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Fighting micro-burn-out (asmartbear.com)
128 points by joshuacc on May 23, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 50 comments

"Thinking about how we are building stupid games for stupid people made me so uninterested in doing work."

This is not depression. This is reality.

Most people work at making things they don't care about, and serving people they don't care for.

And yet they're expected to put on a cheery face at work and at all the disgustingly fake work parties and cheerleading sessions, kiss up to the boss, and give a shit that their company is making x% more or less widgets this month.

I suppose it's good that he's found a way to put up with the cognitive dissonance a bit longer before he suffers a full-fledged nervous breakdown, but from another prespective it's pretty sad.

Ideally, of course, we should all find work that's fulfilling and meaningful for us. But that's easier said than done.

If you really feel that way about where you work, you need to get out. I've only worked one place where I truly didn't care and that was for one week (end of 2008 after being laid off...still couldn't stomach it). It's not hard to care if you really look at your users as people who you can help be more successful in their lives (even if just providing a pleasant distraction for a busy nursing student/MA/mom like ZombieFarm does for my wife).

The vast majority of people I've met who chronically hate what they are producing (and please understand I'm not saying this is true in your case, but it is worth introspecting) believe they are better than the people using their software. These engineers tend to be brilliant but difficult to keep focused on the user. Personally, if you (generic, not gnosis :) aren't passionate about my users, you don't work for me. My users are too important to me to allow just anybody to write code for them, no matter how much of an artist that developer is.

That differs from the micro-burnout mentioned in TFA. I have experienced that and the best way I've found to deal with that is by communicating with my users. For me, that's what makes the pre-release startup days the most difficult: no users to talk to yet.

In 90% of the jobs I've held, I don't even know the customers (as friends or even acquaintances), and have never even met them. How much caring do you really expect me to muster up for this faceless horde of people I'm supposed to be serving?

And even when I have met the people I'm serving, they very rarely even make it to the level of acquaintance. They're just a face, someone I talked business with, someone who wants to make money off me, or get me to fix their problem and nothing more. I'm just an expensive tool for them.

Why should I really care whether whether their stupid website is down or their connection to the stock exchange is broken and they're losing millions every hour?

Of course, if I get paid for it, I might stick around. And might even pretend that I love fixing their worthless crap or making their inane widgets. But if you really think that beyond this mask I'm putting up on for you, deep in my heart I really give a shit, you are deluded.

With the exception of a handful of very lucky individuals who actually enjoy their work and care about what they do, I think the work world is full of fake people, and to make it there you have to be fake as well (unless you really are soul-dead and don't mind that you are wasting your life doing meaningless crap).

Actually, thinking back on it, I did used to enjoy what I was doing, when I was young and the entire work world was new to me and the places I was going to and the things I did seemed glamorous and exciting. But that quickly wore off, and it became just another day at the office, for which I had to drag myself out of bed for, despite getting paid very well for the trouble.

"If you really feel that way about where you work, you need to get out."

This along with the parent immediately brought to mind one of my favorites of Demming's 14 key points:* "12a: Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality."

While that was meant more for line workers than knowledge workers, the basic concept is pretty much the same: if you can't take pride in what you're doing, you won't do it as well as you could. As somewhat of a perfectionist I struggle with overdoing this, but it drives me to depression when I have to work with apathetic folks who don't care how the end product turns out.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming#Key_principle...

Well that's his point I think. The same exact job can be fulfilling and meaningful one day and annoying drudgery the next.

You have a good day at a gaming company and you feel like "I did something very fun today and at the same time made the lives of a bunch of people more fun. This is great."

You have a bad day and you feel like "Stupid games. Stupid gamers. I'm wasting my life."

Both feelings are legitimate interpertations of the exact same work situation. What he's trying to teach us is how he attempts to turn one of those into the other.

I, for one, have the same issue all the time and I really liked his advice on how to deal with it.

All the Editors Notes were sort of irritating. "We've got a guest blogger today! We think he's the cats pajamas but that's not gonna stop us from butting in to get our two cents!" Seriously. Write a follow article next time. This editorial style makes it difficult to read. Alternatively, if you must add to this one, do it as footnotes.

The line about 'building stupid games for stupid people' really took me aback. Does he feel the same way about the people buying AppSumo deals - 'stupid services for stupid wantrepreneurs'?

If you don't have contempt for your customers, you won't get burnt out as often.

The guy is doing a post mortem of his state of mind at the time. Smart and talented people fall into ruts of suboptimal behaviour, and there is tremendous value in frankly discussing it.

Of course, if he still believes his customer base was 'stupid', I guess that's another thing entirely...

"Smart and talented people fall into ruts of suboptimal behaviour.."

His "optimal behavior" might be to quit and get another job. Or opt out of the rat race entirely.

No way. I know from interviewing him for Startups Open Sourced that he's pretty excited about his customers, and he specifically referred to them as "Target customers" rather than "Wal-Mart customers" because they're valuable, willing to buy, and interested in good deals rather than just cheap, worthless deals.

If you read his e-mails on the e-mail list, you can tell he puts a lot of work into it. I doubt he could do that unless he truly cared about AppSumo and the customers.

If you pick customers you like, you won't feel contempt for them, and work's WAY more fun.

I don't know Noah, but it sounds like that's why he killed off Gambit and dived into AppSumo.

Relax people, the guy's article is cathartic expression. He's sharing his raw experience of a topic that's hard to talk about for most guys and especially most entrepreneurs.

Was it really necessary to mention the fact that his girlfriend sleeps topless?

The whole tone of the post struck me as something like, "Hey, it's not like I'm just some stinky nerd." He's got a girlfriend, knows Mark Pincus, can afford a lifecoach...why shouldn't he be a business success? However, I didn't see any reflection on the fact that he's running a coupon site and whether that has something to do with his seemingly-persistent frustration.

Whatever the root cause is, at the end of the day it's something that prevents him from noticing the typo on the AppSumo front page, so the level of detail of self-examination in the post seems to be somewhat opposed to the level applied to the mechanics of the business itself.

What typos?

Are they fixed already?

They are not fixed as of Tuesday morning 5/24/11.

"TODAYS" -> "TODAY'S"? What else?

Two typos, actually. Wow.

He uses her as an illustration of how comfortable, unto bragging, his life is. She's flair, not a "for richer or poorer, sickness or health" commitment. The inappropriate implication of nocturnal habits implies a lack of subsequent dependents. I'll assume a due-every-month mortgage isn't involved either.

This guy doesn't know what stress and depression is, yet I'm supposed to read his lecture on dealing with it? Stress is not knowing if you'll wake up after surgery and see your baby girl again. Depression is being on the wrong side of the >10% unemployment rate. This guy is suffering "micro-burn-out" because life is too good, he's bored of his hobby, and a half-dozen people said "no" two hours after a mass email blast.

"Stress is not knowing if you'll wake up after surgery and see your baby girl again. Depression is being on the wrong side of the >10% unemployment rate."

No. Stress is seeing your best friend's brains splattered all over you in a firefight in which you lose your arms and legs. Stress is being the victim of a serial killer or rapist. Stress is spending your entire life in jail. Stress is living through the genocide in Rwanda. Stress is being waterboarded ever day at Gitmo, despite being innocent, and being locked up there without a trial for the rest of your life.

There are always people worse off than you, and compared to whom your troubles are nothing. Does that mean that what you feel is worthless? That it isn't worth mentioning? That you should "just deal with it" and be thankful you weren't a prisoner at Auschwitz instead?

I've heard this, and I've said it, and I wonder if there's an answer. Are we allowed to complain about the trivial?

I get a chuckle reading reddit.com/r/firstworldproblems, but some of those things do annoy me. I don't go around complaining about it, but it'd be a lie to say that I go without want in my privileged life.

Where do you draw the line?

Things that suck are always bugs, unless the suck is the feature (e.g. having to walk 20 miles to get water is lame, but being able to hike over a weekend can be fun for some people).

First world problems are still problems. It doesn't trivialize the crap that most of humanity still has to deal with, but it doesn't mean that we can't improve how we do things. And given how many small, annoying little things everyone has to deal with on a daily basis I think that we'll still be improving things for decades to come.

Can you speak to any of those from first-hand experience? I can.

I'm very sorry to hear that. That must have been very traumatic.

But would even you, who's gone through such trauma, find it very difficult to name someone even less fortunate than yourself, someone who's gone through an even worse ordeal?

That's unnecessarily harsh.

Anybody that puts a lot of effort into something only to have everyone else drop a big steaming deuce on it is going to be affected by it. His post was just about how he deals with that particular aspect of business.

I see no reason to begin an armchair psychoanalysis of the guy or his life.

Aren't you psychoanalyzing him yourself by somehow intuiting that he's putting "a lot of effort" into it? I don't really see that in the post itself.

From the fifth "paragraph":

> It took 6 months to get that deal and we just emailed 70,000 AppSumo.com customers and 6 whole buys two hours after the email went out.

The phrasing there implies that the effort required to arrange the deal wasn't trivial.

Emailing is definitely trivial, and the 6mos could have just been everyday lagging retconned into effort. We don't know.

Such is the consequence of irreverence, which if not inspiring criticism isn't.

The inappropriate implication of nocturnal habits implies a lack of subsequent dependents. I'll assume a due-every-month mortgage isn't involved either.

Of course you'll assume that. You hate him already, why not assume whatever you feel like to further your agenda?

This guy doesn't know what stress and depression is

Yes, like assuming this too. Do you know that? Have you met him?

Does your comment have a point other than hatred and derision? Other than posturing and oneupmanship about how much harder your life is?

Thank you for reminding the yuppies.

The girlfriend mentions seemed irrelevant and out of place. I've noticed lately that more and more technical bloggers try to inject this fictional writing style to draw in readers. Most of the time it's so out of place that I immediately stop reading. My preference though is terse articles for technical discussions.

And near the end he refers to her as "my delicious girlfriend." I think it's intentional, and he just threw it in for the fun of it (he is described as "irreverent"). But that sort of thing is out-of-character for the A Smart Bear blog, which means people just find it odd.

I stopped subscribing to AppSumo emails because of this 'irreverent' style. It's straight out of the Sleazy Email Marketing handbook.

I like AppSumo a lot, but lately it feels closer to Internet Marketer Sumo than App Sumo.

I'm trying to take refuge from products like those, not get pitched on more of them.

i agree, but based on all the stuff i've read about the situation, they do all of this stuff because it works. it feels more internet marketer-ish because internet marketer-ish stuff is the stuff that converts better, and appsumo is a business, after all. convergent evolution.

I'm not talking about their tactics as much as I am about the products they've featured lately.

I don't read the emails or the landing page copy. I usually see which product is being offered, find their real product page, and read that. If it's something I want, then I buy it.

Marketing is marketing, and I'll never begrudge a company for it, but copywriting techniques are just part of increasing conversions. The bigger part is knowing your audience.

ah, that makes more sense. though, its tough to judge them on it yet. they decided to try out a different type of product to see how it works. if it doesn't work out for them, i'm sure they'll tone it down in the future.

Both mentions of his girlfriend in that article struck me as out of place.

It reminded me a lot of reading long posts on somethingawful as a teenager, which were ostensibly some interesting story but were in fact a thinly veiled way to say: "HAY GUYS I HAVE A GIRLFRIEND."

Fortunately a mere superficial resemblance. This article has come at the right time for me, I have been feeling a little of this recently. I see other people talking about burnout and they've been in the game for decades ... I kinda felt guilty that I feel a bit like this only having been out of uni a couple of years, not doing anything particularly significant. It's good to know that there are other people out there feeling this way on a smaller scale as well.

Often the best thing that comes out of these articles is not the actual advice, but simply the recognition that there are other people out there going through the same stuff. It's so natural to feel that one is alone and unique in ones emotions, however statistically unlikely this may be.

It is the human condition to feel alone, but articles like this can head it off, at least for a while.

I thought that was strange as well, especially as an opener.

I like that he talked about this, but I'm not satisfied with the answers.

Why? :-)

I agree that some of them are just versions of the "time, relaxation, hiring and pacing yourself" that he described as the solution to regular burn-out.

Because in some cases, such as when you have deadlines or low income, taking time off isn't really an option. Taking time off is a great band-aid, but it doesn't really address the deeper problem, which is the psychology of money and entrepreneurial depression.

I go through this as well, and I can totally relate to how getting sales notifications in my inbox can make or break the day's mood.

But I do take time off, frequently to do things like boating, going to Disney World, and the beach. It buys a bit of energy, but not much.

So for me, taking time off is a generic approach that's easy to recommend, but not especially effective.

> I can totally relate to how getting sales notifications in my inbox can make or break the day's mood.

And from the article:

> For me, most of the time it stems from seeing our daily sales numbers.

Both of you seem to miss the obvious solution: don't check your sales numbers so often.

In the world of professional poker, the effects of variance are well-documented and understood. It's possible to play ideally for a day, a week, or even a month and lose money.

There are several coping mechanisms to deal with this. A common one is to simply check the account balance less often, on a regular schedule.

If looking at sales numbers is ruining your day, do it once per week. A day or two of bad sales could be due in part to simple variance, and by applying micro-corrections too frequently, you could be failing to see the forest for the trees.


So, what is effective for you re inspiration/recharge of energy?


Well my favorite fix is more "sold!" emails, but that just fuels the addiction.

It might not be welcome here, but listening to this guy: http://lamamarut.org works very well.

No, that's certainly welcome here ;-)

Being affected mentally by the day's revenue is pretty common in retail. I did it when I was in sales, I've noticed my friends who own brick and mortar stores act like that. If they had a good day, everything is great and the sky is rosy - if it was not so good, they talk like they're doomed. Unfortunately people often lose perspective on last week, month or year.

It seems like I'll read anything whose title includes "micro-[non-technical thing]."

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