Is this What Burnt Out Feels Like?

beer me strength

Imposter syndrome is common in the software industry and it’s not unique to developers. It’s exciting to be in an industry that is evolving and changing so quickly. It’s hard though when you do plug-in and feel the sheer volume of blogs, books, webinars, training, open source projects, the list is never ending. I have this habit of opening blogs I plan to read in new tabs, it’s beyond causing periodic crashes to the point where I have a separate browser instance that I can hide behind other windows so I don’t feel guilt when seeing it. I know the really good testers would have read these already…

Somehow I also think blogging heightens those feelings. Am I a writing about the right things? Is this any good? If it is good, what happens if the next post isn’t so good? This is supposed to help my career but what if it has the opposite effect?

Catching Fire

Going to CAST this year was a BIG deal for me on a personal level.

Watching the live stream of the 2015 conference really had an impact on me. I’m not even so sure that it was the content being shared, that’s no slight to the speakers but what really resonated was there seemed to be a real community of testers.

In addition to the pressure of staying current on the software and testing industry, I wasn’t super happy with my work situation at the time, I had just committed to blogging every week and I didn’t exactly know what I was going to have to say week after week, and my son wasn’t sleeping through the night yet. It sounds silly but Grand Rapids, Michigan looked like a fairy tale. Like the fellowship arriving at Lothlórien

Fast forward about a year and 52 posts in 52 weeks later and I was preparing to hop on a plane to Vancouver for the conference. Mission accomplished right?

I love software and I love testing and I have been eating, sleeping, writing and tweeting testing pretty much non stop for the year. On top of that and some personal life changes, I had been building up this conference trip in my mind for months, after-all this was going to be some saving middle earth fellowship type stuff.

I was excited but completely mentally exhausted and I knew I was going to need even more energy for the kick to finish the race. I wasn’t sure where that energy was going to come from.

Not Burnt Out. Pressurized

The conference was great, but all the mental lead-up to it definitely made things interesting. I went in thinking I was burnt out, maybe not crispy burnt but certainly singed.

A couple nice things happened that helped with processing the built up stress. A few people recognized me from this blog, I probably owe them an apology for acting like a weirdo. Obviously I hope people read these posts otherwise why bother, so it’s exciting being recognized, but at the same time I felt really exposed. Regardless, positive feedback from strangers is validating which makes the effort feel worthwhile. Plus I got to talk out some of the stress and get advice from some people whose content I read regularly and have been very impressed with.

It wasn’t tearful or super emotional but clarity came from vocalizing the stress. I wasn’t burnt out, I was just pressurized. Pressure can be good like airplane cabins are pressurized for our comfort. Too much and it things go boom, like an over-shaken soda can.

This all may sound a bit neurotic, but even when the voice of what Steven Pressfield in the War of Art calls resistance is quiet it’s still psychic weight that just piles up over time.

Reframing & Rebalancing

I needed to hear that I could take a week off and feel ok (it’s actually ended up being a few weeks). It’s provided some perspective. Writing on a regular cadence with or without predetermined inspiration has become an outlet, another tool that helps me be better.

I think everyone theoretically knows that writing about something forces you to clarify your ideas but it’s different to really feel it in action. There have been a couple posts lately where it wasn’t until I wrote about the subject that I had any real insight. It’s cliché sounding, but the moments have been profound.

Those moments don’t come for free, nor is the insight there before the writing. Inspiration is a luxury but not a necessarily a precursor to sitting down to write. It’s a bit of a paradox, do something whether you feel like it or not, and at the same time don’t let the pressure of having to do it weigh you down.

What’s working for me is the mindset shift. I don’t have to do this, I should, I see it’s benefits but the world doesn’t come crashing down if I don’t. It’s like I want to do it even when I don’t want to do it, and somehow that contradiction feels completely ok.

It’s easy to get swept up in this idea that to be faithful to a career in software you need be fully engaged and enraptured in it 24/7.

Sometimes we need someone that has been through the same trenches we are fighting in to say that it’s ok to take a break.

Maybe you’re just not that into the testing today/this week/this month. Maybe you just need to chill.

  • Patrick Prill

    Good thoughts in there Brendan. I had the same problem earlier this year. There was so much going on, and I thought I just need a break. And I can tell you, take a break for a few weeks. Don’t look into Twitter (yes, it can be done), if you have a blog idea, just note it down for later. Then after a few weeks, start ramping back up. Read Twitter twice a day, not too much. Read one blog post every other day. Until you are back to a normal speed.
    I’m still in ramp up mode, but I feel I have more energy than before my time off. And I have a focus problem. There are too many interesting things out there, so focusing is tough.

    And always remember, the others don’t know more than you, they just know different things than you. And you don’t have to know what 20 other people combined know. Relax! Find your topic and focus.

    • You are right, I thought I only needed a week or so off from things (besides work and family) and it turned into more like a month. Completely hear you about twitter, I got to a place where I just couldn’t look at it.

      Thankfully, I think a change in perspective has really helped to turn the corner. There’s an ebb and flow in interests, everything doesn’t have to be an “and”, I can put something on hold to pursue a current passion and that’s ok.

      Thanks for reading and the kind words they are much appreciated.

  • It’s been a while since I read something that resonated so strongly with my reality (though I use unread email to mark posts I should read – and they stack so very fast I feel guilty at least once a week for about four days). There is a lot going around, a lot being written, and I think that after flooding yourself in information, you should start filtering out stuff that are less important for you (I am at the beginning of this process – I have removed one blog from my RSS reader, and have a couple of other extremely active, less interesting blogs I plan to remove). At least I don’t have to worry about twitter (except for some niche subjects, twitter isn’t really a thing in Israel, so I can afford recognizing the fact that I don’t have time for that).
    Taking a break once a while is super important, so it’s great to have you back a bit rested.

    • I tried to filter but the tabs just seemed to keep opening. It’s nice to hear a good tester having similar issues, thanks for reading and the support!