As I’ve let you know earlier on, I haven’t been blogging a lot for the last few years… I’ve let my readers down, i know, but in the midst of all the positive things ( busy on the job, getting married, becoming a father and so on ) there was also a period in this time, which wasn’t great.. h*ck it was far from it..

Who would have thought I’d ever have to go through the hellish period of self-loathing, poor self esteem and total lack of interest in anything whatsoever, which is commonly classified as burn-out. Well…. I most certainly did not… The sad truth is however that I’ve been down that road, and it was anything but a walk in a park…

Always doing your utmost very best can harm you!

Yup..”do your very best”… this was, and still is my number one rule of thumb when it comes to doing things. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a working environment or during family-time… If I’m going to do something, I’m gonna do my very best, or I won’t even start doing it at all.. This has brought me a few successes on the way, and it helped me improve on a lot of things in a very short time, although on the other side, it also caused my downfall into the utter depths of my burn-out.

I work hard to keep my employer and his (our) client(s) satisfied, which normally isn’t a problem at all. When you know what the client requires and how they want to have it made (it was custom made software after all), you can do a tremendously good job by working hard. The only problem at that time was… the client didn’t know what they wanted. We were contacted to create a new warehouse management system in C# based on a proprietary build access application. Which sounded like a nice challenge. We started with 3 people on the project, an (external) database expert, which also did the project management, I myself and a colleague. Little did I know this group would fall apart real soon..

As the customer really did not know what they wanted, they constantly shifted their requirements. They combined multiple projects as one as they saw fit, and any request to formalize requirements (and get it signed on paper so-to-speak) was rejected because they had no time to formalize it. And my employer agreed with them, we could still develop whatever they wanted, even without formal specs. (It was there and then when I should have noticed a big red flag and say NO, but… at the moment I myself wanted to please the client and my employer…) So, I did what I’ve been told. And what I feared the most happened quite a lot of times, everything we did was not good enough or wasn’t what they expected. Even though we had a formal agreement about the requested functionality…  Until then it was a bumpy ride, but from there it went totally haywire quite fast, as the client fired their own IT employees, because they were confident we would also do those tasks that for them, alongside the development of the new system… and my employer agreed… In the mean time, the project manager of our team has had resigned, and all the project tasks at hand came onto me. No sweat, I’ll do my best.. we need to satisfy the customer. Furthermore, my colleague was needed on another project, so his effort got decimated, which more-or-less left me alone…

By this time I was working way more than my agreed upon 32 hours a week working time, it almost tripled! (and still… I went and did it because I wanted to please my employer, and our client)… This went on and on not for weeks but for months, and not only did my work begin to suffer under the load, my personal life and the relation with my wife came very stressful due to this.. Still the customer didn’t really know what they want. Nothing I delivered seemed to be the thing day requested, so my holidays off were revoked, I’ve worked weekends from 7 a.m. till 2 a.m. the next morning.. And it seemed it all didn’t help.

At this time I’ve already noticed I’ve gone way over the edge, and although I tried and tried, I couldn’t get back in the proverbial saddle anymore.. I finally reached out for help and they diagnosed me as being burned-out.

I blame myself!

Who’s to blame… you could argue the employer is to blame because he didn’t step in in-time.

I on the other hand blame myself. It was I, who thought I could handle it all, it was I who didn’t put a stop to it earlier. If I hadn’t been this keen on doing my utmost very best in every way to please my employer and the client, I probably wouldn’t have become burned-out and would have been with the company and working for the same client at this moment.

Lessons learned

During my sick-leave due to the burn-out I reflected a lot on myself and where things went wrong… And I’ve learned a few things.

  1. Doing your very best is admirable, and you should always try to give 100%, but… don’t let it overtake you entirely… Please keep a healthy state-of-mind and let it go on time…
  2. Be super-critical on the process, if there are things which could ultimately lead into chaos, don’t allow them to stay this way. ie. I most probably will not let clients get away with not formalizing specifications in the aforementioned way anymore.
  3. Retain a healthy work-life balance.

Luckily all is well now

Apart from going to a mental-coaching session once in a while, everything is going fairly well now. I’ve kinda re-found my work-life balance, the relationship with my wife and friends has been restored, and I’ve found an other employer where I can use my knowledge and expertise in a way I like.

I’m back on track and loving my life again… Though I’d rather haven’t had to experience the burn out… then again… It showed me my weaknesses in a crystal clear way, and as such, I learned from it.