Relax, it’ll be alright

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I was incredibly fed up waiting for the chance to make a living writing code. Since I was very young, I’d wanted to program computers for a living. The years it took me to get there felt like an endless wait of learning things I didn’t care for. Looking back though, the learning I didn’t care for was perhaps the most valuable. Anyways….
When I finally was given a job as a programmer I was living the dream, my dream. I was the guitarist who got a hit record with his band, the soccer player who signed his first professional contract, etc. In other words: it felt pretty damn good!

As a person starting a career in programming it is easy to feel you’re coming up short. Especially these days when news, ideas and The Next Thing is only a social media post away from you. We measure our own lives and achievements against those portrayed in the media. Needless to say, almost everyone of us falls short in such a match-up. It’s not because we lack dedication or passion.

Why aren’t you making the next killer app?

I get this question every now and then. People who aren’t deeply involved in our industry ask me this. A perfectly reasonable question in their mind. However it’s kind of like asking the janitor at a hospital why he’s not curing cancer. After all he works in the health industry. OK, I’m exaggerating just a tad here. But, it’s questions like these many end up measuring themselves against. Why aren’t I a multi-billionaire? Why didn’t any of my startup adventures work out with me sitting on Caribbean island drinking from a coconut? Why haven’t I written The Framework which the Web relies on and everyone loves? Having never been even close to accomplishing any of these things, does that mean I am a failure?

You should redefine success

I have made a living being a programmer since I was in my early twenties. Fortune has it that I’ve started a family during these years. I live in a nice place where many of my neighbors are now my friends. It is close to the forest and the outdoors, which are both important to me. At work I can be who I am and it has many interesting challenges. I have two healthy children and an amazing wife. Is this success? For me, this is the most success I can hope for. I’m not going to create any killer apps or businesses that generate gazillions of cash. Success to me is to do what I love and be happy with what I have right now.

Being average is being normal

I’m never going to be a superstar coder who’s renown for my brilliant libraries, framework or thoughts about programming theory. My coding skills are average and I try to make up for that by having stamina and determination to never give up. You know what? Most in this industry are average just like me. It’s perfectly fine to be average, mediocre and one of the herd. You don’t have to be the Next Big Thing before you’re twenty five. Settle into a stride which suits you, take your time and enjoy your work. Don’t freak out because “everyone else is being amazing and I’m not”. The idols and stars we worship are exceptions, not the rule.

I am not “Silicon Valley material”

These days I don’t make it a priority to attend meet-up’s, I do however attend my kids soccer practice no matter what. This year I won’t attend a single conference, but I try to be at all school gatherings. I don’t think I’ve read more than a handful of programming related posts this year. If it hadn’t been for the fact I update a website on Github, my punch card would probably be empty. Does this make me a bad programmer? Surely I wouldn’t stand a chance in what is seen as the Mecca of software development, Silicon Valley. I don’t stop doing some of these things because it’s impossible for me to do it all, I just choose not to. If you’re able to all of this, great! If not, that’s also great. It means you’re being conscious about how you spend your time.

“Kill” your idols

In our industry we don’t worship people who live my kind of life. Our ideals are framed, still, by the idea of meritocracy. You should live, breath and shit coding every living second on this planet. Any spare time should be spent learning a new language, or better, write a new language. Not only that, but you should give talks and do a video blog. At a minimum you should host a meet-up, but better is to put on a conference.
Needless to say, very few of us measure up to these high expectations of what a good developer is. If you do all these things, you are amazing! If you don’t, you’re still amazing!

OK, listen up

If you’re starting out as a programmer, please don’t rate yourself according to the rules of meritocracy. You are so much more than the green squares on your Github punch card. The number of talks on Success can be very different for you than what is portrayed in the media. Make it a priority to define what success is for you in your own context, it will help you find your own path.

Most importantly, just relax. Breath and take it easy. You don’t have to do all the things at once your first years in the industry. It’s perfectly fine to take things in your own pace. You’re a valuable programmer even though you aren’t running yourself to the ground. Everything doesn’t have to materialize itself within your first ten years of working. Everyone is different, we all learn and grow in our own pace. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t measure up to the idols and ninja-super-rock-star-people. Those idols don’t actually exists, it’s mythical stories told bye people who need to exploit passionate people. Having a slick online presence and a killer rep in the business are superficial and very temporary.

Remeber, breath and relax

Focus on things that matter in the long run, and slow things down. It’ll be fine in the end, I hope. These things I’ve talked about are really existential questions more intelligent people have discussed at length before I wrote this. Finding happiness in the moment right her and now can be a hard. I struggle with it constantly and need to remind myself of what matters to me the most.

To read and learn more about many of these things I find reading The Book of Life website really interesting and it triggers me to think and evaluate my own perspectives.

Remember, breath and relax.

Thanks to Alexandra Leisse for input and inspiration.
Originaly posted on Medium.

Once a workaholic, always a workaholic

I am a recovering work-a-holic. In my first job I worked myself to the ground. At one point I was unable to sleep and led a very unhealthy life. This contributed to me hitting the wall. Since then I have been more conscious about how I manage my time and how to handle pressure. However, I love what I do and the borders between work and hobbies are very blurred. I realize that I will never loose the stuff that drove me into being burnt out at an early age. It’s always there and it erupts at different times.

Dealing with it

One way I deal with it is to go into an apathetic state where I don’t do much. I work, come home and sleep. This is to help dampen the fire which wants me to take actions on all of the ideas in my head. It is not a very productive or social way of dealing with this, so minimizing these periods are important.

What works so much better is to get a different perspective on things by exercising, taking a walk, visiting friends and playing with the kids. It could be reading books about politics, struggles or biographies. Getting a different input and perspective helps divert my minds attention to other things than work. Going to a concert or just going out to hang with people who are in totally different professions. Getting a bit of variety into my life always helps me put my mind off The Next Thing. It helps cool that fire that constantly tells my brain to occupy itself with work or work related things.

Figure it out

What works for you is probably something else. However I think most workaholics never really recover, because it is something inside us that just makes us have this behavior. Realizing this is important as it makes you more aware and it will help you cope with this much better.

Burning Out

Having read recent articles about members of our community and how they have burned out [Burnout, Reset], I decided it was time I told mine.

I learned my most valuable work related lesson the hard way. It was my second job and I was taking on what seemed like an awesome project. Creating an application for the Palm Pilot IV. With the courage of any you programmer I embarked on it without only some C++ skills to help me out. 

At first everything was sweet and things were going ok, I loved creating something new and exciting that nobody else in the shop was doing. After a while I realized I was in way too deep with my only my college c++ skills to handle what turned out to be very much a C project. I am an average programmer with an average intelligence. To compensate I put in what ever effort is required to get past any hurdle.

I had been working quite a bit previously, but now I had to step it up a notch. My week consisted of working and going out having a drink with my friends three four times a week. The diet I was on was one of overtime pizza and late night kebabs. This went on for a while, but I was having a hard time at work getting things done. As a result I started having problems sleeping the days I wasn’t out drinking after work. It got slowly worse as time went on and at a point I was unable to sleep. I tried taking a drink to get some sleep, but nothing worked. Naturally solving difficult problems got even harder as my health deteriorated more and more. People around me was starting to ask if I was OK, because I looked like a pale ghost without any enthusiasm. I knew I was at a point where I needed to do something. The next day I went in to work and called in the project manager and the person handling the client account and said I needed a break. I could not complete this project. I was lucky and had sensible people working with me, so I got four weeks leave.

I went back to my parents to try get my shit together. It took me a week to get into a normal sleeping rhythm. After two weeks I was starting to look like my old self and not some pale looking ghost that I was when I came home. The third week I went on my own for a trip to London, in order to get a better perspective. I had been so dedicated to my work that I had completely forgot about the outside world. This trip made me realize that I was wasting my life by driving all my passion into work. Being on my own in London and taking the train all the way up to Glasgow, Scotland, was a therapeutic experience. Even though it meant celebrating my birthday alone in an Italian restaurant in near Paddington station, it was a life changing experience.

You are not your work

The lesson I learned by driving myself so hard that I turned into a different person is still with me today. I am more than the value of my work. I am a human being who’s value can not be measured in my achievements making computer programs. This is something most people know, but I had to learn this the hard way.

In our industry there is a great deal of secrecy and the topic of burnout is a tabù. One place I worked had something like a code of silence were nobody talked about people who ended up getting burned out. You could notice they were absent, but nobody “knew” what was going on. Later I found out that there had been numerous colleges who had been burned out during my time there and I didn’t know about it. This is of course bullshit and we as an industry need to stop that kind of ridiculous behavior.

I hope my story will help someone avoid making the same mistake. Work is  NEVER more important than living your life and you should NEVER let work affect your own self image. Work is just something we do, it is not life. There are some many amazing things to experience which is in no way related to work, go do them. Fuck work!