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I have been coding since the 90s. This year I finally felt really burnt out. It got so bad I was upset, miserable, and lost all passion for working. I have 6 kids and a wife with a chronic untreatable disorder so I couldn’t just quit. And I’m glad I didn’t, it turns out that wouldn’t have helped. Here’s what I did and what I would suggest:

1) after talking to my wife and my doctor I got a counselor. Well really a team of mental health professionals. My counselor and a psychiatrist to help with meds really helped. I started out by taking some medication and doing weekly one on one therapy. Over time I actually got off of medication and the therapy reduced to every other week and then monthly. I still see my counselor every month. He’s amazing. I am so glad I sucked up my pride and met and talked to him.

2) through therapy I realized that I didn’t have an identity outside of being a software developer. That’s what was burning me out. I wasn’t Tim the person who has a family and interests and develops software. I was Tim: software developer. The end. This turns out to be really bad. I had to remember who I am other than software developer. All I ever did was work or think about work or work on other things that were just like work.

3) in discovering who I am I remembered my other passions in life. I spent more time with my family and enjoy the time more. I spend a little time with just myself and that is ok too. I enjoy hobbies (mine are recreational math, reading legal briefings (I’m aware this is weird), crocheting, and writing short stories). I do these by myself or with my kids and wife. It’s nice.

4) now when I sit down to code it’s deliberate and I don’t feel passion towards it as much. I'm okay with that. Coding is work and pays bills and makes me happy in that way. And when I’m done with it for today I’m ok with that too.

Ironically enough I’m more successful in coding and business than I have been in many many years. It’s great. It hasn’t harmed me at all.

So I would suggest not giving up on coding. It pays the bills well and it’s a good career. I’d suggest going to talking to a professional. Figure out what the underlying issues are and fix those.

I’d be glad to answer any questions you have.




The point about seeking professional help is super underrated. Just in the past few months, I would have entered a similar thread on HN to see the OP being brigaded by posts telling him/her to always be coding and to just chug along. This kind of talk completely ignores other issues that may be present and can cause even further damage.


You're completely right. If you're really that suffering that you're burning out or getting otherwise mentally ill, getting professional help is probably the best thing you can do.

I assume it's because there is a bias on technology-focused communities such as HN. The bias of solving problems with technologies (be it languages, books, life hacks, ...), even if the problems are of a social or psychological nature.

You can't solve all problems with technology.


If I were to enter a complicated transaction without consulting a lawyer (raising funding for example) people would say I was crazy.

Yet somehow we think we should be able to work out personal issues (burnout, marriage issues, depression, etc) by ourselves. It's bizarre.

If you can afford help, get it. If you can't, often you can get a discount (sliding scale) or work something out.


It is not bizzare: we are used to do stuff other people cannot think to do...

... Like if it was a superpower.

Superheroes doesn't need advice. At least in the comics I read as a kid.

So this superhero syndrome, hurts more than having no superpower at all.


Fair enough. I wrote a blog post once about the arrogance of software developers[0]. So I get your point that sometimes because we can do one kind of hard thing, we think we can do most any type of hard thing. But we're wrong.

0. http://www.mooreds.com/wordpress/archives/134


> stuff other people cannot think to do

What are you talking about?


A lot if people has trouble with computers, technology, etc.

If you're able to understand or at least start troubleshooting computer relates stuff, you look like you hace a superpower to them.


Your second point has made me realize that not having identity outside of work is the biggest source of my anxiety. Thanks!

I also can’t seem to stop thinking about work. Maybe it’s related to that point. I can’t enjoy anything since there is always “but you should be solving problem X” in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s the type of personality I have - if there is a problem, I can’t stop ruminating about it. It’s mostly work related since that’s why I do 95% of the time, but other problems too, especially when dealing with people.

I know I am not adding any value to the discussion - just wanted to thank you for your insights and to the person that asked the question.


I've had this problem too. It really does help to find other interests outside work - running or yoga, bowling, poker, video games, art, family time, whatever it is. For me, it was hard to feel okay doing something else. For some reason, I felt like I should always be thinking about work. But that's just not true - having a multi-faceted identity makes everything better.

It also has helped my mental toughness - if I have a bad day (or week, month, year) at work, I still have other things to fall back on, things that bring me joy and help define who I am as a person. Before, if something went wrong at work, it crushed me. Now I have more perspective, and work issues don't have as much weight as they used to.

Only took me a few decades to figure it out! Hope yours works out more quickly.


I get that feeling too that I can't enjoy anything until I get a problem done. Then I do that big thing, and for a few days I feel relief until another issue comes up that I have to do, but don't want to do or its hard and scary.


I get what you’re saying. I wish it were like that for me. I can’t get anything done. Maybe it’s the type of work. Upper management is always uhappy, users are hostile (for a reason), enormous technological debt paralizing all development. I am simply incompetent to deal with people, juggle the requests and politics. It’s been like this for more then ten years. I am sick to my stomack when thinking about our software product. I’m taking anxiety medication, have stress related heart condition. I don’t know why am writing this. I’m venting I guess. Not a place for that. I will stop now.


And my spelling sucks!


I think talking to a therapist is one way to deal with issues like this. Feeling overly anxious about your job doesn't help anything. Course it's easy to say that, harder to deal with it.


Just to glom on to this, if there are any engineers in the Bay Area in need of a good therapist, I have one I can recommend. My email is in my profile if anyone is interested.

Edit to add: The therapist I have in mind is a former engineer and engineering manager, and works almost exclusively with engineers and their spouses/families.


> through therapy I realized that I didn’t have an identity outside of being a software developer. That’s what was burning me out. I wasn’t Tim the person who has a family and interests and develops software. I was Tim: software developer. The end. This turns out to be really bad. I had to remember who I am other than software developer. All I ever did was work or think about work or work on other things that were just like work.

I feel like this is exactly my problem at the moment - how did you solve it?


Well, the number one way I solved this was by going to therapy every week for months. My counselor helped me to realize it and gave me assignments and had be follow up on those assignments to figure myself out. I had to ask myself a lot of questions. Why do I want to spend more time watching videos online than actually work? Why do I have a hard time opening up my code editor? Why do I not get enough done during my working hours and then come home and feel like I should work more? Why am I so guilty? How can I feel like I’m getting so little done and yet my employer is so happy with me? Do I even know what I’m doing?

Mindfulness helps with this so much. And very quickly problems started to go away and I felt so much better. I became significantly more productive. I was having fun. I felt relaxed. I felt confident. I’m absolutely amazing.

It wasn’t very easy and it wasn’t a fun process at all. But I am so glad I did it.


This exactly describes me. I need to get professional help!

On the other hand, I live in a country with high unemployment rate, people barely have enough to get by day to day. A friend complained to me recently that he did not get paid for 2 months (he works in the public health sector). Compared to him, I’m living a dream. But I feel misserable.


So a good friend of mine who is a psychologist told me that:

1) You find your job fulfilling, inspirational unto itself, or...

2) Your job enables you to enjoy other things.

Ideally you want friends and a hobby (and ideally friends who share the same hobby) -- a hobby that happens to not be primarily software.

If you don't know where to start, maybe look for a list of active meetups in the area.


One issue I see is that it seems like any mention of seeking the help of a counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist is SOOOOOO stigmatized that folks are repelled by the idea.

It's very counterproductive and stops many from doing something that has the potential to completely turn things around.


I honestly can’t agree more. My doctor basically had to say “I’m going to get you an appointment with a counselor or I’m going to lock you in my trunk and you’ll be stuck there until you see a counselor.” Her trunk was quite nice but after a while I let her drop me off at a counselor.

I had no idea what it would be like. I was honestly scared to death to see someone. I was a fool. Rich, my counselor, is a kind, intelligent, and friendly man. I said “what are we doing?” And he said “you’re paying me by the hour to be your best friend. Just let me help guide you into a happy relationship.” He did. I complained. I cried. I got mad. We laughed our asses off. And honestly it helped. He made me feel like I was normal for my feelings. He let me know when I was wrong and how to rethink things. He let me vent. He smacked me emotionally. It is fantastic. It helped almost immediately.


What worked for me was to tell my employer that I was taking the time off to get allergy shots.


I've been a web developer since 1995 but because where I live developers have 0 social status I haven't been able to start a family. So when I burned out I went to live on a commune for 11 months. Ironically I wound up working with webrtc for the commune which landed me into a different area now where I'm working for a larger company and out of the grind of being a startup employee. Now I own my own side project but I work at it at my own pace and not having to put in 100 hours a week for 40 hours pay. At least in startups for the last 8 years there had been some amazing expectations when it came to unpaid overtime. The equity always turned out to be worthless but that didn't stop them from calling me at 3am on a Sunday over something that could have been handled Monday morning. Being in a larger company we don't do more than 8 hours unless its a genuine emergency like the database failing out in production. Working only 8 hours a day for the last year I find myself slowly regaining my health. I had to drop down to working 4 hours a day for a commune because after working in startups since 1995 my health was able to fully fail at age 44. I was lucky I had my student loans paid and no family so I could drop out for almost a year without a problem and then I was able to effectively drop back into a much better situation.


Most stock turns out to be worthless. The things articles never mention.




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