Stress and fatigue are common ailments of the modern knowledge worker; people spend their free-time and hard-earned money to manage the excess stress in all kinds of different ways. In my past life as a research scientist, the stress from work followed me everywhere. While I found my work interesting and challenging, it was also all consuming. If something didn’t go well (which is often the case in science), I would bring that stress home with me. A particularly stressful project could follow me for years.
It got to the point where I could scarcely remember how it felt not to be stressed out. I was lucky to have one remarkable vacation that I thought of often during these times. It was one of those trips when the timing worked out perfectly; I had wrapped up one project and got away for a couple of weeks, and I had a new project to return to. I have a friend who calls this the in-between times, and agrees that they are extremely rare. He remembers once having a month between two jobs where all the loose ends were tied up and has never felt that way since.
The feeling is hard to describe. I don’t want to say that my mind was empty—maybe it’s better to say that my mind was ready—ready to pick up a book, or a new project; ready to go out and explore and try something new. Since coming to Menlo I’ve discovered that you don’t need to take a three-week vacation to have a brain that feels like its fresh from a vacation. Sure, it has not been perfectly stress-free every day since I’ve started working here. There have been a few days that I feel beat up after work, especially in the beginning. But, after getting over the learning curve of a new culture and a new programming language all at once, stressful days have become the exception.
And just as unrelenting stress can wear you down and leave you feeling burnt out, regular stress-free days are cumulatively restoring. I often wonder about my days of doing research—how much would I have paid to have a mind that feels fresh. It’s hard to put a dollar figure on something like that, but I like to compare it to the costs of three or four long vacations each year. That would have been a good chunk of my yearly salary.
I like the work I do here, I like my co-Menlonians, and the pay is ok. Even if the pay is a bit less than the industry average for software development, I love the way I feel when I get home and have my mind completely to myself. I think that it is a very valuable form of compensation.