I suspect for a fair number burnout is something that they believe happens to others. People with less fulfilling jobs, people who don’t love their work, people in poorly managed companies. Other people.
i certainly didn’t consider myself at risk for burnout. I loved my work, I had a great manager prior to moving to consulting and was pretty much my own manager afterwards. I had a hobby (or 5), practiced a sport, took time to play games and relax. At risk? Never!
At least that’s what I thought until sometime around May last year when I realised I had absolutely no enthusiasm for anything related to IT. Blogging was a chore, books held no interest and many a day I opened management studio intending to do some development or investigation and then several hours later I’d close it without a line of code having being written.
The biggest mistake (I think) was in how I handled it. Instead of taking a break (and work was quiet around that time so I could), I took on more commitments, thinking that it would help motivate. Exceptional DBA Awards. SSC Articles. Tech-Ed presentations. PASS Summit presentations. SQL Exams. Hell I even started discussing and planning to write a book.
Far from acting as motivation, the long list of things to do just made things worse. Far worse. I now had hard deadlines, people chasing me and still no motivation or enthusiasm. Naturally everything came to a head at the worst possible time and place – the PASS summit in Seattle that year. It’s really hard to write and deliver speeches, prep and deliver presentations and generally act friendly and enthusiastic when the only thing that you want to do is get on the next flight and go home. Fortunately I think only a couple of people noticed.
It’s only in the last couple of months (October/November 2010) that the enthusiasm for writing, blogging, researching (and in fact anything other than sitting and watching the world go by) has partially returned. Is the burnout past? No, definitely not, I still have days (weeks) where I can’t summon the enthusiasm to care, but it is getting better.
But this isn’t just a post on history or a poor attempt at sympathy. The point is how I handled it (badly). Looking back, what I should have done was
- Take a break (work was quiet at the time). Not a weekend crashed in front of the TV, but a proper break – out of town for a week or so.
- Get some help from friends, rather than pushing them away and pretending everything was fine.
- Try a new technology rather than piling on SQL stuff. WCF, Ruby, F#, anything as long as it was different.
I’m far from qualified to offer advice on this issue, but I would suggest to anyone feeling the same way, don’t ignore it, don’t try to work through it and don’t hide it. Few problems go away by themselves, burnout certainly doesn’t.