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Ask HN: How to cope with burnout every 6 months?
59 points by throwaway909090 on Oct 7, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments
Looking at my career, I held my first job for almost 5 years until I burned down and quit with a 2 day notice.

From there, it was downhill. Next job was 3 years, then 10 months, 12 months. Seemed to recover briefly and held another job for 2 years until burning out again. Previous job was only 8 months at a NGO doing really important work.

I've been at my current job for 6 months now and I couldn't get out of bed to do the work (I've been working from home for the past 5 years). This is what leads me to post here.

I've been diagnosed with depression a few times and I'm currently on SSRI's and feel okay.

So hanging jobs doesn't help, getting treating doesn't help.. I'm burning out again.

I love what I do (DevOps) but I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't work well with others. They start to drive me crazy and then I only have indifference towards the work.

Any advice? I'm feeling like I should quit IT.

This may be unconventional but when is the last time you unplugged completely? I mean nothing electronic. No fast food. No junk. Also when is the last time you had a physical by a dr?

I say this because our bodies have a strange way of telling us we may need to pay more attention to ourselves.

You say you love your work. That’s fantastic. Not everyone does. But maybe take some time to rediscover the wonders of slowing down. Get up in the AM. Slowly sip a nice hot beverage. Pet the dog. Look out the window. Go for a walk. Talk with someone you are close to about any and every topic. Read a good book snuggled up in on the couch. Etc etc. Soon the day is gone and your head hits the pillow for another good sleep. Rinse and repeat.

As far as other people. Are you listening enough before speaking or forming judgement? I had a bad habit of interjecting mid-sentence. It annoyed people. On advice from a well known self help figure I started listening and listening and listening. Then speaking. What happened was I was really relaxed about it because I wasn’t competing to be heard or recognized. I turned into the voice of reason and common sense. Soon it was ask Jason what we should do. I no longer was annoyed or being annoying.

Dev work has a few issues that people find difficult to deal with long term. I'll list a few:

1) Constant deadlines and the pressure that comes with them

2) Group collaboration, many people dislike the lack of control over the project

3) Technical deficits, lack of control over what you deliver.

4) Being in an office all-day, every work day.

Many people can deal with them others may even thrive but not everyone. I suspect that at least one of these items is a problem for you.

If I were you I would look for a completely different type of job and do it for a few months. Call it an extended vacation. It will give you a chance to look at your job from a different prespective. You'll get a better view of what you dislike about your career. Also focus on activities outside work. You can join a club, date more, learn a new hobby or what ever. The idea is to try new things and hopefully you'll find one that you really like.

I think I'll add one more issue on top of your great points:

Constantly shifting work requirements. It's the fun and draining part of our jobs as engineers. No single task is the same as the last. This is where the job can be exceptionally fun, but it can also be grating over time.

I'll add "having to deal with broken this more often than working things".

Building a feature? You're basically fighting compilation errors, editor warnings, spelling mistakes, your own incompetence, etc. And once it's working, you stop looking at it: it's shipped, you're off to the next task!

Fixing a bug? You now have to look for something that's broken or, even worse, make it break on purpose. Then you're basically back to the "building a feature" workflow, and off to the next task!

This is what I find the most frustrating, to be honest!

You're not alone.

I'm not depressed as you but here what helped me after 3 months break between jobs.

- Shutdown your cluster Forget about work at all, no phones, no computers max a netflix night with your partner. - Adopt an exercise routine in your time off, things like: walk in the park, around the block, two blocks, functional training, running, jogging. The first 3 weeks are critical to creating a habit.

- Talk to friends about your condition, the better you vent out you will fill better if you can't try a therapy. I did a career coach after 18 years working in IT.

- Listen more and reduce your words by 50% a day. I listen more than I talk these days.

- Less is important, donate what you don't have and stay with the bare minimum.

- Read books instead of social media.

These things helped me get out from a coma after burnout feeling.

Hope this helps.

Hi. I have been there. The problem is overwork ! Solution steps: 1- VACATION and DAY OFF once in a while. 2- Leave early every day for a while when you start to feel stressed. Pause each 40 minutes at work. 3- Don't let people put pressure at work. 4- Quit alcohol and other substance. 5- Wake up early and sleep early. 6- Do windsurf or other high adrenaline sport.

+1 for high adrenaline sports. Everyone is different, but I sure find that if I don't get my heart pumping from an extreme sport once a week, then I fall into a slump of boredom and lack of motivation.

Actually impressive you managed to stay so long in a single job (5 years, 3 years etc) I can barely make 1 so imagine how depressed I have to be... If you don't have massive expenses such as rent, kids etc then take a long break and consider what you like doing and try to do that even if it doesn't pay much

Why are you working? What's motivating you? Is there something else you'd rather be doing?

If the first two are to survive or make money. Maybe that's the issue. You can probably find something that doesn't burn you out and still pays okay. The trick would be to find something fulfilling. For that you're going to need to do some serious reflection and try to figure out what drives you, what gets you up in the morning.

Things that would get me up in the morning don't want to hire me. I'm too dependent on salary to just say fuck it and dance in a flower field all day. You have to be realistic, not everyone gets to do what they want, especially if they want to get paid as well.

I'm only in IT because it's the path of least resistance and to me it has the best benefit to effort ratio.

Ideally I want to work in a diverse IT role for a company that does meaningful things. They just don't seem to want me.

What gets me up in the morning is that I want to be able to provide. Don't get me wrong I like my job. I like the people I work with. But I have to remind myself the reason I'm in the grind is to have enough money to make life better for my spouse and future kids.

When I keep this in mind I get motivated to have a better attitude at work, to focus. Else I lose hope and get down. But I have a purpose for work, it's to provide for my family. That fills me with joy because I get to work hard for people I love.

Keep seeing a therapist. Workout. Lift heavy. Get plenty of sun shine. Get a dog if you can and exercise the dog daily. Walk, jog.

Work on your mindset. Learn to work with others, it's not that serious. If you want to be happy, you have to sometimes choose happiness over being right. Sometimes the world is not ready to move and you can't drag it.

Bipolar disorder?

I think it is worth going to a psychiatrist and getting a good diagnosis. My SO suffers from something similar. Now she can have a job and all and overall quality of life has improved a bit.

We also work in a very stressful field. I've always been widely known as sane and calm, and this gets on my nerves as well.

I think it's worth looking into for sure. I ran across this when I was suffering from some depression and was trying to see how other devs deal with it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFIa-Mc2KSk

It's a talk about Bipolar Type II which doesn't have the same kind of full blown manic episodes as regular bipolar type I has. It has hypomanic episodes that are not often reported to the doctor because they seem like happiness or something good, or a sudden drive to do something productive.

I've been getting looked at for it myself now and normal depression meds(SSRIs) can actually negatively effect it.

It may be worth looking at OP!

I'm watching this talk with tears in my eyes. I can't thank you enough. I'll talk to my psychiatrist about this. Thank so much.

I'm glad this helped you as well! If you want to, let me know how it goes! If not that's fine too! I hope things look up for you soon! :D

Sending positive vibes!

Probably not a great idea if you don't have the depression fully controlled, but have you considered doing independent consulting? Pick a vertical or technology that you enjoy and hang a shingle.

It's definitely not the best way to make a lot of money, but I spent 15 years working with people for 4-24 weeks at a time and i loved it. Just keep in mind that if you're married with family it can create a tremendous amount stress with variable income. Also if you're in the US make sure you sort out health insurance...and lastly make sure you have someone to do the paperwork if you get in a hole with the depression. The IRS is not to be trifled with.

Have you taken a chance and maybe explored faith and visited a local church on a sunday? It's amazing how getting your spirit filled will allow you to head back refreshed and with a different perspective on work on Monday.

Go to a synagogue, a mosque, or a temple. Just connect with a deeper reality.

speaking as someone who has dealt with burnout twice, done a bunch of research on it, and just gave a talk about it:

While you may have legit issues working with others, it's not really what causes burnout. The environment of your tasks, and possibly the fallout of your limited / poor collaboration skills would be. But You can be an a-hole who hates other humans and still relish the rest of your job and not get burnt out.

The more i think about burnout the more it comes back to the ideas of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose that Dan Pink put forth, but maybe not in the way he meant.

If you don't have tasks where you can exercise autonomy (make uncoerced decisions about it) feel like you're doing something meaningful (have purpose), and the ability to actually get better at the thing you're working at (mastery) you're pretty much going to get burnt out. If you can't find those things in your job you need to find them in your personal time. I've read a bunch of articles about this and the ones that are by people who actually know what they're talking about seem to basically boil down to those 3 ideas.

Re. quitting IT: It won't help. it's very common for people who are burnt out to think they can't continue with their profession, that the profession is the problem, but it's not true. You'll find the same situations in other professions. Switching careers with just kick the problem down the road. You may be better for a little while because you'll be a newb in the new profession and things will be more interesting, but eventually you'll be right back in the same place.

Working for yourself instead of others might make a difference, but really you need to find autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Outside of that: eat healthy, get exercise, meditate (100% serious about those). And, of course a healthy work/life balance.

Also, learning how to find good things about dealing with other humans would probably go a long ways towards improving the non-burnout related aspects of your life. Maybe if you get along with them better you'll get more meaningful tasks that you enjoy... THAT would actually help prevent burnout.

Accept that you've got a limited throughput. And just chill.

How long did you give yourself between jobs, to recover? Do you have the resources to take a significant length of time away from work - say, 6m+?

I have the means to stay 6m away from work.

I never really took time between jobs. Maybe a week or so to take care of paperwork for the new job.

Then if your diagnosis of burnout is correct (and I'm not doubting you for a moment ) it looks like you've never given yourself a chance to recover?

I'd tentatively suggest:

1. Significant time off. Use this time to rest, heal, exercise, and also to focus on dealing with any interrelated issues - such as depression. 2. Critically analyse your lifestyle - is there anything outside work that you're doing (or not doing) that's contributing to your apparent continual downwards direction? (Google 'Tignum book' - might give you starting point.) 3. Think about the job you really want, and what characteristics it should have? e.g. if regular/routine interactions with colleagues are a problem, would remote working, or night shifts, or a more solitary role, help?

Are you experiencing physical pain at all, like in your shoulders, back, or wrists?

Do you live in SF? After working in tech in the bay for 6 years I’ve sort of had enough of the tech unicorn life. The greed and sociopathic tendencies got to me more than anything.

maybe youre not in the right profession - take time off to find what matters to you.

That might be it. I've considered quitting IT altogether or going all in: getting a IT manager job or starting a consulting company, or... But I don't feel prepared.

if youre not held down my a day job and have some money saved up i think now is the perfect time

This is a subject dear to my heart, so I thought I would answer in earnest.

About my personal experience, I viewed myself as a victim of burnout. It's as if it was a battle already lost once present. That fear in itself contributed to this state of helplessness to something I felt like I couldn't combat.

Each time I burnt out it was related to the stress of the job or, at least, my perception of the stress. I think mild to moderate stress takes a toll on the central nervous system over time -- if you let it. There are definitely coping mechanisms[1] you can put in place; however, I've come to believe a lot of it has to do with mindset and how you choose to see your work and interactions.

As a fellow burnoutee, I would ask you to look over your past burnouts/experiences and see which ones could you see differently? Can you find where negativity and stress started to seep into your daily life? Could you have done something to augment it? How do others around you cope with similar stress or how is their situation different?

Asking myself these questions has allowed me to find the criteria of what I need from a workplace and people around me in order to thrive. Programmers, DevOps, and the like live in our heads and I think a key burnout preventative measure is the developing the ability to get out of our heads. In practice, I think this is different for everyone. Meditation, nature, exercise have all been effective tools for me to come back into the world and leave my head.

Recently, I found an episode of Tim Ferriss's podcast that I found to be resourceful for burnout and burnout-like things. Sometimes, Mr. Tim Ferris can come off as pandering to tech entrepreneurs and name dropping -- but a lot of his content and guests is worthwhile. So, I entertain it. I continue coming back to one of the recent episodes with Tristan Harris [2] because it put into words some of the things I've thought about lately and provided a lot of other adjacent resources. The main one that peaked my interest was "The Work" of Bryon Katie [3]. Her branding can come off as new agey with a Oprah-like feel to it, but it's a solid framework that (seems) to pull from meditative and CBT practices.

I don't think there's a silver bullet to defeating burnout. I think getting to know yourself and who and what help balance your equilibrium is an underrated, essential part of life we're never taught. Best of luck

[1] - https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/coping-mechanism...

[3] - https://overcast.fm/+Kebtdt5RM

[3] - https://thework.com/

> I've been diagnosed with depression a few times and I'm currently on SSRI's and feel okay.

Workout, get a weight set. Put your gym in your home and follow a basic workout routine. I've been battling depression for a long time and all I can say is that working out helps more than almost everything (besides getting really good sleep).

I can't recommend making a home gym enough. I got a power rack [0] and started lifting about a year ago. I had never done any weight lifting on my own because I was too afraid to hurt myself. I just looked up a routine [1] on reddit and followed it to the tee starting from ground zero.

If you can't get a power rack then look into getting a collapsable weight set [2] and a bench. This doesn't require a ton of room and help you get basic weight lifting started until you build a routine for yourself.

> So hanging jobs doesn't help, getting treating doesn't help.. I'm burning out again.

All I can say is you have to find the root cause of your depression (outside of just the chemical imbalance). Are you eating well? Are you sleeping well? How often are you exercising _hard_? You can do this. Don't let it eat you.

Isolate your bad habits and put fixing them above everything else. Building habits and systems helps fight depression for me because often times depression overwhelms me to the point where everything else falls apart. If you can build habits, rituals, and systems you can offload your stressors into them which might help with coping.

> I love what I do (DevOps) but I'm coming to the conclusion that I don't work well with others. They start to drive me crazy and then I only have indifference towards the work.

I feel this a lot, but one thing I do know is that if I'm really depressed or really imbalanced (poor sleep, not enough personal time) I get even more annoyed by people.

> Any advice? I'm feeling like I should quit IT.

Check to see if you can get some counseling. Also, see if you have any mental health days you can take. If you have a good working relationship with your direct supervisor ask to see if you can have a 1:1 and be brutally honest with how you feel.

[0]: https://www.roguefitness.com/rml-390f-flat-foot-monster-lite...

[1]: https://thefitness.wiki/routines/r-fitness-basic-beginner-ro...

[2]: https://powerblock.com/

I'm in a similar situation, but I've been working from home the past 3 years and I'm starting to think I should go back to working in an office.

Like myself, you're depressed--probably because you have a High IQ and can't stand being around other people.

Checkout out this book--a lot of people have called it a diatribe against society, but it's helped me relate to the world: https://www.amazon.com/Curse-High-IQ-Aaron-Clarey/dp/1522813...

Thank you, that book looks interesting. I'll check it out.

IIRC, I scored ~115 on test many years ago but never made much out of it. I think domain knowledge is also important.

But I do seem to be the guy in the room asking the deep questions nobody asks and often don't want to answer.

For instance, we'll be discussing moving to a new platform and I'll ask if anyone has any plans to migrate the old apps to it.. and silence ensues. Or I'll question the choice of using some technology written in a language we don't have expertise in and it looks like that question never occurred to anyone.

Or I'll ask our director if there's a roadmap about our migration to containers and will get a lame answer.

I don't know if I could do their jobs better but I always try to be on top of mine and it annoys me a lot that others don't have as much passion for this field as I do. I know it's just a job but... Oh well.

Thats a very negative book, would highly avoid that and the author

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