Nervous Breakdowns and the Importance of One’s Work

«One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important, and that to take a holiday would bring all kinds of disaster. If I were a medical man, I should prescribe a holiday to any patient who considered his work important.»
Bertrand Russell

I’m not a fan of home office work, among others, because I think work should stay at work. You need time to think, time to reflect, time to do something different. And home is a place that should remain for this purpose, untainted by associations with work. A bit like the Rutherford story:

Ernest Rutherford once asked a student who was working one evening whether he also worked in the mornings. The student proudly answered yes. “But when do you think?” Rutherford replied. He was convinced that the creative scientists spent evenings and holidays relaxing with their families, and imposed strict limits on the hours his students worked.
Bekessy, S. (2006). More than one route to PhD success. Nature, 443(7112), 720.

And especially in academia — or in any laptop class job — you can easily take your work home. And given the stress of the last two years, it’s easy to lose balance. I don’t only see it with myself, but also with some colleagues and students. Especially those who want to influence — or in their minds save — the world. I’m not a fan of «saving the world», especially not by people who cannot save themselves from burning out. And yeah, it is fun to burn brightly, but there’s a tension between using your time to the fullest:

«I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.»
George Bernard Shaw

and burning out like in Blade Runner:

«The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy.»
Tyrell in Blade Runner

And in the end, without checks and balances, mostly by yourself, you compromise your ability to work:

«Now go back to sleep, Wang-mu. And you, Master Han– your fatigue is showing very clearly. You’re useless to us if you lose your health. As Andrew has told me, over and over– we must do all we can do without destroying our ability to keep doing it.»
«Xenocide» by Orson Scott Card

Which isn’t that easy in a world that is dominated by fear porn. After all, «if it bleeds, it leads» was a good business tactic for the media, but with mobile devices, push notification and 24/7 access to changing news, it is fear that keeps people captive. Newest infection numbers, newest developments that will kill us (in 3, 10, or 12 years), etc.

So, yeah, I think Bertrand Russell nailed it with his comment on terribly important work and holidays. Also makes for a nice image:

But now, happy relaxing.