Professional Burnout

I turned on the camera a few times last week planning on doing some videos for Failed Normal. I hit the record button and then… just kind of stared at the camera…. I had an idea of what I wanted to say. I took a deep breath in, let it out quickly and felt excited to begin a monologue, but then I hit the record button, and… nothing… silence…

An issue that does not get enough attention is burnout in the tech field. Many jobs simply require a person to come in, punch the time card, do their task list, and pick up their pay check. Many modern tech jobs on the other hand require the person to be fully focused and motivated to build something new. Tech professionals are give a huge amount of freedom and responsibility because it is expected that they will figure out what needs to be done. The problem is when folks get burned out. The day they walk into work, and just can’t get their head in the game.

Burn out is an odd thing. It’s not laziness, or even tiredness. It’s not necessarily lack of interest. To say that it is a loss of motivation is not even quite right. Burn out is just… burn out…

Burn out is walking into the server room, seeing a dozen tasks that need done, and then just going for a cup of coffee. Burn out is dealing with an end user, and then feeling all caring wash away. Standing up from their desk, and with a shrug going off for a cup of coffee as they lose their minds. Burn out is staring at a camera, the same way you have for almost nine years, and then wandering off for a cup of coffee without saying a word.

In the startup world folks prattle on and on about “passion”, but that’s only one of the things that keeps a person going. The truth is that there are a number of different psychological mechanisms that get you up in the morning, and keep you shipping product. Passion has a place, but there’s a deeper drive that keeps you going forward. Maybe it’s a drive for more money. Maybe it’s a drive because of curiosity. Maybe it’s a drive from boredom, or proving self worth. There is a drive that keeps you working on the days when you’re losing money, and helps you go for the next steps when you are succeeding. Drive is what everything rests on…

When that drive burns out… the games over…

For myself a big reason I’ve burned out on videos is because we have come to a time when everyone is talking. No one ever shuts up anymore. Beyond YouTube, or Facebook or any online platform even in flesh and blood interactions people start yabbering about how they are right, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a moron. It’s an odd time to be alive… and I’m just bone tired of listening, even to myself.

When I started doing videos in 2009 I had to explain to people what Streaming Videos meant. In 2012 I had to explain to folks what Live Streaming was and that it was possible. In 2018 I feel like even the shoe shine boy is vlogging. As someone who has been a video content professional it’s all just too much for my brain to process… it just burned out… it doesn’t want to hear anymore… even if the words are coming from my own mouth… it wants quiet… it needs quiet… it will have quiet…

Why my story of burn out is important for other folks is that you will run into this to. Whether you are a coder, or you swap hard drives, at some point you’ll get sick of what you’re doing. Facebook will change their API, or Apple will modify their terms of service to the app store, and you’ll just give your computer the middle finger and go find a cup of coffee. It happens to almost everyone. Few people can stomach doing the same basic job for 20 years. At a certain point we all mutter, “I cannot deal with this crap any more”, and go find a coffee pot.

For modern tech professionals a large issue is the question of career advancement. You should always be asking yourself what the next step is past where you are at. Whether you go into management, deeper into engineering, or go off into academics. You should ask yourself where you are going, and what’s next.

A big issue for me being in new media is that there isn’t much in the way of “next”. Very few folks such as ZeFrank have been able to move on to larger things. Most people end up in what I call the Cul-de -Sac of success. They find money and a bit of fame, but there’s no where else to go. When you get tired of being in front of the camera, where else is there..? This is an issue for any tech professional working at the cutting edge of the industry. When you’re already at the edge you don’t have many options when you need to step away.

So think about this with your job and your career. I know right now you’re happy and loving your work. You think you’ll want to do what you’re doing forever, but just for piece of mind think about what you would do next. If you got fired, your skill set became obsolete, or you just start getting nauseous whenever you have to talk to an end user. Ask yourself where else you can go.

So many folks think the perfect job will stay perfect forever. I’ve known too many $30K a year employees who had once been in the tech industry until they just couldn’t deal with it anymore. They went from being hot shots, to wage slaves because they hadn’t planned for the day that their brain decided that it was done.

2 Comments

    • I like the basic concept. Though some of the metrics are a bit curious. The eating 4000 calories in a day would be a bit concerning. I think I’d give that more than a -25 points…

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