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Ask HN: Post Burnout Ideas
187 points by burnoot 18 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 117 comments
I burnt my self out a few years back after spending 3 years working full-time on a startup. Since then I've been working for a FAANG.

One thing I've never really recovered is the passion I had for side projects. Worse than that, I can't actually think of anything worth building, or even tinkering with, which is sad, as spending some of my free time on side projects was something I really enjoyed.

If you've found yourself in a similar position, how have you dealt with it?

> One thing I've never really recovered is the passion I had for side projects

I know how this feels. After a few bouts of burnout over my ~20 year career, I'm not convinced we fully recover from all of it. I think each bout leaves some permanent damage, along with increased risk of subsequent bouts. I made a similar comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22164678

The best general advice I can give is don't push anything. If you're not feeling motivated to engage in a side project, no problem, don't pursue one right now. Give things time and see how you feel after 2-6 months. Other general advice - reduce work hours if you can, exercise regularly, and relax. Morning/evening walks combine the latter two well.

Learning something new can also help combat burnout fogginess. I've found courses in something of interest work well (search Coursera, Udacity, Udemy, etc.). What I like about these is they're smaller in scale and more self contained than an open-ended side project. They allow you to commit time and energy in small chunks and at your own pace, but still leave you with something valuable in the end. E.g. over the years I've taken courses in Vue, Svelte, TypeScript, and a couple math refreshers. All enjoyable and worth while IMO.

Software development is my only expertise and it doesn’t interest me at all. I am very good at it but not excellent. I don’t even think about it beyond the usual 9-5 or so. I don’t want to, I don’t feel like it. I think the effort you need to put or that minimum amount of passion/liking you’ve to put into it, for being very good —> excellent, is just missing from my life (or rather missing from my “work”).

I am in mid 30s now (single; kinda by choice; with no financial liability) and it feels like it’s some kind of fake life I’m living at work even though I know that people one forth of my skill have lived it through and make it through 55 and all.

I considered switching caterers like studying public policy etc or sometimes just doing a one year MBA from somewhere but even the thought scares the shit out of me (thought of MBA I mean). I like history, literature. I often fantasise about working in film making (industry) (not something to do with computers though). I had done woodworking and I had really liked it. Then I dropped.

I am slowly trying to make peace with it. Trying to get into some nice MNC for 6-7 years and kinda stick around and then a stock of things after that.

Why I’m not exploring other fields is because one thing I don’t want in my life at this stage is not earning a living - bills and saving for emergency (in this country you gotta do that; there’s no healthcare).

I think I’m not alone like this. There are many people like me. Or that’s the hope. Maybe I’ll make it somehow.

I think I should meet some kickass career counsellor or make a long post on some subreddit. I had tried here once. In fact that’s how I had created this account.

I think coming to an understanding of what you want out of life in general is a big undertaking in itself, and a lot of people coast along with the defaults presented to them and then wake up at 50 and despair that the options are now closed to them once they start thinking about it.

I’d suggest a good therapist to try to understand what you really want out of this one life - I am in the same boat right now, thinking about what I want to do next whether in work or in life. I tend to prioritize lifestyles over specific work/career related goals, but I often get sucked into spending all my energy at work. This gets me paid, and well, but I tend also to burn out after a time when I don’t feel like I can focus on other things.

I for one hope there’s something out there that really calls to me more than programming jobs, but if not or I can’t find it then hopefully I’ll be able to find a life I find worth living regardless.

It's been difficult, yes. Especially when managers expect you to put in more hours and say it directly or indirectly. And being in a country where expectation of a healthy work-life balance is often made to look like you are slacker is sad.

Shitty work life balance in the software field is one of the reasons I lack passion in the field. People say "try US/EU companies". That's bollocks. Those companies actually propagate it. They have these offshore centres so that they will get cheap talent and they can expect them work their own time zone hours and then match US TZ if nothing then daily for a nightly "sync".

Anyway, I have tried finding a career counsellor and have failed so far. I guess I will keep trying to find it out.

> I think each bout leaves some permanent damage, along with increased risk of subsequent bouts.

Negative experiences tend to produce learned behaviors and reactions that we’re not aware of. These can be overcome, but it takes effort to identify them and implement deliberate changes in our behavior. There are various ways of doing this from self-guided books to professional therapy. It’s not exactly “damage” in the sense that it’s permanent or unaddressable, though. Viewing it as such can hamper recovery.

Thanks for this. All good to know, and I wouldn't want to hamper anyone's recovery. I probably should have said "...each bout leaves a successive weakening...". Difference being to your point - I'm uncertain of serious irreversible damage imposed by burnout, in the literal sense.

What I meant to convey, is that w/each bout I felt successively weaker and more sensitive to toxic patterns or conditions recognized from prior bouts. When experienced, I found they took me to bad places more easily (mentally, emotionally, etc.), and for longer durations. I felt less resilient.

And not just compared to who I was before each bout, but also when I inquired, or compared myself, to teammates next to me going through the same conditions. They often didn't feel as affected or concerned. Is that b/c they never experienced burnout? Is it b/c I have, and am more sensitive to it or have lingering effects? I don't know.

But that's what I meant - I feel each bout with burnout takes more out of you, in a way that makes you less resilient to subsequent bouts.

I’m not sure that you can talk yourself out of physical brain damage. PTSD alters the character and volume of grey matter present in the brain.

I guess veterans etc. who suffer throughout their lives with it just aren’t sufficiently resilient?

I don't want to diminish what people having PTSD have to endure, but physical changes in the brain don't mean much without quantification. Regular learning alone also leaves physical and lasting changes in the brain.

I mention this because pointing to the physicality of psychological conditions often induces a sense of fatalism that often isn't warranted per se, and can become some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Again, this does not mean people should just pull themselves up. It does suggest that people could in principle learn coping mechanisms (through therapy etc.) to a degree that allows for leading a fulfilling life, even with PTSD manifesting physically in the brain.

The brain can be reshaped again following trauma. The Body Keeps The Score is a book that talks through the effectiveness of different approaches to healing and how they impact brain changes.

Yeah - I was recommended this shortly after I crashed out - good read, interesting insights, and I did find therapy helpful with the more conscious aspects of my collapse.

The bits that won’t go away are the dread, the insomnia, the constant anxious waiting for the sky to fall. I think I’ve pared off the behavioural bits over the years and have largely addressed them - but my mind continues to wrestle with intangible beasts.

My cousin has just qualified as a psychedelic therapist, so later this summer he’s visiting and we’re going to try breaking the cycle.

Trauma informed therapies can be really helpful though psychedelics look to be the most promising short term therapeutics, if they truly pan out. Things like EMDR and IFS can manage to really hit at the core of those intangibles beasts, and start to untangle the web.

The two books that helped me the most were The Depression Cure by Stephen Ilardi and Feeling Good by David Byrnes.

But not all burn outs are the same. PTSD level burn outs do, but you also have other types that aren’t at that level. As always the answer is “it depends” and get professional help.

Perhaps we should have different words for “I am maybe feeling a bit tired of doing the same thing every day” and “my brain is physically damaged from years of relentless 24/7 stress to the extent that basic functions like sleep elude me”.

The military uses color codes, green, yellow, orange, red. Red is PTSD territory, a true brain break. But yellow, orange are bad as well, lots of people are in that zone without knowing until it is too late.

I do not think it's scientific to claim the "brain is physically damaged from not-very-physiological-thing". We do have evidence for brain development that must occur before it is too late (e.g. critical window for language).

Sustained and elevated stress causes damage to the whole body, not just the brain. If understanding what you experienced as brain damage helps you accept how things happened and how things are, then all the more power to you.

But if there is something in your thought patterns that you want to change, but feel hopeless that your brain is damaged, I recommend trying to find another framing aside from "damage".

Saying some problems are the result of learned associations and behaviours doesn't mean that all problems are.

Was tempted to make a throwaway account for this, but what the hell, burnout is really nothing to be ashamed of.

I'm in a somewhat similar situation to you, but replace the 3 years with 10 years. I had many periods of 'minor' burnout along the way that I ignored or ploughed through, which in hindsight was a pretty big mistake.

Around August last year I just couldn't continue. I wasn't sleeping, I was frequently run down, and I was self-medicating more and more with drugs and alcohol. It eventually got to the point where simply opening my laptop would elicit a fight or flight response.

I was lucky enough to be in a secure enough financial situation to largely take 6 months off. If you're in a position to do this, I highly recommend it.

I uninstalled gmail, slack, etc. from my phone. I considered getting a dumb phone, but settled for turning off push notifications for everything instead. I went away with my girlfriend for a week and left all my tech at home except for my kindle (literally the first time I've been disconnected for more than a couple of days in probably 20 years). I exercised as much as possible and spent time in nature going for walks, etc.

I've been back at it part time for the last few months. Gradually I felt the feelings of burnout being replaced with feelings of boredom, which is hopefully my brain's way of saying that it's starting to repair itself and ready to slowly return to work.

I'm still nowhere near back to peak productivity, but I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that I may never get back there. I'm 36 and probably would have dropped dead of overwork by 50 if I kept up the tempo of the last 10 years anyway.

I'm not 'cured' by any means, but I believe things are slowly getting better.

My advice to you is to be kind and patient with yourself. Try not to stress about not having a side-project, and instead just focus on self-care for a while. Someone posted this on HN a few weeks back and it really hit close to home for me: http://www.robinhobb.com/blog/posts/38429

This all rings very familiar - I left my business in 2016 as I was absolutely disintegrating, and my business “partner” wasn’t prepared for me to take six months off to recover, as it would mean him stepping up to the mark and dealing with the nightmare fuel I spent my days on.

Anyway. Five years on, haven’t worked since other than very lightweight consultancy. Live in the woods.

Still wake up at 0430 every morning in a panic. Still grind my teeth. Still flinch every time I hear my phone. Incapable of being kind to myself.

There’s a point of no return, beyond where the brain damage is irreparable. You can learn to live with it, but you can’t ever get rid of it.

It sounds silly but have you considered getting a dog? They’re extremely healing in many ways.

Have you had therapy?

Yes. They mostly wanted me to take a lot of drugs, and there was talk of experimental brain surgery, and I just don’t want any of that - whole damn process just made me more stressed and anxious - so now, I just smoke weed from when I wake to when I pass out.

I’m damaged, but functional - managed to build a house with my own hands this spring, while writing an ISO27k1 ISMS, while living off grid - I don’t just sit around on the couch - hell, don’t have a couch.

So yeah. Coping rather than being cured is the best many can hope for - and I’m just about coping.

I'm so sorry to hear that, really. It's a shame you didn't find a better therapist, sometimes it takes a couple of tries before you find one that gets you.

I hope you find a path forward where you have health and happiness.

Not everyone can be "fixed", especially via therapy. Sometimes, coping is all you can aspire to.

Don’t underestimate the value of lying on the couch. Also consider a hammock. Very peaceful.

Oh, I have the optimal hammock, between two trees, on the riverbank - I can dangle my fingers in the water, surrounded by birdsong in dappled shade. It’s where I spent the rest of yesterday.

It does get better - consciously, I’m a much happier and calmer person than I was - but whatever part of me it is that screams in their sleep and kicks me out of bed in the pre-dawn hasn’t improved one jot. I wish it would.

Felt like I was reading a description of what I feel. Kind of punched me in the face when I read at the end that he's 70...I've been in my animal for 35 years...perhaps it's time to reconsider my life. The problem is, I will probably never do until another major crash happens...I assume this is a problem many of us have.

She* :)

And yeah - very powerful piece of writing. She's a published fantasy author and I'm going to try one of her novels (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77197.Assassin_s_Apprent...)

Best thing I've ever read. Based on the title, "Assassin's Apprentice", I would never have picked it up. It's on the "realism" side of fantasy. The protagonist is not having a good time, at all. Hobb excels at writing about communities.

I describe her books as Harry Potter meets game of thrones meets Thomas the tank engine. (In a good way)

Very nice coincidence: after years of putting off her novels, I started Ship of Magic just two days ago. Never thought I'd see someone quote her here.

Wow, I could relate so much with this link and I’m only 32...

With hindsight, do you think you could have avoided your burnout? Was it due to long hours? The type of work? Something else?

I think so, yeah. Aside from not listening to the obvious warning signs (insomnia, anxiety, depression, increased frequency of physical illness, etc.), there were definitely other red flags.

I think my biggest since issue was - and probably continues to be - very poor work/life balance (no hobbies, basically no social life outside of work, etc). Obviously it's hard to disentangle cause and effect, but I suspect a prerequisite for getting burnout is having a mania or hyper-fixation on work.

Interesting, thanks! It seems that, in your case at least, making sure that you don't work more than, say, 45h a week could have helped. Not saying it's easy to do or that it solves everything, but it feels easier to improve things you can measure.

Of course I'd expect someone already burning out to deceive themselves and game their own metrics (like reading and answering emails at night and not counting the time spent).

Don’t have stress. It’s that simple. No idea how you’d fix it though. (And IMO long periods of tedious work counts as stress too)

Jobs at larger, more stable corporations can still take a lot out of you! Even if it pales in comparison to the insanity of startup life.

For myself: the drive, and the creativity, only come back if I stop working for an extended period of time (weeks). I need a lot of idle time and some boredom before I feel creative again, let alone want to touch a keyboard, but if I wait long enough it always happens.

I promise you the creativity and desire is still there. It could be more that the current job (or something else) is suppressing it, and less that you haven’t recovered something you lost.

Boredom is a totally underestimated and undervalued mental state these days. IMO it's quite difficult to become bored these days with all the distractions of the Internet. Many great thinkers went to rural "boredom resorts" to let their ideas thrive after they got stimuli from crowded cities.

I hate it when my precious limited boredom gets intruded on by nagging feelings that I need to learn or achieve something to avoid falling behind. I seldom have the energy/willpower to learn or achieve well anyway, and end up wishing I had enjoyed my boredom instead.

> the drive, and the creativity, only come back if I stop working for an extended period of time (weeks)

For me it was first weeks, and then months. And as for the last time, took six years.

> One thing I've never really recovered is the passion I had for side projects. Worse than that, I can't actually think of anything worth building, or even tinkering with, which is sad, as spending some of my free time on side projects was something I really enjoyed.

If you don't enjoy side projects any more, don't force it.

Better side projects would be something offline like improving your personal fitness, learning a new (non-computer) hobby, leveling up your cooking skills, and other real-world skills.

Forcing side projects on top of a day job is a recipe for returning to burnout.

Also, have a hard look at what it is you enjoy about side projects. I found out I like the figuring out things part of it (including talking to potential users and solving their problems), but everything after that (marketing, maintaining, improving) drained me.

Totally agree. Side projects are actually not important to getting a job. Its all about codility and whiteboarding now.

I spent hundreds of hours playing factorio.

Video games allowed me back into the mode of thinking without any sense of external requirement. It was all on me to decide how deep I went and for how long. Eventually I played until I achieved boredom after over 900 hours. (Not all at once! Over months.)

From that point of boredom I could see how much energy I had channeled into something pointless, and realized I had recovered. Then I started channeling that work into home renovations and other tangible efforts. Even coding for family projects!

But I never got the motivation back to code for profit again. I’m done with that part of my life.

If you don't mind me asking, what are you now doing for a living if not coding for profit?

Technology integration and process improvement. Basically coding led to entry biz analysis, which then led to higher scoped integration projects. And as I saw repeated patterns from customers, I started taking on process improvement projects to help prepare orgs in a more general sense for eventual modernization.

I went through the same exactly one year ago. I could not sleep, I felt sick at the thought of having to interact with my colleagues and I just couldn't care less about my job. The only thing I care about was to wish for my day job to be over soon, so I could hide away from the rest of the world. One day I woke up and called in sick and that was the best choice I could make. I never went back to that job and I started seeking for professional help.

It is hard to know what you want if you don't know what you are and what you want to be. During my six months long seek vacation I had a very small side project because for me the issue was not the technical aspect but the stress that you always had to perform. I was working for a mobile gaming company and on top of your job you had to play, find bugs, join stand-ups, communicate on slack... This was all fake for me and stressed me out to the point of no return. In the end it was just faking enthusiasm.

I am not like that. I love what I do, but when I am off I am off and please leave me alone. Some companies push you to always have an opinion and what is the problem with not having one from time to time? What is the problem with just doing something else in your free time? If I want to have a side project I will. If I don't, I will be doing something else.

To cut my rant short what really helped me was to recognise my problem and through professional help I could accept myself for what I am. Don't overdo, take your time to know where you are and where you want to go and get back when you are ready. If it helps reduce the amount of working hours and try to enjoy you free time.

Pick up an analog hobby. Something that is tangible and away from the internet, computers and software. Christ, I sound like some loonie but there is pleasure in fixing your car, building a deck, gardening, or learning how to play an instrument. Avoid hobbies that are competitive in nature.

Big agreement here!

Though, as it turns out, software is eating the world, and every analog hobby I've picked up eventually wants to become a computer hobby. You can choose to resist this entirely, or give in a bit. The analog part is still there waiting for you whenever you're tired of starting at rectangles.

(Example A: FM synthesis ideas should obviously be reimplemented in python... Oh wait, super collider exists, and now this cheap USB game pass I had lying around is an FM synth. But I've still got a small pile of synths to play with.)

(Example 2: Birds are cool. Eventually I found my way into bird song id with machine learning, but I can now always justify a long walk in the woods as field research...)

Example 3: Board games are cool and analog, I'll start designing those.

Oh but now if I want to find a publisher in this era of a totally saturated market the game should look nice, so I should spend some serious time on the graphic design and sell sheets and writing up the game rules and designing graphics to put in the game rules and making and editing pitch videos...on my computer.

Oh and it's really hard to find enough playtesters to play the game or publishers to look at the game (especially during the pandemic)...unless I make a digital version on Tabletop Simulator or Tabletopia, and playtest on the computer.

Oh, people are getting used to certain things being automated for them like the setup in Tabletop Simulator, so now I'm expected to... write code in Lua to automate player setup or handle round cleanup and make things easier and faster.

Or, I don't really want to spend thousands of hours on hundreds of playtests to make sure this game is balanced / no first player advantage / etc...so I'll write Python scripts to model the gameplay and run a bunch of Monte Carlo simulations to analyze the data.

I almost spend more time on the computer than not for this analog hobby nowadays. Especially when working on games that are past the initial pen and paper and basic components phase.

When things largely moved online for the pandemic, it was a great opportunity to reach publishers I normally couldn't without going to a convention overseas, and yet I lost almost all motivation to work on board game design that year. Still had some great ideas for my designs, but I couldn't get myself to do much more than write those ideas down.

Eventually just started coding video games again. Figured if it's going to end up on the computer anyway, might as well make a video game to start and not have to have a publisher in the first place.

I was actually writing Twine code to simulate a bunch of decks of cards for playtesting a game when I wrote my previous comment.

Which reminds me of one other important point: "you don't have to monetize your joy."


I don't care about making money in board games. If I did I wouldn't bother, there's not a whole lot of money in there unless you make multiple mega-hits or you one of a handful of publishers, and that's getting harder and harder to do with so many games being put out there every year (I think it's 700+ that debut each year at Gen Con alone).

But I would like to find an audience that enjoys playing my designs, and pretty much the only way to find an audience is to get your game published via Kickstarter or a publisher (there are other methods, like Print and Play and The Game Crafter, but the potential audience is a tiny fraction of other methods, especially since there's already too many board games released every year by publishers to keep up with. I myself have slowed way down in my game acquisitions and the number of games I try every year, I've run out of room in the house and what I do have don't get played enough to warrant keeping anyway).

Otherwise I'm just designing games purely for the hell of it, and I almost might as well be solving Sudoku puzzles or playing Chess instead.

Also despite it being easier to develop and test board games, I've had a super hard time getting any luck in the industry. I've had a meetings with several publishers, but only got one game signed in about 5 years of trying.

But It's a lot easier if you're a known personality. Like I'm friends with a few people that have made more progress in less time because they volunteer a lot of time in the industry and are pretty well known...one woman has a podcast, works for a game manufacturer, has helped run a few board game conventions, and has three games in the pipeline after in less than half the time I've been trying, but she is fully immersed in the world so it's easier, whereas I'm juggling it with other interests and a job that has nothing to do with the industry. I could be putting myself out there more, but I just don't have the energy for it.

Whereas back when I used to only make video games, I was usually knocking out one or two web games a year, just on my own, and some were getting played millions of times, no publisher needed. If you played Flash games back in the day, there's a chance you played something I made. I still run into random people that have played my Flash games. Two coworkers at my current job alone played them over a decade ago. It has gotten harder to get back into that now that I'm older, slower, and have a wife and two dogs that need my attention, though.

I've considered using Twine for some story-based games before. How are you using it for playtesting?

Yeah, completely agree on all your points. It's a crowded, crowded space.

I'm playing with a design using some decks of cards; Twine seems like it has the right amount of functionality to manage a few different decks without having to print them out. The Twine app is then just a few buttons to draw from different decks, and is really easy to hand off to players. (not that I actually have playtesters at this point, or anything worth playtesting beyond my housemates. :P )

The sweet spot for me is an Idea -> CAD -> Manual Production -> Idea loop, which works for pretty much any hobby that results in a physical artifact. The computer work lets me spot enough problems that I can feel confident the end result will be worth the effort, and I'm not going to hit a dead-end.

Picking up other hobbies got me back into software side projects but not as an end in themselves as they used to be (and I'm pretty tired of "learning" new tech at this point -- it's just the same things over and over and over again, usually with even more complexity); rather, I feel compelled to write little pieces of software that vastly improve my experience of the new, interesting hobbies.

Avoid competitiveness and "getting ahead" -- pursue mastery the same way a zen gardener does. It's very enjoyable to be good at useless things.

I agree with your view.

I took up cycling. When I was 35 I was having trouble with back pain that I assumed was rooted in not exercising. I find cycling to be the least objectionable form of exercise. My hip popped back into socket after a couple weeks and that was the main cause of back pain but I find I feel significantly worse and am less productive if I don't keep up with the exercise.

For purely code stuff, I tend to learn a new language when I don't want to program anything. I particularly like ones with non-mainstream philosophies as they provide a different perspective on the craft. I don't do much with the languages I learn but it usually kicks me back into regular coding.

I had the same exact issue but was exacerbated by cycling unfortunately. If you do get into cycling which is a great post burnout stress reliever, I highly recommend a bike fitting - it’ll make cycling so much more enjoyable and avoid further injury. This with plenty of stretching and a standing desk mostly solved my back issues.

Just to underline your excellent advice:

I developed back pain cycling at some point, which turned out to me coming from right hamstrings. Regular stretching solved it immediately.

And a bike fitting is a thousand percent worth the effort. Cycling is a bit weird in that it's a low impact sport, but uses very repetitive motions. If things are well adjusted, you can ride bikes til you're ninety. And if they're not, you can slowly exacerbate bad pressure on the knee until it's a nightmare.

Just be careful around cycling since it's one of the worst things you can do to your back. edit: if not done properly / mind the posture etc.

The sensible thing after a burnout seems to be more mindfulness. Paying attention when something is too much and then reducing it. I personally would not divide it between work and spare time. It makes sense to me, to reduce all sources of stress. Minimalism comes to mind. Overall less critical systems, which could drag you down.

You can reduce stressful problems by automating them away. So I would just start with your own problems, going step by step and focusing on low maintenance and immediate benefits. I would set very low expectations and always be aware of the risk you are taking for your health. Maybe you will get better in the future to push something to the next level. Worst case, your own life got easier.

I have also suffered periods of technical burnout -- it's almost inevitable that the workload will exceed your capacity at some point in your career.

Contrarian opinion here - maybe it's okay to leave the side projects behind. I don't work for a FAANG, but have had several senior and lead developer positions at mid-to-large companies for the last 20 years. As I moved in my career I took on increasingly challenging projects at my day job, and quite frankly there was nothing I could do in my free time that would be close to the challenge or variety of some of the larger projects I have worked on. By the end of the week I just had no brain capacity for more tech stuff.

I have consistently spent 10% of my work time on new training (whether it was company policy or not) to ensure that my skills have kept up to date, and I use that to introduce new technologies to the company when it organically fit the companies needs.

I would suggest experimenting with some new hobbies (preferably something athletic to offset the office work) to see if anything interests you. You may have reached the point in your career where your day job is enough "tech stuff".

BTW, If you find that nothing is of interest to you, then you may be suffering from depression which can often happen after severe burnout. I would recommend seeking out some help if that is the case - there is no need to suffer in silence!

Burnout is your brain experiencing fatigue from being pushed too hard. You cannot will yourself to be more productive - it is guaranteed to backfire.

The best things I've found to cope with burnout are tasks that can't be optimised, are unimportant, and low-medium intensity. Just going for a walk is a good way to start, as is helping friends and family with things they need to do.

Spending months in front of a TV watching Star Trek doesn't help, nor does attempting to invent a new, marketable product. It has to be somewhere in the middle.

I’ve been in a similar position but with sport rather than coding.

I’ve represented my country and competed abroad. After burning out racing, I weirdly couldn’t enjoy it as a hobby anymore.

Perfectionism was definitely a factor. The main thing for me was the lack of learning new stuff.

When you’re a beginner, the initial steep learning curve can be really fun. Then it flattens out once you’re an expert.

Maybe you could build a side project in a new language - or even step away from coding for a while and learn something completely different.

I don't code for fun anymore. I haven't for a couple years. Honestly, it all just takes too much time. I enjoy writing code for work; but, at home, I work out, I play video games, I spend time with friends and go on hikes.

I think it's okay for you to not be interested in doing side projects anymore, there's a lot more to life and the world than programming; and, if your heart wants to venture outside of it, then let it! You might find another, wonderful passion :)

Did you ever recover from burnout or just recover enough to continue functioning?

This was (probably still is) exactly my mistake...being able to survive is by no means related to "I'm recovered and happy to commit to something new"

And after 2 years of surviving, I feel that I lost a lot of time

I can only suggest you grow vegetables or do something tangible as your side project. Something involving your hands with real results. Do that for awhile. It will soon cause you to find something if that's a thing you want to pursue.

Side note: People in tech have weird expectations put on them, as if the day job isn’t enough, you have to constantly prove your cred doing a million side-projects. All apparently open source so any random can grab your work or alternatively so you can be seen to "give back". My dentist, doctor, plumber, carpenter friends etc don't have this issue.

All the other suggestions are good (especially the one remembering you that you do not HAVE to spend your free time on side projects). I want to add a small recent anecdotical suggestion.

I was not really burnt down but I noticed I started to loose enthusiasm for “The Craft” (of programming). Surprisingly, what reignited the spark was starting to watch and interact with people livecoding on Twitch. I don’t know what it was, maybe watching people doing THEIR side projects in a playful and relaxed environment make me rediscover the fun aspects of programming.

Small steps, little projects that can be done in a few days.

Trying to have fun over getting results.

Maybe getting into some different things that involves new people and subjects.

> Worse than that, I can't actually think of anything worth building, or even tinkering with, which is sad, as spending some of my free time on side projects was something I really enjoyed

I've felt this too. The most soul-destroying part was that as a maker and tinkerer, building is what gives me joy and fuels my engine.

If you're in the US, explore your company's FMLA policy. I was able to take two months of unpaid leave last year after being diagnosed with severe depression & anxiety caused by stress in the workplace.

I also started going to therapy once a week, which helped switch focus from short-term survival to long-term personal growth.

Towards the beginning, I felt at fault for allowing myself to grow cynical. Reading books like "The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress" (Christina Maslach) helped me identity the stressors in my corporate environment and move away from these.

Other folks have covered the suggestion to treat yourself as a personal project for awhile. When you're ready, giving back to your community (or just random strangers) can be healing as well. I took the money I'd usually spend on tech side projects and started paying off people's credit card debt and buying books/groceries for perfect strangers.


Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter, "Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry", World Psychiatry. 2016 Jun; 15(2): 103–111. Published online 2016 Jun 5. doi: 10.1002/wps.20311


This is a good overview of the topic, including definition (see below), charactristics, causes, and aspects.

Burnout is a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion, feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job, and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.

I'd recommend the treatment section as well, beginning:

The personal and organizational costs of burnout have led to proposals for various intervention strategies. Some try to treat burnout after it has occurred, while others focus on how to prevent burnout by promoting engagement. Intervention may occur on the level of the individual, workgroup, or an entire organization. In general, the primary emphasis has been on individual strategies, rather than social or organizational ones, despite the research evidence for the primary role of situational factors.

Force yourself to rest and to do nothing for long periods of time.

Eventually start building back on yourself. Focus on something you haven't for a while. Call back an old friend with which you have lost contact but didn't want to. Focus on your family, do some sports. Read a book.

Eventually the passion will comeback and you will have your energy again.

As humans we live in cycles, it is normal to break up once in a while.

Don't forget to sleep. Sleep what your body feels like it

I started to value my side projects higher. So I work less and have given myself time to do whatever I like the rest of the time. Sometimes I train, sometimes I recover, sometimes I work with side projects.

Having time off, ideas came back.

I am actually in an opposite position right now: buildings ideas I think are great that I cannot get any feedback on. I have tried promoting the ideas online and asking for feedback from friends and family in the real world. Crickets. If the ideas or execution fail epically I suspect somebody would have mentioned this. Silence.

It’s weird because one of the ideas, easy multi computer website test automation in the browser using a JavaScript tool, could save large organizations a truck load of money in product reliability and release management. Still silence.

The closest I get to actual feedback, when somebody is feeling generous, is to instead suggest some vaguely related prior existing tool or application. While I understand somebody might think they are being helpful with that it’s actually not. Saying the ideas are garbage is helpful. Suggesting an unrelated alternative that doesn’t solve the same problem is a negative like fining a crime victim for reporting a crime.

If you’re talking about the file system share, there are better tools for people with the skills to get it set up. The tech seems good, but the set up is hard. The limitation of local network is rough for getting people excited, you should set up a tiny relay to let people connect.

The documentation is a little unfocused, but the pitch is good. If we assume the pitch is the primary purpose, simplifying the user experience should be the top priority. There’s a bunch of tools that have tried to solve the “throw file at Mom” problem, but I haven’t seen one work without putting my files in someone else’s server.

I’m not sure how you differentiate this from Plex, WD myCloud, OneDrive, or Google Drive. That’s an important factor considering how easier some are and how powerful others are.

You built a desktop UI in the browser to share files? That’s a bit much for anyone to take a serious look at. It’s the same problem as documentation and this post: needs more focus.

If you’re enjoying making it, and it does useful things for you, have fun! But I don’t see it getting much feedback or traction due mostly to lack of focus, but solving some of the technical limitations would make it much more broadly applicable and would help as well.

Thank you so very much!!!

How old are you? Do you live alone? Do you have kids? It's normal to get older and to lose interest in things you once thought important. If it actually is important, it will become interesting again. It's okay not to care about things you don't care about now.

Do you sit in front of the screen the whole day at your faang job? Forget software side projects then. Turn off all screens when coming home, pick up hiking as a hobby, or start side project with wood working, painting or so.

It's OK to not have a side project.

If you really want one, I recommend doing something physical, with your hands. Like woodworking, cooking, pottery, whatever.

That seem to be a good counterbalance to the thought-heavy tech jobs most of us on HN have.

Just do something different? Music, drawing, painting, adding 200hp to your car? Starting as a novice in something completely unknown can give you a lot of satisfaction, since the achievements come quickly (to begin with)

Don't think in terms of software. Think in terms of the change you want to bring into the world. Software is just a bridge you can take to get there.

Writing software without purpose is boring. Writing software to earn a living frequently aligns with business objectives, but not your own. It can absolutely wear you down.

Before worrying about your love for software, find your calling. What you want to breathe into the world. Whether you use software or not to get there won't matter.

And it's totally fine if you don't do any of this. Life doesn't have rules, and you don't have to fit a mold.

I had the same exact thing happen to me in 2017. It was so bad that I packed my stuff, left San Francisco for good and radically changed my day to day. I decided I'm just gonna make music – which I did for the whole of 2018.

Things radically changed once again in 2019 when I did my first ayahuasca. That somehow almost completely eliminated my "tech PTSD" and I went back to tech a month or so after.

It's been 2 years now, I have a remote job and side projects that I can't wait to work on when I wake up.

I "burned out" while working at a FAANG and it just turned out to be a health problem, accelerated by the food there.

All of my side projects from the time are extremely uninspired.

Can you share some general information about the health problem, in case the rest of us should be watching out for it?

I would like to know too. But I can tell you about my experience.

I experienced something similar after moving to college from my hometown. Obviously the food was much different to what I had at my home. This led to me having cognitive and physical issues for 5 years that I stayed in the dorms. I used to feel like a zombie, no motivation or enthusiasm and a host of other symptoms. During my internship in my final year, I was diagnosed with something similar to IBS.

The solution was just to be conscious about what you eat and how it makes you feel.

The food at my internship was of such poor quality that it made me feel drained for many hours after eating. This was what prompted me to get checked seriously.

Am I better now? On average yes, but never like I was before moving to college. I eat a very restrictive diet. Semi permanent damages to one's system is not uncommon for people diagnosed with IBS.

Sure, it was iron overload [1]. I thought I could "eat like an adult" there and catch up on leafy greens which I always hated. But it turns out I hated them because my body can't process out iron. It kinda turned on its head my idea of "trying to be healthy" which is why I didn't mention the specific thing.

[1] https://nautil.us/issue/67/reboot/iron-is-the-new-cholestero...

Asking for ideas for post burnout sounds like you have not really recovered.

Learn to relax. Go outside, hike, sunbath, swim, read good books ( literature ) or try to volunteer.

I burned myself out a couple of years ago. A combination of 4-5 years of extreme workplace toxicity and 17+ years of relationship toxicity proved too much for my mind and body to handle effectively.

As a result, I'm super familiar with that cold, dead, leaden feeling of not caring about anything, not really able to feel any of the excitement and buzz that I know, intellectually, I should be able to feel. It is taking a long old while to return back to a position of health, and while that's happening the only thing I've really had to draw on is grit, determination, and a sort of psychotic single mindedness.

I'm now in a much MUCH better place than I was before, but I've been able to keep pursuing my side project (and hopefully eventual startup), and able to keep making some kind of progress ... but it's really only been sheer bloody-mindedness that's kept me going. (I'm hella stubborn when I want to be).

Happily I'm feeling a lot better now, and progress is definitely picking up again now that I can actually smell the victory that's so tantalisingly close to being in my grasp.

I've been there a couple of times. I haven't found a cure, but I do have some bits of advice that might help:

1. A student once asked his teacher, "Master, what is enlightenment?" The master replied, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.". Maybe you're still hungry or tired?

2. Richard Feynnam and his spinning plates story deals specifically with his burnout: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2291773

3. Refill your creative tanks. Expose yourself to experiences -- e.g. take a hike in scenic nature, or maybe travel to Rome for a week (edit: haha, not so easy these days!). Re-read books and listen to music that worked for you when you were younger. Some experiences won't resonate with you, but some might -- and that's why you're doing this.

4. Some passions / hobbies / occupations burn out for good. Don't be sad about that. I had it myself, and I have a friend who changed his career completely after a burnout.

After non-stop studying AND working at the same time for two years, I`ve dealt with a similar situation. When I realized the problem I had I tried to deal with it with different methods (reading and trying to follow the advice in such posts - https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-to-beat-stress/, browsing forums, and so on).

But the only method that worked for me - talking to my best friend about it. She insisted that I needed professional help and I started sessions with the psychologist. After 3 months I felt improvements and it was really great :)

Similar position at the start of this year. Fortunately I was able to quit and take time off. I'll probably start to take on small bits of work in a month or two. Some things that helped: Properly taking time completely off - disconnected if possible. After some time: starting a 'days of code' style exercise where I spent about an hour a day coding something fun and trivial. For me this helped find things that I wanted to work on again, without the gut-wrenching anxiety that looking at my computer normally engendered. Spending time on unrelated hobbies (in my case music and entomology) Mindfulness

Even with all the above, burnout can be rough, especially at first. I wish you well on your road to recovery!

I've had a minor burnout 4 years ago where i dropped my side projects.

I changed jobs and have been working the longest time on my current side project. One of the most important things is that I don't need to do it today. I can have a week of leave from my side projects if i want.

It's working on it consistently that works, without overworking myselve.

Question is: what do you care about?

Is it about the technology it earning money from them? If you want to earn money from them without caring about the learning part, it's not actually a passion.


You can't dox other users, or attack other users, on HN. I've banned this account. Please see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27430579.

A little hokey, maybe, but I've found great strength in the Tao te ching, specifically the Ron Hogan translation.

I'd describe my burnout as 50 percent PTSD, 50 percent taking everything too seriously. Every time I'm feeling down, tired and burned out, I find something in there that helps me let go a bit. Good luck with everything.


A few years ago I suffered a burnout that eventually got me fired.

What I think you need is a meaningful, collaborative effort.

It doesn't necessarily have to be anything "useful". You just need a community with a common goal.

Volunteering seems to work great here, but I've seen people pick up co-op games, team crocheting or collaborative art.

It appears that the real recovery is the friendships you made along the way.

For now, make yourself the side project. Dedicate the same amount of research and hours to improving your body or mind and use the time to more fully disconnect from the web. Nurture boredom and silence. Experience the world with your own senses. Get out of the house, there is no life without movement. The ideas will return once you have prepared a worthy home for them.

I'd suggest mindfulness before you do anything else. In fact I'd suggest a formal, longer term, structured bit of mindfulness specifically - look up "MBSR" which is an 8 week stress reduction approach. I'd recommend it for pretty much anyone but it would definitely suit a sort of "off ramping" moment like this.

> Worse than that, I can't actually think of anything worth building

Seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse. I’d only start worrying if I actually had something I wanted to build but couldn’t muster the gung-ho to do it because of burnout.

As it stands, it just seems like you have better uses for your time.

I see a lot of comments here have already echoed this same sentiment.

My guess is that your passion is still there, but you're currently just about maxed out mentally working at the FAANG. (even if you don't think you are)

In my experience, side projects require much more mental effort than initially thought. At different stages of life, we have different levels of available bandwidth.

I'm taking advanced math and physics classes from the state university, that I'd always wished I'd taken. Take advantage of remote learning while it lasts.

Also consider getting involved with an existing project if you're having writer's block. Lots of stuff out there in need of some help.

You don’t have to have side projects.

You could just keep making money at faang until there’s an idea that calls you.

What kinds of things have you (or anyone else who burned out) tried so far that didn't work? Are you doing anything for fun? Any social activities? If there's a pattern around what's not helping that might help find out what's left to try.

Are you defining “side projects” only as software efforts?

It’s a great big world outside of software/tech.

I have loads of side projects, er, hobbies that have nothing to do with software/tech/startups.

Many of them are best done outside.

I joke that one of my hobbies actually repels tech.

Do other "fun" things, learn to sail, learn to fly a plane, learn to cook

I can relate. Been in a similar place after corporate hell. Things that have helped me:

- Stop using social media. People posting how excited they are will drag you further down

- Give yourself time. Don’t force it. Time will mend things

- Go out into Nature. Leave your phone at home

Move on to other things. Stop trying to make it happen, it's a waste of time/life. Just accept that you don't enjoy it anymore and find new things to enjoy. YOLO.

Build up your body.

Go running, lift weights, do calisthenics, join a team sport.

Whatever. Pick something you enjoy of course! Just go out and do physical stuff for the pure fact of physical stuff.

Don’t push it. Just pick something else to focus your spare time on (fitness, video games, cooking, whatever). Eventually you’ll get inspired again.

Took up other hobbies and forgot about side projects.

Maybe the burnout is a signal that what you were doing was not actually right and there is deeper lesson/learning in life out there?

At least you're still working and haven't given up on that.

I stayed clear so far of burnout. Nothing but opinion.

Is it maybe about accepting a permanent shift in your mindset? The body made it very clear to you that your priorities did a lot of harm. I can't find how peak productivity is humane and wouldn't strive for it (again). If this involves a change of everything than this is it.

Edit: Peak productivity is different from peak performance. Take care what you really strive for.

As a contractor (who lets there be long gaps), I find gaps help... give yourself a month or 3 off.

Sorry to hear you're dealing with this. I was there for 6 years while working for two of the most toxic and manipulative managers who took advantage of my natural want of helping when I can (not for attention or reward. I really don't know why, but it's kind of a burden). I wasn't myself for those years and close friends took notice, but that all fortunately changed when they laid me off in the fall and I couldn't be happier. It's taking time, but with each day my old self is returning and with that the motivation to create again.

One thing that's helped in terms of coming up with ideas, for projects that are more on the digital art side, has been thinking about how the realm of comedic media is stale. From there, what could I make with my current skillset and that would make friends, others, and myself legit laugh at and engage with. Through dwelling I came up with a 3d mocapped Joe Biden avatar whose voice was cloned using a speech synthesis library along with a cloned lexicon using gpt2. Had it streaming on Twitch and connected the chat api as input for it to respond to, enabling users to interact with it. Some of the stuff it spit out was pretty wild.

In terms of ideas for utility projects, I've found it helps to think about something you enjoy using in your hobbies, but that you wish it was improved upon. Personally, and oddly enough, I enjoy learning about and observing candle chart technical indicators (not the line/triangle drawing type of thing. Just isn't my thing and can easily lead to confirmation bias), but use apps that either charge a high premium, invade user privacy, crap UI, cap number of indicators used, and/or don't offer much in terms of charting options. So I decided to build my own app that answers those issues and am currently getting close to releasing... somewhat lol.

Just think about what was taken from you during those troubled times, whether it was sense of humor, joy, etc, and think of how to get back what was robbed of you. Cliche to say, but it takes small steps at first, and from there the ideas/execution will snowball.

Consider it a blessing and move on?

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