Does hacking over the holidays make you the best?


Over Christmas last year I saw this tweet by Joe McCann. At a time where rest and family time are typically encouraged, I took a moment to pause and reflect on how I felt about his statement. In an industry where burnout is glorified and often unfortunately required to get ahead, should a CEO really be encouraging hacking over the holidays?

When Joe made this tweet there was a lot of debate about what it meant. Many jumped to assume that by ‘hacking’ he meant working. However he quickly clarified that he meant tinkering — working on a side project or exploring a new skill.

Learning and tinkering are always going to make you better at what you do. However is it really true that to be ‘the best’ you have to learn and tinker over the holidays?

The best people that I know tinker all year round. In fact, some of them even make a point to relax on holidays.

Joe is only sharing his experience and acknowledged that everyone’s experience differs — something I welcome and think is healthy for our industry. Despite this though, the statement continued to linger in my mind for a long time. It caused me to question how I was tinkering and when. Was I not tinkering enough? Was taking a break over the holidays causing me to fall behind the rest?

As I was sitting around the Christmas tree I couldn’t help but be anxious about all the people in my field getting ahead of me by tinkering on Christmas day.

I decided to ignore my thoughts on this for a while.

However with Easter just passed, I paused to reflect on this again. Even before Joe’s tweet, each time a holiday approaches I have an internal debate with myself about whether I’ll tinker or take the time to rest. The choice often depends on my current workload. This Easter I decided to do both; relax and do a little bit of tinkering — but only enough to keep the momentum going on some of my projects.

We often assume time off is purely leisure and underestimate the influence it can have on our performance and creativity. 

When I take time off, I come back feeling rejuvenated, inspired and motivated to get the engine going again. I get back to work with a new drive. If I were to sacrifice those experiences and tinker instead, would would the impact be?

There’s already so much pressure on us to be hustling day in, day out. Burnout is real and I’ve seen many close friends start seeing a psychologist just to deal with their burnout and anxiety. 

As I was writing this post a friend who’d chosen to spend Easter on a mini vacation texted me: 

“Rather than leaving me feeling relaxed my break has left me feeling stressed [about all the things I have to do].” 
— My friend

It’s easy to forget that often, things can wait. Knowing when to rest, recharge and refuel, and honouring that guilt-free is essential to any creatives stamina.

Creativity and energy is like a gas tank that needs constant refilling. We can’t expect it to be full 100% of the time or perform well on empty. Like a well oiled car, creativity needs tender love and care to avoid a fast burnout.

The problem with burnout is that it’s unexpected, granting us little time to prepare for it’s arrival. Many times we don’t know it’s coming until it’s too late. 

For one person, tinkering over the holidays might not contribute at all towards their level of burnout. In fact, they might see it as stress-relieving. To another however, this might be what pushes them over the edge. It’s important to respect your personal boundaries and know when to stop or say no.

The best [whatevers] aren’t the ones who show up only when there’s suddenly extra time to invest in their craft. 

The best are those who show up in the gaps and cracks between daily life. They’re getting up at 5am to practice. They’re putting in the time after a long day at work or school. They’re living and breathing their passion day in, day out — but know and respect their boundaries.

If they want to show up over the holidays, that’s their choice. Generally it’s a good idea to keep those creative juices flowing, even over resting periods. However that doesn’t necessarily mean tinkering or creating something beautiful. It could be as small as reading a book or listening to a podcast related to your field.

Judging whether someone is ‘the best’ at something based on whether they spend the holidays tinkering ignores the fact that there’s more to life than simply being the best at your craft.

Many other aspects of life can contribute towards your ability to be the best, other than your skill level. These include family, mental health, physical health and state of mind. It’s important to keep these gas tanks full too. I’d much rather be someone with gas tanks half full on all, than full on skill and empty on family.

The holidays can be a great time to tinker, learn or try something new. However it’s just important to know when to rest or spend quality time with friends and family. Acknowledging and respecting other areas of your life is just as important to your wellbeing and energy.

If you’d like to tinker over the holidays by teaching your niece how to code, that’s great and good for you. But it doesn’t make you the best at what you do.

To those of you who decided this past Easter not to tinker, I don’t believe that makes you any less than anyone else. We all work differently and have different skill levels and boundaries – that’s what keeps our industry alive and well.