This will be a long read to describe my thoughts process and rambling behind Zen Enso’s origin. I would recommend grabbing a cup of coffee or green tea. Sit back and relax to go through comfortably. You’ve been warned. 😅
You see, I wanted to investigate what was bothering me in my career and how should I move forward in my life. Along the way, I found some pretty cool stuff and wanted to share what I found in the forms of an app and articles I wrote.
This post is the first entry in a series of 13 about the story behind the app on Zen Enso.
- A Spark That Kick Off a Quest of a Soul-searching Adventure
- It’s Very Entertaining Listening to Alan Watts
- The Old Man Pointing the Way
- 13 Lessons I learnt About Myself and Probably Useful to You as Well
- The Evolving Ideas and the Differences it Might Have
- What Zen Enso is Aiming for and Trying to Bring About
- Should Life be a Puzzle to be Figured Out?
- The Authors are Who They are: Human Beings
- How to Best Use Zen Enso and to Contemplate About Your Life
- How Does the Name Zen Enso Comes to Be?
- Zen Enso Could be One of My Best Work Yet
- The App Reception, Extra Resources, and a Closing to the Story
- The TLDR: We Don’t Have All the Time in the World!
What Ignited the Spark?
To tell the story, let’s rollback time a little to the beginning of 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to rear its ugly heads. Work had been stressful and tiring but this new outbreak turns the world upside down.
We’ve come to know Covid-19 as the official designation for this new entry into the Coronavirus family with fast-growing Greek letters variants. Omicron is the latest manifestation when this is published.
Remember the mad rush to stock up on toilet papers and sanitizers when the world started to realize what is happening? 🤣 Civility is relegated, fear is running high in every direction and manner imaginable. The world entered a period of great uncertainty and insecurity.
It’s also the first pandemic I need to live through and not something I could read from a history book recounted by historians. The period gives me a rare glimpse of how all of us react in the face of potential loss and death.
I’m glad at the same time because as a human species on this planet have all the required medical knowledge, technologies, expertise, and foresight to quickly deploy vaccine candidates else we are facing another Black Death class pandemonium on our hands.
So far, I’ve already had 3 shots to my name. Yay me!
Did I mention that it was already stressful working before the pandemic? Well, working at home becomes the norm for me coupled with an already unreasonable deadline on deliverable, tiring code merging procedures, tone-deaf management, unresponsive communication, and uncooperative remote teams to say the least.
It’s a toxic work culture that I realized early on with potential (red) flags coming up from time to time but I sweep it aside until I can’t anymore.
As a career, I’ve been an Android Developer for 7 years. It’s part software engineering, part art, and part development all rolled up into one. I make pixels move on a small rectangular slab of glass and aluminum that almost everyone owns nowadays in their pocket 😎.
For this period of my life, I was working with a consultancy that has a corporate client in Singapore while I work in their Malaysian office. As I understand it, this nearshore arrangement is established to save on cost.
Singapore office is where the core team resides while Malaysia runs the nearshore operation that participates along with core members on modules development. Communication is always a challenge but we make it work somehow with our ingenuity.
As Things Starts to Heat Up
I was working long and hard at home as the pandemic pick up steam in the mid of 2020. Working 72 hours or more a week becomes the norm among the team members and management didn’t care about the well-being of the resources that are under them.
All squads (we are using the Spotify model) were pushing their own Death March for their modules because the pandemic causes lots of disruption and pushes back lots of project timelines.
To give some perspective, a module that needs 4 months development time to complete but is shrunken down to 2 months, resources are cut back in a team, and an ever-increasing scope creeps on defined scope of work.
I like how the client had built a good foundation on the technology stacks, it’s modern and on the cutting edge of technology for its sector. It’s perfectly what I’m looking for in terms of personal improvement and potential growth when I joined to help build the remaining systems out.
The local team members and management are a blast to work with. However, the same cannot be said for remote management. As orders are forced down daily, the growing divide of on/nearshore teams and tight timelines makes everyone on edge.
It’s hard for everybody to catch a breath and we’re all feeling the symptoms of burnout but no one admits it outright.
Working During the Pandemic
The always-on-culture while working at home is making a lot of people go cray-cray, including me. There is no true separation between work and life while working at home.
I’m lucky to have a good scrum master taking care of the communication from remote management chasing for updates and releases. The other teams are not so lucky as they will still need to update local and remote management up until midnight.
The sound of the Microsoft Team ringtone on my phone and MacBook become very anxiety-inducing. Is it possible to get PTSD from this? 🤔 I had to set DND (Do Not Disturb) at night to get some much sought-after peace.
There was one time, a few colleagues from another local team practically live in the office rushing to implement backend API that need 3 months but shrunken down to less than a month of developmental work.
Don’t Be a Hard Worker When It’s Not Appreciated or Compensated Correctly
Before the pandemic, I’m was working borderline 995 in the office and sometimes 996 when there are some issues. However, the heat turns straight up as we start to work at home.
The 996 reference comes from China, it helps to describe the starting and ending of work time with the number of days on the last digit.
Overworking coupled with a stressful working environment is not healthy for anyone doing it long term. I know if I permit this to continue for any longer, the eventual erosion of my mental faculties and physical abilities will be indisputable.
The Signs Quickly Becoming Clear
The signs were increasingly becoming obvious as my sleep quality was in rapid decline and my exercise routine become non-existent while the habits of eating unhealthy food were trending upward. Those are not good indicators if I want to be alive until old age with little impediments on my body.
I sit too much and look at my screen for too long to be considered healthy in any measure. Heavily relying on coffee to give me the kick when I need an energy boost was slowly going up.
Seriously, I’ve no desire to develop acute heart complications in my early 30’s with this lifestyle. Trading my health this way for money is silly looking at it now but I was not able to see this when I’m in the thick of it.
Not a Good Deal Trading Health for Money
In all honesty, I was paid well as a local talent but the amount of stress and hurdles I need to overcome quickly diminish any monetary returns. The pay becomes less worthwhile when it’s divided by the hour I spent working.
Trading my health for money is not a good idea in the long run especially once I develop any potential lifelong health issues. These issues will stick with me for the remainder of my life and money usually is not enough to return it to its original healthy state.
Daily Firefigthing Becomes the Norms
It’s often understandable of the untimely call for a crunch time when a project or feature is near launch date to fix up any remaining bugs or after launch support. Still, the team always remains in a never-ending crunch mode, and firefighting daily is not normal nor healthy.
There isn’t much of a work-life balance here before Covid-19. From what I could surmise with my observation, the classic execution of churn and burn is the default modus operandi with a large project like this.
The turnover rate on the development squads is high and you can see new faces every 3 to 6 months. I managed to survive over 2 major projects with the same client for around 20 months period. Yay me? 😥
Don’t be Dupe into the Hustle Culture
Previously, I’ve likened the idea of what the “Hustle culture” represented to me in which I would try to make it by doing my damnedest to build a better life. This conditioning of “Work hard, play hard” and “Do whatever it takes” with a splash of toxic productivity were flowing throughout my personal and professional life.
There was even a time even before this I was starry-eyed about working in a tech startup, owning equity, and going IPO. It does not help when there are comedy shows like Silicon Valley to make the idea sticky and niche outlets selling the entrepreneurship dream by sucking in every wantrepreneur on the Internet like me.
I was impressionable and naive back then but have grown considerably since then. I learn to observe and question things now with critical eyes on what is happening rather than being swooped up unknowingly as before.
Often in the media, we hear big company CEOs professing the virtues and sing praises of hustle culture because they benefit tremendously as they are the owner of these conglomerates and hold the most shares in the company to profit off these sentiments.
“Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla
and we have Jack Ma saying something similar.
“I personally think that 996 is a huge blessing, How do you achieve the success you want without paying extra effort and time?”
Jack Ma, CEO of AliBaba
Those sentiments make sense if I own a large organization and to ensure its continuous existence, indoctrination would be a viable tactic to get enough buy-in from current employees and future recruits. So, selling the dream becomes necessary to would-be buyers.
However, the equation changes if I’m just another employee trying to earn a living and have some time for myself rather than giving up everything to my employer.
A Smoke Signal I Can No Longer Ignore
Back to the main story from our mini detour, my mind was craving for some much sought-after tranquility and my colleagues started to half-jokingly talk about the picturesque lifestyle as a farmer rather than a programmer in our tea break sessions does not help.
I realized this is a flag. A signal to do something fast.
Inwardly, I feel fatigued, resentful, and angry toward the overall situation. I still played things professionally and did not show many issues outwardly and kept up with daily and weekly deliverables to the detriment of my health.
The remote management is tone-deaf and being obtuse to our woes. Nothing gets through and they want results no matter the cost.
Only after I had come to terms that I am indeed going through a burnout, I can say it is the best wake-up call anyone could ask for, it’s like Life came and gave me a much-needed slap on the face and said “Time to wake up buddy and see things for what they are“.
Don’t Play Yourself
I came to realize that having good health beats out any potential monetary rewards or fame. Living in a constant state of being overworked, sleep-deprived, and stressed out can cause chronic inflammation to the body. A long episode from them will inadvertently damage organs and internal systems thus making it hard for my body to heal itself.
My employer couldn’t care less if my health is damaged in the process of me rendering my services if the calculation makes sense for their bottom line. It’s just another business decision they make. I understand that I can be and will be replaced one day like a spent battery. That’s the reality of being a salaryman.
Be Aware of the Narrative You Tell Yourself
A word of caution to you reading this is If potential red flags start to sprout up like mushrooms after rain. It’s time to sit down calmly and process it through rather than sweep it under the rug and pretend nothing had happened. If you don’t know what these flags are then go read the whole article again or google it.
The false images and narratives I hold dearly, shattered. As I accepted the facts standing in front of me. The “Aha!” moment, as I realized how have I played myself 😅😲 things quickly snapped into clarity.
It’s paramount to understand when to work hard and when to work smart. Don’t work hard for something or someone that does not value you. Choose to work smart in such a situation and find a way out before things go sideways.
Also, understanding the nuances of one’s position and abilities. Knowing when to do what is a learned skill I think everyone should try to cultivate. At the end of the day, I’m responsible for my mental, physical and economic well-being.
When I Want to Do a Good Job But Can’t
I was trying to do a good job as a professional in my role but it proves to be very difficult to do so with a myriad of impediments as mentioned above.
This is not about moving a personal boulder in the path that is obstructing but changing a whole culture in an organization is a pretty hard thing to do. Especially when I am a hired help from the outside.
Burnout tends to be caused by people who want to do a good job, but are placed in a situation where doing a good job is very very difficult.Dr. K
Dr. K from HealthyGamerGG puts it nicely in the above quote.
Things aren’t rosy in many fields as well as it is happening in almost every profession especially with medical professionals, video game developers, frontline medical staffers, and any service or knowledge-oriented professionals.
If you think you might be suffering from burnout or is stressed out about something, it’s best to see how to address it properly or find the root cause of the issue before life leads you down a darker path.
The Soul-searching Journey Begins
My burnout experience enabled me to vehemently examine my beautifully crafted yet fragile layer of reality and mental constructs (everyone has their sets of images/symbols of this world along with the narrative they like to tell about themselves). What are yours?
The experience helps me to see through the facade I was holding my dear life on and the silliness of all of it 🤣.
Questions like “To what ends am I straining toward and for whom?” as well with “How did I end up here and feeling in this moment?” to “I should be more honest and truthful to myself” then “there’s something funny and phony about all these” and “why did I think I am suffering?” are common motive. Essentially, I was seeking clarity as to what is bothering me and how to approach them properly.
Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.Rumi
Thanks to Alan Watts which I will introduce in the post later. I fall down the rabbit hole of Eastern religion, spirituality, and philosophies to get a general sense of why we as a human species search for meaning in life and the numerous ways we’ve tried through thousands of years in his entertaining lectures.
Then much later, Jiddu Krishnamurti illuminated the rest of the way home by making everything crystal clear through his piercing intellect. I found that by listening to what he says and by investigating myself the answer eventually reveals itself. He does not give a cookie-cutter answer but will ask his listener to go within to search.
Thankfully, they provided what I was seeking and then found myself questioning existence itself.
Jokes aside, I do enjoy the ideas and concepts from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen from Alan Watts. Then Krishnamurti comes to set the foundation and pop any balloons I was inflating. They gave me a sort of ground to stand on and a much welcome perspective of the human psyche.
Thanks for Reaching Up to This Point
To give some closure to what happened to my colleagues. There was a mass exodus in both offices locations, in my office close to 90% of local team members are gone within 3 months. I’m glad most can secure another job quickly and are happier now than ever.
Well, that’s it for this entry for now, and next, I’ll approach the question on answering my existential questions.
Thanks for reading the 1st entry in a series of 13 in total. The next post is It’s Very Entertaining Listening to Alan Watts if you wish to continue the story. See you there!