It might be a little bit silly to be posting about vacation-related things on a developer/VR blog, but I had a really fun and introspective week, some of which I wanted to share my thoughts on. I also toyed with the idea of titling this post “The Importance of Non-Screen Time”, but ultimately I feel like it’s going to be a bit of a brain dump regardless, you’ve been warned. I’ve also decided to drop the “Monday Musings” title from my future posts – the posts will still be here, but including the day of the week they’re posted is redundant. So, onto the good stuff!
I have a hard time getting disconnected (as some of you saw with me updating every so often on Twitter) and after this past week, I’ve had a few thoughts on the idea of a vacation – what I’ve realized for me is that it’s less of a “I’m away in some foreign place doing fun things!” and is, instead, much more of a mindset. Now, I may be wrong, but I don’t know that there’s a lot of research done about “vacations”, so you’re getting a nice little N=1 on this.
There is a lot of pressure in emerging technologies. Things move fast. You have endless channels with which to communicate to different people, all over the world, in industries that focus on “move quickly, make mistakes, iterate, fail fast”, etc. This is multiplied in Silicon Valley and other cities around the world that want to encourage a startup, entrepreneurial mindset in their citizens. Combine the two, and you’re in an environment that can seem to be full of churn, and one where failure seems, to some, like the literal end of a world.
Being able to talk about burnout is hard. There’s so much going on in the Connected Age that makes it hard to admit we need a break sometimes. I’ve thought a lot about what this type of break is, and I’ve decided that for me, preventing burnout is all about a single idea:
I need time to exist independently as a human being, separate from my responsibilities.
That’s a nice, bullshitty-sounding quote that sounds entitled and very privileged, but self-deprecation aside, it goes a little deeper than that. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to travel all over the world for my job, something that I enjoy very deeply. I get to connect with people from different cultures and share a similar passion for virtual reality with them. I get to stand up in front of audiences and share a technology that I love, I am fortunate to be able to work from just about any place I can bring a computer, and work irregular hours on a variety of different things relating to immersive technologies. That all said – there was something different about this past vacation that finally helped me internalize the importance of taking a “break”.
All that said, there’s this spectrum of how much of my time and energy I can devote to something before the quality of that effort starts to suffer – and if you know me at all, you probably know that the amount of time I spend working on virtual reality isn’t minor. I spend a lot of my time and mental energy on things related to VR – whether it’s in an official capacity for my role at Microsoft, my non-official role co-organizing ARVR Women, writing blog posts, working on my own side projects, playing VR games in my living room – and I love it. I really and truly do. But with all of that, in my head, comes a list of responsibilities. Another bit of code to write for Traits & Trials. Revamping the curriculum for the fall Academy series that I’ll be teaching again (shameless plug – join the interest list!) You get the idea – that list goes on and on, but I’m guessing a lot of you know what I’m talking about.
Back to the vacation. As I mentioned, I have a hard time disconnecting entirely. The first few days of not-working were blissful. I went snorkeling with sharks! I saw a sea turtle, and went stand-up paddle boarding in a thunderstorm and saw seahorses (they’re beautiful, by the way). But I was also hungry. So far away from my responsibilities, I was itching to do more. Protected from the “what-ifs” that circle my head on a day-to-day basis, I finally worked up the courage to launch the teaser website for Traits & Trials (you get another shameless plug, but more on that in a future post) that I had built weeks ago, but was too afraid to go-live with. Without having my laptop, roadblocks that I had been feeling were impossible began to melt away into actionable steps to take for my projects. For my Oculus Launchpad weekly entry, I wrote yesterday:
Just got back from vacation, where I actually managed to get a surprising amount of non-coding work done on my project! Never underestimate the power of getting offline for a bit – I found it helped me fill in a lot of different gaps that had been holding me up from making as much progress as I had liked!
During the week, a lot of the tasks that had been floating around in my head began to turn into action items. The game that I’m building right now has several physical elements to it, which impact game play, and I had been having trouble figuring out how to build those out. I had a somewhat bitter sweet realization that some of the features that I had wanted to include were likely going to need to be scoped down for the first realization, and I revised some of my spec document to reflect that.
Being able to have time to let myself cool off from the sense of responsibility was monumental in giving my brain a chance to catch up and process the things that I had been stuck on. It’s allowing myself the option to sit back and take a little bit of time to exist outside of the “should-do” nature of an industry where it’s growing impossible to keep tabs on everything. That’s a really good thing for the industry, but might be something else that’s kind of challenging for people who have been involved with it for a long time, or at least, it has been for me at times. I’ve started to see an increasing amount of negativity within the industry, something that hasn’t been as publicly pervasive over the past two years as it is now. Getting away from the computer helped me stay less involved with things that don’t matter, and help that mental energy flow back into action items.
Before vacation, I spent about three days during E3 just watching various bits of drama unfold. It wasn’t something I’m proud of. It wasn’t something happy or healthy or, frankly, important. And yet, I felt sucked into it. I felt this incessant need to understand everyone’s feelings. To try and come up with a perfect opinion. I failed, because perfection isn’t real, especially on the internet.
So, at this point, I’ve probably rambled enough to get my point across. To some of you, this is probably all very, very obvious, but to anyone else who feels how I do – you’re not alone. This is a weird time in society, and for VR, and it’s – dare I say it – perfectly okay to be confused right now, or have those moments where you feel overwhelmed by what’s going on.
Now, what happened after I realized all of this?
Well, I enjoyed the rest of my vacation, for one – it was awesome. But I also spent a little bit of down time sketching out some of the ideas that were starting to make their way into my head. I started to get excited about the projects I was a part of again, thinking of new ways to make them better. To crystallize some of the bigger problems that I had been staring down and make them individual items for a check list. I imagined up monsters and puzzles and events and apps and things that I could do when I got back.
This isn’t broadly applicable advice or me sitting here proudly saying “I do work on vacation, I’m so fucking dedicated, guys,” it’s making a realization that for me, what I do is truly a passion – but I think that it’s important to recognize that it can still be easy to get caught up in it all. It’s recognizing the nuances that go into working in a field that is endlessly full of things to learn, in a world where it is possible to be engaged 100% of your waking hours. It’s permitting yourself to do those tasks that you’re really, really excited about, even if you’re thousands of miles away from home.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Be prepared for a deluge of new VR-related things over the coming weeks, a lot is going to be happening soon. Here you go, you get a bonus screenshot of some Traits & Trials concept “art”:
If you’re feeling overwhelmed – give yourself permission to take a short break from responsibilities. An hour to do something completely unrelated to work, even if you don’t feel like you’ve “earned” it. A half-day where you can do something you love but have spent too long writing off. Things move fast, but not so fast that an hour, a day, a week will remove you from it entirely. I know my permission doesn’t mean much, but I also know that sometimes it feels like it needs to come from somewhere.