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Is this burn out?

sloan profile image Sloan ・2 min read

This is an anonymous post sent in by a member who does not want their name disclosed. Please be thoughtful with your responses, as these are usually tough posts to write. Email if you'd like to leave an anonymous comment.

I am leading a team to make another product. There is plenty of work, a large business impact, and enough time for me to knock out a bunch of it. But I feel no motivation to write code. Instead I distract myself with searching for more knowledge. I keep hoping that inspiration will strike.

I love to rise to technical challenges, and doing so will usually trigger a flurry of coding. But once completed it seems I never want to do a similar thing again. Despite this I have managed to release multiple successful products. But after a long career, it seems hard to find challenges that motivate me in the work that my employer actually needs done.

I feel guilty for even coming to work, knowing that I will not bring that much value today. So I am nearly out of vacation days. But when I take off, I also feel guilty for not being there to help the team.

I am always up for helping the team, and I spend a chunk of most days doing that. I give them ideas and help them get past technical obstacles and keep the vision for what we are doing fresh in their minds. But that does not fill my day. I still have a lot of time to stare at the screen and try to convince myself to write code that I know needs to be written. That people are expecting me to write. But I do not want to, and I hate myself for that. "Just write something already!"

I go home with the frustration of not achieving "a job well done". When I wake up the next day, I know the same fate awaits me. It is difficult to get out of bed. On the way to work, I try to prep myself to just get in and start writing code. But things always come up right away. When I finally sit down to code, momentum is gone.

It is not always this way. I have productive seasons, and seasons like this.

Am I just burned out? Has anyone been in or seen this pattern before? Please share your experiences with this.


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taillogs profile image
Ryland G

This is the poster child for burnout. But tbh, it also sounds a lot like depression. As someone who knows that path far too well, it does get better. But it only gets better if you push for that.

wuz profile image
Conlin Durbin

Am I just burned out? Has anyone been in or seen this pattern before? Please share your experiences with this.

Unfortunately, burn out is a deeply personal thing - this definitely sounds like burnout, but it could just be a natural thing too. I've seen people in similar patterns for sure and you are definitely not alone. I wanna answer a few parts here though and then maybe try to give you some advice.

But I feel no motivation to write code.

To be honest, it seems like you are burnt out on being an individual contributor if anything. You might consider working towards the next step in your career - whether you are interested in architecting, management, or product strategy, there are lots of options out there!

But after a long career, it seems hard to find challenges that motivate me in the work that my employer actually needs done.

This might be a sign that it is time to move on from that employer - there are interesting problems out there, but sometimes business just doesn't have them. The other option is to try to find something else that engages you about the business and start working towards that. Maybe they need help with hiring or D&I efforts. You can still write code but find your fulfillment from those other topics.

It is not always this way. I have productive seasons, and seasons like this.

I go through this a lot too - except mine manifests every fall as a need to move on from whatever I am doing. Without fail, every year I was in college I felt like I wanted to drop out about 3 months into the semester. It's very possible that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder - you might consider seeking therapy and talking through your problems. I did group therapy in college and really, really enjoyed it. I honestly probably should get back into it and take my own advice here.

Regardless of what you learn here, there is no reason to hate yourself - this is a natural thing that lots of people go through. You just have to find your personal journey to work through it. You got this and you deserve to feel good about yourself. 😊

I hope this helps, Anonymous writer. If you ever want to talk more about this, you can feel free to reach out to me on Twitter DMs. I'd be more than happy to have a private conversation!

cubiclebuddha profile image
Cubicle Buddha

people are expecting me to write. But I do not want to, and I hate myself for that.

First off, this is super brave of you to share. Secondly, the pressure to perform is probably mostly coming from yourself. Yes, there are people who have expectations on you; but I’d be willing to bet that you are your harshest critic. That’s at least how I am. And the only thing that has helped that is self-care. There are some descriptions of self-care techniques here that seem relevant:

brandelune profile image
Jean-Christophe Helary

Yes it does and as Ryland G wrote, it feels like depression too.
Two things. Go see a specialist (not just a psychiatrist, find somebody who is real good in your area) and read "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari, it will help a lot.

sansseryph profile image

This sounds very similar to where I was a few years ago in a different job. At that point, I was 5 years into a company where I loved my team members and the people that worked at the place generally. But at the end of every day, I would come home feeling like I let everyone and myself down for not being engaged enough or getting enough work done.

If I'm understanding the things you're feeling in your post correctly and if you have access to one, I would highly recommend a therapist to help navigate the things you're feeling. They can help identify why you might be experiencing these things and to help come up with a plan to help move yourself into a better head space.

For me, what helped was to move my career towards my goals. I was doing sysadmin work and I wanted to get into web development. Now that I'm doing it, I'm incredibly happy but still worried that I'll experience that again.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

It certainly sounds like a moderate level of burnout. It's almost like writer's block! You're almost certainly bringing more value than you think you are.

Here's my experience.

And I also compiled a checklist to see if you're on the edge of burnout (I can send you direct if you DM me and don't want to sign up).

devagrawal09 profile image

I know what you're going through, I am experiencing the same issue right now. I have been for a few days now, and I did last year when I was working on a project. There are times when you know you should be getting work done, maybe because you have people looking up to you or because of a deadline closing in on you. But you can't bring yourself to it. I spent hours scrolling through newsletters, tutorials, dev blogs and documentations, when I should have actually been writing code and putting work in. And when I do start, all it takes is a small bug in my code to make my shut down my laptop and browse reddit.

But I did eventually come out of it. Like you said, you have productive seasons. I also had one or two days in a week where I could sit for 8 straight hours and code. And the happiness and satisfaction I get after those 8 hours is just something else.
All I can say to you is that hold on to those productive days, and don't beat yourself up because of the unproductive ones. Take rest and chill.

vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic

Definitely burnout, it's even officially recognised as QD85. I'm currently experiencing the same issue, can't offer any tips since coping techniques vary from person to person. The fact that you commute to work is a plus, if you worked from home in that state of mind, well, it would be much worse. Writing about it helped me a little bit, which was something I never would have expected. I was first scared and ashamed but then finally decided to go with it, post it, make it public and see ig there are other people out there with similar problems willing to share their experiences. To my surprise, there is abundance of stories like yours and it's a struggle, but it's not a death sentence.

I hope you recover quickly or at least find something to mitigate the symptoms.

This is what I wrote to vent out:

johnbwoodruff profile image
John Woodruff

Yes, you are definitely experiencing burnout. Burnout is often compounded by symptoms of depression that already exist. Sometimes burnout makes depression that you already have feel worse. Take care of yourself. Try to be less hard on yourself for how you feel, guilt is a nasty feeling that always ends up making things much worse. I hope your team and manager are people you can trust to talk to and tell them how you're feeling. I've been lucky enough to have understanding managers when I've experienced my bouts of burnout. Hang in there!

mferrier profile image

Instead I distract myself with searching for more knowledge.

Someone in a burnout situation doesn't have this kind of motivation. I could advise to just take a break or try to change the mission (yeah, easy to say )

Be brave !

cecilelebleu profile image
Cécile Lebleu

Definitely seek someone to talk to — professional, friend, family... Getting it out is already a big step.

Every life has waves of feeling great and feeling bad, for some people the cycle takes years, for others it takes months. For me it's a huge hormonal crash every month — I'm just starting to feel it again, and I know that for a few days I just won't want to do anything and I will hate everything, and there's nothing I can do to stop it. But the important thing to keep in mind is that it will pass. It will pass. One day you will be sitting on your desk and realize, "hey, I have been feeling great lately!"

Learn to recognize your own patterns, and be compassionate with yourself when you know you're down. It's natural, and the best way to get through it is to do something good today, even if it's just smiling to one person, helping with one thing, cleaning one object, or even just making yourself a cup of tea to enjoy. Congratulate yourself and love yourself for that effort, because it is an achievement, it does take effort, and it is very difficult to do at times. Picture it as a cycle or a wave — soon you'll start to feel better.

adrianwedd profile image

It sounds like depression to me. The majority of humans have been there, I think it is all too common a symptom of being sane in a crazy world. Certainly seek a good professional to talk to about it (personally I'd advise thinking seriously and trying excercise, meditation and changes to your diet and routines before letting anyone medicate you for it) and don't be afraid to talk to your loved ones too. ♥️

aradhyaalamuru profile image
Aradhya Alamuru

Literally the definition of burnout. Did you wrap up a lot of challenging tech while keeping the annoying rote work for later? Then it might just be boredom cause you want to work on something interesting.

hamsterasesino profile image

I think I've been on a similar situation. I don't have a general fix but what helped me was setting a hard deadline on my current activities and knowing that after that I'd move on to other stuff.

You can arrange such date with your manager or just yourself (maybe find another job).

grazhevskaja profile image
Alexandra Grazhevskaja

I think I know what you feel.
And I have good news for you - you are on you first step to change your life!
You have recognized - something is going wrong, now it's time to find what you need to change.
You feel unmotivated and it's not the reason of the problem - but the effect.
Try to talk to yourself or an experienced psychologist - what you like and don't like in your life.

I have experienced something similar few times in my life.
Once I recognized I felt being in a cage in my life. After a long self-reflection I just quited my job and decided that from now I will work remotely and live the life I want, the life on my rules.
Another time I understood I am not motivated to continue as a developer.
I just took half a year to quit all I did and listened to myself. That period helped me to reburn and to understand how I want to continue my life.

Maybe you need to change your profession, company, or start own business.
You have already taken the vacation - it's a right step! Take your time as much as you need to find the answer.

I have shared some of my experience here as well:

nataliecodes profile image
natalie stroud

I think this could be. At least I relate to a good portion of this as I've hit a wall in my #100DaysOfCode challenge lately and I feel 0 motivation to code. But it's been like that way for weeks, almost up to 2 months. This doesn't help things in my job search which you would think would motivate someone to get at it but I just can't.

Here's to hoping you feel better soon <3

keptoman profile image

I would recommend to consult a specialist about this (if possible).

akashkava profile image
Akash Kava

It is not burnout, it is common, and its very common that people think they cannot do it any longer and give up. But exceptional people don't give up, they know the hardest truth, and that is about not giving up.

Writer of Inception movie took 10 years to write script, the most discussed movie of all the time, I bet any of your past products didn't take 10 years to write something. Ever imagined what he did for 10 years? Basically he wrote the movie again and again for 10 years for number of times, and the reason he made the best movie was he didn't give up. If after 9 years, he would have thought that I can't write any more words, would we get to see the movie?

The best part of great creation is getting over I can't do this anymore feeling.

gusgonnet profile image

Hey there!
I can't say what it is in your case.
All I wanted to say is this:

I think many of us get these ups and downs that life offers. Listen, sometimes I do not want to write the code I need to write, or others need me to write, or even the code I wanted to write for so long. I go for long walks, talk to nice people that gets me in a better mood, do something I like (starting to sound cliche so I'll stop here).
So in the hopes this is just a down on life, I wish you all the best.
Again, I hope it gets better soon!

phizzard profile image
Phil Tietjen

As someone who has been going through a burnout and trying to get out of it, this sounds a quite similar. Though I do think you've also caught yourself in a dark place because of it.

I am always up for helping the team, and I spend a chunk of most days doing that. I give them ideas and help them get past technical obstacles and keep the vision for what we are doing fresh in their minds.

Don't underestimate how much value this brings to a team, writing code isn't just about writing code. A mentor is an amazing contribution.

I go home with the frustration of not achieving "a job well done". When I wake up the next day, I know the same fate awaits me.

I've definitely had this before when being stuck on something for too long and not asking for help. In your case I know it's not a code problem you're having so it's a little more complicated getting help.

Burnout at home and work is rough. Whenever I feel like I'm getting to that, try to keep a balance. If you're feeling burnout at work, try to focus on any hobbies or fun pass times while you're not at work. I've found that overtime I start to gain more drive at work, and I'll start to miss working on side projects.

Hope you can find what works for you to get back out!

leob profile image

Maybe the work is just too boring? Been there too, then I knew it was time to move on to another job/company.