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Burnout Is Real (twitter.com/denvercoder)
250 points by mooreds 5 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 230 comments

I never doubted it was real. But I never really understood what it meant until I was deeply depressed and couldn't get up from bed to go to work anymore. Ended up leaving my job at a FANG and taking a year long sabbatical before rejoining the workforce in a lower/less stressful position for a company not on tech.

Sometimes it's still depressing to think o took such a hit in my career. Bit when I remember what I felt like at the end I have no doubt I made the right decision.

It didn't really feel like a decision though. It felt like I was at my wits end. I gave everything and had nothing left.

I don't blame the company or anyone I worked with. This was all buildup from pressure I put into myself.

It's real, but it only really becomes real when it happens to you.

Having been in a similar situation, my sympathies; I've found it to be a very strange sensation. The burnt-out knows exactly what work tasks they need to do, they know that it's easily within their own capabilities, and they (at a conscious level at least) even desperately want to do the tasks to fulfill their professional obligations (or to simply continue getting paid). But the body just will not do it or forcing it to do so feels as strenuous as Olympic weightlifting such that one is exhausted at the end of the day not from being productive but from attempting to beat oneself into being productive. It's a very unhappy state to be in.

OMG you've nailed exactly what I've been feeling for the past six months or so. :/

Take it seriously. I don't know if there's a ton of studies around this, but IMHO there's a lot of anecdata that suggests that this sort of burnout can be a lot like other bodily trauma... a little bit of it isn't permanent, but if you ignore it and keep re-traumatizing yourself, it can become permanent.

I've never personally experienced true burnout, but I also have a policy of taking it seriously and making sure that I do something about it long before it becomes a permanent trauma, and I have had to call a couple of multi-week vacations with relatively short notice, or perhaps announce a vacation a month before the end of some important project. Sometimes it's even as simple as waking up on Friday and just realizing that today is a "Nope!" and taking it off. I think if you nip it in the bud you often may not even need to do it that often. But take it seriously.

And if your job won't let you do that, take seriously the possibility of finding a new one. Yeah, finding a new job sucks, but permanently burning out sucks way more.

People at my office sometime wonder why I have a low PTO balance yet have been there for 5 years. It's exactly the same as the Friday comment.

Sometimes I'm just really not feeling like work and take a day off. Unless something important is happening that day, management could care less. Sometime I stay up late the night before because something caught my attention outside work and I couldn't put it down. I'll take the next day off.

Helps that my company have a seemingly generous PTO policy (at 5 years it a bit more than a day per paycheck (every other Friday)). If you're not a problem employee everyone just wishes you a good day.

But, I don't think I really felt burnout before the pandemic. Working alone has pushed me to the point where focusing feels like a strenuous task. My most productive stints (in my subjective self-opinion) are when I'm working with other people on a call (my role is basically half research / half implementing it).

Part of me hopes going back into the office will help calm my mind but I'm just not sure.

Not going to advocate that this is the answer for everyone, but what I thought was burnout for me - turned out I had severe anxiety, depression, and ADHD.

I'm on medication now, going through therapy, and still at my current gig doing better than ever.

So, what I want to say is that if you are concerned you are burnt out - it's very possible work is burning you out, but it's also possible to seek treatment before making a big decision like leaving a workplace with tons of great benefits and healthcare to support you.

Can we please not devolve every discussion about natural human behavior into ‘you must have adhd, get meds’. It’s standard pressure and human centric fear of failure around business expectations where those around you may or not give a flying fuck about your efforts. Thus, the pressure feels unfulfilling and driven by fear. It’s not always rocket science.

I don't think this was the poster's attempt to "devolve" the discussion. Simply sharing an anecdote that he thought might prove worthy of consideration for those who are suffering burnout.

I also suffered burnout at a job, but I didn't realize it until I was receiving therapy related to my anxiety. I don't know anything about meds or ADHD since that isn't anything I have experience with, but I think it's worth doing some introspection on one's self to see if there are thoughts or tendencies that are also there underneath the burnout.

Correct. I am sharing my current on-going experience with what I thought was workplace burnout, but was really a number of other mental health issues that were contributing to my overall feeling of doubt, anxiety, performance at work.

To be clear again, I am not advocating for everyone to assume their burnout is due to some sort of mental health issue - but to also not discredit exploring this prior to making a big emotional decision like leaving a job, and possibly making symptoms even worse if not addressed.

Can you alternate gigs ? I found this to be a great fix (maybe transient though). Manual labour 4h, coding 4h. Aiming at drag free day.

I found it useful to start a private project, find something fancy and interesting to get lost in and spark the creative juices. In other words work less, play more.

I have this obsession that life should be about play. Make productive outputs playful. I think biology made us aim for this. Individually we optimize for lower energy use and in group it's the same we like when things flow, when everybody is in tune. In those cases it's like playing.. and usually it represents peak performance at the system level.

Actually I've been doing a bit of exactly that... 1. I've been writing a Forth interpreter on the side for fun. 2. I'm learning how to distill liquor. :)

That's an interesting way to put it. Throughout 2020 I felt that way. I just could not force myself to work, and I've been in the workforce a while (I'm 39 and had a job non-stop since I was 12). I know how important it is to maintain income. I was thrown into a new position where I didn't know how to do the work, so I was trying to figure everything out with a new platform, and I was mostly isolated without any help. That situation and the pandemic crushed me.

I've had a lot of hard times in life, including the end of a relationship that for some reason left me with tremors in my hands for a couple years afterwards. That eventually went away. I know what suffering is, I can push through it for sure.

Today I'm in the same job, but I think I burned a few work relationships. Not on purpose, I certainly didn't want to. But I'm able to again get myself to work, I no longer feel like I can't control my own actions.

I think everything above is not burnout, but I've never had the luxury of burnout. I'm on my own and I think lose my marriage if I lost my income, I don't want that to happen, so it's do or die. I'm expecting to die early of cancer or other ailment but with no family support financially/emotionally/psychologically, in fact they drain people.. it's pretty much my place in life to make a rich man richer and that's the end of it. I'm happy I can at least be my own man and hold a job. My journey has changed my political view on the world, I started off being one of those competent, capable right wing guys. I still am competent and capable, but I now view the world as unnecessarily harsh on those not born at the finish line. I believe for people that reach retirement age, at bare minimum, Social Security should be guaranteed to be there waiting.

I hear you on the marriage piece. My wife was brutally unsupportive during my burnout and I’m just waiting for my kids to be grown up before I leave.

I'm sorry to hear that. Yes, I haven't wanted to find that out. I've been with my wife 10 years now and I love her more than ever. They say marriages last 7 years on average since that's the amount of time it took to get a self-sustaining child out of the door for the majority of human history. If you make it past that programmed span of 7 years, I think the odds of staying together go up significantly.

I would do the same thing you are. Leave once they're into college or otherwise move out. A spouse can think you're just some lazy, but it's harder than ever to maintain employment and being a developer is actually more stressful, not less. It always is for me, I'm pushed pretty hard. It's definitely not loving. I told my wife who has been struggling that we'll use all our resources to make her comfortable. To quit her job or whatever changes we need to make to where we live and the rest. My condolences to you, I think it's impossible to know what type of person you're with until you're in certain situations like that.

> make a rich man richer

While true, this can be a very self-defeating way of thinking about it. The reality is that we are paid quite well, and it takes an entity with lots of resources to be willing to take on the risk of a fulltime hire like us.

It's not easy to build a business that gets to that stage; believe me, I tried. So on the whole "working for the man" is a very rational choice, your end of the deal isn't too bad in the big picture, and you shouldn't feel bad about it.

Late response here, but I've never worked at a place where there was a risk involved with hiring people. The money is already coming in, or will be coming in, as soon as you start fulfilling the contract the employer is already holding.

What you're describing is far more rare. Building a product out with no buyer waiting at all. It happens, but that's generally known as bad business and a prototype is at least shopped around before any big money goes in. Usually the client has already signed on to start paying as soon as I join to work on it.

The rich man you're making richer is typically only different from you in that he's paying you less than the value you're creating. He's just holding the contract as a middle-man and his value add is perhaps limited to managing the project or relationship at most. Which you can end up handling as well in most cases.

The way you know my story is reality is because anywhere the money does not come in, you're let go. It's all contingent on you paying your own way and making the employer wealthier than they already likely are.

Employment is actually not a favor as people see it. It's a predatory arrangement with an extreme imbalance of power in the employer-employee relationship.

Finding a workers' cooperative resolves this conflict, or a professional lobbying organization (which are essentially de facto unions).

I feel this way and I have a very easy job and life

I went through something similar a few years ago as well. I was able to get out of bed, but I could not focus on a single task for more than a few minutes. I'd frequently get neck pain and migraines late in the week as well. Management was unsympathetic, all they saw was productivity go down. Ultimately I quit and a few months later found myself in a similar job, but actually enjoying what I was doing under a different team/company. Burnout sucks.

I had almost the exact same experience with the neck pain and headaches. Also as others said in the thread, it doesn't feel like a decision when it comes time to leave, it feels like an inevitability. My situation was the contract I was on was won by a different prime, one who came in with an unstated but heavily implied by work and meeting load of lots of unpaid overtime. On a project that I had already done years of unpaid overtime on.

I gave everything and had nothing left.

That's it. Reminds me of the start of Allen Ginsberg's poem America, one of my all-time favorites:

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.

America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956. [1]

[1] https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49305/america-56d22b4...

In the US we have a society where people walk around wearing suffering like a badge of honor. We worship work. I was brought up in a Midwest culture where "work ethic" was everything - if you worked hard enough, you would be successful. In contrast, if you were not successful it was because you didn't work hard enough.

Then, I got into tech. I hear "war stories" from people about sleeping under their desk at their cubicles. I hear people tell jokes about how their career strains their marriage. I hear about people wasting their 20's working every hour they can for a FAANG to get ahead... It was like that whole "work ethic gets you ahead" culture from my childhood got turned up to 11.

I'm meandering here but overall that poem reminded me of a blog post from long ago stating "Never Save Anything for the Swim Back. Ever." [1] which was introduced to me by a manager using it as justification to work a 60+ hour crunch week. I guess where I'm going here is these sort of idealizations of fiction where "work ethic trumps all" really clash with this poem. I feel like idealizations like this serve the interests of those who are capitalizing off of labor more than they do the general worker/person.

[1] https://joshldavis.com/2013/08/31/never-save-anything-for-th...

Wonderful poem. Thanks!

Don't feel bad if your mental health is in a much better place now.

You come first. No exceptions.

Until you have children, then they come first.

That's not entirely wrong, but it's not quite correct either. When our first was born, the nurses at the maternity ward (about as pro-baby advocacy a bunch as one could imagine) advised us to "take care of yourselves so you can take care of the baby"; you're not doing your children any favors if you're driving yourself into a breakdown.

Put your own oxygen mask on first

>It didn't really feel like a decision though. It felt like I was at my wits end. I gave everything and had nothing left.

I feel the same way at my FANG job. The spiral has been astounding.

Most people I know at the same company already see therapists and take SSRIs. I know I could go down that path and force my body to adjust and perform as I need it, as if my body and mind are a horse that just needs the right kind of whip to get racing. It feels so much healthier and less stressful to leave and address my root cause (the isolation of wfh).

Currently looking for a new in-office job outside of FANG in a more chill location, and planning on quitting in 3 weeks regardless of the outcome.

I had a similar experience 7 years ago (also after a year of working remotely), and the freedom I felt after quitting was sweeter than any amount of money they could paid me.

Did you handle this alone or did you find some kind of burnout support group ? Restarting does feel super odd, a kind of lossless loss. I guess biology didn't like falls.

I've been on antidepressants daily and doing therapy weekly. The meds and therapy have helped immensely.

I assume it's one on one therapy ?

Take care

what kind of work do you do now?

It's not too different than what I used to do before. I'm mostly a project manager for technical projects.

Bit it's a different business so it feels fresh enough.

I don’t know how to frame this well and I apologize in advance.

But I think this idea of “oh wow burnout is real I’m so woke” is a privileged person problem. I don’t mean that burnout is a first world problem, but that this “Burnout is real” is.

I struggle to put my head in a place where I can be amazed that burnout is real and that I have to warn others of this “thing” as if it’s not part of millions of people’s lives all around. You must have had a really really privileged life to not have seen that someone who couldn’t afford college and took whatever job they could get without a degree has probably been burnt out for a long time. Or that maybe that lady working retail at Marshall’s is burnt out too, but they don’t have a choice. They are not going to be able to take a year off, or go do their hobby. They probably don’t even have money for a hobby.

To tell these people “Guys, guys, burnout is real! I saw it!” gets me to roll my eyes a little.

I understand most readers here are in tech and well paid and perhaps in that same position, but I had to point this out to share some perspective.

For some anecdata, I think a lot of it is that most of the tech crowd, myself included, was basically taught growing up that "burnout" didn't exist for non-physical labor.

My parents constantly refrained how I "wanted a good job indoors with air conditioning", with the rationale that I wouldn't have to worry about my body breaking down (hilarious after I experienced cubicle life prior to starting a regular workout routine). This was reinforced by that the large amount of extra-curriculars I was (mostly) pushed into during high school, under the assumption that I could just handle it on top of AP/honors schoolwork. "Taking a break" was something you did for 30 minutes, maybe an hour at most before getting back to whatever the task at hand was.

My "teenage rebellion" was fights with my parents over doing nothing but playing video games on Saturday after working the equivalent of 14 hour days Sunday-Friday, all in the name of the big college in the sky. The notion of "mental burnout" didn't even enter my lexicon until college, although I was almost certainly suffering from it for most of high school. I know a lot of my classmates had similar experiences.

On the professional front, a lot of managers and executives (though not all) also promote this "sleep is for the weak" mentality as an article of faith. Likewise I've heard multiple snide remarks from blue-collar workers who don't know any better about how "cushy" those tech jobs are, and how if they had one they'd totally just work 100 hour weeks because "how hard is it to sit at a computer all day?"

So there is a widespread notion out there, at least in the US, that intellectual labor isn't really laborious, and if you claim fatigue from it you're just weak. These posts are largely a (rightful IMO) rebellion against that notion. If everyone took your perspective then yeah, they'd be rather trite. Unfortunately it never ceases to amaze me the self-destructive things people tie their identities to, and then try to pull other people into the same habits just for the validation.

I think THIS is a nuanced and useful way to approach this topic. I felt the very same thing. "Get a good job or else you'll destroy your body doing 'hard labor'".

I should be able to just will myself to work harder, for longer stretches. I'm just too weak to break through this low-spell. At least that's what I typically tell myself.

There's certainly room in this discussion for the boundaries of self-care and not accepting inherently destructive work practices.

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I appreciate them.

I have worked in retail, dealt with some of the rudest people. Sometimes, I still get angry about it. But my job satisfaction was certainly higher back then. At the end of day, I was tired but I didn't had to think of work anymore. Sure I met some assholes, but I also met some great people, some are still my friends.

Other jobs I had were tutoring, security guard, IT helpdesk. All these jobs had higher satisfaction and they ended at the end of day.

Now my dev job never really ends, I am constantly thinking about work related problems even while playing with my kids. The stuff that I work (storage) on is used mostly by advertising industry based on our clients. I am not making the world better, just making myself and some people richer. I might be burning out too, not sure if I was in retail for 10+ years, if I would feel same way. But when I worked with older people in retail, none of them ever complained about burn out like we programmers do.

Don’t you think that now that you’re not struggling to make ends meet you have more time and have the freedom to think about these things?

I went from working 16hs and never being home paid 10/hr to a cushy 8hr job where I am mostly working on my personal projects and I can’t wait to get out. But I’m not going to go out there and say “burnout is real” because I remember that back then I didn’t have a choice and I was way worse than I am now.

> Don’t you think that now that you’re not struggling to make ends meet you have more time and have the freedom to think about these things?

I don't disagree with this point. In a way, it is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Now that I am re-reading your original post, maybe I misunderstood you initially. Sticking with Maslow's theme, I suppose you are saying that someone declaring "burnout is real" is same as someone who has never been hungry, experiences their first hunger and then declares that "hunger is real". Yes it sounds silly.

And yes there are billions of people who do same mind numbing boring jobs all their lives, and they probably are suffering from burnout too. They just don't go out and say it.

But how can we improve their lives if no one talks about it. Some of lower needs have immediate consequences, and no one needs convincing that it is real. Now that majority of humans don't need to worry about food and shelter, we probably should start discussing next needs in hierarchy.

> Now my dev job never really ends, I am constantly thinking about work

100%. Made so much worse by the hard cutover to slack and zoom. Always on, always on camera, always on the record.

To some of the other commenters talking about it being a privilege: turns out that making a lot of money is often associated with shit culture, yes. Probably not a ton of fun driving a few keys up 95 either.

The tweet is cool. He found something that suits him. He does the job and it's done, he has enough money, and he's satisfied. That's a happy existence.

> Now my dev job never really ends, I am constantly thinking about work related problems even while playing with my kids.

I don't know your situation in detail, but I have caught myself feeling like this in the past and it was completely self-imposed. I want to believe that my work is adding value (even putting aside big-picture questions of whether it's valuable to the world overall, just providing immediate value to the business & clients can be rewarding), and since you have so much leverage as an engineer to impact the experience of thousands or millions of users with your code it's easy to let that feeling expand into an unhealthy amount of pressure to put on yourself.

I have found that stepping back and being explicit about my expectations for myself and my work has helped a lot. There are some things that are entirely out of my control, so I definitely shouldn't let myself get stressed about those. There are other things that could be within my control but don't fall within a reasonable set of constraints that I choose to set for myself. I don't expect myself to never make a mistake, or to work 80 hour weeks. This latter category is less black and white and I still struggle with it sometimes. I do want to be committed to my job, I do want to be seen as valuable, and work my way toward promotions, but you can still do that in tech in while still maintaining some work/life balance.

Being a founder for a few years also helped my outlook on this a lot. As a founder, or I imagine a CEO, this type of intense self imposed pressure is seemingly very necessary in order to succeed. As an employee, you see a much smaller reward if things go well, and you should allow yourself to feel a much smaller amount of pressure/stress when problems arise.

The work may never end but at the end of the day what has been done is good enough for that day.

Go back to retail?

I agree somewhat but I think many people in some lower paid jobs aren’t as miserable in them as you might imagine. I’ve met quite a few who are content with them - as the work doesn’t follow them home and has almost no mental game to it. It’s very adjacent to manual labor.

I didn’t start experiencing truly large amounts of job dissatisfaction until I worked in software. Jobs before then were never fantastic but I wasn’t upset like I get now and they never followed me home.

I seriously wish I could never hear the word the "privilege" again. Its an extremely spiteful mechanism to tear people down.

“Your problems are not as bad as these other people’s problems so they are not really problems”.

Lots to unpack, but that’s the statement every time someone mentioned someone else’s privilege.

I meant to say “man your problems are real, but they have been a problem for a big portion of the society for a very long time and they wish they could act on it, maybe be a bit more sensitive about it”

I think the thing that rankles for me in a lot of posts like this, is that they tend to talk about solutions to problems like burnout that are only feasible if you have the privilege to execute on them.

"Give yourself space to not work so you don't get burnt out" is only applicable if you have the expendable resources to do so, and the reason that many people don't is that our culture and society are broken for them. For someone like that, listening to people talk about things like "work-life balance" is enraging, frustrating, and demoralizing.

That said, if we're going to fix this situation, we're going to have to work together on it; which, for people who have the capacity to spend extra time on social issues, means putting their oxygen mask on first, so they're more effective at whatever it is that they're focused on. In many cases, this is precisely the kind of change necessary to fix the system.

My point here is that it's a complex situation, and it's correct both that a) there are bigger problems than burnout in the world and we should be aware of this and b) burnout is a real issue for some people, and that deserves support and attention too.

There's no reason we can't focus on more than one thing.

Your response makes me think you truly understood what I meant. And I agree with the latter part of the post. Hopefully people in the position of making the change experience the burnout and keep it in mind for when they are in a managerial position

No, privilege is very real. The problem is using it as a bludgeon to silence someone's complains or to induce guilt or shame.

I'm sure you do. Along with your wish to:

"check back on this coin when its tokenomics have improved. I am not interested in something with 70% of the total supply not yet in circulation."


> “oh wow burnout is real I’m so woke” is a privileged person problem

This is a profoundly destructive narrative.

First of all, comparing levels of privilege or disparaging people with a "privileged person problem" is unhelpful.

If we won the birthplace lottery and live in a wealthy and safe society the best thing to do is to use such advantage to make the whole world a better place and combat inequality.

Rolling your eyes is not that.

Second, burnout and depression are very common in the software industry and yet severely underreported and understated.

Many companies are responsible for exhausting on-call duty shifts, crunch time, endless deadlines. Some try to have employee perform unpaid overtime over weekends by calling it a hackathon.

You never hear these companies taking serious steps to address burnout.

Outside of tech circles, I hear a lot of stuff like "ooh, a bunch of rich techies whining about how tough their jobs are, oooh...". There needs to be a counter to this: life can be challenging for everyone. Just because people don't yell at you or you don't lift heavy logs for a living doesn't mean that your "cushy desk job" isn't hard. It's OK to be feeling these symptoms while sitting at a desk.

It is not a privileged person problem. People in less favorable positions or countries also deal with depression and when not treated properly they may abandon themselves, release the tensions from such life against someone nearby (look at the rates of family abuse in countries that are economically depressed, like ex-Soviet union). Some people even commit suicide like we saw Indian farmers who couldn’t fulfill their family expectations in abusive economical conditions. People with resources will have more chances to deal with such situations and survive to report it, but that’s all.

Perhaps the privilege is yours, criticizing people, accusing them of privilege as if they would have done anything wrong and have an undeserved luck. Please stop this “wokee” entitlement.

Perspective itself is a privilege. Typing out this comment on Hacker News is privilege. This whole "comparing levels of privilege" is a silly game with no real purpose.

This previous user's comment was not (in my interpretation) a criticism. They were merely pointing out that "burnout is real" isn't really a useful topic to discuss or debate. Stress is an irreconcilable part of life which everyone experiences. I'd wager that everyone in the world gets burnt out at one point or another.

To summarize: "Burnout is real" is a phrase that is about as useful as saying "Fire is hot". We all get it. We all know. The previous commenter was merely pointing that out.

> We all get it. We all know.

No... not everyone gets it. I have met plenty of people who don't believe burnout is a real thing in the tech industry. I have also met quite a few employers who have zero qualms about running their dev team ragged and burning them out as long as it meets their quarterly goals or whatever.

I find it ironic: Complaining about "wokeness", and then complaining about privilege.

We can think deeper than this surely.

You clearly misread my second paragraph.

I agree most people understand that burnout is real. And the fact that even those working 35-hour weeks making 6-figures get burnt out, makes it clear that people working 60-hour weeks making near-minimum wage have it much worse.

But it still makes sense to spread the message. Because even those blue-collar workers may work more efficient and effective if they weren't so burnt-out. Burnout isn't necessarily just a problem for employees.

Only being able to write about your own profound experiences and realisations if no one else has ever written about them, seems to eliminate a lot of possible articles...

Must be nice to be financially comfortable enough to give that up.

I’m glad that they’re addressing the issue, but how many people are stuck with the mortgage and the student debt and the family that needs almost every penny of their income to make ends meet for every person that has the resources to do drop out of the tech industry in less than half a year?

Agreeing with some of the comments here: I feel like I'm stuck in my current high paying job; we have a mortgage, nice car, lots of "stuff".

Through conversations with therapist and my spouse I've been slowly realizing how much this stuff owns me, rather than me owning stuff. I never have time to play with my synths or flight-sim setup or even photography anymore. The only time I'm truly relaxed is when we go somewhere far and without connectivity - I don't have a 1000-item household todolist, I don't get work emails, I don't have 100 entertainment options that paralyze me. I'm trying to convince myself and make the step and actually start getting rid of stuff and considering a less stressful/paying job... I may not be as "stuck with mortgage" as I feel -- we'll see how it goes :|

This is definitely true for me. I went from a digital nomad lifestyle living abroad for over a decade, to moving back to North America and "settling down".

In the last three years I've bought a house, fancy car, and accumulated a bunch of "stuff".

By most people's standards, what I have accumulated is not that much, but to me it's a huge weight on my shoulders. Not only the physical items, but subscriptions to services, utilities, property taxes, home maintenance fees, etc. It's all extremely stressful and draining.

I also used to have a ton of hobbies (photography and electronic music as well, interestingly enough). I haven't touched either in over a year, and I don't even have a valid excuse for this paralysis. My job has a hard stop at 5pm. Yet at the end of the day, the only thing I mentally have energy to do is cook with my wife, and then zone out in front of Netflix, read reddit, or occasionally have a few beers.

Even though I make more money now and am in a much more stable job than ever before, for the first time in nearly a decade I find myself depressed and filled with anxiety. I yearn for the simpler lifestyle with less to worry about that I lived before. I'm at - over to be truthful - the age where all my peers have kids, but I'm honestly terrified of the additional responsibility and commitment needed when even just supporting myself with a 'normal' lifestyle is this stressful.

>By most people's standards, what I have accumulated is not that much, but to me it's a huge weight on my shoulders. Not only the physical items, but subscriptions to services, utilities, property taxes, home maintenance fees, etc. It's all extremely stressful and draining.

You're not alone, I feel the same way. I think it's the never-ending recurrence of these costs in both time and money that causes the anxiety. I took a break from work last fall and even though I have plenty of savings it wasn't hard to see how fast these recurring costs would drain them. At some point it all just feels like a yoke on your back.

Lately I've been dreaming about buying a sailboat and cruising without a fixed home address. I realize on a logical level that it isn't as glamorous as my fantasy of it but it calls to me nonetheless.

This dev did just that! http://disengage.ca

>and then zone out in front of Netflix, read reddit,

You're not allowing yourself to be bored. You can't do creative hobbies if you're just going on autopilot and spending your time doing the absolute lowest common denominator timesinks like Reddit and Netflix.

Hey I can kind of empathize!

You didn't ask for advice but that's never stopped me before!

Do a fiscal budget and forecast it out a few years. It is so helpful in seeing where you can cut, where you're spending money that you don't need etc.

Do a time budget. I know, it sounds boring and like life planning but it can help show how you're going to spend your time. If you don't like it and it is overwhelming, look for areas to change. Time management is a zero sum game (outside of paying more for lawn mowing but still, you've just freed up that time).

Sorry for the rambling thoughts, budgeting was something very hard for us to start because it doesn't lie and can be hard to acknowledge all of the little things we were ignoring.

I feel that. My wife and I have a rule: if our expenses go over what we could make working in fast food, we sell some stuff.

Would you mind sharing a bit more about that?

I like how this rule sounds, but am wondering whether you live in a high-cost area or not. Having two incomes at the level of the fast-food industry seems somewhat limiting, but this depends on where you live and how frugal you are.

In other comments I'm also noticing that having a mortgage is part of the need to stay in a high-paying job, so maybe renting can alleviate some of that pressure and be more flexible to adjust to live below your means?

Sure, I'm in WNY right now, planning to move to Knoxville or Memphis this year. Not super frugal in general, but I save about half my paycheck, wife invests most of hers. We have a house, two cars (only one of them is "nice"), and no kids. We own a house in the suburbs, bought it almost a year ago and have been fixing it up since.

Renting is pound-for-pound far more expensive than owning. We couldn't find an apartment we liked within our budget, so we bought a starter home instead. Owning also lets us recoup value when we sell. Buying an expensive house isn't something we want to do, so there's no need for us to pay $2500 a month for a McMansion with a quarter acre of golf course outside.

> Renting is pound-for-pound far more expensive than owning

This may very well be true for your scenario, so I'm not addressing that. I just want to poke at the myth that owning is always cheaper than renting. The real answer is: it depends on a lot of things.

There are costs associated with achieving a purchase (and later, a sale), there are costs associated with paying rent for extra cash (ie the mortgage), there are property taxes, and there are both time and money costs in maintenance work (that is obligatory for owners, a savings if you are renting).

If you move more often than once every 5 years, the math probably works out for it being cheaper to rent than to own. Committing to 5+ years decreases your flexibility to do things like: take higher-paying work, let go of real maintenance needs, move out of a bad neighborhood, etc.

> Renting is pound-for-pound far more expensive than owning.

Come to Toronto and say that to my face. I'm going to laugh, and laugh, and...

I'm speaking as an American. Owning also lets you build equity and get it back someday.

NYC? San Francisco? Boston? DC? Not every city is Houston, bro.

That is a great perspective and sounds like Ben Graham's concept of margin of safety in chapter 20 of the Intelligent Investor. Apply that to your investments and find businesses that have a margin of safety and have considerably more earning power than the going rate of debt and you will do well.

Genuinely asking: how do you plan to rent/own property? Where I live working in fast food would only get you a shared bedroom or a small studio, which would be cramped for a couple.

Not the op, but it all depends on location in a few different ways.

First, there's cultural difference around the world about owning property - or if not cultural, than at least pragmatic: FWIW, vast majority of my European friends and family don't plan/anticipate to own a property - ever. Huge percentage of my North American friends and family wouldn't even settle for a condo - it's house or fail. These friends and family are in comparable positions.

Second, location location location. Maybe your high tech jobs leads you to live in downtown of a metropolis, but a low-paying job "forces" you to a small town of boonies or boonies of small town or both. You may or may not find that lifestyle better for mental health.

Finally, size, size, size. I was born and lived HAPPILY as middle-class family in a 3-room apartment as a five-people nuclear family (parents, one grandmother, two kids [ourselves]). It was fine. It was great.

I am now in a house, same family config but a generation down, we have four rooms on top level alone, plus main floor and basement, and we are CRAMPED. We rented a locker until last year when we did a purge. There's stuff everywhere. Not even because we are well to do (though we are), when you have kids in north america the amount of stuff friends and relatives and facebook groups share is awesome but overwhelming. And the household work... GAWD the household work... I don't find peace in it and it overwhelms me just to think of the time and expense owning property entails.

Hey, these aren't even first world problems, these are privileged well-to-do first-world-plus problems, I recognize and address that. But owning sizeable house is by far not the only way to happiness.

Edit: Let's not forget kids vs no kids. That is a huge differentiator as to options, and I think more of us commenting or advising here should be explicit about current state and plans. I didn't think kids were as "life changing" from economics/lifestyle perspective as I'm now aware :P. This is not to say I didn't think they were a huge deal... just didn't realize intuitively internally just how much it is YourLife:Part2. I went through civil war, change of continents and countries, passage of parent, broken heart and ending up with The One... and ALL of that was a relatively similar "Phase 1" compared to the radically different life after we got kids :D

Our mortgage is ~$1000 a month. If you can make the down payment and get approved, owning is almost always cheaper than renting.

edit: $400 of that $1k is property taxes. Live outside of town. It's better. I promise.

The Bay Area is a relevant outlier here - $1k/month would not cover the monthly property tax on a mortgage for a crappy place.

The Bay Area is ridiculous in terms of home pricing. We could likely move there and do ok financially, but I'd rather get a nice plot of land in Appalachia and have some farm animals, spend my evenings working on marksmanship and whatever car I'm wrenching on at the moment.

Yeah - and WNY is really great in terms of housing costs (I grew up outside of Buffalo).

There are trade-offs to that cheaper cost too though.

Mostly in terms of job availability (though maybe that's changing with remote work), stuff availability (foods, people), and centralization of knowledgable people in software (not many). Weather.

Schools and variety of public opinion was also not great, but that's a problem most places and only really matters if you have kids. I wouldn't want to raise my kids there though.

> I wouldn't want to raise my kids there though.

Congrats, you found the reason why we're leaving. It's a combination of that, tax rates, and gun laws. Upstate NY doesn't need to suffer for the problems of NYC.

> Mostly in terms of job availability (though maybe that's changing with remote work)

It is. I'm starting a new job in Orlando on Monday.

Those things you mention aren’t really the chains you make them out to be. You can sell your house and move somewhere affordable. Poor people have kids all the time, a lot of times they are even smart! What you feel chained to is your ritzy lifestyle. Your wife and kids won’t resent you for not providing all that fancy shit, but they will resent you for working yourself until there’s nothing left for them.

Not for nothing, but what you're saying is both classist and doesn't take into account the reality of friendships and roots that can take hold in a place after you've settled in.

Things may be expensive, and you may feel trapped on the hedonic treadmill, but moving to a new city or a lower COL area may not be a realistic option for many people.

Classist against who? Land owners? Color me unmoved.

"Poor people have kids all the time, a lot of times they are even smart!" is extraordinarily classist. It makes a joke that based on the assumption that the majority of the time poor people are stupid.

Not a good look to say something like that.

I think there is a charitable interpretation of that sentence where they were being tongue-in-cheek with the understanding that readers would all agree that obviously being born to a poor family does not determine your intelligence.

The rest of the post seemed to indicate they didn't deserve the benefit of the doubt there.

Though in theory I agree, I think this is simplistic. I know a lot of people who don't live a "ritzy" lifecyle but are still stuck where they are. And yes, in theory, they could move somewhere affordable, but they may not have enough of a cushion, or they may have roots where they live now (for instance, their kids might have friends, or they may have family that are either helping them with their kids or require being helped).

It’s also unfortunately the case that there are wives (and husbands) and kids that WILL resent someone for giving up the ritzy (or materially comfortably) life for somewhere calmer and better for someone’s mental health. It happens.

And when it happens, the side effects can be downright crushing - Google ‘child support imputed income’ for an example of the legal framework that can be brought to bear against someone.

I do empathise with people in that bind - it's hard to know if a job paying much less will actually be significantly less stressful - big gamble to make with lots at stake. Affordable areas generally have fewer jobs - just moving somewhere more affordable isn't a trivial thing to do and there are overhead costs in moving house so you need to downsize considerably.

These are all choices you make. I chose not to have children, own a house, etc because I didn't want to feel like I was buried by these things. Many people don't feel that way and the decision to take on those responsibilities makes sense.

The tech industry is a major driver for gentrification as a result of ludicrously high pay rates, especially after the pandemic when tech workers have started to move into cheaper areas as a result of the adoption of remote work. If dropping out of the industry is what you want, an adjustment of expectations is likely required and I'd argue tech workers have plenty of room to adapt there.

He didn't just say "fuck it I'm rich later" but I don't know why anyone would hold it against him if he had. He started a business and does a job that he manage in a healthy way. This is good.

It sure helps. Are you saying that only people who are in the worst possible situation (unemployed, in a civil war, with cancer, raped daily, low IQ, blind, …) can talk about having problems?

> Are you saying that only people who are in the worst possible situation (unemployed, in a civil war, with cancer, raped daily, low IQ, blind, …) can talk about having problems?

No. I'm glad that they're tackling their burnout issues by changing professions, but I'm trying to have a conversation about how social and financial issues may keep other people in not as advantageous a position from doing the same. That's all.

Personal take/rant/experience:

I fell in love with programming because I didn't give a shit about maintainability, architectural considerations, stressing vulns or holding a pager all night to support a living computer system. I learned how to code and got the degree because of how much fun it was every day as a beginner - growing, learning something new and exciting, feverishly building new things to show my friends and use for myself.

I hate to bring a cloud over this profession but I recently left engineering completely because of my depression and how harmful these ways of thinking can be to a person in the long run: modeling everything an equation/stats model, applying worst case scenario visualization and planning to everything you do, risk analysis and limiting your downside by covering every base, preventing you from going all-in on your dreams and enjoying the reward from the risk. You're basically being paid to be paranoid and to think and act like a computer all the fscking time.

Not everything can or should be quantified, and your value as a person and the relationships you have to others are not math equations or statistical models. The incredible beauty and magic of the human experience exist outside these modes, and can be found in your relationship with people, your feelings and emotions, and the freedom to follow your nose and truly embrace things that are meaningful and fulfilling to you.

I empathize with this. My job is to package analytics and build forecasting models and if the data shows anything less than stellar it becomes super stressful to try and dress it up and contextualize for management. [Proverbially] shooting the messenger is a real phenomenon and no one likes the "actually things are looking bad" guy.

> applying worst case scenario visualization

I recently learned about "thinking traps" (essentially spiraling out of control imagining terrible outcomes) when my pandemic stress hit an all time high.

I learned coping mechanisms and ways to short circuit them (really comes down to awareness), but realized that I get paid to engage in this destructive behavior! We have pre-mortems at work trying to imagine everything that might go wrong; a little of the macabre mixed in with the stress.

I became a professional programmer later in life, and I've been wondering whether or not it has been influencing my behavior and personality in negative ways. I don't remember this paranoid in my previous life.

I gotta take some time off. I'm completely burnt out. It's just not super interesting working for a large company with a stack a mile deep. I'm 6 months into a project that separates one status field into two different status fields. My god, it's boring, but if we fuck any little piece up we break customer data. I just want to work on something new that I'm passionate about. But the things I'm passionate about probably won't make me as much money.

What’s the point of the money if it isn’t doing anything for you?

For one - it makes it possible to take 6 months off if you don’t like doing the work?

Without it? Good luck.

Yea I'll probably take some months off. I once took off 6 months and I was surprised how rusty I got after those 6 months.

To give you a sense of security and freedom. Once you have experienced the stress of worrying about paying rent or health insurance it’s nice to have some money.

In the end, having done what you love will make all the difference. Doing it only for the money will not.

It's a worthwhile fight.

Your passion will fuel your work and make you through all challenges. Follow your blisters.

playing >> working

I went through a bit of a roller-coaster reading this thread.

First I want to say, good for this guy! He noticed himself getting into a bad place and made a change. A change that he seems psyched about. That's legitimately great.

But as I was reading it, I couldn't help thinking "That's not burnout. WTF is this guy talking about???". Taking a few deep breaths, the rational take is more like "Wow, burnout hits everyone differently. This guy's experience seems WAY different than mine."

When I hit my breaking point, I couldn't do anything. I couldn't THINK about doing anything. I was so burned out that even the thought of starting something new sent me into panic attacks. There was no optimistic story I could tell myself (or anyone else) about the future.

To me, burnout felt like there was a gear in my head that's supposed to turn at 100 rpms and it had gotten sped up to a million rmps, and it was stuck that way. And it was throwing off sparks and teetering and threatening to fly loose at any moment. When I finally left my job, it took a solid 6 months of doing nothing for that gear to START feeling like it was slowing down to normal speed. It was the worst.

Only tangentially related, but one of the best decision I've taken in the last years was to only work four days a week. Not sure how realistic this is in the US as a dev, but in Germany it's been fairly easy (third job where I'm doing this now) and it's made me 1) more motivated 2) less stressed, and on top (I think) I'm essentially as productive as I'd be working full-time :)

Same here. I currently work four days a week, I'm off every Wednesday. This one day in between to recharge really helps me 'survive' the week. On any given workday I can always look forward to just working one more day until I have some time for myself. Often I simply sleep a lot, or spend some time in the sun whenever possible.

Most people in the US who work 4 day weeks or 9 out of 10 always go for the long weekend by doing it friday or monday but I'm with you, Wednesday has always appealed to me as the day to take off if doing 4 day weeks. It's the cumulative effect of 5 days in a row that makes me so tired.

There was a while a number of years ago that I was furloughed on Wednesdays and apart from the 20% pay drop, it was incredible. It felt like I had two day weeks, and I had a day off when normal businesses were open to handle my own affairs.

Personally, I find the biggest reason for burnout is lack of autonomy. The author seems to have found the same.

I'd say burnout happens when you have had too many negative experiences related to work compared to how many positive ones you got and your emotions tells you that it isn't something you should continue doing since it is bad for you.

A negative experience could be that you worked long hours and no longer could do things you love, or people screaming at you causing stress etc, humans are really good at being creative here so most things can fit here.

Yes and lack of Autonomy causes you to have many negative experiences.

Particularly in software engineering you need to constantly make many decisions. But if you don't have autonomy you are constantly having to second guess your self. Not based on what you think is best but based on what you think the other person(s) above you will think. It is way of working that drains your energy.

Great point on that. Autonomy actually takes a lot of stress off because you're not trying to artificially conform to what your superiors want.

Yes for me this is the single most demotivating factor.

I think you're both right. Both autonomy and the rate of positive/negative results relate to the exploration/exploitation tradeoff. We can't find the necessary means to act towards success or assign low probability to success. That means lots of negative ideation which has an emotional impact.

I've lost track of the source, but i saw a TED talk that outlines 5 happiness indicators for work. You need at least 3 of them to be happy with your job:

1. Security

2. Good pay

3. Connected with others

4. Satisfaction in work

5. Autonomy

These helped me understand my burnout experience. By the time I left, all of the others had vanished except for the pay.

I always keep this list in my mind: Autonomy, mastery and purpose.


This is probably the SCARF model:

Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness

For me it was the constant feeling that tasks and responsibilities and difficult decisions are piling up faster than I could process them.

Not just "I have too much work to do", but "I have too much work to do and every day it gets worse, and in the morning meeting my team will tell me they all have too much work to do too, and lots of the problems are due to bad tech decisions I took in a hurry a while ago due to inexperience and lack of time, and... and...".

Fortunately I had an understanding manager who spotted me shaking in the lift into the office one afternoon and helped sort things out.

> and helped sort things out


Being overloaded for a long time is also sometimes a sign that the business is failing.

Which is horrible: It is when a founder is the most tired that he has to deal with the most unknown part of the work. For a simple project manager, it is often when you miss a deadline that you have to write reports and deal with stakeholder dissatisfaction, which cascades into missing other deadlines and having to implement more and more damage control to perform.

Sometimes the only way is to walk away and let it all crumble.

In the short term by moving responsibilities around - in my inexperience I didn't realise that it was okay not to be able to cope with that level of work. In the longer term (eventually) cancelling the project and reorganising.

I feel like autonomy is getting really hard to find in tech. There's just only so many ways you can write a GET route. Then it will get shaped into what it "should" be via PR comments. It makes for good software development, but it just isn't very fun or fullfiling. I miss learning something new and having choice with how to do it, but that doesn't always make for a good product. Sure I can do side projects but I just don't have anything left in me at the end of the day.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

"À mesure que le principe de la division du travail reçoit une application plus complète, l’ouvrier devient plus faible, plus borné et plus dépendant. L’art fait des progrès, l’artisan rétrograde."

Or roughly "In a system of division of labor, the work improves but the worker suffers".

I feel like, as an industry, we've settled on a way of working that probably does produce quality software faster and more reliably, but it takes a toll on the engineers.

Companies with high engineering excellence tend to give their engineers lots of autonomy.

You know you're in one such company when your responsibility is no longer limited to writing good code, but at the table deciding what should be built, and what the future plan is for the company or the product area.

I think it's working hard for no reward.

I've worked hard on things I'm passionate about and never get burnt out.

I took a job recently where the product is millions over budget and years behind and all the work goes into a continual hole... and it's the first time I'm starting to experience burnout.

Honestly I feel like, "good jobs" are very undervalued. I've had high paying jobs that I enjoyed but I never heard good job. It was always okay now what's next? I didn't love those jobs.

I've had lower paying objectively worse jobs where I got more regular positive feedback and I stayed at those jobs longer. I might be an outlier and learned this behavior from sports but it cost nothing tell someone they did a good job and it can go a long way.

It’s a facet of the underlying problem in my experience - feeling that you have no control or ability to solve the pain/endless problems you are being subjected to, and it will never get better.

Eventually anyone is going to be beaten into submission/get learned helplessness in that type of environment.

Exercise has helped me immensely. It's one of the few times a day that I'm focusing on self-improvement. If I don't do that then I focus on everything else and eventually burn out.

At the time of this post, there are 3 occurrences of the word "exercise" in this HN post/thread and 2 are valid suggestions of exercising, such as yours, Snarfy! And I think you are spot on! I get that burnt out feeling when I don't exercise or move much, which COVID has increased (less social gatherings, going places).

There is a fantastic book, Spark, written by John Ratey, M.D., who is/was psychiatrist who used to prescribe drugs for depression and switched to prescribing treadmills instead! He makes a strong case for "exercise for brain health".

This type of work is definitely a factor in burn out, and more so, many of us in this industry have wired, curious brains that can exacerbate the situation even more. And then, when we burn out, we do that same thing to try to "fix the problem" and feel guilt/shame or whatever.

Exercise can help us keep healthy brains to help cope with this stuff much better. Exercise helps us secrete endorphins that make us feel good and help us feel good sensations to counter the stress from this type of work. It is super valid science nowadays as Dr. Ratey proves in his teaching.

For a good next step for anyone reading this and feeling burnt out, see you you can make it through this Ted Talk video by Dr. Ratey (the exercise instead of prozac pyschiatrist) > https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBSVZdTQmDs. If you cannot do that, you may have sleep deprivation and need a nap, now. When you wake up, then watch the video, it is ~10 minutes.

This is also the same doctor who co-wrote the book Delivered to Distraction (recently brought up here on HN by Mark Suster) and ADHD 2.0 (2021).

Oh neat, the video that played right after is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V81cO8xyMaI which is the other end of the research on students in Naperville, IL, that Dr. Ratey mentions. Very good, complimentary watch to the first video I posted.

If you're done with the tech industry, and your wife finds her dream job and your kids need a dad at home, I can recommend folding laundry. It is like car detailing, but you love your customers even more.

Life is a one way trip, make it count. And support your wife's dreams.

I love the flow state of folding laundry.

I wish Tim well, I don't know him but mental health is important and undervalued. That being said...

Maybe (definitely) I'm cynical but these two tweets turned me off:

"I started running google ads and I’ve had some good success in the short two weeks"

"I have detailed a car belonging to an Active Denver Bronco, and I’ve detailed a Mercedes, Volvo, and a Porsche."

Maybe I'm burned out?

I've run a small side business for a while a few years back. It's a very different feeling / energy than office work (even if tech). I found I could be fairly burned out at work-work and energized on side business. Frequently change is sufficient to revitalize - It's like sometimes in exercise or run or endevour, you just need to switch muscles. So I can fully understand how a tech worker may get excited to setup google ads for themselves and be excited even though technically they're doing extra work.

(we may be misunderstanding what's the cynical part btw - that they are enjoying these activities, or that they're taking place, or something else?)

Are you skeptical because it seems too good to be true that he might actually enjoy it? Honestly, i think I understand what he’s saying. I started doing some barback work - basically keeping the bar moving - after being in tech for a decade. It’s way more fun. The bartender I’ve worked with also used to work in tech. And honestly, the money can be good, too. Turns out you don’t need to spend as much just to get yourself unburnt out.

> Are you skeptical because it seems too good to be true that he might actually enjoy it?

No, I think it's based on the following:

-I suspect he doesn't "need" this job to survive. Well off people who can afford to change careers (by choice) love to tell you how to build a new business/career when there's no real pressure.

-I am tired of hearing about "Google Ads" overnight successes (to be fair he didn't claim exactly this) I help small biz with Google Ads frequently and it's ... hard. Maybe I just suck?

-I'm skeptical of his first customers: a professional athlete, Porsche owner etc. I realize these are typically the people who can afford detailing but still there are ~1,696 NFL players in a country of 330 million+ - what are the odds?

- Lastly instead of quitting, and detailing cars quietly he wrote a Tweet thread very similar to other motivational/self-promotion posts that seem very inauthentic and hollow. Shedding light on mental health challenges is good! But I could have done without the "here's how I started a new biz and succeeded in 2 weeks angle.

Look guys, I'm busy and slightly overwhelmed so maybe just ignore my grumpiness. Thanks for listening.

Edit: Related to my personality: How I Built This with Guy Raz on NPR also frequently sends me into a flying rage. Every story goes like this: "So I was in NYC and I was "broke", and then my friend from Stanford called "randomly" and asked me to lunch with the top VC in the country".

It's basically the LinkedIn formula that fills up like 90% of everybody's LinkedIn feed these days:

* Talk about something intensely personal to show yourself being vulnerable (note: making it a true story is optional)

* Describe a moral of the story that fits in with whatever the current popular narrative is

* Plug your side business

It's a pretty good formula for going viral, so I can't really blame anyone that uses it as a marketing tool.

lolll I feel you. It's really hard to tell the difference between the Guy Raz kinda story you describe, and stories where someone really did find a better life for themselves where things really are better. They all just sound like hagiography. And often, the story has the role of persuading the person telling it that they made a good call, because... change is scary.

Anyway, I think you're right or at least fair to be skeptical. Chances are, there's more to the story than this. Just like there's probably gonna be a point where being a barback or a bartender is going to be frustrating and dumb for me. But if there's a single lesson I really do believe in, and which this guy's thread echoed to me, it's that you'd be surprised what kinda job you actually enjoy and can survive in. It doesn't just have to be tech work. It might not be in an office at all.

Along with upvoting I just wanted to say thank you. Your comment was kind (given my raging), thoughtful and informative (hagiography is now in MY lexicon!)

Edit (sorry can't help myself)

I used to IM chat daily with a buddy of mine also in tech. One particularly bad day I told him I wanted to quit and "bag groceries" instead.

He replied that what he loves about tech freelancing is that when things get really bad he can always take 5 minutes, look up some porn and then go back to work. He's a funny guy and it was intended as a throw-away joke, but his statement really stuck with me. While I do envision a future outside of tech for me I'm also VERY thankful for my current work environment and lifestyle. And before you ask, I work with my wife so... no porn breaks for me!

Made this comment elsewhere, but having gone through two of these (one shorter and the recent one much larger), I think the best thing anyone can do for themselves is make a "break glass in case of burnout" plan where they save up margin (money, vacation days, etc) during the good times so that when the famine hits part of the stress isn't the painted-in-corner feeling of "I need a break but have no margin to take one"

Burnout always ends up being your own personal Rubik's cube in terms of what factors are truly causing it, but the solution is always the same - protracted rest - deload and de-stress life as much as possible. In my recent case going down to a part-time schedule helped to add back margin.

Some of it was also eliminating the burden of leadership isolation, cutting back on workout intensity, limiting screen time at night, fixing some health issues, increasing social activity, and doing some counseling for past unresolved issues.

Give yourself that margin and burnout becomes less of this soul-crushing life-altering existental crisis where you end up posting on HN about becoming a monk (or stuck on SSRIs for years) and more about resolving the check-engine light that flashes when your body is telling you it's time to make life changes.

Save up money, 100%.

Be very careful about saving up vacation days to bank against burnout. That's a recipe for having a solution which caused the problem it's a solution to.

Something I've been dealing with is that for the last ~15 months, the concept of a vacation didn't even make sense. I took some weeks off, once because I just couldn't work and once on purpose, but as a remote worker for four years, that's really not a vacation in any meaningful sense.

That and pandemic stress are going to push a lot of people to burnout. My suggestion is that everyone take a real vacation as soon as life circumstances make that possible, if you haven't already.

Is it real? Sure.

Know what else is real? The burden of normalcy.

This guy cleaned 4 cars in 3 months and decided to turn it into a career. I don't know how much freelance work he's done, but I know the pressure to deliver to a single client to whom you are personally and legally responsible for can be every bit as nerve-wracking as simply performing at your day job.

What happens when you wake up in the modern world where you are lucky enough to be driven by your passions instead of your need to survive and your passion is no longer your passion anymore?

Employees who are feeling stressed out need to sit down with their managers and hash it out with them. A lot of the time, employees are being way too serious about their own jobs, overdo it based on expectations their employer never had, and feel unaccomplished when they aren't recognized for their sacrifices.

A good manager will accommodate a good employee. Don't work for bad managers.

I am absolutely burned out with my tech job. The only thing keeping me in it for now is fear: in a minor way, losing the paycheck and benefits for a while; but more significantly, the realization that I know I need to take a year or two away from work to recover from the injury that is burnout. But it needs to happen.

This seems like a load of bullshit to me. Some LinkedIn Lunatic level crap

He starts off by telling us he's burnt out and then jumps immediately to discussing how he turned a hobby into a full time job... Sounds like a cycle.

"Its not an ego trip" but I will spend 17 tweets talking about myself

You might need some time off yourself, seeing how an inoffensive Twitter thread made you so mad.

It doesn't make me mad in the slightest, I just think the guy sounds like an idiot and I find it funny to point this out.

Feel free to do the same to me if you wish.

Edit: On a more serious point i think its actually potentially damaging. Burnout should be recognised as a real problem in industries such as tech. And I don't believe the way to cure burnout is to immediately start jumping into things like:

"About 2 weeks ago I decided to make this a business. I formed an LLC, got an EIN, got Insurance, and built a website.

I started running google ads and I’ve had some good success in the short two weeks I’ve been doing this on weekends."

"So far I have sunk every penny I’ve made back into the business. I have bought a bunch of equipment."

"I’ll be taking on some short term gigs. If you want a decently competent React/C# developer to go through your backlog and fix some old bugs that no one else wants to tackle, well that’s my favorite type of work.

You can hire me for an hour, two hours, 60 hours, etc."

Of course this is just my opinion but i believe he should take some time to really have downtime and reflect, rather than immediately sinking all of his time / energy into a new venture... which once the honeymoon phase ends, hello burnout

Especially when tax season rolls around and those 1099s start looking a lot smaller than they did on payday.

Agreed, I don't think the snark is needed. Particularly on HN. Everyone is different, everyone expresses themselves in different ways. I just figured he was sick of the tech 'industry'. On the occasions I've burned out I've still tinkered with stuff, I just couldn't face the work I was meant to be doing anymore.

I like your different opinion on this subject. It’s nice to see some dissent on this site.

1. There is a tendency on this website for people to post concepts of "Let me pat myself on the back for saving my life." Kinda like an Alcoholic that stops drinking and expecting a reward. Saving your life or saving yourself from depression is the reward.

2. Why does this have to be written in small form paragraphs on Twitter? Are we incapable of stringing more than 2 paragraphs together?

3. I quit being a miserable/depressed coder and now I’m happy.

4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHtPpMVB9no

At the end he advertises for work as a freelance developer.

That was like an M. Night Shyamalan twist for me.

Oh my God. I didn't notice that. Classic.

He also writes in his bio "I’m a father but I’m not like all up in your face about it." and then has a barf worthy banner image related to fatherhood and makes numerous comments to how "dad jokes" will still be routinely made.

I thought that at first too, but he says he likes picking old tickets off the backlog. There's usually no product pressure or deadlines with that sort of work. Which is actually the source of burnout perhaps?

Yes, but his first tweet also says "I’m also leaving the tech industry at the end of the month."

So, it's a bit contradictory?

Good point. I guess he means full time, but it all does seem half baked. Maybe his wife has a good job and insurance.

>> he says he likes picking old tickets off the backlog.

OT but man I hate people who "select" tickets off the backlog. You better have a good reason for not taking the one right at the top...

If his team is anything like the one I work for, the backlog isn't prioritized until the day before the sprint starts... something we're trying to change, but still a long way away from.

Perhaps this is the kind of autonomy he needs.

You are right, but that's exactly the pressure I'm referring to.

Is "I am totally burnt out to work on that thing where people will be breathing down my neck" a good reason?

I would strongly recommend looking for part time ~30 hours or less a week. Most recruiters will ghost you as soon as you mention it, but a few will be willing to entertain it. Especially if you frame it as a “contractor”. I’m lucky enough to live in Australia so I don’t have to worry about health insurance if I’m a contractor, but I feel like the industry is slowly warming up to the idea that 40 hours a week is not optimal for programmers. I’m on my second job now at 30hr/wk and I’ll never go back to full time if I can help it.

So odd, I just bought a car paint renovation kit and kept looking at detailing tutorials.

There's something magical about these kind of tasks. Focus, physical stimuli, patience, regularity... also none of this is about disrupting a planet scale field, just making something new and pretty.

It's not the first time this idea is thrown though, I heard MIT reopened their glasswork labs.

PS: one craft that seems even better there is handtools woodworking. The smell, touch, sound of wood is something special

For me it's something about the inputs and the outputs being more strongly connected. I put in 30 min of sanding, I get X done--I put in 60 min, I get 2X done. Same with cleaning/mowing. Put programming? Often bang my head for 4 hours and then figure it out in 4 minutes the next day.

It's a bit what I had in mind when saying 'regularity' and I think it's important for us to have this simple relationship indeed. At least that's how it felt when I did small scale deliveries. I knew exactly how much money was linked to my job, if I push more I can anticipate the outcome, there was no big system around to mentally manage.

I think burnout is just depression. but what do I know

Ive had both. For me, they are very different.

Burnout is not being able to make myself do a job I am completely capable of doing, which I once loved doing, to the point thoughts of self harm start to creep in.

Depression is feeling worthless about everything and anything.

With depression, I cannot do anything. With burnout, I can easily keep doing things, I just cant do that one thing.

That describes it perfectly - I am on leave right now after a major case of burnout and it's like my brain just turned off my motivation towards my job as a defense mechanism to protect my mental and emotional health.

for me they feed each other in a sinister feedback loop... burnout makes me incapable of doing my job, which makes me feel worthless, which makes me feel depressed, which makes me unable to do anything, which makes me more incapable of doing my job, etc.

It's a tough hole to get out of.

It’s like a localised depression. Having had both it feels very similar except, as you said, for burnout if you leave work then suddenly it’s not so bad.

i agree they are at least a little different but your definition of burnout is actually pretty descriptive of clinical depression.


This perspective on burnout was really helpful for me (and helped me understand the gravity of it): https://youtu.be/hFkI69zJzLI

Burnout is an official medical diagnosis, WHO says


Best thing I found for myself is to stop worrying about the career, progression and job titles (which equates to $$). We all make more than enough in tech.

I've found specific things I want do at work (for me, it's automation, writing dev tools) and just do those. There are always going to be things that you don't like doing.

Leave or swap teams if you're not happy. We are extremely privileged to be able to leave and find a new position relatively easily.

I once cried in a meeting because someone on another team reused a bit flag in a struct for a different purpose than I had intended. Luckily this was the day before a three week vacation, my first in several years. Thankfully it was in the time before cell phones and ubiquitous email so it was a real vacation. The vacation didn't "fix" me but it did give me enough time to see that I was broken and needed to make changes.

The lesson for me was to never put in a day, week, … or year of work that I couldn't sustain because being able to get through the next day, week, …, year might be even more important than the current one. This was especially true as my startup started to grow. The first year had been stressful with just two of us working flat out, but once we got a payroll, yikes the pressure was multiplied. There are circumstances where a do-or-die effort is required but usually sustainability is much more important.

Is detailing an euphemism for cleaning?

Seriously curious : not a native speaker.

It generally means restoring the appearance. Cleaning is involved, but there is also a lot of work removing sun damage and oxidation for instance from paint and headlights. Probably not the best explanation, I’m not an expert, but that’s the gist.

Not a euphemism, just a standard term! See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auto_detailing

It implies a much higher level of service. A high end car wash (full service including interior vacuuming and wiping down surfaces) is about $30 (yes, bay area prices). “Detailing” would probably be $200 or more and means leaving your car there all morning.

Yes, exactly. "Detailing cars" involves carefully cleaning them, polishing them, etc.

I wish I had any other interest apart from programming...

I didn't have any other interest at all. Programming is the greatest thing; you only need a computer (old/new/don't care) to Create New Things. I never did programming for the money; it accidentally made (a lot) of money.

After covid + a horrible project last year, it seems I did kind of burnt out and after thinking almost 40 years that programming is the thing that keeps me happy, I don't like it anymore.

Luckily, money wise, I am (and have been) a manager(/CTO) for decades already but I always kept holding on to the fact my real passion/work/hobby is programming and I always did at least my management hours doubled up with coding.

It is strange to feel the foundation I made up for myself drop away. Will require some adaptation time and indeed exploring other interests, which simply take work trying out. I know that all things I will discover, besides baking pizza, cannot make money at all. So there is that.

Experience wise I am far behind with just 12 years of programming but started feeling burnout since Covid. I was always work in office location guy even if it meant to stretch by more than 12 hours a day. But working from home is far different. Communication is worst. When in office your colleagues are next to you and meetings were like 4 hours a day. But with work from home it's very different. To get in touch with colleagues, you have to schedule a call which usually taking 3x more time than discussion at office. Also we have repeat things so many times in call since there is no proper blackboard etc. Probably it's only me but now a days calls itself takes more than 8 hours.

Really started getting respect for people who were doing remote before Covid as well. Now I also understand why OSS projects are slow in implementing features.

I have always been remote since I started but it was, for me, more the economic stuff of my clients defaulting and there being this doom and gloom atmosphere.

Personally, I see programming as a mentally challenging pursuit of building & connecting modular things out of puzzle pieces.

Though I am getting bored of web development, I've recently started learning basic computer vision & machine learning and I have found that it new topics have lit a new fire of interest in my brain.

In my bubble it seems every other programmer wants to quit to take up wood working or craft brewing. Third by some distance is people growing stuff, especially chili peppers.

Yeah, a lot of programmers I know as well want to do those things (which make no money) I guess because they are far easier to reason about. Brewing craft beer starts out as a shit show once you did a few batches, it is consistent, predictable etc. Unlike programming. You can screw up a lot and still get nice beer. Until you look at making money of course; that is where the craft brew and wood working shitshows are at. That's basically completely unpredictable unless you are established and have your regulars etc. I prefer pizza baking; I perfected this during covid and now can make and bake consistent good pizzas at high speed (in a 480C wood oven) and sell them consistently too. Somehow it makes me happy having that feeling of being able to sell them.

Sounds like they have a different problem. They don't want to program but has to program to make money. The above posters likes to program and don't want to do other stuff.

One of the most interesting things I've done recently was actually the journey to finding other hobbies. The good thing about work outside of the workplace is that it's not only acceptable but also encouraged to experiment and fail. If you're not sure where to start, I think it's a good idea to literally just pick something and do it. If you end up enjoying it, great. If not, there's always something else :)

You probably like making things. It's why we program. Find something you like making besides programs.

Creating programs isn't much like creating other things at all. People who likes to draw doesn't like programming more than anyone else and vice versa.

Depends what programming you do and how you look at it. To me, it is like creating/crafting/sculpting. I guess if your days are filled with creating CRUD apps, this feels different.

Also a programmer. Stepping away from the desk is often the best thing for me, not for long mind, just to smoke. Astounded by the number of times I have a programming problem and the solution just 'clicks' while I'm away from the screen. FWIW I'm not endorsing smoking, but removing yourself from the screen has benefits IMO.

I don't have too many hobbies myself, and TBH love programming and staying on the steep learning curve. Felt that way my whole working life.

The only time I've felt burnout is part of a 50/50 company where the other guy wasn't pulling his weight. When the energy you put in isn't giving you something back in the form of [whichever pursuits of happiness you have], then it's definitely time to re-consider.

> The only time I've felt burnout is part of a 50/50 company where the other guy wasn't pulling his weight

I have had that many times and I have been that guy. There is just something that needs to work; if someone is doing something and the other is not, that's another problem. It's probably not even what you think but you need to get out as fast as you can as that will end badly.

Indeed, the warning signs were there for me. Sometimes you need to ignore the sunk cost and move on. Sometimes financial requirements get in the way, but generally it can end ugly when you cannot see eye to eye.

Former smoker here, and I miss the time to relax/reset, plus the social aspect. Lately I've been taking small breaks to just sit outside, and this has some of the same benefits for me.

Cooking, baking, wood carving, writing a novel, lockpicking, maybe DIY (learn some plumbing, electician, tiling skills), glass blowing, drawing/painting, instrument...

Get basic idea of entry level requirements, spend 20-50 hours practising move on if you don't like it by then.

Pick something out of any profession and go at it. I am kind a thinking about shoe making or sawing/clothes making.

To be frank I was always trying to find something within computer. Like animations, illustrator paints which I realized not helping much.

Yea I need to find something which does not have lot of computer.

I recommend something that you create something tangible.

You get sense of accomplishment - I made this - feeling. U don't have share it or be good, just creating a thing - your thing - feels good.

I have tons of interests, just wish I had 'lucrative' interests.

My deep knowledge of Star Wars and the NBA is not leveragable.

You never know, maybe Space Jam 3 will need you.

That's not entirely just a joke. People have changed industries and gotten into stuff through even weirder combinations of interests.

Why can't they be lucrative? Fire up SEMRush or something similar, find a niche around NBA or Star Wars that's partially attainable, spend some time building a website in that niche that covers your interests. Monetise the traffic.

That said, it's kind of nice to have interests that don't become 'work'.

>That said, it's kind of nice to have interests that don't become 'work'.

Many people, including myself, do/have felt guilt over doing things too much that don't make money. Where that comes from or how that works, not sure, but I have met many people who had that. And wanted their hobbies to make money in order not to feel guilty about doing them.

> Many people, including myself, do/have felt guilt over doing things too much that don't make money. Where that comes from or how that works, not sure, but I have met many people who had that. And wanted their hobbies to make money in order not to feel guilty about doing them.

I don't feel a shred of guilt. I am the most introverted person ever but even one year of staying at home broke me... started buying exercise equipment and got into drones so I lost weight and lost stress while flying my little drone.

I make plenty of goddamn money.

Yeah, that's been me all my life... That's why I went full in for programming. I wanted to make sure my biggest interest was also making money (if need be). I had to let that go and life is much easier. Wish I had done that earlier on. But yeah, you need to have some freedom to do that...

How about Math? Usually they go hand in hand and you barely need a PC to read the book and do excercises.

Most programmers think math is boring. That to me is really weird, but I suppose arithmetic is the most thought of type of math when someone brings up math, and that is extremely boring.

I would encourage any programmer to try out Book Of Proof. At the end you’ll end up understanding what it means, in a mathematical sense, for there to be different “sizes” of infinities. That is interesting.

Just go outside.

Expanding on this post a little bit, because "just go outside" alone isn't particularly helpful...

Find a local park (wooded, not just ball fields). Go for a walk. It doesn't have to long or strenuous - just being outside, in the relative quiet, can be profoundly relaxing.

Maybe you'll find the outdoors isn't your thing, but as far as finding a hobby goes, spending time outdoors in nature is about as low investment as it gets.

Or, if you prefer something a bit more aligned with programming/tech, maybe find a maker club and get into 3d printing, or woodwork, or some similar hobby. These aren't my thing, but I have several programmer friends who love to build stuff - some restore old motorcycles, some do the maker thing, and some ended up with woodshops in the their basements/garages.

Alright, I'm standing next to a highway in front of a Speedway.

Now what?

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

No matter how burnt out you are, please do not throw yourself into traffic

get lamp

Go north

I got some "I no longer build software; I now make furniture out of wood."[1][2] vibes from this.

I have occasionally considered auto mechanics if I ever get to the point of software-related burnout, though the way cars are going, I feel like they'll be entirely software by the time I feel the need to switch.

[1]: https://github.com/docker/cli/issues/267#issuecomment-695149... [2]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24541964

Manual work is underrated. Especially the kind of work where you can see an immediate end result from your efforts. I worked in a kitchen for two years and I can tell you slicing food is way more satisfying than coding frontend.

There's a log home building place that just started near where I live. I still have my tools from when I did it as a kid. Very tempting.

For 2 years, yes.

yes it is real and i got struck. i work in academia and was doing the work of four ppl, with pressing deadlines. it really brought me down as nothing in my life before.

4 weeks of rest helped a lot but, to my astonishment, what helped the most was a small dose psylocibin. i was not expecting it as i was doing it more for recreational purposes, but right after the (very mild) trip, it pulled me out of depression and anxiety in sth like 30 minutes. i have no words to explain the feeling of having a functioning brain in such short amount of time, it was a bit like breathing again after 6 months.

I hope the author finds happiness in his new calling. One thing I noticed is that he basically seemed to have turned his favorite spare time activity into his job; I've seen that with other people as well.

Personally, I try to have some activities that I enjoy immensely but would never think of trying to make money from. I'm a bit concerned that the moment I monetize them, obligations would start getting attached, and the enjoyable activity would turn into just another job. But then, I'm not a particularly entrepreneurial type, unlike (it appears), the author of the post.

Burnout is real, but I built a website for the side business I just started and I'm available for react/C# gigs. Come on! Glad that the author got out of something where he was struggling and into something he's passionate about. But a proper burnout would affect him more.

Edit: Of course if the author feels he had a burnout that's valid. But IMO a burnout hits you much harder.

I find it strange that burnout is always framed in this way. I look at it as one's subconscious getting sick of waiting around for you to grow, building internal resentment. It looks different for everyone after that point but I think that is what drives the burnout we're used to seeing in tech.

In 2009, I experienced burnout. I had just turned 30 and was doing management consulting for software teams. I thought it was the coolest job in the world at first - people paid to fly me to their dev standup to tell them how to build software better! And although I didn't really have the experience necessary to be really good at it, I was capable enough to make it work. But after a fear years, I got absolutely burned out.

I thought maybe the problem was that software wasn't the industry for me. I still liked to code, but I just couldn't stomach the idea of being in another standup, having another conversation about how long a sprint should be, or discussion about why some team refuses to track defects effectively. So I decided to leave the software world behind to start a my own business. As fate would have it I ended up spending the next decade building, running, and eventually closing a sporting goods retail business.

I still wrote some code during that time that solved a few of our business needs. That code resulted in real competitive advantages that contributed to our success. And because old habits die hard and it's a useful practice in a variety of circumstances, we even had a standup to start each workday!

The experience of running my own business taught me a lot. I matured over that 10 years. And I gained enough experience and perspective to realize my burnout had nothing to do with writing code or managing software teams and everything to do with understanding what type of work I enjoyed.

I enjoyed building things. I enjoyed the camaraderie of being on a team and sharing in successes and failures with coworkers. But I definitely didn't want to spend all of my days in retail and managing retail personnel. So we closed the retail business and I have been back in software a few years now.

Looking back on why I got burned out in the first place, I realized I stayed on too long at the consulting firm. The money was great, my boss was great, the other consultants were great (although our paths didn't cross very often). But I loathed client work. I loathed never being a part of a team and delivering software. I loathed spending so much effort convincing my client to let me help. I loathed the travel. I loathed spending one day of the week at a client site sitting in their security department waiting for a badge. I loathed airport security lines, shitty airport food, late planes, luggage lines, and rental cars. I loathed cubicle hell. And I conflated all that, to my detriment, with the act of writing software.

Figuring out what really makes me tick has resulted in being as satisfied in a work situation as I've been in my entire career. My current employer isn't perfect. Business is challenging. I don't have enough budget, processes need improving, timelines are too aggressive, and priorities change too often. But now that I know what I enjoy (and what I don't) and have enough breadth of experience to better triage my frustrations. That's made it much easier to find satisfaction and be content.

I hope denvercoder is able to do the same. If he finds out that he's truly satisfied detailing cars and creates a successful business doing so, fantastic. Maybe he finds out it's just another stepping stone on a bigger journey. But as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. And life is too short not to be happy.

Unless you have no options (but you should check them thoroughly first), burnout is a road paved with self denial and failure to assess one own life priorities.

It is of course real but so is the responsibility to manage it. At my old job, I was insanely stressed and it was totally self inflicted. My manager challenged me to start later, end earlier, take a meditation/walking break etc. Similarly, I do the same to people who work for me.

Most of what we do is a long term game. If you are a developer or a manager I need you to be healthy and productive for the next decade, not burn out over some short term thing.

There are times we need to push, work the weekend, etc. Most times we don't and it's important to take responsibility for that decision.

I take a very capitalist view of this. It's not about slacking, etc. It's about maximizing your long time contribution and earning.

Burnout is real, but it's not unavoidable.

If you can't imagine yourself doing your job for the next 40 years*, then find another one.

*If you're a gunner and plan on running the place by then, that's different. Likewise, if you expect to add responsibilities and enjoy some variety, that's also different. But the basic responsibilities and activities shouldn't be abhorrent or even unfulfilling to you.

I've tried multiple careers in my early years due to this, and have decided it just is the nature of the world that works sucks and always will. You are selling your time for a paycheck, that's all it is and all it ever will be. Ultimately I think burnout stems from a terrible attitude re: work as salvation or meaning, and realizing no it's not and that is crushing.

I agree with you, and I use that to set boundaries and find meaning outside of work.

If you surveyed me about my attitudes regarding work, you might think that I have burnout. But if you asked questions about my emotional state or my life outside of work, I don't think you'd get that impression.

It’s definitely worthwhile to seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Many times it helps.

Not reading a twitter threat. Seriously? Twitter? As a long-form blog platform? No.

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