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Ask HN: Please, help me understand what I am doing wrong.
147 points by throwaway72010 on July 27, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 144 comments
There have been a lot of struggling anonymous posters asking for help lately. As I join those ranks, I hope that I am not straining the community's patience too much.

Here goes:

I'm not burnt out. But, from my vantage point, my problem--whatever it may be--is no less dangerous or frustrating.

Please bear with me as I try to describe what is wrong with me; it seems that clarity slips away more quickly to the extent that I grasp at it.

The problem is one of dissonance and stagnation.

I live an amazing, beautiful, privileged life, but I am unhappy, and my increasingly desperate flailing has not changed a thing. After graduating college at 22, I was hired by a Fortune 500 company as a developer, with a $60,000/year paycheck. I had high hopes for the next few years: Getting in shape, paying off student loans, and programming on the side to finally implement some of the many ideas (both technical and business) that I have collected over the years.

Now, three years later at 25, none of those things have changed. I poured much of my energy into a relationship that I ended near the beginning of the year, but even without that on my mind, I simply cannot seem to overcome inertia. I am still overweight; the fantasy of being debt-free is still a distant mirage, and I am still making the exact dollar amount as when I started; my ideas have languished, tinkered with at best, and utterly ignored at worst. In three years, I have learned a lot about myself, and about how to survive in a corporate job, but the goals I set out as a fresh college graduate have been brutally neglected.

The symptoms are all things you have heard before: I am often melancholy, having struggled with depression for most of my life. Focus is rare; I was recently diagnosed as having ADHD by a psychiatrist, who I saw at the urging of my therapist, despite my staunch refusal to acknowledge it as a real disease. I don't Get Enough Done, and I have to work extremely hard to avoid browbeating myself about every little failure, whether it is a failure of productivity or nutrition.

It's not enough for me to just exist. I feel a deep desire to build, to create, to learn, to teach, and as the weeks and months drag by with no discernible progress made on many of these fronts, my agitation grows.

I've tried many things. Therapy helped a little, but it's been over a half a year and it doesn't seem to have changed much. Prescription psychotropics, of which I have tried only two, had no effect. I picked up martial arts to get some physical activity, and while I am in marginally better shape, it has not "solved" anything. I do my best to eat better, but it's as easy to lose focus on planning my meals and learning to cook as it is to lose focus on coding my latest idea.

I have a difficult time relating attempted solutions because I'm still not sure what the problem is. I am not always sad. I am not always unproductive. I still talk and laugh with coworkers at lunch. I still see movies with friends. Once every couple of weeks, I'll have a few hours or maybe even an entire night where I crank out some code. I've learned to just barely squeeze by at work, excelling enough to win the approval of my peers and superiors. But, I know that I'm not even approaching my full potential. Sometimes I spend entire 8-hour days browsing the internet instead of working, even as I consciously berate myself for slacking off, or procrastinating, or whatever it is that I'm doing.

Sometimes I feel deeply ashamed when I read stories on HN, because there are stories of people who achieved absolutely incredible things in the face of adversity: People who created businesses while destitute; people who built families and careers simultaneously; people who got things done even when they didn't feel like it. Even when life got in the way.

Meanwhile; I'm an intelligent, healthy, gainfully employed bachelor, completely in control of his life, and I can't even put together the simplest of my hundreds of ideas in 3 years. 3 years, and I couldn't lose a couple of pounds. Life has been so good to me--I should be leaping out of bed with a giant grin on my face every single morning. And yet, I mope. And yet, I procrastinate.

It's as if I understand all of this in my head, but don't really believe it in my heart, and have no idea how to convince myself otherwise--as if the wrong "me" is in control 90% of the time. It doesn't feel right that so many things are such an uphill battle, and I don't understand why I'm squandering the incredible opportunities afforded by each day. I'm ashamed at how little gratitude I seem to have for my situation. My early twenties are over, and I haven't really done anything. The idea of looking back when I'm 30 and having these same thoughts makes me literally shake with terror.

What am I doing wrong?

Something I find helpful is abandoning the idea of goals (at least for a while), and instead simply focusing on habits.

What do you want to be like? What kind of day would you think was a good one? (here you can include things like "think silently, with no distractions, for 30 minutes" - NOT things like "have 3 good ideas"; also things like "End each day by listing 3 things I want to do the next day, and make sure they get done", rather than "Get lots of stuff done - be incredibly productive")

Design an ideal day. Better yet, design the day you want your 27 year old self to have. Now, you know what your 27 year old self does with his time. You've got 2 years to become that guy.

This means you make gradual changes to your habits. The 30 day method works well for people. Pick one of these new habits that you're aiming to have - only one, seriously - and stick with it for 30 days. Then keep that one going, and add a new one.

If you can do that, you can introduce 12 new habits in one year, and 24 in two years. That's an enormous difference, and it's entirely achievable. Three steps:

1. List the habits your 27 (or 26) year old self has.

2. Pick one for August (but you can start early this month). Do it for the whole month and start a new one in addition in September.

3. That's it. And I don't mean that I'm done. I mean you're done. Stop looking for advice. Don't read productivity blogs. Don't ask any more forums for help. Don't try and perfect this system. It's not perfect, but it's good enough, and doing the good enough beats reading about the perfect. So just do it.

And come back and tell us how you're doing!

Totally agree on the abandoning of goals (and the rest of your comment is also gold).

People here tend to be too goal oriented, and that's perfect when you have a goal that you want to attain in an area that you love working. But the truth is that it seems that having all the basic needs fulfilled you don't find enough attraction to the higher needs (in the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs) that you have in mind. It probably is because the goals you've set aren't really the ones you crave for.

I was, more or less, like you, high twenties, nor happy neither sad, bored with everything. Now, mid thirties, I'm full of energy and will to live to the fullest with the things I love to do. What I did was to start doing activities after work, stuck with the ones I liked (longer the more I liked them) and discarded the ones I didn't like much.

Different martial arts, guitar playing, vegetarian dishes, ... I started to do whatever I felt the desire to do and could be done in a short course (3 months of 1 weekly hour). Until I found my passion (dancing). Now I devote most of my free time to it, I even have left WoW because I have no time for it.

Try things, in a short time scale (i.e.: 7D RPG, NaNoWriMo, weekend kayaking, ...) , and keep with what you have the most fun. Life is worth living, don't waste it all on external goals or in doing things because they will look good on your resumé (unless that's what you love to do, of course).

What is 7D RPG? Google says it's a kind of rocket launcher.

My bad, 7D roguelike, or making a rogue-like game in 7 days. Still too sleep deprived after two weeks of dance classes + parties and coming back to work. Three coffees a day are the bare minimum.

The Ludum Dare 48 hour game making competitions are also pretty fun. A relatively low barrier to entry, a set theme, and a large community.

They probably won't help with sleep much, though. ;-)

I think goals are valuable if you set them right. An overarching goal can be to have 1 of the ideas implemented, and then you can refer back to the goal at the end of each month and evaluate whether or not the tasks you've been setting have gotten you closer to your goals.

This approach combined with having different levels of goals will keep you on the right trajectory in finishing everything you want to accomplish. Something like "Only eat out once a week" can be a goal, it's up to you to choose your level of granularity.

IMO the most important thing is to periodically take a few steps back and reevaluate your current habits in relation to the goals you set.

Great advice and just to add a little to this line of thinking...

Never simply have a goal of losing weight. Instead, think about the lifestyle you want that will take you to a healthy weight. Find good foods that you enjoy and exercises that you don't dread. Your goal isn't to lose weight, it's to create that lifestyle that you really want, which will bring the weight-loss and better health with it.

Maybe use this 30 day method to get in the habit but the key to longevity will be the creation of a better lifestyle that you are truly happy with. It won't take long to see the benefits and being happy with the way you are reaching your goal will make it much easier to stay on that path.

Apply the same method to your ideas.

Find good foods that you enjoy and exercises that you don't dread

Regarding the exercise part of that statement:

I've actually come to terms with the fact that the amount I need to exercise to change my body over time isn't going to be pleasant while I'm doing it and I won't want to exercise every day. I've also come to expect that I'll feel great after I work out. If you couple these realistic expectations with a regular exercise schedule, it's easier to force yourself through your workouts and meet your goals/establish good habits.

Unless you are going to become obsessive about it, exercise should be done for fitness, not weight loss. You'll be much more effective at weight loss by working on what is known as "portion control." That is, change your eating habits.

Yes, it's true that exercise can help suppress your hunger. It can also make you hungrier. Yes, it's true that adding more muscle increases your basal metabolism. But building muscle makes you hungrier. A famous and record-holding power lifter scolded me when I was young: it's a fool's game to try to build muscle and lose weight at the same time (his version was stronger than what I've stated here).

Lose weight through diet. Get fit through exercise. Don't confuse the two goals. If you keep this in mind, then you could have the following strategy: Lose weight, doing only light or moderate exercise that you find fun and distracting enough to keep you from eating. Then, once you are at the weight you like, start exercising for the fitness level you desire.

I signed up just to post this reply.

This is also solid advice. Paul G said in one of his essays about doing something you love doesn't mean doing what makes you happy THIS second, it's something that makes you happy over a longer period (week, month, year).

There are very few people when asked if exercising right now would make them happy yet these same people would tell you they would be delighted to be 10-15 pounds lighter and have more energy in 6-12 months.

Perceiving the difference between liking and wanting is, indeed, useful.

At one time, I was not happy with who I was. The interesting thing is that I did exactly this, what you just described, without realizing until now what I was doing or why. Within a few years, I feel like I knew who I was and who I wanted to become. Now my ideas for my desired self have since changed several times (that is growing up after all), but I've been happy with life in general for much of that time.

That being said, I did enter a dark period that lasted about 8 months after graduating college. I got a job that sounded good on paper. In reality, I was not happy with it, and it did not align with who I wanted to be. It got really bad. It's amazing how detrimental it can be to spend your life doing something that you know isn't you.

I was wondering if you can go into the specifics of what changes you made and how it made you discover who you wanted to become?

The example I remember best was that I felt that I was not confident in myself (in many ways). It was very obvious in the way I walked, slouched, and held my head. I knew that the person I wanted to be was confident, and walked with his head held high. So, I began sitting up straight and walking with purpose (and now I actually had purpose). The way people treated me seemed to change almost immediately. People respect you a lot more when you respect yourself.

I've since modified these traits a few times. For instance, I found out about a year ago from a few people that I apparently intimidate people the first time they meet me. Since then, I've decided that the person I want to be is personable, easily approachable, and makes people comfortable. Since then, I've made a conscious effort to always have a smile on my face when in public, as well as to relax my posture a bit to try to put those around me at ease.

Thanks... this is great advice. I think people have been saying "focus on one thing at a time" for a long time... in fact, I've been saying it to myself for a long time, too, but I have not really been hearing it. The idea of adding 1 new habit every 30 days is interesting and powerful... the mechanics of it can be kind of weird, though--what if there's something I just want to do a couple of times a week, and it's secondary which day it happens on?

Thanks so much for your help.

When your problem is not getting things done, it is not secondary what day you do things. Doing things "whenever" is the natural enemy of forming a positive habit. The more concrete your plan (including a timeline), the easier it will be for you to follow it.

This is much harder. You should start with things that are every day, for your first month or two, so you are already doing well and motivated to continue. And even then I would pick the days of the week beforehand, so you're not tempted to put it off through the week.

Personally I have had more success with NEGATIVE 30 day challenges, than positive 30 day challenges, for this very reason. A negative 30 day challenge is when I don't do something every day, for 30 days. One habit might be not drinking any soda for 30 days. Then you might add not eating any fast food or pizza for 30 days.

Once I stopped medicating myself with food and weed, my true emotions surfaced and it became easier to know when I was deceiving myself. For example, when I am goofing off more than I should, I now feel sad and pained (not guilty), and consequently correct my behavior.

I second the idea of not drinking soda for 30 days. That stuff is unhealthy in various ways, and after a couple weeks, you won't miss it. It's a clear easy win. I did this in high school and have not regretted it.

As I read this I'm reminded of the Bhagavad Gita. I'm not religious, but I find the Gita to be useful in the modern world. Especially chapters 3 and 5.



Sometimes it's easier to change habits in groups rather than alone: http://akkartik.name/blog/resolutions

...It's not perfect, but it's good enough, and doing the good enough beats reading about the perfect. ..

Cannot agree more ...


The age of 25 is like that. "Most geniuses did their best work in their twenties"-pressure. "My God, 30 is just 5 years away"-pressure.

I suggest tackling this from a psychosomatic perspective. The body is an indirect but very powerful agent of change to the mind, Give yourself the permission to be calm and collected and deserve an average, wonderful, American middle-class day without guilt or anxiety. Enjoy that yummy sandwich and coffee and count your blessings. Avoid breathing like a bull in a fight. Avoid walking fast as if you're in a Jason Bourne movie. Avoid thinking rapidly, as if you're a hacker in a bad Hollywood movie. Real-life badasses are often deliberately slow. Real-life geniuses are very slow at the beginning when you ask them a puzzle. Secret : Expand the gap between perception and deliberate-thought as much as possible. That's where the magic happens.

Thus, using your body, allow your mind to reach a place of inner calm. Turns out that Clarity is the perfect path to doing anything good or great. Because it naturally leads to slow-thought, which leads to natural Know Thyself questions, which lead to self-confidence and a moment-by-moment ability to discriminate between what I want to do right now to be genuinely happy vs. what you should do right now as an employee, as a boyfriend, or other role-player (external conditioning). This leads to exercise, cutting down work hours to focus on a startup business plan, being a good serial killer, or whatever it is that you realize as part of the everyday slow Know Thyself process.

All the best! I'm sure you'll do quite well based on what you wrote!

tl;dr version : Deliberately Slow => Mental Clarity. Rest = automatic, by natural design.

Give yourself the permission to be calm and collected and deserve an average, wonderful, American middle-class day without guilt or anxiety.

I don't know. I did this when I was 25, and two years later, I feel as if I wasted my time.

I'm probably being unfair to myself. I worked on fun little side projects here and there that never went anywhere, but I felt contented. Now I feel like I have to be working on something big; "fun" projects have lost their fun.

For me, this is probably due in part to having made something that got a fair amount of blog coverage last fall, attracting interviews at big tech companies and even a few conference invitations, and then after about six months, landing right back where I started. I feel like this has proven that I should be shooting for the moon, but that I just can't sustain the momentum.

Sometimes spending those two years in an 'average day without guilt or anxiety' can lead you to the proper motivation. For example, I spent about 4 months playing World of Warcraft and not really worrying about anything once I returned home from work. I didn't strive to be the best in the game (went down that path before, easy burnout), but instead just enjoyed myself.

Then one day I just got bored, stopped logging in, and turned my focus to my startup and I haven't looked back since :) (this was 8 months ago or so, we'll see how long it holds)

Same here. Up to recently I would watch a movie every single day. If it was too long I would watch it in two days. Amazingly it is isn't as if I did less work. I would just stop browsing the net and looking for stuff to read and simply enjoy a good movie at the end of my day. Worked very well.

Do you have any friends?

Modern careers leave people estranged from their families and without any real friends. Although programmers like to believe their Asperger's syndrome or Randian individualism means they don't need a social or family life, humans are social animals. Not having anyone around who cares about you leaves people anxious and depressed. When you are anxious and depressed it leads to ADHD, hypochondria, and a sense of helplessness. The fact that you are asking this question anonymously on an internet forum leads me to believe your social life probably isn't as good as it could be.

In contrast, when people are surrounded by loved ones all the time generally they have little anxiety or depression even if they have serious physical health problems.

I second this! The times in my life when I've felt the most productive and engaged, I've been part of a tight group with similar goals and interests. Don't underestimate the degree to which people are fueled by outside interactions, not for external rewards but simply because of the shared momentum. The lack of such a peer group one of the things I've found the hardest after moving to the US, perhaps because the academic moving around makes it hard to build long-term friendships, and quite likely also because I'm not very good at it.

Join a local club and do some volunteer work. I suggest Habitat for Humanity, (they build houses by hand for the poor)

I'd say your Rich White Guy problems are getting the best of you. For every successful person here, there are a thousand* of us who are obsessively checking reddit, facebook, reader, and email. You need to take control of your thoughts. Your brain has finite resources. If you use it to mostly think about all your failure and all the bad stuff, there won't be anything left to do anything good.

1) do something that makes you break a sweat EVERY DAY.

2) Go do something and take some pictures, then write about it. Even if it is just a short walk down a plain street. Find something about it that's interesting and think/write/capture it. This solves 2 problems. Now you're producing something and you're paying attention to what's going on outside your head.

3) Take a look at everything you accomplish in a day. You're less of a loser than you realize. * - making up numbers as I go.

I wish I had more upvotes just for "do something that makes you break a sweat EVERY DAY." Even though it doesn't directly affect any of your issues except possibly the weight problem, I've found nothing that so reliably keeps my mood up as regular exercise. Preferably outside.

For the past couple months, I've been running a few miles every day. It really does feel good, and it's the right kind of addictive; if I have to skip a day or two for some reason, I don't feel as good, physically. My new baseline is healthier and better-feeling than it used to be. (Plus, this habit caused me to lose weight to the point where I went down a shirt size.)

The key word here is habit. You have a finite amount of willpower, so if you want to live right, you've got to make habits. When you write code, you split complexity into functions so you don't have to think about its implementation details; you just have to remember what the function does, so your mind doesn't get overloaded. Habits are similar, and just as essential. When I run, I don't make a decision to go out and do it; I just think "Oh, it's time for my daily run," and I start running. Trivially easy.

(But yeah, if you're looking for a specific habit, breaking a sweat every day is a great one.)

Thanks; I think this is a similar point to someone who was saying "Maybe you've had it too easy." I swear that I get exercise... ;-) The short walk down a plain street is more difficult for me to understand... what does it really change?

I took my 7-year-old son hiking a couple of weeks ago. He's very much a city kid, and has gotten far too used to constant technology and stimulation. I wanted to get him out in nature.

When we first started walking, he was annoyed and didn't want to be there. He shuffled along, staring at his feet, and kept whining "Can we go back yet?" (we'd gone maybe a quarter mile on flat grass when this started). I suggested he look up at the things around him instead of at his feet, because there's a lot of cool stuff to see. He glanced around, and nearly yelled, "No there ISN'T! There's just... this!"

A few minutes later an eagle flew by above us and I pointed it out, and suddenly he got excited. Then we saw a harmless snake in the path and chased it so he could see how it moved. Then we stopped and skipped rocks in the nearby river. By the time we made it back to the beginning of the trail an hour later, he was full of energy and running around, and yelling "Mom! Mom! Guess what? We saw an eagle, and a hawk, and three snakes, and there was a fish in the river..."

Walking down the street is very similar to that. There are all kinds of things to see around you that go unnoticed so much of the time. You could walk down that same street every day going to and from work, but chances are you're focused on what's at the end of it. Taking a walk with no specific purpose is a completely different animal. You have to find purpose along the way, so you start looking around you for interesting details. Maybe there's a cool bar tucked into the alley that you never saw. Maybe there's a crazy graffiti mural on the next block over that you can take pictures of. Maybe there's a hot girl at the bus stop with whom you can make friends. Maybe there's something as simple as a happy dog wagging his tail and smiling at you that could brighten your day.

You might find a fresh perspective on a small corner of your life... but once it starts it tends to spread quickly.

+1 to paying attention to your surroundings, and making sure you maintain joy and fascination in the small things. I think it's something that many if not all adults could learn from, and it's something that kids are great at teaching us.

Maybe there's something as simple as a happy dog wagging his tail and smiling at you that could brighten your day.

Amen to that. If your lifestyle enables you to have one (and you're not allergic), a pet can be extremely therapeutic.

>The short walk down a plain street is more difficult for me to understand... what does it really change?

It changes you. What wasn't said is that during that short walk down the street you need to leave all your devices and gadgets at your house. Then, simply walk down the street and observe. Be in that moment of walking and focusing on all that is going on around you in that very moment.

It sounds easy, and is a very zen thing to do but is a lot harder than you think. My mind is always racing with everything that needs to happen so that it's easy to become vapor locked. I take a walk outside and focus on feeling the warmth of the sun, the sounds, the visuals and everything that I need to do simply unfolds in front of me. It's hard to explain, but works.

Can I suggest something very simple to you?

Learn to love yourself.

It is something so simple and yet so difficult. To tell you the truth I used(?) to hate myself like anything until the past few weeks. I used to wonder if I deserved to exist at all after all life had been so good to me and there were people worse off than me and I still couldn't do anything with myself.

The environment I was in encouraged it and I was trapped in an extremely vicious cycle which killed me on more ways I can write down. I still can't do stuff consistently due to the burden I have accumulated in the past. Don't do that to yourself.

It's a slippery slope and once you're on it. You're perilously close to oblivion. So what if you have stayed stagnant? At least you realize it and are taking steps to combat it.

I wish I could just hug you or something, but I can't so just call up someone close and talk to them about this. Drop the facades that we all set up and just communicate. It may not solve much, but it will remove the weight of the world from your shoulders and in the longer run that will make all the difference.

I know it sounds like hippy-dippy feel good bullshit, but yeah. you need to learn that you deserve to value yourself even if you aren't 'good enough' to meet one (or any) of your goals.

now, expecting others to value you when you repeatedly and consistently fail them is irrational, but you really do need to feel that you have a right to value yourself, no matter what. Self-hatred is simply not an effective way to motivate oneself; I've tried.

1) You're not burned out. You don't quite know exactly what you want to do with your life yet, whether you know it or not. You know where you want to be, and you know what you like doing. That is not the same as knowing how you want to get where you want to be, which is what "what you want to do with your life" is all about. I'm thirty-something and I still don't know what I want to do with my life. Embracing that fact makes things easier. Enjoy the ride, I say.

2) 60,000 per year isn't a big paycheck. That's about what I'm making, after getting laid off and taking a big pay cut to get back into the workforce. It's a decent living, but you won't be paying off all of your debts in 3 years with that kind of money.

3) I don't know any 25 year-olds who are debt free unless they're trust-fund babies, and they have their own huge set of problems.

4) The picture you paint in the middle of your diatribe is not a picture of someone who is in control of one's life. Your life has been good to you. You're intelligent and gainfully employed, but I think you're worse off in self-control, discipline and health than you think.

Comments suggesting building good, small habits are some of the best advice you'll get. Don't get discouraged by the "I built this supermassive startup in 2 hours that got bought for 80 bajillion dollars" type stories. They might show up here with frequency, but those kinds of results are atypical at best, and at least one metric, if not all of them, are usually exaggerated. (2 hours of coding, perhaps, but months or years of daydreaming and planning)

As for goals... Give yourself a single daily health or productivity goal if you're one of those impossibly pedantic goal-oriented fiends. Make sure it's attainable. Maybe that'll help you focus.

I will knock out that project by quitting time. I'll ride my bike to work today instead of driving. I'll go to bed before 10:00pm. I'll skip the usual Wednesday trip to Starbucks.

You really don't know any debt free 25 year olds? I'm 27, and nearly everyone I went to college with is debt free. If you go to a state school, work a bit in college, and don't run up credit card bills, it's not that hard to do.

It's rare around here. I'm in an affluent midwest community where the middle class tends to spend itself into oblivion and the upper-class tends to produce trustifarian hipsters incapable of building a life-sustaining skill set. I was debt-free except for my car payment by the age of 21, but then I got married. We were very close to debt-free before my wife's health spiraled out of control in '06. Seriously, though, I really don't currently know any 25 year olds who are debt-free, and 5 years ago when I was about that age, I didn't, either.

'losing weight', 'paying off your debts' and 'implementing your best ideas' are monolithic, far away, abstract goals...The kind of goals humans are bad at attaining.

Get smaller, immediate goals and work from there. Stop drinking soda next week. Stop eating sweets the week after. Apply that to everything. Think in weeks and days, not in years.

Smaller goals have many benefits. They take less time, they are easier to do, they give you results faster, and the reward you feel for 'completing a goal' is the same.

For me, my life changed dramatically when I became a dad, the responsibility for something (someone) outside of me gave me real focus. Now, I'm not advocating that you go out and procreate, but it might help to see if you can somehow find a real reason to achieve your goals, since achievement by itself does not seem to be enough.

On another note, people are pretty strange in that we become most energised when faced with a crisis, maybe you've simply had it too easy so far and now you are coming to this supposedly happy stage in your life without enough contrast to appreciate just how fortunate you really are.

If I were you, I'd man up, choose a single simple goal to achieve, one that you can reach in less than a month and then pursue that relentlessly until you've got it. After that re-evaluate and see where it leads you.

Best of luck there!

You're struggling with adjusting to life in the real world, stuck in the pattern of defining your life with your life's work. Perhaps your very problem is that you don't really want what you think you want.

I make no excuses for being a religious man, I just am. That view tends to be wildly unpopular in these circles, possibly because it treads upon the contemporary ideas of control and success. The same concepts causing you so much pain right now. Nonetheless, I'll happily plant this seed and hope for it to sprout. What you're missing isn't some quantifiable success story or achievement, but rather a deep, meaningful relationship with your creator.

This isn't an ode to mediocrity, but like someone else said choosing a different measuring stick by which you measure your life. And, really, a call for you to stop flogging yourself with that same stick.

True, in my experience, prayer is sometimes the only solution.

"Each of us will have our own Fridays...those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death, Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come.

Death is not the end of existence."

Joseph B. Wirthlin

A martial-artist friend of mine told me about an exercise his teacher had him do. For a week straight, he would have to just sit calmly on a chair or a cushion for at least an hour and envision everything he wanted to be doing and accomplishing at that very moment, but keep sitting and not doing anything at all. When you get to the point where you are so excited to do it that you can't sit anymore, go. I tried this for coding personal projects and I recommend it highly.

I have two suggestions. First, realize that this:

My early twenties are over, and I haven't really done anything. The idea of looking back when I'm 30 and having these same thoughts makes me literally shake with terror.

... is very much a young man's worry. I remember being tormented by thoughts like this as well. How old was so-and-so when he wrote such-and-such and all that. My experience has been that the sting goes out of this naturally as you just live your life. It's not going to be that big of a deal in the long run. So while by definition you can't stop involuntarily torturing yourself, you can at least stop freaking out about it. Seriously, it'll be ok.

The second suggestion is, when unsure what to do, consider Christopher Alexander's question: What feels more alive? The more attention you pay to that, the easier it is to get unstuck. The trick is to not prejudge the answer. Turn down the volume as best you can on the "I should be doing X" and just attend to what feels more alive. You don't even necessarily need to do anything about it; once you start to get a handle on what your soul (<-- insert favorite metaphor here) really craves, it will pull you along. In fact it will haunt you until you have no choice but to comply. Which is convenient!

Edit: I need to add a third. The pain you feel about other people (e.g. on HN) doing great things is mostly an illusion that comes from making the big mistake that Hugh Macleod calls comparing your inside to somebody's outside. For heaven's sake try to stop doing that, or at least realize that it's a big mistake while you're doing it.

My understanding of your problem:

You're depressed, you can't focus on any one of your "hundred" ideas, you haven't paid off your debt on a $60k salary working for a fortune 500 company, and you aren't building cool shit like you really want to be doing. And you can't lose weight.


Move to Silicon Valley/SF and get a job at a startup. There are tons of recently funded startups hiring right now. Guaranteed you'll make more money, and if you pick the startup well, you'll be making cool assed shit all the time. Although, I dare say, they won't let you surf the web all day.

And, the culture of the Bay Area is to eat right, and to get more exercise. It's part of the social fabric here. It's also a lot easier to eat well when there's tons of great local produce and beautiful nature to hike around within a 20 minute drive of anywhere in the Bay Area.

If you still have problems focusing, the medical care in the Bay Area is quite good. Talk to a Psych out here. They know the difference between Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder and plain old ADHD. If they still feel you have ADHD after all these changes, suck it up and take your meds. Even if you don't agree with the diagnosis, you'll probably be able to focus on your code a bit more if you're taking Adderal as prescribed.

I'm going to offer a counter-point to your suggestion:

I don't believe changing the external environment, or income, or people who you are near, is going to do jack shit.

Here's why: I feel exactly like the OP. Failed weight loss. Failed relationships (in my case it's making good friends / co-worker relationships). A giant list of failed or incomplete side projects. Still can't pay off my loans.

The difference: I make 3 times as much as the OP. I work for (and have always worked for) exciting startups. I live in a trendy area of NYC (not SF, but the same health-minded social stuff).

The money, the atmosphere, the location: false hopes. They don't change you you are. You're not your salary. You're not your neighborhood. You're not your job.

YMMV, but as someone who's been-there-done-that and hoped that a better job, more money, and better location would somehow fundamentally change who I was, I think that line of hope is no different than someone who thinks a bigger TV, fancier car, or hotter wife is going to make them happy. It won't.

EDIT: Let me be a bit more specific. I don't like it when people do some hand-waving and claim that it's just The Way It Is.

The main issue is that your environment does effect you, it just doesn't change you.

Money: I've lived on ramen & water. I had friends who understood that drinking cheap beer at home was the best I could do. Once I started making more money, I certainly thought I could avoid spending more. And for a while, I did. But things start to add up. First, you network with people who make the same Good Money that you make. So you pretty much have to up your entertainment budget or else be a recluse. Like it or not, your old peers will envy your money. You'll stop getting invited to basement parties (age is certainly a factor too). You decide one day you deserve better than living in a slum with bars on your windows and doors and rats in your walls and upgrade to an OK apartment. You decide it's time to "grow up" and stop buying used clothes. You decide Natty Light isn't the best beer in the world. Your old $25k/year lifestyle is now a $75k/year lifestyle with only incremental changes. This leads me into...

Location: If you move to a yuppie place, you'll spend yuppie money. Coffeeshops cost more. Old dirty grocery stores give way to Whole Foods. There will be subtle, almost subconcious pressure to spend more and be even more critical on yourself than you already are. The "keeping up with the Jones'" cranks into high gear. If you feel like a fat loser in the midwest (or wherever), it's 10x worse when you're surrounded by wealthy in-shape people. Trust me. My smug sense of being better than most people when I lived in poor suburban/rural areas has given way to feeling like a worthless fat piece of crap every time I walk outside (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but with a BMI around 30 I'm easily the fattest guy I can see 95% of the time).

And finally, job: A job is a job. Some are better, some let you work in your boxers, but from 10,000 feet they're all just ways to give you more money to spend on shit that you hope makes you feel better but doesn't. You can try to derive happiness from a job and for some people it works, but it never worked for me because I don't really have much control over my job. At 25 years old I'm not yet in the position of actually making big changes. Sure I can decide on a framework or the language to use, but do I choose which direction the company goes? Do I make hiring decisions? Not yet. Certainly in 5 years this will change but at 3 years out of college, even in startups, you're not given the sort of responsibility, IMO, that gives significant job satisfaction.

Anyway this is all just IMO. There's certain to be folks with the exact opposite feeling on this, so I'm not claiming I'm right, just that this is my experience.

It's not the environment that matters, it's the change of environment. Switching things around gives you a reset button. Over a few years in a particular life circumstance, you usually learn a lot about what you want in life. But you also acquire a lot of inertia and old habits. A move, new job, and new social circle gives you a reset button that you can use to pick up a new set of habits.

Of course, it's up to you to actually press that reset button.

One of the best things I ever did with my life was to found my own company. The company failed - it just petered out and never went anywhere. But it got me off the "Java developer for a small financial firm" track, helped me learn a whole bunch of new skills, and those skills got me a job all the way across the company.

> It's not the environment that matters, it's the change of environment.

That's a good point. I think as long as a person doesn't put too much hope into the idea that the environment itself is going to force changes upon oneself, it's a good idea.

While I understand your opinion, I couldn't disagree more.

I've lived in Costa Rica and Honduras as a child. As an adult, I've also lived in Minnesota, Chicago, Rhode Island, LA, Fresno and now the Bay Area.

Depending on your personality type, the city where you live is going to have a dramatic effect on your outlook on life. For instance, if you're a foodie or an artist Providence Rhode Island is going to be phenomenal for you. If you love sports, microbrews and hanging out with fraternity buddies, Chicago is phenomenal town. If you love hunting, fishing and "Going to the lake" every weekend, Minnesota is really wonderful. If you're trying to get into the film industry, or visual effects industry, there's no other place to be other than LA.

But, if you're a young programer and want to live in a place where in an evening you can meet over a hundred other programmers doing cool assed shit with in functional programming, NoSQL, startups, iPhone programming, mobile, search, natural language processing, etc... Then, I would suggest avoiding Dubuque Iowa, and I'd suggest moving to the Bay Area: http://www.meetup.com/Hackers-and-Founders/calendar/13712630... </shameless plug>

No, location doesn't change who you area as a person, but it certainly does open up a lot of different options if you're interested in that.

No, making more money doesn't make you happier, but if you're seriously interested in debt reduction, and you commit to avoid "keeping up with the Joneses" and choose to live in a crap part of town for a year, while you pay down your credit cards, making $120k vs $60k is going to get you closer to your goal all other things being equal.

A job: Wow, I couldn't disagree with you more.

At 25 years old I'm not yet in the position of actually making big changes. Sure I can decide on a framework or the language to use, but do I choose which direction the company goes? Do I make hiring decisions? Not yet. Certainly in 5 years this will change but at 3 years out of college, even in startups, you're not given the sort of responsibility

Completely disagree. In the Silicon Valley startup scene, no one cares how old you are. They generally care about what you can do and how well you do it. I hang out with 23 year old founders that have raised millions in funding, have revenue, are close to profitable, and have hired a dozen people. I have a hunch the scene in NYC may be quite a bit different.

Rock on man :) If that makes you happy, rock on.

My motivation for posting my wall of text is that I just don't think his problem is external. Maybe external changes will prompt some introspective changes, maybe it won't, I just genuinely don't believe that latching on to meaning given to you by others (job, house, debt reduction) has inherent value when it comes to getting over an existentialist funk.


Leaving NYC for somewhere that isn't one of the world's biggest urban pressure cookers is actually pretty useful for re-adjusting your perspective. My blood pressure drops about 10 points every time I'm on vacation. Don't forget that this place is ranked dead last on the "happiest places in america" chart. Even when I think I'm happy here, my physical stress indicators tell me otherwise...

at least on the social front, I disagree strongly. Having lived both outside and inside the "silicon valley" area, god damn, It's a /whole lot/ easier for a nerd who best relates to other nerds to have a fulfilling social life here than other places. Hell, even compared to the east bay, I've lived in El Cerrito, near Berkeley, and silicon valley is dramatically better.

just to be clear, you make 3 x 60,000/year working at a start up?

NYC rates, yep. I'd make significantly less elsewhere.

Three things:

NYC is expensive. A 6 pack of crummy beer is $14 across the street from my office, and a studio in Harlem is still $2,000/mo. Realistically, $100k/year in NYC is like $60k/year elsewhere. I know quite a few people making six figures that live 2 hours outside of the city because they can't afford it and I've read that you shouldn't even consider having kids in Manhattan until your household income is over $200k/yr.

Second, IME a lot of startups in NYC have deep pockets. I believe this is because most of the startups in NYC are funded by big companies with NYC HQs. Otherwise, they'd start up elsewhere because everything about running a biz is expensive in NYC (employee wages, taxes, rent, etc).

Third, there's a talent drought in NYC. If a tech savvy type of guy wants to be on the east coast, they usually end up Boston/Cambridge.

High cost of living + startups w/ lots of coin + talent shortage = $$$$ for devs.

Also, I made some broad generalizations. There are plenty of self-funded startups in NYC too.

You make it seem like that ~200k salary for a 25 year old developer is the norm in NYC. It is not. The only industry that comes close to that number in NYC is in finance (hedge fund, IB quants, algo trading).

I've working in NYC for 10 years in various industries. Here is my observation of pay rates from highest pay to lower:

Finance line of biz (eg. quant model programmer)

Finance IT

megacorp software corps (Google, M$)

startups no equity

startups w/ equity

other industry IT (publishing, media)

My observation is that nyc startups pay slightly more than your run-of the mill fortune 500 but less than megacorp software shops and finance. Even less of a base salary if they offer equity. Granted I may be talking to the wrong startups and anomalies exists but your characterization is off.

Yes, NY is expensive but your limiting your scope to Manhattan. The average salary for people living in NYC is 50k, most of whom work in Manhattan. They somehow manage to "get-by". Also, high cost of living doesn't automatically equate to every company doling out high base pay.

i see. good to know. can you say what kind of technology you deal with?

If you haven't gotten any raises in three years working for the same employer, then you should look for a different job. I've worked at two fortune 500 companies and one small company and every one of them gives yearly cost-of-living raises at the very least.

It sounds to me like you need to learn to exert more conscious, intentional control over the things you do. It seems like controlling your bodyweight can be one of the most difficult challenges humans face (for those that have trouble with it). To lose weight you have to control two things: diet and exercise. If you can gain control over this, you will have made a huge step towards controlling other aspects of your life.

Check out http://crossfit.com. They're not after your money. You can get all the information you need for free, and it is by far the most sensible approach to general fitness I've seen anywhere, bar none. It's also the most time-efficient, which is another big plus. Diet is always a controversial subject, but their approach works well for losing weight.

If you can get this aspect of your life under control, I think you'll be well on your way.

I think that you want to accomplish something but have no idea what it is you want to accomplish.

You need to get obsessed with something. Don't kill it by being overly critical in advance -- e.g., it's too trivial, it's not going to sell, no one else will be interested, .... Those things don't matter. You have to find something that allows you to exercise your talents. You probably have something in the back of your mind already. Maybe some business idea. Start designing a website for it. Or maybe something in technology you want to learn -- a language, a framework, whatever. Find a trivial application to provide programming exercises that you can accomplish in that language.

I wanted to learn Python, read the book, couldn't get interested. Then I had an idea for a programming tool that I wanted for myself. I realized that Python was a really good language for it and became obsessed. Today, (5 years later), I have a really useful tool (still used pretty much just by me), and I've become very proficient in Python. My interests have moved on, but that was a good obsession for a couple of years.

Don't worry about not being productive. Back off and evenutally you'll get interested in something. Then you can be productive.

There are potentially millions of correct answers, but I'll chime in with one that wasn't brought up yet: hang out with the kind of people that match your goals.

For instance, find a startup entrepreneur and help him out. That will give you a crazy boost of energy and focus that you would never be able to create by yourself.

I think that's better than spending evenings rehashing bad stories with your shrink :-)

Ah the melancholy of the corporate life. Paid well enough to make you sit around bored and not accomplish much. I've been through that. It's time for a change, I wish I had spent my 20's working for startups or forming my own instead of working for the man (large corporation, government...).

As a programmer, you can always go get a job working for the man. It is often tedious, doldrum, and boring. I often think of Thoreau's statement that "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I imagine start up life is never that boring and there is always work to be done. Go find a start up job.

I don't mean to be negative and I wish you well, but when did HN become about therapy and personal life counseling? You mention a therapist and a psychiatrist. Shouldn't you be going to them with these problems? (Or some other professional if you don't trust them?) What makes you think the people here are at all qualified to give you advice on these matters?

If you're looking for advice from a community of people who have dealt with these problems (depression, ADHD, etc.), you might have better luck somewhere where that is the goal, like patientslikeme.com.

I don't have anything useful to add what others have not said before, but this I deeply recognize:

"It's not enough for me to just exist. I feel a deep desire to build, to create, to learn, to teach, and as the weeks and months drag by with no discernible progress made on many of these fronts, my agitation grows."

I suggest you read Symposium by Plato, especially the part where Socrates has his word. Although it was only a small part of the many things that helped me get over this, it is one of the most concrete things I can suggest.

I too often feel pretty guilty with myself unless I'm learning or creating or teaching. I appreciate knowing that this is a common phenomenon among hackers.

To the parent: Thanks for the reading suggestion. I will check that out.

While Symposium actually goes deep into the subject of love, part of the point Socrates tries to make (or rather, Diotima of Mantinea via Socrates) is that humans have a deep desire to immortalize themselves by procreation, be it with arts, poetry, fame or life.

While on the subject, possibly Alcibiades I by Plato might be an even better read.


>Focus is rare; I was recently diagnosed as having ADHD by a psychiatrist, who I saw at the urging of my therapist, despite my staunch refusal to acknowledge it as a real disease. I don't Get Enough Done.

"It's not a real disease" may or may not be true, but I would argue that is irrelevant.

Speaking as someone else who has been diagnosed with ADD, who is also unsure how it differs from simply being a lazy bastard, I can tell you that the drugs they give you for that are /very effective/ if you want to get more done.

They say it's not a silver bullet, but god damn, it sure feels that way. Unmedicated, I get one good day a month; I often get more done on that day than I do the rest of the month. Medicated, that day becomes somewhat average.

For me, most of the depression issues were caused by the fact that I was very obviously not performing up to potential, and when the stimulants fixed that problem, the depression issues mostly went away.

I actually was in a pretty similar situation around your age. Right out of highschool, I made a couple brilliant career moves, but after the .com crash I ended up stagnating from age 22 or so to 25 or so. At which point I started on medication. Four years later, I'm a published author, my company is paying my bills, and I'm generally not ashamed to be where I am. (Now, I'm not on medication anymore... long story... and I'm once again /much less productive/ so it's not like the problem is solved permanently. But medication can give you some very good years- years you can leverage to build skills so that your 'down time' is more productive, too.)

I can't agree more. I had much the same story, minus the "success", and much of the same mental symptoms. Starting medication for ADD was like putting glasses on my ability to get things done.

It's not a silver bullet, but a lot of my other issues melted away once I treated my ADD, and I'm now actually starting to accomplish things I want to accomplish.

I suspect you don't know what you want to be because you've been hanging around American computer programmers too long. You're simply doing what they do. You need to go Traveling for a while.

Book yourself a ticket to Thailand this winter. 2 months return, starting in early December. Book it today and it will run you $800 from the west coast. You'll need another $2k in savings to handle expenses for a couple months in SE Asia.

Why? Because you need to meet some Europeans and Australians, and that's where they'll be this winter. You'll meet tons of people your age and younger who are so much more squared away and confident in what they're doing than you that you'll be blown away. Make friends with these people, figure out how they do what they do with so much less (because I guarantee you none of them will be pulling in $60k/year and they're doing trips like this every year.)

Use this trip to build the pattern for what you want yourself to be like from here on out. Start being that guy while you're on the road and nobody is around to see the transition. Then come back to your job and simply continue being that guy.

It's tough to change who you are while people are watching, but it's somehow acceptable to come back from a long trip and be "changed". Take advantage of that little social hack.

Depression is not an all-or-nothing thing -- you can feel better in the morning vs. evening, or vice versa. Early to mid 20s is where conditions like bipolar (I or II) manifest themselves.

It's not uncommon for a situational event (like the ending of a relationship, transition from student to the working world) to trigger depression, especially when you're already under stress.

You don't mention anything about your day job, other than working as a developer at a Fortune 500 company. Could it be you are working at that job because you feel it is the "right" thing to do, rather than what you want to do? Maybe you should start looking for different work that is more in line with what you like to do. That's also a good way to see a salary increase -- in this economy it's not at all unusual to go 3 years without a salary increase. I'm in the same boat there.

In any event, keep seeing your therapist and perhaps even get a second opinion from another psychiatrist. If you are suffering from depression, you won't be able to "man up" or "try harder," or focus, because your body won't let you.

totally agree with the Could it be you are working at that job because you feel it is the "right" thing to do, rather than what you want to do? Maybe you should start looking for different work. As work takes so much of your day, maybe feeling disapointed there makes you disappointed in general. I'd try something else to do as work. Change is always good (and maybe all your problems simply translate to you being stagnant).

Anyone that's moderately "gifted" struggles with this. Your whole life from kindergarten through college is spent in a cycle of working hard for a day then coasting for two weeks. It's hard to break out of that cycle unless you're in really challenging situations like a really competitive job or a startup. Then you look around and see people that work moderately hard every day and their life somehow seems easier.

You can try constantly learning new things, especially things you can't master in a day or two. I'm always picking up a new hobby like chess, photography, illustration, backpacking, playing guitar, teaching elementary age kids, etc. Just understand that you'll probably never "master" any of these, since your interest will fade quickly once they no longer challenge you.

I wish I had a solution for this.

I think a solution for you is to try radical change. Take a sabbatical to another part of the world, Thailand, Australia, or somewhere exotic. Do stuff you normally don't do! Get out of your comfort zone! Don't worry about anything else but what you want to do. Set a tough long term goal (or goals) and work towards it. Whether it's bringing the internet, electricity, education etc to the developing world, or creating a startup, make the goal and work towards it. Let everything you do me motivated by the desire to achieve the goal. The break is to inspire you and give you ideas, and to release your existing irrelevant worries. I really hope you read this, as there are many much longer comments. I think this succinct piece of advice will help you!

"What am I doing wrong?"

You are investing in the outcome not in the process.


My advice is: get a mentor. Ask for help to someone that knows(someone who has experienced the change you want to make, this has to be proved).

There are a lot of subtle things that makes a difference. IMHO If you ask for advice here you will find good advice mixed with other totally nefarious for your health.

Look for methods that works, and the best way to do this is to search for people that were overweight and are not anymore.

My personal advice: The 30 days method is very important to master in your life, humans are habit machines, what you "trained" for years(not doing exercise, eating bad, relationships, whatever...) can't be changed in days. Psychologist now know that changing a habit takes 30-60 days. You will find references from Tony Robbins, Even Pagan, and a lot of people if you study psychology to this phenomenon:


30 Is a magic number, really. If you put yourself inversion glasses(up is down,down is up) you will see upside down for 30 days. If you then remove your glasses, you will see upside down for 30 days again!!

So if you want to exercise daily, you make a commitment to ONLY change that area of your life in 30 days. If you try more, you will fail as it takes a lot of energy on your part. Once you do something on your life for more than 30 days, it becomes a habit, it will become difficult to NOT exercise daily.

I don't have a catch all solution, but I do have one piece of advice that helped me. Get a workout buddy. Make a pact that you will both workout together 2 times a week. Set a time and place in advance and agree to be there.

I've found it works, because even when I'm lazy, I don't want to let my friend down, and it's a sustainable level of working out. After a few months it starts to have a noticeable impact on everything you do. I'm more confident and more motivated than I was before I started about 8 months ago.

I echo prior advice about habits -- the standard stuff I've heard is after doing something for ~3 weeks, it becomes habit. I have had moderate success with streaks (both for exercise and coding). Esp. insofar as coding goes, I would say "just to a little bit every day". Find 10 minutes here to just open the editor and fix/improve/write one line & commit (or work on design or something, since writing software is def. not all coding). You'll be there before you know it. See: http://lifehacker.com/281626/jerry-seinfelds-productivity-se...

I would point you to two other reference materials. One, is Andy Hunt's (of the Pragmatic Programmers) book: "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning" which I cannot recommend enough. Second is 37Signals "Rework", which I also heartily reccomend.

One thing Pragmatic Thinking & Learning touches on is S.M.A.R.T. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.M.A.R.T.

Also? I have A.D.H.D., too. I also struggle at times -- it's a bitch to admit you're both intelligent & disabled. I don't have much practical advice on this topic, just be aware.

Finally, work on balance. Work on goals. And don't sweat the small stuff -- relax and work slowly. Change is hard.

Best of luck.


P.S. Exercise helps everything (ditto sleep) -- cognition, bodily health, focus, etc. Even if you don't lose any weight (or gain slightly due to fat -> muscle) it's still worth it. Trust me.

Thanks for posting this. I thought about posting something similiar. The comments in the thread have really helped me as well (thanks HN!).

I haven't found my solution, but it doesn't seem to be about money. I'm 28 and my wife is also. We started with nothing. We both paid our own way through college while working. I started working at 17. I've had a few good breaks along the way as a developer jumping jobs. I make a little over six figures a year, my wife makes about 60k. We paid off our house last year. We have two new cars and our only debt is on her car. We have 85k in our checking account and about 180k in our 401ks.

I'm active and sleep well. I work out six days a week for 30-60 minutes a day. I don't do much else though besides work out and work. I started reading and tried doing some other things to calm my mind and begin to accept the fact that middle class is OK.

I feel like I've plateued and don't have much to show for it other than a safely padded bank account. I have pretty boring job. My primary satisfaction comes from my marriage - I'm super lucky for that.

The other advice is to focus on meeting people, making friends and acquaintances. Don't spend your twenties working like crazy for someone else. Either work crazy for yourself or don't work crazy. Spend it with other people instead.

I think it's safe to say that everyone gets a little demotivated at times. For the majority they are able to overcome this. I don't believe in changing your environment in an attempt to be motivated (don't move somewhere). But I do believe the things that surround you are what drives you.

It sounds like your jobs is boring and unchallenging. You havent gotten a pay raise in 3 years. I know it's not always about money. But money can definitely be a motivator. It sounds like your managers aren't very good or the company has financial difficulties. No raise for 3 years in unacceptable and says "we don't appreciate you". Time to look for another more interesting job. As some other mentioned, try a startup.

Which leads me into my next point. Surround yourself with smart, motivated people. The environment you put yourself in can make a huge difference. Joining a startup will give you access to smart people doing interesting things. Go to meetups, talks, etc.. Meet people who are actually doing something. Have a drink, lunch, dinner, whatever with 1 or 2 people who are actively working on something. Offer your suggestions and feedback to them regarding their projects (most people dont turn down free feedback). I think if you spend enough time with people in the community and actively trying to accomplish stuff, you might get motivated to do something yourself or one of those people might want to do something with you.

As for the gym. If you can afford it, hire a personal trainer. Try and book a bunch of classes in advance. Its easy to be lazy and not go to the gym after work. But if you've already paid for the classes and made an appointment you might be more willing to show up.

Many other people will give you advice here, and I doubt I can top it, so I won't add to it - but I wanted to tell you that you're not alone. Everyone that posts here has flaws. Mine are legion. We're humans, and we're all fallible.

That doesn't mean you can't better yourself, but please don't be too hard on yourself for being imperfect. What separates the person you most admire and you isn't as much as you think - in many cases, it's just a bit of luck.

Sign up for a half iron man triathlon 7 months from now.

And most importantly, find someone else to do it with you that won't let you wuss out 3 months into your training.

Pay a non-refundable $250 for it and force yourself to be ready for it. Find someone to run with you once per week that won't let you quit. Work your way up to running 15 miles once per week. I started at 3 miles once/wk and now do 15 once/wk.

I highly recommend doing this; it is fun, and I lost 20 lbs doing it.

Honestly? Suck it up!

I wasted 3 years of my non-work life 20s playing an MMO (DAoC if you're curious), and I've had more failed relationships than I care to count (in a good one now though). I could have let that sort of thing get me down, instead I use it as motivation. No matter what there will come a point where you simply have to suck it up, and that means doing stuff even when you don't feel like it or you can get away with not doing it.

This isn't an insult to you, but you probably had it pretty easy your whole life so you've never had to dig down deep for intrinsic motivation. You've taken the first step of realizing that what you are doing now is not what you want to be doing. The next step is taking action to change, so get off your ass and get to it.

I enjoy high altitude hiking/mountain climbing so I'll leave you with this quote that I think epitomizes willpower and motivation:

"When I rest I feel utterly lifeless except that my throat burns when I draw breath...I can scarcely go on. No despair, no happiness, no anxiety. I have not lost the mastery of my feelings, there are actually no more feelings. I consist only of will." Messner on the first solo ascent of Everest

Over the past several days I've been developing something I call "comprehensive training" which may be useful to you. The idea is that rather than just training something like muscles, which a lot of people train, we train every attribute of ourselves.

I call this project Project Asymmetry because a lot of people live symmetric lives where they are born, climb up until they reach a peak, then decline until they die. The end of their lives are mirror images of the beginning. In Project Asymmetry, we reject that, and aim to get better at everything until we suddenly die in an accident.

Here is an image to illustrate: http://ryandickherber.com/images/project-asymmetry.png

Right now I'm researching all the components of the human body that can be trained and will be putting up a wiki with more information on this. I will catalog standard activities, like weight lifting, taking physics qualifying exams, etc., and seeing what parts of the body they train (muscles, bones, brain, etc.). This will take about a week probably.

Then I will design programs that train every component of yourself. The idea is that you will become stronger, funnier, more intelligent, more knowledgeable, etc., in a very rigorous way. Everything will be tracked so you can know you're really making progress. The program never ends, and you will always follow it (until you suddenly die in an accident).

Here is the latest reddit thread:


Keep track on my blog:


It's possible that you're mildly depressed. The first three things to try are:

1) Get enough sleep. 2) Eat right. 3) Get some exercise (don't worry about your weight, worry about your energy and activity levels).

If you don't do these 3 things, you _will_ eventually wind up with mild depression. If doing these 3 things doesn't break you out of your funk, see an expert.

If you're having trouble motivating yourself towards your goals, you might enjoy the following blog post:


A synopsis: Commit to doing something small every single day for 30 days. You can do this. It's hard, it will suck, and you'll want to skip a couple of days. Don't. At the end of the 30 days, reassess. Continue if you want. You're building a habit that will allow you to take tiny, constant steps towards your goals across a span of years.

If you have a problem with too much pointless browsing, invest in LeechBlocker or SiteBlocker. Limit your television.

It's not what you are doing, it's what you AREN'T doing.

Your entire post listed all the things that you dislike about your life. Tell me what do you like about life?

It seems to me as though you have no real passions (you didn't list any). My best advice would be to find something that you are passionate about, something that you truly love doing in your free time and do it!

It will make your entire life more rewarding. For me, that rush came through skydiving. I had always wanted to learn and finally decided one day to drive out to the airport and make it happen. Haven't looked back since.

For me, jumping out of a plane and following towards earth puts the rest of life into perspective. I challenge you to find something that gives you that same feeling. Something that makes you LIVE.

What do you love or have always wanted to do? Your childhood dream? No excuses, make it happen. What's stopping you? Money should never be a deciding factor.

I understand that these couple of paragraphs may not be enough motivation. If you would like to chat, feel free to PM me.

Figuring out yourself is probably the best thing that you can do. A lot of people have the thought that their potential is limitless - this is wrong and dangerous if you equate happiness with fulfilling your potential.

What helped me a lot is learning my personality type based on the MBTI model (or any model, they're all pretty similar) - study it and find out your potential compared to other types. This gives you a more accurate scale to view your potential, and a more accurate scale will give you a more well defined measurement of success.

For instance, personality typing predicts varying degrees of hard-workingness based on nothing else but your disposition. A lot of people can't accept this even though life itself seems to indicate it and have wrong expectations for themselves. This is very unhealthy if you put all your hopes here and can't manage to fulfill it.

I already wrote my thoughts on this here: therubyway.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/how-to-view-yourself/

Seems like you haven't climbed the hierarchy of needs, which frankly, is the norm at your age (from my anecdotal experience). Your twenties are a struggle professionally to become good at what you do. My advice; stay focussed at becoming very good at what you do. Everything else falls from there.

You are not doing anything wrong. You're just like every single other human ever to exist. The way you describe your problem makes me believe that some manner of Zen/Mindfulness approach would be appealing to you.

"I have a difficult time relating attempted solutions because I'm still not sure what the problem is."

To me, this says that you've already found the fundamental truth of desire-- you cannot sate it with its own ends, as counterintuitive as that is. I realize this is starting to sounds like the dreaded "get religion" solution, but there's no magic or mystery in these approaches. Just 2500 years of close examination human life.

Two specific, small things: I recommend a short, easy book, "Everyday Zen" by Charlotte Joko Beck. Try to sit still and just breathe for around 20 minutes. It's just as easy and just as hard as it sounds.

This sounds a LOT like me -- exactly the way I used to think (and still sometimes do). What's really helped me turn around was a realization I got from a book, "The Mindful Way through Depression." Tell me if the below description sounds familiar.

I treated my frustrations with my life just like I treated any other problem. I put my life under the microscope and considered carefully which areas I found inadequate. I'd look at each area and consider what was going wrong and what it would take to fix it. Once I had a plan on how to fix it, I'd follow the plan. I'd keep evaluating my progress, and try and improve where I was lacking.

This is a great way to solve problems, but somehow it never worked when I looked at my life this way. Somehow it just seemed overwhelming and depressing. And instead of taking some little step to better myself, I'd just waste the day away browsing the internet or watching Hulu. I'd have a completely clear idea of what I needed to do to reach my goals, but I just couldn't bring myself to do them.

The realization the book gave me was that the impulse to scrutinize my life had, for me, become destructive. Intellectually, setting goals and breaking them down into manageable steps is useful. But the continuous evaluation I did on myself just drained me emotionally.

The way I think about it is that I do not have the same ability to emote abstractly as I have to think abstractly. When I put a problem or deficiency in my life under the microscope, it allows me to focus on the problem intellectually. But my emotions don't understand microscopes -- instead, they treat the problem as overwhelmingly huge. Evaluating my progress over and over again didn't lead to improving my methods -- it just made me feel emotionally besieged.

The solution for me has been to break the cycle of scrutinizing my life. It's an old habit, and it's been hard. But when I get to thinking "I'm wasting my talent" or "I regret wasting so much time" I do my best to keep myself from obsessing over it. And with that off my back I find it much easier to work towards my goals.

It sounds like you need to go back to basics. Throw out your current goals and assumptions. Think through and write down the things you value the most. Based on your values, think through what you want out of your life. Then, compare/contrast with where you are today. Once you have a good picture of this, you need to take a 10-year view of how you are going to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Don't do anything less than 10 years since you'll just want to hurry things up and inherently fail.

Chances are, you already know what you don't like about your current circumstances, but you just don't have the courage (yet) to face it. The exercise above will help you -- it helped me. I'm quitting my day job this Friday to focus on what I love doing.

Figure out the - Why. Why do you want to achieve your goals?

Great article titled "Be careful what you wish for" http://finance.yahoo.com/expert/article/moneyhappy/167884

Snippet from that article:

It’s nice to be passionate about work, of course, but are you really having meaningful relationships, are you really developing as a person in ways that are meaningful for you? It’s trite to say, but when it gets to end of life and you’re reflecting back, what were the things that were deeply important? It’s easy to lose track of them over the short-term.

"What am I doing wrong"?

Feeling sorry for yourself :)

One suggestion: write down what the average life is of a middle-American; or, go to Africa!!!! (I'm dead serious; it changed my life)

You'll cheer right up! Seriously, do something new, out of this world.

Also, be glad that you care about what you're doing and you realize that you have huge opportunities. Most that do have opportunities don't realize it and everyone that doesn't, dreams that they did.

Don't forget rule #62: stop taking yourself so damn seriously!

Also, my guess is that you have been doing great stuff (just from the fact that you care about whether or not you are). Make a list of your accomplishments.

There is good rule that sounds like "If you don't know what you want you will do what others want". You may hear a lot of good advices like "do this" or "don't do that", However, first and only thing you should do - is to decide/identify what you really enjoy in this life. It's not so easy as it sounds. Then do what you want, not others want. You'll be amazed how life can be beautiful, and how magically things may change - even beyond your expectations. It worked for me when I was 32-33. <PS> Sorry for my poor english.

Pick one thing you want to accomplish and fucking do it. Stop being a wuss.

I'm not trying to be a jerk by phrasing it that way, I just feel like you need to be tougher on yourself to reach your goals.

have you explored alternative prescriptions? I've heard that some doctors insist on starting with non stimulant medications, even though for most people they are ineffective, and even that aside among the stimulant prescriptions, some people only respond to some of them. Also, at least with the stimulant ones, if they're effective, it should be obvious from day 1.

That aside, getting regular sleep where 8+ hrs is an option is important, as is being able to recognize when you're not going to get any work done during a day, and readjust your day plans to accomodate that fact.

also, if you've been diagnosed with the inattentive rather than either the joint or just hyperactive subtype, i've heard that most effective treatment options are different.

But first, if you doctor hasn't prescribed any of the normal stimulant treatments, go yell at him, please. Irrespective of cultural stereotypes regarding stimulants, for those who have adhd and don't have a history of being inclined towards substance abuse, stimulants in the immediately soluble and/or dissolved during digestion over time formulations are by and large the most effective and safest treatment option. Also, even if your activity level and food intake remains the same, you'll probably lose some excess body fat, though presumably you should then adjust your diet and activity level to be more active and to stabilize your weight (as in exercise more, and eating a healthy active person diet).

And to repeat whats definitely been said elsewhere is also important, its all about changing your habits gradually towards what you'd like them to be

Getting enough sleep? Definitely worth a watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hAw1z8GdE8

Personally, I found that taking a full-time programming job destroyed my out-of-office motivation and productivity. It might be worth trying a job in a new industry for a while, or working out some sort of part-time agreement with your employer -- you might find your brain itching to code and produce something after work hours.

Watch some Louis CK, gain some perspective, appreciate the irony.

As you would have noticed from other comments, habit-forming is key. I am not sure where I first read this, anyhow, here it is: It takes 14 days to form a habit. I acknowledge this is unscientific and the number is arbitrary. Nevertheless, I and my wife have used this idea many times and we both recommend it highly. Keep a good thing going--whatever it takes--for 14 days and there is a very good chance that it will become a habit.

Sometimes I feel deeply ashamed when I read stories on HN, because there are stories of people who achieved absolutely incredible things in the face of adversity: People who created businesses while destitute; people who built families and careers simultaneously; people who got things done even when they didn't feel like it. Even when life got in the way.

If you want something to get done, you give it to someone who has no time or options.

Try not to fill guilty, because there is none for what you have received. Feel free to enjoy despite what you (and others around you) might believe you should/shouldn't. What would whatever you can accomplish mean if you're not happy? Are all those things you think you want, what will make you feel better? Maybe if that were true you'd had done them already. I repeat: Let the guilt go, and the rest will find way.

Perhaps this is just my just ringing my own bell, but I've felt like you for a while, but in a slightly different fashion. Personally, dude, I am very religious so I always have an outside focus that helps to keep me steady, not matter what, that sort of third thing that always matters in the face of any personal problems. For somebody like Gary Vaynerchuk, his "third thing" is his family.

I'm not trying to push the religion thing on you, because that's not your problem here, but what I will say that is that even though I have this other thing outside of coding and work and even family, I still feel (felt?) drained like you do.

After long conversations with my parents, and grandmothers, what I found the problem to be was anxiety and anxious thinking. That may not sound like your problem on the face of it, but here are some things I'd ask you:

- Do you find yourself constantly frustrated by your own limitations and imperfections?

- Do you have a hard time doing anything if it's not perfect?

- Do you berate yourself internally to such a degree that you are your own worst critic and that if you do anything wrong, no one needs to tell you so?

- Do you feel guilty for having all that you have and knowing that there are people out there who'd love to be you?

- Everytime you think of a new business/project idea, do you get all excited but then as you think about it more and more, you get turned off by all the roadblocks you'd have to overcome, until you gradually just fizz out and spend time on HN?

If this sounds like you in any way, then you're probably like me. I have no problem admitting (now) that one of the major reasons I don't get anything done is that I don't LET MYSELF. If you wanna talk personally about this, I'd be happy to be someone to talk to about this. My name is David and my email is at http://scr.im/daveslab (guarded from Spam Bots).

What am I doing about it? This program (http://www.stresscenter.com/mwc/), as cheesy as it looks, is truly, truly saving my life. It is a God-send for me and it helped my father and my uncle come to things they'd only dreamed of doing because of their fear.

Maybe I'm totally off the mark, but I truly hope this might help you. There are so many people affected by this but don't know it's name.

I totally sympathize with you. Does this sound like you "You can't make any decisions because you don't know what you want. And you don't know what you want because you don't know who you are. And you don't know who you are because you're allowed to be anyone you want." What you are experiencing is called a quarter life crisis (this is great read http://www.eyeweekly.com/article/55882).

I had the exact same feeling, at the exact same age, it might have even been at the exact same time of the year. So what did i do about it? I went to Culinary School, i needed to prove to myself that i could actually accomplish something i set my mind too. Cooking is perfect for that, i'm not talking about working from a recipe, i am talking about creating your own recipe, having your own idea for what will taste good together. The parallels between recipes and businesses are amazing. You start off with a concept/idea, you begin to do research (this is usually where people get stuck in business), you actually do something and finally you see if your initial idea was successful. In cooking the definition of success is clear, either your food tastes like shit or it doesn't. In business the definition of success is a little more convoluted but if you look at success from a monetization perspective then its either making you money or not.

So what does culinary school have to do with feeling like shit? Accomplishing something makes you feel great, it builds your confidence especially within a group of peers. Not everyday will be your shining moment but once-in-a-while you will be better then everybody else and you will understand success. From that point onwards you will continue to drive towards that feeling because you know understand what it tastes like.

What can you do? 1. Find something like culinary school. Not a business idea, something else that you think you are good at but haven't really focused on. Something that has a lot of small tangible results. Things that have a lot of tangible results can equal a lot of little victories. 2. Find something where you will compete against others because if you cant measure yourself to someone else, how do you know you have succeeded. 3. Don't worry about commitment, when you start succeeding all the rest of the stuff will go away.

I hope that helps. For me my whole life changed i met my wife, i built an ego, learned how to cook like a chef and finally understood what success really felt like.

Your Vitamin D deficiency and lack of exercise is probably causing part of your depression.

Try to get one hour of sunlight per day and one hour of exercise per day. Two birds with one stone: go jogging for one hour per day, every day, no matter what.

For me, I couldn't wait to finish my hour of exercise so I could go do something challenging and important, like work on your big idea.

The flailing itself is almost certainly the problem. The faster you move, the faster you drown. Strive to do nothing for a time instead - neither work, nor distractions. You've probably been led by the nose towards your high-achiever position in life, and now you have to stop, take in the world, and learn how to actually take control of things.

I can recommend "You Unstuck". It helps you overcome your stuck, and learn to take risks. It is an OK book, better than most self-help books. It can get you started. Good luck. http://www.amazon.com/You-Unstuck-Mastering-Rules-Risk-Takin...

You don't have the experience or the knowledge to achieve your goals. 4-year college just gives you the basics. You are still too young. 30 is when you have established with enough experience and knowledge, 40 is when you've gained wisdom, and 50 is when you can see global trends in the world.

Just enjoy life, and don't stop learning.

> I do my best to eat better, but it's as easy to lose focus on planning my meals and learning to cook as it is to lose focus on coding my latest idea.

You don't have to learn how to cook to eat better. You simply have to stock your kitchen with better food.

It's easy to make simple nutritous meals. Cooking skill merely makes them taste better.

My advice -get a different job. My salary goals have rarely been met by staying at the same employer. -Find your sport. I am biased, but I highly recommend cycling. Join a bike club, find people to ride with on meetup or OKC. You will be amazed how fast you will get in just 2 months of riding consistently.

You are right, ADHD is not a real disease. It is a real disorder.

It sounds like you need JFDI. If you don't like something, change it. http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2009/11/19/what-makes-an-...

my opinion: you are spending emotional energy on judging yourself. This energy is then not available for your goals. (Emotional energy is like a limited supply of money: spend it wisely, don't throw it away.) It undermines your motivation, and your faith in your ability, without which goals are impossible to achieve (literally). This is especially serious for weight-loss, because many people eat as a way to stop the feelings that the above creates - you need an alternative way to feel good about yourself, instead of eating.

You sound desperate. If you are, I have a suggestion that will help. But you'll only be able to do it if you are desperate:

Set doable goals, do them, and celebrate them.

1. Start off with clearly doable goals - no challenging or stretch goals! A good guide is to estimate what you think you can do, then halve it. [note: if it turns out that you can't do it, it was not a "doable goal" - start again with an easier one] To give you an idea of just how easy I mean, an example is: to make a mark on a piece of paper.

2. Doing them means to remain focussed on them. No moving the goal posts! Don't be distracted by other tasks; nor by thoughts of whether you can do it or not, nor by whether it's too easy etc. The way to prevent distractions is as in meditation: acknowledge them without anger nor fighting them, and gently shifting your attention back to the here and now.

3. celebration means something very specific: you recall (visualize) the state of events before you began; and then you compare the visualization with how things are now. And you notice that there is a difference - a change in the world - that is entirely due to your power.

The key is self-appreciation. You thought I was melodramatic when I said you can only do this if you're desperate? No. Setting a reasonable goal, doing it, and celebrating it is really that hard. It requires a particular kind of self-discipline that (according to your post) you presently don't exercise. You can improve at this - if you're desperate enough.

every great achievement is made up of a number of small achievements

Q: Achieve, achieve, achieve.

A: Achieve, achieve, achieve.

You are trying very hard to be Dashing Successful Hacker.

Maybe you are not meant for that. Amidst all the insightful advice about how startups will change your life, perhaps a while should be spent on thinking about that.

You're getting your midlife crisis in early. Damn over-achiever. http://twitter.com/#search?q=middleclassproblems

I feel that you are just letting too many things bother you at once.. Like others have stated, pick easily doable clear goals and try to work on them, instead of having grand, vague goals.

Set bigger goals. You can easily go from being overweight and out of shape to being an Olympic-level athlete in a year. You just have to make that one of your goals and do it.

Refusal to acknowledge adhd as real is what you are doing wrong. That is borderline hubristic. Seriously, that might be the thing to dwell on for a while

I acknowledge it now, but only sideways. I don't believe in wrapping up problems and tucking them away into a diagnosis... I'm a whole person, and if I have ADHD, it's a part of who I am. Part of what makes legitimizing ADHD difficult for me is that there's no litmus test--we have to rely on psychiatrists to make diagnoses, and it seems to me that the diagnosis is just as likely to be "bad habits" as it is to be "ADHD."

I understand that, and I sympathize with it. In fact, that is probably the majority opinion, the popular position. It was also my position until recently--some of it still is my position.

You are right about much of what you're saying here. Please know that I'm not trying to be glib or sarcastic. If I was being short with my reply, it was because I was in the exam room of a doctor typing on my phone while waiting on her to get back and resume our interview and examination for prescribing medication for my new diagnosis of ADHD. So in a way this discussion is serendipitous for me.

Let me offer a difference of opinion on a few small points in what you've said here.

First, unless you're doing it wrong (pardon the meme), then you will not be wrapping up problems and tucking them away. Not into a diagnosis, not anywhere. But to discount the diagnosis would be an equally problematic mistake to embracing it as a catch-all. If you're diagnosed as having rotten roots beneath a tooth of yours, that doesn't wrap the problem of a toothache up in that diagnosis so that you can then go about ignoring it. It ascribes a cause and a probable form of treatment to your situation.

If you have ADHD, it is a part of who you are, absolutely. It's a part of your strengths as well as your struggles. But your question here was, "What am I doing wrong?" and if you've been diagnosed as ADHD, there's an excellent change you can find good answers that encompass and respect the totality of your person by going further down that trail.

As for the lack of a litmus test, I strongly empathize with that idea as well. While I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, I have been paying attention to this issue, trying to go deeper into those reservations.

In fact, there are some good tests for ADHD that don't just rely on an interview with a psychiatrist (though I would argue that that interview has more validity to it than you might be willing to grant it). There are brainwave scans that can be done. There are functional tests. There are eye-tracking tests.

That last bit about bad habits is the one that I think is most doggedly pernicious, at least based on my experience. My thinking went along these lines: I'm lazy. I'm undisciplined. These things are hard for everyone. These are behavioral problems, not biological problems--matters of willpower, not matters of capability.

The thing about psychological disorders is that they can all be dismissed as bad behavior, as moral issues, if you are prepped to see it that way, especially for the layman. We've gotten better as a society at acknowledging naturalistic, deterministic causes to these things in order of severity. Things like schizophrenia or dissociative disorder or mania--that stuff we look at and say, "Yeah, there's probably something off with the chemistry or structure of that person's brain." With something like dysthymia or ADHD, though, we still are more inclined to discount the physiological, the neurological components of that cycle of behaviors.

To an extent, you're right. These are learned behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can do a world of good in undoing them. Heck, even just adapting through self-management can do a lot of good. At the same time, the two worlds, that of mind and body, are inexorably linked. They determine one another in either a vicious or virtuous circle.

Proper treatment for ADHD addresses both aspects of that reality. It addresses your personhood and your physicality, your learned behaviors as well as your proclivities.

I'm not trying to be overbearing here. Please excuse me, and I certainly don't presume to know much about you or your condition. But I hope you're open at least to reconsidering your views on ADHD, or maybe not even reconsidering, just broadening and deepening.

I see so much of myself in what you've described here, and when I saw that you've been diagnosed as ADHD, it lined up with the self-discovery I am in the process of. Your reply here does that even more so, and while I don't want to diminish your individuality and your uniqueness, I think we may be a lot alike and can help one another by having this discussion. I'm open to having my mind changed--I'm not singularly focused on getting you to take meds or anything; other than maybe validating my decision, I have no motive for doing so. That said, validating, or invalidating, each of our positions only stands to bring more light to the situation for each of us and may be of some benefit to other observers as well.

In short, I understand if you disagree with me, and that's certainly your right, but if you'd be willing, I'd love to go back and forth a little more, for our mutual benefit. This reply is my effort to that end, and I hope it doesn't come across as arrogant or rude or dismissive in any way. It's just a topic I care a lot about right now, and in my opinion, it may be one that could yield the type of breakthroughs that you opened this post in hopes of finding.

Sorry for the length!

Sure... I'd be open to a back-and-forth. Shoot me an e-mail at the address in this profile.

to ride on to this question, I have a conundrum of myself. I have an offer from a university to join in and work with them .. about 70K offered .. Now do i take it up and keep working on technologies like FileMaker or wait around and look for gigs at for-profit corps or startups that involve a lot more interesting and cutting-edge technologies.

What is the difference between a boy and a man?

Which one do you think you are, and which one would you like to be?

Why don't you dismiss from your job?

I think you're making a common mistake, one I made for the first 30-ish years of my life. You believe that we consciously choose which things bring us happiness and inner satisfaction. So you have consciously chosen a whole set of goals and a "timetable" to hold yourself accountable against.

But step back a second. Think about something you really love. Did you choose to love it, or did you merely discover you loved it. I remember in 7th grade, someone brought a Trash-80 to show and tell at school, and I was suddenly obsessed. Ever since then, I've learned new programming languages on my own and built stuff. But the key insight is this ... I DID NOT CHOOSE TO LIKE PROGRAMMING. I merely discovered that I happen to love it.

The same is true for millions of other things, from whether or not you like onions, to whether you prefer beaches or mountains, to whether you're introverted or extroverted.

When I was your age, I thought I wanted to build up a little real estate portfolio by converting my personal residences to rentals (aka, "leap-frogging"). The idea felt prestigious and had a feasible chance at leading to wealth. But it turns out, I HATE managing real estate. I just want to focus on my software projects. Owning a rental property is just a way for me to buy myself a bunch of hassle.

So the point is this ... life is not completely about consciously setting tasks, deadlines, and goals for yourself. In fact, much more of life is about listening to your inner self, finding out more about what really makes you tick, and then steering your life more in that direction as you learn. There's an element of excitement to it, because you don't really know exactly where it will lead. Take time to get away from the hustle and bustle and reflect on your life, always asking, "What do I want more of in my life? What do I want less of? What changes can I make that will move me in the right direction?"

To do this, you have to get free of the "hold yourself accountable" mindset. You do not have to meet anyone's standards, you don't have to achieve anything, and you don't have to prove anything. Your life is yours and yours alone. It was given to you, and you are the absolute sovereign over it. If you truly find happiness from surfing the internet 12 hours a day, then you should do it every day of your life, with no guilt whatsoever. The only reason that's not a good idea is that it won't truly make you happy. So you reflect on that, and decide to make a change that takes you in a better direction. Guilt and shame are not in the picture. Neither is time pressure, or needing to "hold yourself accountable". Merely self-acceptance, and leisurely looking for ways to increase the satisfaction and self-actualization you get from life.

"To do this, you have to get free of the "hold yourself accountable" mindset. You do not have to meet anyone's standards, you don't have to achieve anything, and you don't have to prove anything." - that's how i broke free to discover myself.

Now i just need to remember it every so often :)

You're normal. It's your expectations for yourself that are wrong. By definition, not everyone can be exceptional. Grow up.

I suggest you stop reading HN and go outside. Do not use HN as a measuring stick. Many people here, whether they admit it or not, love making themselves appear superior to others. Some really are superior, but most are probably just like yourself. Just stay true to yourself and you will feel a lot better.

If it helps, I am in a similar position. I am under 25, but working as a programmer for 3 years. I got student loans to pay off. (and dont tell my boss, but sometimes I read the internet instead of working). It happens. Slow progress is better than none.

Also, try listening to this song as loud as possible, and tell me it doesn't help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5TXr-vDvhY

I agree with a lot of these responses. If you're on a 50 mile hike, focus on the end point and you will be constantly discouraged. Focus on the next step, the next viewpoint, and the journey, and you will enjoy yourself and get there in no time.

Learn to meditate and don't watch tv. Take fish oil, eat healthy, get exercise, ....

Handle nutrition first, it'll make everything else that much easier. The #1 thing to do is to stop eating carbs and sugars (including fruit). I understand this is radical but at some point you just have to make a decision that you really want it. I challenge you to give $600 in cash to your roommate and tell him that if he catches you eating crap in the next 30 days, he gets to keep it and also punch you in the face. It does not take much willpower to make that move but it will definitely help keep you in line later when your willpower is faltering.

Don't hit the gym until you are in basic shape. I recommend http://hundredpushups.com/ to get started.

Finally, admit to yourself that every time you slack off instead of doing what you really want to do, you are lying to yourself. Say it aloud: I am lying to myself. That is one way that I stopped drinking alcohol and smoking weed, and as a result I not only almost have a six pack (Not spending $ on alcohol => improved nutrition, no hangovers => daily exercise), but I respect myself more. I still drink from time to time but as long as I admit to myself (and my closest social acquaintances) that I am lying to myself, then the habit eventually self-corrects.

Why would you quit eating fruit, or "carbs?"

There is a lot of evidence that sugar is bad for you. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

Nassim Taleb says carbs are one of the 3 most dangerous addictions, besides a paycheck and heroin. Obviously some carbohydrate is necessary and good for you but the less the better.

Trader Joe's has these kickass "a complete salad" kits in their refrigerated produce section that I highly recommend. They have great nutritive value, taste great, aren't too expensive, and I feel aMaZiNg hours after eating them.

Nassim Taleb had one obvious idea that he milked for two books. I'm not sure why he's qualified to comment about anything outside of derivatives trading. (or derivatives trading, either, since his funds melted down when he was actively involved with them)

Um, I think Taleb made a fortune in the stock market meltdown, and he's also incredibly well read and intelligent, so I think you don't really know what you're talking about. My guess is that you're reacting based on my comment about sugar and carbs. I am sorry that it is challenging some of your closely held beliefs and sense of reality. To discuss food is a taboo and if this were in person I would have just changed the subject, but you asked for the truth. Watch the UCSF doctor's lecture.

I wonder why you think I haven't seen that video as it's been posted here multiple times and I've commented on it. I was commenting on why I should care about what Nassim Taleb thinks about carbs. He's not a particularly svelte or athletic looking person. It seems like he's getting plenty of carbs.




As for carbs, basically they are just complex sugar and don't add a lot nutrition value. Once they break down they will cause insulin spikes... Obviously some carbohydrate is necessary and good for you but the less the better.

Any reference for this? Pretty much everything I read about nutrition says this is total bull.

Before I edited, I originally wrote that my understanding about carbs is a vague intuition developed from listening to body building friends, etc. However, I realize that's not a good source so I deleted that paragraph. My apologies for the confusion.

Take this as an opportunity to know yourself and how to hack yourself. You're at the front door right now; your agitation says that.

I suffer from a lot of the same problems -- ultimately, that feeling that you're phoning it in, and that you can't get yourself to stop doing it. Oh, BTW, I'm about 20 years your senior.

I have not entirely conquered this, but I understand myself a lot better than I did before I started trying. You can, too -- understand why it is you behave this way, and who this "other self" is that seems to be in control.

In all likelihood, the root of your problem is fear. It's the cause of many peoples' problems, and certainly is mine. You're probably afraid of failure, afraid of somehow breaking your in-born talent. These are needless fears, but I've got them, and I know how real they seem. One tool that has helped me identify my fears is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. The book is good, the audio is even better. She's a PhD, a psychologist who's spent her career figuring out how to overcome fear.

Another suggestion: start a light exercise program. Don't attempt anything heroic. Just a daily (six days per week) fast walk for 25 minutes will do. It's not just about losing weight -- in fact, that would just be a by-product. The main reason is that as a human being, you were born to run. Your mind will be healthier if you exercise your body, regularly. A great book on the science of this is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John Ratey. The last 20 years of research in this area have shown an amazing connection.

Others here can help you with your long-term goals: create great things. I can't give much useful advice in that area, yet. What's important, though, is that you grow into self-awareness, in order to gain control over what I believe is probably a low-grade depression -- I'm not a psychologist, but I think I know it when I see it.

Where the mind goes, the body will follow. Conversely, where the body goes, the mind will follow. If you start behaving like someone who feels better than you do, you'll start feeling better. Your body can make your mind improve, and your mind can make your body improve. Trying a bit of both.

Understand that I have not read your wordy post. I come from a poker background where the correct response is nearly (99%+) "You call too much." I could give this piece of advice to nearly everyone who asked me for advice on how to play a hand and I would be correct.

Your answer is "You don't understand your market." No more, no less. Figure it out. If you think about this for a moment, you'll realize that I am right. If you think about it deeply you'll realize that I didn't even know what I was saying... and yet, I was right.

It's not genius that drives innovation; it's the will to succeed.

Forget yourself. Go befriend a lonely kid, or play chess with elderly people in a retirement home. Or help out at a food bank. You'll discover what an awesome person you really are.

In before "Write an app to help you focus".

This may/may not apply to you. I've wrestled with a (not medically proven) condition called candida. Basically too much such/alcohol/yeast causes a yeast build up in my GI tract. This causes major issues like:

- fatigue (I was falling asleep at my desk at 10:30am after 11 hours of sleep) - "Brain fog" (Best definition I've heard, it's the lack of the ability to focus after about 10 minutes etc) - Depression (This came on when I would have too much sugar. It would really mess with my head)

Anyways, after some anti-fungals and cutting out most sugars from my diet, I'm 80% better now. I can put in a full day's work and can hang out at night without feeling repercussions the next day.

I also found out I was celiac. Go figure.

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