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“I feel thin… sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” Bilbo Baggins talks to Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring)
I have been working hard to improve my life over the last two years, after the end of a decade long relationship. For the most part, all I’ve done has worked reasonably well so far: I have found myself no longer withering away, and I like to think the worst part is now behind me.
My primary focus during this time has been getting back into decent shape (physically and mentally) and I’ve already blogged about how I approached that. I’m pretty pleased with my progress.
My days are quite full with a fixed schedule: a brief morning routine, work, cooking at noon, more work, going out for a run, do some work on my side project, read a bit, a light workout, and finally some relaxation, usually in the form of watching a movie, show or playing a game.
I don’t mind the routine, but it is no longer as enjoyable as before. I don’t see a clear way forward, and I find myself searching for new meaning and purpose, as well as new relationships and connections more than ever before.
Recently, a few of my friends — including some who have gone through various similar tough times — have found new meaning in their lives. They have been making big moves in life, finding new places to work, new places to travel to, new places to live, new partners.
My oldest friend is getting married next year and I have the distinct pleasure of being his best man. That made me think about my own situation, even more than I already was.
I know everyone’s supposed to “do it all in their own time”, but if I don’t force something, I may remain stuck indefinitely. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t made any progress, but feel obligated to make some bigger changes, too.
While I was still clearly recovering, I didn’t mind the routine that I’ve set up for myself. However, I’ve now reached that point where none of it is as enjoyable as it used to be.
In both my professional and personal life I don’t see a clear way forward, and I find myself searching for some new meaning and purpose. My days are full, but they feel empty.1
A while ago, I tweeted the following about how I currently feel about programming:
Not sure if (web) development has gotten too complicated, or I’m just no longer enjoying it. I could also be having a bad day, but this keeps coming up every few months, no matter the project. This even happens for my own (personal) projects. Anyone else feel this way?
I got a few responses, many of which expressed concern in regard to burn-out. A fair point, as I’ve been somewhat burned out in the past before. This was also when I was dealing with a tough time in my life.
Both of these issues were resolved at the time, which greatly helped the rate at which I was able to feel excited about my work again.
Sadly, my general sentiment about not seeing a way forward also applies to work. I’ll have worked the same job for almost a decade, soon. I started my first job at Underlined in 2014, which later became DIVE, and I’ve been doing agency work for all those years. It’s been varied and fun work.
Let me tell you, I used to really care about the projects I worked on. I’d sweat the details, and I’d care about delivering the best results. I enjoyed doing my work. I still do, to a certain degree, and I am very happy about the work pressure and current workload. But something’s… missing.
I do find myself a little annoyed at times. I don’t have the time to focus on new stuff I want to learn, and the projects at my current job don’t seem as interesting as they used to. Frankly, the scariest thing is always indifference, whether in a personal or professional context.
I was also thinking about doing some more learning. There are not many opportunities to actually learn new things at work unless they are directly relevant to the project. Experimentation for experimentation’s sake is simply not an option.
As if that wasn’t enough, I also feel conflicted: I’m not so sure I want to keep learning new things at the breakneck pace that modern software development requires. I feel like the state of software development is going entirely the wrong direction. The way the internet works, too, has gotten seemingly worse and worse.
What also worries me is that I have had little interest in learning new things and exploring new experiences for some time now. Lately, I’m starting to feel this way about my field of work, too, which I find most concerning of all.2
Even worse yet, I have a very poor opinion of the current state of the web and software quality: things appear to be getting shittier every day, with bad practices, dark patterns, user retention as key metrics for the big players. Not sure I want to be part of that industry.
(Also, the recent discourse online hasn’t made me any happier either. And with all of the trouble that’s going on in the world, my mood has not been great lately.)
Now, there’s a variety of potential factors in play that make me enjoy my life less:
- I am pushing myself too much (pressure).
- I am feeling unfulfilled because I am not being challenged enough.
- I am not working on projects that personally interest me as much as I’d want.
- I feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled with my own social life and that bleeds into other aspects of my life, including work.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and at the very least, it’s time for a break. During this break I can try to address various problems and start doing things I currently don’t have the time or energy for.
I’ve already had to take a few unpaid days over the last couple of months for personal reasons. I don’t love that I had to do that to not feel overwhelmed or exhausted. A longer break will hopefully ensure I won’t need to resort to such measures again.
I can also prepare for a change of scenery this way. Leaving the usual routine and environment behind may also help in the long run.
So yes, I’m going to take a break. A long break. The plan is to take a 3-month sabbatical where I re-calibrate and recharge, and figure out what’s next.
I will start this sabbatical at the end of January 2024. I discussed this with my boss a few months ahead of time since I didn’t want to suddenly spring this on him, so we can slowly wind down my immediate involvement in current projects.
I may come to the conclusion that I don’t want to be a software developer in the traditional sense any longer. I may also want to desperately return to the job. I don’t know what’s next.
Whatever happens, I’m sure the break will be quite welcome. The only immediate work I plan on doing during that time is minor maintenance work on PHP Monitor, if needed.
When I return from my sabbatical, I plan on following up on this post with a new one. If anyone else has had similar experiences, I’d be happy to hear from you on the various social media platforms.
I am now keenly aware of the danger of stagnation, since it is (in part) what killed the most important relationship I ever had in my life. After being ill for some time and then suffering under the lockdowns of Covid-19, life has seemingly flashed me forward from age 26 to 30 in an instant, and I lost something really important to me. In part because I wasn’t moving forward. I don’t want to make the same mistake again. ↩
This being an aspect in play tells me that there’s something seriously wrong and that changes need to happen. There should be some things that I am excited about, or a direction I want to go! There are still things that I find really interesting, but not wanting to be on the bleeding edge of tech tells me enough about my state of mind. I’m not saying I’m depressed or burned out — though I may very well be. I hope I can change this. ↩