My burnout story

We’re already a few weeks into 2020, and by this point you’re probably in one of two mindsets...

1)      “Happy new year to me, this is all going brilliantly, I am doing such a great job achieving the goals I set!”
2)      “Go away! I don’t want to talk about new year’s resolutions, especially mine.”

New year’s resolutions. For some they are a force for good, a real motivator that actually gets results — but for many they are little short of a well-intentioned disaster that makes you wonder why you bothered in the first place.

Hmm, this hasn’t been a very upbeat intro, has it? Let me get to the point. Whether you’re one of those shiny people doing amazing things or a bit less shiny but still giving it a good go, we’re all at risk of burning out if certain factors all click together.

It is a force to be reckoned with and not something to be underestimated, as fellow Timetastic writer Michael recently explored.

It's about to get toasty

Deviating from my usual exploration of success stories in Timetastic-loving businesses, this time around I’m diving into my own mind to tell you about my burnout experience.

A few things to mention before I begin. Burnout comes in all different shapes and sizes. The effect is the same for many — lack of motivation, not caring about the things you normally would care about etc — but the events leading up to it are unique to the individual. I reckon my burnout episode was not particularly severe, especially after getting some perspective reading about other people’s experiences. But I think you’ll be able to relate to a lot of the things that happened.

Here we go, then, back to 2007. It's funny to think that I got burnt out at a time when I didn't own a house or have any children. I had very little in the way of serious commitments, aside from my studies at university. As the summer arrived, it was time to take a break from uni.

This might've been a better way to spend the summer. (Photo by Jan Phoenix / Unsplash)

Ahh, a nice break. Recharge the old batteries. Any hopes for rest were soon dashed, however, when I had the opportunity to spend a few months at a nearby game development studio, testing and balancing (setting difficulty levels) the fourth instalment of a popular driving game series.

So, I could spend the summer sitting at home playing games all day... Or get paid to do it sitting somewhere else. Seems like a no-brainer!

It all started off pretty well. The game was in relatively good shape when I started testing, though there was plenty of weird stuff, too, such as pedestrians walking around 500ft in mid-air and cars falling through the track in various places. I was immediately hooked, though, and in a happy place — I get quite a thrill from driving against the stopwatch.

It was a great place to work, too. The people were nice, I was surrounded by a like-minded bunch who didn’t mind having a laugh every now and then. Friday was cake day. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first witnessed cake day.

The arrival of the cake was announced, and 100 or so bleary-eyed geniuses descended upon the kitchen for a feast.

Imagine how much cake you’d need for that many people. It definitely gave everyone a buzz for the rest of the afternoon, and I don’t think that was entirely down to the sugar…

"I'd like them all please. YES, ALL OF THEM." (Photo by Toa Heftiba / Unsplash)

So, for several weeks everything was lovely. I’d work solidly for eight hours a day, with a decent lunch break in the middle, from Monday to Friday. Sometimes I’d get tired, but this usually passed or was overcome with coffee. With each new week the game grew, with new things ready to test, new cars to try, new game modes to play, new challenges to master — and new bugs to find.

Pressure building

I was balancing the hardest difficulty level, and I took this responsibility very seriously, I was always chasing perfection to make sure it was genuinely difficult, but with just enough hope sprinkled in for players to feel like they could get there if they tried hard enough. This meant when a lap was done, I’d try again to see if I could go even faster, repeating this process until reaching the limit of my talent. It was an absorbing task, and ultimately an exhausting one.

There came a point during the game’s development when a big push was needed on testing, and I could do as much overtime as I liked. For 20-year-old me this was irresistible given the generous hourly rate I was earning, and I pumped the hours in. This soon caught up with me, though. I was tired again and couldn’t shake it off, then one night when I got home my body seemed to say ‘enough’ and I felt horrendously ill. I could barely function and took a break for a few days to recharge.

One more lap... (Photo by Alex Carmichael / Unsplash)

It’s fair to say my burnout was self-inflicted. No one was putting me under pressure to do more hours, that all came from me and my desire to help make the game live up to the successful titles that went before it. If I’d told my employer I needed to take a break, they wouldn’t have hesitated to send me home.

Sometimes it’s easy to think you’re invincible. After spending months of my life in a virtual world, it’s little wonder I felt this way.

I learnt that everyone has a limit, and that it’s important to notice the signs when you’re heading for an implosion.

So, as we fight (or glide, shiny people) our way through a new decade, remember that burnout lurks around the corner for all of us. If you think you’re pushing yourself too far, keep an eye out for a chance to get some rest and make sure you get the downtime you need before it all gets too much.