Burned Out

December 10, 2019
Confidence: highly likely

Two days ago, I made some drastic measures — withdrawing from almost all facets of my online life. This has probably come as a surprise to many, and I feel like I owe some of you an explanation.

The short of it is that I’m tired out. Really fucking burned out. It’s sort of a weird thing to say, given that I’ve been retired for the last two years, but nevertheless, it’s true, somehow.

Since I first left Munich, I’ve had this unbearable weight on shoulders — exhaustion. I’d been couch surfing for three months, meeting up with nerds I’d met on the internet, and building cool things with them. I was emulating my hero Paul Erdos, who spent his life traveling and working with first-rate mathematicians. While a few of my hosts were excellent, first-rate engineers, most of them were not. What was once my joy, this Haskell stuff became blasee. I was hoping to rediscover my love of programming, but instead found myself arguing with people who just seemed unable to see the bigger picture, and teaching them everything I knew. Each and every one of them was a good person, but they simply weren’t the people I was looking for.

All of this culminated in London. The stress of nonstop traveling, combined with attempting to give an impromptu talk, at a conference where I was sure to meet an ex-girlfriend, that I still had feelings for, who clearly didn’t want to see me, was simply too much. I collapsed, and spent a night genuinely worried that I was on the absolute verge of death.

It wasn’t a great experience.

This last year has been a hard one. I found myself trapped in an emotionally draining relationship, and set my sights on doing work as a refuge. What began as a fun foray into some interesting questions turned into a compulsion. I spent ten hours a day working on this research that not only did anyone understand, but also told me could never possibly work. I gave my heart and soul to a community that just didn’t seem to care.

Compassion and patience were my answer. To just keep reiterating my points, to always take the high road, to continue believing their attitudes stemmed from ignorance and not from malice. And it worked. Minds started changing, slowly but surely. I moved the discussion from “it’s impossible” to “ok, but how do I do this?” But every step was a fight, and soon all of the technical bits were finished. All that was left were the politics. My soul is truly that of an engineer, not a politician. It stopped being fun, and I felt like I was trying to help a group of people who truly were disinterested in my help. It left a sour taste in my mouth.

Then there was the Imperial fiasco. For eight months they jerked me around, continually setting me up just to knock me down again. Eventually I did get my foot in the door, but by that point it was too late. I was no longer enthusiastic about the project, and I realized that my self-respect was more important to me than any pedigree they could lend to my name.

After all, turning down Imperial is almost as good as attending Imperial.

To make matters worse, I was also writing a book on the same topics. It had been going slowly, mostly due to the burnout, but also due to the fact that I no longer have any skin in the game. I just don’t care if other people are writing good, maintainable software. Who gives a shit? But I promised myself that I’d work on it every day, and that I wouldn’t quit until it was published. And so I worked on it, true to my word, and hated every moment of it.

Software has stopped being fun for me. I’ve stopped learning, and instead have found myself in the role of an expert, which is nice, but the day-to-day feels too much like resting on my laurels, rent seeking, and answering the same questions day in and out. There’s not currently any joy in it.

Forcing myself to do more of it, out of some misplaced sense of identity, is clearly an aggressively unhealthy response to the situation. So, I just pulled out. I dropped my committee duties, rescinded my verbal agreement to a new job, gave up ownership of my programming project, announced that I’m no longer working on the book, and unsubscribed from every piece of programming media I could find. I need a clean break from it all, before I collapse again.

So instead, what? Honestly I’m not sure. But I’m hiding away in southeast Asia, learning new things and playing lots of music and doing lots of writing. And just generally doing stuff that feels good for the soul. I don’t know what healing is going to look like, or how long it’s going to take, but I’m not too worried. I’ll pull through; I always do. In the meantime, don’t expect much output on my end.

To everyone who has extended kind words, asking about me, thank you so much. I don’t have the energy to reply to you individually yet, but please know that I’ve read all of it, and appreciate each and every word. I love you all.