On the road – work and travel as a remedy for burnout

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’
‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

I’ve been reading so much about burning out recently that I think I’m burning out from it.

But all jokes aside, burning out is a very real and very serious problem in Free and Open Source Communities and it terrifies me.

In February, I joined Human Made, one of the best WordPress agencies in the world, home to some of the most amazing, interesting, funny, dedicated and driven people I’ve had the pleasure to meet since I got involved with the WordPress community.

Culture is key for Human Made – people are chosen to join based on their knowledge and expertise, but also based on their overall attitude towards what they do. This makes for a bunch of loyal, devoted and very focused on work 20+ people.

At Human Made people love what they do and are free to do it on their own time and make up their own schedule. Apart from our client work, a lot of us are actively involved in different aspects of the Open Source project. And we are as global as WordPress itself – a growing number of people in all timezones, always alert, always awake, always excited to talk about the next new thing or there to help you should you need anything.

As wonderful as this freedom sounds, it’s sometimes impossible to control and tame it. And you end up working 14 hours a day without even noticing.

“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”
Jack Kerouac

I started contributing to WordPress in 2012 with translations for Bulgarian. The sense of purpose I felt with every contribution got me so high, that at the end of 2014 I had put in almost a full year worth of time and energy into the project, I was actively helping the Polyglots team and had a successfully organised 1000 people global WordCamp behind me.

My 2015 began with trials for two amazing WordPress companies while I was still at my agency position at MazeLabs. Polyglots work and community work on the side, January was gonna be the end of me. I got no more than 3 hours of sleep per day for the whole month.

Adrenaline, excitement, curiosity and devotion kept me going, but I can safely say I was out of control. My passions and ambitions were killing me. Luckily, I joined the right crew.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Humans talk about problems. Not after they happen, but while they’re happening. I think the transparency is one of the things I most love about my new company. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. The risks are out in the open and discussed and solutions are sought all the time, ideas brainstormed and policies changed accordingly. We are now required to take at least 25 days off per year and ideas that would help people rest more and be happier are strongly encouraged and supported.

Sharing and taking care of each other is high on the list for people at Human Made. I’ve been chased out of Slack channels and told off for working long hours, I’ve been forced to admit when I’ve been overwhelmed and today I feel safe.

I also realise perfectly well it’s not about me or any other person individually. It’s about keeping the company healthy and strong.

Taking care of burnout has nothing to do with the warm family-like work environment at Human Made. Of course we care about each other. But eliminating burnout is actually a very logical, very practical need.

Burnout, even if it’s a result of the best of intentions, equals lack of productivity. Burnout equals unhappy, exhausted, anxious people who make mistakes and end up hating what they do.

So it has to go.

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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The #HMRoadtrip

Working hours under control. Productivity boost. People inspiration. Real human interactions. Knowledge sharing. Adventure. Driving. Laughter. Music.

That’s what April’s gonna be about.

Starting this week I’m hitting the road with Rob and Jenny (Franz will join us too at some point) in an attempt to escape routine and burnout and to take control of the freedom we have as a remote company instead of allowing that same freedom to swallow us whole.

We’re going to co-work while we drive through Europe from Sofia to Seville, taking a couple of days off every week to allow ourselves to breathe and learn and experience the places we go to and interact with the people we meet.

We’re going to be at WordCamp Vienna, WordCamp Slovakia and WordCamp Barcelona in three consecutive weekends. To speak, volunteer, contribute back to WordPress, have fun and hack on projects.

Follow the #hmroadtrip on Twitter and Instagram.

And if our plans go through your city, shout out. We’d love to meet you.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

See you there!
Petya

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