Slow Leadership says…

February 3, 2007

… that macho management is a major culprit in burnout.

Ouch. Given I’m freelance, and essentially my own manager, that’s basically saying I’m my own worst enemy.

Slow Leadership has a 3 part series on burnout:

Part I

Part II

Part III


It’s a sense of withdrawal and distancing from things you once found absorbing; to the extent that, after a while, you can scarcely bring yourself to do anything more than “go through the motions,” and sometimes not even that.


Many sufferers from burnout are perfectionists, for whom anything less than winning in some truly spectacular way is tantamount to failure.

I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist, but others seem to. Then again, I see mistakes that they don’t…

I suspect that many cases of burnout are closer to simple mental exhaustion. Burnout isn’t necessarily caused by long hours or overwork. They are more the symptoms of people’s efforts to counter the anxiety and bad feelings that burnout induces. If a week’s holiday, or easing up for a few days, is enough to restore your equilibrium, you weren’t suffering from burnout. You were just overtired.

See, this is something I’ve struggled with. If anything, I feel underworked, yet at the same time, I feel completely apathetic towards tasks that should take me a few hours to complete. This feeling compounds as time goes by, adding this massive mental inertia that stops me from just getting stuck in.

At first, I used to think it was mere procrastination, but I started to notice that unless I expended a superhuman effort, the slightest interruption could literally derail my whole day. Procrastination does not cause you to wake in the morning and dread getting out of bed and sitting at a computer.

… a feeling of inner emptiness: a sense that work no longer matters because success is impossible to achieve, not that getting there is too hard or laborious. When people start to feel that there is no correlation between effort put in and satisfaction gained as a result, they are well down the path towards suffering true burnout.

That’s me. I can’t think of anything that would really satisfy me enough to encourage me to expend the effort required to do what I need to. I recognise this as a very dangerous place to be, as a freelancer, that effort is directly related to my ability to pay my bills and keep a roof over our heads.

The biggest problem I have is this: step one of the solution (in Part 3) is to step away from it all and have a break. I’ve effectively had 3-4 weeks off, and that hasn’t been enough to conquer this malaise… not working, for reasons above, is totally not an option at the moment.

What I do think I need to do, what I think is reasonable in my situation, is to better ration my efforts, and to adjust my expectations of what I can achieve.

I hereby give myself permission to suck. To reschedule. To defer. To delegate. To stop doing whatever it takes, because every time I do that, it takes a little bit of my soul.

I want the joy back.

I want to feel that I’m writing good code.

I want to feel that satisfaction in a job well done (even if it isn’t perfect).

I want that satisfied feeling when you totally nail that tricky problem. When you refactor 50 lines into 15.

I want to be the best that I can be, for my own sake, not everyone else’s.


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