I’m reading about burnouts time to time. Most of the comments say that it’s not working for long hours. My take is also similar. Burnouts are not related to hours, but it’s about control. If you’re working in a project that you can show yourself, you can probably work longer with little burnout. Otherwise, even if the work is easy or simple, if you don’t have control over the outcome or the results won’t carry your name, working less doesn’t prevent burnouts.

In March, I saw that I lost my enthusiasm about my work. It’s mainly a writing job. I noticed I was forcing myself to work. Normally, this shouldn’t happen. I like writing, I like the team, I like my colleagues, so what was happening? I asked for a sabbatical to start in July. Now, I think it was about burning out. I was becoming alienated from the job and it was needing my willpower to spend. I usually don’t do the work that I have to spend my willpower for a long time.

I began to think that burnout is something similar to what Marx called alienation. Software development (or technical writing) is mostly a mental job. Your motivation and your talents should align. Otherwise it becomes a torture and you have to spend more and more willpower. Willpower, as recent studies show, is a non-renewable resource. So spending it on something for a long period of time probably causes burnout.

So, why does alienation happen in our line of work? It’s probably the same story as less mental, more menial jobs. One has to see that they are building a cathedral instead of building a wall. If you believe that you’re building a cathedral, even you work for much longer, your enthusiasm never wanes. If you believe you’re doing what your superiors ask, it shadows the vision that leads to enthusiasm.

Burnouts are a natural defense mechanism for the second type of work. People need meaning in their life more than any other. We can suppress our emotions for some time to reach material benefits. But if we can’t find meaning in the endeavor, and just postpone the meaning to an indefinite future, it leaks. And it breaks.

This is probably the reason why lesser level employees live this burnout more than higher levels. In higher levels, you need a vision, albeit a superficial one to manage people. In lower levels, this is less possible.

For less burnout, we need more meaning in our work. If you can’t find meaning in work, at least try to find some outside of the work.


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