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What would you like to do?
I was drawn to programming, science, technology and science fiction
ever since I was a little kid. I can't say it's because I wanted to
make the world a better place. Not really. I was simply drawn to it
because I was drawn to it. Writing programs was fun. Figuring out how
nature works was fascinating. Science fiction felt like a grand
adventure.
Then I started a software company and poured every ounce of energy
into it. It failed. That hurt, but that part is ok. I made a lot of
mistakes and learned from them. This experience made me much, much
better. I'm satisfied with that.
What's not ok is *how* things ended. Many of the investors turned out
to be bloodthirsty vultures who tore the carcass to pieces. Had we
IPO'ed, these same people would have stood there with giant smiles
telling everyone how they'd always known we were special and how
they'd supported us all along.
I lost many friends. Throughout the whole thing I was lucky to meet
many brilliant, creative, talented people. Together, we worked *so*
hard. Now we don't talk.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how I contributed to these failed
relationships. I learned a lot from that too. It wasn't my finest
hour, but I can sleep at night fine. So I eventually decided it's
mostly nobody's fault. This is just the reality of what happens to
people when extreme stress ends in failure.
Then I worked for a tech giant, and then for a high-growth unicorn. It
shocked me how dilbertesque they both were. Full of politicians, and
burnt out engineers in golden handcuffs who can't wait to get out, and
meaningless business speak, and checked out employees who pretend
they're "excited" about everything all the time. The young, wide-eyed
engineers seem hopelessly naive to me now.
So the worst case scenario is that you get eaten by vultures and lose
friends. And the best case scenario is that you're in a soulless
machine that turns everyone into an automaton. I know that's not the
whole picture. It's not even most of the picture. But that's the part
I can't unsee.
For a long time I couldn't focus on any remotely intellectual pursuit.
I even thought I permanently damaged my brain. But eventually I
started exercising, went on anti-depressants, and started therapy.
Then I got a job that has nothing to do with technology. Slowly my
happiness returned, and with it my ability to focus. I do a lot of
sports now and hang out with my non-techy friends and my wife. I cook
a lot. I got into knot theory. I find it fascinating and can do it for
hours. I'm surprisingly not bad at it. So I know I still have my
faculties.
But I still can't program, can't write, can't think of new products,
can't read science fiction. I'm mostly happy, but there is always a
hint of dissatisfaction underneath. I miss the creative, optimistic
person I once was. I want to see past the cynicism. I want to write
programs and make things. I want to work with a ragtag team again to
bring something to life that didn't exist before. I want to learn how
to see past the bullshit and be creative again. But I can't get myself
to do it. I hear the call and I know there's still a spark. But when I
take even the smallest step everything turns bleak and mundane. It's
like the magic has been bled out of me and I don't know how to summon
it back.
Has anyone been through this who managed to recover their optimism and
creative spirit? Please help me. What can I do?
@donspaulding
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donspaulding commented May 5, 2020

Hi there, traveller.

I suggest you search for Jesus, by way of the Bible. Since you've recently experienced disillusionment, I would suggest that you start with Ecclesiastes and see that even the richest, wisest man who ever lived experienced the same disillusionment that you have. Consider also that the writer, Solomon, lived at a time of intense technological change (though certainly with a different cultural context than you likely have).

From there, I would suggest the book of John.

From there, I would read the rest.

Feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk. don@spauldings.net

@johnamata
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johnamata commented May 5, 2020

It's alright. What helped me was to be okay with the thought that these could all take a while. If you don't do it, you could be taking these breaks, experimenting with a new lifestyle, and later be thinking "it's been X years since I started, why aren't I feeling better?" Or you'd find yourself sitting on a monthly visit with your psychiatrist, having thoughts that the hours you put in there are a waste compared to when you were writing code, giving yourself more pressure to your journey.

You'd be more at peace with yourself if you become fine with time passing by. Eventually you will figure it out.

@DennisJeeves1
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DennisJeeves1 commented May 5, 2020

The friends you lost, where it was "mostly nobody's fault" - that part doesn't smell right to me. Call them up and take responsibility for the part that's your fault. (Unless they actively tried to screw you; then forget them.)

@LiterallyTheGreatestDeveloper , spot on. It's rare of find people with the right combination intelligence, diligence and integrity. You really cannot say it was "mostly nobody's fault". People's cumulative (mis) actions at the personal level of interactions is the reason the world is generally in a mess. I'd flip the whole thing around and say - "it's mostly everybody's fault"

-Dennis

Beyond misanthropy: https://atlantis5.home.blog/

@DennisJeeves1
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DennisJeeves1 commented May 5, 2020

You should consider that the valley is full of mentally ill liars. "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

great quote @dm17

-Dennis

Beyond misanthropy: https://atlantis5.home.blog/

@DennisJeeves1
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DennisJeeves1 commented May 5, 2020

[I know this post will not be well received here on GitHub, the techie Facebook. It's like walking into a church in the middle of Sunday service and to rail against organized religion and the hypocrisy of the worshipers.]

@vassudanagunta , Well, there are lurkers like me around who will appreciate your comments.

-Dennis

Beyond misanthropy: https://atlantis5.home.blog/

@invzhi
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invzhi commented May 5, 2020

Try not to try. Best wish.

@stopachka
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stopachka commented May 5, 2020

Hey,

A few ideas for you:

  1. Start micro: What do you enjoy doing during a day?
    • (Not the macro stuff here -- I'm talking about walks, toy projects, chocolate, etc)
    • Start observing how much fun you are having every day, and try to increase it
  2. Catch your thoughts
    • As you go through the day, you'll have a bunch of sad thoughts
      • Maybe you meet someone and will think "Oh, this is pointless", etc
    • Start writing these thoughts down, and really ask: is it true?
      • Right now your mind isn't seeing reality correctly. You may be overgeneralizing negative bits, filtering positive bits, etc
        • David Burns "The Positive Side" will help you a bunch
  3. Finally, as you do above, you'll form a stronger, positive macro view
    • The world is so complex that there is always darkness and always light
    • It's what you focus on, which determines how you feel, what you do, and what happens

Bonus: Lean into your community

  • Throughout this, yes you may have lost many people, but I am sure there are a few who have stayed, and they are gold. You may feel like you are burdening them, but this is friendship. Talk and share with them.

If you want to riff, you can always reach out: stepan.p@gmail.com

@davistrent
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davistrent commented May 5, 2020

I think you're experiencing ennui... Step back, take a break, the world is crazy right now and you (we all) have a mulligan. Don't use it as an excuse or a way to do nothing, but use the current time to reflect, figure stuff out, and come back from a new angle. I can't fix your challenge (nobody can), but it may help to define what success looks like for you and pursue that. If it's hard to define, start with the list you already have of things you don't like and pursue something that avoids those things while keeping you on the path of "your definition of success." Know you're not alone and this, too, shall pass...

@rajeevrjha
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rajeevrjha commented May 5, 2020

I am a teacher. Last year I took a break from work and moved to live near the Himalayas. I spent time learning about Game Design and Learning Sciences. I learned to create apps to design a game that would help students practice maths in a more engaging way using game design principles. Students loved the initial game and we are now working on adding more features and packaging the game better.
We are a ragtag team. Three of the other people who are working on the product with me are my own students who are my students. We have never built a product, we know little about design or marketing.

You could help us/ mentor us and see if that brings out the spark back in you.

@Quotz
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Quotz commented May 5, 2020

Check your health. Check your Testosterone, that usually makes you tired of life

@lithiumhead
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lithiumhead commented May 5, 2020

A similar disillusionment happened to me 9 years into my career as a software developer working on embedded systems.
This was around the time when I was working on Linux drivers for an ASIC. At that time, I strongly believed that technology can solve world problems - poverty, hunger, education, pollution, etc. But then the 2012 Delhi rape case happened (I live in India) and made me wonder "How the hell can my driver code for ASIC contribute towards preventing these social evils ?". Cognitive Dissonance followed - technology really can't help society when people lack basic decency. I read some articles and realized that the only thing that helps is to catch the kids when they are young and inculcate in them the right character traits so that they may become respectable, happy, productive, and inquisitive citizens capable of leading a meaningful life later.

So I took a break for 2 years and became a full-time teacher with Teach For India which is based on Teach For America's model.
I taught 125 kids during their 7th and 8th grade during the 2-year fellowship at a low income English medium private school here in Pune, India. Although the fellowship experience mileage varies from person to person, for me it was a pleasant experience - I was humbled by it and grew a lot. It was the first "intensely meaningful" job I had in my life. Getting an opportunity to nurture others recharged me. Where else do you get to see the impact of your work within minutes of you delivering it! It also helped me build a positive relationship with a lot of young people for life. Now I am back to working in tech. This time I am working with an awesome geeky team and don't have to worry about the business side of things. Additionally, I finally believe in the solution that we are working on and love the work culture here. I still keep in touch with the students and help them out with studies or simply catch up with them every now and then. They help me keep faith in things whenever it wavers for whatever reason and I do the same for them.

PS. I tried my hand at sales and marketing for a few months after the fellowship to work on growing a small business that my father had invested in. The sales numbers did not pick up over many months and that led to financial loss (still repaying loans) and soured relationships. So I can relate loosely to somewhat similar parts of your experience.

@fatuhoku
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fatuhoku commented May 5, 2020

Been through pretty much exactly the sentiments you've described, minus the bits about business.

I'm glad that you sound like you've taken steps to keep on top of your health regime. Therapy is great, provided it's the right person and the right form for you. But, from your description I'd imagine your body is pretty fatigued.

Do you get sleepy at around 2pm that you have to take a nap? Unable to focus or do arithmetic? Wake up not feeling refreshed? No energy in muscles whatsoever?

If so look into "adrenal fatigue" (unofficial 'wrong' name on the Internet) a.k.a "burnout" a.k.a. HPA-axis dysregulation (proper name of the condition). Many names for the same sub-clinical state where your body is stuck in a low-energy metabolic state.

I thought I'd mention it because of your mentioning the sense of having a "permanently damaged brain". I had exactly this feeling and the GPs at the National Health Service here in the UK, as amazing as they are, were unable to give me a diagnosis AT ALL. Perhaps this message might help you shortcut that process.

I really hope your brain feels better now. I highly doubt it's 'damaged' exactly. I had the most terrible brain fog, but by working with my (private) nutritional therapist through a urine test we confirmed that it was mostly due to an oxalate build-up in the body. Went on a low-oxalate diet and brain fog became A LOT better. It'd say about 80% better. Find help. Work with a good nutritional therapist.

It honestly affects everything. Mood. Thoughts. Ability to recall memories. Sleep. Energy levels during the day. You name it.
Everything. Life. Basically. And for someone who prizes themselves in their mental faculties this is just like living death. I've lived it. It's not nice.

The other piece of this is your posture. Very important. Find help. Work with an ABC chiropractor (not any old chiropractor).
The other piece of this is emotional health — i.e. your relationship with your own emotive drives. Find help. Work with a decent psychotherapist.
The other piece of this is spiritual health — i.e. your attitude to life and relation to yourself. Find help. Work with a decent psychotherapist.

Too much to cover in a small space, but all I want to say here, really, is that I feel you. If you want to talk, let's Skype or e-mail or whatever. Ping me at fushunpoon@googlemail.com. Would be interesting to hear your story. All the best =]

p.s. oh, about creativity. Take care of every aspect of health as mentioned above. Physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual. From good health, all else blossoms. "Follow your bliss." as the late Joseph Campbell said. And creativity would be the least of your problems.

@a9999999999999
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a9999999999999 commented May 5, 2020

@atishpatel
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atishpatel commented May 5, 2020

Perhaps, instead of trying to fix your inner problems with an external solution. It's time to turn inwards.

You might know two people who go through the same external experiences in a day, but one person can be joyful while the other is stressed and depressed. This is because our inner world like thoughts and feelings aren't depended on external experiences. So, i suggest looking at the class Inner Engineering by Sadhguru. It's changed my life. I use to chase after happiness but now i can sit here with my eyes closed and feel blissed out. Now I do things based on what's needed instead of compulsions. 🙏

@mikorym
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mikorym commented May 5, 2020

There are a lot of comments here and maybe mine would be lost, but I was in a situation where I couldn't do any mathematics or music. I always excercised a lot so in my case excercise was also "taken from me", as that is how it feels.

But, I realised that before my dark period, I was an idiot too. So when I rebuilt my faculties, as you call them, I changed some things about myself. Or at least, the way I teach things to myself. But one thing that I would absolutely say is the main philosophical change is: SLOW EVERYTHING DOWN.

I promise I won't shout again, but that is my way of doing things. I am now quite comfortable to read Mac Lane's Categories for the Working Mathematician or Freyd and Scedrov's Categories, Allegories (yes, my interest is in category theory) whereas before the dark period I was basically an idiot that tried to do everything at the same time. I was an idiot that was well adapted to passing subjects, but still an idiot. I think part of this was the lack of mentors we have in society. One really should read the masters. I think universities contribute to the misunderstanding that one should do many things and do them quickly.

In any case, I now have good projects I am working on in terms of my job (mathematical modelling in agriculture and business), my music is going well (I compose music for piano and sometimes change it to electronic music). But whatever I do, I do it slowly and without presumption.

Since you mention knot theory, maybe you have also realised that you can indeed recover your faculties, but your faculties might turn out to be a bit different than you had thought yourself to be.

Edit: I liked your description about the workplace. So many idiots, so little time we have to ourselves... I do mean idiot in the global sense. We are are silly.

@chobeat
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chobeat commented May 5, 2020

Hello Comrade,

stay strong. Your struggle is shared by many. The title though is misleading. You don't seem to have any problem with technology but just with the industry that produces (most of) it. Mixing the two things up is dangerous because it implies that technology can only be produced this way and for these goals (mostly investments, profit or geopolitical struggles). Luckily this is not the case and there are many worlds in which technologies are created in different ways and for more virtuous ends. The Free Software movement might be part of them, but nowadays it is tainted with too many conflicts and the world has changed a lot since its inception. There are new movements and new realities that are popping up. May you find your way and fall in love again with creating technology.

@Subsentient
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Subsentient commented May 5, 2020

My advice is twofold:

  1. Stop working on programming professionally for a while. If you have money, you should coast on that. If not, find a weaker, easier IT sector job, like sysadmin.
  2. Spend your free time learning new technologies and working on code projects that you actually like, things that excite you. New languages, tools, etc. Take the time to rediscover the love, not taking into account how the soul-sucking corporate world will feel about it.

The kind of burnout that happened to you is something I am very afraid of and is always in the back of my mind. I've seen too many talented developers be destroyed by corporate burnout to the point that they hate technology. I can't let myself get to that point, I have to keep the joy alive in my work. If I can't, I must force myself to leave.

@mGBUfLn9
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mGBUfLn9 commented May 6, 2020

There are new movements and new realities that are popping up.

@chobeat what are some examples of new movements? (aside from perhaps crypto)

@chobeat
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chobeat commented May 6, 2020

@mGBUfLn9 there's a whole world of cooperatives developing software for real communities (somebody call it coop economy, some people just "new economy"), published with licenses that prevent control from corporations. There's the federated labor union and the whole fediverse (not a fan, but they are showing very good results). These are just examples. Sometimes they even intertwine with the crypto world, but that is generally very conservative or reactionary and most times doesn't really want to rethink modes of production, just "keep the Man out of my wallet"

@a9999999999999
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a9999999999999 commented May 6, 2020

@chobeat Hi! What do you mean by the federated labor union?

I would also add that there are a lot of ways we can develop tech that works for our immediate community. Like helping set up community cellular ( open5gs? ) for folks that are low income or rural, helping the elderly and / or disabled get good assistive technology, or building nice services for people you care about ( or setting up self hosted stuff ). Personally I find this really satisfying.

For what it's worth, I empathize with you totally. You are definitely not alone!

@chobeat
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chobeat commented May 6, 2020

@a9999999999999

I think it's the name of a specific subset of groups involved in developing federated software (I think Mastodon or Pleroma are involved too somehow). I read a zine published by them but I don't know exactly where this group begins and ends

@chobeat
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chobeat commented May 6, 2020

the right-wing conspirancy theorist aesthetic of this silver shield thing makes it look like a promising waste of time if somebody is passionate about weird niche American cultish communities.

@nicsaul
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nicsaul commented May 6, 2020

I think it would help you to make a split between programming and the software business itself.

@cruftyoldsysadmin
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cruftyoldsysadmin commented May 6, 2020

From what you have written, your career has been about seeking wealth, not about the joy of technology. There is almost nothing good about the tech industry.

When I tell people that my father helped build what inadvertently the first version of Stephen Hawking's communication system, while working with the Carnegie foundation, and that they gave the patents away, they call him a fool for not wanting to be wealthy. Dad just wanted to make the world a better place for a little girl named Jennie with cystic fibrosis. Marc Andreesen said this to me, and I considered breaking his nose, but instead, I just pitied him and excused myself from the conversation.

If you're in it for the money, like most of the start-up people you'll find on Hacker News for example, you might as well go straight into FinTech or just become a banker. If you're in it for the love of creativity, then numb yourself and detach yourself from the American consumerism during the day, and create at night.

E-mail Woz and ask-him for advice. I did this about 15 years ago, and it helped me separate the need for money from the joy of technology, and find a mostly peaceful equilibrium.

@raducu427
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raducu427 commented May 6, 2020

It looks like your fetish has died. Nothing you can do to revive it. But this is not a surprise for a subject who finds himself in this totally crazy alienated world of business software. Even the most cynical has a secret fetish that keeps him/her going being a cynic without succumbing. Adding on top, who would have guess that the psychoanalysts were right all the time, we are inconsistent in our desires, we don't want the things we say we want. Don't even think about trying any of the CBT, self help, mindfulness bs methods, it will only make it worse. Enjoy the symptom and read Mark Fisher's "The capitalism realism".

@dm17
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dm17 commented May 6, 2020

If you have 8.5h to invest I encourage you to search for one vid on youtube named "Si1 v3r Shi 31d" (two words spelled normally - but I don't want to put some nasty algorithms on my back - at least not without giving them a hard time)

@veich Lol @ "nasty algorithms." Can you just spell it so I can find it? "Sit ver Shield?" Is this L33t Sp34k or something?

@cedrickchee
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cedrickchee commented May 6, 2020

Hey, I just want to put this out there, may be someone will find it useful for them.

I think I've been through something similar after 16 years working in tech.

  • got rejected multiple times for SWE roles
  • failed a startup business
  • failed a consulting business
  • mid-career switch: failed to break into data science role after spending 3 years of studying Machine Learning

I come to accept that failure is part of life.

I was beating and recovering from burnout last year. Practically, what works for me (YMMV):

  • Take a break
  • Do nothing — deliberate procrastination is healthy
  • Do something you love — I spent months disconnected from the world, leave my phone, and went on an adventure back to the simple good 'ol days of life, living in some rural area 🙂
  • Retreat — I just finished my educational retreat. Code retreat (not bootcamp). Self-directed learning modeled after Recurse Center.
  • Meditation — I meditate regularly, mostly solo but recently, in group. I like the group supports in Insight Timer.
  • Join a community
  • Sometimes taking a mental health day, a day off that's geared toward stress relief, is the best thing you can do for yourself.

If anyone is interested, I've written a bit about my experience before: https://cedricchee.com/2020/04/21/career-and-code-retreat-retro-16-years-working-in-tech/

Stay safe and take care. Cheers!

@Sysetup
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Sysetup commented May 6, 2020

With a service spirit, you are ok here and wherever, now and at any time.

@ppminkov
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ppminkov commented May 8, 2020

Hey, @mGBUfLn9,
Please consider to write a book. It will be a bestseller.
I really find your writing style fascinating and I can imagine the situation below in color while I am reading it...

"Then I worked for a tech giant, and then for a high-growth unicorn. It
shocked me how dilbertesque they both were. Full of politicians, and
burnt out engineers in golden handcuffs who can't wait to get out, and
meaningless business speak, and checked out employees who pretend
they're "excited" about everything all the time. The young, wide-eyed
engineers seem hopelessly naive to me now."

Best Wishes!

@rohitsharmaji
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rohitsharmaji commented Jan 10, 2022

I understand your situation, just forget about your work for 1 month and start listing Krishna Das bhajans, it will give you the energy to restore your confidence, there are many Radhe Krishna bhajans that you can listen to, remember to stop you Everything works for 1 month, then I can guarantee that you will succeed in all areas of your life. God bless you! Love from Rohit Sharma.

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