I spent part of this past weekend hanging out down in DC with a bunch of people at Shmoocon, and a lot of them were surprised to see me. Perhaps the most common question I heard was "where have you been?!" Well, here's the deal:
Eight or nine months ago now, I kind of dropped the face of the Internet. I deleted Tweetbot off of my devices, stepped back from the podcast, and Instagram became basically the only social network that I used. That decision has been one of the best things that I've done for my mental well-being in a long time, and at the time, I didn't even know why I needed to do that, just that I did.
The trouble started a few months after I started working from home full time again. I've worked from home full time before, but that was right after I got married, while I was still in college. As a result, I really wasn't home for all that much time between classes and the travel for work that I could squeeze in. However, this current job has had no travel since the first month after I started. As a result, this time around it's just me and the cat at home for hours and hours each day, and after a while, that really starts to grate on you, no matter how cute my cat is.
In the community surrounding information security (or cyber security, if you live near D.C.), we kind of cultivate an "always on" mentality, this idea that you must always be consuming news, learning about both the new tech hotness as well as the new big baddies, and also engage with the community while you do it. We talk about how we're people with sheepdog mentalities, that we must always be protecting people from the dangers of the Internet and stuff. And while that can be true, when combined with the "always on" feel of working from home, that behavior can quickly become really unhealthy.
See, the problem is that when you think you have to be "always on" and you work from home, it's really easy to spend almost all your waking hours focused on work type activities without physical or mental breaks. And when your hobbies are lined up so closely with work, that only compounds the problem.
So earlier this year, I felt fried and I couldn't figure out why. I blamed my constant connectivity to Twitter, and cut that off, but that was only part of the solution. I also started focusing more and more on my running and my other hobbies that got me out from behind a screen. I worked on connecting with the area around me (I spent a lot of time running on the trails near my house), and I focused on the relationships of people I could actually meet up with.
Now, months later, I'm feeling more refreshed, more healthy. People who talk to me say that I even sound happier than I did before I took my break. But I can't sit still. Disengaging from online communities is good, healthy, and smart from time to time, but all that career advice that even I used to espouse is still real. So I'm slowly reinserting myself back online, I'll be rejoining the podcast soon, and might even be attending a few conferences this year. But at the same time, I'll be keeping those lessons that I learned in my time "away" in mind.
And hey, if you're feeling fried, frazzled, or just burned out, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @jsokoly. One of the biggest mistakes that I made when I felt the way I did was to shut myself away without talking to other people that had been where I was.