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Alex Antra
Alex Antra

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The lies and lack of self respect that lead to burnout

Seven months ago, I wrote my second most popular article ever (the first was a guide for Elite Dangerous), it was about Burnout, something I had just experienced first hand.

Given the popularity of my recent article about Crunch Culture and the awesome devdiscuss discussions happening on Twitter these past few weeks, I thought I would do more than just re-post my old article to the Dev Community, I would give it a lick of fresh paint.

Early in my career, if you had asked me to work late or in my weekend I would have done anything not to. I would always be overcome with this intense knee-jerk reaction because that was my time.

Back then, I respected my time. Guarded it like it was gold, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
I actually used to think I was being selfish and even got embarrassed when I reflected on those feelings. However, fast forward to 2017, where I continuously worked sixty hour weeks until I burned out.

What happened?

Well...I lied to myself, over and over again about what the job really was. I lost respect for my free time, and begun to view my free time as this currency I could cash in to reduce the stress at work.

So why other lies do we tell ourselves that lead to burnout?

Lie Number One: It’s for my career

Somehow, working just 40 hours a week, clocking of and going home, and NOT coding / reading / researching about work at home became something lazy people did.

It’s such a stupid notion, perpetuated by career ‘heroes’ like Musk and Bezos. When in actuality they are career traitors and should not be looked up to in any way shape or form.

Musk’s expectations that successful people work 60 hours a week, and don’t join unions, are toxic lies poisoning the workforce on mass. It is because of these privileged assholes that we now have the term ‘stress casuality’.

You want to be successful in your career? View your time like it’s money, get better at spending it, as opposed to recklessly blowing it. Sit down and budget it out, just like your pay.

You will not be able to bring your 100% to work if you are sleep deprived and haven’t had a weekend in four months.

And don’t give me the whole “sacrifice now, to benefit later’ mantra. You will burn out before you benefit, the human body starts to fail pretty quickly when it’s being pushed too hard.

It’s like trying to sprint enough of a marathon believing you will be able to walk the rest of it and still win. That’s a horrible strategy, you will have to sprint for at least 25 miles, which most likely won't happen. Instead you will collapse and fail. A perfect metaphor for burnout.

You also can’t predict the future, which means you won’t be able to predict when it will ‘pay off’ and you can return to normal.

If i was only given a one off payment $1000 to live off, but not told how long I would have to live off it, I wouldn’t have a clue how to budget it. Same here, you have no clue when the pay off for your 60 hour weeks will come to fruition, so ease off the gas otherwise you will not make it. Besides, Elon Musk still works 60 hours plus a week and he’s filthy rich and ‘successful’.

It👏will👏never👏stop, so👏don’t👏ever👏start.

Lie Number Two: The work had to be done / XX relied on me

I see this happen a lot in delivery type roles. It attempts to happen to my team every week and has the been the rot inside the development community, primarily video games, for over a decade now.

Effectively, too much work and not enough time before the promised deadline.

Management commits to a delivery date without talking with those who would be doing the work. Everything is urgent, and always comes with some really important names attached to them. ( I see this as blackmail)

Funnily enough at my work the CTO is attached to about 9000 projects... based on the frequency that their name is dropped.

It seems that no matter how far down the hierarchy you are, you can quickly be seen as a roadblock to some of the most important things to the company. So you work overtime, you let the companies poor decision making become your problem to solve.

I get it, in my previous role, If i got behind, customers would be effected and would start to complain, making more work for me and the call centre, and it got management involved. And yet I was never paid fairly for that level of ‘power.’

I learned three key things from this lie:
Working extra because someone else made a bad decision, means they will do it again.
Allowing people to blackmail you by dropping names is something that will continue to occur as long as you allow it
The consequences of you not meeting their expectations are a fraction of what they claim it to be. The company is not about to fail, nor is it about to loose a trillion dollars. In the slim chance that is actually the case, run, it’s beyond saving.

How do you avoid this? Move the burden upstream. What you spend your 40 hours a week doing, is the responsibility of your direct manager. If they urgently want X, then something has to give, and it’s their responsibility (and why they are paid more) to sign off on that. Do not keep your managers in the dark, they will happily let you do this.

Learn that companies can withstand a lot of failure. Just because you can directly see the impact of not doing something doesn’t mean it’s actually that significant. In the grande scheme of things, most failures are forgotten about within months and don’t actually result in that much customer loss.

At no point in an investor call will management say “we lost 9% of our customers in Q3 because Neil didn’t do what we asked him.“

Lie Number Three: It’s not costing me anything more than ‘time’.

I see this commonly with people who don’t have hobbies, it becomes easy for them to trade in their personal time to make work easier.

Don’t do this. Your time is finite and recovery is very important. So what you weren’t going to do anything but slob in front of Netflix tonight. That’s fine, you are recovering, and you need to recover from work.

I remember working my weekend once, to catch up. The end was in sight and so I started to make plans in my head of what I was going to do that afternoon.

So I finished working for free and started to pack up. About 5 minutes after I had turned my laptop off, my boss rang me, summoning me on call to fix a server crash.

I literally threw myself onto my bed and had a tantrum (after the phone call), I had already given my time to work that weekend and was in dire need of relaxation, I had nothing left to give. I’d like to say that was when I learned my lesson about work life balance, but that would be a lie.

The research shows that you shouldn’t work at anything more than 8 hours and that you need those two full days off. So stop working late and weekends.

I tell my staff to never work in the weekend. If they owe the company time work late during the week. Those two days off are vital to recovery.

If you don’t know what to do with your time, find a hobby. If your struggling to find a hobby, congrats because finding a hobby is now your new hobby. Don’t work because it’s easier.

Lie Number Four: I work for ‘the’ company

Company prestige is certainly a thing in our society. I’m undecided as to whether it’s a good thing or not.

What I am certain about is that no dream career or company is worth getting burned out.

Don’t work yourself into the ground trying to get into your career or you won’t have anything left to give when you start it.

And if you arrive at your dream company or career and you are being forced or pressured to work extra then sorry this ain’t your dream. I highly doubt you dreamed about working for Microsoft and the dream involved being treated like a slave.

Wake up and get out.

Also learn to spot the difference between a work perk and a psychological trap. Google talks about having food within 100m of every employee. Sounds good, but they did that to discourage you from leaving the building to eat. Keep you at your desks for the maximum amount of time. Banks traditionally offer favorable mortgage rates to employees that of course expire when the employee leaves. Sometimes a perk can be the thing that traps you in your job.

Lie Number Five: It looks cool

One of the saddest things I hear people do, and I used to do it, is use their suffering as a badge of honor. Normally it involves colleagues bragging about how many hours they worked that week in an aim to one up each other. Or try and paint a picture about how their work week was worse than others.

It’s sad because it’s a luxury only the privileged do and because it’s downright sad when you think about it. Dan thinks he’s cool because he worked 58 hours this week narrowly beating our Margaret's 56.

How is Dan cool for working 18 hours for free? If I sold my car for ten thousand dollars less than what it was worth no one would think i was cool!

Stop it. Your embarrassing yourself. We should be championing Gale who got all of her work done, only worked 40 hours, and got to have a life.

In 2017 I burned out, I was only 26.
I had tanked both my mental and physical health. It left me with nothing left to give, nothing in reserves. If something bad in my personal life happened, I just crumbled.
As someone who has had to manage his depression for over a decade, I was unbalanced and losing the fight, eating right and going to the gym was no longer keeping me 'sane' because my work was poisoning me at an aggressive rate.

It took a long time to recover. Yes when I was finally sick of it I stopped working more than 40 hours a week. But the damage had been done, I changed jobs which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I got a clean cut away from the people and the environment that had made me so sick, a curse because learning a new job is stressful. I had to take some mental health leave early in my new position.

A great tipping point for me, came from my fiance. I had mentioned I was going to do some work that evening and he said "will you look back in a year and be thankful that you worked those two hours?" He was right, I would never be thankful I worked those extra hours for free, I was always lamenting not having enough time to work on my side projects or play games and here I was willingly burning two hours for nothing.

Burnout is a real problem. I see way too many of my colleagues, of all ages, frothing at the mouth to work an extra hour or so. Believing their jobs are the most important thing around, getting worked up over nothing. It's sick, have some respect.

You want to be successful, I get it, but learn that you can only do it in 40 hour chunks. The rest of the time is needed to rest, seeing friends and family, going to movies, working on side project, playing games, going on holiday, ETCETERA because you can't be successful in your 40 hours, if you are not looking after yourself.

If you liked this article, please consider reading: You are probably a victim of Crunch Culture

Top comments (43)

mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier • Edited

I would add another lie:

It's not okay to be bullied at work

This can range from casual to overtly aggressive:

  • you and your work are being "gently" mock by other team members
  • you are left out of discussions because of your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity...
  • you are told you're not left out of these discussions because of your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity but because of [insert shitty excuse here].
  • you're are threatened (orally or in writing)
  • sticks and carrots all the time
  • you're never doing enough
  • ...

If you feel sick when going to work or if you keep thinking about your teammates' remarks when you're home chilling (or worse, sleeping), don't tell yourself it's normal. Or that you're being a wuss. You're not and you're probably surrounded by toxic people. Leave before being dragged in an uphill battle that'll leave you dead inside.

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

This this this a thousand time this. I feel bad for not considering this. I’ve seen it over and over again. I’ve never personally encountered homophobia in my work (has happened in my real life) but I had some older members of the communist warm me off some places due to the stuff they had faced. It’s horrible. Not to mention workplace bullying is such a stealth issue. So many people are victim to it and don’t realise or don’t know how to handle it. I hope you are speaking to the above points as an observer and that none of it has happened to you.

mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier

I haven't encountered the profiling bullying mostly because I'm white, straight and from a middle-class background. But the last three (and many variations of them), I had a lot, unfortunately.

My first job, as a stained-glass master, I had this boss that would use all the tricks in the book to make me accept things that were not acceptable. An example: during pre-contract discussions, I was told I would earn this compensation but when I came in to sign, I got a much lower compensation written on my contract. And he was, "take this or go home". I was 19 at the time and not prepared for this. Four years of these tactics warped my perception of work as a man-eat-man thing.

Later, I had a new manager who would simply take all my tasks and responsibilities away from me. I would come to work to discover that a big chunk of my tasks had been assigned to someone else. This would make it impossible to do my job properly. And of course, I would get smacked for not being able to do my job properly. This person also tried to pervert labour laws to intimidate me.

I see so many stories around me. In every possible type of job: public sector, private sector, small/big/whatever-sized companies,etc...

On a brighter note: you can learn how to defend yourself

Your article @ronsoak is a wonderful basis on how to reframe people's mindset about work. Then it's possible to learn the basics of labour laws to defend yourself. You can then get out of toxic environment in the best way possible.

It'll also help you keep anger at bay. Knowing the basics of what's allow and what's not, is the best way to start calm and useful conversations with your potential/current employers. No yelling, but a firm grip nonetheless.

Hope that helps someone.

madarauchiha profile image
Madara Uchiha

I'd like to say a few words on the being left out of discussions part.

It's worth noting that sometimes you're left out of discussions for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity.

Sometimes (and I'll be harsh and blunt, so I apologize for that), your opinion is not appreciated on the topic under discussion. It's not your speciality, you don't know that part of the system well, and sometimes (here's the extra blunt part), the people discussing just don't want you involved because of personal reasons (I've seen people who constantly derail conversations, people who talk over others, people who can't listen to criticism).

Engineers (and developers specifically) aren't very good at communicating with others as a general rule, and so you can choose to interpret their "shitty" excuses as them not liking you because of your gender or whatever, but it's entirely possible that other circumstances are in play, or that they don't like you because of other reasons.

It's also entirely within the realm of possibility that some discrimination is in play, but from my experience as a manager and as someone who worked under women, people of all ethnicities, gays, etc. over the years, nowadays, it's usually the exception, rather than the rule.

mercier_remi profile image
Rémi Mercier • Edited

It's worth noting that sometimes you're left out of discussions for legitimate reasons that have nothing to do with your gender/sexual orientation/ethnicity.

Absolutely agree with you on this.

I'll be harsh and blunt

Don't! Take the time to express your opinion in a well-crafted manner. (which you did, btw ;) )

Engineers (and developers specifically) aren't very good at communicating with others as a general rule

I agree with you on this, but I don't think it's an excuse that can be accepted (being honest with you here). When you work with people, you have to step up your people-skills. I'm full of sarcasm. But when I interact with people, I gauge their sarcasm-threshold to adjust my sarcasm-"setting".

I mean, if I take the time to consider all the responses an API can send me back, I don't see why I shouldn't do the same with people. 😄

It's not your speciality, you don't know that part of the system well

Yup, that's a perfectly legitimate reason. If I were saddened by not being privy to a conversation that is none of my business, I'd question my ego and my self-esteem, rather than thinking I'm being bullied.

the people discussing just don't want you involved because of personal reasons (I've seen people who constantly derail conversations, people who talk over others, people who can't listen to criticism)

100% agree with you on this. Some people are hell to talk with. But no matter how much you dislike someone, excluding these someone from a conversation they should be privy to, is not the solution imo.

it's usually the exception, rather than the rule

Our experiences are very different for this point. I'd have agreed with you 15 years ago when I started my career. But I've seen a massive trend going downhill for the past 10 years.

To conclude, this very topic would necessitate long-form, thoughtful writing to cover all possibilities and be nuanced. Very happy to take part in a more nuanced conversation.

molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her)

Fantastic ARTICLE! I have told myself many of these lies at one point or another. Also this quote really hit home for me.

You want to be successful in your career? View your time like it’s money, get better at spending it, as opposed to recklessly blowing it. Sit down and budget it out, just like your pay.

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Thank you so much!

couch3ater profile image
Connor Tangney

What a fantastic read. I found myself believing these lies in my first job, I found myself believing these lies in my second job, and I'm working very hard to keep from falling into the same trap at my current job.

My blind faith and devotion to my work place, coupled with some pretty severe imposter syndrome, has certainly led me close to burnout.

I think the toughest one for me to get past is, "someone else is counting on me for X or Y..." Nothing makes you feel the pressure more than when you feel like you're the hang up!

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Ugh the imposter syndrome is the worst. We’ll all never escape it and yet it is so unnecessary! Take care of your self!

csuszka profile image
csuszka • Edited

I had the same problem. I fell for these (and many more) at the first two workplaces. But at the third and fourth, I defended myself very well.
You've got this! :)

victoryshoe profile image
Victor Shi

Fantastic post 😁

I’m in my early 20s and the problems you are speaking to are very much a sad reality. I especially like the part about people who don’t have hobbies because at my age people often don’t even know what to do with their lives, much less have developed hobbies. In these cases, it’s so easy to throw yourself at work because you have nothing better to do and you’d rather be “productive”. I see a lot of my friends who fall into this trap of grinding work so they can work at literally any prestigious tech company that will hire them. And who can blame them? They have the time and tech companies pay so well.

A lot of this comes down to our industry fantasy about the ideal developer who is all about using their free time to work on side projects, blog, network... so on. While I absolutely believe that people should be rewarded for their passion and work ethic, this always working culture can only become more unsustainable in the future. In China, it’s gotten especially bad with their 996 work culture. Unfortunately, to me it looks like we’re heading in the same direction.

And to speak to myself, I am also a part of the problem. I’m writing this from my phone because I was browsing career related posts during a Sunday brunch 😅

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Enjoy your brunch! Thanks for you kind words

iqbalaqaba profile image

This morning, when i checked my email. I got this article from my daily subscription. When i read this, it's like showed me the light to the right path. Thank you author, you gave me my defining moment :)

Now i will not take that extra miles for my companies and started to take a seat back to my old hobbies, gaming and doing side projects

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Exactly, Look after yourself!

iqbalaqaba profile image

Thank you for sharing this, once more!

rachelgroff176 profile image
Rachel Groff

I am grateful for you sharing your experience! I am in a similar struggle currently and am trying to battle burnout while working full-time and learning new skills to move into a new profession.

Do you have any insights on how you balanced life, recovering from burnout, and learning your new job? Were you able to keep your learning at work, or did you need to take it home until you were caught up?

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Right, so the first thing I did was stop working more than 40 hours, in fact I was regularly only doing 7 hour days. No one questioned that, besides the whole company always saw me working, if I left early I think they assumed I just started early!!

Then I stopped doing all personal projects, and took a break, and that helped heaps. Think of it like like needing to recharge the battery in your phone. It will take longer if you are using it. It will charge faster if it's off.

When you do want to start doing personal projects again, ease into it. I want to blog here, and write about space, and write a fiction book, and learn to draw, and was briefly learning German. I did not have the headspace nor time to do it all at once and when i realised success would come from focussing in on just one at a time, I got a lot less stressed when I hadn't hit my goal of 1 blog article, 1 space article, 5k words on my book every week that I had foolishly
set for myself.

And that wasn't a sure fire solution, i started a new job and i had a mini 'burn out' because I went from knowing EVERYTHING in my last job and I hated knowing nothing in my new role. I had a to take some mental health leave.

Have you considered taking some days off, Im aware different countries have different leave allowances.

Another thing I did was do an analysis of what stressed me. I look at stress like bills, if too much is going out, then you run our of money. There where things in my personal life that were contributing so I did what I could to nullify them, where possible.

Then there is the obvious ones: Eat well, Exercise regularly, reduce booze / drugs, see your friends and family more.

In terms of at work, push the problem up hill and stand your ground. I made my manager aware of everything. Right this is my 40 hours, what am I doing? and if new stuff came in all urgent urgent urgent I made him make the call every time. I even made him talk to my angry stakeholders who just got pushed back a bit.

Get selfish with yourself. The company isn't looking out for you, so don't look out for it. Put your sanity first and go from there. Also recovery takes a long ass time. I think for me it took a solid year before i was alright and even know I make sure to turn off slack and not check emails after I leave work otherwise it stresses me out, cant be stressed out by what I cant see :)

rachelgroff176 profile image
Rachel Groff • Edited

Thanks for breaking it down more for me! :) I really do need to take more time for myself, but using sick days gets counted against me right now, and I have my vacation spread out so I can have a week off at a time every four months. Probably not the best way to use my vacation, but I feel like it's nicer than having a random day off and not getting a full week of a break.

You do have a great system down and it sounds like you have the work life balance more under control now than before; I'll get there sometime, hopefully soon!

Thread Thread
alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

That week off sounds like a great idea! Your on the right track! Good luck.

jsanddotnet profile image
Justin J • Edited

As someone who has also worked too hard in the past (on what I've completely forgotten), I couldn't agree more with this article. Great work. Hope people take it on board.

The other thing I would like to add (esp with reference to business elites out to make us feel inferior): There's a big difference between a 16 hour day visting clients, having meetings etc and sitting at a computer coding. Coding is hard on the eyes and the brain. With each overly long day, you degrade a little until something gets you and you don't have the body to cope (like that cold that everyone else got rid of ages ago, but you still have mid-summer).

You'll probably earn more money coding 8 hours a day for 40 years, than 16 hours a day for 20... and you'll live more of a life doing it :)

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Coding for 8 hours? Even that’s too much for me. I hit a wall after 6!

guneyozsan profile image
Guney Ozsan

Yeah it's 3+3 hours for me too. I usually (or only able to) do maintenance or straightforward implementations after that. If I'm already done and need to start a new feature I call it off for that day and start next morning.

thaelz profile image
Lauren Krantz

This is a great article on staying balanced through your career! Thank you for taking the time to write this! As a software engineer, I watch as more junior developers fall prey to the thought process of "to get ahead in tech you have to work weekends and do meetups, etc." but usually those amazing and passionate developers become bleary eyed shells of the passionate young individuals they once were.. I watch as they (as I have) begin to feel lost on a project or like you aren't having as many eureka moments and you wonder why. The answer is your brain needs rest to learn, your body is in a tensed demanding state for too long and it's not able to enjoy or absorb new tasking or information.. I wish more managers would take the time to tell those new engineers to slow down and to take the time to rest their minds and watch as they become more creative and excited by the work they do, or heck even have the forethought to leave if it's not a good fit instead of soldiering on while miserable. Hopefully one day more management will try and shed a light towards sanity as your article has.

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Thanking you!

I agree! It’s so painful to watch junior staff so willing to do so much extra work and no one is guiding them towards healthy work habits.

I’ve made it step number one for in my new staff induction to discuss cultural and work expectations.

ppetermann profile image

There is a few more that I used to tell myself before running into my very own burnout back in the day:

  • Stress is good!
  • I made my hobby a job, so it's like I'm not working!
  • I'm strong, and manly, I can do this, those who can't are weaklings
guneyozsan profile image
Guney Ozsan

Solid gold advice here.

For example in mobile games industry most of the cost is marketing and development costs are usually a fraction of what a company spends. Some percent more or less of it don't matter much for the company.

Even if development cost is a major cost in another industry, no investor will board the ship with such tight margins. Nothing is on stake that much as it seems from where you stand. I don't believe continuous crunch is necessary (if it is necessary at all).

If business owners can learn to manage business with 60 hours a week they can learn to do that 40 hours a week too. We are human after all and we survived till this day by learning how to manage limited resources better. Don't take over someone else's responsibilities.

If I ever employ developers in the future I'm planning to lock the doors and the take down the git server after business hours.

dheerajps profile image
Dheeraj Srivatsav

Excellent piece and a much needed rap on the knuckles to folks like me who casually ignore work-life balance. Walter White said "I did it for Me, I liked it, I was good at it". I have manipulated myself by coining variations of these lies.

I rarely comment on articles I read, but this is something which resonates with me and am sure with many others. I hope this acts as an eye opener.
Good write up.👍

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

Dude that means a lot. Cheers!

soulfiremage profile image
Richard Griffiths

“sacrifice now, to benefit later’ haven't we seen this in another mass belief system?

One that involves Heaven?

Just a thought.

Glad I read this, as yesterday, though no fault of my boss, my colleague needed my help whilst I was on holiday and drifting round Rockingham out paddock.

Try fault finding on the phone whilst skidding sideways in a drift car and your the driver.

It was a challenge and quite quite ludicrous. I succeeded but nothing was that crucial that it couldn't wait and I'd forgotten that.

r3i profile image

Fantastic article!

I used to feel obligated to work that extra hour or 5 and stay up in the middle of the night for deployments with very little reward, missing out on all sorts of personal things. I still feel a bit guilty sometimes for playing games or youtubing after hours when i could be doing something 'productive'. But recently I've realized how important that switching off is, especially if you want to stay sane.

tonis2 profile image
Tonis Anton • Edited

This is so true in modern culture, i have heard so many young people say, il work now and rest when i am older, but if people continue burning themselves, there wont be any old age.

alexantra profile image
Alex Antra

I’ve hired staff who do this. No matter how much I yell at them! It’s a plague.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

Thanks for the read. I've written about burnout here too. It's insidious and you can actually end up repeating it.

Meditation and active relaxation are key for me, more about that on my blog at

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