Recovering from Burnout

K Hodges
4 min readDec 24, 2019

I’ve been pretty much textbook burnt out for a while. It manifests for everyone differently, but for me, it usually manifests as a general feeling of loathing.

I was working in overdrive a few years ago. Doing conference talks, learning new skills, interviewing, all while working a light 60 to 80 hours a week. This felt great at the time. I was healing from some major life changes and it felt like I was really on the path to getting somewhere. I felt like success was just around the corner, and the place I was working made it seem so attainable.

Then, after all the work and studying was done, after I built the thing I was burning the candle at both ends to build, I didn’t get the recognition I felt was deserved. Suddenly everything just felt more tedious. The culture and promises seemed like carrots and sticks. The pride turned to disdain. I moved on.

My life since then has been more or less focused entirely on fixing that. As the year comes to a close I wanted to reflect on some of the things I’ve learned.

Don’t Work For Anyone But Yourself

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that if you rely on external validation, you’ll probably never be happy. Worse yet, you’ll probably be taken advantage of. When you work, you’re doing it to sharpen your skill while paying the bills. No managerial ‘good job’ is worth as much as either of those things. When you stop being challenged in a way that helps you grow, (or you stop being paid), it’s time to consider moving on.

Expectations = Pain

Pretty sure this one I got from Ram Daas. Similar to above, the natural human reaction of expecting things from others is almost like taking out a loan for happiness. Learning to not rely on expectations allows for more self-aware decisions and when awesome things do happen to you, you’ll feel much more grateful. For example, going back to my burnout story, had I not expected a promotion/praise/ticker-tape parade, I may have not worked myself to death and would certainly have not been disappointed when I didn’t get a standing ovation for my work.

‘The Grind’ is toxic and for egotists

We all know these people. The always-positive, always-working types who apparently never watch Netflix, never eat a calorie, and never sleep. It was this attitude that burnt me out. I would look down on people for playing video games or kicking back with a beer after work, because I was #onmygrind and was working/studying instead of ‘wasting time’. Because of this, I almost never ‘chilled’. Any gaming I did left me feeling guilty, and even watching movies or hanging with friends felt pointless and like I was wasting precious study time. You begin to try to embody this fictional character that rappers claim to be on-the-come-up but that fantasy is unattainable.

Get a hobby

I got deep into music this year. I put a lot of time into it and don’t regret a second of it (my mixtape is actually 🔥). From a career perspective, having a side-thing is great for conversation and networking and more importantly gives you something to focus on. If you got burnt out in the first place, that means you’re probably a pretty hard working person. That person is still there but (in my case) they just wanted to make beats instead of read code books for a while.

There’s no epiphany

Ephipanies are a storytelling trope for a reason- they save having to show months and months of slow growth and introspection. Your problems probably wont get solved by going on a trip to India, dropping acid, or going to that seminar. In fact, expecting an epiphany from any of that stuff will just make them disappointing. The reality is that the more you work on improving, the more you’ll improve.

You are not a character

Not sure if others feel this way, or if I just watched too much TV growing up, but I always had a picture in my mind of a character I was playing. In the workplace, that was the young rockstar dev who maxed hacking skills and didn’t have any social skills. People feed into that, and eventually you start to get external validation that you are the character you think you are. It’s easy. Characters are 2 dimensional, not complex and usually predictable. The problem is that characters do not grow. The arrogant ones will always be arrogant, the dumb ones will always be dumb, and so on. The truth is, we are complex and often times contradictory creatures. I found that it is important to ask myself if I am taking an action because I would do that action, or if I think people expect me (or my character) to do that action.

It’s not a race or a marathon, it’s a journey

Thinking about the more-senior people I’ve worked with who I truly respected, I realized that the one common trait is that they all took it slow. None of them were rockstar-types, and they all seemed to roll their eyes at these people. Probably because the secret to a good career is sustainability and actually taking the time to enjoy yourself and to boost up others.

I’m not the never-sleeping #grind #rockstar that I used to be, but that person never actually existed. I am, however, now much better equipped for the long-haul, much more self aware. Also, made a pretty fire mixtape.

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K Hodges

“Defense Researcher” according to Reuters, Chelsea Manning Fan Fiction Author, Delightful Degenerate