Ben Ward

Exhausperation

. Updated: .

San Francisco

I've been working on this project for a long time. We've known we were going to build something like it for a year at least, but there's only so many of us, and there have been a lot of more pressing projects to work on first. I pour myself into my work, I am still very young in my approach. I don't structure individual tasks as well as I will in the future, and I could always be much better organised. I respond best to the adrenaline pressure of a looming deadline, and so it goes that when we get into the final month, I work long and late in an effort to get it done.

It is exhausting, and an emotional drain, and it's certainly not the way I'll be working when I'm older. On the other hand, when you ship it there's a glorious relief. A bit of adrenaline, a bit of relaxation, and—you hope—no small amount of pride in what's been built.

This cycle is common in my experiences of being a software engineer thus far. It's obviously got no shortage of worry attached to it: Worry about health; worry of setting unsustainable, unreliable expectations on future work; and worry if perhaps I should be making more of my 20s being drunk, waking up in gutters.

In some quantity all are true. It's a restless process to keep tweaking how I live my life in the hope that at each opportunity for an adjustment, I nudge myself in the direction of something healthier than the last time. I ended up here, working as much as I do, by overcompensating for something else. The next time around will be better. Eventually, maybe, I'll get it right.

One of the things I find particularly interesting in analysing this—this, which is really just a realisation of and introspection upon one's maturity—is how the motivation to rebalance comes through the introduction of complexity. In a professional context you can accommodate strange hours and a simple stress/release pattern when your principal goal is to build one piece of software, really well, on time, and then enjoy the success. If you're good at it, you get rewarded with responsibility, and complexity, and then the pattern ceases to be simple.

For all the excitement I have about the project I'm completing, I'm not really finding enjoyment in the simplicity of shipping. On the frenetic, final morning I find myself in a conflicted position with all the usual, endorphin addled exhaustion, mixed up with the practical need to already be thinking about the first iterations of the project, requests for and offers of my time for other things that I care about at Twitter, and all the while, everything emotional numbed by a good friend's decision to leave the company. It leaves me uneasy, muddled.

Growing up is hard. Many mantras of working for the web are about never stopping growing, learning, and developing ourselves. But we're adults; we could stop. We could settle down with our lot, but we don't. We choose to keep life difficult. We choose to challenge ourselves, to put ourselves in awkward positions, to swim out deeper rather than float around. We are people who knowingly put pressure on ourselves, and do a better or worse job of it at different times.

Anyway, for all the complication, and emotional conflict, everything in this tale can be tied together by endings, both celebratory and sad. But that's not the story. There's the reason I wrote the story, which was an invigorating conversation with my new colleague Buster Benson. We talked about why people at Twitter don't write about their work very often, and how strange that is for a company who've revolutionised how people communicate more personally.

Suddenly, at the end of a long day in the longest week, I'm invigorated, impassioned, wildly excited about my workplace, coworkers, and our personal contributions to it. I really didn't think I had any energy left, yet home I went, mind racing, thinking about writing, my desire to do more of it (in general, let alone about my work.) So to sit down and write about that seemed an appropriate start.

This is not a post about Twitter, it's a post about me. But it's an attempt to get into the reasoning of why I rarely write, because writing is just one of many things in my life that's out of balance, neglected, and maybe next time around could be redressed.

The knowledge that my life is not entirely in perfect balance is not supposed to be a total downer. It's how it goes, and an honest awareness of it matters most. Next time I stop for breath and consider it all, these things can be adjusted. The most important thing is that I'm very lucky, and incredibly happy in what I do, the work I do, and the sum life I get to lead.

I've been on a kick lately of listening a lot to The Divine Comedy's 2001 ‘Regeneration’ record (which I shall remark has aged remarkably well), and especially the lead single ‘Love What You Do’. The lyrics are quite applicable to this process of adjustment and self renewal.

Living isn't easy
No need to make it harder
Stretch yourself until you snap
Ditch your superstitions
Lose your inhibitions
Tell them you're not coming back

If you want it, you can have it
If you need it, go and get it
Whatever it is, you've got to love it

I have very little to complain about, just a desire to make it all better. Everything's going to be fine.

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