Recovering after the crash

I’ve been doing some form of product design for the last 11 or so years, 10 of those being in a more professional capacity for various start ups. I thought when I started that I was going to be this amazing designer, doing a job I love for the rest of my working life. If I’m being totally honest with myself, I’ve been feeling the effects of burnout for probably 4 years now. I need time away. In those 10 years, the longest single block of time-off I had was 3 weeks, and more recently a month before joining Plain. It’s not sustainable.

Product design was becoming just a job. I was no longer doing the thing I love every day. I’ve been asked by various employers over the years if I wanted to go into management and that’s really not something that resonates with me. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching and mentoring people, but managing a team just ain’t it for me. I feel like the value I can bring to an organisation has always been hands-on, designing and building the product. That meant I’d been walking down the IC (Individual Contributor) path more as my career developed. When you’ve been an IC for 10 years, you sort of see the same stuff no matter what you work on. It’s largely the same processes for solving problems, even if it’s in a different vertical. I think I’ve found it hard to keep work interesting over the years. Early in your career, you’re learning loads and at a really fast pace. Later on, that learning speed slows down as you’re under more pressure to ship things. You lean on the things you know to get stuff done quickly. Your value to a business increasingly becomes about solving problems fast.

I think that pressure and repetition is the thing that has contributed to my feeling of burnout. I was, and am, exhausted. Sure, each business has it’s own challenges, and I don’t want to give the impression that everywhere I’ve worked has been boring, because that’s not true. I’ve just stopped learning as much, and as quickly. My interest in the field of Product Design has waned. I need to reset.

Since October, I’ve been doing a lot more in the web3 space and it’s reignited that learning flame for me. I’ve released a project I’m truly proud of, and it’s been the catalyst I needed to take a break from traditional Product Design. I’m learning all these new things like coding languages, governance, and economics. I’m filled with new ideas all the time, to the point where it’s probably really annoying for some of my new web3 developer friends.

My biggest hurdle since October has been time. I committed to starting at Plain before I did my little project, and I was really excited to join the team even after launching it. I’ve worked with the founders Matt and Simon before, and they’re people I really respect and admire. The product is an interesting challenge, and I’ve had a lot of fun solving some of the problems, writing code, and revamping the design system slightly. However I couldn’t shake the feeling that Product Design may not be for me, at least not right now. I wanted to explore this new web3 medium, make some art, and make new friends along the way.

So what’s next?

I’m taking the break I desperately need. I’m not sure what the next few months look like but I’m fortunate enough to have a little runway where I can make this break possible (something I really don’t take for granted). First I’m just going to take some time away from tech. I’ll probably still be tweeting and tinkering with projects, but I also want to shut my brain off for a bit. Maybe I’ll reinstate my camera from it’s current position as a glorified webcam, and actually go outside and take some photos. I want to paint. I want to draw. I just want to be creative for a bit. In a few months when I start to get worried about the finances, I’ll probably pick up some contract work here and there. The important thing for me is that I get to choose how much I should be working. The last thing I want is to have a couple of months off, go back into something full-time, and be back here in 6 months time feeling even worse.

I do want to say thank you to Matt and Simon at Plain for being so understanding of my situation. They have a lot of interesting stuff to build, and I’m not leaving at the best time for them, but they really do get it. If you’re a technically minded Product Designer (with a bit of coding experience) please DM or email me and I can put you in touch. They’re an awesome intentionally small team, with some really cool challenges and ambitious goals.

I want to hear from you if you’re looking for someone to help with design, bounce ideas about web3 stuff, or write some fun smart contracts. I won’t be ready to work on anything right now, but I always appreciate meeting new people and hearing about what people are working on.

On a more human level though, if you want to talk about the feeling of burnout or are feeling something similar, my DMs on Twitter are open, and you can always add me on Discord (samking.eth#0001). I’m going to have a lot of time on my hands for conversations and connections. I’m more than happy to discuss things like this, and I hope sharing my experiences encourages others to look within themselves too.

Here’s to chilling the fuck out, and making some art!

Thanks for reading, Sam.