I am fortunate. I am thankful, and I take responsibility for being where I am at any given point in time. I sat down to write something very different an this is what is coming out.
I app.net (ADN) a new remote friend, @bojan, was inspired to write an article when we got on the subject of burnout. I was very curious as to his perspective. About a decade ago, I heard from a psychologist that many of her patients in Santa Clara that suffered from burnout where from one field: IT. I was surprised, truly surprised that this field of “smarter than the average bear” professionals would have such a high rate. But then I reflected on my own experience well over a decade ago with burning the candle at both ends and having my inner Scotty giving me more power to work 10,12 even 16 hour days at a great little start up, that still exists to this day.
I absolutely loved working there, and the story how I went from DTP monkey to support, to recommending equipment, to evaluating hardware & software, to doing needs assessment, forecasting, systems design and building, to IT Guru (effectively CTO without the title), all while still doing the DTP aspect is somewhere in there. I enjoyed hanging out with my co-workers, no matter if they were more than 10 years my senior or 6 years my junior. I was 25 when I was hired after an interview with their outgoing DTP monkey. I hadn’t even gotten home from the interview when he called me to offer me the job.
For my “portfolio” of work, I used the Newsletters a close friend and I designed as a lark for a club some 2–3 years prior. Interestingly enough we had a falling out over me taking the PageMaker files and archiving them. He was worried that after I would use them and take all the credit for their creation. I was worried they would be lost in time with only fragile hard copies remaining. During the interview, I told the interviewing DTP monkey in my future position that I was not solely responsible for the layout or content, and that a personal friend started this newsletter as a joke. Then we took the ball and ran with it making fun of the club scene. The management wanted to find us and 86 from the club permanently. But being “uber-smart” they never caught us. Eventually they couldn’t beat us, so the joined us and we became the official newsletter for the club.
Within 2 years at the startup (which was less than a year old when I joined) I was effectively a one man IT department: coordinate with AT&T to install the T-1, make the edits to the constant flow of reports, back up the systems, runaround between all the machines to setup & run their maintenance routines, manage & back up the DB server, make sure no one trips over the ethernet cable we had to quickly string up when we moved into the new offices, close up and set the alarm. Get home at 11PM or Midnight just to veg an hour, sleep hard and wake up and do it again. Since I was on salary, I didn’t track any of my hours, but I was probably putting in anywhere from 50-70 hours per week.
After a few months of this my bosses realized I was swamped so they wanted to hire someone. The funny thing was I was the best person to find a candidate since I knew everything I needed to evaluate. So, I brought in a friend from College that was and still is this kick ass 1000cc motorcycle riding super smart “chick” that also went to the same clubs my and my cohort distributed those underground newsletters at. Aside from going to the same college, the newsletters impressed her, and that’s how we became friends. She spearheaded the website and took on doing about half the report DTP load. This freed me up to build a more thorough and effective plan, and relational DB system to track reports, reporters, tickers, sources, pdfs, etc. But still, I was already slowed down by this zombie like me that saw no past, no present and no future. I was trapped in my own mind: school, work, home, repat. I repeated that ad nauseam, until I stopped attending college after a particularly poor grade semester and upped my workload.
All the while my coworkers were oblivious to all this effort I was making to manage everything with a microchip in it except the coffee pot, which became my morning’s second stop. My Coffee got me through a lot of stuff, and he was a real friend. All they saw was my diminishing returns, and my coming in a 10AM each morning (which was actually a term of my taking salary that they all forgot). Much later, I heard that they thought I was on drugs—I wish! No, my personal life had also taken a bad turn, but it was really the pressure and non-stop work that was eating me alive slowly, but I could not see it. So, I sank deeper and deeper until…
I forget… I forgot. I have very few memories of this time because the burnout ate a good portion on my ability to form long term and short term memory for a time, also I lost a lot of memories before that time as well, just like Johnny Mnemonic, except I didn’t do it willingly. It took years to repair the memory damage and, truthfully it is not all repaired. Now I can form long term memories, but only of things the provoke a strong enough emotion. But even to this day people ask me what I did or ate earlier the same day or earlier: “Um…I had something. I think… oh that was yesterday. I can’t remember.” Last night I was asked if I had dinner. I said, “No. But I’m not full. Oh wait yeah I did. I forgot.”
The second sign: Concentration. What was that? A wacky doctor’s game? No, that was Ops… What was I doing? Oh what are you people doing reading my diary? I better entertain you, sec…
“Love to sing-a, about the moon-a and the June-a an the Spring-a, About sky o’ blue or tea for two…” Oddly enough the cartoon I watched every day never left.
The preceding paragraphs are an actual example of my stream of consciousness that I am in a constant state of, and the fact that I can still write coherently (except that intentional slip) is an example of the mire my brain is in constantly, but also of how I have overcome this problem and made it work for me. My close friends can attest to my seemingly random non-sequiturs that are actually seamless references 2 places or more removed from the current situation. (I now call them jumps, like logical leaps) But like any true problem solver, I have taken my trackless relational thinking and turned the blade outward to use to my own advantage. I call these quips “Just-in-time Comedy” in homage to Java’s “Just in time compilation.” (Actually, to appeal the the mid-20s to early thirties female demographic, I have officially changed the name to “Justin-Timberlake Comedy.” JT seems like a pretty cool guy for partnering with Andy Sanberg, and risking his street cred and sex appeal by being a silly guy and having fun with it.)
And that brings me to my next of 1000 points: taking weaknesses and turning them into strengths. To do that, you have to be honest with yourself. I order to rebuild my mind from the burnout, I had to be brutally honest.
I couldn’t remember things, so I wrote everything down.
I could not think in a straight line, so I learned to filter and use my other pre-burnout tool: hyper-focus slowly, and I started getting back into coding.
While swimming in a sea of distractions, can I get things done? Yes and no. So instead of sidetracking to a game or watching a TV show, I sidetracked to wikipedia, khanacademy.org, or PBS.
Basically where ever my head is, is what turns and harness the runaway TARDIS of my mind. Work on that 1 or 2 things day. Today it is writing about my process is a lack of process but just following my own bio-rhythmic neural-track. I am in a sense dancing to the beat to my own drum, dancing with myself. So, if you were ever to see me dance at a club or anywhere, you would know that (a) I cannot dance in a constant pattern and (b) it is very random and completely insane to most people.
I guess in a way, I myself am completely insane, but I am comfortable with cognitive dissonance: I am both the craziest and most stable person because (point 2)…
I have no solid core. Like my astrological namesake, my skeleton is outside and my core is amorphous. I am the ultimate in mental flexibility because I can see the paradox as true and false and then deduct the most probably answer from that. In IQ tests, my lowest score every was 127, but that was before I was 15. Since then, it has clocked in between 145 and 172. But I question the 172. So, I have been called “A Walking Encyclopedia”—sorry I am a curious kitteh. I have been called “An Idea Hamster”— well if your brain is pedaling at almost twice the speed of everyone else, of course you will have a lot of ideas! Some of them are great ideas that could form million-dollar companies if I had the startup resources, while others are simply iterations of someone else’s good ideas. And I am okay with that. In elementary, junior and high school, I was picked on for being smart. I had a falling out with a friend in high school after sitting next to him in Geometry and me getting easy “A”s (I had a pool table as a kid) while he struggled to get “C”s. We actually had a short but messy fight over it one Saturday afternoon in a field where I ended up falling in some dog poop. I said, “fuck this! I have dog shit on my shoulder! I am done! I don’t care anymore. Call me what you want, but we are not friends.” (This was one of those salvaged memories—I thought it’d be impossible to forget that, but it was.) I got tired of people picking on the weird kid, started listening to punk, and learned the British way to flip people off. I kept to myself, put my head down and headphones on listening to music.
Music is my salvation. The entire hour and a half I have been writing this article from first line to hear, I have been listening to a playlist a friend put together on my iPad, that I am currently importing into my old 160GB iPod along with an update to my ~500GB of lossless music being down-sampled to 256Kbps—cause hey, I got time before the trip to Oregon—ah ducks, love ducks. Hopefully, I feel better after that stomach ache last night or else this trip will suck… “Hope that old man got that tractor beam out of commission, or this is going to be a real short trip. Okay, hit it!”
Yet another example on my constant flow of mental thread-streams, and yet another way I could toss in a Star Wars reference, cause that’s what I do. Also, I find Sci-Fi inspirational. And @bojan recommends watching a motivational video to recover energy. The ability destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force to inspire you to work at improving yourself. (That and I like to think about what type of power source and electronics would go into light saber construction: a nano sized dark/light matter reactor, and a strong aperture torrid of an EM field [to terminate the plasma stream]. But that would require some serious shielding…)
Anyway, back to the article cause half of you have clicked away by now…Change:
Not having solid core, I strive on change. I am always learning something new. I am always finding a new way of doing things better. I evolve and that is how I survive. I think this build of my software is pretty stable. But there is one important element that @bojan commented on: downtime. Once, someone who needed tech support came up to me and asked if I was working, when I was obviously watching a cartoon. I said, “Yes, I ’m working… working on relaxing, so I can put the next 4 hours in.” I then gave him a small smirk. He laughed a bit and said, “I’ll come back later: that is very important work.” So, learn to take breaks, if not you might end up having to try to rebuild your brain. But one thing is for certain, I understand how my mind works much better after having taken it apart a half dozen times and put it back together. It is like good code now: modularized, adaptable, and with no constants, except the constant realization that everything changes, but it is all just a permutation or a permutation. So, I code my wetware using my “push to edges” layout and design style. I find the range and then test the edge cases first, because if they pass, there is a very good chance the range in-between days of testing will be solid as a rock too.
@Bojan speaks of comfort zone. Um, my comfort zone is talking tech and science. Therefore, I have been going to museums more, and listening to other people’s music. One does not simply listen to industrial-electro 24/7. My GF has been teaching me about wine, which is like me trying to teach her the various flavors of Unix. “Wait, Is Bordeaux a grape or a region?” And I have been growing a fondness for Syrah… so there is hope. Plus a couple that we love hanging out with and playing games has a well stocked cellar. But I am still a neophyte with wine. Hell, give me a beer and pizza, and I’m good. But I need to branch out so I have more things to think about than communication, audio, scifi, code, UI/UX design, and IT.
Next: Gratitude: Be grateful and gracious. Last night I was talking about my personal philosophy, and what keeps my mind at rest. @Bojan touch on this exact same thing: focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t have. He says to build on that, and I say whenever you feel sad or depressed, take stock of what you do have. And realize that no matter how much you acquire, you will always want more unless you do not address our collective true desire: a sense of acceptance, a sense of value and/or accomplishment. Some people spend their whole lives looking for their niche, while some look for it with possessions or bragging rights. Hey, I love feeling like I have the best tech without paying bleeding edge prices, I love feeling like I have the best music and turning people onto it. I love knowing someone is probably thinking about me right now and smiling because I am thinking of her and smiling. But really, the only thing that can make one content is accepting yourself, warts, venomous stingers, horns, claws, and evil at once. Realize, no matter how successful someone else appears, they probably spend a lot of time worrying about their place just as you do. I accepted my dark side long ago, and we’re friends now. He lets me be a better person as long as he can take charge the second someone fucks with me. I let the dark into me and he didn’t kill the angels that warned us of you— the angel shone a light on him and invited him in.
I have harnessed my demons and now I control them and direct them squarely at the people who deserve it. Lao Tzu wrote that turning an enemy into a friend was the best possible outcome. So, that’s what I did with my most powerful enemy. Your most powerful enemy are your demons: accept them, and let them work in your best interests. Turn their darkness into a aura or protection, and ward off darkness with the twist of light. Wiccans will get this part, if you do not.
Next point: you are directly responsible for your situation, and environment. A few months ago a friend told me people around him suck. I told him he needs to control his environment, not by moving where there is a new batch of shitty people, but by weeding out the chaff and letting the undesirables fall too the side and off his cart. I control who I talk to. If someone is not an actual friend, they eliminate themselves by me helping them see that I am only willing to put up with their BS only so much. I tell people I love my friends because none of use are afraid to tell each other when they are full of shit, and when we think they are wrong. We keep each other honest, and a true friend helps you, even if that means giving you a reality check every once in a while with a punch in the face, literally. So, again be honest with yourself and friends. If you are honest the fake people will not be able to handle you not going along with them simply to be accepted, and go away. The real people, the people worth hanging out with will be attracted to someone that calls it as they see it.
What no one ever said in fiction was that in order to pull with a force one must simultaneously push. Another score for science. And you know what, I am comfortable with anyone who thinks this article is full of shit. Hey, I could have just a double digit IQ and be just so crazy I sound brilliant, but I am an idiot like everyone else at least some of the time. I must be when I have turned down lucrative jobs at huge companies because I would rather not get sucked back into cubicle land working for a company that manipulates their customer base while decreasing the value their products offer. No thanks, just because I wear black doesn’t mean I am a bad good guy. We know that Good guys don’t wear white. I’m more of a black-clad Jedi, thank you very much.
Woo 3 hours and 3000 words, pretty good. Excuse the typos. I just want to push this right now.
[Edited cuz it looked like I was on some crazy shit…but I was probably just sleep deprived. Dunno. Definitely not drugs. I made a promise & I’ve been there—done that.]