An Important Idea
You may or may not have heard, but this week is Geek Mental Health Week. The idea is to spend a week writing articles about how serious of an issue our mental health is, as well as to tell the world about our own personal struggles, or to provide support for those in need. I’ll admit I didn’t hear about it until a few articles on A List Apart started popping up but after reading them I got really excited. I’m a firm believer that our work lives impact our physical and mental health in significant amounts. Once we “grow up” we start spending at least one third of our day at work and if you count getting ready in the morning, and getting home that number can quickly become greater than half.
The Chair of Listening
There has always been one commonality in every place that I have worked. Whatever office I am working in, there has always been a chair, not just any chair, but THE chair. It is the place where many of my fellow coworkers go when they have something going on, be it at home or work. Sometimes there is a project going on that is kicking them down, other times it is a grievance about management and they just need to vent out. Whatever the issue, I have found that offering an ear to listen is one of the greatest traits that you can posses in any company. I’ve noticed a difference in any work environment where there is a place for people to go to voice their frustrations or seek advice about life issues.
My Own Struggles
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is something we all strive to do but I have to confess that it is something I am very terrible at. People always look at me like I am crazy when they ask me what I did over the weekend and I tell them I spent most of it learning to program on iOS or building a new website for a personal project. They often wonder how I can go home to do essentially the same work I do all day. To be honest I don’ t really know the answer 100% but sometimes it can really wear me down.
The single handed hardest part about trying to learn new skills is bouncing back from a very rough day. I’ve had my fair share of days where I just wanted to walk out the door and never come back, and when I got home I would sit in front of my keyboard wondering how I could even find a shred of energy to start a project, much less finish one I had been working on. That is often the vortex that many find themselves caught in, trying to progress their skills and not burnout. It is actually one of the reasons why some people get out of tech after only ten or so years. Some people find the energy to keep up with the constantly changing requirements and standards, while other simply toss in the towel.
The most important thing at the end of the day is finding out what matters the most to you, and making that become your motivation to continue progressing you skills. A lot of themes at tech conferences lately focus on side projects. Whether that is a cooking blog, or building a new tool that others can use, so long as it combines your skills with something you love to do then you are on the road to making your outside life far more balanced while still learning new skills.
Projects on the Side
I am a huge advocate of working on side projects. Most of the time I work on websites for activist groups, other times I do really simple electronics projects with my Arduino or Raspberry Pi. For the longest time I would come home and zone out in front of video games (which I still do sometimes) but after looking at the hours spent playing a game, I started thinking about how I could better use that time, and what sort of impact it would have. I was really frustrated that I wasn’t learning new skills at work, and that I felt like I didn’t have anything to show for the past year or so. That is when I started VeganRVA, which began as an idea for a food blog. I went all out with that, using Git and setting up a repo with Beanstalk, as well as using Foundation as a framework.
Working on a project that you are passionate about help gives you the drive and determination you need to work through all of the tough learning challenges you might run into, as well as motivate you to keep working. At the end of the day you have something to show for all your time and effort as well as a bunch of newfound skills.