Professional Exhaustion. How to stop frustration and to start loving programming again.

Feeling enthusiastic and passionate about my job again, I want to share the experience of dealing with professional exhaustion. The format of this article is Problem - How I tried to solve it - Effect. Maximal honesty and minimal advice. I appreciate you sharing your feedback and experience. I am sure that I’m not the only one who has faced it.

I don’t want to go to the office

3rd of February. Morning. Breakfast place. Drinking second coffee in a row. Feeling anxious and disappointed. Had been feeling like not wanting to go to the office for a while already. “I don’t want to go to the office” instantly found the shelter in my brain. I woke up with this feeling in the morning, until went to sleep with it again in the evening.

Things got worse. I made friends with unwillingness to work, procrastination and disappointment. Enthusiasm and the pleasure of creating something was gone. It was time to analyze and fix this problem. At the time I had been doing daily free writing for quite some time. Logging my day helped me to find out a list of markers that started to appear about two months before I realized that I am tired of work. The things listed below were appearing only when work was mentioned:

Exhaustion markers:

  • Procrastination
  • Unwillingness to work
  • Irritability
  • Apathy

All other sides of life remained relatively the same. I can cautiously presume that the list looks a lot alike for the people who have the same problem.

Further analysis

To be able to dig deeper in your mind you need to be fully honest with yourself. It’s hard. The reflecting process will be different from person to person. Some people may require support from the closest ones or from a therapist. Therapist, probably, is the best choice. At the end, my frustration list looked a bit controversial, because feelings can get mixed up. Even if you consider yourself as a logical person, list what you feel, not what you should feel.

Exhaustion reasons

  • I don’t know why am I doing it - appears when your employer doesn’t give you enough reasoning about the task you supposed to do.
  • My effort is not appreciated - I spent days working hard on smart and elegant solution and it was rejected for no reason.
  • I’m not good enough - Sometimes to understand an article or a book I must read it 5 timers. It makes me feel uncomfortable and stupid.
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) - New frameworks and concepts arriving every day. What if I can’t handle it? What if my skills are not relevant now?
  • What if they think I am better then I really am? - Somehow relates to the previous point. I don’t know so many things! Look at that awesome people, they speak at conferences, writing articles and has the same job title as I have. Do I deserve it?
  • I work too much but not effective enough - One code line and then you find yourself reading about new Tesla Battery on Wikipedia. It leads to overtimes required for work todo list completion.
  • My coworkers doesn’t care about work - Deadline is near. You working hard and see your teammates swiping tinder or watching Netflix.

Dealing with it

I have a ritual (first time I saw it in Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile). First workday in a new company always starts with writing a dismissal letter with leaving the date blank. It reminds me that I can always quit.

The first instinct was to put there today’s date and send it to my CEO. Be it good or bad desicison - I didn’t. I took some time to think and to figure out what to do.

Step 1. Individual time is not a crime.

Action: I stopped reading any work-related stuff at home. Stopped working on articles. Completed my pet projects to the certain point and then abandoned these. After work I mainly focused on Cycling, reading literature and chilling. I even tried drinking wine to silence the nasty voice telling me “You’re losing your time!” or “Bill Gates was a billionaire by your age!” - not the best solution in any way.

Result: It helped to eliminate the feeling of guilt for not working. I could spend a day watching Netflix and doing nothing without any guilt. It’s boring but fun.

Step 2. Who are you without your suite?

Action: “My work is my hobby” worked for me for about 16 years. But now here I am, writing this article. Things are a bit more complex than they seem. Lucky me, I am a passionated cyclist, so I literally pedaled away from all the negative thoughts. I always knew that cycling made me stronger both physically and mentally, but the outcome was still unexpectedly good.

Result: At this point I found myself happier. Work was not that frustrating for me anymore, but it still required an effort to put my butt in the chair and to launch the IDE.

Step 3. The grass was greener

Action: At the age of 10, I was completely confident about my dream job. I wanted to be a game developer, but life made it’s own corrections. I had quite a good gamedev experience and switched to business-related products. Small reminders from my past, when I even didn’t have a computer and was trying to program something on Pascal, gave me a good reasoning about the path I chose. You simply cannot spend thousands of hours of hard work on the things you don’t like.

Result: At this point I was ready to work on my pet project and to start reading work-related materials again.

Step 4. Take a shovel

Symptoms were almost cured. But the illness was not. To fix illness I had to fix Exhaustion reasons mentioned above.

  • I don’t know why am I doing it
    • Action: - “Why?” and “What is the reason?” became my weapon. I was ready to quit if my questions would have been rejected, but luckily I got the answers.
    • Result: - I better understood the needs of business and got the idea of “Where are we going ”. It wasn’t clear before.
  • My effort is not appreciated
    • Action: - I stopped searching for recognition and started to enjoy the result. After all my work is about making the user happy, so this is all I need.
    • Result: - Doing the best I can and enjoying “The great pleasure of making things good”.
  • I’m not good enough
    • Action: - Continue to read as many times as I need. Elite athletes are practicing their skills every single day over and over again, and not complaining. Some people achieve their goals without an effort. I have to spend more time on it. You need it? Get it. Pay your price.
    • Result: - Sometimes I still feel like a retard. Will keep reading and asking until the picture is clear.
  • FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
    • Action: - Could not manage by myself. Asked for advice from colleagues with more then 20 years of experience. The answer was relatively the same: “Don’t worry, you know all the basics. It will take you from few weeks to few months to master new framework, platform or technology. Relax”
    • Result: - Made a stash of money for three months of learning. Hoping for the best but ready for the worst.
  • What if they think I am better then I really am?
    • Action: - Asked for fair feedback. Revealed my strengths and weaknesses. Worked on weaknesses.
    • Result: - Improved. Fear still present.
  • I work too much but not effective enough
    • Action: - Started to use SelfControl.app. Blocked all the notifications. Started to take a short breaks once an hour.
    • Result: - Efficiency improved.
  • My coworkers doesn’t care about work
    • Action: - Talked to them.
    • Result: - It helped for some time. The other time it led to fights and grudges. It still bothers and demotivates me. Still thinking about quitting the company. Controversial in the context of the company. Good results in the context of my profession.

In the end

It took me 9 months to deal with my frustration. I took a look at my job from the different point of view. Now all the pros and cons are sharply visible and I feel better. I know that becoming a programmer was the correct choice and as far as I see, the solution for the problem will be found.

Dealing with problems is different from person to person. There is only a little advice that can be given without any doubts:

  • It’s always easier to keep the balance, than to fix completely broken.
  • Therapist might be a good option to consider when things get real.
  • Having a good rest is the key.
  • Don’t make important decisions based on emotions.

Thank you for reading. Keep the balance!