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Ask HN: Are you happy, well-rounded? (dealing w/ depression/lack of motivation)
201 points by asym on Apr 7, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 138 comments
HN, I ask this question here as I'm unsure of where else to go with it. I'm sure a lot of people like myself are members (mid-20s, striving to be self-actualized and think about life goals and happiness, or went through this before) and I'm sure someone dealt with something similar. I have basically lost the motivation to do anything, in my professional and personal lives and am sure it's something akin to a quarter-life crisis.

More importantly, I have lost the ability to tell if and what I want anything from life. I have been a few years out of grad school; the train tracks of school/first job are fading. I have no idea where I want to live, no idea what I want to be doing, no idea where I want to be doing it and no idea what will actually make me happy. Or if I do know exactly where I want to live, I'm always terrified that I'll regret the move later.

This is affecting me emotionally, hurting my relationship with my long-term girlfriend (hopefully soon fiance), and is much more severe than what I've experienced before. I am going to make an apointment with a psychologist, but after a few unsuccessful attempts to appeal to parents and friends, I'm not sure what else who else to turn to or how to proceed.

Some people say this is what entering adulthood's like, but everyone around me seems to be perfectly fine.

Thank you in advance for any advice and I hope it helps someone else who's going through something similar.

I have felt something similar in the last few months, and have been feeling the repercussions since then. Everything around me in my life was wonderful, in fact it was the best it's ever been. Deeply in love, working at a highly paid highly skilled job, enjoying my free time and continuing to improve my living situation. However, I felt a sincere lack of motivation and my results had started to decline.

Recently I have gotten back on track. What assisted me in that process was: 1. Talking about my feelings and listening to the life experience of my partner. This is humbling. You are not alone. 2. Getting back to the gym. This was a huge motivating force, getting your blood pumping makes you feel alive and is the quickest way to get to where you want to be. I also changed my diet (no more coffee, alcohol, junk food). This takes self discipline. 3. Lastly I remembered to have fun. The most stressful times for me was when I forgot to do the things that made me happy. Celebration is another part of being alive.

I think this is great advice. I've been in some dark corners myself, and the parent comment resonated with me, especially:

* It seems like you're the only one dealing with this, but you're really not. My friend describes us as ducks -- all calm above the surface, padding madly underneath, but only you know about that. Everyone you know is dealing with something, and wondering why they're the only ones. They're not, and you're not.

* Exercise really does go a long way. After a long bike ride I get what really is best described as a "peaceful, easy feeling" (oh man I hate the effing Eagles) but it's true -- after a hard ride or workout you realize how much better you feel, and how stressed out you normally are in comparison.

* It sounds ridiculous, but's really easy to forget to have fun. Don't forget to do the stuff you love. When you do, you'll feel "more like yourself" again.

Anyway, the main thing to take away is that (as you've seen from these comments) lots of people are in the same boat, and there are things you can do to help yourself.

Good luck!

I agree with you on #2: going to the gym and traveling to work on my hobby (travel for rock climbing) has helped me feel a lot better in the moment, but ultimately feels like I'm putting off what's actually bothering me.

My diet is good already, but I feel like I should relax it a little bit (more social drinking, maybe a little more junkfood) as it will help me be less pre-planned and more free-flowing and social. I consider myself introverted (as many guessed and seemed clear), but am not stereotypically introverted: I have many close friends and don't have ridiculous anxiety attacks when meeting people. (Sometimes I do though).

Just relax more, if you frequent places like HN, you can easily get a feeling of inadequacy, don't fret about it. You're in your mid 20's, lot of people her are in their 40's and 50's. As for the occasional anxiety when meeting people, just do your thing, become truly competent in the things you consider to be important....once you have this, the anxiety will disappear I suspect.

When you get older and things like family start to pull on your attention, you'll realize that if you really gave it your best shot, that's good enough, whether you were a famous smashing success or not. Just work towards being happy for yourself, not towards what you perceive the community expects you to achieve.

In addition to the advice above:

1. Take Omega-3 supplements.

2. Build an asset that you can use later no matter what you decide to do. For example, if you can get 5,000 RSS subscribers to your personal blog then this is something that's going to help you for the rest of your life.

I'm 28, own successful businesses and have plowed this ground. These aren't going to be standard answers, but its what has helped me. YMMV.

1. Get in a situation where you can balls out fight. I prefer jiu-jitsu but did TKD for a while too. We live in a controlled, over analyzed society. You talked about going to a shrink. That's valid but consider the alternative - you are so controlled and repressed that what you need is to get on the mat with someone else and just struggle/wrestle/fight. You'll know inside 1 minute if this is what was lacking. If its wrong, you are bruised but only out a free class.

2. Plant roots, literally. I live in suburbia. A little "grow your own veggie by the window" kit was more depressing than fulfilling. I'm not sure what it was, but something inside me snapped. One too many fake plastic meals out perhaps. I bought $1000 worth of dirt and had it dropped on my driveway. I went to home depot and with the help of my lovely wife, measured out and bought wood and stakes. I worked all weekend outside, in the sun, in the rain, hauling dirt, figuring out how to plant stuff without killing it (mixed initial results). It was a lot of time to think. It was also hard and frankly, it was very nice to sit back down to work on redmine tickets. Best of all, a whole garden sprouted up and we had food for weeks that WE grew. Since then, my backyard has become a huge orchard as well as a home owners association show down in the making. It makes me feel connected to life and growth. It makes me feel like I stake my rugged individualist claim. Likely its more me playing in the dirt in the back yard, but it settles me down and centers me.

3. Catholic mass. I was raised Baptist and am now agnostic. As a kid, I attended three churches destroyed by infighting and backstabbing. I'm not really thrilled with Christianity, or at least Jesus's current merry band of salesmen. None the less, go sit in a Catholic mass once a month on a random week night. Its great. So peaceful. It gets you out of your shell. Best part, no baptist style "welcome the guests" stuff at most masses. Just a bunch of people running through the ancient traditions and singing nicely. I would advise you pass on the free bread and wine though, in case it turns out its all true.

4. Your Relationships. Are they solid? Are they long term oriented? I'm not sure if its a skill or a choice or what, but everyone I know that's happy is a long term relationship builder.

My sincere best wishes to you. Push on!

I think be this is the same reason why farmvilla is so famous on FaceBook.. :) Gardening is indeed satisfying act, even if its virtual!

For the love of god yes, everyone here, start a garden. When you find yourself pissed because ssh is taking too long, being able to go outside and water your plants that won't be flowering for another two months is a welcomed slap back into reality. I can't believe how much it keeps you grounded, it's crazy.

I have run many gardens, and if anyone is interested, here is the best deal on heirloom garden seeds I have ever come across: http://beprepared.com/product.asp_Q_pn_E_FG%20S200_A_name_E_... . This canister of seeds is 10$ off this month.

The seeds germinate well, and you can save the produced seeds for next year. Saving seeds is a whole 'nother game, and is fun to learn to do well. Oh, and start a hydroponics garden.

But whatever you do, do not buy just any packet of seeds, unless you don't care about being able to save your seeds.

*I am not an affiliate of that website.

It's funny how much founders like gardening. I wonder if there's something to that.

Gardening is an activity that involves a lot of thinking and more importantly it's not a quick fix. You learn to value your time and expect results after months.

For anyone interested in getting into gardening, I highly recommend Mel Bartholomew's 'Square Foot Gardening'.

It's a great resource for starting a garden in general and I've had great success and fun with his specific technique.


I went through this a couple of years ago. I got out of grad school, and started my postdoc. For the previous 8 years (undergrad + grad school), I had a well defined track: grad school -> PhD -> postdoc -> research professor -> tenure. During my postdoc, I realized I didn't like a great deal of the day to day work of academia: teaching, writing papers, applying for grants, hyping your work. The job I succeeded in getting was not the job I thought it was. I went through the exact stage of uncertainty you are describing.

Then I decided to forget about a long term plan and focus on day to day living. I took up Eskrima (Filipino martial arts), something I wanted to do for a long time. I broke up with my long term girlfriend and decided to leave the academic track. I still don't know where I want to live or what I want to be doing (in the long term), but I don't need to know that.

Yesterday I went for a run (my first this year). I found a new job (trader at a hedge fund) which I enjoy day to day. Most tuesday nights I fight with sticks. I drink more beer, am in better physical shape and am simply happier. I don't have the answers to your big questions (where to live, what to do), but I don't need answers.

So, my suggestion: don't worry about the future, focus on things right now.

Read this post by fiaz about trading sometime:


I started to go through this a few years ago and I'm slowly recovering from it (I'm 28 now).

The experience cost me my marriage (although that may have been a good thing, looking back on it) but it also cost me a lot in terms of opportunity cost.

You could write a book on this subject but my advice in a nutshell is to find a therapist. If you are like me (and most HN'ers) - highly logic brained - then it can be hard to grasp by yourself the mixed emotions you are feeling in sidw. If, like me, you are really only surrounded by loads of other geek logic brained folk, then there can be few people to really talk this stuff through with - which is why I found informal therapy (counseling, not heavy going psychotherapy) useful rather than chatting with friends, etc.

I worked with my therapist on getting beyond my logic-orientated rationalization thinking and getting a much better understanding of who I am and what I want.

If the original poster wants to drop me an email to chat more, I'd be delighted to talk more.

This helped me a lot, and has worked for my friends.

In my case it was more about illogical sabotage of my own work. I thought I was just lazy, but when I started to realize I was using more energy avoiding my work than doing it would have required. Going to therapist may seem stupid at first, but it starts working only after you've done it couple of times.

"who I am and what I want" So much of it is getting to know yourself and who you are.

"I am going to make an appointment with a psychologist"

Make the appointment tomorrow morning! The people here not advocating seeking professional help, are the same people who have never received help. Trust me, seeing a psychologist is the single best thing you can do. If you had a physical illness, this type of question would not even be asked, mental health problems are just as serious and should be treated that way.

Also if it doesn't work out with the first psychologist, don't get discouraged. Just make another appointment, and find one that fits your style. Dude, lots of people have been in your position, but the ones that are happy today are the ones who treated it as seriously as they treat all other aspects of their health.

Good luck,

Edit: as much as it is good to talk about this with friends and family, they really don't have the tools to help you overcome this. People think you just need to cheer up, or pat you on the back. Happiness is journey, for some its easy and for some it takes time and effort.

Your advice to try several psychologists reveals why people treat mental health problems differently.

Because their practice is based on the scientific method, competent doctors are interchangeable - they measure the established diagnostic criteria and prescribe the standard treatment. Psychologists do not use the scientific method (for the most part). The illnesses are poorly defined, the treatments even worse, and there are few established standards.

Now, that's not to say the op shouldn't go to one. It might be useful. I'm just disputing the idea of parity between doctors and psychologists.

I have received professional help myself. I would not necessarily recommend it--I've been in a similar situation and it did next to nothing for me. I wouldn't necessarily recommend against it, either--I'm just not "advocating" it, in your words.

point noted, I just thing like most things in life you have to find something that suits you. But I would recommend that if you don't have a pleasant experience the first time out switch doctors. I think sometimes people forget that not all care is the same, and your health is your responsibility. So find someone that fits you, instead of sticking with someone even though you are feeling that you are not getting anything out of it, or quitting altogether.

Go for it, but don't be shy about switching therapists if the first person is bad.

Well, if you're feeling depressed, I can only tell you about something that helped me: Dr. Martin Seligman's book "Learned Optimism." I wrote a little about my perspective on it about a year ago:


I'm sorry that isn't a grand, unified answer to everything, but if it helps you even a little I would be delighted.

Dr. Martin Seligman's book "Learned Optimism."

Very useful, a suggestion well worth following up on.

Added to my wishlist on Amazon, sounds great.

Seems similar to 'What to Say When You Talk to Yourself' which I just finished. Probably one of the best books on personal development I've read.

Typically, when I edge down this path, I de-clutter my life. Stuff weighs you down more than anything else, and it's a constant drain on your energy and money. Stop doing things that are unnecessary, get rid of some stuff you don't / won't use, and generally purge your life of everything that really doesn't matter. It'll free up a lot of free time, and likely money-pressure too.

Once you've got that, take your new-found free time, and do some experimenting / soul-searching. Odds are you "know" what you want, you just don't "know" it. And if you don't, maybe you'll discover it. Take each day as it comes, and don't re-clutter until you've figured things out.

I've also found that music typically helps me a lot, so I make sure to get some frequently. And no, everyone is not handling it "just fine". Everyone struggles at some point, you may just be hitting it earlier / later than those around you. Or they're just hiding it, which is likely more harmful than seeking help, so congratulations. You're already part-way down the correct road.

edit: mimicing what edkennedy says, I've also found that decent exercise and good food are very important. Food's extremely responsible for well-being, but it's easy to devalue.

> Typically, when I edge down this path, I de-clutter my life. Stuff weighs you down more than anything else, and it's a constant drain on your energy and money. Stop doing things that are unnecessary, get rid of some stuff you don't / won't use, and generally purge your life of everything that really doesn't matter. It'll free up a lot of free time, and likely money-pressure too.

Thank you for confirming what I was already going to do. I am planning to donate or sell everything I don't absolutely need.

I agree that this is a most beneficial/therapeutic exercise. I started doing it 5 years ago, and it has helped immensely. I am much more agile now.

Something else that I have done is keep a "junk journal" where I have taken a picture of all of the stuff that I have sold/donated/given away. After a few years you can look back and go "Wow...I really had a ton of crap"

It's funny how we think we own stuff, but it can really own us.

I've been dealing with what you describe for most of my life, and I've been actively attacking it for the past fifteen years.

If I had one thing I could get across to anyone, it's that happiness is a state of mind and a habit, not the result of outside factors. You choose to be happy or unhappy. It's all in your head, although it's a good idea to adjust your environment to ensure happiness. Exercise, happy entertainment, and happy friends all help.

I refuse to accept that adulthood is about acknowledging limits and settling into a static and subtlety unsatisfying existence. I believe I only have one life to live, and I refuse to waste it. I want to add value to the world, and I am frothing at the mouth to do so. That's what I believe being an adult is -- accepting responsibility for my own life, acknowledging the values of other's lives, and then doing my best to add as much value to the world as possible.

As for your fear of making real decisions about where to live, your uncertainty about what will make you happy... Risk is an essential element of being alive. Very few choices are reversible; you don't have kids. Make some bold choices, make some stupid choices, but be alive. Move somewhere and take a weird job. Try a start up. Take a chance at something, anything. That's what being alive is.

Realize that everything ends up working out in the end, give yourself a kick in the ass, and go have a life that fucking matters.

Good luck.

First off, re: the "but everyone around me seems to be perfectly fine" line. Everybody may look fine, but what is going on under the surface might be entirely different. When I was in the darkest depression of my life only a few select people close to me even knew how I was feeling. To the rest of the world I put on a good display of acting happy and motivated, but on the inside I felt directionless and... empty.

Anyways, after reading your post and comparing it with my experience I would say you sound depressed. Life seems to have lost meaning, the things that once gave you pleasure no longer do, etc. If you see a psychiatrist they will most likely recommend an anti-depressant. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. I take a small dose of Celexa that leaves me feeling no side effects whatsoever and removed the suicidal thoughts and feelings that used to wash over me like a tsunami.

However, in my opinion (and let me stress that it is an opinion, I am not a doctor or psychotherapist), drugs alone don't seem to work well. Things didn't change that much for me until I was forced to face my alcohol problem. As a consequence of doing a 12-step program and facing my fears, insecurities, and resentments, I began to find some measure of peace and fulfillment that I had always found lacking. My life began to change, I began to feel a sense of purpose and excitement to life, and my depression eventually lifted completely. I have also discovered a spiritual side of myself that I never expected to find.

I'm not sure if that helps at all, but at least know that you aren't alone and that things will get better if you are willing to make changes. Hope the road is easier for you than it was for me!

Lots of good comments. Some consistent themes:

1) physical labor (gardening, kitesurfing, etc): provides endorphins you're not going to get from a desk, and Vitamin D from the sunshine. Both are needed for a stable mood.

2) Socialization (mass, relationships, travel): plus-minus. Without some retooling of your thought patterns, more talking with the same people isn't necessarily going to help. Regarding travel, I wonder if there is an element of physical labor and sunshine in that as well.

3) therapy: the standard for depression is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which has two main components: a) identifying problems and making concrete progress on resolving them b) re-tooling your automatic thoughts: "If A then B". Andy Thompson, a U of Virginia psychiatrist has a very provocative theory making the rounds, which I'm somewhat partial too: the analytic rumination hypothesis. Fits in well with the effectiveness of the first part of CBT. (http://andersonthomson.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Andrew...)

4) meds: he SSRIs appear to be not so helpful for mild-to-moderate depression (http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/303/1/47). Different story for major depression. If you don't remember 8 months of your life, then Prozac may well be for you. Regarding Omega-3 fatty acids: yeah, they raise your HDL a little bit, and maybe they're ok for maintaining optimal complex fats for the nervous system (myelin, etc), but few Americans have any problem with adequate fat intake :-)

Finally, I'm starting to wonder if depressive tendencies are a recurring theme in the HN population in particular. Certainly negative thinkers are well positioned to identify new problems early and work on fixing them. How would one test this hypothesis?

Travel. Leave the country for a good long while. Go to India. Go to Russia. Go to Africa. Go to the middle east. Go to asia. Save $5K and live on $3 a day for a while. There's a long list of cheap countries where you can just hang out. Pick the one that interests you, and start there.

Nothing gives you perspective and connects you with real life than... real life, as most of humanity lives it. Get out there and spend six months or a year just floating. I think you'll find that eventually you see the point of things back home, that you'll remember what is important to you.

And when you come back, everything will be new, and you'll be you.

That, or get yourself some Paxil.

Mid 20s extroverts appear to punt these kinds of concerns by drinking and sleeping around shamelessly. I'm still investigating if that really works.

Meh. It doesn't work so well, you realise they are just constantly on the game to avoid the same problems.

Eventually it got boring too; I figured out that there was actually no real challenge in it.

However, short term it might be useful. It helped me grow - but I wouldn't say it is sustainable long term.

IMHO, punting a problem down the line isn't dealing with it. Better to face things directly than escape into other stuff.

I am mostly an on-looker during these discussions, however I had somewhat of a similar situation myself awhile back. I've ran a company for several years now, and although I am still in my early 20s, I hit somewhat of a similar hurdle. At the time, nothing seemed to really interest me within my everyday life, but along came something that would change my entire life thereafter - KITESURFING.

One of the common quirks of a kitesurfer is their passion and "stoke" for the sport. And today, I would probably be that same kiter, setting up at the local spot grinning like an idiot just waiting to get out on the water or snow. My life took a complete 180 when it came to what I thought was important in life - going from always concerned about work and the future to just living in the moment and enjoying myself now. I literally plan my weeks around the wind forecast now, but as far as right now, I wouldn't want it any other way. I understand that my attitude might be a typical phase coming from a young guy, however, the fellow kiters that I've met over the years who are all 40+ usually share this same attitude and most of them couldn't be happier. Today, this entire experience has taught just to do things that I enjoy and not worry so much. Although somewhat hippyish, it does not mean you can't be successful and live like this - I still have strong ambitions to get my startups off the ground among other things - I just sneak out when the wind picks up :)

Kiting will never be the right sport for anyone and maybe not the answer to your situation. But if anything else, I would recommend you figure out your safe-zone, define it, and than, take a step outside it just to see what happens. And even if that first step doesn't change your situation, it will at least provide the grit to take another. I would recommend kitesurfing being your first step, but that might be a bit biased :P

And I guess that concludes my first post on HN. Hope it helped!


I'm also early 20's, just moved out from home, but I discovered tall ship sailing instead of kiting. (Actually, I'd done a 10-day voyage on the Sail Training Ship Young Endeavour before that and that's what made me keen for more.)

I'm (trainee) volunteer crew of a replica tall ship called the Enterprize. She's a replica built with period techniques and materials as much as possible. Tarred hemp ropes, hand-turned belaying pins, hand-sewn sails, that sort of thing. The ship's mission is to maintain a piece of living history that the general public can access.

It sounds like kitesurfing grabbed you like the Enterprize grabbed me: the major consideration when I'm planning a weekend now is whether or not I can sail.

I've found that I've met an entirely different class of people in tall ships than most other things I've done. There's a real difference in the interactions, like the forcefield that people put up when they're in commute/work mode is gone. It's not just the crew, either. The sort of people who sign on as passengers are often easy to talk to and have fascinating stories to tell.

Perhaps it's the wind? Keeping lookout while the wind's blowing through you is a fantastic feeling. Perhaps it's the chance to do something physical and immediate? Working together to get a sail set right is extremely satisfying.

I guess that concludes my first post on HN.

I recommend kitesurfing too. ( But take lessons to start with. Dont try it on your own. I've written some articles on kitesurfing for beginners that you might find useful - especially the safety aspects: newkiter.com) Kiting is dangerous so please get lessons from a good school.

But yeah I think anything that gets you to physically exert effort, allows you to feel some sort of accomplishment and which allows you to progress slowly would be great. Even the gardening idea given by another poster is a good one.

Great question and the fact that you are coming here to seek help is a great sign, I'd say.

I'm in a different situation: 22, dropped out of school to start a company, etc. But, I have committed myself to developing a satisfying general lifestyle (getting there) so, maybe there are some overlaps.

Here are some thoughts:

1. In the moments when I feel most stuck and unmotivated it is usually because there is something looming over me that I "have to do."

It's taken time, but developing the mindset that I truly do not _have to_ do anything has allowed me actually drop the anxiety and become truly excited about my work.

What are your expectations about what you _should be_ doing? Maybe if you ease up on them, you'll find a new wave of motivation along a new path.

2. It sounds to me like you, more than anything, need some exploration in your life. But, you are afraid of the risks.

My suggestion here is to take time to define clearly what you are afraid of, what the worst case scenarios are and how to sidestep them.

Additionally, lighten physical and mental load. Can you and your girlfriend sell the bulk of your stuff, tie down any loose ends and explore the World without making any living commitments for a few months?

3. Set small challenges daily (2-3), write them down every morning along with the very specific next action that you need to do to get the ball rolling.

When you complete all your challenges, put a big red x on the calendar. With each challenge, you will feel better and better and as the red X's grow, it will be clear how much you've accomplished.

(Someone else suggested exercise, that is a great daily challenge.)

4. I write ~1600 words daily in MacJournal, just a total brain dump. I don't worry about spelling, grammar or paragraphs I just type. I very rarely go back and read old ones.

Somehow, just the act of typing through my thoughts, getting them out and throwing them around has had an incredible impact on my mood, motivation, etc. I feel like my own therapist.

5. I think Steve Pavlina's book, Personal Development for Smart People, is one of the most complete and impactful books on improving your lifestyle. In particular, there are some great thoughts on finding your purpose on life. Highly recommended.

Again, props to you for grappling with these emotions and talking about them publicly. Keep exploring them with others.

Feel free to get in touch with me to discuss more, I'd love to hear how things pan out!

If it helps, you're definitely not alone.

I'm 25. By all accounts my life is pretty good. I've got a fairly promising startup going. And yet I feel like I haven't matured at all since midway through college. I don't feel like I imagined I would at 25.

Another 25-year-old in the same situation (not leading a startup, participating in one). Many thanks to the OP and all commenters; it seems like there are a lot of eyes on this thread.

I am paraphrasing what a wise man has said,

the best way to get into a depression is to constantly think about "me,me and me" AND the best way to snap out of it is to start thinking about others, how can I help others.

This may sound really shallow at first but seriously this does work. I would recommend taking baby steps in this regard. Start with opening doors for elderly people etc upto helping a co-worker on some work who isnt doing too well at work. Small measured goals which eventually change your thinking.

My situation was also something similar, but not quiet the same. I live in India with relatively simpler life style, and had a high paying job, but I always felt something was lacking in my life and was not happy (i don't think i felt depressed.) What I did was:

I quit the job and went back to my college and asked my professor to let me stay in the college for some time. I had some savings that i can live by for an year or two (with my simple life style.)

With all the free time I got, was finally able to contribute to an interesting free software project, that matched with my skill set. This made me feel a lot good, my stay enjoyable and busy.

At the same time, i started attending interesting courses in the college (for free), learning new stuff, have technical discussions with students, etc. I am also taking care of my health and fitness in a much better way. Its been just 5-6 months and I feel a lot energetic and useful now.

I don't know how long i could stay like this; I don't know how far i can stay unmarried (remember, i am an Indian and 29). I have absolutely no idea what future holds, but am having fun right now :)

  I don't know how long i could stay like this; 
  I don't know how far i can stay unmarried (remember, i am an Indian and 29).
I can relate to that .. :-). I think you are doing great, and am sure this would turn out really well for you.

Cool, I'm 29 and unmarried as well, live in Uruguay, I'm not happy, but I don't have the savings for my simple lifestyle for a few years :) (maybe a few months).

I would like to do what you did, though :) sounds like a good idea.

Most adults go through something like this. You start to realize you're not as successful/confident/responsible/etc. as you thought you'd be by now, and you kinda freak out about it.

Losing motivation and feeling lost -- just about everyone I know has been there both personally and professionally at least once in their mid-20s. Seeing a psychologist might be good, but if I could give you a word of advice, I'd just tell you to start expressing bits and pieces of these feelings to others you trust. Chances are, everyone else has dealt with or is dealing with similar issues and will know what to say about your specific situation and personality.

I wish you lots of luck in your "striving to be self-actualized," as you put it, and I truly wish you happiness! Being ambitious is tough; the flip side of that coin is never being satisfied. Sounds to me like you have a little bit of both going on.

Go see your doctor. You can confide in him/her and never underestimate the wonders of pharmaceuticals.

I became severely depressed as a result of a combination of things. Studying 2 degrees at once was fine, however in the last 2 years of my university work my father died from heart attack and my brother committed suicide shortly after.

I'm pretty sure I had a breakdown at one point, there is about 8 months of my life I don't remember living.

Anyway, I spoke to my doctor, he put me on Prozac which I've been on ever since. Magic stuff.

That combined with taking care of myself both physically and emotionally has kept me going.

Also, I found that it is true, talking to friends about your troubles does help. You might be too proud to do so, but trust me, the alternative is far worse.

Read the War of Art by Stephen Pressman. He puts a name to this beast and calls it resistance. Most of us have gone through it. He openly discusses it and talks about the battles against it.

s/Stephen Pressman/Steven Pressfield/

Also has a blog: http://blog.stevenpressfield.com/

The Writing Wednesday section contains the pieces related to resistance.

You have to be careful with something like this because you might be clinically depressed.

I developed anxiety and depression when I was in college. Part of that was a feeling I wasn't achieving anything of note, or learning anything worthwhile. I had thought undergraduate education would be a splendid ivory tower, but it turned out most of my peers did not prioritize a sense of adventurous learning or a delight in knowledge. I learned a mismatch between reality and expectations can drive you, but also cripple you if it is to great.

I think your decision to see a psychologist is a good one. I saw a psychiatrist and it helped me recover and develop a functioning and enjoyable life. Also, make sure it's a psychologist you work well with. Don't settle for one that you don't work well with.

Also, it is difficult to know if a decision will make us happy in advance. We can develop a feeling of knowing in advance, but it's not always there to guide us.

A lot of people will say, exercise, go to therapy, take a vacation. The thing to remember is that you are unique and your solutions will be unique. And that you are not alone. We all get lost.

I've been pretty deep in depression before and am only a few years (2?) out of it.

First, what you're going through is, no matter how shitty it feels, a good thing. You're starting to notice that most of the things you thought were important were actually important to other people you listen to.

Here's a start (atop of whatever else you see that you like in the comments here): write a list of priorities, eyeball 10-15 of them. Then cross off all but 2-3. See if you'd be happy (not what makes other people, their, or your expectations happy, but you happy) doing those. If you're unsure. Make another list, and cross off another bunch, and see if you'd be happy with that list. See what bubbles up.

Iterative development for figuring out what's important to you.

Btw: you're not supposed to have a right or final answer for this. Only psychotics and morons do. Go after what you think is best now, and plan to change later. If something sucks, fuck it, try something else.

Take an experimental approach, expect to blow large amounts of time/money/energy on this -- it's the basis for how you live your life, it's important.

Don't forget to party.

Steve Pavlina was a decent blog in the earlier years, but once he started in on this manifestation kick, it went way down hill. There isn't a lot practical information anymore.

"Kick ass and chew bubblegum"

* cries * it's so true!

Turns out I want to be Gandalf. Who knew?

A family friend committed suicide on Saturday.

Admittedly I'm not in a position to fully empathize with her plight, but I'm pretty sure it was a poor solution.

I've known a lot of people like this -- a lot of them young, and some of them much older. Some people seem to just have a lot of drive and always too many ideas about what they want to do, and others don't have much of any at all. I've never been that way, so I can't really relate.

But, I have seen that nobody else can really seem to tell someone how to live, or what to do, or how to be motivated. That part is all up to you; I could say, "go backpacking for a week", because that's what I do to clear my mind and re-focus, but that's something that works for me and probably would have no impact on you.

You're looking to everyone around you for some advice that can only come from within yourself. You're the only person that can decide what you want your life to look like.

When I get into a funk, I travel. It always snaps me out of it.

How much are you spending per month, in what country? Because it's actually cheaper, including airfare, to live for a couple months in somewhere inexpensive. You can live an extremely nice in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand for between $150 and $500 per month. It's $5 a night for a crummy room, $10 for a pretty nice room, $1 per meal for decent local food, $2 or $3 for higher end Thai food or Western food. Massage $5 to $10. Fairly cheap to go swimming, free to visit temples, short taxi ride $1. $20 for the weekly Thai boxing match if you're into it.

I spent three weeks in Chiang Mai, and think I spent $500 all-in. That's $200 for my room, maybe $10/day for food and tea is another $200 (was having lots of really nice tea and lots of fruit shakes, the actual meals and snacks weren't expensive, a bag of roasted peanuts is like 20 cents for instance), then maybe $100 for a few taxi rides, a boxing match, and a few massages.

Traveling breaks me out of a funk, helps me get a perspective. It's good because just being in another culture I feel like I'm "doing something" - learning some of the language and customs, constantly doing math for conversions on the currency, and so on. It carries pretty well into work and is good for getting inspiration to do more creative/speculative work that's not on a deadline or straightforward.

Most inspirational places I've been, not in order - Tokyo, the rest of Kansai, Taipei, Barcelona, Amsterdam (if you like art or a party scene, and can handle bad weather), London, New York, San Francisco, the more remote provinces of China, Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, Dubai, Toronto, Florence, Southern France. Some of those are cheaper than others. If I had a gun to my head and absolutely had to get something creative done in the next 30 days that was important, I'd head to Barcelona or Taipei I think.

Different places appeal to different people, but hitting the road's frequently been the answer for me when I've been confused. I usually buy a one way ticket and just work my way around a part of the world, taking trains and boats whenever I can instead of flying, eating where local people eat, trying to stay away from tourist areas, getting into nature or the local art/culture, making friends, and so on. But the best part of all is you can actually save money while doing it if you don't mind slumming it, eating cheap, living somewhere not nice - I'm fairly simple, so I wind up spending less money when I'm in most places than I would've spent living in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or London, which are the main cities I've hung my hat over the last five years. If you're somewhere a bit expensive, it's pretty cool to save money by subletting or ending your lease, and then spending a lot less somewhere else. Feel free to drop an email or post here if you've got questions - I recommend kayak.com for flights, and hostelworld if you're looking for cheap accommodation. Get a private room if you can afford it though, it's bloody miserable when you've got people who are drunk/sick/coughing/oblivious in a dorm room with you, but hey, I did plenty of that when I was younger, and you'll still survive...

Edit: I'll also second the recommodations for cleaning up a diet, exercise, and martial arts, all of which are good. Inspirational books are good too - I just finished "Open", Andre Aggassi's autobiography, which was pretty incredible and highly recommend. Easy, very exciting reading.

"long-term girlfriend (hopefully soon fiance)"

Propose, then ask your finace to take a three-month leave of absence from her job so you both can volunteer in a developing nation.

Use idealist.org or a similar website to find a location and organization that appeals to both of you. Then spend 3 months helping, learning, and "resetting".

There are a few reasons why volunteering is like "travel++"

1. You can take time off from work. It's almost impossible for a company/manager to deny a request to volunteer overseas. Denying that request is like saying "No, our widget factory is more important than {poverty|famine|oppression}" and there is massive social stigma that prevents that from happening. Both of you will be able to take the time off. Yes, this is a travel hack.

2. You need three months in a place to really experience it.

3. Helping others is one of the oldest, and most universal, ways to produce happiness. It's like a nuclear power plant for self-fulfillment.

4. Seeing poverty up-close will annihilate any Westerner's malaise. It's suddenly very, very hard to get into a funk about your career when you're watching a family live on $2/day.

Normally I would add the "YMMV" disclaimer, but I think you will find that this prescription has a 100% success rate. Everyone I know who's spent time volunteering overseas describes it as a life-altering experience.

"Propose, then ask your fiance..." Judging by the OP's question, and that he seems to be a bit "out of it" generally speaking, I don't think getting married at this point in time is the best idea, especially when he's so young. Marriage is the most important decision you'll make in your life, and speaking from the man's side of it, you should likely anticipate serious modifications to the formerly implicit agreements decided upon before marriage....just fair warning.

You're right, that was too flippant. I also hope people didn't stop reading at that point, as what I'm really advocating is the volunteerism.

If I had edit powers remaining, I would remove that line.

"Seeing poverty up-close will annihilate any Westerner's malaise. It's suddenly very, very hard to get into a funk about your career when you're watching a family live on $2/day."

I wish I could upvote this comment more. Throughout my teenage years and early 20's, I had serious problems with depression and existential angst. Then I lived in China and witnessed firsthand the relative poverty that most of humanity lives in.

I realized how absolutely silly and trivial most of the problems we well-to-do Westerners think we have are. It changed my life - I am a much happier, calmer, and more stable person for it.

I try a different city/country every couple of years. New Zealand, England, Australia is next on the list.

You can probably get a work visa for all of these places relatively easily.

Cool, you'll find that us Aussies are definitely a welcoming bunch.

What part of the country you visiting or is it going to be one of those whirlwind tours?

Try living in the present and not stressing out about the future or past... I recommend you read (or better yet listen to the audio book version) Ekhart Tolle's "The Power of Now". From the Amazon description: "the author describes his transition from despair to self-realization soon after his 29th birthday."

I also highly recommend this book.

You can get it in audio format.


I'm also mid 20s, and feel about the same. You should discuss with your girlfriend, what kind of life you two wanted to live. Plan carefully, and don't think too much, it will stress you instead.

This is a huge issue in its own right. She knows exactly what kind of life she wants to live, I think I know (and is inline with hers) but can't feel sure about anything.

Don't let her tie you down to a life you don't want to live. You can't live your life for another person.

I almost made this mistake.

Refusing to make this mistake ended the relationship, but it was well worth it.

People come to realize things in their own time. Personally I think (a lot of) people who seem to figure things out too quickly don't fully realize the magnitude of their decision at the time (not to say that's her case). Figuring it out for yourself is the only way. I was in pain and I came to (a nearer certainty) by writing down my thoughts every single day for months (as others here have also suggested). Everyone has their own style though - writing, talking it out with a psychiatrist or friend(s), praying/meditating...

@asym - are you in San Francisco? I've gone (and am still going) through some similar issues. I see you rock climb too, we should hit the gym together sometime and chat face-to-face.

I'm not, but I am around SF a few times a year and would love to belay or spot. I'll contact you off line. I'm usually bouncing between crags in the US (mostly east coast) so we should keep in touch if anything.

>"I have lost the ability to tell if and what I want anything from life."

Read Robert A. Johnson's http://www.amazon.com/Transformation-Understanding-Levels-Ma...

From the Amazon.com description: "Using quintessential figures from classical literature--Don Quixote, Hamlet, and Faust--Robert Johnson shows us three clearly defined stages of consciousness development. He demonstrates how the true work of maturity is to grow through these levels to the self-realized state of completion and harmony.

In Johnson's view, we all reach the stages depicted by Don Quixote, Hamlet, and Faust at various times of our lives. The three represent levels of consciousness within us, each vying for dominance. Don Quixote portrays the innocent child, while Hamlet stands for our self-conscious need to act and feel in control though we have no real connection to our inner selves. Faust embodies the master of the true self, who has gained awareness by working through the stages."

Then read http://www.amazon.com/New-Earth-Awakening-Purpose-Selection/...

The coolest thing about being at this point in life is that: the greatest texts human kind has produced actually make sense now. The bad part is that it can be a lonely place to be: to realize everything everyone else seems to care about obviously doesn't matter (on the grand scheme of things). Being the only person you know that sees this can be hard. But if you make it to self actualization it supposedly is very much worth the negative your feeling now.

(apologies in advance if someone else already mentioned this ... i haven't read any of the replies yet)

i would recommend thinking intensely about ways you can serve others (not just your girlfriend or immediate family, but strangers in your community and even beyond). volunteering at local non-profits, hospitals, or other organizations where you can directly impact people's lives might be able to mitigate this quarter-life crisis of yours. and by volunteering, i don't mean volunteering to make a website or install Linux for your local organization ... i mean doing something in person to directly interact with people in a helpful way. if you can selflessly give your time and energy to directly helping others without expecting anything in return, then you might be able to expand your mental horizons and get 'un-stuck' from this local minimum that your current mood is on.

Remember, you're not alone - it is something like a quarter life crisis, and I did (still going?) go through it for the past couple of years, and here's what I did to solve my problem:

1. Pick up a hobby that can really consumes your focus - I've started doing some photography (I'm horrible at it, but learning)

2. Travel - see places and meet people. I know a person who went through something similar (but in his 30s) and went backpacking for 6 months in Australia. You might not want to go to that extent, but even a shot break away from everything does help (I recommend a beach resort, but YMMV)

3. Reconnect with old friends (college, high school) - always a laugh, but more importantly, might open up doors (work and non-work related) that might have been shut a while back.

One thing I've observed is that while most people look fine, some of them are going through what you're experiencing, but don't really show it. Remember, you're not alone.

I have always been in a different boat (I'm 32 now). I always knew precisely what I wanted to do, and knew it would be something nontrivial and...transcendent I suppose is the word. Life always stops me, whether it's work, money or relationships. You may have think of the future, how you want it to be, think of things like solar powered bikes you can ride for free forever, or computers writing their own programs, or imaginative ways of meeting other people whose dreams exceed even your own vast expectations, to find your own path. Maybe those are just things I'm interested in. But I know that the world as it exists right now at this moment is so profoundly underwhelming that it can't be the basis of my own enlightenment. Although HN has sure blown my mind this last year.

I pretty much felt lost until my late 20s. I finished college and worked at a few large companies, doing mostly unrewarding work and not really challenging myself. By age 30 I felt I was at an impasse, and needed to either apply myself or drift along from job to job. I think the final tipping point was the arrival of my first son. The combination of wanting to do better and provide for my son was a powerful one. I ended up losing 50 pounds, getting back to my highschool weight, and working on projects that interest me. That was almost 4 years ago, and can say that Im as happy as I have ever been. For me, exercise and enough sleep are crucial, I can get depressed and demoralized without both of them. I dont know that this will help you, but it worked for me.

A book that really helped me is Flow by Csikszentmihalyi. You probably can recall a moment (for example, when programming) where you were in a state of flow, you were solving difficult problems (but not too difficult) and everything just went naturally.

His book is about this state, and about how to reach happiness in general. The key point is not only to depend on happiness as told by external people (e.g. parents, girlfriend, government, boss) but also create your own triggers. It might be making music, looking at a sunset, etc. In other words: be in control of your own happiness.

That being said, I think it's wise to see a professional. Ultimately, you'll have to do it by yourself, but they can help you get back on track and provide guidance and pointers. After all, it's their job.

Good luck!

Same situation as you, also in my mid-20s. Neuroticism seems to go hand-in-hand with high-IQ, introverted people. Just don't let that potential instability build-up into extreme actions that you might regret later...and perpetuate that vicious cycle of self-critique.

First off -- addressing: "Some people say this is what entering adulthood's like, but everyone around me seems to be perfectly fine." Have you spoken to others publicly in this same manner that you have privately, behind your username? Just because people don't talk about it publicly -- like you didn't; doesn't mean people don't feel the same way.

You didn't give any useful information about what you could do; you must have some hobbies or activities that you enjoy doing and one of those must be able to provide you with some money to live off of -- even if it be humbly.

In the end you have to make your decisions on what you know now and if need be you can always educate yourself to make a more informed decision.

Things I am doing to recover from a failed startup I was working on.

1. Do something impossible! I rode my bike to work 25 miles in the morning and 25 miles at night. This was something I thought was impossible, and I only got to do it a couple times a week but it gave me lots of time to think and work though my issues. Find your impossible task and do it.

2. Learn something new. When I teach myself something new it is a very euphoric experience and after I then want to do something with that new knowledge.

3. Lots have been said about gardening and yep it is all true do it now!

4. Exercise for 30 minutes first thing and your day will start out much better.

5. Eat local/healthy food. Good food makes you feel better.

The best antidote I've found to the hamster wheel of achievement for achievement's sake is Eastern philosophy.

In particular, Alan Watts has been a revelation for me as he has a really jocular and irreverent view of life which is a great counter-point for super analytical types (like those which inhabit HN) who think everything can be resolved with logic.

Watch this short clip from one of his talks and see if it doesn't strike a chord.


PS: Figuring this out in your 20's puts you way ahead of the game.

I think the advice you're getting here is great, but I'd for sure add a big validation of therapy, and should it be right, medication.

Therapy is one of those things that, if you find the right therapist, sort of becomes like "why WOULDN'T I have a professional to help with this?" I saw someone in Chicago on and off for about three years post college to help with transitions.

I'm an extremely self-reliant person who doesn't ask for help, so it was a weird thing at first, but it became something I ended up really looking forward to. It was a place where, each week, I could dump anything and everything without any pretense, exchange, or fear of judgement. Your friends and family can and will always be willing to help, but frankly, it can put a lot of burden on those relationships to have it all on them, and I've found therapy to be extremely helpful.

I've also seen an extraordinarily high number of people successfully add medication to their regimen to really help. For some, anti-anxieties that can be used when needed make a world of difference. For others, SSIRs can really help with certain transitions. For still others, SSIRs and similar drugs are just something that become a permanent part of their life - my dad is like that and the whole family has been reaping the rewards of him "feeling like himself" again for ten years.

Honestly, it sounds like you are a super high functioning dude, and that's great. All I'd remind you is that just because you're high functioning and still able to keep moving, doesn't mean you don't want to leverage the full slate of available resources.

Always happy to talk about my experiences with therapy/meds. Info in profile.

SSIR should read SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Only adding this comment to be helpful to anyone that needs to Google it for help.

My mentor, who's a wildly successful and brilliant entrepreneur and about twice my age said this to me today: your 20s are like Puberty 2.0. We had a two hour conversation and he's seen the same thing in his nephews and his students and former students (he was a b-school prof for a while before retiring).

My biggest problem seems trying to find what excites and motivates me and not feeling apathetic about all this web shit. I'm workin' on it.

A friend of mine who may identify with your situation recently quit his job and has gone to volunteer full-time to help recreate a forest in the Pondicherry, India (Sadhana forest). Cliché but absolutely true: The world is a big and exciting place. Look out to immerse yourself in something completely new. Don't worry too much about the choices. Pick the first sensible choice (use stochastic efficiency).

Difficult to add anything to the superb advice already given but I want to endorse:

- overseas travel (go to a completely different culture than your own) - exercise (even just going for a walk round the local park while listening to some music) - de-clutter (this is really, really beneficial - I've just moved house and the feeling of throwing out years of accumulated crap was fantastic) - socialise with some new people

Finally, be wary of books and seminars, etc - sometimes I find if someone is so completely off the scale in terms of achievement rather than motivating me it has the opposite effect. Don't be afraid to stop reading/leave an event if you find you're not getting energised by it.

A good book that's easy to read is The Magic Of Thinking Big. Nice, simple advice and a good pick-me-up. It's full of common sense and useful steps you can take to get re-energised.

Finally, I just want to echo what others have said: there's no rush; don't pressure yourself. There's a great quote on PG's website... "Your twenties are always an apprenticeship, but you don’t always know what for."

Good luck.

I can totally relate to what you're saying.

My story: I found some professional success (atleast monetarily so) early and in parallel through college-life. I thought there wouldn't be much to the transition to pursue a bigger goal post-academics.

Seems like I was totally wrong. Ever since, I've been facing a huge motivational crisis, total mismanagement of time, Unkept promises in my professional as well as personal circles and most of all, to myself.

Currently, I still stand potential with whatever I thought was my biggest chance to make it big in life professionally. However, the only thing that can seem to provide me any kind of respite / mental peace is slacking off on junkie travel-getaways.

Personal-life has hit new lows. Complicated-relationships turned irredeemable. Finally, there seems to be a self-imposed lethargia to any kind of social life (when not travelling); Life, monotonously so has boiled down to some work -- 8 hours a day, and IRC (with other minor randomities) the rest of the time.

This is a bit of a tangent to your question, but I've been thinking about this a bit too. I've been depressed lately as well, and this ted talk [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg ] was really interesting. It has nothing to do with being more happy, but has to do with how we define happiness and how we experience it... (being over-analytical and also unhappy, I thought it was quite good)

It basically says that the concept happiness as we think of it is really two things, the "experiential self", which is happy when we're snowboarding or whatever, and the remembering self, which is happy when we're deploying some code that's going to take over the world or whatnot.

It seems to me, from observation, that unless you are the rare .01 percent who really, really, gets paid well to do the things you want, (I'm not counting Tim Ferris types- that's just a hack) that life is a dissapointment, and at some point you just get over it and live your life and try not to stress out too much about your remembering self, and try to pay some attention to your experiential self. Or, that is to say, that at a certain point, people stop worrying so much about their remembering self's expectations of their future memories... err, that is to say that it's not that you want to be happy, it's that you have an expectation to be satisfied at a later time with your choices and actions. And then at some point you have to change those expectations.

This may sound like pyscho-babble at this point, but it really gets to something I've been thinking a lot about lately, namely "am I happy?". Should the question be... "am I satisfied with my life?" or... "am I having fun?"... well, this concept of the two selves really helps defines what you mean when you talk about happy.

Of course, completely satisfying one self or another isn't a solution, but generally I feel enlightened for having been exposed to this concept.

Maintain commitments to others that place demands upon you on a regular basis.

One strives to simplify, to avoid conflict and to eliminate dependencies and if successful, we can create a bubble we live in where we don't have to do anything or satisfy anyone but ourselves.

But we are not wired to live that way!

Just as a muscle shrinks and weakens without demands, our brains shrivel up too!

I'm currently going through the same thing, its not over but I've realized a couple things

My philosophy is start to do something, if it something you realize is not for you, you cross it off and do the next thing on your list. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you are doing something. For me this has narrowed down and grounded my interests, and has given me an idea of what to do with myself. This idea will obviously change with time, but for right now it is a start.

Or when I feel like I cant think, or am not in control of the way my life is heading. I stop, and simplify my life. whether this is a day to lay in the park and read or just look at the sky. Or something more drastic. It is backing up from your own life and editing it to whatever degree you want. For me it was really empowering to be in a place of my constructing after I threw away all the metaphorical clutter. It let me breathe and start again.

I struggled with a something very similar (complete inability to work, not knowing what makes me happy), a few things I learned seem relevant: 1) Don't assume what other people are thinking or feeling (about anything, but in this case, many other people do go through similar things) 2) Happiness and fulfillment has a lot to do with expectations (intrinsic as well as external). Understand what those are and where they come from. 3) Talk to people, read, and if that's not enough, get help (seems like you're doing that). You'll probably learn something about yourself.

I can recommend "The Feeling Good Handbook" by David Burns (Stanford), which is about cognitive therapy [also described in other places]. It may not be exactly accurate for your situation, and those types of books may sound silly (I thought so before reading it), but I've found some of the techniques useful.

There's some interesting stuff on that site, thanks for the link. I read their bedmaking article last night and put it into practise this morning. My bed has never looked better.

As for your concern that other people "seem fine"; how many people in your life know how badly you're hurting? I bet you're doing a good job of keeping up appearances. Well, so are a lot of other people. So, of your worries, you can eliminate the one where you're worried that you're alone or self-indulgent or otherwise unusual.

I wish I had some concrete advice for you. A psychologist may be able to help, but don't fall into the trap of focusing too much on how you feel. You have to also focus on who you are. At the very least, it sounds like you don't quite know yourself.

I am interested by the fact that you have a block about trying new things, when it's the one thing you should be doing to figure out where your talents should be applied. Perhaps you should talk that over with a psychologist.

I second (or third) the recommendations of seeing a psychologist and upping your level of physical activity. Try to find a psychologist who isn't a pill-pusher. I also recommend the books "Feeling Good" by David Burns and "The Highly Sensitive Person" by Elaine Aron. One thing that helps me figure out if I'm ok with where I am and what I have is imagining that I'll lose it tomorrow (not in a bad way). If I'm tired of where I live, I imagine I'm moving tomorrow, if I'm unsure about my job, I imagine it's my last day here. It helps me appreciate the good things about my situation. However, I'm definitely one of those people who doesn't appreciate what they have until it's gone.

There are a lot of good suggestions here.

Reading religion and philosophy definitely helps. A good way to get into that is to find a writer you like (can be anyone) then find out who their influences were. I've enjoyed reading Joseph Campbell and Alan Watts.

Exercise is a great thing as well. It's surprising to me how extremely positive a force daily exercise is in my life.

Writing, therapy... all really good things to consider. You have to find what's right for you. That's a hard thing to do when you're in a slump.

You need a challenge or, even better, a challenging journey. Have you traveled seriously or lived in another country? If not, do it. Go with your fiance, spend at least a year in a foreign place.

Good luck.

Can you suggest some good reading? Watts has a ton of stuff out there..

Watts is fun, but not very practical or informative. The anti-intellectual tendency of Zen makes it relatively difficult as field of self-study. All schools of Buddhism necessarily rely on teacher feedback, but the dependence in Zen is particularly acute.

The book I learned from is Wake Up To Your Life, by Ken McLeod. Mindfulness in Plain English is also excellent, and available for free online.

The Way of Zen is great. The paradoxes of Zen are fun if you're a programmer-type.

I'm almost 30 now and my 25 yr old self went through this, word for word. If I had to go back and give one piece of advice to that boy, it would be - Relax a little and don't be too harsh on yourself, especially with those expectations. There is _no_ rush. You have much time ahead of you.

Quarter-life crisis is more common than you think. While the reasons do not matter much, in my view, high expectations (not bad) and impatience are the culprits. Life is a long journey and learning to navigate the ups and downs is a skill learned only through experience.

In many ways, this is what entering adulthood really is about :) You no longer have the structure of school, and as you said yourself, the highs and novelty of grad school, your first job have started to wear off. It happened to me too. You are lucky to have a girlfriend who has known you for long. Don't let this feeling affect a precious relationship, first and foremost. If you have a right-brained friend, a guy, who has known you for a while, talk to him. Male camaraderie & bonding is something different altogether.

I hate giving you a list of "things-to-try" but this is what I've learned - "changing things up" is one of the most effective ways of pulling yourself out of this. Your mind needs fresh fuel. It needs to see and experience new things. It is a feedback loop. Your mind will automatically give back to you great motivation, new ideas, and happiness if you feed it with something new. Soon after I turned 26, I backpacked by myself for a bit around Europe. It was one of the most defining and amazing experiences of my life. Take your girlfriend along and go travel a bit if that seems possible. My travel energized me so much that soon after I returned, a new venture idea dawned on me and gave me a strong purpose.

It is difficult to find meaning and purpose in modern life. Expectations are high, and we see media-fueled stories of 20-something millionaires all the time. That's a rarity.

Most importantly, let life unfold. Life is long (no matter what you hear otherwise). It is a journey. Embrace the uncertainty of what is yet to come. If you stay on your feet, let yourself gravitate towards new experiences, and let them permeate you, the flow will be smoother. Remember that there is no rush. There is no deadline to get to a certain place. There should be no I-must or I-have-tos, especially in this phase. You don't absolutely _have to_ find a strong meaning and purpose to everything just yet. It will come. The 20s are some of the most wonderful years of our lives. Take a few risks, have new experiences, form some amazing memories.

You seem like a fairly cheery guy prior to feeling like this. I see what you are feeling as more of a transient phase in the journey of life. It happens to all of us. Everyone. I speak from experience, too. And believe me, when this phase passes, you will have been glad you went through it. It will define the man you become. It will be good =)

Good luck!

What you need is a Pensieve (like the one from Harry Potter where the characters can take out their memories to analyze). OK, Just Kidding!

But, do go for a walk by a quiet lake or body of water. Take a notebook with you. Spill your thoughts on the paper and don't actively think about it. It's hard to look at oneself "passively" and this helps immensely. There is no shortcut here. Keep doing this everyday, you will find that negation helps. This is the closest you will get to a pensieve :-)

This may help: http://www.selvesandothers.org/article16383.html

You have what Sally Hogshead calls "Tourist Indecision": Anxiety resulting from a sense of being lost or proceeding without clear direction.

Basically indecision causes stress.

Ever taken a Myers-Briggs personality test? I'm a big believer in it.

Check out "What's Your Type of Career?":


Reading that book was a real eye opener for me. It was like someone was reading my thoughts. This book will help you determine what kind of environment you thrive in.


>> Some people say this is what entering adulthood's like, but everyone around me seems to be perfectly fine.

Your foray into adulthood does not have to be like everyone else's and around the same time. Some of your friends may mature and go through this later in life. Some will face a stronger mid-life crisis, having never gone through something like this.

Here's the transition all males have to make, at one point or another in their life. Boy => Guy => Man.

What you feel now will certainly pass, and you will be all the more stronger, and a man with purpose because of these (20s) formative experiences.

I see this thread draw many clever and dynamic people. I'm afraid I can't help in any way since many have already given clever, inspired, positive advice.

Anyway. I'm 28 and I have been struggling almost forever to find something captivating. In recent years, solving useless problems helped (http://www.caesum.com/game/index.php in case you'd like it) but oddly enough I don't manage to play this more than one week a year. Generally speaking, I try to get interested in some things but I soon feel indifferent to it. (I guess I'm just describing a depression symptom.) Anyway this doesn't make a living.

I've read people around here (including PG) writing they were poor employees and it reassured for some weeks since I really am a pitiful one (to say the least). But since then I came to realize that comparing myself to this kind of people was outrageously pretentious. I may not be stupid but I can no longer do anything. I have long liked to blame school and parents for this since it was not the same in my early childhood. But blaming does not help.

The most awful thing I sometimes come to think is exactly what people suggested to you: it's what adulthood is like, you are through some age crisis. If that's how life is, I should have hanged long ago. (But that's not good karma. etc. -- Nicely put.)

I guess, like others suggested, a key point is finding something valuable to do. Anything you feel rewarding. Especially if it may have measurable success, I would say. Helping others is good provided either these people do not overlook your efforts or you are confident enough to value your efforts by yourself. Actually, do anything you can achieve now with the energy you have in store. I can testify that the more you wait the less energy you have. (But this doesn't prevent me from still waiting.)

The best would be to find a field in which your efforts can add up. Founding a startup may be captivating and hence a therapy. But how could people like me (I wouldn't ) show the needed strength? My last effort to be on topic shamefully fails. Anyway, I took for granted that your problem comes from your job which is far from being clear.

Sorry for the English (or for telling nonsense (which is almost the same in my case)).

One book that I have gotten help from recently is "The Happiness Trap" by Dr. Russ Harris. (www.thehappinesstrap.com). It is a basic introduction to a recent form of cognitive behavioral therapy based on mindfulness called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The main difference between this and regular cognitive behavioral therapy is the idea that instead of trying to change your thoughts, you change the way that you engage with them and by doing that you can get away from the constant struggle with them.

You may joke about the phrase 'quarter life crisis', but that's what it feels like for me as well. I've found some peace of mind from letting things evolve over time instead of putting my all into a project/goal/relationship/whatever and then becoming frustrated when it doesn't succeed when and how I want it to. Eating well, exercising, and meditating also helped me feel more positive.

I hope you get back into the groove soon. Just stick at it, and eventually you'll get there. Hopefully we all will. :)

> Some people say this is what entering adulthood's like, but everyone around me seems to be perfectly fine.

Are you broadcasting not being fine to anyone but your closest friends? No? Then it means nothing that they aren't either.

Anyway, learn philosophy. You're asking philosophical questions. Most philosophy is bad and makes no sense. However, good philosophy is very useful. See Karl Popper. And you might try www.fallibleideas.com

Are you me? I was actually going to post this question myself sometime this week! For the moment, let's say that you've just contributed something valuable to the community that I really wanted to see. I'm still reading through the responses, but I want to take this opportunity to thank you for this right now.

It takes guts to take the first step and seek help. I'm still trying to muster up the courage myself.

I am 46 and had something similar happen twice in my life and it usually preceded a huge change, for the better.

tricky waters to negotiate they are (yoda)

I am more attentive. You can start to hear bird singing, smell the wood or see the night sky. The difference is in the details; you can be astonished by the nature, explore it and so appreciate own life. And good diet is amazing.

Lately I climbed the tree, watched the sky and hills from the top, washed in the cold mountain brook. And I was grateful for every minute of my time.

Sounds like a pretty typical case of depression. Take it seriously, it's not just "feeling down" or something, it's a serious problem. Luckily it's treatable with meds.

However, I'd try some of the other ideas seen here first. Especially intense exercise. That's a powerful antidepressent.

Good luck my fellow HNer!

"Or if I do know exactly where I want to live, I'm always terrified that I'll regret the move later."

I was almost literally born moving. Dad was in the Army with orders, and they let him/us stay where we were until I was born, then two weeks and go. I moved with my parents a lot in the Western US and Hawaii. The I joined the Navy, saw the world from Virginia to Hawaii to Kenya, and moved duty stations with my first wife a lot in the process.

I did all that by the time I was 24, lived in Seattle 15 years then moved to Denver, where I've been another 15 years. I'm in my early 50s now. Besides the moving, I've lived what I think of as four fairly different lives, different friends, jobs, interests, relationships.

I say all that partly to acknowledge that I look at moving and changing differently than a lot of people. It's not a big deal to me, and I usually look forward to it. It's difficult for me to understand what it's like to live in one place most of one's life, so my perspective is probably different than yours.

All that said, when I look back at how much I've moved and settled comfortably, I think at your age you have more than enough time to move somewhere, decide you don't like it, and move again. And maybe again. Moving at all is something of an existence proof: if it doesn't work out, you can do it again. Nothing needs to be permanent. If you want permanence, it's OK if you don't get it the first time out.

I have liked and profited from everywhere I've lived, everyone I've known and everyone I've been. Most types of change are a gift. No choices have to be 100% correct, which is good because they won't be.

"I have no idea where I want to live, no idea what I want to be doing, no idea where I want to be doing it and no idea what will actually make me happy."

Suggestions, tailor as needed. Try stuff. Treat your career as necessary but secondary for awhile, as something to support everything else. Focus on fun things outside of work. Outlandish things. Go skydiving. Go skydiving in a foreign country. Go skydiving naked. (I can enthusiastically recommend all of the last three.)

Get yourself into really, really good shape if you aren't already. Become a gym rat. (I recommend Crossfit, sometimes discussed here, but anything that isn't 24 Hour Fitness/Big Box will do.)

Learn to fly, models or full sized. Get really good at Bridge. Get good enough at Poker to make a living at it. Form a startup around Poker or Bridge or flying or naked skydiving.

Travel as much as possible, short and long trips, with and without your girlfriend.

Learn a foreign language, and go live and work where they speak it. Immerse yourself in your favorite instrument. Take up a martial art.

Try stuff, lots of stuff. Be like that guy in that Jim Carrey movie and say yes to (almost) everything.

Open up to the world, and let the world show you what interests you.

Or as my aunt says, rise up, go forth and fake it. You don't have to know that whatever you try next is going to be "it," you just have to try it.

When you get to the other end you'll have a lot of cool pictures and stories.

It's hard to be happy if you haven't defined happiness for yourself. I once took the time to explicitly write out my values and their relative priorities, and now every time I think about major decisions in my life I have a meaningful frame of reference.

This happens to me sometimes, and my personal solution is: 1) Sit in a comfortable chair 2) Put on a nice pair of Bose headphones 3) Blast Kanye West. If that doesn't work, blast Glenn Gould. (Music and art are the cure for a bleak world.)

It took me a very long time to realize this:

-Confidence is the defining quality in success.

Be confident at any cost. This will help you focus on what you want most right now in this moment, and moving towards what you want will lift your depression.

I think often the only way to figure out if you want something is to try it. Traveling seems like a good idea, or other things to get some exposure. Do you want the same things as your stb fiancee?

Whatever you do, do something different. Join the Army. Move to Thailand. Dump your girlfriend, if you have to.

Good luck.

im in the same fucking situation dude, and i have no fucking clue what the fuck to do.

A lot of people have posted good advice about motivation. Rather than duplicate that, let me give some alternate/additional thoughts:

1) Pay attention to your diet. Make sure you're getting enough water, and make sure you eat enough veggies and get enough protein and calories overall. Screwed up body chemistry can make you feel unmotivated and disconnected. Carry a water bottle (I've got a nice quart-sized stainless steel bottle) and make sure you drink several full bottles a day.

2) Pay attention to your sleep schedule, as well as your sleep quality. Getting not-quite-enough sleep of not-quite-good-enough quality can leave you just a bit lethargic, or over time build up to major apathy.

3) Get a physical as well as a psych evaluation. Don't settle for one or the other. There are lots of little conditions that can drag you down and leave you with vague emotional weirdnesses. If the docs find something awry, get it treated, and don't be afraid to go back and ask for changes if the treatment doesn't work; sometimes certain meds just don't work right for certain people.

4) Keep exercising. Sounds like you do some rock climbing; don't give it up without replacing it with something else challenging.

OK, so with all that physical stuff in mind -- getting your body right so it's not a drag on your brain -- you might still have a problem. In large part, "this is what entering adulthood's like", but there are still some things you can do to smooth the transition:

A) Have a good, long, serious heart-to-heart with your significant other. Be totally honest with yourself and her. You might find some lingering resentment over something you had written off as insignificant, and that can affect your overall mood.

B) Remember that the decisions you make now aren't necessarily permanent. You can change jobs or careers; you can load up the moving truck and head elsewhere; you can start or end various extracurriculars (others have suggested gardening, martial arts, etc.) Don't be afraid to just try something and revisit it a year down the road (and set yourself up for it -- rent, don't buy, or as lionhearted suggested, travel somewhere cheap and spend a couple months there.)

C) Pay attention to the things that make you happy. Elsewhere on HN I saw a suggestion to make happyfile.txt on your computer and write down things that make you happy each day. My sister carries a paper notebook and does the same. Remember, anything that makes you happy goes in the Happy Book -- something a friend says, time spent writing or reading, minor or major accomplishments, religious pursuits, tasty meals, enjoyable HN posts. The mere act of writing the things down means you think more about them, and over time you may notice patterns and find you really want to make some specific change in your life.

For the record, I was 28 and had a pregnant wife when I finally realized the thing I wanted to do most was to be a stay-at-home dad. I didn't keep a "happy book", but I did pay attention to the amount of joy I derived from working with kids and thinking about family.

Along with the advice about diet and a physical, you might consider taking a multi-vitamin and talk to your doctor about your energy/motivation when you get your physical.

I used to be puzzled as to why people would take vitamins in general, thinking that if you need vitamins, you should adjust your diet. I still think that more or less, but started taking vitamin B when I had some nerve issues and noticed my energy, mood and motivation was for sustained periods of time better than it had been probably since I hit puberty. I later went to the naturopath for other health issues and blood work showed I was borderline hypothyroid and had very low vitamin D levels. I have been taking supplements for both of those (stopped taking vitamin B awhile back because it started affecting my sleep for some reason) and they have also helped with my mood and motivation.

You'll be happy if you plan your career so that you can retire by 40.

I highly recommend The Art of Happiness by Cutler.

I am in the same boat, have been for about two years now. The thing that has worked briefly for me but I haven't been able to stick you yet (I plan on doing it, eventually) is to tire yourself out every day.

You sound like me, where we think too much, never finish projects because of new ideas, and am always falling short. You're trapped in your own head. You need to go exhaust yourself every day, physically. Go run, not just a jog, go fucking sprint until you're barely able to breath. Lift weights as hard as you can. Run some stairs. Get tired.

Also, do those things outside. Go sweat everyday. Just sit in the sun if you have to. Remind yourself that there's an actual world behind your monitor.

I sleep terribly, night terrors a lot, wake up screaming, scare the hell out of my girlfriend, bad news stuff. When I exercise hard during the day though, I sleep like a baby. Just food for thought.

Keep a journal, write down all new ideas, and put them away. Review it every few days, and only then decide if it's really something you want to pursue.

Try blogging. I just started again, it feels good to have readers, to think about how to teach people what I know, to PARTICIPATE in the world and give back, even if it's techie niche stuff.

In regards to psychologists, I haven't decided if they help me or not yet. I found myself in a situation one day where I realised that my therapist worked off of and knew only what I decided to tell her. I had complete control over the situation. That can be a dangerous realisation; I haven't been back.

I'm broke, if I wasn't, I'd go travel. To somewhere very remote. And just sit outside. Probably Ireland or Switzerland. Just sit on a grassy hill and look at nothing in particular until I knew what I wanted.

Until then, just go run your ass off and get tired. You'll sleep a lot better. Your body will thank you too.

Entering adulthood is difficult because even though the challenges are (usually) much milder, the stakes are much higher. If you get a C on your final, it doesn't matter much. If you get passed over for a promotion, it's the first sign that you need to be looking for another job.

My experience is that the happiness range of college is 4-8, with a peak around 7, and that of adulthood is 2-9, with a peak around 4.5. The range is much wider and the peak of the curve is lower, but there's much more potential upside. In college, the star performers have as good a life as the average students. The "real world" has the potential to be really amazing, but for the median player, it's pretty shitty. The fact that even the most talented 25-year-olds live in fear of being in the latter category creates a lot of anxiety, and it can be overwhelming.

Some advice: Definitely see the therapist, assuming you can afford it, and make sure that you're taking care of basic needs (exercise, nutrition, sex).

You said: Or if I do know exactly where I want to live, I'm always terrified that I'll regret the move later.

Remember that you can always move back. No one's expecting you to buy a house. People who leave New York come back, and people who come to New York from Chicago, Minneapolis often go back. As scary as "starting over" socially is, it's a smaller cost than the upside of living in the right place for you. Besides, you probably only have 3 to 6 real friends in your city at this point, and those you'll keep regardless of your move. (New York may be a special case; it's easier and cheaper to live elsewhere and visit 2 weeks each year, which a lot of people do, than to live here, because of the massively overpriced housing).

Step away if you can - take a trip, do something unrelated to anything you usually do - give yourself some space to clear your head and maybe you'll see what it is you really want.

It may be depression; it may be a brain tumor... seriously, consult with your physician ASAP.

Try Ayahuasca. Its legal 100%, you can get components on ebay.com. Motivation guaranteed.

Watch The Blueprint by Real Social Dynamics - how to get girls.

Listen to some good trance music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkITM2UIYoU

Read Tim Ferris book "Four Hour Work Week"

WARNING: According to the Wikipedia article, this concoction contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Pretty much every commercial I've seen for an antidepressant says to be talk to your doctor if you're on any MAO inhibitors. Don't mess with this stuff if you're taking an antidepressant without doing further research.

MAO inhibitors can have LETHAL side effects with other medicines and even with common foods from some cuisines



Despite the fact that the parent comment is getting downvoted into oblivion, it's not completely off base. Dennis McKenna did some preliminary research which suggested that when done in a religious setting, long-term use of low-dosage ayahuasca may increase the density of serotonin receptors. And anecdotally there are stories about former meth addicts going down to South America and coming back all serene and mellow.

Now it's definitely not the best option, or even one of the top twenty best options, but I think there's enough there that it makes sense to keep it in the toolkit for future consideration. (But obviously don't go out and try it yourself without doing the research and without proper psychological/medical supervision, that's just a recipe for inducing permanent psychosis.)

> there are stories about former meth addicts going down to South America and coming back all serene and mellow.

I've met at least a dozen. Coke, meth, pills, booze, herb, cutting, you name it.

> Listen to some good trance music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkITM2UIYoU

Gosh, I want to like trance music, I really do. I like all of the most similar kinds of electronic music, but trance was always too spacey for me. Like, the link you posted - that seems like legitimately pretty good trance. It's got some interesting elements in it. But I still can't put in more than a few minutes with it.

Any thoughts? I keep wondering if I'm missing something, because a couple of my friends who like good music like trance, but I was never able to get into it.

Whilst on the subject, I will recommend minimal techno to anyone who likes electronic and hasn't heard it. An English friend of mine got me into it a year ago and it's very good background music while doing something else. Here's the top result in Youtube, seems decent:


If you really want to get out of your head, turn off the lights and crank up the Shpongle.


Umm, no hallucinogen should be taken lightly. They may work well in tribal settings, but the therapeutic uses aren't well understood, especially in modern settings. And in ye olde worldé, hallucinogen use was mainly to bond members of a group, which is completely different than some guy sitting in his room in front of a computer. And ayahuasca would be just a bad choice.

You seem like the type to think of these chemicals as a sort of cure-all, even though they aren't relevant, or practical, to asym's concerns.

Yes, Ayahuasca can have serious side effects (serotonin shock) when combined with other antidepressants (specifically SSRIs).

No, don't shut yourself in a closet listening to trance. If you're serious about using Ayahuasca to help heal your depression, I suggest you find a shaman.

Do some research before jumping into such a powerful medicine.


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