Imagine being in a huge candy store, but you can’t taste the delicious sweets because you just had a big meal and your stomach is about to explode.
This is what learning overflow feels like.
Since I was a geeky teenager learning about computers, I always felt like a kid in a candy store. Wherever I looked there were new colors, new shapes, and new flavors once I tried them. I felt the exact feeling when I browsed books about computers. I wanted to learn everything. My restless monkey mind swung from one topic to the other, riding the different waves. I just wanted to keep learning new things. I felt an authentic fascination to learn about these topics, my curiosity could not be stopped. I was on exploration mode, as an archeologist as Michael Ashcroft says.
At some point, it slowly started fading away and it stopped. Until I got to a point I’m now where even browsing for something new to learn is too much. I cannot pick a topic, much less learn about it.
I gave it some thought and discarded some causes:
- The number of new things: Tech is an endless stream of new things being created every day. Frameworks get updated and new ways of working are created. There is always a new fad. They come faster than you can learn about them.
- Did I learn everything?: That is definitely not it. I know there are a lot of topics I have not learned about. I also lack depth in some topics I have started to explore.
- Am I working too much?: I am working a reasonable number of hours. My weekends are free from learning tech-related stuff and I take regular vacations.
- Am I bored with tech?: New topics look interesting. I just do not feel like learning about it. I just feel too tired to explore and play with new things.
What does learning overflow feel like?
Imagine visiting the same candy store, where your eyes could not stop moving, but you’ve just had the biggest meal of your life. You do not want to see anything edible. Just thinking about the idea of eating something makes you sick. It does not matter how many new colors, shapes, or flavors the store has. Your stomach aches and you just want to leave the store.
Let’s come back from the metaphor world for a second. That last sentence was interesting. If you could heal your stomach, would the candies start looking tempting again? Can you heal your stomach if you still are in the candy store? Do you need to go to a hospital? What would a hospital be in the real world? I’ve felt the pain in my stomach decrease, but it does not feel healthy yet. There is also the question: can this be cured? Or do people just switch to salads for the rest of their lives?
There might be a correlation between learning overflow and burnout. I don’t think they are the same. I am able to perform at my job. Complete the required tasks and sometimes even propose new things. Could learning overflow be one of the first stages of burnout? Hard for me to tell right now, I don’t want to find out.
It’s hard to discuss solutions when you have not solved your problem yet. I’ve read about the great benefits people get when they leave tech or just a corporate job. Although I heard it takes time for the healing to complete. In my case, leaving tech altogether would be a bit hasty. I would need a middle ground. Could I try a tech detox? Disconnect from Twitter for some time? Due to the nature of my job, I can’t leave tech for good, but at least reduce the exposure. I could start with a month. Journal how am I feeling and report back.
Maybe if I step out of the candy store and take a long walk in the park, will my stomach start feeling better?