The Problem

We developers we are always out of time. Bugs take longer than we think, projects go late, new (and sometimes stupid) features are requested, and there is always work to do. So what do we do to combat this? Well, a natural human response is to work harder. We tend to put in longer hours, push more, and try to get things done quicker. It’s like putting fuel on the fire, and then blowing on the coals. Sure more heat will come out, but that fuel will burn faster.

And then the fuel is gone.

And when that fuel is gone, we feebly try to stoke the coals of productivity, but there is simply nothing left to burn, for it’s all burned out.

Bryce Wood Hammering a Billet of Metal at BOSS

The Solution

So what do we do? How can we prevent this issue in the first place. One solution is simply to change your location. But I recommend that you pick a different place with a different pace. Not only will you slow or even reverse your burnout, you’ll have time to ponder, meditate, and think about where you are headed.

Some ideal places to repair our lives are places where you can turn off the phone, and leave the laptop, and just unplug. Personally I recommend camping, hiking, fishing, the beach, mountains, rivers, lakes, and anywhere else in nature. Travel is just fine, but don’t go to a tourist trap. Have the courage to take the road less traveled, for that’s where the real adventure starts.

For me, my choice was to take a whole week off and go down to Boulder Utah (not Boulder Colorado), to the Boulder Outdoor Survival School for what they call Slickrock. There i’d pick one skill and focus on that skill for a whole week. This meant that instead of learning just a fraction of lots of skills, I would focus on just one, and gain a greater proficiency in it. For me, I chose primitive blacksmithing, where I’d learn about heating, and bending, and stretching metal, and use it a chance to pound out my frustrations.

A primitive house I found at BOSS

My Experience

Overall it was a worthwhile trip, and I learned plenty of useful skills. Most of all it was a chance to turn the phone off, and to just get away from technology. For me, I work as a Technical Consultant and I help my clients increase their conversions by making their website faster, and more mobile friendly. Granted the work is great, but it was nice to turn everything off, and enter a new mode of life–a new world if you will. Really, it was like stepping through an old wardrobe with fur coats into a new land, a new pace, and a new way of life. But this time, the weather was sunny, there was no snow, less trees, and the white queen has long been dead.

And what a world it was. BOSS is located directly in the middle of Southern Utah, and the landscape was charming. Thier property has two main biomes. One half is a sandy-shrub desert filled with the sweet aroma of sagebrush. The other half is more forested, and is full of Juniper trees (great for tinder and fire starting). Best of all there’s a stream running through the length of the property, and a pond for swimming in.

I picked a spot up on a gentle slope behind a juniper tree, and set up my tent. I’d later learn that tent stakes do NOTHING in the sand. Instead, take a stick, lay it over your corner straps (or through the ring if you have it) and then place heavy rocks on the the stick. This way when the winds pick up in the afternoon your tent isn’t blown over.

Then we met up in the evening and had orientation, and the best part is that they taught us how to make fire with a bow and drill. Granted the overall trip was great, but for me, this was the absolutely, positively, the most satisfying part of my trip. I’ve always wanted to know how to make fire with a bow and drill, and now I can do it. Honestly it’s an art form, and there are a lot of ‘tricks’ to it, but once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. You just need hands on training. I was trained by Matt Furches and he’s a phenomenal teacher. With his help (and some help by the Hide Tanner Digger Crist) I was able to get a fire going in 45 minutes. Now that I know how to do it, and if I had all the materials prepped and ready I could get a fire going in 3 minutes with a bow and drill. It just ‘clicked’ with me, and I finally got it. For me, the last hurdle was making sure I had the right pressure. Light to moderate at first, and then once the spindle is moving well then that is the time to give it heavy pressure. This one skill alone was worth going to BOSS, and I’m glad I went.

I made a fire with a bow in drill.

The next day we met up, were given a tasty breakfast (oats, granola, yogurt, and fruit), and met with our instructor. We made charcoal on the first day by burning wood in a pit, and covering it with some corrugated sheet metal. It took most of the day, but basically we just made sure it was smouldering well, and then only checked on it a few times during the day.

We then set to blacksmithing. First Bryce (our instructor) taught us the basics of blacksmithing, and set to work on the forge. He used primitive bellows made from animal skins, that had wooden slats at the top that we could open to pull air in, and close when we wanted to push air out. Honestly this was almost as primitive as we could get. We knelt in the sand, with bellows made from hides, with a circle of rocks to hold in the heat, and an anvil nearby to pound on.

Over the course of the week, we were taught heating, normalizing, tempering, drawing, curving, shaping, and a host of other useful skills. What I liked is that Bryce would teach us the basics, and then would let us go to practice on our own. He was there if we needed help, and he didn’t get in the way of our learning.

And some learning was hard to do. For instance, back at the main fire there was a canopy made of tree trunks and branches overhead. Yet there wasn’t anyplace to hang my small backpack. So I took a rod that came from a tire-jack kit from a car, and heated it. At first I took the larger rod, but I couldn’t get it hot enough in my fire. So I tried again with the skinnier one, and was able to get that glowing hot enough to bend. Eventually I learned how to use the horn on the anvil and I made a useable hook. Yet the next day I tried working with rebar, and I learned some lessons. Surprisingly rebar takes a lot, and I mean a LOT of heat to be able to bend it. And when you only have 15-20 second to shape your item before it cools, and since metal loses heat with each hammer stroke, rebar takes even more heat. I tell you, those with propane forges have it easy. There is a reason why they used to call it “working the bellows”. It takes work.

The final hook

The evenings were fun as well. Often we relaxed by the fire, and some nights we jammed on the guitar. From watching others I learned how to make chopsticks from a willow tree, how to burn out the round part of a wooden spoon with a hot coal, and that these people are serious makers. I saw hand made wooden bowls, clay bowls, necklaces, dogbane bracelets, buckskin clothing, cups, and homemade knives (courtesy of my instructor). Perhaps the most notable was the night when we had candied pecans cooked in a dutch oven with mexican Piloncillo (a pylon of cane sugar). They had a dutch oven but no spoon, so Digger pulled out his knife, grabbed some firewood, and billeted off a useable piece. He then carved it with expert skill, and in 4 minutes he had a usable and impressive spatula. Honestly my mind was opened to a whole new world (sans flying magic carpets from Agrabah). I could see new ways of making things, and I felt more empowered to change my situation to meet my needs. I was a city slicker no longer. I had started to become a maker. My Results Then it was time to go. The week was up, and I began the 3 ½ hour journey home.

Overall I was glad that I went. I needed the break, and it was such a relief to get away. Yet, I didn’t have as good as a time as I could, but that is all my own fault. First, my wife had a hard time with me away, and that made it harder to be there. Second, a small (and irrational) part of me expected to have all my problems solved by going there ( I don’t know why I thought this). I expected that by the time I got back I would have a clearer vision for where I wanted to take my life. But I didn’t, and a lot of my questions remained.

But what I did gain is peace, and a chance to let those things occur. I learned that you can’t force vision, clarity, and understanding. You can only still your mind, and when you are ready the understanding will come. I also benefited from NOT checking Hacker News and Medium every day, and detoxing from all the technology. It was a relief to not have that pull, and to spend my evenings either thinking, resting, or connecting with friends by the fire.

A spoon I carved

As for making things, in the end I made two hooks, one post-apocalyptic spoon, one awl, a wooden spoon, a set of chopsticks, and the grand achievement: a hand-forged knife, tempered, full tang, with an aspen handle. This thing is sweet.

The nearly finished blade

Finishing Up

Our minds and bodies need time to recover. If you keep going at your current pace you’ll keep getting what you’ve always had, or perhaps worse. Yet if you set aside time to rest, you’ll find that your mind and body will start to renew, your body will be rested, and you’ll be able to tackle problems that you struggled with before. Best of all, you’ll have the chance to evaluate your life, and decide if what you are doing is the best thing you can do.

Granted this is dangerous. Some of us will walk away determined to become writers, artists, craftsmen, hunting guides, or whatever else we desire to be. But that’s the point. There is more to life than coding in a cubicle all day. But you won’t find it if you stay where you are.

So get going.

And all done

Close

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Writing is one of my passions, and the other is helping people to have better websites. If your website is slow then you are losing traffic. And I can reverse that. I make websites fast, mobile friendly, and that convert well. All of these increase your revenue, and give you more customers. So, if you want to keep your hard earned leads on your website, then reach out to me, and I’ll make a world of difference.