Sara's toolbox


Burnt. up.

It is a little bit scary to say, out loud: I am burned out.

(For the purposes of this discussion, burned out means deeply unmotivated and emotionally tapped-out with respect to my job.)

How did this happen?

It happened when I wasn’t looking. I wasn’t looking because I forgot that looking out for myself at work is just like it is elsewhere: it takes constant vigilance (Professor Moody would be so disappointed).

This year:

  • I have done a ton of code clean-up: almost 10,000 LOC!
  • I have worked on culture-related projects: improving documentation, creating documentation, talking with new coworkers to learn what we (Engineering) look like to their fresh eyes
  • I am working on one of the longest-running, most demanding projects I’ve ever been on
  • I am turning into a bit of a pair programming fanatic (you would, too, if you had weekly sessions with @tcopeland, @supwhaley, and @keekerdc!)

These are all good things! But at some point, I decided that work was going well and hey! That’s good enough, right!? Right? Right.

What happened?

At the top of the list: I’ve taken almost no time off this year. A day or two, here and there, but nothing significant and cumulatively less than a full week.

Latrice is not pleased.

I know. I mean, I know it now.

I didn’t plan ahead, I didn’t take stock at regular intervals, I just… kept swimming.

Next up! In early spring this year, I hurt my back pretty seriously. And then I spent four months at… 25% my physical capacity? It fucking sucked.

I couldn’t run, I couldn’t lift, I couldn’t swim (at first), I couldn’t sit for long periods of time, for two months I couldn’t even get out of bed without pain. :disappointed: It was weeks before I could stand walk more than a few blocks. And even longer before I called additional blocks victories.

Probably I could have taken time off to chill, but I didn’t. I felt like I needed work to help keep me from spiraling downward emotionally.

And finally, while I was relying on work, which has been mostly good! this year, there’s also been some not good.

  • organizational change in general: big team shifts and lay-offs (emotionally taxing: :ballot_box_with_check: ; mentally draining: :ballot_box_with_check: )
  • me, in particular: I’ve had 3 managers this year, each with their own style of managing (mentally draining: :ballot_box_with_check: )
  • that long-running project? It’s all new code, new-and-yet-familiar security concerns, a tiny team, and tight turnarounds (emotionally taxing: :ballot_box_with_check: ; mentally draining: :ballot_box_with_check: )

Why did it take me so long to figure it out?

Newton’s First Law of Motion?

This year, I’ve accidentally taught myself that regular check-ins aren’t a thing: I didn’t start out doing it and life rolled along and then I hurt my back and that took 150% of my attention and then I wasn’t hurt and I was so excited to not be hurt and that took 200% of my attention.


What finally made me consider that I am burned out is the morning I said my goal for the day was to not cry before lunch.

Cap can't even.

You said it, Cap.

Now what?

Now, I’ve said it to my bosses and coworkers and friends and asked for help. I was prepared for disbelief, or incredulity, or disappointment (d. all of the above) that I’d let this happen but instead I received support and commiseration. :heart_eyes:

Now, I’m taking time off. Three full weeks before the end of the year(!). It’s a start.

Now, I have calendar events scheduled to remind me to press pause and look around, make notes and goals (even little ones), then to follow-up on those.

Now, I don’t work through lunch every single day, I turn email & calendars off (and log out of Slack) on Friday nights. If I can reestablish that work doesn’t always get to come first, then maybe I won’t let it.

So that’s where I’m at: not the best place, but not the worst, armed with a few plans, some determination, and lots of help. Here goes!




My thanks to @scriberty, @hellbox, @keavy, @travisvalentine, and JA for reviews & edits. :sparkling_heart: