Today is my last day of freedom. On Monday morning I’ll be starting a new job, with a new company, in a new office, with a new commute (driving there in a new car) and meeting new people to do new things for new customers. All new. Scary, but fun.
For the last six weeks, in fact almost two months, I’ve not been working, I’ve been clotting around home. When I first handed my notice in a knew (in fact I’d engineered) some time to think and play and figure out what I wanted to do. Then a job came along that I just couldn’t say no to, and suddenly I had 6 weeks to do whatever I wanted.
I made plans. I made lists (hello Trello you wonderful beast you). I got in touch with friends I wanted to visit. I shuffled code around on side projects which had been dormant for ages so that they were safe when I handed back my laptop. I was going to be productive, and this was going to be an awesome time!
Then I left the start up, and for the first 2 weeks I smashed through stuff. I got up at 7am when my girlfriend got up. I had a shower, a coffee and by 11am I’d Achieved Things. None of them digital. I’d bottomed out the kitchen, mown the lawn, sorted out paperwork for my tax return, bundled up ten thousand different cables into a cool looroll holder thing I built. I chatted to friends on Facebook and Twitter and went for a few zooms around in the car. I didn’t open my work laptop, I just couldn’t face it.
Then came the day that I needed to hand my laptop back (I’d secretly been hoping to keep it but this seemed extremely unlikely), and I had to open it, then rapidly close Hipchat and similar. I moved everything personal off it to an external drive (taking far longer than I expected), blanked the account and closed the lid again. Due to a cat/wine/laptop incident, this left me without a personal machine for a few weeks for the first time since I was 16, but this was ok, because once my new machine arrived I’d be raging it up, knocking off silly side projects and being super mega productive again, right?
Wrong. My machine appeared (twice, due to Xubuntu not playing ball with the first laptop I ordered but that’s another story). I got an OS on it (Xubuntu - Windows 8 didn’t ever see the light of day), installed my keys and essentials (Sublime, VLC, Firefox (I’m taking a break from Chrome), etc etc) and checked out my work in progress repos. Then I did nothing. I just couldn’t face it. I tried a few times, firing up a Vagrant box, installing PHP/Node/Python libs, whatever I had been noodling with, but code just didn’t get written. I didn’t give a fuck. I’d lost all my creativity and inquisitiveness. I just hadn’t got any mojo.
I saw a brilliant talk by Adam Onishi at Devs Love Bacon about burning out. It was an honest and brave talk and I felt great empathy with Adam. By the time I left Accenture I had ended up taking time off work because I was physically and mentally broken. I’d collapsed a disc in my spine and I’d worked myself to the bone. It took me a long time to bounce back from that (possibly my whole next job if I’m honest). What I was feeling now wasn’t like that time years ago, and it wasn’t on the same level as Adam (I wasn’t writing a book and organising events and working), but I was ground down.
Working in any small business is hard, and if it’s not hard for you I’d suggest it’s doubly hard for somebody else. I should point out that life in my last company was 100x saner in the 6 months to a year before I left than it had been the preceding 18 months. This was not a business I wrote code and emails for 18 hours a day, 6 days a week for, but it was tough in places and eventually I just ended up flat. If you grind away long enough all of the lumps and bumps on your surface get knocked off and you end up a smooth and featureless slab, and that’s were I ended up, not broken, just flat, all my fight gone.
This is an upsetting and demoralizing place to find yourself, and as an industry we’re not great at expressing these things (how many times has somebody been “awesome” just before they’ve quit their job, moved away or otherwise done something that clearly points out they really were not “awesome”, thank you for asking?). I ended up feeling like I was wasting time. Here was this gift of 6 weeks where I could do anything I wanted (within reason) and all I wanted to do was watch Netflix, snuggle into my new cats, and do some hoovering, hardly setting the world on fire, but actually it was a good thing to listen to my heart.
A month or so later I’ve watched everything I wanted too (top tip, do not watch 2 seasons of Utopia and then Black Mirror in the same week, you’ll go a bit Patrick Bateman), taken 15 car loads of stuff to the recycling (including a huge hedge and some bushes which had dwarfed my fruit trees), read a tonne of old science fiction (mostly in my hammock so I’ve also got a bit of a tan going on), sorted out my giant stack of paperwork (including finding an insurance policy that I was paying for and that was totally pointless), sold a car and delivered it, bought another car (and test driven a bunch of sports cars), baked and eaten a load of food that I’d not had time to explore, spend a long lazy weekend in London, visited my parents, been to the beach, sorted lots of digital photos, found a home for my 30+ hot sauces and even bought some clothes. In short, a lot of things that didn’t involve computers, code, infrastructure or anything else I would normally have filled my time with.
And now, with all that done and dusted, I’m ready to go back to work, to something new. A 3 month pay gap is painful, so it will be nice to earn some money again, but more than that I’m ready to go and be productive again. I’ve rebuilt that ground down surface, I’ve got some edges back.