On Depression, Burnout and Finding What’s Important

I’m not a super positive guy. I tend to be pretty cynical about life and the human condition. For as long as I can remember I’ve fought with “depression”. I put that in quotes, because I’ve never thought of myself as depressed, despite my cynical nature.

But about 10 months ago I entered a phase of life in which I can’t deny that I was truly depressed. I would get out of bed and just wander around the house because I was bored out of my mind, despite the fact that I had mountains of work to get done. The excitement was gone. The feeling of endless possibility that many of us chase just wasn’t there anymore. Forcing myself to work didn’t help. Neither did taking a break. I felt aimless, purposeless.

This continued for months. I missed deadlines. I damaged personal and professional relationships. It was terrible.

It reached the point that I finally saw a doctor about it. We started with weekly therapy and eventually tried various medications.

I can say without a doubt that the therapy has helped. It’s great to have someone to whom you can pour out your heart and who is trained to be a good listener.

I’m telling you all this, because I don’t think I am alone in my experience. Since January, I’ve talked to many friends in the web industry about what I was going through and almost all of them have experienced something like it.

Part of my depressive tendencies are genetic. My dad was this way when he was alive. He lived his life under a cloud of regret for past mistakes. I remember as a kid always wishing I could make him feel what I felt for him. That he wasn’t a failure. That he was a great dad. And that he was loved.

Another part has to do with expectations. And this is the part I hope is of some help to you if you identify with what I’m saying.

I put so much pressure on myself to be successful. To be somebody. And because of that I tend to overcommit and load myself down with so many responsibilities I couldn’t possibly deliver on all of them. I’m so overwhelmed and stressed that I miss the little moments that add up to a balanced life.

And it really is all about balance.

Yesterday I spent a few hours on the couch with my family playing the new Mario Kart. All four of us, my wife on one end, me in the middle, with my girls snuggled up on either side.

I felt truly happy in that moment. And I realized that these were the moments I was missing. For five years, I’ve been so consumed with work that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I’ve had this picture in my mind of what my life is supposed to be like and I’ve been chasing it at all costs. But life has a way of not working out according to my plans. I’m 34 and can honestly say my life looks nothing like I thought it would when I was 24. In some ways it’s a lot better. It some ways it’s worse.

It’s the expectation of perfection or “success” that I think lies at the root of much of this.

But here’s the great thing: just because I feel like a failure doesn’t mean I am one. Just like my dad, there are people around me that need me and value me. Sometimes you have to force yourself to slow down and take notice.

If you feel this way, there is hope. You, too, have people around you that need you. Try letting go of whatever “success” means to you and focus on them. Slow down and really experience the little moments of your life.

During the past three months, I’ve completely changed my routine and reorganized how I work. Being thought of as a success in the eyes of my peers doesn’t mean quite as much to me as it used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still think about it. A lot. But I’m learning to let go.

It’s not a silver bullet, but at the very least, it’s worth a try.

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It's Time For A Change

It's Time For A Change