I used to joke that my body is just a meat-based mechanical contraption whose sole purpose was to transport my brains around. (Maybe I watched too much Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid… 'Course that’d make me Krang. Hmm.) The problem is, I basically treated my body accordingly.
In my twenties I worked a lot. A whole lot. Too much. To counterbalance my workload though, I didn’t sleep much. But that’s fine because I ate horribly to make up for it. That’s a great combination, by the way. As you might guess, I burnt out. Pretty hard. I think it took most of my thirties to recover (if I ever really have, I don’t know – the jury’s still out).
I’m not writing this to complain. I brought it upon myself. Entirely. I could have said no to work, but I love the challenge of my job. As a software engineer, I’m always problem solving. Which is tremendously satisfying for me. So even when I wasn’t coding for work, I was spending lots of time on my own projects or learning the next big thing. A short week of work for me was probably… I don’t know, didn’t track it really, but I’d guess around 90 hours? That’s, like, 13 or so hours a day on average (including weekends).
After ten plus years of doing this I hit a wall. I hit the wall – that proverbial wall that towers out there, impeding us all.
In my case, I just tried to push through it. But each month it would get more difficult. I was having a hard time focusing for any length of time, felt like crap, and was often in pain. By the time it all came to a head, I just wanted it all to end. Well, not like that. I wasn’t suicidal. I was never that far beyond the pale. But I distinctly remember wanting to crawl under a rock and hide. Just have the whole world pass me by. So not only did I crash, I burned.
All of that drivel is just to say that I was not respecting my body enough (or at all). I had put my brain on a pedestal, but failed to maintain the pedestal itself. I’ve been correcting that, slowly, over the last few years. I’m eating better, and finally exercising more. And I can really feel the difference. I can focus for long periods of time again, and don’t wish to do a turtle impersonation under a rock. Yay for me, right?
So what do I expect you to get out of this? Mainly: Respect your body. The better you treat it, the better it will treat you. And the better your body feels, the better your mind feels too. Because, like it or not, our minds are part of our bodies (for now).
If you’re starting your career as a software developer I say this: Get out of the chair often. Walk around (it helps with problem solving in addition to strengthening your body). Get plenty of sleep. And eat right1! Do your own research to learn what the best fuel for your body is – then feed it that!
If you’re already a developer (or any sedentary profession) and are starting to feel burnt out, know that if you take corrective steps you can recover. And, with any luck, never have the full “crash and burn” experience.
Speaking of which… It’s probably best not to trust a government recommendation for diet when the senator in charge notoriously said he didn’t have time to wait on the science to make his recommendation. ↩︎