A career in Information Technology can be mentally stimulating and great for your bank balance, but may not be quite so ideal for your emotional and mental health. Computer engineering, software development, engineering, science or any I.T. related work is great for exercising your analytical skills, but it can leave the more primitive (read: more powerful) emotional parts of your brain under utilised.
As far back as 1979, Richard Bandler and John Grinder (the guys behind Neuro Linguistic Programming) wrote in their book Frogs Into Princes:
We come from California and the whole world out there is run by electronics firms. We have a lot of people who are called 'engineers,' and engineers typically at a certain point have to go to therapy. It's a rule, I don't know why, but they come in and they usually all say the same thing, they go:
“Well, I could see for a long time how, you know, I was really climbing up and becoming successful and then suddenly, you know, when I began to get towards the top, I just looked around and my life looked empty. Can you see that? I mean, could you see what that would be like for a man of my age?'”
The writing was on the wall before my career as a computer engineer had even begun. Why does this happen? Because your brilliant, analytical genius brain is built on top of a more primitive and more powerful reptilian brain, which is driven by emotion and didn't evolve to sit behind a computer screen spending all day problem-solving. Ignore this fact at your peril. Sure, the current project you're working on is important and all, but if you don't pay attention to the other aspects of life such as your relationships and your emotional and mental health, you'll end up burning out and not caring. Who'll finish up the project then?
Having burned out in spectacular fashion myself, I can tell you that it isn't a pleasant experience. So here's what to do in order to stay sane when working in I.T., or any other highly analytical field:
Develop Your Communication Skills
Our brains are wired for socialisation with other people. We need to be connecting with real, live humans in order to stay mentally healthy. Our innate drive for connection is why Facebook is so tremendously popular; but beware that sitting behind a computer getting status updates isn't the same as relating to someone else in person. You need to develop 1-on-1 communication skills in order to be assertive, confident and well balanced.
If you don't have great social skills, start working on it. You'll find that all your relationships with people improve, and that humans can be even more rewarding to relate to than computers. This is good for business too: When I was an I.T. consultant, I discovered that the better my communication skills were, the more companies wanted my services because I could translate what their own engineers said into plain English that senior management could understand.
Learn To Dance
Dancing is great because it gets you out of your head, and puts some attention on your body. You'll also build co-ordination in muscles that you don't normally use when sitting at a desk basking in the glow of your LCD screen. Developing a sense of rhythm will further increase your co-ordination, and you're also likely to meet women. Lots of them. It may feel awkward at first, but stick with it until you master it. I met a lot of fellow computer geeks at dance class; it's a great outlet.
Take Up A Team Sport
A team sport will give you a physical outlet for stress and nervous tension, provide you with exercise, and engage you socially with other people. The key is finding a sport that you love, so you keep wanting to go back again and again. For me, it was volleyball, but whatever you find fun to play is what's most important. If there's a group at your work that play soccer or basketball at lunch time, it's time to go join them. You'll make less errors and have a fresher perspective on that web development project when you get back.
Playing music is another excellent way to exercise the creative/emotional side of the brain. Music has a complicated structure which offers a unique combination of analytical and emotional stimulation. Perhaps you'll even end up with a gig writing software for a digital synthesiser or something, and kill two birds with one stone. Get together with other musicians and have jam sessions on the weekend, or even form a band and play gigs in your spare time.
Ditch Your Emotional Baggage
If you got into I.T. in the first place partly because you were uncomfortable with your emotions, you may have some emotional spring cleaning to do. Be honest now; don't just avoid the hard yards because it sounds difficult. Unfinished emotional baggage generally shows up most clearly in relationships. If your partner tells you that you don't seem to understand how she feels, or that you're emotionally unavailable; or you have no partner and can't work out why, this could be worth exploring. Visit a therapist, healer, or do some personal development workshops; all the good workshops point out the importance of dealing with emotions if you want to be successful at anything.
Take Up Art
Creative though device driver software development may be, it's a little soul-less. Get yourself along to an art class, or at least visit a gallery and pick a favourite artist whose work you like. If you need a little extra motivation, enroll in a life drawing class. If you haven't heard, there will be a real live human there, they'll be naked, and probably female. Possibly a first for you if you've been a nerd too long. Find a form of art or creative endeavour that you can absorb yourself in to let off steam, instead of spending your weekend thinking of how to prevent that cool new printer control state machine you've been working on from deadlocking.
Learn To Talk To Women
Don't become a workaholic and neglect your relationships with women. If you have a partner, the fact that your work is paying the bills is no excuse: your relationship should come before your work. Start telling your partner how you feel, and listening when she does likewise. Don't try and fix things for her; learn from her how to express how you feel.
If you don't have a relationship, it's time to put some effort into improving the way you relate to women. Learn how to meet and talk to women, and become more interested in their world. Spend some time with your female friends talking about something other than your work. Find out what makes women tick, and start broadening your interests.
If you spend too much time with your brain in analytical mode, you end up like a body-builder who only exercises the same muscles all the time. That leads to an imbalance, which can contribute to stress and burn-out. Make sure you spend some time being a well-rounded human being, and you'll be able to enjoy that high-paying career in I.T. a whole lot longer. To learn more, see the chapters on each of these tips in Confident Man.