Managing a Mind

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  1. Heather Burns

    I am glad you are here to write this post. I’m sorry you had to earn this rich wisdom in the way you did.

    I speak and write and think, a lot, about how the web design and development professions suffer for our lack of formal professional organisation. We have no union, no centralised standards or membership group, no consultative body, no unified voice, and what we do have, such as platform-specific groups, inevitably descends into Pythonesque factions and power struggles.

    So what’s the consequence of that state of play – it’s situations like yours. It’s an industry where everyone is each other’s friend and no one is acting as the parent. Organised professions take on that parent role – the one that orders you to switch off and leave the office for a week, to come and have a chat, or to attend a counselling session paid for by the union. We’ve got nothing and we’ve got no one.

    One of the most talented and creative web professionals I ever encountered took her own life three years ago. She was online and social, both personally and as a job requirement, 24/7. She’d been hoarding prescription drugs for months and took them all in one swallow. She never tweeted or posted on FB about that, of course. TV shows, shop queues, plugins, yes. Her plans for that mountain of pills, no.

    Now, it’s almost 2014, and we’ve got high schools teaching web design as Flash and Dreamweaver, and they get away with it because we don’t have a recognised, unified professional voice to give them a better curriculum. We’ve got “web professionals” whose sales strategy for their Drupal-based business is to personally attack designers who use WordPress (and vice versa), and they get away with it because there’s no sense of working towards something greater. And we’ve got web designers waking up intubated and sectioned (if indeed, they ever wake up again at all) because they have thousands of followers and friends and not one human being to call on the phone at 2 AM.

    Something’s got to change here.

  2. Laura Kalbag

    What an article to read on what is probably the first day of a lot of people’s holidays… I’m thinking twice about the work-related things I’d planned to do over the next two weeks. A true break is probably the wiser thing.

  3. Shane Hudson

    Thank you for writing this and for exposing more of the dark side of the industry. I think most people have been struggling lately, I know I have, although I hope the severity it got to for you is very rare.

    I wholeheartedly agree with making it count. This year I have got a job (a one year contract) instead of freelancing. I know I could make at least 3 times the amount of money I’m now earning, but this job (using the web to make scientific data more accessible to the public and politicians) is far more important than developing yet another blog or shop’s website.

    This is a discussion that needs to go further. How do we, as an industry, slow down the pace a bit? I think there is an element of competition between us all (a good thing, of course) which probably makes a lot of people want to keep working late hours because everyone else is. Sarah Parmenter spoke at Altitude, at the beginning of the year, about how it doesn’t even just affect us but our family and friends feel that they can’t interrupt us because we are too busy.

    Things definitely need to change.

  4. Winnie Shek

    Firstly thanks for sharing this Chris, i’m sure it took a mountain of courage to face things head on and then to write about it is an entirely different feat.

    Speaking only as a recent graduate on my way home from the airport from my 4 month placement in Berlin this was very enlightening as most of the things you’ve talked about I had been deliberating in my head particularly more so while I’ve been away the last few months. It may be presumptious for me to feel this way since I haven’t really worked in the industry that long in comparison to you and all the other guys other there. However since I’ve been thinking about the future and what my plans are I’ve been plagued with the question “am I doing this because I like it” or “do I just want to seem productive and successful” am I actually truly creative or did I just want to seem creative”. It seems that with the abundance of creative people and work out there that I’ve lost my own design voice and opinion. So to counter this for my new year resolution I intend to keep a journal, not to record the daily occurrences since that’s what a calendar’s for but for self reflection, what I did that I liked, hated, could’ve done better etc. I think that these are the things that we should ask ourselves daily to grow as a person.

    Also it was reassuring to know that that its not only me that feels like a imposter sometimes and that there’s actually a term for it.

    Thank you for sharing and apologies for my rambles.

  5. Christopher Murphy

    Thank you all for the kind comments. It means a great deal that so many people have taken the time to respond, both here and on Twitter. I’m glad folks found the article useful.

    I’m about to shut up shop for Christmas, on which note, I’d like to wish everyone a restful break and every success for the new year. Good luck on the journey, everyone!

  6. Andrew Areoff

    Wow! What an article. I can’t pretend to be anywhere near where you found yourself Christopher but so much (almost every line infact) of what you’re saying rings true for me or either illuminates my situation as a fellow web designer – or whatever we are called.

    You mention about seeking constant feedback and dare I say, validation for what we do through the monocle of social media is and questioning whether this is a good way to go because of the highs and lows it entails. Well I have a very longstanding client (18 years) who shuns social media and instead seeks feedback and crucial focus group insight from a close network of people in his industry and further afield. This is something we can learn from I think. Step back from the narcissism and apparent instant feedback of social media and instead work out who you trust in the real world (yes I think that social media is not and never will be the ‘real world’) and stick to their valued support.

  7. Theo

    Glad you “woke” up Christopher and respect for sharing the break point of your life with us. You have balls mister. Merry Christmas!

  8. Jason

    “Your body is made of the same elements that lionesses are built from. Three quarters of you is the same kind of water that beats rocks to rubble, wears stones away. Your DNA translates into the same twenty amino acids that wolf genes code for. When you look in the mirror and feel weak, remember, the air you breathe in fuels forest fires capable of destroying everything they touch. On the days you feel ugly, remember: diamonds are only carbon. You are so much more”. – Curtis Ballard

    Source: http://curtis-ballard.tumblr.com/post/56767288213/your-body-is-made-of-the-same-elements-that

  9. Daniel Dogeanu

    I couldn’t resonate more with you! You know, I’ve been there and done that four years ago. Since then, my life changed a lot, a huge lot. But I now find myself in an even worse situation. As I see it, the problem is far deeper and it’s not just about the industry, it’s about the society itself. We live in a rat race and there’s no end in sight. I wonder quite a lot lately… What’s the point of all this?

  10. Ed Henderson

    Thanks for sharing this Chris. I hope you are keeping well and that hopefully this post (and the other) have proven to be helpful and cathartic in your recovery. Always available for a chat if you want to talk nonsense.

  11. GoodBytes

    Feeling like you can’t keep up in this industry is something we all recognise but nobody really talks about it because that would sound like you’re not successful as others. Since I’ve learned to say no more often, I’m much more relaxed. Let’s all try to do less things and do them better. Thanks for sharing this Christopher, I’m sharing this with my students and management in school as well. All the best!

  12. Josiah Sprague

    I’ve been reading a lot about mental health issues in the web industry lately. I’d be interested to see what kind of statistics our industry has in terms of mental health and things like suicide. It seems to me that there is a subtle hidden problem in our industry, and in order to do something about it, we need to understand it better.

    I did a few Google searches looking for information about this and wasn’t able to find anything. Does anyone have more info regarding mental health in the web industry?

  13. Arthur Mwai

    That’s a very honest post,feeling insecure plagues most web engineers and techpreneurs but few people talk about it.

    I hope you journey to better self-discovery leads to a more balanced life.
    “To know life in each and every breathe,every cup of tea you have…every joke you share .”

  14. Chani

    hugs
    It’s a fucking hard journey. But it’s worth it. You’re worth it.

    The programming industry has exactly the same problems. There’s something seriously wrong when “we only work 40 hours a week” is newsworthy. :/ Something needs to be done, but with so much work, who’s got the energy left to do it?

  15. John Ryan

    Christopher,

    You lived. That is most important. Be sure to get some help. It is amazing that you can write about this publicly. My first attempt I was young and dumb. I came close to making a second attempt years later, but I was lucky and saw the signs. Googling how to kill yourself is a sign… I found a counselor who helped me work on how to handle life better. Life is better, tough, but better. Stay strong.
    Thanks for sharing.

  16. Noel

    Thanks a lot for this Chris. I hope it helps you by sharing this as much as it has helped me by reading it. Best of luck, cheers.

  17. undersound

    Thanks for your honesty. A lot of recognition in your story. Altough a hard time I am very grateful for the lesson I learned. I am happy for you. And like you said…to simply enjoy life.

  18. Heather Burns

    @ Josiah Sprague – here is a podcast from a BBC show on the group Geeks and Depression. It’s a small start.
    http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/fivelive/pods/pods_20130226-0932a.mp3

    Google Geeks and Depression to learn more.

    There is an organisation in my area that does mental health first aid training – recognising the warning signs in yourself, and in others, learning self-management, and dealing with suicide threats. I’m hoping to co-ordinate a workshop with them for freelancers and geeks in the new year. After all, as I learned, when you are a freelancer with a client who is experiencing a mental health episode, you can’t just pick up the phone and call your human resources manager. You’re in your living room, and the client is outside ringing your doorbell. We need to start looking out for each other.

  19. Stenseven

    Two years ago I came to the realization that my 10-year career in website design and development was eating me alive. I’ve slowly unloaded one client after another and am very close to canceling my hosting plan.

    The reason? Thankless condescending clients that don’t want to pay and industry professionals with their heads stuck very far up their posterior regions.

    Anyone who remains in this business is either stupid or, as it turns out, in mortal danger. I’ve seen many families and relationships destroyed by the imbalance the profession creates.

    Do yourself a favor. If you can, change careers. Things are not going to get any better in the interwebs. If that doesn’t work out then settle for sanity by slowing down. You only get one life.

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