I know you've heard it a thousand times before. But it's true - hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don't love something, then don't do it. - Ray Bradbury
There's this prevailing line of thought that you can achieve anything if you work hard enough. It's the foundation of the American Dream🇺🇸 (or at least the best that I can understand it as a maple syrup-chugging Canuck). And I believe (for the most part) it's true; hard work and perseverance does pay off. I'm a cookie cutter example of this—I was homeless for two years in my early twenties, and I've worked my way up to become a software engineer. But I'm not here to debate the ethos of the American Dream🇺🇸, I'm here to talk about the side effects of continual hard work. These side effects manifest themselves in a number of different ways; if you're not careful it could negatively impact you, your relationships, and your mental health.
I think this mindset is nowhere more evident than in the field of software development. You have recruiters and job postings searching for "rock star programmers". You hear stories of companies who purposely keep deadlines short; expecting their developers to work long hours to get the work completed. It can be intimidating for new developers to see these high expectations being set—we've all joked about the entry-level developer role that requires 3+ years experience—but this can feel overwhelming to someone on their first job hunt. And it's not just jobs that can drive these expectations of hard work, but programmers themselves as well. Our field is constantly changing, there's tons of skills to develop and improve on. I think most people get into programming because they love to solve problems, and with a constantly growing selection of tools and resources to solve these problems with—the learning never ends.
Sometimes it's difficult for me to know when to turn off. If I wasn't using my free time to work on side projects, read articles, or do research for blog posts, I'd feel a tremendous amount of guilt. I was spending less time with my wife and dogs in order to watch tutorial videos on new technologies I wanted to learn. The time I'd usually spend with my hobbies turned into hours of reading articles I had bookmarked throughout the day. And this worked—for a while. But over the past few weeks, I've been carrying an exhaustion that no amount of sleep nor exercise could make a dent in. I've been irritable, moody, and finding myself too worn out by the time I got home from work to be productive.
So this weekend, I decided to turn off. No Twitter, no side projects, no courses. Instead my wife and I watched movies, spent time relaxing, and had friends over for wine and board games. Now, there were times I wanted to pick up my laptop and jump into some work—and more than once I had to close Twitter after instinctively opening it to check my notifications—but for the most part I was completely disconnected. And something funny happened: that feeling of exhaustion slipped away. I wasn't irritable, I felt relaxed. I had a clear head for the first time in what felt like months. As a result, it bolstered the relationships I had been ignoring. I can now go into the work week with a fresh mind and a good attitude.
If I can leave you with any piece of advice, it's that we need to start collectively putting a larger focus on work–life balance. It's important to work hard, to push yourself and learn new things. But you also need to know when to shut off. Make time for your friends and family. Pick up your hobby (or whatever you love to do). Understand your limits and be careful not to push them. In exercise, there's something known as overtraining syndrome. It's when you push your body too much without adequate periods of rest. Not only will it affect your health, but it also counteracts any progress you'd see as a result from working out. I think this same idea exists with development. If you try and push yourself too much, it will negatively impact your ability to absorb the concepts you're trying to learn. Make time for yourself to rest, and stay healthy.
Until next time,