In the last few months of 2020, I started working on a Go implementation of Fenius, my hobby programming language. I worked roughly every week on it, at some points working almost every day on it. By December 2020, I had a working prototype, with basic support for functions, data structures, and even macros. The project looked quite promising; from there, I could have kept iterating on it until it turned into something usable.
But then I stopped.
The motivation was gone. I touched the project again in April 2021, tried to refactor it a bit, but that was it. I have not touched it again since.
This did not really have anything to do with the project itself. I was extremely tired in general a lot of the time, with very little motivation to work on side projects. I have posted only two blog posts in 2021, and only two in 2022 again. It’s not entirely clear to me why this happened. I think it was a combination of the isolation of living alone away from family during the pandemic, an unsatisfying situation at work, and other personal reasons.
I’ve recently switched jobs. I quit my previous job in the beginning of November, and started the new one in December. I had a one-month gap between the two to recover some of my brain cells; this seems so far ago that I barely remember what I did during this time. I visited a friend for a few days, I watched lots of videos and listened to podcasts, but I think I largely did nothing during much of this time. And I don’t regret it. I spent the first week of December in Berlin getting to know the people at the new company, and now I’m back to Lisbon working remotely.
I don’t feel extremely tired all the time anymore. This is particularly notable because my general habits have not changed. I still eat mostly the same stuff (and suffer from the same IBS symptoms as always); I still do as much physical activity as before; I still sleep roughly as badly as usual (although now that I think about it, I think I have been waking up less often during the night). And yet I go through most days without feeling physically tired or exhausted. I still have trouble finding motivation to focus on projects outside work, but I don’t feel exhausted all the time the way I did before.
I’m beginning to realize now the degree of burnout I was going through before. During all that time, I thought I was near the edge of burnout, but I did not think I actually had burnout because I was still able to get stuff done, and because I knew many of my colleagues were going through worse stuff at work. But comparing how I’m feeling then and now, not only mentally but even physically, it’s clear now how bad it was back then. Whether this really fit a medical diagnosis of ‘burnout’, I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t really matter. I know how I was feeling then and how I’m feeling now, and the word people choose to apply to that is not that relevant.
This experience serves as a lesson for the future: I will pay more attention to the symptoms, and earlier, should this happen again.
Given that I can begin to think about doing things after work again, what about side projects? Honestly, most of these hobby projects I discuss in this blog end up being sort of vaporware and not becoming anything usable. And honestly, the main thing I plan to change is to stop feeling bad about it. It’s okay. The world is not in a pressing need for a new programming language or a new shell. The computing world can take care of itself. But these projects are fun to work on anyway. I can learn a lot by working on those things, and if I can share a little bit of what I learn with you through this blog (or elsewhere), that’s probably more useful than the projects themselves. And not everything we do has to be useful anyway. I am reminded of the words of Alan Perlis:
“I think that it’s extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing. When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun. Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines. I don’t think we are. I think we’re responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house. I hope the field of computer science never loses its sense of fun. Above all, I hope we don’t become missionaries. Don’t feel as if you’re Bible salesmen. The world has too many of those already. What you know about computing other people will learn. Don’t feel as if the key to successful computing is only in your hands. What’s in your hands, I think and hope, is intelligence: the ability to see the machine as more than when you were first led up to it, that you can make it more.”
In 2023, I hope to be able to play a little bit more with these projects, to discuss my ideas about them in this blog even if they don’t go anywhere, to share a little bit of what I learn, and overall, to worry less about stuff. But I also hope to spend more time away from computers, reading books, singing, trying to play instruments, and even out there in the (shudder) Real World.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year, and may we live fulfilling lives, whatever that means for each one of us.
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