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You Are Not A Machine. You Are Not Alone.

Many of us struggle silently with mental health problems and many more are affected by them, either directly or indirectly. {Geek} Mental Help Week1 starts today and we would like to help raise awareness with a couple of articles exploring these issues. – Ed.

It was pouring with rain and I found myself driving. I didn’t know where I was going. I just needed out of the house. I needed to escape. After what felt like an age I found myself parked outside my parents’ house, just staring at their front door. Eventually I got out of the car, rang the doorbell and burst into tears the moment my mum answered.

Me, a grown man. A respected figure in my field. A success. Standing on the doorstep of my parents’ house, crying to my mum like a small child. This was the breaking point for me, the minute I finally realized I had depression. In fact I’d been depressed for over a decade. Burnt out. Used up with nothing left to give.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

It had started back in the late nineties when I took a job with a dot com. I had a boss who was a bully, plain and simple. He shouted, he threatened, he manipulated. I stood up to him, but it drained me. Every day was a battle.

He was replaced, but the next guy wasn’t much better. He used to put me in a room with the company’s investors and make me present to them. He knew I was a good presenter, so when things got tough he would wheel me out. But he would sit next to me through the meetings kicking me under the table when I said something he didn’t like.

In time, the dot com bubble burst and I found myself forced to make people redundant. People I knew. People I considered my friends. Worse than that was having to make redundant people I didn’t know, people who worked for companies we had acquired. When you have to make a friend redundant at least they know you find it hard, that you don’t want to do it. When you fire a stranger, you are just an evil hatchet man.

From bad experiences, good things grew. Following the dot com company folding, I and two colleagues set up Headscape, the agency I run to this day. I love Headscape. I love the people I work with. But the stress didn’t dissipate – if anything, it increased.

I remember standing in a newsagent’s, wasting time before a big pitch. I was terrified. Terrified of not winning the work, work we needed as a company to survive. The last thing I wanted was to have to make people redundant again. I was so worried that I vomited, right there in the middle of the shop.

I love working for myself but every month is a roller coaster. Either we have too much work and I fret about delivering, or not enough and we worry about going out of business.

Then there is the pressure to keep up. The day I read Jeffrey Zeldman’s book Designing with Web Standards was one of the most terrifying of my life: the sudden realization that the table-based design I had built my career on was about to go away; that I would need to relearn my entire skill set.

Not that this was the end of the changes. The demise of Flash, the rise of user-centred design, content strategy, the mobile web, responsive design. The list goes on. Always something new to learn. Always the pressure to keep up.

Even now, twelve years into Headscape, things are hard. Like many agencies right now, we had a bad first half of the year. The sector feels like it is changing again, and so once again the pressure is on.

But this time is different. This time I will not end up on my parents’ doorstep in floods of tears. Because along the way I have learnt something. I am not a computer. I am not a machine. I am a human being.

We demand too much of ourselves as web professionals. We lie to one another, all living in a consensual delusion we build together. We talk about digital being our passion. We tell each other how great our jobs are. We work every hour in the day either in the hopes of getting bought by Google, or because we have convinced ourselves we enjoy it. Maybe we do and maybe we will be bought by Google, but is it healthy? I can tell you from experience it is not.

I realized that I was not a machine able to work 24/7. I realized I had times of insane productivity and then periods where I needed to rest; that I could not expect to churn out high quality work without stepping away from time to time.6

I realized that I was not a machine able to work 24/7. I realized I had times of insane productivity and then periods where I needed to rest; that I could not expect to churn out high quality work without stepping away from time to time. (Image credits7)

I realized something else, too. I realized that I could be human with my colleagues, that I didn’t need to pretend to be a machine. This I discovered when I told my co-founders I was burnt out; they understood and helped lighten the load. When I shared my depression online, nobody laughed at me or thought I was weak. Instead they thanked me for allowing them to talk about their struggles.

In fact, I found huge support from total strangers, people who suffered or were going through the same difficulties as me. Far, far more than I ever could have guessed, based on the way we talk online. If you believe what we post online, we are all happy, successful and rich.

And I had one final revelation. I realized I wasn’t a machine stuck in a preprogrammed routine. I could change things. I started looking after myself both physically and mentally. I found friends outside the web. I took regular walks, found other interests, and spoke up about my struggles. I even stopped working long hours, screw the consequences. As it turned out, I just learned to work smarter. Long hours are not a badge of honor, they are a sign of failure, pure and simple.

As part of my job I meet hundreds of web designers every year, either at conferences or as part of my work within organizations. Many are contractors who never get a holiday and worry about being able to pay the bills. Others are in-house web developers so beaten down they are resigned to being trapped in their organization forever. And yet what do you read online? You read about successful startups, acquisitions, and competitors with their amazing client lists.

You might think this all sounds rather depressing but, you know, it isn’t. It is meant as an encouragement, that if you are struggling you are not alone; that there is not something wrong with you, there is something wrong with the industry.

This post gives you permission. Permission to stop being a machine and become a human being. Permission to spend some days in your pants watching daytime TV rather than working. Permission to be honest about your fears and stresses. Permission to tell somebody you are struggling and get help.

For those of you reading this thinking “Well, my work is my passion and I am happy” then good for you! But it won’t always be like that. There will be times when it gets tough. They won’t last forever but they will happen. I ask you to remember one thing when those times come… You are not a machine. Allow yourself to be human by cutting yourself some slack and getting help.

If you’d also like to get involved, please don’t hesitate to submit an article8 and share your experiences. We’d sincerely appreciate it.

(il, og)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://geekmentalhelp.com/
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/10/dealing-with-loud-silent-burnout/
  3. 3 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/10/lets-talk-about-it/
  4. 4 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/10/design-what-you-dont-know/
  5. 5 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/11/playlists-fuel-coding-design-sessions/
  6. 6 https://www.flickr.com/photos/87957708@N00/324259281/
  7. 7 https://www.flickr.com/photos/87957708@N00/324259281/
  8. 8 https://github.com/Heydon/geek-mental-help-week

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Paul Boag is the author of The User Experience Revolution and a leader in digital strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice.

  1. 1

    Thank you so much for writing this, it is so spot on!

    44
    • 2

      Hi Paul, thank you for rescueing my mind at the last minute … it is happening to me now and I thought I was losing it … I work hard, I found new clients and now my brain is empty … no creativity just going through the motions and slow at that too … I am afraifd I am going to loose everything includng my self respect. I have been considering leaving the profession and work at the grocery store or coffee shop so to regaing some peace … not sure what to do next.

      12
      • 3

        Wow, do I know that feeling! Sounds like you need to step away for a bit. You might find that hard because of deadlines, but it has to be done. Tell your clients there is a personal emergency which means you have to put things on hold for a week. Even that little time will help.

        21
        • 4

          I think you’re right … must plan this carefully though as the loss of income might put me in dire situations … thanks for the quick reply :) I will share this as much as posible and keep following what happens. A bit of sanity … priceless!

          1
      • 5

        Henk C. Meerhof

        October 27, 2014 9:07 pm

        Stefano, time to pull some emergency brakes! All alarm bells are ringing and you have chosen not to listen up to now. Like Paul I ‘been there and done that’ and so on. On the end of this road you are on, you won’t find any danger signs, no water barrels to stop you, not even concrete ‘the end’ blocks. This road is ending in no man’s land without warning. And it took me more than a year to get back.

        If you don’t have the possibility to ‘jump ship’ for a while. Do at least the following. Talk to your spouse and/or friends you feel secure with. Review your calendar,and start planning ‘me-time’, and plan it a lot! Use this me-time to get to your inner self, get help of a coach if you need. Get in touch with nature, do some gardening, or walks in the park and allow your mind to wander off – just not wander to work again ;-)

        And most off all focus on the positive things, pick a positive thing from yesterday and treasure it, even if it is just a ray of sunlight, or a little bird singing a song.

        Take care!

        10
        • 6

          Henk, thank you so much :) Yes “jump ship” will be very difficult at this point but I can plan for it in the near future and implement the “me-time” advice and focus on the positive right away as you said. Great insights, thanks!

          2
          • 7

            Hi!

            Please remember that sometimes the best way to get out of that state is to get help of a professional – a doctor.

            Psychologist/psychotherapist can help you to understand what’s going on with you and what is destructive.

            A general practitioner/primary care provider/family doctor or psychiatrist (depending on the health care system in your country) can prescribe drugs that will help you to recover (warning: it’s VERY important not to stop taking these kind drugs just like that because even larger depression can return). Just like Kristy have written in a comment below: “I first of all went to my doctor and got on medication to balance out my chemistry.”

            If you feel like that for over few weeks and those ideas that were suggested by Paul and Henk does not work (or it seems that it’s better but only at the surface) then it’s time to get help by a professional.

            3
      • 8

        Same here. Thankfully, I have already started considering a way out. Thanks Paul for enlightening me with your experience.

        0
  2. 9

    Wow. Saw myself in that article. Thanks for writing it.

    23
  3. 10

    You are a brave and wise man, and I will keep this article in mind the next time I start to lift too much hay with my pitchfork (literal translation of Dutch proverb…)
    Also very nice to read something not code/design/business related on smashing magazine (although, then again, it is in a way).
    Thank you very much for sharing your experience and wisdom!

    17
  4. 11

    Thank you for sharing this Paul! I have been in the web business since 1995, had my own business that fell apart during the dot com crash, built it back up, worked for some people that made my life, errr… interesting.

    I hit bottom about 4 years ago. I was in the same predicament as you. I pushed myself too hard. I worked long, insane hours. I was totally burned out. I agree that it’s a constant battle keeping up with the ever changing technologies. I used to constantly spend my evenings learning all of them. My productivity started dwindling. I was depressed, had severe anxiety issues, etc. I first of all went to my doctor and got on medication to balance out my chemistry.

    Now days, I choose a few select ones I feel are interesting, what I am involved in, etc. I make more time for my faith, family, friends, dogs, hobbies, etc. Once I did all that, I feel 110% better. I WANT to learn new stuff now. I want to do my best in everything I work on.

    We are NOT machines. Companies and clients need to realize that.

    26
  5. 13

    Thank you, so much.

    2
  6. 14

    Great read! Thanks!

    2
  7. 15

    “Others are in-house web developers so beaten down they are resigned to being trapped in their organization forever.”

    This. This is exactly me right now. I work as the sole developer for a resort company, and we have been migrating our sites to a new CMS and technology base for the last year. 9 sites, completely rewritten from scratch, by me. Plus the day-to-day operations that can randomly consume weeks at a time. I haven’t had a vacation in a year. I have only had a handful of days off. And I am working on average 50 hours a week. Oh, and did I mention no one above me plans anything and just likes to make requests on whims, a day or two before they want it live?

    Yeah, I’m burnt. And you are right, it’s good to know it isn’t just me.

    27
  8. 17

    Yes. Respect to Smashing Mag for bringing this truth under the spotlight here.

    Around me it’s obvious that the cost of the human-as-machine paradigm (tied to the entire economic system we’ve chosen) is becoming unbearable. Time to grow up as both individuals and species.

    15
  9. 18

    I saw your name in the byline Paul…. knew it was going to be great. It was. Thanks for this. Life in the modern age requires coping skills. Spot on.

    6
  10. 19

    Thank you.

    1
  11. 20

    Excellent post! As someone who has been in the graphic and web design business for 20+ years I too can relate… Thank you for sharing!

    1
  12. 21

    David Maciejewski

    October 27, 2014 4:54 pm

    Paul Boag, thank you so much.

    0
  13. 22

    Thanks for writing this Paul, all too much of it is all me. In fact I had a breakdown earlier this year – working a regular day job and then freelancing on the evening…every evening, every hour I could stay awake to work to finish projects. If that’s not enough, going through a marriage breakup, where a couple of small kids are involved, tipped me over the edge…a full-on, standing in the middle of the office in front of my colleagues, crying my heart out, breakdown. I got help though, medication (on-going) along with 2 months enforced rest, no work, no freelancing, just rest, helped to put me on an even keel. I am still recovering though, and will be for a long time to come, but have learned to not take things so seriously, don’t work 25 hours a day…and try to enjoy life!

    13
  14. 23

    Bravo, Paul! As you said, most web developers out there (me included) can completely relate. Your article really helped me feel better.

    0
  15. 24

    Thank you for your vulnerability on this Paul. Brought some sanity to me. Really appreciate the time and thought you put into writing this.

    1
  16. 25

    This kind of article was needed more than any design news, css tricks and so on. Thank you Paul Boag

    7
  17. 26

    Giovanni Di Gregorio

    October 27, 2014 5:30 pm

    This is myself, right now. Thank you very much, your words help me feel better.

    3
  18. 27

    This is a great article! So I hate to be the contrarian here, but I think the statement that long hours are a sign of failure is overly broad.

    I enjoy my long hours. I’m always working on creating something new, and I can’t get enough of it. It’s not uncommon for me to leave the office at 5am because I can barely keep my eyes open despite that I really want to press on.

    I don’t work 20-hour days all the time, only when I want to. I have my downtime, too. I take vacations every month, whether it’s a few days in Disneyland, some time in the mountains, or a trip to Vegas.

    While I can’t speak for others, I can say that this is true for me: Working long and hard doesn’t burn me out, and I keep desiring it, because I take frequent breaks to play as well.

    0
    • 28

      That is wonderful to hear but it sounds like you don’t work long hours because you take vacations every month. Working in intense bursts is fine, as long as you have downtime too.

      The other problem is that just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean it is good for you. I love doughnuts but I shouldn’t eat them all the time. Just because you enjoy your work (and don’t get me wrong that is wonderful) doesn’t mean you should do it all the time.

      8
      • 29

        I certainly understand your point. I guess it depends on how define long hours. I would say a 20 hours work day is long. I would say working 20-hour work days consecutively for long periods of time is something different. I’ve done that before too.. I didn’t enjoy it, but I also didn’t enjoy the work that I was doing. So I’m not sure if I would enjoy it if I liked the work I was doing.

        “Good for you” and “should” are both subjective though. If by “good for you”, you mean “physically healthy”, then I would probably agree. But the goal in life isn’t physical health, it’s happiness (see Aristotle :-) ). Physical health can enable happiness because it allows you to live longer without suffering painful ailments and thus experience more happiness. But it is not an end in itself.

        I think there’s also a good barometer available to tell if something furthers one’s long-term goals. If I eat a box of jelly doughnuts, I might enjoy it in the moment, but I’m going to feel sick and regretful shortly thereafter. When I work a 20-hour work day (which I try to do at least once per week), I not only enjoy it in the moment, but feel a high that lasts for days about the new things I’ve discovered and accomplished. BTW, I’m 36, in good physical shape, and feel like I did when I was 18, so empirically this is working for me. :-)

        -3
    • 30

      I followed a link on Twitter to this because I didn’t agree with the statement about working long hours and wanted to add my bit to the conversation. Having read through the replies so far and then Finding your take on it Nick, which I’m in agreement with I realised, after reading your reply, that the difference is working long hours isn’t a bad thing as long as it is in moderation (like good whiskey or donuts). You seem to have a good balance, work the hours but take suitable breaks to renew the energy and enthusiasm for what we do. It’s a bit like design… it’s all about balance and composition.

      2
  19. 31

    Design is fun and challenging. But challenging can also be draining, and that drain can be very persistent. I really appreciate the article and your insight.

    0
  20. 32

    Ouch- Long hours are a sign of failure!!

    There are blessings in our line of work, but also troubles. When getting out of the house is an event and not the norm, I know i could be a fuller human being. Thanks for being real.

    0
  21. 33

    As someone who’s been working as a DBA and acquiring HTML/CSS/JS/PHP skills, I’ve seen tons of developers who do seem to be constantly available and somehow always on top of the newest technologies. It makes me wonder how it’s possible or if I can do it.

    I’ve wondered if they really enjoy going home after an 8+ hour day and putting in another 8+ hours to finish projects and learn new skills. Now after reading this, I’m wondering if in the future we’ll see a massive amount of developers burn out or start refusing to play the “small changes at midnight” game.

    I’m glad this was written by someone so respected in the industry. It shows that this kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable for most people, even though 99% of companies want someone who has all the newest skills and is willing to work 25 hours per day if needed.

    Thanks for writing this Paul.

    8
  22. 34

    Sorry I posted as reply to Luke … I am fried …

    1
  23. 35

    Aaron Martone

    October 27, 2014 7:02 pm

    Takes a man to come out and admit something that personal about himself, Paul. Much respect, and sorry to hear about your depression. We sometimes feel like the world is black or white, no shade of gray in between. We are perfectionists in our work, refusing to accept anything less our personal standards. We know that others depend on us and we want them to remain confident that doing so is not a gamble; but a sure thing.

    In fact, 2 things come to mind. First, I have some severe concentration/memory issues. It makes learning new processes very very slow for me. I have to visualize things (love to doodle or use the whiteboard to that end) because once a thought is in my head, the moment the next is brought in, the first is forced out. Many people jokingly mock the behavior, but again, being a perfectionist, it’s frustratingly difficult to deal with; but I persevere, just like you have.

    Also, I told my Dad once, “Do I fear success? As much as I love web development, I never want to be the project leader or the man in charge. Why is that?” And he said to me, “I know your kind” (having been in management positions) “…it’s not that you fear success. It’s just that you realize that no other person our there can support you the way you can support others. You enjoy being a vital cog in the machine, a respected as a subject matter expert.” That always stuck with me. I’m no longer afraid of failure; I welcome it; because as long as I learn something from it and don’t repeat it, I’ve succeeded.

    Winston Churchill put it best when he said “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is but the courage to continue that counts.”

    8
  24. 36

    Thanks for this article. It totally resonated with me, as I’m going through the same right now. Two weeks ago I decided to speak up for myself, officially closed my business and wrote a note where I tried to explain the same things and the reason behind my decision. It was met with words of encouragement and respect by the rest of the people (I didn’t know what to expect when I wrote it).

    It’s really good that someone can post something like this in a medium with such reach and prestige as Smashing Magazine. For me, your article talks sense into a sick industry and, among other things happening lately, marks the point where I start seeing a shift in the correct direction. A shift I’ve been awaiting for more than I can remember.

    Again, thanks.

    4
  25. 37

    Thanks for sharing, i have been going through all that you mentioned in the very beginning of the article, so i left my job 2 months back & currently on sabbatical till December. Doing what i like, learning what i want to & designing/developing only for me :)

    6
  26. 38

    Like many, this article resonated with me as well. I’m 20 years into my career as a designer and, long story short, the best thing I ever did was reclaim my life. With some exceptions I’m full-time busy but not overtime busy. Between 8:30am and 5:30pm I work hard and I work smart but I go home every night. I spend time with friends and family or reading or playing guitar or whatever. My father, whom I loved dearly, was a corporate executive for over 40 years and he always told me “You can always make more money but you can never make more time so spend it wisely.” Best advice I ever received.

    Cheers.

    14
  27. 39

    Paul, thank you so much for this article! I’ve been running my own design business for just a bit over 7 years and each year I think to myself “Oh I think I’ve finally got this whole work/life balance thing figured out” and then something happens to show me how far I still am. This year I realized that I am the biggest asset of my business, because I am the sole employee in my business, and therefore if I don’t take the time to take care of my health (physical and mental) then I’m not doing right by my business. I’m not doing my clients or colleagues any favors by driving myself into the ground. Let alone my friends and family.

    A dear friend of mine said once: “I think if we all shared the things that we think make us weird, weak, lonely we would learn just how much alike we all are.” Thank you for sharing your story. I used to work crazy hours, fueled by ambition and desire to “measure up”. Then I stopped and thought about what it is I was trying to measure up to and realized that the industry standards need to change because they are inhumane. Now I operate my business from a point of view of being fair to my clients while also being fair to me. I hope this becomes the norm in our industry. Lord knows, it certainly produces better work.

    Thanks again, this is a spectacular way to kick off {Geek} Mental Help Week!

    8
    • 40

      > I am the biggest asset of my business, because I am the sole employee in my business, and therefore if I don’t take the time to take care of my health (physical and mental)

      THIS! This is so spot on.

      5
  28. 41

    This article is most precious than any tutorial. It should be spreaded everywhere.
    I was a machine, then i realized that life is only one and it’s not worth at all to spend the most part of it in front of a monitor.
    I deleted from my life the nights and weekends spent to work and study to always be updated with the new trends and techniques. I dedicate to those topics the right amount of time and nothing more.
    I started to sleep when i need to sleep, to go out and enjoy a walk, a hike, a sunset, to balance my life between work and all other precious things that i can do during my days.
    Career and money are not the most important things, they’re fine in the right amount, then let’s enjoy our lives as much as we can.

    5
  29. 42

    Thank you – so important to have stuff like this published.

    My one wish, as I’ve Tweeted, is that this one article could be in a special template with no ads, no book promotion, no related articles. It just seems wrong that at the bottom of this page is loads of “Go Read This Stuff And Buy This Thing”.

    Have a think about it, would you? If you’re really doing this to raise awareness, can the article not stand alone and leave us to think?

    Thank you.

    2
    • 43

      Yay. You did this. Thank you. I know the ad’s support the magazine but this post is special. I really appreciate it.

      2
  30. 44

    Thank you for this post.
    This is the kind of reading that I need right now.

    1
  31. 45

    Thank you Paul, Needed to hear this post midnight with a flu, still trying to work, and to learn.

    This is a strong validation of what I’ve been thinking since sometime, to run fast and long, you need to rest and recover, understand the ebb and flow and go with the natural rhythm.

    Looking forward to more awesomeness

    Aju

    0
  32. 46

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’ve had a very tough year. Very slow first quarter, while bills only get higher in New England due to very long, cold winters (oil heat is the devil). Then things start to pick up by summer, and it’s this bizarre cycle where I’m always busy but still living on a small budget. Not due to bad habits, vices, or living beyond my means. It just takes a while to catch up when you fall behind. The hardest part though, is you can’t be honest in public that you aren’t doing great. Nobody wants to hire the talented designer or developer who’s struggling to make ends meet. It will make them think there’s something wrong, even though you’re perfectly capable of great work. So you have to keep up this front that you’re doing great, couldn’t be happier, business is booming, such exciting projects! And oh, the pressure to keep up with changing technology. Where’s the time to learn new disciplines every few months when you already work 50-60 hours a week? How do you enjoy life outside of work if you need to learn more for work? I do, but it’s a crushing amount of pressure. I want to look forward to a hike or time with loved ones on a Saturday off, not learning yet another new coding technique. I am not sure yet what the solution is, but it’s very comforting to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this industry. Thank you for being brave enough to face what you have, and be open with us about it. I’m glad you’re doing better too.

    5
  33. 47

    Thank you Paul. I’ve shared this with everyone I know. This is such a timely message and so many of us need it right now.

    1
  34. 48

    Thank you, Paul.
    In our industry of always better and shinier, it’s easy to forget the humans involved. Your article really rang true.

    6
  35. 49

    Thank you. It’s genuinely comforting to know I’m not the only one.

    3
  36. 50

    Thanks for sharing Paul! A lot of this rings true for me. I too had a bully boss during the .dotcom era (great designer but a buggalug manager). I put in crazy hours to help build the business from 5 to 70. Had all my savings caught up in employee shares and watched the board of directors piss it all away. The crunch came when I finished work at 6am, drove home, had a shower and drove back to work and the boss was still riding me about the amount of work done. The lesson here is that people will only treat you as bad as you let them treat you, I was too young and ambitious to know how to tell them enough was enough. I also managed a team of designers/developers in a government department and watched lots of talented and hardworking people loose their jobs as part of a government “efficiency dividend”. This included members of my team and eventually my job as well. This uncertainty made it hard to take holidays as we all needed our savings as a buffer in the event we’d loose our jobs. The entire team was consistently bunt out because everyone dare not use up any annual leave. I was lucky enough to instantly land a job I loved with a great range of tasks and a fantastic team of people. After 9 months they offered me permanency at a 27% pay cut, thanks but no thanks. It’s gut wrenching to know the long hours we put in to stay on top of the current technologies and not be appreciated or rewarded. If you work for management who can’t grasp the strength and depth of our skill set then they consider you disposable. The stress and uncertainty of this industry combined all of life’s challenges like family, relationships, living expenses can really bring me down. I have my dark moments so I can really appreciate your honesty. I’d love to step back, take more time off and live life simpler and cheaper but that’s not possible with family pressure and expenses. No work = no pay. Not sure what would be more selfish, packing up my bat and ball and living the simple life on my own or getting off this crazy treadmill permanently. Thanks for letting me vent.

    5
  37. 51

    Through this article I have learned that not only web developers are subjected to go under a lot of stress, but that many people have mutual struggles. It is true we all fall victim to the nerve cracking angst of expectation, we are pressured to perform and live up to the standards of what other people think you will deliver. I learned that web developing is probably much more work that I previously thought, I didn’t take into account that digital culture and technology in general are things that change often at an incredible rate over time. As a developer of any kind in the digital and technological culture, new tools and methods are created consistently, causing you to always be on the lookout for the latest tool and trend to use. This must interfere with the workflow because relearning your methods can get very time consuming and when you have finally mastered or become practical with a tool the next version come up, and you must start from the beginning. I too have been subjected to perform under very stressful conditions. It is a frustration that gives you anxiety more often than not. You can’t even get a restful sleep because of the pounding in your heart due to the worry on the back of your mind. It really is important to remember that you are not yourself a tool, or a machine, or a computer thereof. You are also a person and should have the interactions of a person. With this in mind one can work and have the lifestyle that is adequate, and to work to live, and not live to work.

    6
  38. 52

    oh.Thank you about this. I can feel you. Thank you.!

    3
  39. 53

    This is a very inspiring article. I think we do need to be more open about depression and our stresses. I think a lot of us spend too much time and effort trying to give off the idea that we are on top of everything when no one really is.

    4
  40. 54

    Thanks for this great article. One advise I have is : reduce your expenses and live a simpler life. That way, you can reduce your income and not be stressed about debts. Health and family is more important than money!

    4
  41. 55

    We all hide our thoughts and when they are thoughts that come with depression and not thinking we will cope, they never seem to get spoken about.
    I am relatively new to webdesign ( compared to many of you ) and I find my depression times are when I have no work. I hear of those out there that say they are turning customers away. Makes me cringe.

    Yes I love doing web design and am learning all the time, and when I do get work, I spend many hours in the day trying to get the website up and working and hoping the customer is satisfied. ( havent had any complaints that I know of yet hehe) but then that site is complete and finding more work is my depressed down time. Wondering how I am going to get a new customer to bring in some $$.

    So as you can see depression comes in many forms, not just cause you have too much work wondering how you can keep up with the work, but also the opposite. Wondering how you can get work..

    The other I see it that there are many organisations out there that cater for men ( are we more depressed than woman?) but both sexes suffer the same. And certainly our work we do in this field has both men and woman in it.
    I guess now the next time we come face to face with someone in the web design industry, we may look at then and wonder what level of depression they are going through as well…

    Maybe we need to man ( or woMan) up and speak freely about our hard times more often. Face to face I mean.. Talking about it definitely helps..

    3
  42. 56

    The title and short description of this article is all well and good (I haven’t read the full piece) but mental health issues can be solved by simple things such as changing your diet and joining a fitness club. You’re not a machine, you’re an animal and animals have evolved to eat whole foods and move about with great intensity – it’s best to view this in context of homo sapien evolution and not recent developments in the modern world.

    -15
  43. 57

    Long hours are not a badge of honor, they are a sign of failure, pure and simple.

    -12
    • 58

      Any reason to spam and leave a website link eh.
      no wonder we are depressed when we have scammers all over the place

      9
  44. 59

    Edson Santoro

    October 28, 2014 5:03 am

    This is the exact answer I needed. Trying to get on in this awesome design market is hard. I have read many articles explaining how to do things, what you need to do to succeed, but anyone tell me what you shared here. You are right, from someone like me, that is outside the market, it always looks like everything is perfect, everyone are doing money, everyone are great at their own way, and I here, fighting to get a chance to at least start.

    Thank you very much.
    Now I see

    2
  45. 60

    thank you very much…

    3
  46. 61

    Yeahhh! story of many. Really appreciate your courage to write this. Many, only think about it but helpless to describe and rescue.
    Thanks :)

    3
  47. 62

    Thanks for the good read and all the comments. I really needed this. Not glad that there are so many people with the same struggles as I have, but it’s nice to hear other peoples solutions to their problems. I think the key is to never underestimate the power sleep. As I say this at 1:15am. Lol

    I better practice what I preach and go to bed.

    Great post!!! This needs to be stuck to the homepage!

    3
  48. 63

    Thank you Paul for your post. When I was in this same machine state a few years ago…”I even stopped working long hours, screw the consequences.” That’s right on point. Thanks for sharing.

    2
  49. 64

    Jens Lindberg

    October 28, 2014 9:05 am

    Awesome piece there Paul. It’s easy to feel like a looser because you almost never read or hear about the downsides of the job. Every agency have so much fun and money etc… but the facade is thick, isn’t it?

    Personally I find physical exercise THE method to stay sane in this business. The thight deadlines, the amount of stuff that you should know (but havn’t had time to learn) combined with the need to be both creative, smart and a the same time a technichal genious, is quite demanding.

    By running, biking or other high intense sport the stress levels goes down.

    5
  50. 65

    thanks for the great article !!! but really !!

    “who never get a holiday and worry about being able to pay the bills.”

    is it universal not like 3rd word problem only !?
    so why we neeed to fix it !

    -4
  51. 66

    I had very bad experience in my last job.
    There where no consideration of hard work. I was always under pressure by boss.
    Every project had very tight deadlines.
    I had worked on every project after office hours. Situation soon turned very badly that I pushed my
    daily work hours minimum 12 hours and when I went to my managers and CEO they didn’t help me.

    According to them deadline is deadline and must do.
    My boss told me one day that you are not able to complete your tasks in time that’s why you are working late daily.

    After doing all work this style and approach I was soon reached at the point of depression.
    Now I am not working with that company and have changed my rules in new jobs that “We are human beings, we have emotions. Work is important but not prior than family.”

    7
  52. 67

    This is awesome Paul,
    i am feeling like the pressure cooker releasing its vapor.

    Thanks a lot & keep it up !!!

    2
  53. 68

    Paul, I never would have guessed that you suffered like this… You seem so happy-go-lucy and confident in your own skin. And you’re religious, which I thought is the ultimate anti-depressant. Clearly I was wrong to judge this. Everyone is susceptible.

    In fact, with everyone going on about “passionate about the web”, “do what you love, and never work a day in your life”, “passion about web standards”, I really questioned whether I was cut out for this industry. I thought, ‘well I’m interested in it, but I’m more passionate about hanging out with my friends/family, snowboarding, writing with my pen in cafes, food, nature, music, clubs, dancing, travelling’ than I am about agonizing over design decisions which may or may not get crushed by the highest-paid-persons-opinion, and the constant threat that you may not be able to keep up with the latest sassy trends in design and techniques.

    So for the last 5 difficult years I have constantly questioned my career choice (whilst holding down a full time job at quite a successful web site), whilst pretending to be happy in my job and trying to do the best I can… all the while wondering if it’s really me. All this is quite crushing and has driven me to within an inch of just running away and living in an ashram in the Hymilayas or some other absolute opposite of being a techie person.

    Anyway, recently I did a course on mindfulness and it has helped me put things in perspective and for the moment I am back to enjoying the process of my work and taking pride in it.

    Still fantasizing about starting my own cafe/bar/travel-writing/healthyholidays company though.

    5
    • 69

      Trust me, being religious doesn’t solve life’s problems I am afraid. I am sure it would be much more popular if it did!

      It has been an enormous comfort me, but I find that when I am struggling, I doubt everything including my faith.

      Yes most of the time I am happy and confident. That is when I am online and engaging.

      The problem are those silent patches. Those patches when I blog less, tweet less, engage less. Those are the darker times.

      Fortunately they are rare now. I am in a much better place. But they do still happen. They do for everybody. I think that is apart of being human.

      6
      • 70

        Being religious won’t solve anything ,but improving the power of your mind can. If anybody is working under a boss who doesn’t understand the effort needed to do something…better search for a new place. It is not guaranteed that you’ll get an awesome workplace ,but now you have a choice .

        The best thing to combat stress is not to think about too many things,if you think too much …you’ll drown in your thoughts.Think wisely.

        0
    • 71

      Alex, I’m not sure you’ll get this reply via email or not, but I stumbled on Paul’s article today after receiving his newsletter annoucing his Big News! I HAD to comment on this because what you described is nearly to-the-T how I feel about being a designer. While I have that “do what you love” Confucius quote on my portfolio site (ha!), I always feel like the odd woman out because I don’t feel like ultra design geek, super obsessed with the industry. Paul Boag’s email is literally the only industry-related newsletter I receive! I feel more passion toward the rest of my life. Sometimes it’s the unrelenting pressure of keeping up, like you said. Sometimes I think it’s because any moment someone’s going to figure out I’m some sham designer, even though I’ve been successful at what I do (Dunning Kruger Effect?) So I constantly circle back to running away to some remote place (too funny you said that!) OR working at a grocery store (which I think someone else mentioned here too). But I know that if I were to go that way, I would miss the challenge of being creative and the payoff you feel when you DO have that awesome “a ha” moment and create something amazing, so it’s a weird Catch 22.

      And finally, I had to comment because I too have been getting into meditation and mindfulness lately and already feel the rewards, if anything to clear my head and prioritize. I also hold myself to working 40ish hour work weeks now. Doesn’t alleviate my “what is my true purpose because this cube can’t be it?” struggle, but it definitely clears my head to focus on priorities. I’m hoping all will fall into place. Until then, I’ll just keep fantasizing about my own Route 66-style diner/cafe meets boho gallery/work space meets blogging about Americana travel in a vintage Airstream. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts (and thanks to you too Paul!) You both made me feel so very unalone!

      0
  54. 72

    Thank you very much for this touch of reality, I think we have to take care also about this aspects of our work.

    1
  55. 73

    Daniel Schwarz

    October 28, 2014 12:54 pm

    Huge respect for Smashing Mag and Paul for sharing this.

    I left an awful job only two months ago and couldn’t be happier now. I can take things slower and enjoy my job more with regular, healthier breaks.

    0
  56. 74

    What an excellent article Paul. Thanks for bringing this important issue forward and sharing your experiences openly. Many can learn from that.

    My personal experience is that the line between on the one hand that feeling of energy in which you can and are working very hard on different projects, keeping uptodate with everything’s that’s happening in the industry, making long hours, and on the other hand feeling completely drained or depressed can be easily crossed over. Certainly being self-employed or running my own business, it can be very easy to think “I can work some more this evening” or “I have some time this weekend”, etc.

    But then there’s the moment I realize my energy is gone, each time the phone rings I get very annoyed, even don’t feel like doing anything fun anymore. Going on vacation is even stressful, because that means I have to plan the work around it, not have time to work then, etc.

    2
  57. 75

    I have often felt the same way in the past, and I feel so lucky that I work for a company that had gone through the same situation and has now taken it back to a positive way. This company believes in a 40 hours work week as often as possible and they are very open to letting the developers and programmers live out their personal lives, work on hobbies, and take time to just unwind. Plus happy hours at the end of every major project are a major boost for us poor developers. I just tell myself everyday wen my “shift” is coming to an end that work is over and I need to live my life. Except for emergencies, work does not exist outside of work time.

    7
  58. 76

    Nice article, it’s not easy to keep up with the technology, you can’t know everything, every languages, every configurations !

    But at the end of the day, I think that to be a programmer can be fun.

    1
  59. 77

    Thanks for writing a different topic, aside from how to’s and tutorials etc. we’re all human and we all need to read this kind of topic sometimes to realize we’re not machines. Kudos!

    1
  60. 78

    You really hit the nail on the head! Millions of people are becoming depressed as a result of extreme work stress. The demands of our economy are almost insane. Businesses should invest in awareness of the impact of psychological strain. It is already proven that a sane working environment is raising productivity and creativity.

    Thank you Paul for sharing these personal experiences!

    1
  61. 79

    Holy crap!!!

    I’m a middle-aged (Guy, dad, husband, DBA, DevOps, Director, IT, Exec) sitting at my desk crying.

    I’m taking a minute right now. Thank you.

    5
  62. 81

    Matt McGlothlin

    October 28, 2014 6:55 pm

    Yes. Great post Paul. This is something that needs to be discussed more. If you care deeply about your work, then this happens to the best us, I don’t see anyway around it. I ran into this exact situation with tables and having to reinvent. The web demands seemingly constant reinvention. You are not alone.

    1
  63. 82

    There’s a reason why most people in our industry don’t live to a ripe old age. All that stress we keep adding over the years becomes those future heart attacks, strokes, and gastro-intestenal issues. Some of us continue putting up with it for decades. The best advice I ever heard was to walk away and work for myself. No more office drama or bipolar bosses to put up with. Your soul is worth more than money.

    2
  64. 83

    Great personal share, great to see this on smashing. For me personally i wouldn’t say I’m depressed – yet, I’m fairly resilient/positive, but you know there is something wrong when you wake up on a weekend, the surf is pumping and you decide to stay in bed cause your exhausted (or any other personal enjoyment past time you may have).

    I think everyone needs to keep in mind, its just a job, there are plenty around, and the company is lucky to have each and every one of you. (easier to say than put in practice)

    0
    • 84

      “it’s just a job, there are plenty around..” No, there aren’t plenty around. There were before the dot com bust or 9-11 and even more before the 2008 financial crisis. It’s harder now to land a great job with great benefits than ever before.

      1
  65. 85

    I find myself obsessed with learning all things WordPress – wanting to do more, bigger, better, faster. There are not enough hours in the day to learn all I want to, to figure everything out on my own. I am exhausted and spending almost every waking hour .. as well as time before and after I fall asleep in bed… thinking about website issues and how I might solve specific problems on specific websites.

    0
  66. 86

    Saw myself when I working in my website.. :S

    0
  67. 87

    Stefano! Same happened to me last spring…I couldn’t even touch the laptop anymore. A mixture of panic attack and sickness grew on me. I was totally depressed and all outlooks left me, so I found myself in a dark hole.

    So I left the agency I co-founded and started to study horticultural science…searching for something else, searching for new hope…for about 2 month…then I realized that I couldn’t pay my bills anymore and started to work as a freelancer in my area again. Turned out that these 2 month were really healthy and I was able to work again. After 1 year of freelancing I returned to my old agency.

    Result: I walked a huge circle to find back to my identity…which is to be a creative mind. And I payed a high price for giving up everything due to my burnout. But now I know what I have and I know what I want.

    Theory: I think that jobs in the area of development or design can easily take over and influence your private life (like dreaming in a loop of a task you couldn’t solve during the day…happens often to me). That comes from the mental pressure like Paul wrote in his article.

    Conclusion: Do not get ahead of yourself. Breathe out several times until there is nothing left…and the breathe in comes automatically (an old Zen technic I read somewhere). That helps in the moment. Then you should do what Paul commented: take a break for a week or better 1-2 month. You will find out that you miss your work and motivation comes back. You will have time to think about targets in your personal life, that are worth it to work for. I personally do some stuff in the garden sometimes, try to get the connection to nature and work with my hands.

    In the end we all have to work and if we find the right balance (which is a life task, of course) we can proceed without suffering.

    1
  68. 88

    WOW! I quit my full time job 4 months ago to work part time (5hrs per day) and spend more time with my kids. I now get to do the school drop offs/pickups cook dinner. What’s even better is that I’m getting paid more that I was at my full time job. Take control of your life and be happy. If I can do it, you can too.

    1
  69. 89

    Wow, just a great article all round. I have never actually seen how I feel about my job put in to words so accurately.

    I worked for 2 years in a small company with promises of being made a partner or something similar, then after 2 years of giving them all my time and energy, they dumped me. During those two years I was not focused on front end dev and was more focused on management and design among other things such as site maintenance and content editing.

    Coming out of that job now, I am so far behind everyone else. I’ve missed out on the main chunk of time of people using CSS preprocessors and grid frameworks as well as adaptive and responsive dev. It’s so hard to figure out what to get back into. Fortunately, my brother is also a front end web dev and has guided me towards what I need to look into and I have managed to get up to speed with many things.

    This being said, I constantly worry about my work not being the best it can be. Am I missing something obvious? Will a new employer think I am an amateur (I have 7 years experience) because I missed something simple? It makes me incredibly anxious.

    Sometimes you just feel like you are literally being unravelled.

    0
  70. 90

    The realest post ever! I’ve gone through these times for quite a while and decided on an in house position that’s at a far slower pace than an agency.

    Just passed month 1 and good so far! Work is not as creative but I’ve got kids that keep my life fulfilling.

    0
  71. 91

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’ve lived it, and I’ve seen it happen to those around me. You are so right that we all need “Permission to stop being a machine and become a human being.”

    2
  72. 92

    Paul you addressed the elephant in the room. The majority of the creatives and developers I know would be here. As someone who’s driven for perfection in design and known to be overly ambitious…you know how it goes…the last couple of years I’ve been trying to manage creative and physical burnout after a good 10+ years in the industry.

    These days I’m seeking to disconnect as often as possible (no iDevices at all), get away from work and recharge in nature. The creative passion is coming back, but the health is taking longer. Ironic because I’m the marketing manager at a health retreat!

    The long term effects (30+ years) of these intense mental drain jobs (creative, web and app dev, strategy etc.) are an unknown. However, I believe premature aging and early death will be major factors unless we fact the fact we’re humans and look after these bodies we live in.

    Thanks for an honest and vulnerable article.

    0
  73. 93

    Saw myself in that article, yes, we are not machines.

    0
  74. 94

    A well written article Paul, and an eye-opener to me.

    I always felt that the long hours are part of the job, especially if you’re self employed.
    I’m doing between 70 and 85 hours a week for a couple of years now and it’s been over a year since my last vacation. I keep telling myself I’m a young hard worker with ambition and that I can go forever with only 4 to 5 hours of sleep every night. And I see myself as a healthy person because I go for a run twice a week and push my body to its limits while I’m actually only running on fumes.

    Before I go to bed I often read books on how to improve my professional skills. I’m always looking for ways to improve myself; how to be a better negotiator, how to apply sales tactics to this or that, more effective project management, hardening web applications, learning technology x and y, time management (the irony), … And I think of that as relaxation, but actually I’m still on the clock, working, keeping my brain on full throttle.
    The continuous pressure from my clients and myself, the never ending cycle of self improvement and to do more in less time so the newly created free time can be consumed by yet another project or client.

    I know I’m the only one to blame, not the industry, not my clients, not the people I work with.
    I never let my clients know where my boundaries are or where I draw the line. Indirectly I’ve always presented myself as limitless.
    It will not be easy to let things go and accept that I have to change my perception on certain things, nor will it be easy to re-educate my clients, but it’s something I have to do before I reach my breaking point.

    Some people have called me Superman, and I know it’s time for me to face reality and accept that I’m only human, that I’m not immortal and that I should enjoy life while I can.
    In a way I am Superman, my work is my kryptonite and my mind is my Lex Luthor.

    Paul, thank you for the eye-opener.

    0
    • 95

      I can so relate to this article and many of these comments. Thanks Paul for starting the conversation. Vince, please take care of yourself and set some boundaries. Even if it is tough, you know what needs to be done. I imagine you will be much happier if you let yourself work less and play more. (As I say this I am pointing the finger at myself too.)

      0
  75. 96

    Hey Paul. Thank you very much.

    Going through a divorce while hard working on IT and with the sensation that you are alone is being tough.

    Thank you very much for sharing.

    0
  76. 97

    Just found this article. It’s exactly were i’m at…& have been for way too long. I’m running on fumes. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for understanding! It helped so much.

    0
  77. 98

    Same here… But when i remembered to myself that i am not a machine, makes me more upset. Sometimes i think why i chose being in digital word and sitting in front of a computer all day long, being asocial. I admire my friends who are doing social jobs and making much more money than i did. In this market i will be never enough, everyday new things coming up but in other areas people are satisfied with what they are doing.

    0
  78. 99

    Wow, Paul, thanks for this–so refreshing and honest and brave. The world would be a better place if everyone was so upfront about their experience. I am a designer, relatively new to the field, and experiencing a lot of these challenges. On balance, I do love the work but it’s so important to keep a sense of proportion—-and nice to be reminded of that by someone so established in the field.

    0

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