Burnout. That Word Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means

Let’s clarify what’s actually being said.

I saw this tweet thread, and it really inspired some thoughts in me. Here were the parts Sarah Mei said that really resonated with me:

As an industry we’ve been talking quite a bit about how to avoid burnout & how to come back from it. But we’re using the wrong word.

When we pathologize the non-involvement side of the cycle as “burnout,” we imply that the involvement side is the positive, natural state.

Cycles of involvement & non-involvement in extracurricular tech are natural (and healthy) in any developer’s career.

This is the stage I find myself in. I’m not super involved in the conversations inside the web space, and its kind of been like this for about 3 years now. Guess what? I regret nothing!

I regret nothing!

What Sarah brings out so eloquently is that you go through ebb and flows of activity—it’s normal. Even more importantly, trying to diagnose it as burnout just reinforces the idea that you somehow need to “prevent” it. You don’t need to prevent it, do what you want to do. The consistency of change in life is something you can count on. Priorities will change, and things that were important to you at one point, will no longer be. Being involved in important web conversations was so important to me at one point, but it’s not anymore.

I wrote articles, spoke at conferences, podcasted, made all sorts of things—spent every waking moment thinking about the web, and it didn’t make me happy. I made some pretty high profile friends, and was at the table with some amazingly smart people, but the void in my life only grew. There I was in the middle of my 15 seconds of web fame, feeling like I was missing out on something better.

I understand, the pressure to do this is huge. Some employers put words like “passionate” in their job descriptions to not-so-subtly say they want someone who lives for the web and tech. In their eyes, only people who have an unhealthy obsession over a product they didn’t even create are valuable. These are the same people who think that 80-plus-hour weeks lead to a pile of money, so they’re obviously not that smart to begin with.

And hey, this means that your job applications are laughed at sometimes because you don’t have any articles published, there doesn’t seem to be a web design podcast you host, and your GitHub profile doesn’t show any open source contributions. Be thankful these companies didn’t give you a second glance, because you’re too good for them. And I’m not just saying that.

In the end, it’s ok. Forget about all of these people and just be you. Work on things you want to work on, write what you want to write about, spend your evenings and weekends on whatever the hell you like.

But don’t fall into the trap of doing all these extra things because you’re supposed to. You’ll be just fine, you’ll still have great opportunities, and your personal life will be a lot happier.