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Phrases like, "The myth of burn out" and "Burn out is just a rationalization for giving up early" give me great pause.

Burn out is real. It is dangerous, and even an overwhelming, driving passion for your work, your creation, can lead to disaster.

Ed Catmull recounted this story about the production of Toy Story 2 [1]:

"So we came back, John [Lasseter] told the story crew to take a good rest over the holidays, and come back on January 2nd... we were re-boarding the movie.

We had 8 months left.

We then started this incredibly intense effort to get this movie out. It was boarded quickly, it was pitched to the company, it was an electrifying pitch.

We had a lot of over-achieving people working for over-achieving managers to get the movie out.

We worked brutal hours with this. When I say "brutal", we had a number of people that were injured with RSI [2], one of them permanently left the field.

We had, actually, a married couple that worked there. This was in June, so it's summer, and the father was supposed to drop the baby off at daycare, but forgot; don't know why... but came and left the baby in the car, and came into work. Again, as the heat was rising, the mother asked... they realized and they rushed out: the baby was unconscious. The right thing was done, they put ice-water on the baby. The baby ended up being fine in the end, but it was one of those traumatic things, like, 'Why did this happen, are they working too hard?'

So when I say it was intense, it really was intense."

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2h2lvhzMDc&t=1064

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetitive_strain_injury

This was in June, so it's summer, and the father was supposed to drop the baby off at daycare, but forgot; don't know why... but came and left the baby in the car, and came into work.

As an aside...

There was a Pulitzer Prize winning article about the phenomenon of parents forgetting their children in the backseat and leaving them to die in the heat. The main take-away is that it can happen to anyone. It isn't a matter of malicious or inattentive parents, it usually happens when there is a variation in routine that distracts the parent and pulls focus from the kid.


That's pretty terrifying.

Seems like a good candidate for an "internet of things" solution in the future, eg. a baby seat with a weight sensor, thermometer and 3G data connection (or optionally, some tie in to OnStar, Sync or just the alarm system on a modern bluetooth-capable car) that could alert you and/or automatically pull down the electric windows in a panic mode.

Granted, you'd have to be careful to ensure you don't create a solution people form a false sense of security around since the communications or electronics could fail, but it seems like overall this might save some babies.

I like this a lot. Seems genuinely useful.

A simple version might be something that beeps like a seatbelt-detector if there is weight in back seat but not in front.

You'd have to calibrate it to ignore the weight of the car seat, since people leave them in place. Seems like great idea though.

Put it in the padding of the car seat, so even if it's moved, it's not forgotten.

Or even beeps when the seat belt is fastened, while the engine is off.

From the article above:


or years, Fennell has been lobbying for a law requiring back-seat sensors in new cars, sensors that would sound an alarm if a child's weight remained in the seat after the ignition is turned off. Last year, she almost succeeded. The 2008 Cameron Gulbransen Kids' Transportation Safety Act -- which requires safety improvements in power windows and in rear visibility, and protections against a child accidentally setting a car in motion -- originally had a rear seat-sensor requirement, too. It never made the final bill; sponsors withdrew it, fearing they couldn't get it past a powerful auto manufacturers' lobby.

There are a few aftermarket products that alert a parent if a child remains in a car that has been turned off. These products are not huge sellers. They have likely run up against the same marketing problem that confronted three NASA engineers a few years ago.

In 2000, Chris Edwards, Terry Mack and Edward Modlin began to work on just such a product after one of their colleagues, Kevin Shelton, accidentally left his 9-month-old son to die in the parking lot of NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The inventors patented a device with weight sensors and a keychain alarm. Based on aerospace technology, it was easy to use; it was relatively cheap, and it worked.

That was five years ago. The device still isn't on the shelves. The inventors could not find a commercial partner willing to manufacture it. One big problem was liability. If you made it, you could face enormous lawsuits if it malfunctioned and a child died. But another big problem was psychological: Marketing studies suggested it wouldn't sell well.

The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them


And it's true. When you hear these stories, what's your first thought beyond "oh that poor kid". Usually: "how could her parent have done that to her? What kind of parent could possibly forget his/her child in the car?"

Maybe that's not your initial response, but it's very likely somewhere in the chain unless you've read up on it or know someone it's happened to. And that response demonstrates why this wouldn't sell: if you don't think yo could make such a mistake you also don't see a need to protect against it.

Might work if it were accompanied by a public awareness campaign, kind f like was done to get parents to put their kids on their backs. But the actual technology - hell, the products themselves - already exist. People just don't see it as a useful technology without that additional push.

I like having a chime tell me when I leave the keys in or forget to turn the lights off. A baby alarm seems to be much more valuable.

Agreed, but I think the problem is that not enough people will see that value to make it a viable product. People accept that they may forget their keys in the ignition - but they fundamentally do not accept that they could make a mistake this catastrophic.

It's just a matter of marketing. They can show ads with people who've made the mistake and emphasize how ordinary and responsible they are otherwise.

Seems to me like you're treating the symptoms and not the cause.

(Not that there's anything wrong with insurance).

What's wrong with treating symptoms? If the alternative is treating the cause, then yes, treating the symptoms is foolish. But why do you expect the cause to be treatable in this case? We can't (and shouldn't) fix everyone's routine in granite for all of eternity. So that leaves us with the concrete good to be realized from treating the symptoms.

The "concrete good" in this case is saving babies. I find it very difficult to call that anything but a win.

I'm the parent of two toddlers and I can see how it happens. It's not quite as serious as leaving them in a hot car, but I've been in a rush and so distracted by work or life that I've put them in the car and driven away without remembering to fully buckle them into their carseats.

Realizing that you've potentially endangered them is an awful feeling, and a stark reminder to slow down and remember what's important in life.

Luckily they've gotten precocious enough to yell at me "Daddy I'm not buckled" so it doesn't happen any more.

Smart kids.

Do not read that story, by the way, unless you want nightmares.

I read it a year or so ago, and yes, it is terrifying.

Also, burn-out is NOT a rationalization for giving up early. Burn-out is when you should have given up a long time ago, but you keep pushing yourself too hard instead, and then you fall apart and have difficulty functioning as a human being (to say nothing of performing your job).

The article author might have a point or two about a variety of young actors in the workforce, but they're masked by this and other bits of far-too-tidy preachiness. He's full of it.

I feel like the author is conflating the desire to not be bored with burn-out. It's bizarre that anyone could be that confused about what is going on.

No one who has completed a multi-year project actually thinks that there will never be days when you're bored, or that it's good to jump around from project to project. This is like startup 101 stuff, you can't do a company that does everything, you have to define a project goal and stick to it. Which makes everything else in the post pretty nonsensical.

I think the best you can do is try to understand first your priorities, and then understand what makes you function well so that you can push through those boring, emotionally draining, and frustrating times.

I recently wrote about this for myself, although I'm far from figuring it all out. Still working on how to phrase it all, but maybe someone will find it useful despite my lack of writing skill.


He absolutely is conflating the two types of burnout - the "my health and human relationships are falling apart and it's destroying me" type and the "I just don't have any passion for this work any more". Granted, the former can lead to the latter (especially when it leads to you losing passion for anything).

It's a shame because he is still making a very valid point.

It's not just startups that this should really be targetted at - there are plenty of people who feel like being bored at work is a sign you need a new job, stat. Work is supposed to be challenging and fun, right?!

And in the worlds of the SF Bay Tech Culture, at least, it's quite possible to live that way; to switch to the cool new company every couple years, or to jump to a new project within your larger corporation.

Of course, it's also totally possible to toil away at an unsatisfying job for no significant benefit. You have to step away some times - often, even - and ask if it's really taking your life in a direction you want to go.

It's crazy how much I've learned about a lot of these things as I've gotten older. But in other ways, I feel like I'm learning at 30 what other people learned at 20.

Burnout in tech circles is like Depression in the population in general. 90% of people who say they have it really don't and the people who say it doesn't exist have no idea what in the world they are talking about. But for those who have it, it is un-mistakenly terrible.

I put in 80+ hour work weeks for 4 years straight at my last job and it got to a point where I was physically breaking down and developed a slew of transient (but terrifying) neurological problems. It got so bad I actually saw a neurologist who basically said that I was seeing the manifestation of extreme stress and had to stop (He actually pushed me to find a new job, interestingly.)

To your point, it never dawned on me that I was working too much. I had various problems that needed solutions and I was much too engulfed in the pursuit of their solution to really see what was happening until it became impossible to ignore. I'd venture to say most people with burnout are not driven there by someone or something but by themselves.

I'm still a student, but I pulled through something similar (trying to get into college), and I thought harder work would get me there. After a couple of months of sleeping 4 hours a day, and way too much coffee and ramen (some cram nights, I'd down 4 cans of nescafé,2 starbucks mocha's and 4 redbulls just to stay working, along with a bowl of cheap ramen to top it off), I started getting frequent colds, eye infections, you name it. I started dozing off and not waking up. I felt giddy in my skin. It was downright terrible.

And the irony of it? After totaling my body, I totaled my grades. Bye,bye Ivy's, it was nice :).

So I don't entirely agree with the author that lack of hard work should be the usual suspect, and that burnouts are an euphemism for slackerism.

This is happening to me right now. I struggle to find amid ground from working too hard and staying up till 4 am and working too little. Can you spare some advice?

Ok, the knack really seems to be work smarter, not harder. I haven't got it down to pat entirely, but I'm getting there.

If you have to work hard till 4 am to get school work done, you have a problem. You can group the problems though.

1. Wrong work Odds are you do some work that feels like you're working hard but won't get you anywhere. I had a knack for finding those and working myself stupid over them. "Biology poster? Museum Exhibit it is". Whilst that kind of work can teach you something, don't fret it, and prioritize.

2.Too much work. Don't follow in my footsteps and become an academic masochist. As said above, prioritize and cut things that aren't means to an end/enjoyable. Working on an important academic project you enjoy? Bullseye, it stays. Studying for a major exam that you require for graduation but hate? Dispatch it cleanly and quickly. There's techniques for that. Jamming on the guitar with friends? Sure, you have to relax after all. Working on a worthless elective class you hate? Do yourself a favor and chop it.

3. Handling work the wrong way I'm down to 2 hours study for a 1 hour lecture (I think you can go lower), but I have friends who spend 5 on the same thing and grasp less. Is it because my friends are stupid? Hopefully not. But they tackle it the wrong way. Efficiency whilst studying will help you cut a lot of time off.

Also, understand that we run on cycles. Sleep/Wake, Work/Rest, etc. Every project I did where I tried fighting that fact (Staying up all the time, working all the time) turned into a burning wreck. So learn how you cycle, and work with it, not against it. Trust me, it makes your life easier.

Of course, I could rant on, but most of my mental images of dealing with these issues are really strange (So studying is like a multi-stage conversion-funnel where I try to optimize for x?), so I'll just recommend you the blogs of Cal Newport and Scott H Young. http://calnewport.com/blog/ http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/

PS: You can get to little done for your taste, but working too little is mistaking the means for the end.

solistice gave you advice that runs the danger of telling you to work harder at burning yourself out. Given that I'm also giving advice, take that with a grain of salt.

"Make small changes," he suggests.

If you're really on the burnout train, your life is out of control because of your internal pressure to work. You want to be overworking yourself.

Some of that internal pressure is because of external pressure that you've accepted. You want the grades--do you want them, or are you running on others' expectations, and accepting them into your life?

My advice is, be prepared to make big changes. That's not even right: be prepared for big changes to happen to you. Burnout means you lose something.

And so what I should say is, be ready to give it up. You might be really happy if you didn't have all this internal pressure driving you to work all the time.

Are you doing it for them? Or are you doing it for you?

Don't be afraid to quit.


That said, you'll do your best work when you're under pressure you're not sure you can handle.

My impression is that you're a student. Apparently you're not under so much pressure that you don't have time to spare asking for advice.

I don't know if you're working too hard. There is always something to be said for keeping a little voice in your mind telling you to "Work harder."

But if it comes crashing down, you have a right to quit and to drastically change your life.

Oooops, my bad. Should have focused more on the balance aspect really.

I get what you mean by the internal pressure to work thing. You get anxious when you're not working, and that anxiety starts to nag on your psyche. I've gotten some good results with redefining work for myself, from "what breaks me" to "what compounds for results", but it isn't the perfect solution to the problem. Then, I subdivide mentally between work i should do and work I enjoy. The former category includes writing pieces of code I have to finish or studying for exams (I try to keep that kind of work relatively efficient and hard hitting), and the latter category includes things such as drawing or dancing, skills which are useful and relaxing at the same time.

Alas, it's what works for me.

Oh, I never saw this until now.

I thought your response was great; I wanted to complement what you wrote, not replace it or criticize it.

> developed a slew of transient (but terrifying) neurological problems.

well don't stop there - what were they? this is important information for the HN crowd.

> This was in June, so it's summer, and the father was supposed to drop the baby off at daycare, but forgot; don't know why... but came and left the baby in the car, and came into work.

Several years ago, I almost did the same thing with my infant daughter. Put her car seat in the back seat. Got in. Started driving. On auto-pilot started heading towards the office.

It was only when she happened to make a sound (she often slept on the way to daycare) that I remembered she was still in the truck. A combination of factors led to this:

1. I wasn't getting anywhere near enough sleep at night with feedings every few hours.

2. Carseats can't go in the front seat anymore. Good for safety, but bad for remembering a kid is in the car since they're out of sight.

3. Did I mention I wasn't getting enough sleep?

The not sleeping thing is a bitch. Mine is almost a year and still needs to be topped off a couple of times overnight.

We had the same problem but realized the bottle was the sleep prop and started giving water instead and eventually replaced the bottle with a teddy bear.

Seems like an opportunity for an app

(disclaimer: obviously did not do my due diligence and google if there was one first. T minus X seconds in counting until the first 'there already is one' post).

When you leave the house you check that your keys are present in your pocket/purse/backpack/etc.

When you leave the car you need to check that your kid is not present.

A simple solution would be to put whatever it is you require at work, such as your wallet/backpack/briefcase, right next to your kid in the backseat. You should check for your wallet/backpack/briefcase before you leave the car, which in turn will have you check the presence of your kid.

If you get your baby an android phone, at least you can use the Locate function to find out where you left them...

I've thought this too, something with an NFC connection being broken maybe. But then I think about the lawsuit that would probably ensue the first time it didn't work...

I agree it's real, but I also agree people use it as a cop-out.

I definitely don't see it happening over a short timeframe at a normal job. Only time I got any real burnout, was for my capstone at Uni. I had been working around the clock (up to 80hr weeks) for three months solid.

Sidenote, It was actually kind of a cool experiment. I knew I would burn out; I also knew it was worth it (being my capstone). So I got the experience of attempting to forestall burnout just long enough to make our goals. Was a good experience learning about myself.

It's worth noting that the original "i quit" post never mentioned burnout. I didn't get the impression that it had anything to do with loren's reason for leaving, so it's strange for the reply post to bring it up like that.

This article wasn't solely a response to that one post, but to the general feeling perpetuated by HN. There are a good deal of other posts that show up on HN where someone misattributes boredom to burnout.

Yes, but "burn out" can be both real and *rare".

Similarly, "burn out" can be a rationalization for giving up early.

I think burn out and "stagnation" are very, very real, but I think they are much less common than is cited by people.

It is certainly not something that occurs over two months.

based on his 2004 graduation, this is a kid - let him write it again in 15 years.

A similar incident happened a couple of days ago [1]. Unfortunately, the baby did not survive despite attempts to resuscitate him.

[1] - http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/baby-boy-f...

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