Burnout is a common discussion point in the tech community, for some it never happens, for others it happens once or twice in a career, for some of us though - it happens often. I’m one of those that falls in the often camp. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what could cause this, when from the outside I’ve had a very fortunate and interesting career. While thinking about my issue of burnout I realized that it often comes for me because I’m not working on things that I believe matter.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike my job or my career path, but I often find myself working on things that, in my opinion, don’t make a positive dent in the world. It’s a shame, but it’s a rare occurrence where we reward industries that make a difference in the world monetarily. For example, my wife worked at a non-profit for children as a Director of Operations and made 1/6th of my current total comp. How is that fair? She made a far larger difference in the world than I do, but because I work for a for-profit company, in an industry that is showered with cash, I have been able to command much more money.
I’d love to see more ESG focused investment groups, more venture capitalists that pay attention to human problems and stopped funding the next Kubernetes startup, the next cryptocurrency market, or social media. I’d like to see our society value the people that make a difference every day in the world: teachers, nurses, non-profit employees, clean air initiatives, healthy living companies, etc.
Okay, sorry got distracted a bit there….
Burnout for me manifests in ways that look a lot like ADHD: Inability to focus on work for long periods of time, disinterest in any task, forgetfulness, poor planning, etc. When I’m burnt out I have a hard time doing simple tasks, like following up with our accountant or contractor (two things that have been on my to-do list for weeks).
Often when I’m heading towards burnout, I’ll notice that I’ve been drinking more often or to excess. I’ll wake up thinking about work, but not in a manner that is productive. Inspiration for side projects or passion projects will be all but gone. I’m irritable, quick to give up, and closed off.
Somehow, through all the disorganization and lack of interest, I manage to move projects forward in limp-a-long mode at work, but they take so much more of my energy than I’d be willing to admit. They drive me further into burnout, even when I’m able to check something off my list.
The almost near direct correllation between ADHD symptoms and my experience of burnout are extremely interesting to me. I’ve had a feeling in the back of my mind that I should probably talk to my doctor about testing for ADHD, but I’ve been hesitant to pull the trigger. Primarily, because the medications generally don’t interact well with high blood pressure - which I have.
The other thing that drives me to think I might have ADHD is how often I experience these symptoms. To be honest, they are almost always present, and have been for as long as I can remember. Basically, clear back to childhood.
Often the methods of treating my burnout change, depending on what I’m feeling in the moment. Most often it’s about self-care: eating right, sleeping, exercise, meditation, time with my family. Sometimes it’s more aggressive, up to and including finding a new job. Three times in my career I’ve made burnout driven job changes, which often don’t end well because I’m running away from something instead of to something.
Carenection -> Nutanix SE,
Nutanix SE to TME,
Nutanix to Druva were all scenarios where I was running away from something. The only time where that worked well was when I went from being a SE to TME at Nutanix, an incredible move.
When I left Nutanix for Druva, it was because I was tired of talking about Nutanix and was getting more and more frustrated with compensation which was largely driven by stock that didn’t perform well. If you look at my career path, you will see that running to Druva solved nothing. It was a rough transition for me and I jumped again.
So what I’ve learned from the last two paragraphs is I probably shouldn’t make burnout induced job changes, there’s an underlying problem that most likely needs solved - and it’s probably not the job.
Rather than immediately start looking for a new position, maybe I should go back to the basics: food, sleep, exercise.
Clearing the Wreckage
The feelings that I get while experiencing burnout, the mass of unfinished work, the hurt feelings of friends and family, all takes work to clean up after I come out of my bouts of burnout.