knowledge, since you're high up) and will give you a chance for something new. Having something new will give you a drive to learn and enjoy your new position.

Others in your company may be able to provide feedback on the possibility of doing this...Even talking to them may open doors for the new position. Just make sure it's not a worse position that will give more burnout!


Take some time off and do something for yourself. Build a boat or a hot rod. Renovate your home. Write a book. Learn to surf. Or sit around and play video games. It doesn't matter. You set the goal and the schedule; you're your only customer. Burnout happens when you are faced with unrealistic or conflicting obligations, which are abundant in the office. This means you must also be circumspect about the expectations you set for yourself, and make sure you are truly fulfilled by what you choose to fill your downtime with.


Hard to give concrete advice without knowing your specifics (how many months/years of savings do you have? Do you have any dependents? Any debt such as a mortgage? Etc).

As other commenters point out, not working a regular day job is probably a starting point, but not sufficient. Traveling (Or perhaps even living abroad), volunteering, focusing on a hobby you put on hold while you focused on your job are all viable options.


Good answer—it truly depends. All these replies urging you to take a bunch of time off and blow a chunk of change on world travel are making lots of assumptions about your financial and family situation.

Here are some things you can try if you only want to take only a little time off or none at all: Downgrade a little bit in terms of job responsibilities. See if you can work fewer hours or take every other Friday off. Switch industries—if you’re in B2B now maybe go work on consumer tech. Find a non-tech hobby to help you not think about work when you’re not in the office.

You don’t necessarily have to quit and blow your savings.


When you are burned out - it's not possible to properly give yourself to even the most interesting opportunities. Trying to find something new is still ignoring the actual problem.

You need to relax for a while (not the same as doing nothing)

The point of burnout is that your mind & body has had enough of doing what you are doing and desperately needs a break where nothing is planned, commitments are limited and you can do (or not do) whatever takes you in the moment.

Currently your burnout is affecting your work day, if left unchecked it will invade your home life to - until you don't want to do even the most basic of daily tasks.

Take note now and put an firm date in the calendar. At the very least a date for a a long break. Go back after the holiday break and let people know your plans for 2018. Start winding down to that date.

Try not to expect yourself to be 'better' in 2-3 months. It has taken you 6 years of working to get to this point.

Just give yourself the breathing space your mind is telling you it needs.


There was a period in time when I also experienced an extreme burnout. Once, partly because of it and the entailing lack of interest in life, I wasn't paying attention descending the stairs in an old house and hit my head against a hard furniture (truth be told, it was the stairs leading to the upper floor. The stairs were located one above the other in that house) and got a concussion. I took 2 months off in total and then returned to work as fresh as before the burnout. During the time off I spent a lot of time recovering from the injury, sleeping (partly because of the side effects of shitty drugs they prescribe here) and strolling across the city. I also listened to a couple of audiobooks in English (which was entertaining in itself since it's not my mother tongue) and read a couple of great books


Stay in a monastery for some days - that's what I regurlarly do once or twice a year. Look for a monastery where you can stay as a guest, and take part in the daily life of the monks (more or less intensive, depending on your attitude to religion). This time helps me to focus on my life, my goals, my past, my future - to have time to reflect on that - and only on that. Usually I go there for three or four days. Such a stay won't solve any problems concerning burnout, at least not immediately. It will, however, give you occasion to focus on them with the less possible amount of disturbings from the world around you. Hope this helps.


Is it an option to take an extended vacation (3 weeks +) before you make your next move?

If having nothing lined up is adding to your stress levels then kick off the job search and be upfront with them that you want to take some time off before you start or you could just tell them you have a long notice period.

Before you go ahead and hand in your notice it's probably worth talking to you immediate boss (or their boss even) to tell them you feel a little burned out and that you'd like to take some unpaid leave / a mini sabbatical. But be prepared for them to give you your notice when you have this conversation.


Thanks. I'm worried about asking for a favor like that from my boss and coming back only to quit. And I'm worried that they'll misunderstand the term "burnout" and it will limit my options for returning one day in the future. What do you think?


> I've decided I need to quit.

OK fair enough. But ... have you tried various options first within your current job? Have you asked for an extended holiday? Could you change your commute so you cycle in at least part way? A four day week? Have you looked at your schedule and tried to add more exercise? Are you sleeping 8 hours? Have you asked for a sabbatical? (ARM for example will give you a paid three month sabbatical every four years.) I say this because you said at one point you loved the work. You might just need to shake things up a bit.

If you really decided to move on then lots of good advice here already...


I haven't asked for an extended holiday. I'm worried about making such a big ask of my boss (our culture is not very progressive) and then coming back only to quit. What do you think?


Why is an extended holiday such a big ask? - would they rather give you that or lose you to ill health? What you could do is just quit, take a few months off then start applying for a new job. I would have thought someone with your level of experience could easily find a new gig. Only you know your exact situation.


One thing I've taken to doing is use neither my phone nor my computer at all for the entire weekend. If you are already burnt out maybe this won't help, but for me it makes an otherwise intense work schedule more sustainable.

Also, I'd heard that you have to completely check out for 10 days on a vacation before you get any restorative benefits. Even checking email one day can reset the clock, or so I heard.


Yes, take some time off. Downsize first though, get rid of extra expenses and build up savings.

A trip where you have to do something for unrelated can help.


Find a small town in New Mexico and discover you love painting landscapes. Or go engage in some nice poverty tourism in Africa or South America. India, if there is a spiritual-but-not-religious side of you. Maybe take your talents to a small non-profit.

The burnout-recovery process for Tech Executives is a well-worn path. You will be alright.


Get a bicycle and just ride it everywhere.



> take a couple months off

Yep, as with many people, usually the role is still a good fit, you just need a break from it. That time will help you figure out your next steps, which likely is some variation of what you're already doing, but with a clean slate that a new position provides.


Mind is like rubber, once it stretch to a given length for long periods it will stay as it is. Burn out is only a sign, you have to find another life. As Joseph Campbell said, "Follow your bliss.."


Joseph Campbell on Following Your Bliss: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLKUFYAOoRI


Prevention is better than recovery. I work on a lot of very different projects and cycle between them as I get bored of one or burnt out on another.


Cut everything out. Go primal for 2-3 days.


Cut everything out. Go primal.


You will need at least a year


After my startup i felt empty and unable to bring up even the slightest amount of energy to deal with anything related to business, legal stuff, marketing or startup things. However i was still in love with software in general and knew I needed to recharge but wanted to stay in the industry in long term.

This are the things i tried and how they worked out for me:

The bad:

- do "nothing" this could be healing for certain people especially in combination with a 'holiday' setting. But i have never really enjoyed holidays and after one week of relaxing i felt it could just lead into a real depression and i got as fast out of this as possible. Important was the distance from what i do, to be able to think the right amount, but not have too much freedom to overthink and start a brooding kind of thinking.

- try to do "agency work": in theory this was a good idea, i could earn a bit of money, have a working contract to calm down banks and landlords and at the same time learn a fast paced client focused development setup. However I hated all the people and how they saw life and tech compared to my hacker or hustler acquaintances from before. Also the stress was not self made but the agency constantly exerted pressure to fulfill client deadlines so i could not stay distanced enough to really heal and recharge or even think the healthy amount. Also the programming was the bad kind of programming, it does not help to become a better dev to just learn how to pump out work using rails gems.

The good:

- work for an NGO: I joined an NGO to improve health software systems for africa. This was exactly right in many ways: I could continue writing software and continue becoming a better developer but without the pressure to be "perfect". Working part time i could scale up and down as I needed. I could help people and got all the gratification of knowing to do the right thing. Also I got a new perspective to the world and practicability of ideas being in liberia and working with developers from nigeria. Time to get out was when NGO politics started getting in the way of writing software.

- work for a huge ecommerce platform: this sounded bad and similar to the agency in theory but in practice was really good. I did not give the slightest about the product so remained pretty distant but was in a constant setting of a huge and successful company and experienced all the problems and solutions to team productivity and project management as well as inhomogenous large scale software systems. Also i earned enough to pay off all debts and have the existential threat of thinking about money removed was the final ingredient to recharging for me.

- making music: Working on a product I don't care about when I worked for years on a product that I dearly loved and lived opened up a hole that I first filled with reflection and breathing but when that was enough I needed to be active and made a lot of music. This was very therapeutic and fulfilling at the same time. Just the perfect combination for my final recharge and mental digestion.


Thanks for the thoughtful reply! Really helpful. The NGO sounds interesting. I read about a company like that that used pouchdb...wonder if it's the same one.


Thanks! Probably the same one, they were called "eHealth Africa".


If you don’t see anything better to do then stick to your job. It will not be better if you resign and take something worse. Instead try to change your attitude or take few months off and try to live like an unemployed, just to appreciate what you have now


Food-binge for a weekend or longer to the point of becoming sick, hate yourself and promise you not to ever do it again, ... work for a couple of weeks or months like crazy. Repeat.




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