The last 12 months have been a big adjustment for me. Just over a year ago, I almost lived at the keyboard of my PC - work, hobbies (mostly Ogre & general coding, but some PC gaming too). It was not unusual for me to spend 12 hours in a day sitting in front of a computer, coding away. I had a bit of RSI (addressed with low-profile keyboards and less mouse use), and some back pain on occasion, but I carried on because I loved what I did, and with always a huge list of things to do (and that I wanted to do!) I felt productive and content. I was the can-do guy. I felt I could take on anything if I wanted to, just by concentrating enough and putting the hours in. That enthusiasm and ability to focus was a blessing, and a curse.
It all came to a crashing end in one week in October 2008, when I spent several nights in a row not being able to sleep because of acute backache, pacing around the house at 4am in a lot of pain, culminating in not being able to get out of bed one morning, and being carried off in an ambulance pumped full of morphine. I hadn’t properly addressed several years of grumbling back problems in favour of getting on with what I loved doing to the exclusion of most other things, and eventually there was a breaking point. I’ve spent the last 12 months recovering from that sudden cliff-dive, and I can truly say it was a life-changing event; not at the level some people have to deal with of course, but still it’s one of those events that, in hindsight, everything can be described in terms of “before” or “after”.
I’ve scaled back my PC time extensively. I try to work smarter to compensate for it; that means more ruthless prioritisation of things that I want to do, and being far more hard-headed about getting sucked into other people’s priorities (and not putting up with as much bullsh*t as I used to). I think I try to juggle less balls now, and am less worried about letting the occasional one drop. Before, I would have worked my ass off to try to handle all incoming projects and keep all the balls in the air, now, my ‘What’s the worst that could happen’ metric has been completely reset and I’m far more likely to walk away from projects if they’re more hassle than they’re worth, or if I feel my time is being wasted. It also means that with Ogre I appreciate my community even more than before, and am more willing to delegate than I used to be. I don’t feel under the same pressure (which was largely self-inflicted) to be everywhere at once and spearheading everything myself; I’m happier to let others take the lead on many aspects and offer advice instead, on design, API structure and so on. I suspect that I’m probably developing into a better leader for that experience, learning how to loosen my grip a little and do more guiding instead; and I’m really lucky that our team and community seem to grow stronger every year.
I’ve also completely changed my exercise regime, which is to say I have one now 😀I hit the gym a couple of times a week and have a daily routine of home exercises (about an hour a day) which keep me flexible and compensate for the time I do spend at the PC, which is now mostly just office hours and maybe a few extra hours at the weekend and the odd evening. I spend a few hours a week gaming, play my guitar(s), read and socialise.
Strangely, I actually think my back problems have done me good overall, although I can only look at it with that perspective now that I have the situation largely under control. I think my previous level of intense focus, while very productive and hugely satisfying, and ultimately responsible for lots of great things like my career and Ogre, was very unhealthy. It’s hard to step away from when you’re on a roll, but having been forced to do so, I feel much better for it - less stressed, more centered generally. There’s more to life than work, than computers, and yes, even than open source 😉 That’s not to say you can’t do those things, I certainly intend to continue to do so, but balance is so important, and yet so easy to lose track of. Society these days is hugely pressurised - you have to compete hard for everything, to earn money, to be more successful, to do things better than the other guy, and so on. Many of us just push ourselves as a matter of course, because we have high or maybe even unrealistic expectations for ourselves, or maybe just out of habit, and we end up sacrificing too much on the altar of progress - for some it’s marriages or relationships, for some it’s moral integrity, for some (including me) it’s health. Sometimes getting sideswiped by events and being shoved off that perpetual better-faster-stronger-harder treadmill can be a good thing long-term, because you get to stop concentrating on just keeping up for a while and take stock of what’s important. I’m certainly going to try to keep that in mind from now on.