I have a problem with deadlines. I understand why they are needed, but they give me a lot of anxiety and stress. Once a deadline is set, something switches in my brain and I go into overdrive. Nothing else matters. All attempts to maintain work-life balance are abandoned. Friends, family, hobbies? No time. Deadline.
Much of this stems from my prior experience with deadlines during my time at MIT and earlier in my career. At MIT we wore our lack of sleep as a badge of honor. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I fondly remember working through the night on a final paper, dropping it off at Sloan, and walking back to my dorm around 3 AM. Snow had recently fallen. I was the only person on Massachusetts Avenue. It felt like a beautiful scene from a movie. Never mind the hours-long horror scene that just wrapped with the completion of the paper.
When I started my career I was a workaholic. Despite this post to the contrary, I am still a workaholic. I fixed an asynchronous sweeper task last night around 1AM just before going to bed. A lot of this stems from fear. Fear of folks thinking I’m a fraud. Fear of the six-figure salary and equity vanishing. Some of the fear comes from work at other companies where the engineering team was given a speech about our project being a death march that, if not finished on time, would result in our firing.
Some of it comes from upbringing. There is a saying in the Black community (and perhaps amongst other minorities): you have to work twice as hard to get half as far. That is always in the back of my mind. Every. Single. Day. This sentiment is only reinforced by the fact that I’ve been one of the few Black faces in almost every room I’ve entered, in a professional setting, since the beginning of my career. I feel that I bear the weight of every Black person. If I don’t kill myself to deliver before a deadline I set a poor example for all Black people.
Is any of this rational? Not exactly. I know that the world does not look to me as an exemplar of Black engineers. However, the systemic racism that existed well before my birth and lead to the “twice as hard” mentality still exists. Is it what I feel and struggle with every single day? Yes. I’m working on it. Joining /dev/color has helped a great deal, but this is something I will battle with for the rest of my life.