Aaron's Blog

Tech, tinkering, and occasionally, a banjo tune

How Homebrewing Saved Me from Burnout

It's weird to say that beer saved me from depression. Let's face it, it's not exactly the most common thing for someone to claim as having a positive impact on one's life. But beer saved me, in a weird sort of way.

Last winter, I was miserable. My wife saw it, my coworkers saw it, and after many conversations that highlighted my incessant complaining about my former employer, I finally admitted that I was in fact, a bit of a mess. My symptoms included:

  • Being a bit of an ass to my wife, whom I love fiercely
  • Being a outright ass to some of my customers
  • Complaining about the lack of necessary change occurring in my department
  • And generally complaining about anything I could find a reason to complain about

In short, I was bitter, overly critical, and no one wanted to be around me...including me. I'd woken up several times during the winter months and thought, "Not again. I can't do another day of this. Why in the hell did I move 1,100 miles for this?"

That's when one of my dearest friends and mentors suggested that I take up a hobby. He and I'd been talking over Slack and he asked me, "Do you have any hobbies?" Dumbstruck, I couldn't recall having anything to do during my free time other than study for certifications and try and bone up on all things *NIX-y. That night, I decided that I was going to take a week and learn how to homebrew. That was the best decision for my mental health that I'd made in a while.

I'd mentioned to a coworker that I was going to take some time to homebrew. He generously gave me his kit, noting that he wasn't using it. After a month, I had a passable ESB. Mind you, it was a bit watery, but it was by no means terrible.

In that watered-down, bubbly bit of brew, I found a hobby. I found something that would keep me from being completely burnt out.

I'm particularly interested in why brewing staved off the burnout. After all, it wasn't that I chose brewing as a hobby with the express purpose of keeping my sanity. I had chosen homebrewing on a whim, namely because I like good beer and wanted to make my own "good" beer.

It wasn't until Christmas that my mentor hit on something in a SysAdvent post that he wrote. To quote him: "Brewing beer is a mixture of being methodical, something that is near and dear to all our hearts, and art." I'd found a medium of expression that allowed me to still be methodical (something that was required in solving the types of problems a systems administrator solves), and be creative...the element that was missing from day-to-day duties.

As an INTP, I need space to create. Relentless break-fixing is something I've since discovered contributes to a regular cycle of burnout for me. If I'm stuck in that constant cycle, I'll inevitably start becoming a bit of an ass again. Thankfully, I've got a few hobbies now, and one that I've found that I love doing.

PS: If you're struggling with burnout, head over to burnout.io. The site has a great list of ways that you can mitigate burnout.