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Ask HN: Am I experiencing burn-out or just getting too old
58 points by burned_out 75 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 67 comments
I am currently at a place where thinking about doing anything on the computer is making me anxious. Over the last two months I’ve worked for maybe 5 days in total (recovering from Covid, taking vacation days). I am at a senior dev position with the highest salary amongst devs, yet lately I do not contribute and it is very noticeable. I have zero will or passion to work. Am I getting too old (44)? Am I experiencing burn out? What is the way out?



Burnout hits everyone differently. For me the biggest sign of burnout is Sunday night anxiety. I need new challenges (and recognition from those I respect) to get over it. Everyone is different though.

Specific to your case, don’t underestimate the impact of COVID. It’s natural to question things when you go through a life altering disease. And you’re supposed to be exhausted.

If you have a good boss with whom you have mutual respect, talk to them. Don’t wait for them to ask. If not, quietly look into your Employee Assistance Program. You don’t want to get stuck while you are getting over this.

You’ve put in 20+ good years into your career and got sucker punched by a disease. This is not your fault!!!


I can relate to Sunday night anxiety. But I wouldn’t blame this on the disease alone. I’ve been feeling this for some time. I think it was just the last drop.

Impossible deadlines, unclear requirements, time logging literally every task over 15 minutes, constant emergencies, etc. have been eroding my mental health for years now...

The sad thing is that I know it’s not much different in most other places here (I am in south-east Europe, outside EU). At least I get paid decently here. But is it worth it. I don’t know. Just thinking out loud.


Maybe, just maybe, you've been putting off getting a life for too long. May sound snarky, excuse me, but this is related to the grandparent mentioning new challenges. Maybe you've taken a recipe to life, instead of living it. Maybe your put in an effort to follow (your own) rationalizations (like money), seeded by dominant patterns, instead of relating to what's good, socializing with what's good, finding out what's good and empowering what's good. Which would, partly, mean starting from scratch.

Note that you can't buy the answers to these questions with money. They may also turn out to be so elusive, as society has seemingly no use for them, that you'll end up going back to the job, kinda defeated, but with a new appreciation of purpose.

Or maybe I'm just suggesting things here, and you should ignore me and watch the [best movie on the topic](https://youtu.be/P9-FCC6I7u0?t=79) and explore the insanity on display. Sorry.


There are some valid points there. Not sure if it is related to the issue. Maybe.


This sounds like a terrible way to work and like an unbelievable nightmare to me. Are you willing to trade income for a more relaxed job?

I am asking because I do believe that a healthier relationship with your job is absolutely worth the salary cut long term. I have already seen and heard plenty cases were people just dropped to 30ish hours/week rather than working full 37.5h or 40h (and obviuously all of the overtime that just... occurs).

I think finding a sweet spot quality of life is really important. I am completely content at this instance in time and have no desire to make my work life more stressful for more money because I don't need it. I have everything I desire, including an SO I care for more than "the next level" at work. It's not that I am not ambitious but I have seen jobs wreak havoc on people's lives with nearly nothing in return to show for it (aside from shit you don't need).

Work is never worth more than you need to feel content. You're not going to make serious money slaving away for some corp anyway. Assuming you're a normal employee, use vacation days and call in as sick as often as you truly need it because you're not gonna help your team/project being frustrated and burned out.

Health is more important than some corp's bottom line. You can power through shit at 22yo but even at 32yo your body will make itself known quicker than one would expect. I mean you must know better than me. No product releasing tomorrow is worth breaking your mental or physical health over!

You're not really going to get more than a fishy handshake once you leave for whatever reason - even if you shouldered 80% of the weight for 10 years.

Also, you apparently amassed decades of experience - leave before you break if you can't make it work. You're worth something on the market. You will find a job with healthier conditions. Maybe less salary or whatever but again - unless you really depend on the money I'd rather take a cut here in favor of health.


All on point. Changing jobs, scaling down is something I can’t seem to agree on with my SO.


Can you elaborate? What are the concerns expressed by your SO?


It would be a big change - we’d have to sell our home because we would not be able to pay the mortgage. My current salary is almost double that of any offer I was able to get. I’ve talked to many developers in the area and it’s basically the same thing, just for less money.

All that for what? Because I am bored or demotivated.

Those are all valid concerns. It is a risk I am not willing to take without her full support.


A tough job situation doesn’t make it easier. It may not exclusively be COVID but it contributes. Mental and physical well being influence each other.

Take care of yourself!


Do you have a family? Can you stay with this company, but work remotely in a different place in your country or another one? Either a satellite office or an AirBNB for a month next to a forest, mountain or ocean?

I say that because a change of scenery will jumpstart hope and creativity.

I understand the sentiment though. It might also be worth looking for a new job. I find personally that job positions rot like fruit, and I hate staying somewhere more than 2 or 3 years. I can't understand people who stay in the same role for 5 years or a decade, and find that satisfying.

Try a change is my prognosis. You will get better insight into your feelings.


A change feels like it would help. But I do have a family (wife, two kids), a mortgage, and I am the sole provider.

And you may be right about the job rot. It’s been 15 years for me... Maybe I’m just too afraid to take risks given my situation and the job market situation in my country.


Keep in mind that if you move jobs, and that doesn’t solve your issue, your future employer may not give you the leeway to recover in the same way your current employer might.


That is absolutely true.


I'm in the same boat. I find it so hard to get work done. It causes me a lot of anxiety to even sit in the chair. Once there I feel so antsy it takes awhile to be able to focus (instrumental music helps with that sometimes). I'm dreading having to go back into the office.

I'm also in my 40s and have a family to provide for. I totally think if I could just have a change of scenery (moving somewhere new in the world) it would help me so much, but as you know it's not that simple at this stage in our lives.

For now I try to get stuff done around the house to let me feel tangible things. I also work on side projects to let me work on something that I find interesting.

I wish you the best of luck. I don't have the answer, but would love to know what it is.


It’s spelled Airbnb, not AirBNB


Ahh.

So the class action lawsuit 3:20-cv-7842 [1] in the US district court for the northern district of California cannot possibly be valid since it names AIRBNB, INC. and AIRBNB PAYMENTS, INC. as defendants?

K. 231

[1] https://fm.cnbc.com/applications/cnbc.com/resources/editoria...


I'm roughly 10 years older than you. Experiencing a lot of the same things. WFH has made it worse. I have no supervision, and no work assignments. I've done little more than keep up with email since March. I get paid salary so I'm not complaining. Spent about a month playing with a new web framework. Got bored with it. Yet another way to do things that I've been doing for 20 years. Yawn.

Started going to the gym about a year ago. I go every other day and rarely miss. It gets me out of the house. Can't say it's fun but it's something to do and I like the effects on my body.

I'm losing faith that rationality and normal will return. We seem to double down on insanity instead of pulling back to some optimal minimum. I'm forseeing a future where every flu season is going to be 6 months at home and masks and all the rest of it. I'm astounded that so many people are so accepting of it all and seem to like being told what they can and can't do and where they can and can't go like they are 5 years old.


I'd recommend that you find a therapist to discuss your burn out. It sounds like an acute episode so seeing a professional could help. They can help you ask the right questions and stop the fly wheel. It sounds like you are engaging in some self reflection too which they can help with and you've reached out here so again I'd say a therapist will help you. It certainly helped me.

Another good resource is the Feeling Good podcast by David Burns and his book Feeling Great. It takes longer to work through it. I found that my burn out left me so tired it was hard to read! I was able to listen though.

https://feelinggood.com/2019/12/16/171-ask-david-burnout-phy...

This last point is going to sound counter intuitive but my burn out was the best thing that happened to me.


Thanks, I’ll check it out.


Do some basic orientation: take the PHQ-9 (depression), the GAD-7 (anxiety), and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslach_Burnout_Inventory)

Then try mindful self-compassion: https://www.compassionintherapy.com/daily-challenge/day1

If you're still concerned you should speak to a professional. Good luck.


I have heard of brain fog and other related issues coming from COVID - that would be my first guess. I am 51, no covid, exercise daily, wife, 1yr old and 9yr old. No burnout here. Do you have music or other things that can help inspire/motivate you?


Not really. Like I said in some other comments. I’m having trouble detaching. Even when I’m practicing playing my guitar it’s in the back of my head...


This could be a combination of several possible things:

- Yes it sounds potentially like burnout. You’re recovering from a major illness which can make even minor work effort feel overwhelming. Give yourself some grace here!

- Covid also has cognitive effects on some, even after recovery. It’s possible you’re feeling fatigued or impaired, even imperceptibly, which could make you feel more anxious about your capability to contribute. Again, give yourself some grace, and try to pay attention to whether this might be a factor.

- As others have mentioned, potential contributing mental health issues like depression and general anxiety (these can form a feedback loop with burnout as well). Do consider looking into identifying and treating any mental illness you’re experiencing.

- You may be generally unhappy with your career regardless of title or compensation. You’re allowed to feel that way! Not every “good job” is necessarily a good fit.

- This time has felt isolating for most people, especially anyone who’s been sick. This isolated feeling can lead to or amplify any of the above. If you’re able, try to make extra space for whatever kind of social you feel comfortable with.

Most of all, just don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and seeking outside advice is a great step.


> You may be generally unhappy with your career regardless of title or compensation. You’re allowed to feel that way! Not every “good job” is necessarily a good fit.

I think this may be the biggest factor, with other things mentioned adding to the issue


If that’s the case I seriously encourage you to consider alternatives that will be more fulfilling, and steps you can take to minimize compromising your happiness in the meantime.

I have personally let a job I was dissatisfied with keep me well beyond a point that was healthy for me a few times. And it’s had a really negative impact, ranging from damaged relationships (both within and outside the workplace) to a serious mental health emergency (my coping mechanisms were basically damaging and deteriorating).

It takes a lot of courage to recognize something isn’t right. It takes a lot less courage to change it if you’re determined and have resources/access to resources.

If you haven’t already, reach out to people who know your value and talk about wanting to make a change. You might be surprised by the opportunity to try something new and get into a situation that makes you feel happier.

Thank you for taking the leap to ask here open ended, and to come back and share your thoughts. It’s helped me remember why I left my last job and what I want in my next one.


Dude, I am like you. 44yo, working at a unicorn, most devs are younger than me, but my salary is higher. I had a good chat with the boss who is a good old pal, and we figured that I am a bad fit for ivory tower kind of work and that I have to go to professional services to feel happier.


Any thoughts on what "going to professional services" will look like for you? I'm highly motivated by customer engagement and direct influence.


What do you mean by professional services?


Being close to clients and money flows. I spent a year writing vaporware for imaginary use case, younger generation takes this as an opportunity to build up skills, but I can not stand it any longuer.


More likely burnout, I started burning out easier and getting signs of anxiety in mid forties. Vacations didn't seem to help, but 3 month leave of absence and staying away from computer work and hobbies and getting outdoors instead sure did.


I tried running and taking walks. But even during that time I think about work.

Sometimes I feel even more anxious after a walk. Does that make any sense?


I think you really need the time away and focus on your health. 2 weeks breaks weren't enough as took me at least a week to not think about work, but then second was just dreading going back...


It’s probably burnout. I felt the same after grad school. I couldn’t look at my computer for a year. I spent half that time traveling and the other half getting into visual art. I begrudgingly took a job because I was broke, and gradually got into a groove and found my passion again. About 10 years after that I hit another burnout wall due to an extremely demanding job.

I suspect it’s not age. I have a friend who is in his late 70s and he cranks out quality open source code using keen knowledge of the latest frameworks and community trends. He’s continued inspiration for me.

My advice would be to detach and take plenty of time off, and explore things unrelated to computing.


Jennifer Senior's article about burnout is worth reading: https://nymag.com/news/features/24757/

Reading through that article was one of the things that helped me frame things when I noticed I was starting to feel symptoms of burnout a couple of years ago -- one line that really struck a chord for my situation was "level of caring couldn’t be sustained in the absence of results".

I caught my burnout fairly early, what helped me was (1) switching to part-time work for a month or so (mix of taking annual leave & some time in lieu for overtime, my boss was understanding when i had a frank discussion that stress from work was negatively impacting my mental health and i needed to triage that immediately) and then (2) switching away from the project and role that had been stressing me out to a new project and a role with less responsibility. Initially I found it difficult to talk about this and start taking actions to change the situation, but once I started taking action to change the situation things gradually started to improve. In hindsight it would have been better to talk through the problem and then take action to change the situation earlier.

I had gotten my head into a bad place after mentally assuming responsibility for the outcome of a work project in an environment where I had very limited control over the outcome. I was stressing myself out thinking about about work outside of the hours I was paid to work. When I was recovering, my mental model when thinking about the situation was that I'd constructed some black box in my mind full of work-project-related-concerns, and that when I wasn't working I'd habitually start thinking about stuff inside the box and then the box would start radiating stress and ruining my day.


Post-Covid cognitive issues are a thing; suggest seeing a neurologist, especially if the ennui extends outside of work


I was not aware of that. Maybe it adds to the issue. This situation started before covid.


Humbly and in hopes it may be helpful in whatever way, I put forward a (translation of a) Quranic verse that came to mind when reading your post (since you are 44 years old). Happy to expand on my thoughts if you would like me to, but for now here is the verse:

[46:15] We enjoined the human being to honor his parents. His mother bore him arduously, gave birth to him arduously, and took intimate care of him for thirty months. When he reaches maturity, and reaches the age of forty, he should say, "My Lord, direct me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to do the righteous works that please You. Let my children be righteous as well. I have repented to You; I am a submitter."

Edit: translation by Rashad Khalifa


Please do expand on this.


My take is that the nourishment of the soul takes a back seat to earthly nourishment most of the time: money, food, drink, sex, etc. And while we cant measure the profitability of a soul-nourishing transaction today, I do think they affect us here on earth. Same goes for neglecting our souls, I believe.

We should recalibrate at some point in order to, in earnest, make nourishing our souls a priority. And also my take is that through our years God not only matures our brains but also teaches us quite a bit, to the point that when we hit 40 we are properly equipped to make this important recalibration. I want to also add that I'm not saying the path is hermitism, in fact I really dont think that.

For example, charity to the family, the relatives, the orphans, the needy, the migrant, I believe nourishes our souls.

Happy to keep this conversation going anytime btw. Hope you have a Blessed evening.


Thank you for bringing this topic. I'm 40, in Brazil, senior soft. eng, experiencing the same thing (but I haven't Covid). I'm basically in a spiral of bad feelings, but guilty for not doing a good job is the worst.


So aside from the standard "go get yourself checked out because of Covid, go see a therapist" advice, I highly recommend shrooms. With a good dose, its like a reset for the brain, which is more important as you get older and your neural pathways get solidified into strong patterns of thinking, leaving you less able to deal with changing circumstances.

I trip once a year, and its been instrumental for my mental health. One of the things that it helped me figure out is that I actually do better under stress, so now I often create artifical stress in my life to get me to do things.


Not for me personally, but thanks for the suggestion.


Just read everything in this thread. Have nothing worthwhile to add other than having created a Gitter chatroom dealing with developer burnout / happiness where like minded devs can hang there together - this is the link in case you want to be part of this group (think Developer Anonymous) https://gitter.im/DevUnwind/community


Don't rule covid out. While you may be experiencing burnout. Right now I'd chalk it up to after affects if covid. I had fairly mild covid and took an experimental treatment (which I may or may not have gotten) and it still took me over a month to feel myself as far as programming goes. You say you have no pryob for work, what are you doing? If it isn't much, you could just still be recovering


I'm also a senior dev and have suffered from burnout in the past. Building tangible things and learning the skills necessary to do it has helped.

Something like this: https://github.com/IBM/MicroscoPy

What you're describing sounds like it could be more than burnout though. I would also try to find someone to talk to.


Thanks. I wish I could focus on something like that. Whenever I start a new thing I feel like I’m wasting time, when deadlines are approaching. Makes me anxious even more. Paradoxically then I don’t do either which is worse I know.

I guess what I’m saying I can’t seem to detach from problems at work.

Nice project though :)


I agree with core-questions, it is burn out. When I had it, similiar symptoms, I took 4 months vacation to go bike riding. After which I was fine again.

I hope you can find a way to relax and re-energize. You said you took a vacation, how long? I find for it to really help it needs to be a MINIMUM of 3 weeks. 1 week to ramp down, one week to actually relax, last week for me is always ramping up again.


I took 3w vacation after recovering from covid (which also took 3w). I just couldn’t face the work. I’ve been back at work for 2w and I am highly inefficient.


Burn out takes a lot longer to recover from. Could be 6 months or a year.

Were you doing the work all day thing, then come home and tinker? That was my path to my worst burnout... I have to keep my coding under 40 hours...


Yes, tinker or fight fires after work (24h operation). Wow 6 months sounds impossible to be off work.


You need to leave the tinkering, or at least ring-fence when you do it and make sure it doesn't eat into quality family time, or just proper down time.

When you say you are fighting fires outside of wrok hours, is that as part of an on-call schedule? If it isn't then you all collectively need to sort that out. You need a proper on-call schedule with strict rules about when things get escelated and to who.

You need to have time when you are genuinely not working, and not thinking about work. If there is always the potential for some crisis then you'll never switch off. Not being able to geniunely put work down for some of the time is a big part of burn-out. Combining it with a lack of any feeling of real accomplishment and you are on your way to a collapse.

If you are the only person who can deal with certain types of issues then you need to make it a project to train up more members of your team, that's good for you, it's good for them, and its good for the company. Make it officially part of your job, set targets and goals, get explicit buy-in from your boss/the company. Don't make it some amorphous, vague personal goal, make it concrete. Teaching people, helping them level-up, can be hugely rewarding work. I've had huge job satisfaction helping my more junior developer skill up over the last year. I get a lot of pleasure and reward out of seeing him knocking out great work, it's almost like vicareous job satisfaction and it means that even when I'm having a sluggish week good things are still happening that I'm part of.


Makes sense. We have set up the on call schedule, but there are situations when I get called in outside the schedule. Less often than say a year ago, but it still happens.

I guess that is the core of the issue. I am never switched off of work, and it caught up with me. I am not sure is it just my personality.


That has definitely been my problem in the past. I'm having trouble with it again as we're having to homeschool, so I'm spending more evenings working than I would normally. I barely get any real downtime and my sleep is disturbed. It sucks. The only way I'm managing is by being disceplined with myself about making some time when I get to switch off from work. My days are very regimented right now, but it's working. Having a clear divide between work and not-work really helps. At the small-scale, I've taken to using a pomodoro timer during my working hours, I have a jigsaw that I work on in the rest periods.

Something I've found as I've got older is that I simply can't manage without good sleep the way I seemed to be able to when I was younger. My younger team member is in his mid 30s and we were talking about this last week. He'd been pulling all-nighters (he's working around homeschool too), and it had been affecting his work, stuff was getting done but it wasn't great, and he was useless the next day. He's been operating the same way he used to do in his 20s when he was doing a PhD and didn't have kids. I think I've finally convinced him that the price you pay later is almost never worth it, but it's taken him a while to admit he just can't maintain that level of effort.

Getting older sucks in a lot of ways, a lot of them are quite subtle and happen slowly. I think the ability to run at maximum effort for extended periods of time is one of the things that you lose to some extent. That isn't to say that younger people don't get burnt out, but I think we recover quicker when we are younger, a bit like how we physically heal faster.


Took a close family 3 months to really recover. Only after starting a daily workout regime she recovered.


Thanks for sharing. I’m glad she recovered. 3 months off work sounds like a dream. I have to (somehow) find a way to rest.


What do you do when you aren’t productive? Is there anything else you enjoy outside work where you feel productive?


At work, I’m just answering emails or handling incident requests or attending online meetings.

Outside work, nothing really. Mostly I fiddle with my guitar or ruminate about the next day.


Stop doing things if others don't value them. It's good for you and the company!

Do things that people can appreciate and thank you over video and voice. Someone wants help? Jump on video chat, help them, feel their genuine appreciation in real time, feel good about yourself.

Go to fewer meetings. Things won't fall apart, I promise.


Attending meetings is valued here. Otherwise you risk being seen as disrespectful to the manager that invited you as a non-optional attendee.

But you may be on to something. The situation is pretty chaotic and I honestly don’t feel like I can help anyone, which is demotivating to me.

The organization has become too bureaucratic too political and I am not in the position to make changes, even if I knew what to change in these circumstances.


Oh god, this reads like I wrote it myself.

The worst thing is every day I feel worse because I don't feel like I am contributing. And that keeps adding to the feeling of anxiety.

I started staying late trying to catchup on work, but that I think made things worse since it fucked with my down time.

Agh... how do I dig myself out?


I've been here a couple of times (and often I find myself back in the grind without realising it).

1. Stop staying late. There will always be more work to do, another email to send, something else to debug or test. Leave it until the next day and go spend time with yourself, family and friends.

2. If you feel overloaded, list out your work tasks and prioritise. If you are any good at your job, you will have an infinite list of things to do. So a prioritised list is an absolute must-have.

3. Have quality downtime. This means reduced screen time, good exercise, spend time with family, friends etc., other hobbies etc.


I wish I had the answer. Currently I’m planning to talk to my direct manager. I don’t know exactly what to say, or suggest to him. I’m working on that now


Goodluck with that, and let us know how you did.

I was considering doing it as well, but I am not sure how that could work out.

But if things get out of control I will have to go through the talk too.


Yes, you're experiencing burnout. At this point, you've probably also damaged your relationship with the team; perhaps not irreperably but it will take some humility and some hard work if you want to catch back up.

Maybe it's time to look for a different role? You may get a salary cut in the process, you may not, but either way for your mental health it's worthwhile. Maybe you need to move into a role as a product owner, or coordinator, or even get involved with training.

Regardless of what you do, the time is nigh to take control of your life and find yourself a role that you can feel like you're positively able to contribute to without having to do the parts of the work that are causing you anxiety right now.


I’ve been with this company for 15 years, and at this point I just can’t think of the role I’d enjoy here.

But it’s definitely something to think about. Maybe training if I can convince the “political structures” they need such a role.


Burn out can be situational. 15 years at one place in IT is a long time. Moving to another part of the business or another company all together might help you recover. I know I only started to recover after I left that place that burned me out.


Could also be the psychological effect of lock-down, social distancing et cetera. Perhaps this will go away naturally when the pandemic is over and life goes back to normal.




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