The post-lockdown work rave, abuse, and shortened fuses10 min read

This article is a mix of personal stories, social & interpersonal psychology, and technology (with some drive-by remarks about Free & Open Source software). I originally drafted this article in the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022, but I needed more time to rewrite it a fourth time (because why not). So, while this post ends up landing straight into the twilight zone “between xmas and New Year”, it has more insights and illustrations and arguably makes for a better-rounded story, even if it’s a 7 to 9 minutes read rather than 5-6.

For all its faults and unpleasant aspects, 2020 had at least one thing going for it, in my case: the relative lack of opportunities in my line of work at the time gave me some more space to think and justification to breathe, at a time where the world was coming to terms with “It’s okay to not be 100% productive, it’s okay to try to enjoy small things in life, and just be“. I was privileged to be able to afford that suspension of affairs (due to the society I live in and the way my lifestyle is structured), and I was fortunate enough to not have had casualties in my direct entourage in light of that year’s context.

Then suddenly, in 2021, after a year of nothingness, work picked up. Hold unto your buckets!

As I often say in business, when the train passes through the station, you get onto the damned train. Or perhaps I should say, while the horse is still around while you’re being chased by a colossus, you jump onto that f’ing horse. Well, it turned out to be a surprisingly long and sporty ride.

Shadow of the Colossus pixelart” by Fernando Henrique, used with permission for editorial purposes.
Check out his amazing gallery!

The Work Rave

I initially thought 2021’s work surge would last only a short while, that I would soon have time to rest and take a step back “when the client work pipeline dries up because of some new pandemic/economic SNAFU.” The intense “hustle while you can” marathon—in reaction to the dry business year of 2020—was necessary, but it was also quite exhausting.

Continuous work with very little physical activities (lockdowns and curfews didn’t exactly improve my already sedentary lifestyle) also had a tangible impact. I don’t think I’ve ever taken as many boiling hot baths as during that year, where I had to regularly unbreak my hands—that were frequently on the verge of RSI, from too much typing and mousing—and rest my eyes (which were almost always dried out near the end of the day). My body was forcing me to slow down (later in the year for example, I had to stay away from the keyboard for two weeks or so because the hands just couldn’t type), and this was supremely annoying to me; after all, it’s not like I was sick, nor worried about food & shelter, so how could I not make the utmost productive use of my time given my arguably envious position in the context of the pandemic?

Summer went by without work drying up that year (nice problem to have, I know 🫠), so after maybe two weeks of semi-vacation (read: working on my own tasks and a GTG release, instead of client work) I went right back to the work treadmill. By that time I had experienced two micro-burnouts in the months prior, but, again, strike the iron while it’s hot, seize the work while it’s available, etc.—we didn’t know what would happen in the fall season, after all.

Witnessing abuse

Around the same time, I was also trying to support two good friends who were undergoing nervous breakdown due to criminal harassment and who, in late summer, were in deep distress. Now, if you’ve paid attention to my last few years’ retrospectives so far, you know I’ve had my share of dead friends in the past, so no, not this time, not on my watch.

I told my clients about my reduced availability during that time, and focused on helping those friends—from mere emotional and logistical support (“I have extra capacity. Use it.”, I said) to “last minute evac to the airport”, as they had to exile themselves for their own safety (because this is the harassment they’ve been going through). They have now left the country forever. It pains me that I won’t be able to see them around much anymore, but if that’s what it takes for them to stay alive, so be it.

It started out as a dark, life-threatening situation, and they are now safe and sound, albeit an ocean apart. I guess that’s a reasonable outcome.

"This is fine" dog

Facing abuse

Shortly afterwards however, an acquaintance of mine (unrelated to the situation described above) started gaslighting and bullying me. Figures! That person had previously been a good friend of mine, and they used to live by the ethos of openness and generosity towards others… until then, that is.

Indeed, within the span of a few months, money and power had irreversibly shifted that person’s worldview and abruptly brought out the worst in them, to the point where they could no longer be reasoned with—any such attempt would only bring out more furious and outlandish demands from them, and they continued to try to bully me into submission and oblivion.

I was in shock and awe at the selfish and petty power trip unfolding before my eyes.

What had happened to that person’s previous noble ideals and “standing up for your colleagues” principles? Alas, that person had now survived long enough to become the exact embodiment of the kind of patronal hubris and unfairness they had vocally despised before (when they were on the other side of the fence). My discontentment was profound:

“You were the chosen one!
It was said that you would destroy the haute bourgeoisie, not join them!
Bring fairness to the proletariat, not leave it in darkness!”

By that climatic scene, their continued bullying had brought me on the verge of 2021’s third micro-burnout, and I had now lost literally an entire week of sleep thinking about the situation and how disappointed I was in their self-centeredness… and that was enough. It had to stop.

At that point in the year—and after the “above-and-beyond” energy spent trying to salvage other difficult relationships in previous years, some with real life-threatening circumstances—I had no patience left for this kind of meaningless abuse, and sought to gracefully yet swiftly end that relationship. It is unfortunate for them as I was pretty much the only friend remaining in their life (they had previously alienated all other friends and family members… see a pattern here?), but I’m not here to save everyone against themselves, particularly not when they show aggressiveness towards me.

Sure, demonstrable facts and reality were on my side, but it wouldn’t matter: that person could no longer be reasoned with; their paranoïa made them imagine adversaries everywhere they went, and counter-PsyOps would have been way above my paygrade. I have heard enough stories of similar situations, and we ain’t got no time for that, so… Neutralize and move on. Have a nice life, buddy.

Pictured: “You want to boss me around?
Oh no, you don’t. I’m too old for this sh!t.”

Facing short fuses: a challenge of our times

You know, I understand how most of us have been in a generally irritable mood since 2020—heck, even I have much lower levels of tolerance compared to the inordinate amounts of B.S. I can normally endure, and generally speaking, I think something broke in all of us—so I try to be patient, helpful, understanding and loving to everyone I meet out there… but I have definitely seen people around me having a much shorter fuse and getting offended about everything and anything.

Even something as mundane as an email where I say, “Here’s my phone number as you requested, call me when you want, if I don’t answer I’m probably outside doing errands”. Or for cracking too many jokes in social encounters among friends. Or for pointing out that a PowerPoint or Photoshop mockup is not a MVP and that you shouldn’t erroneously use that term in front of investors if you don’t want to be instantly discredited. Or for taking more than 48 hours to reply to a friend’s email about some drying machine’s warranty enforcement options, while I receive an average of 200 to 250 emails per week. Seriously, some people around me got offended about those things! And I’m like:

At some point, my empathy has limits, and I’m not a punching bag for the perpetually-offended and self-indulgent. Yes, we’ve been living through difficult times, and yes, I do have a degree in psychology and inordinate amounts of patience, but you’re not paying me to be the übertragung medium for your personality laid bare. I’ve already had enough people attempt to play mind games on me in the last few years; no more.

In business and relationships these days, when someone is being unappreciative of my contributions, dismissive of my value, or accusing me of this or that perceived emotional slight, I am now cutting them out. Life is too short to be spent comforting self-centered or inconsiderate people.

👉 As an aside: similarly, I can empathize with various FLOSS project maintainers having very limited tolerance left for passive-aggressive commenters lately, and thus their tendency to quickly lock heated tickets in their issue trackers, as we’ve seen in some areas of GNOME in recent years. I, for one, am incredibly grateful for the many improvements we have seen throughout the GNOME applications & technology stack from 2020 to 2022 (even if I sometimes disagree with some design decisions), but details of my appreciation will probably warrant some standalone blog post or two! In the meantime: thank you, fellow contributors. Your work is not going unnoticed.

With this mindset, and after what transpired through the first three quarters of 2021, I had to take a break from any non-essential work at the start of the fall season in 2021. I had reached the limit on the amount of madness for the year, and staring at the inevitability of the dreaded year-end administrative & financial planning tasks, I decided to phase out existing client work and not take on any new clients during 2021’s last quarter.

Thus in 2022, to avoid burning myself again, I’ve then been very selective about what client work I take on (luckily, my client assignations have been very pleasant that year); I have then been trying to focus my remaining time on draining the swamp, keeping enough free time for myself and my involvement in FLOSS projects and local non-profit orgs, and preparing to scale the business in 2023-2024.

…but scaling, my friends, is a story for another day. I’ve yet to write a retrospective summary of all the cool things that happened throughout 2022, too. Assuredly, my next few blog posts will be quite a bit more upbeat! 😊


2 responses to “The post-lockdown work rave, abuse, and shortened fuses10 min read

  1. Jacob Emcken Avatar
    Jacob Emcken

    This is an excellent read, thanks for sharing.

    1. I am glad you liked it, thank you for your kind words, Jacob. Makes it all worth the many hours spent revising & rewriting this 🙂