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Finishing Things on the Internet

Reflections on the event of finishing New Rustacean.

May 27, 2019 (updated May 29, 2019)Filed under blog#burnout#podcasting#writingMarkdown source

Assumed audience: most anyone, but especially people who have followed along with New Rustacean, my experience with burnout, or both!

I am cross-posting this to this site and my newsletter, and the reason it is a couple days late will be apparent in the content below. A good thing, but a big thing!

I have in mind today the finishing of things. No surprise, given that today I concluded a 3¾-year-long project: my Rust programming language podcast, New Rustacean.

This conclusion has been a long time coming. I had meant it to happen last year, originally planned it to coincide with the Rust 2018 Edition release, when that was planned for October. The Edition release slipped till December, and this conclusion slipped till now: the end of May, 2019. The reason will be clear to anyone who has followed along with me: burnout. 2018 took a serious toll on me, and so this act of finishing was much delayed.

But more than 100 episodes along, with more than 165,000 words of material—I don’t know the actual final length of the show in minutes, though I have a mind to figure it out sometime in the next few days—New Rustacean is concluded. That’s a really good feeling. It is also, I note, a rare feeling as an adult. I noted this back when I moved from Olo to LinkedIn:

Life changes like this are simultaneously momentous and strangely quiet. When I was younger, I expected large shifts in life to have some sense of their importance: a “big bang” feeling to them, and a feeling of finality. It would seem that days like yesterday — as I wrapped up everything that was on my plate and even had a little (all-remote!) hang-out to say goodbye — would lend themselves to just such a sense of import and finality. Instead, it was mostly a day like any other, and at the end of it I was left only with a lingering melancholy.

The mix of emotions is different today—but that it is a mix, and that there is no big bang feeling to it, are the same.

It is not only that the feeling of finishing a thing is rare, though. It is that, in many cases, actually properly concluding a thing at all is rare. Or at least, in my experience it has been. I have yet to both start and finish a given major project in any of my “regular” day jobs. I have managed major milestones in some of them, and in my consulting work I have finished a few projects as well. But much of my work life has consisted of carrying the ball a few yards further down the field and then setting it down for someone else to do the same.

New Rustacean is not like that. I started it back in September 2015, and I finished it today. It has a real beginning and a real end, and the end is not merely a petering-out, a slowly-giving-up, but rather a long-planned specific conclusion to the project. I started the show to teach people Rust. I stopped when I felt I had done so to my own satisfaction. As I said in the final episode, it is not that there is not an endless array of more I could cover: but that I have covered enough.

Conclusions like this are good for the soul. They are good for the individual soul, to be sure: my own feels lighter and freer and I am very ready for this next phase (the research writing app I have mentioned here before). But I also think that conclusions are good for the public soul, as it were. We burn people out—and I use that phrase advisedly!—by expecting their efforts to go on so long as we, their consumers, enjoy them. By contrast, it seems to me, seeing someone carefully and actively finish a thing helps us remember that people’s lives have seasons, and that no one can (much less should) do a given thing indefinitely, and above all that people exist with lives and interests of their own beyond the ways we may encounter them.

This is perhaps doubly true on the internet, where we have but these small windows into people’s souls. Not that we have perfect windows in person—but people far more often let down their guard and let us see them as they really are (even on accident) when face-to-face than when avatar-to-avatar. Too easily does avarice for attention corrupt—even when we aim at authenticity. And too easily does our communication devolve to perfectly curated self-presentation: even our online authenticity is often performative. It makes it easy to forget how human people are, how we need to find these moments of closure, how much we are not mere factories-of-content but people, possibly with other dreams.

(I’m grateful to report that I have only rarely had nastily-communicated demands from listeners of New Rustacean. But it has happened!)

Conclusions serve as those kinds of reminders. Projects can be good and still come to a close! Sometimes, even, projects are best precisely when they do have definite ends. I hope and think that is so with New Rustacean: that in ending it as I have, I will let it be not something that I burn out on and which someday pitifully trails off, but instead a thing good in its wholeness and its completeness. So I hope, and I can but act, and hope!