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Cover image for I Can't Do It All: My Burnout Story

I Can't Do It All: My Burnout Story

molly_struve profile image Molly Struve (she/her) ・3 min read

After commenting on a recent post, How Do You Handle Burnout, I thought it might be helpful to share my burnout story. Hopefully, this will help others recognize the signs of burnout in themselves or the people around them.

I Can Do it All

I have been working at my company for over 3 years now. When I started, we were a small team of 30 people. Now, we have over 120. Because I have been around so long, I have A LOT of domain knowledge about our entire application. I have personally written a good amount of the application code, so it makes sense that I know all its ins and outs. Up until 6 months ago, anytime someone needed help or an on-call issue arose, I was the go to person. Everyone knew I could solve just about any problem the fastest, so they came to me.

At first, this was exhilarating! Who doesn't want to feel needed all the time?! I embraced my role as the go-to person. When someone needed help, I jumped right in. I never said no. I was the Olivia Pope of Kenna!

In the early days, this was sustainable because the application and team were relatively small. However, as the team grew and the application expanded, it started to take its toll on me.

Worse thing was, I was not the first to notice. My team lead and those around me noticed it first. They started asking me if I needed help or if I wanted to hand off some of the load. Every time I replied, "Nah, it's fine, I can handle it." Eventually, it sucked the life out of me. I became more irritable at work and towards my coworkers. BUT, I kept trying to do it all. I am one of those people that won't let up. I tend to be a people pleaser and I always want to help if I can.

Intervention

Eventually, my incredible coworkers stepped in. One coworker sat me down and laid it out for me using an analogy that was spot on. He said, "Molly, you are an addict." I laughed in response, but his face remained deadly serious and he continued. "Every time you get asked for help, it gives you a high. It is no different than someone who uses drugs. When they take a hit, they immediately feel good in the moment, but it takes a toll on their body. You being "on-call" 24/7 is taking a toll on you and it needs to stop."

Following this talk, I was forcefully kicked out of Slack channels that were used for on-call issues so I couldn't even be tempted to help. A couple people took my next on-call rotations and everyone laid down a rule that unless the site was down, no one was allowed to ask me for help. I was the last line of defense.

In the end, it worked! It wasn't the easiest transition for me. At first, I felt like I was neglecting my job. But after a couple of weeks, it got easier, and soon I was back to my old self. You know what the best part was? Because I let other people solve the problems as they arose, they became more knowledgable about our application. Now, application knowledge is more spread out. The last few big on-call blow ups, I have not even been a part of. It has been incredibly freeing. Over the holidays, I went on vacation, and for the first time, I didn't open my laptop once!!! That used to be unheard of for me.

Burnout Advice

My advice looking back on the whole situation is:

Be aware not only of yourself, but also of those around you.

You always want to be aware of your own habits and moods, but also keep tabs on your coworkers. Check in with them if they seem "off" to you. Some people might need you to step in and give them permission to take a break.

On the flip side, if you need help dealing with burnout, ASK! A lot of people who code are fiercely passionate about what they do, and that passion, causes many of us to get burned out at some point. Those around you have likely gone through what you are going through and would be happy to help in any way they can.

My DM's are always open for anyone who is feeling the pressure and needs a sounding board πŸ€—

Posted on Sep 18 '19 by:

molly_struve profile

Molly Struve (she/her)

@molly_struve

International Speaker πŸ—£ Runner πŸƒβ€β™€οΈ Always Ambitious. Never Satisfied. I ride πŸ¦„'s IRL

Discussion

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Thanks for sharing your story! You really have incredible coworkers.

I mean, to actually do an intervention to help you isn't a small thing. They trusted you and you trusted them. It's incredible :-)

I was the last line of defense.

I'll try not to spoiler anything here but you reminded me of a particular scene in a particular movie involving Captain Marvel :D

 

I can relate. I’ve burned out a couple of times. But like you say, it’s fixable. My mission is to help developers do good work without burning out.

Wrote about it here, see link to my blog.

dev.to/daraghjbyrne/developer-burn...

 

That is a great post about specific warning signs to look out for, thanks for sharing!

 
 

It's great that your coworkers were aware enough to forcefully pull you away from your work. Without that, I would guess that it takes quite a bit of self-awareness to fix that overeager-to-please behaviour on your own.

 

Definitely! Even with their help I was still very much out of my comfort zone for the first week or so while I was adjusting to the new normal.

 

Thanks for sharing. Take care about your health, you have only one life.
For those who work from home let me share with you my friend's article on Medium

 

Love that article your friend wrote!!! Thanks for sharing 😊

 

Great article and thank you for sharing your story! I think it's so important for us to share our stories. I feel we often get so absorbed in what we do – it is our passion after all – that we forget to look up and take a deep breath until we are in over our heads. At least that has been happening to me. I'm a freelancer so being a people pleaser, especially when it comes to clients, is addictive to me. I've recently realized that if I'm burnt out and not performing my best because I'm trying so hard at the same time being spread too thin, it doesn't matter what kind of insane turnaround I give my clients if I'm not taking care of myself.

 

Yes!!! Make sure you give yourself permission to take a break πŸ€—

 

Thanks for writing this Molly. Glad you have a great team to support you.
I was in the exact situation a few months back, and I had to give up as it started to affect my health.

To this day, I give myself a hard time thinking maybe I wasn't capable enough to handle the work, and I should have pushed myself even more.
Your article and the comments here have given me a lot to think about.

I will definitely try to balance the knowledge with the team more, and like your colleagues, will lend a hand out for anyone who is burning out.

This article is kind of an intervention for me :)

 

So glad to hear it! Good luck trying to find that balance, it is not easy, but once you have it back it's worth it. ❀️️

 

Really helpful. I had felt the same way in my previous company. I was responsible for more than few things and I was liking it and suddenly things grew and in trying to help people I became more short tempered and felt more burden like. Unfortunatley there were no one to help me out.I had 1.5 years of experience that time and I always thought that this is happening due to my incompetence. People are expecting more from me and I am not able to deliver to their expectations.
So I had left the job. My CEO told me that I was one of the finest developer and he didnt wanted me to leave.
I thought this is not true and I left.

After reading your post I am relating to this. but I am still not sure about many things and whenever I feel like burnout situation I talk to my friends about that and everything starts working again.

 

I am so sorry that you felt that way and ended up leaving your job πŸ˜₯ So glad you have friends now that you can talk to when you start feeling burned out. People make all the difference when you find yourself in these tough situations.

 

It's rough that burnout is so prevalent in our industry, but I'm glad that it worked out well for you!

I think, in general, software devs are getting better at spotting and responding to burnout, both in themselves and in team members. I hope we all continue to grow in that space as a community!

 

Great post, so relatable!
I'm involved in many projects and many aspects of our product so there's always someone who needs my help and that can be exhausting at times.
I think it is important to delegate, if possible. You can't get everything done, so trust your team mates and let them do part of the job, even if it involves the code you're so proud and jealous of.

And kudos to your team mate who did the right thing. I sometimes act in a similar way if I see a coworker struggling. I offer help for debugging or coding, or simply setting priorities. Usually a fresh set of eyes are really helpful when you're banging your head to the wall.

 

I sometimes act in a similar way if I see a coworker struggling. I offer to help

πŸ€— There are a couple of people who I work with that have a similar attitude as myself and sometimes, I won't even ask if they want help, I will just step in and say, I am going to do this for you, period.

 

It's great that you can feel better now. Now I'm living the same situation that you, and this post really helped me to understand what I'm doing and what should do to manage all this things.

Really thanks to share your history.

 

You are so welcome! I am so glad you found it helpful! πŸ€—

 

Thanks for your article Molly, it's really helpful to everyone.

I believe, one of the biggest aspects that make humans different than any other animals is the need for recognition. It's what fueled the success of social networks, but it is very common in the workspace too. People that are good at something and are recognized by it will find very hard to unlink and disconnect from it as recognition is a very powerful drug.

The success and gratification from helping others are very addictive. It makes us feel important, necessary and recognized. It gives us purpose, sense of life and fuels our passion. I've been there like you, and even today I find very hard to do many tasks that excite me but that I should truly delegate into others. The way I found most effective to avoid trying to do everything is to think that I am not making my peers any favor by doing all or the most difficult tasks. I make them worse and unable and fuel the dependency on me. This will impact them if they have to find a new job, or if they want to progress in their careers. So I always try now to help them by leading and guiding and not by solving.

 

Spot on!!! Could not agree more and I like the idea of turning it around and thinking about the effect you doing the task has on others and their ability to learn and grow around you. Thanks for the thoughtful comment πŸ€—

 
 

I think I’ve already missed my burnout warning sign period and have entered the telltale sign that I’m in deep: I keep taking on more things, more personal projects, and I should really do a self intervention. It sounds like you have amazing coworkers!

 

If you ever need a sounding board feel free to reach out! I know I am always happen to listen, no one should have to tackle burnout alone πŸ€—

 

The title should better read "My Burnout Prevention Story". You have fantastic colleagues which stepped in at the right time. I think that's maybe the only cure because of the nature of burnout inducing work - it is an addiction - like your coworker pointed out.

 

While I've generally avoided call-oriented positions, having a knack for figuring out completely alien things quickly and deeply combined with a near-eidetic means that you become an organizational crutch. It's become my role at pretty much every job I've held since college. Yeah, it takes a toll. Unfortunately, even when people try to make an effort to not be the one to break the glass and pull you out, "time counts".

...But this is part of why, as soon as it became available, I switched to Google voice. Since then, my phone only rings during extended business hours (M-F, 0700 - about 1800 Eastern). Friends and family can still reach me 24/7/365. Others can text me ...but I answer on my own terms. And, perhaps even more importantly, when I take real PTO, I change the passwords on my various work-related accounts and update my calling-group rules. People, at this point, understand that when my OoO-responder says "I'm someplace with extremely limited access to information services" that I'm effectively telling the truth. Fortunately, my company owners are on board with it (and were happy when I showed them how to similarly control people's access to them).

 

Big props to your coworkers for taking action on helping you out. Now that's a great team to be part of! Thanks for sharing this story!

 

I totally can relate. I worked remotely for a couple of years and thought I have to be online all the time and answer questions ASAP or people would think I'm slacking. I even felt guilty if I took vacations or some time off. I wrote a blog post about some ideas that help me to overcome my burnout: adrianmejia.com/blog/2019/01/03/ho...

 

Life can’t be all broccoli and not desert.

hehe I like that 😊I can also TOTALLY relate to the burnout from being remote and having to prove yourself! I work remote 3 months out of the year and I always feel like I am working way more during those 3 months.

 

Thanks for sharing your story Molly. I can relate to your situation on many levels. I too was an "adrenaline junkie".

 

Thank you for sharing your story. Much appreciated

 
 

Thank you for sharing! This hit home for me.

 
 

Wow. It's amazing that your coworkers intervened as they did.

 

I feel incredibly lucky to have such a supportive team πŸ™