Determination and Stamina: valuable stats but they’re not infinite

Typical Fighting Fantasy character sheet – what are your stamina, skill and luck stats?

I love choose your own adventure books. I read The Warlock of Firetop Mountain when it was first released and then pretty much every single Fighting Fantasy book released after it1. I also credit one of these books with improving my French reading and vocabulary after finding “La Malediction du Pharaon” in a charity shop2. One of the themes that run through all these books is your statistics: stamina, skill, and luck3. As you use these abilities they deplete. Use them too much and you will likely come to a sticky end in the books.

Real life is pretty similar, both mentally and physically.

A few weeks ago I took my daughter to Disneyland Paris. I’m pretty happy to walk a lot and, although she’s 22kg, if she gets tired I can still manage her on my shoulders for short amounts of time, but I’m not used to carrying weight for any length of time or lifting.  Over three days, these short amounts of time got longer and longer and, on the second day, as the park closed she was exhausted.  Rather than try and force her to walk through the crush of people, I decided to carry her.

After about 3 minutes I knew I was in trouble.  She’d fallen asleep and had stopped helping me.  It was a further 10 minutes walk to the hotel.  I had no choice but to dig deep, channel my inner stubbornness and determination and keep going.  As I put her to bed I knew my arms hurt and my fingers were swollen, but the damage was done.

I really suffered the next day.  I couldn’t lift her at all and I gritted my teeth and made sure she had fun even though my neck, shoulders, and biceps were hurting.  The first day I had to myself was a very lazy recovery day, and after that, I was back to normal.   My strength and stamina were restored.

Similar things happen at work4.  There are those times when it’s critical to go the extra mile, where the systems need fixing and it’s all you can do to grab 30 mins of sleep on the floor of your office.  That big push before a “go live”.  Getting the paper ready for NIPS.  If you’re passionate about your work then even though you don’t get overtime5 then you accept this as part of the job.  It can be exciting and motivational to do that last push and there’s a great sense of accomplishment in it. What you shouldn’t expect is that this is a regular event.

I’ve worked in some pretty toxic companies over my career, and spoken to a lot of people with similar experiences.  Where long hours are regularly expected.  Where you’re seen as a failure for going home on time rather than being effective with your time.  This culture has got to stop.  Excessive over work depletes your stamina.  You make mistakes.  Your brain chemistry changes as that determination turns to exhaustion and resentment.  As a leader, I know that you can only push people so far and if the problem isn’t solved by then, it’s not going to be – continuing at that point will make things worse – you need people who have slept and who have recovered their mental stamina.  I’ve had heated arguments over the years with peers who think that it’s acceptable to force people to work long hours.  I make sure companies I work for understand the value of the physical and mental health of their employees so that this doesn’t happen any more.

This is why, when I saw the advert for roles at Andrew Ng’s new start up, I was horrified to see the 70-90 hours is a normal part of their culture.  This really isn’t normal at all.  This is devaluing their employees by getting twice as much work out of them for the same pay.  Whatever salary they offer these employees they should at least halve it because that’s what the company thinks their time is worth by demanding these hours.

If you read my posts regularly, you’ll know that I’m no good at keeping still.  I work ~ 40-45 hours a week, study 10-15 hours a week, play Xbox, write posts for this blog and elsewhere, make a lot of time to spend with my daughter, go out and have fun, and also do my share of the housework6.  But this is all my choice, I could change this any time I liked, and indeed August was a completely different balance – two weeks of holiday and I was completely refreshed.  Being expected to put in 70-90 hour weeks is just not healthy.

There are a lot of people who applied for these roles (270 within 48 hours) and good for them.  The opportunity to work in a start up with a big name is enough to overcome the huge negatives, particularly if a significant amount of equity is involved or the individuals go into it just for the experience to spring board them to other (better) companies.  If you have nothing else going on in your life that you care about then this could be a great opportunity, but don’t be surprised if after a few months you find yourself struggling to be creative and losing sight of other important aspects.

Make sure you restore your Stamina regularly!

  1. My favourite is Creature of Havoc, where you start off not being able to understand the people you encounter.
  2. Seriously, if you have a child that’s engaged in these books, a foreign language version and a dictionary will do them wonders 🙂
  3. Most commonly, although they do vary to accompany the story 🙂
  4. By work, I also include research 🙂
  5. And at my level you certainly don’t get time of in lieu either!
  6. I have a few robot vacuums but otherwise it’s me and my husband.

Published by


Dr Janet is a Molecular Biochemistry graduate from Oxford University with a doctorate in Computational Neuroscience from Sussex. I’m currently studying for a third degree in Mathematics with Open University. During the day, and sometimes out of hours, I work as a Chief Science Officer. You can read all about that on my LinkedIn page.