Recovering from Tech Burnout

At the beginning of the pandemic, I had already been feeling burned out for almost a year. In the previous summer of 2019, I had just finished an intense Computer Science degree program. During the previous 2 years, I had been working a part-time job (as a software/IT engineer) while studying computer science and performing undergraduate research. I was putting in 80+ hours a week into tech.

Then I graduated and working full-time actually felt like a breeze.

But it was too late. I was already experiencing the 3 classic signs of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion
  2. Cynicism
  3. My accomplishments felt hollow

Then along came the pandemic and the isolation. More exhaustion. 

The icing on the cake is when the layoffs came around. I reached my limit. I knew I needed a break, so I decided to take the opportunity to heal.

Looking for something – anything – that would help me recover, I discovered Emily Nagoski’s Burnout: The Secret of Unlocking the Stress Cycle. This book changed my life. Not instantly. Not overnight. Quite frankly, it wasn’t even until I started writing this that it occurred to me that it had such an influence on my recovery.

Here are the top 3 things I learned while trying to rest and heal:

  1. We are built to oscillate between work and rest.

    Rest is not idleness; it is a necessary function for the brain to process the world around us. I sat for hours in my backyard, watching birds soar and squirrels flitting about. I spent many nights looking up at the stars, allowing my brain to sit and observe.

    Reconnecting with nature is the healthiest thing I’ve done to recover.
  2. Self-compassion is hard, but revolutionary

    To quote Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

    In addition to Burnout, I also implemented a lot of what Brene Brown talks about into my recovery practice. To notice when fear of being vulnerable or shame processes start to take over my internal dialogue.

    I used to feel bad about not doing more. Now I try to allow myself to let go of the need to do more. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. That is to say, making even 1% progress is better than doing 0% perfectly.
  3. Redefine winning

    Parenting has taught me to cope with the frustration of trying to achieve goals that are process-oriented. How are you supposed to define “successfully” parenting when you have an infant?

    I’ve learned to dismantle my old ideas of “winning.” When I looked at some of the goals I was hanging on to, I realized I was ambivalent towards them. Some of them were someone else’s expectations. A couple of them had way too many obstacles between me and “winning,” so I discarded the ones that were fueled by other people’s expectations. If I still felt passionate about a goal, I decided to put it off until I have the resources to pursue it.

Have you experienced burnout? What are some things that helped you prevent it or recover?