A tale of Downshifting #2

Ok, I reread A tale of Downshifting #1, and it kind of rambles off at the end. Eventually I figured out that I finished at the point where I was plateaued out as a senior developer / architect / what-have-you.

What happened next was that I kind of stayed doing the same thing for a while. But I wasn’t really ever very happy with it, so I moved jobs quite a bit. That’s ok to do in IT, it means you get exposure to a lot of ways of doing things, you get a lot of different technologies under your belt. I found myself extremely employable, because I had deep knowledge of some core technologies, and an unusually broad exposure to related technologies. A good combination.

OTOH, I also got to see that it’s mostly a bit lame everywhere. This principle of excellent mediocrity is pervasive, combined with delusions of grandeur, unfortunately. The stronger the delusions, the more wrongheaded the general approach to software development, and the more strongly doomed any project is from the outset.

So clearly I eventually became disillusioned with this. I could keep moving jobs every time stuff began to give me the shits, but it would just be to the next shit. The honeymoon period has gotten a lot shorter for me too, I start noticing the problems a lot sooner now. What I came to realise was that doing the same things wasn’t resulting in different outcomes, it was resulting in variations on the same outcome. Well duh.

So I tried some other stuff. I tried kicking off a little micro business fixing people’s PCs, but that didn’t work. Pretty much everyone I knew thought it was a stupid idea, and I reckon I probably did too. But, it did have a function, which was to kick me out of my rut. It also got me into working part time, in that I quit my job, but after some negotiation on their part (lucky for me) I instead moved to working part time (3.5 days/week).

Working part time is interesting. When you work full time in IT, it’s not full time (or rarely stays that way), it trends towards all the time. But when you are part time, you have a set amount of hours, which underscores the per-hour nature of your work agreement. You can work more at times, but you get paid for the extras, which full timers usually don’t. It’s like contracting in that way. Because of that, you have a lot less pressure on you to put in extra work, given that it costs money.

So that’s all kind of banal at the moment. “I started working part time and voila, happiness”. Well that’s not quite right.

In reality, it caused me a great deal of stress. I was used to working all the time, and it had affected me psychologically. It didn’t help that my workplace at the time had a culture of overworking. There was a real work-harder-not-smarter mentality, which built up from insecurities on the part of a bunch of the technical people I think, and while I’m usually pretty good at not doing that, it does seep in under the skin eventually.

What kind of stress? I just couldn’t relax.

When you are overworking, you have two modes, Working and Passed Out. It’s not an accident that this happens; people overworking seek that situation. It comes as the end of a feedback loop, which starts with a person in a situation where something (sometimes their work) isn’t working out, and they feel stressed about it. No one likes to be anxious, and they discover, I think, that when they are working they are not anxious because they are occupied with something else. Ah-hah, a way to avoid anxiety, we all want that! Plus working is seen as a virtuous activity in the west, despite just about any evidence to the contrary. Plus, sometimes if your anxiety is work related, a little extra effort can help. So the person begins to work a little more, gets mostly good feedback from all round, spends less time feeling anxious.

Except, of course, the anxiety gets stronger. It’ll do that if you don’t figure out why you are actually feeling anxious, it sucks that way. So the unwary person now tries doing a bit more of what helped before. Spends a little less time feeling anxious, but the anxiety again eventually gets worse. Hmm. Try working more. Things start going wrong, because now the person is overworking, getting tired out and overwhelmed. Also, the stress is bleeding into work time, and blotting it out requires a more manic approach to work. Work harder! Thinking time becomes anxiety time, so no more thinking time.

And by this point, all leisure time is stress time, all non-working time is stress time, and most working time is also stress time. Fail.

Now I don’t think I quite got this far, but I was definitely on the right track (Jodie can probably expand on this 🙂 ). So I changed, and that’s good. But it doesn’t make the stress disappear.

Next time I think I’ll talk about the process of de-working (while still working…).

A tale of Downshifting #2

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