Professional burnout and open source contributions

There's plenty of posts out there describing professional burnout and open source burnout. This post covers both and neither at the same time. I don't intend to propose any solutions but instead to provide an undedited stream of consciousness relating my experience with both.

I've come to view burnout as a cyclical thing. I've spent somewhere around two decades in “real” tech jobs. Prior to that I spent my teenage years ripping apart every computer and electronic thing I could get my hands on. I have a lot of time behind a keyboard. When it became a career and not something I did for fun, burnout started to set in early on.

There was a time in my life where I was surrounded by stacks of machines at home. Eventually this became untenable. I spent so much time with the computers at work that I didn't want to even think about them when I got home. I developed an interest in other hobbies, especially those that let me escape electronic things.

Once in a while I would want to find some novelty or a sense of community and I would contribute to an open source project briefly. It would feel nice and I'd want to do it on a more regular basis but found myself unable to continue due to the stress of daily work. Occasionally I'd have a job that allowed me to contribute to open things but this was a rare opportunity and it was infrequently something I cared to contribute to.

These days I have so many things to do outside of my long hours of work that my free time is already condensed to maybe an hour or two per day. In that time it's quite difficult to find the energy to contribute. I still sneak some commits in here and there but they take quite a long time and some of my PRs can be left to wither.

I think this is probably OK. I've learned to move with the cycles in my life. Change seems to be the only constant anymore, especially in my professional life. There are always new things to work on, new challenges, and new technologies.

The private sector is tumultuous so there's sometimes new jobs. I go through cycles of being overwhelmed but generally able to work. The burn cycles. Fortunately when these hit, my professional output is not impacted but sadly my (already few) contributions are diminished. The open source projects I love and want to help keep moving.

I've also learned that code isn't the only way I can contribute. I can be supportive in PRs, forums, and chat. I can send along a little money when I have some to spare. I'll often do this when a particular piece of software makes my life easier. I can interact with the various communities as well. These things can help heal my burnout as well.

The burn isn't always directly work related. Sometimes work is where I feel the burn but it's come from outside sources. I've been fortunate to manage this cycle and understand that it happens once in a while. We've got to have the dark times to know when the good times are coming.