3 min read

Burning out when enjoying your work

Burning out when enjoying your work
Photo by Tangerine Newt / Unsplash

I was having dinner with a couple friends tonight, who helped me realize that I might be on the fast track to burn out. Here's how I described my work life to them:

I'm constantly overstimulated. There are so many people pinging me and asking me for things all the time.

I feel like I can't keep up. Every week I think I'll catch up the next week, and something else happens.

I feel completely disrespected. People leave me off emails, documents, meetings all the time. I feel like I am chasing this information just to be able to do my job.

I have a really hard time disconnecting from work after work hours. It isn't that I'm on my computer. I just keep remembering about yet another thing I forgot to do, or need to follow up on, or need to learn, or need to include in writing my strategy.

When I went on vacation, I had to intentionally separate myself from my work devices. Only then was I finally able to relax. As soon as I came back, the panic and anxiety was even worse.

Many of my friends have recently been describing them own work life to me this way. They say they are struggling to keep up and no longer find joy in the things that they do. Until last night, I didn't identify with the way they felt.

I love what I do, and I'm so excited to start work everyday. I find the problems that I'm tackling incredibly challenging and fun. I love a lot of the people that I get to work with.

It is also so cool to me that I get to tech lead a team of the size and scope of Cloud SDK. Our engineering team is 3x the size of my old startup, Spring! When things don't happen according to plan, or I have to do silly things for bad reasons, I often try to remind myself just how cool my job is, and get creative with solving problems from that perspective.

While I do love what I do, I also wonder if I am on the track to burn out, or something like it. For me, the feeling isn't one of tired, as Jay describes in this tweet:

However, I do feel like I can't keep up. I work with a lot of people on the west coast, so by the end of the day my eyes actually hurt so badly I feel like I can't see. I am experiencing microaggressions in a new way as an Uber Tech Lead, and haven't developed new coping mechanisms yet, so my cortisol levels are constantly spiking. I sometimes feel like I have no energy left for anything after work, and I have a hard time mentally shutting down. Between a wedding and a funeral, the past couple months of life outside of work has also had its ups and downs.

I still love doing what I do, and I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet. One thing I'm going to try is to bring back more fun into my life.

Here what is not fun for me:

  • Fighting over power, such as "who is the decision maker"
  • Writing a strategy document that you're not sure anyone will care about
  • Reading long documents that don't anywhere
  • Getting added as an approver/reviewer to a long stack of documents, that likely need to be declined
  • Meetings with 5+ people and trying to make a decision
  • Feeling bad that I don't know something I feel like I should

Here's what is fun for me:

  • Writing, because it helps me thinking, and sharing that thinking with other people if they are interested too
  • Reading, because it helps me learn, and giving myself permission to stop if I don't care about the topic of simply don't have the time
  • Learning new strategies for handling microaggression, and adding them to my bag of tricks. For example, a friend of mine helped me respond to several chat messages this morning, and I feel infinitely better because of it.
  • Getting coffee with people I like, just to hang and catch up
  • Coding – particularly my finances system to implement the 9 step program of "Your Money or Your Life" and learning new technologies
  • Systems design – especially when you can take a large complex system and build something incredibly simple to solve the same problem
  • Eating lunch with a friend
  • Growing in the direction that I care about
  • Talking on the phone while walking, instead of taking a video call
  • Having time to myself to think, without worrying about chat and email
  • Tackling personal projects, like this blog
  • Cooking fun meals, like homemade chinese eggplant, Easter brunch, Moussaka, and lots more on @thechewfromjq, and inviting friends over to enjoy them
  • Arts and crafts with my friends
  • Wine tasting night with my friends

I'm going to focus on doing more of the second, and less of the first.