Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Life is Short (2016) (paulgraham.com)
568 points by hvo on Apr 1, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments



For related reading, I recommend this Tim Urban piece, "The Tail End": https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html

I read about five books a year, so even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest.

...

I’ve been thinking about my parents, who are in their mid-60s. During my first 18 years, I spent some time with my parents during at least 90% of my days. But since heading off to college and then later moving out of Boston, I’ve probably seen them an average of only five times a year each, for an average of maybe two days each time. 10 days a year.

Being in their mid-60s, let’s continue to be super optimistic and say I’m one of the incredibly lucky people to have both parents alive into my 60s. That would give us about 30 more years of coexistence. If the ten days a year thing holds, that’s 300 days left to hang with mom and dad. Less time than I spent with them in any one of my 18 childhood years.

It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re in the tail end.


>I read about five books a year, so even though it feels like I’ll read an endless number of books in the future, I actually have to choose only 300 of all the books out there to read and accept that I’ll sign off for eternity without knowing what goes on in all the rest.

makes you want to take some time off and read, doesn't it?


For many years, my fantasy of retirement was that I would have a house with a large back yard so that I could spend my days reading outside surrounded by trees.

At some point I realized that there was no reason I had to wait until retirement to realize this fantasy, and now many of my Saturdays begin with a walk to a local park, followed by several hours of reading. It's just as pleasurable as I had expected, and it's actually been surprisingly easy to make this happen now that I've made it a priority. It doesn't even take a whole day; there are plenty of Saturdays when I go out to read during the morning and still have the rest of the day free for whatever chores or social engagements are vying for my attention. I even find myself doing it on weekday afternoons evenings, especially in summer when the days are long.

Another thing that has led to me reading more books is just giving myself permission to read books in increments of 15 minutes or less during random moments of downtime. Moments on/waiting for the tram or between phone meetings that I would have spent checking Twitter on my phone can just as easily be spent reading a book. This isn't so good for certain kinds of content that you might want to devote more attention to, but I've found that I'm perfectly capable of enjoying fiction in 10-minute increments without significantly diminishing my enjoyment of it. And oftentimes, reading bits of a novel throughout the day often gives me a certain amount of momentum that makes me want to continue reading the book during my free time in the evening during time that I might have otherwise spent watching TV, browsing reddit/facebook, etc.


As someone with a large property to keep up - you wouldnt be reading, you be performing your 2nd job as part time gardener/ landscaper. Important to know...


Everything has a baseline cost, also in matter of time... no matter in what area we are speaking, side businesses or side hobbies. Even when delegating we have at least to manage part of the work.


Indeed. Managing contractors, dealing with miscommunications and sloppy work - it can add a stress dimension that is far worse. I do my best to choose the enjoy the upkeep, but I always warn people to make sure their eyes are open. Condo life has its own very real advantages.


My mom gets mad at my sister and I sometimes because we carry our books with us and when we get tired of talking we just take them out and start reading. Even at restaurants!


I’d be super proud of my kids, if they did that. First kiddo coming soon. How do parents raise book loving kids rather than phone loving kids?


Lots of books in the house, and my parents love to read. My wife's family has even more piles of books everywhere, and all six kids are super speed-readers! They do love their phones too, though. They read a lot of fan-fic on them.


I was thinking the same thing (I guess) as I read that comment: If one is going to worry about the limited choice of books for the rest of his lifetime, he should simply just read. Similarly, if one is worrying about limited time with their parents, he should simply do it now or schedule his immediate next visit.

If we take in the finiteness of lifetime as a factor, most of our decisions will simply stop making sense. Life should be spent with no clear boundary other than it is finite.


I highly recommend audio books.

I tallied it up and last year I read 58 books averaging 1.8 hours of reading a day.

It's great!


Audiobooks don't feel like reading to me. It's more like watching television. As in, "I watched 120 hours of Netflix last year!", and thus not something that gives the same satisfaction.

A good book is something you want to take slowly and really read. Digging in and unpacking the meaning from interesting turns of phrase. I just don't get that from listening. I need to see the words.

Maybe for history, textbooks, or mindless pageturners it could be useful. But for a capital-B Book, no, that doesn't do it for me.


I think this is your personal preference. Perhaps you've suffered poor recordings? I've found a good book, when read by a proficient voice to a well produced recording - is still a good book.

Early literature was all based on rote learning and spoken tongue. We still have some of those works left from preliterate times. Socrates, Homer, etc. Although, 'pre-literate' literature does sound a bit self contradicting.


so I'm a couple comments up; I do think that audiobooks can be better for some things... but even when the recording is so good you might be able to call it better than the book, it's just... a really different experience from reading a book.

As to early literature, I just got done reading Emily Wilson's new translation of the Odyssey. she goes into that a little in the introduction, about the difference between something you recite and something you read, and about how the odyssey is sort of in-between those two things; clearly it wasn't just homer taking dictation, but it also clearly does contain some artifacts unique to an oral storytelling tradition.


I don't think audiobooks are really the same; Maybe I just need to figure out how to make it read faster, but so far it's just slower and less immersive. Audio is a thing, like I really enjoy history podcasts when I'm doing other things that require attention, but it's different from reading 'cause I'm not immersed in the world of Mike Duncan or Nate DiMeo - I mean, I really enjoy listening to them but it's like watching a movie on a screen; reading a book is like watching a movie on a occulus rift (only, you know, good) I mean, one of them is there in the room with you; the other becomes the room, absorbs all attention.


You can speed it up, and I've done that for some books, but I agree it's not the same. Specially for books from which you want to extract actual concrete knowledge, there is nothing like paper.

However, for the right books, audiobooks can be even better in my experience; books where you want some "wisdom" and feelings more than concrete stuff, and where a peaceful, somewhat-slow is appropriate.

I listened to Lab Girl, an intimate autobiography, read by the author, and it was fantastic. I am now going over a book on buddhism, and because I don't really care about remembering the details of Maharana's life, I love listening instead of reading. With such a book, reading faster doesn't seem to make much sense, I wanna go slow and savior its lessons.

In any case, it's been a good complement to my traditional reading; even when it isn't the best way to read a book, it's a fantastic way to make the most of commuting or doing chores.


The Audible client has a speed factor built in to it's client. The problems you describe easily go away at about 1.3x for me, and I can listen considerably faster if I'm not interested in 100% retention (some books are worth skimming, others worth reading, and a select few are worth studying)

As an aside I highly recommend reading "How to Read a Book". I don't recommend studying every detail, there is a lot in there I don't think is particularly valuable, but some of it really shifted how I thought about and approached reading.


I'm reading Sci-fi stories rather than something drier or that needs more digesting, so I understand this point of view.

I didn't find it that hard to listen to Dune compared to listening to, say, Peter F. Hamilton's works. For me it all is something that becomes entirely attention consuming.

Your mileage may vary!


I think it’s definitely not the same. I often buy kindle books with the audible bundle included. The I listen to the books while I’m commuting. I often go back though and actually the chapters without the audio. I am always surprised how much new things I find even though I “read” the chapter already.


Highest quality, free, short fiction recordings I've found:

https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/the-authors-voice


OTOH, in my early 20s I had drank the kool-aid of reading is the best thing you can possibly do. I started reading more and more. Once I got up to around 75 books a year, I realized I had passed diminishing returns, and my life was not well-balanced.

I'm now down to ~25 books a year and feel like it fits me well.


Hmm. I am closer to 50 than 25 a year. My recent thoughts on the matter are mostly after playing progression games or watching YouTube. "i would be happier now if I had spent that time reading"


As a side note, not only one's life is short, but the entire human history is short. I'm over 40 and it struck me that if I repeated my life 50 times it would already go back B.C.! We've invented and developed ALL the things in between. I don't think I could live 50 times and do that myself. That was some amazing achievement, humans.


In 2016 I did a small project that visualizes time as a series of hypothetical cross generation conversations (such as a 5 year old listening to an 80 year old's stories) [0]. Really fascinating to see how recent seemingly ancient events such as the American civil war or the invention of the printing press are when examined in these terms.

[0]: http://mattbierner.github.io/forward-propagation/


This was awesome. Thank you! It’s incredible that it only takes ~70 people’s lives, end to end, to get back to the invention of cuneiform.

Imagine all those people in a room. You could fit them in a small banquet hall. And between the oldest and youngest is the difference between the invention of writing and the utterly complex, global economic flow that we’ve networked ourselves into today.


Just imagine the diversity and conversations you would have in that banquet hall... conversing alongside the evolution of common fashion and speech.

You (currently being working class in present day) would likely be the most sought after person of interest, even among some of the bigger names in history. Behind you lies empty space of generations yet to come, who will immediately become more interesting if the same banquet were to be repeated with their inclusion.

What topic would you approach them with? Current events? Medicine? Tech? What could they simply pull from their pocket that would blow our minds today?


I like the example of Kittyhawk to the moon - 66 years. I realize they are not commensurate, since rockets and balloons existed long before aircraft, and the Wright Flyer 1 is not really in the ancestral lineage of Apollo spacecraft. Those 67 years are still impressively short, even though the advances were mainly due to wars (hot and Cold).


Just imagine the increase in human lifespan that can occur in the next 100 years, given how much it has changed in just 50 ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#/media/File:Li...


Ehhh... We've made very little progress increasing the length of our later lives. Almost all the average life span increase has come from fixing infant mortality and things which kill us in our 20s and 30s.

We have not succeeded in slowing aging.


We haven't slowed aging. We have however made progress in lowering overall cancer incidence and heart disease.

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/facts-and-figures-2018-ra...

https://ourworldindata.org/causes-of-death


Not to denigrate the importance of what we have achieved.


That is the sole reason companies calculate 'man hours.' You simply can't do exponential work just by living 50 times over. Other people in parallel matter a ton. Interesting point though


You appear trip be contradicting the parent's point -- I read them as saying that it's not merely the sum of hours but the interplay of minds. So in theory 10 people might do something on less man hours than 1 because the interactions create utility that speeds development.


Thank you for this perspective. This hit me in a really unique way and is an amazingly useful frame when focusing on dissecting a large, seemingly insurmountable problem.


But what is that ”amazing achievement” relative to? We have no frame of reference other than our imaginations. Could we have went to the moon much earlier? If the Cold War didn’t happen would we still have the achievement of landing on the moon or be in space at all like today?


Relative to all of previous history.


Sure, with all the money saved on military expenses, and countries not drawn into conflicts we'd be a lot farther ahead.


Or we would have more McMansions and reduced biodiversity. It certainly seems that's the typical route a welfare maximizing democracy allocates resources by default.


"Sure, with all the money saved on military expenses, and countries not drawn into conflicts we'd be a lot farther ahead."

I doubt that. Like it or not, military conflicts (and military confrontations such as the Cold War) have produced many of the technological advances that we enjoy today.


Really good comment. Remind us that 2 thousand years seems a lot, but isn’t that much.

If you let me, I advice you to study philisophy, and you shall realise that our history is much bigger than our calendary. And if you study “The republic” os Plato, you will see that our material achivements are improved a lot,for sure, but the humanity as a whole civilization is in decay. Plato’s dialogues explain how our civilization evolves and decays in cycles, and we are currently in decay. Democracy is the system that currently rules the world, and it is one step before tirany.


The 2400-year-old opinion of a specific philosopher, brilliant though they may be, does not necessarily reflect reality. One of the harder mental blocks I had to get through with philosophy, though it seems incredibly obvious both in retrospect and to those who haven't yet encountered it, is that philosophers write with no authority on metaphysical matters; any time a philosopher says the nature of a thing is thus, they are surely wrong. This is contrasted with technical matters, where it's possible and indeed common for our intellectual giants to describe things precisely as they are. I mean this as no slight against philosophy, nor to denigrate its utility, but as a simple observation that your mode of engagement with the material must differ; see the common interpretation that reading the philosophical corpus is more like listening in on a conversation spanning the ages rather than learning a just-so list of facts about our world.


A "2400 year old opinion", to me it is a proof of how good and unbreakable it is for surviving so many years. You are a very smart guy, more than me, for sure, you also should try it, fight against your mental blocks and give a try on philosophy, it can enlighten your life.


I don't study philosophy, but having spent a whole lot my life depressed and having it filled with long periods of solitude I do spend a lot of time thinking. What I find really interesting is how much philosophy I've rejected over the years for various reasons, only to later interdependently come to the conclusion that it was true.

The religions of the world are littered with actually very profound insight, for instance, but a lot of it is hidden behind parables and mythology, interwoven with narratives meant to maintain cultures and power structures, and generally favors the lies-to-children versions, but it's there.

I am reminded of a movie, Enemy Mine, wherein a human is learning an alien language in part via a religious text. After reading a passage bearing a remarkable similarity to "turn the other cheek", he looks up to his teacher and says "I've heard all this before", to which the alien's reply is "Of course. Truth is truth". One of the lessons of empiricism is that truths are repeatable --that we can both do the experiment, take them measurement, and produce the same result--, and even though much of philosophical thought is non-empirical that pattern seems to hold.

It seems to me, that one rejects a lot of these ideas because they seem wrong, are too simple, or even tautological, but once you've taken the long route and arrived at the same conclusion, you find that the universe had been screaming it at you your whole life and you just didn't really understand what it was saying because you lacked the context.

And they're difficult things to talk about because of that. Communication requires a shared context for mutual understanding, but often we lack that. Take any industry or specialization, which has developed its own language. Terms like "network", "database", or "stack" have meanings within the general public awareness, but within IT have much more specific definitions. When someone who uses this language daily tries to explain things to someone who doesn't, the other person's understanding will be different than what was intended because they don't understand the package of specifics that come with them, and likewise when they attempt to communicate back we sometimes have a different understanding than intended because we understand those terms in the context of that package of related concepts.

I think this is the cause of a lot of animosity between various communities. For instance, in academic feminism, the term "patriarchy" has a more nuanced meaning than it does to the general public, just like the terms "network" and "database". So when a feminist talks about the patriarchy they mean one thing, but what people often hear is something different. I think it is the same with a lot of academic, or religious, philosophy.

There's this term "karma" for which the lies-to-children version is "do good things and good things will happen to you". This is provably false, so a lot of people naturally reject it. However, if you do good things the world is actually slightly better for it, right? Even if not for you specifically. And if we all do good things, as a society, then those good things will happen to more people and you have a higher chance of having good things happen to you. If you live in a society where people tend to treat each other well, you'll all be better off than if you treat each other poorly. If you put in the work now to make the world a better place, your children will get to live in that better world, as you live in a better world made by the efforts of your parents and their parents before them. And of course the reverse is also true, if you insist on making the world a worse place through your actions. And in that context, "karma" doesn't seem so ridiculous anymore does it?

Of course, it's entirely possible that I am only seeing what I want to see. That I have, through my own lens of understanding, reinterpreted such things to fit reality as I see it.


Why is democracy one step before tyranny?


To the modern understanding of tyranny, it certainly is strange, but Plato had a very particular view of politics (he was what you might call elitist).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plato%27s_five_regimes#Tyranny

Given 2,000 years of history, he'd likely have different views (I'd hope so anyway), but that's what the poster appears to be driving at. That doesn't seem to be the root cause of tyranny in Russia or China, but democracy can devolve into it.


I often fall into ruminations of this kind. Currently in my late fifties, as a boy I have no doubt met people who in their turn have met someone born in the late seventeen hundreds. My own grandfather is a candidate. We had a couple of long generations - he was born in 1885, and could easily have known people in their nineties in his childhood.

And less than ten of my lifetimes take us back to Columbus. Less than twenty to my viking ancestors.

And oh yes, my teens were barely yesterday.


Just yesterday, I was having a similar thought. as a buddhist student, I realised I missed the Buddha(2500yrs ago) by around 50 generations, assuming life expectancy of 50.


That's more like 100 generations (assuming historically most people have kids at roughly 25).


Just thinking about how many simultaneous breakthroughs occur, and expertise in so many areas is mind boggling. In contrast there are slower periods/cultures too, ie hunter gatherer societies.

You could spend one life to become an expert doctor only to have all that knowledge made obsolete by time.


By far the deepest and most eloquent writing on this subject that I've ever read has been Seneca's "On the Shortness of Life".[1][2]

[1] - https://www.amazon.com/Shortness-Life-Seneca/dp/1941129420/

[2] - https://tripinsurancestore.com/4/on-the-shortness-of-life.pd...


Seneca's On the Shortness of Life is truly spectacular:

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it... Life is long if you know how to use it."


*have the ability to use it for your desires...the 40 hour work week leaves little for much else.


Makes me think of

>ONCE UPON A time, artists had jobs. And not “advising the Library of Congress on its newest Verdi acquisition” jobs, but job jobs, the kind you hear about in stump speeches. Think of T.S. Eliot, conjuring “The Waste Land” (1922) by night and overseeing foreign accounts at Lloyds Bank during the day, or Wallace Stevens, scribbling lines of poetry on his two-mile walk to work, then handing them over to his secretary to transcribe at the insurance agency where he supervised real estate claims. The avant-garde composer Philip Glass shocked at least one music lover when he materialized, smock-clad and brandishing plumber’s tools, in a home with a malfunctioning appliance. “While working,” Glass recounted to The Guardian in 2001, “I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him that I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”

from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/t-magazine/art/artist-day...


he actually drove a NYC taxi for decades to pay bills, buy his first house on the lower east side, etc. in his autobiography, reflecting on it he simply states "i enjoyed driving a cab" for many of the same reasons Uber markets today.


only if you do something you have no interest in for 40 hours a week.


I am building the pyramids so that some day a dead pharaoh can lay inside them.


If only. You're lucky if something you worked on lasts more than a decade.


Semi relevant note: When I followed the link PG has on his website for 'Hackers and Painters', Amazon reminded me that I ordered that book in 2005.


Doing something you love 40 hours a week can easily rob you of that love, depending on your situation.


Yep, it’s entirely possible whole new categories of work and goods/services would open up thanks to an UBI. Suddenly a person can choose to work mornings at a nonprofit (presumably paid more in karma than in cash) and afternoons somewhere else making better money. Or maybe work three different jobs that add up to a highly valuable skill after 3 years with each job. Ie a programmer with domain knowledge in commercial driving and liquor business operations.


I like programming but I probably wouldn't spend 40 hours per week on it every week, if I could do whatever. And even then I probably would choose different things to work on and wouldn't sit through stuff like Scrum ceremonies.


Not at all. Yes, pleasing work is wonderful. But you’re still tied to being there for most of your waking hours. It doesn’t matter how flexible the position is, there are opportunity costs.


Which is the case for most people.


Then they know where to start making changes.


Modern society would likely not work if everyone had a job they enjoyed. Are there really that many people genuinely interested in sewage, fast food, tax, etc.


This is such a false premise. What you don’t realize about those jobs is they go out of their way to diminish what people earn. “Burger flippers” are not hired full time. They give them full time -1 hour just to avoid providing benefits. They’ll even break up a workers schedule and require them work two different locations in the same day. They are not paid for travel time and the hours don’t add up to full time.

Then there are sewage workers. I recall on “Dirty Jobs” the divers that have to work on submerged pipes make large amounts of money (six figures iirc).

I advocate for UBI because we really do have enough to feed and house everyone. The UBI isn’t a quota system - merely a per deim to purchase the bare minimum. That won’t place artificial prices on commodities nor force labor. People will still purchase goods and services on a relative, trade-off basis. The current system forces labor.

As for whether people will then decide to not work for burger joints: if a business needs to resort to the business practices I mentioned earlier in order to operate then maybe that business isn’t needed by society. Further, people with a UBI will see the minimal hours scheduled as a bonus - they’re just adding another income stream to their UBI at that point. And yes, the line for cutting off either should not exist or be high enough to be negligible at the trade off point.


The most advanced society in the world still needs grave diggers and morticians. You can change the structure of jobs and compensation but you probably can't have a system where people only do work they love.


>The most advanced society in the world still needs grave diggers and morticians. You can change the structure of jobs and compensation but you probably can't have a system where people only do work they love.

There are lots of people that take pride in being grave diggers and morticians. It's also a cool job for anyone with gothic tendencies...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v3VZ-kQn4s


Taking pride in the work isn't the same thing as loving it so much you'd be doing it for free.


I don't think many people love their work so much they'd be doing it for free.

At best, they'd doing SIMILAR work for free -- but not the work itself, with the commercial and organizational constraints it has.

E.g. even if some people love programming and would still program for free, they wouldn't really want to program the features some bozo PMs have decided, and in the timeline they provided, and with meetings and other baggage that comes with it being a job.

So, one might love the field/domain, but loving "the job" itself is far less common (if it exists).


Well, yes, I agree. That's kind of what I was getting at.


>I advocate for UBI because we really do have enough to feed and house everyone.

Sure, though I contend we ought to see much further than this. We need infrastructure in place, when the time comes, to allow citizens to collaborate efficiently on large projects as without income and access to capital, loafing around only gets you so far.

Lower-income/no-income citizens in the West rely on welfare, low-income housing as it is but that doesn't dispel the "impoverished" status despite being fed and housed; it mostly stretches beyond homelessness. And by extension ubi won't turn everyone into middle-class citizens. It doesn't address the issues of drug and crime microcultures in the ghetto either.


I think you're underselling the science and engineering behind building waste disposal systems that scale, the science behind the taste, shelf life, etc. of packaged food & beverages, and the complexity of taxes.

Sure, there is a lot of menial work, but society has been on a trend of automating that away for decades. No matter the field, there are things which can't be automated away and those are also things which someone somewhere is bound to find deeply interesting.


“Burger flipping” is not a good nor service critical to society. It’s convenience food and expensive at that. No ones dying because they didn’t eat at McDonalds. If you can afford a burger then you can afford milk and cereal for more than one meal - just an example.

I argue people will be more willing to take menial work with a UBI. Because with UBI people will move from working to survive to working for luxury. Ie the UBI won’t buy them a nicer apartment, but the UBI plus a cruddy but simple job will.


If you know you can afford a sufficiently large home and food for your family at wage X (UBI), how much higher does the pay need to be to motivate you to clean toilets or work in a steel mill? People don't do those things (in general) because they're a public good, or because they're a "calling". They do them because they need the money, and the pay is sufficiently good.

UBI may be a good thing (if we can work out the economics of it), but people will still do the menial and risky jobs out of need, not to end up in the penthouse of a high-rise luxury building unless the pay is damned good.


You’re assuming a high UBI. I’m not.

The economics are sound so long as it’s a simple income. Economists have argued for simple payments to decision makers instead of regulations many times and different contexts.


Automate the stuff people don't like doing, redistribute the proceeds and products, and let everyone reap the bounty. Do we really need fast food anyway?


A cool thing about being an individual is that you don't strictly need to worry about what would happen to the whole economy if everyone quit their jobs. You can just quit your job, and watch the system trivially rebalance as if you were never even there.


You dont have to flip burgers for the rest of your life. As long as there is always transition between jobs there are always enough people in every field of work.


https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

eta: in support, not against the post I'm replying to.


I think if they knew where to start making changes, they'd be, you know, making them.


There have been plenty of times in my life where I knew I could otherwise advance but for forces out of my control holding me back. Simple knowledge is never enough for change.

Many forces add up and keep people in inefficient situations. In China, there’s a sort of majority dictatorship holding people down. In the US, there are local, state, and federal forces at play - from things like living in “the wrong” zip code to outsized rent, poor pay, lack of healthcare, through to national competition for scarce, good career options, racism, sexism, many other-isms, and so on.


My point is that many people complain that life's too short while spending 40+ hours per week doing something they don't like without giving it a second thought. Sure, not everyone is able to get a job they love. I'm not saying it's easy. But many don't even try.


I'd come across Seneca's message from this book[0]: "Let us prepare our minds as if we'd come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing, Let us balance life's books each day.... The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."

[0] - https://www.amazon.com/Daily-Stoic-Meditations-Wisdom-Persev...


I read it some time ago, due to HN appraisal.

The key point of poor time boundaries, and losing one's time on tempting-but-non-fulfilling pursuits, are strong (and valid as much, or even more, in 2018).

Yet, I was disappointed that after beating around the bush of all pointless activities he tells that philosophy is the only worthwhile activity. (But some coincidence, Seneca's stuff... I expected a bit more of self-distance from a stoic.)


I have a one year old and this is such empowering advice. I discovered a lot of this on my own somehow, but reading that blog now reminds me to cut the bullshit that somehow keeps creeping back in. When explaining to my boss and peers why I was quitting my dream job, I would repeat, "life is fleeting, I want to watch my son grow up."

I've had that wish for a few months now. I have another job that's a bit less rewarding but I work from home and it's far more relaxed. I've already remarked to myself or my wife a dozen moments that I would have missed if I was elsewhere that day: at work, in traffic, etc.

I feel so blessed that I was lucky enough to figure this out this early in life.


Hey! I've been trying to find positive stories of people who sacrificed work for deeper personal lives. Would love to chat with you over email if possible! My email is brian@teamleada.com


This makes me so anxious and depressed. I'm convinced that nothing will make you more unhappy than reading articles like this about how you're doing your life wrong. A good life seems to come from being content with a bad one.


I have come to terms with life being short and the fear of 'missing out' by realizing that the gift of life can be appreciated in one breath. The fact that life exists and we get to experience even a single moment of self aware consciousness is the incredible beauty. Everything else after that is a bonus and I try to remind myself I am greedy for ever wanting more.


This view is precisely what "stoicism" means to me.


Actually your comment makes me sad. The article is pretty good and realistic. Life is hard and real. But when you savor it with the right things (God, family and friends for me) it's amazing! Short, but amazing


I'm quite happy now, and the subjective 'goodness' of my life as it is, does indeed come from being content with and making the most of what I have, even though I suspect many people would find it really bad and out of balance along the usual dimensions.

I'll say a little bit about my personal perception of life's length. I've always thought it was long. Too long. And I still do. My school-age years lasted an eternity, and that was an eternity ago. From 18-22, when I was homeless, lasted an eternity, and that was an eternity ago. From 22-28, my early career when I was struggling to establish myself, was an eternity. From 28-34, when I had the most material comfort, career success, world travel, friends, hobbies, and lovers... well of course that went by too fast, but boy was it packed! From 34-38, when I struggled and suffered after the onset of Bipolar 1, and slowly learning to live with it while struggling with spotty employment, ruined credit, alienation, and more homelessness, was an eternity. The next 2 years, when I finally got around to doing the work I really wanted to do, flew by in a blur of happy 100+ hour weeks. Now I'm 40, and time is going faster, but it's possible that life is only half over. On one hand, that seems incomprehensible to me. How can I only be half-done? If I learned I would definitely die tomorrow, I would still consider my life to have been very, very long, and very full. But in another sense, no amount of time is enough to do all the work I want to do. I have at least a dozen large project ideas, designed on paper in a fair amount of detail, that life is too short to do. I probably have enough time for 2 of them. That is a little bit frustrating, but meh.

I'm trying to resolve these two different views. Basically, for the specific purpose of finishing a dozen ambitious personal projects, life is too short. I do the best I can by spending very little time doing paid work, and living like a monk to afford it. But the subjective feeling about the length of the journey - all its different chapters that seem like eons, each one like its own lifetime - my feeling is that it is TOO DAMN LONG.


> Now I'm 40, and time is going faster, but it's possible that life is only half over.

Maybe it's only 1/3 over, or depending on medical advances, less than that!


Maybe, although I smoked a pack a day and drank heavily for 15 years to try to head off being undermined by medical advances!


Agreed, life is a lot more enjoyable when you don't worry too much about how you're living it wrong and wasting it.

I especially find the "you only get X weekends with Y" formulation depressing. It makes it sound worse than it is, and enforces a valuation that may not at all be true for you.


It's a very bleak way to look at it, but sometimes it's a splash of cold water to help you get your priorities straight.


even worse are revelations such as “You’ve already had 90% of the social interaction you’ll ever have with X person”, where X could be someone like your mother or father.


Time is such a lousy metric for things like that. I get so much more out of an hour with my mother than I would have when I was 6.

That 5% of time may be a significant portion of the experience (for lack of a better word).


for some people thats "even better" not worse.


I found the comments here comforting tho. I fully agree, I will not read this article. Depression trigger warning. Not every one is a billionaire and can choose precisely what do to so as to not "waste his time".


You can't look at it that way.

I mean, while that IS a valid approach, you have to also keep in mind that the more you can "go without", the better the position you are in to improve your life.

To change requires you not to be running at 100% all the time. You have to find a way to save some oomph for lateral growth when the way up seems to be blocked. Without that oomph, you'll never get out of where you are.


Could you expand on why it makes you anxious and depressed?


I'm not the person you're replying to, but I can speak for myself.

There's a lot of anxiety in the idea that you're "wasting" your life. You feel anxious about every day, worrying that you aren't doing enough even though you don't really want to do more. For instance, I might worry too much that I'm using my free time poorly that I don't enjoy it, and therefore waste it, which only causes me to think that I am wasting my life. Some amount of stress/anxiety is good because it gets you out of bed and doing something, but encouraging it too much is debilitating.


That anxiety is good, it means you still care and are not jaded. That anxiety goes away when you do little things to move forward, even if it's inch-by-inch.

Start with baby steps to get used to good habits. If you do no exercise, start doing 2 pushups or 2 squats.

Clean your room. Organize your house a bit. Make a very easy to follow, unambitious schedule. Once you get comfortable, refine it very slowly.

If you are going to use social networks to stay in contact with friends, keep a countdown. 20 minutes a day total works for me. Same for TV/Netflix/reddit. Meet up with your folks more often, listen more and don't be a drag. Try to stay positive in spite of a bad situation. There's light at the end of the tunnel.

Go to bed early and listen to interesting audiobooks. You either fall asleep early or you advance your reading, win-win. Start decreasing the amount of processed foods and replace all drinks to water or tea.

The key is you gradually change as you need to retrain your brain to good habits. Same with your gut microbiome and your fitness.

You don't know your full potential.

(Many bits taken from JP)


It's funny, we have been conditioned to feel like life is short and we all have this need to make the most of it (whatever the fuck that means). But the latter is the very reason why we tend to suffer: we are attached to what is impermanent and become anxious trying to pin it down and make the ‘most’ of it. One of the teachings of buddhism is to recognize this impermance. Everything we think, see, or know is fleeting, without any substance of its own. This includes all emotions, as well as, the idea of being an individual that is born and dies. The phenomenal world appears but it is nothing but a dance of nothingness.

Everything already is. Relax. Nothing needs to be done. There is no need to be anything special. Look at the sky all night. Start a start-up. Stay in bed all day. It makes no difference. Whatever you are doing, you are already dancing in the dance of nothingness. Be there.


The problem with this idea is that it ignores the suffering of others. Not to say that we should all invest our entirety into helping others, but this sort of thinking puts those interested in helping others into a weird exclusionary position. In other words, never forgot about those who choose to "throw their body on the gears".


Why reading about how short life is and how you're likely currently wasting yours?

How could it possibly not?


I take it as a reminder to reflect every now and then, when I have the energy to do so.

When reflecting, I check to make sure I'm striving to live in a way that aligns with my values and long-term goals, and that my values and goals still make sense, given my current understanding of myself and life.


Alright. This isn't Reddit, but: how do people find meaningful things to do (instead of addictive, unrewarding habits) when options, at any particular time, seem to be very limited (i.e. I have 2 hours, starting now - what's available?)? Is it even possible to choose particular meaningful activities consciously (e.g. why would I expect travelling to X to be a great experience if I haven't done it before?), or do they happen by accident if you just expose yourself to many different situations (like having kids)? It seems like the "just say yes" principle is key - don't plan how to spend time based on what you know, just try more things and stop doing what turns out pointless. And, like pg writes, do it now.

Practical result: it's probably better to go to a new club you don't know yet every time you go out, than to frequently visit your favourite one. Even if it feels wrong to habitual animals like us.

Apologies for the rambling.


You need to restructure your life. Meaningful things tend to be hard to squeeze in to unplanned, random 2 hour blocks if they aren't already a part of your life.

Trying to find canned meaning to fill your random 2 hour chunk seems vaguely like looking for the fast food that is every bit as healthy, cheap, and tasty as home cooking.

Now, if you instead for example become a gardener and enjoy gardening, maybe you can take those 2 hours and spend them caring for the garden.

In short, try to fill your life with good things you enjoy, instead of trying to find a meaningful peg that fits into an arbitrary hole of your specifications.


I’m a rockclimber. It’s what I enjoy doing most so I fixed my life in order to climb more. In particular, I got remote work and moved to a climbing town. Now when I have a two hour break during the day, I dart out for some bouldering, which is approximately a five minute drive away.

This took a lot of planning and sacrifice, especially when I first went remote, and it required me to come to terms with what it was I really wanted: a life mostly outdoors climbing rocks in a beautiful place.

In short, figure out how you want to live and the steps to achieve it. Then your question of what to do with your two hours will answer itself.


I started doing jiu jitsu after having a long conversation with my teenage students about video games. We all agreed that they are a wonderful way to burn some time - but also fully acknowledged that they only provide the illusion of accomplishment. Simply having fun is absolutely worth it, but so many games now require you to grind beyond the point that it's playfully fun. At the end of a long gaming session what do you actually leave with?

Jiu jitsu is still a game of sorts; however, this game causes me to work out more intensely than I could ever do just by cranking out sit ups at the gym. I can measure my skills development pretty accurately based on what techniques I can pull off on skilled opponents. Abstractly, I can defend myself better (though that's not my purpose) and I prioritized it in my life so I can go roll with friends a few evenings a week.

Look into a physical hobby. It has been an important change for me.


This seems really trivial, but I noticed an immediate quality of life increase when I switched from video games to physical pub games like darts and billiards.

When I come away from an hour long video game session, my body has been physically sitting and staring at a screen as I move my fingers, so it's actually a physical state physical similar to "work" and doesn't actually leave me feeling energized and relaxed. If I spend an hour throwing darts or shooting pool (even alone at home as a solitary activity), I stand up (better for my posture) and my body feels like it's engaged in a physical task in a way that actually lets my mind relax. It leaves my brain (and mind) both feeling better. And there's also the fact that pub games lend themselves to the social "let's meet up with some friends at the pool hall" kind of activities more than video games do, at least my experience.

Other examples of "physical" hobbies might include playing a musical instrument, creating something physical (woodworking, crocheting, origami, drawing, sewing, painting, cooking), these often tend to be the kind of quiet meditative activities that give your mind a rest and actually feel like taking a break from work (as opposed to certain video games, which can actually feel more stressful on a chemical level; one of the reasons I quit playing games like Dota and Counter-Strike is that I'm pretty sure they kept my adrenaline and cortisol levels high for an unhealthy amount of time).

As an alternative to giving up video games, maybe consider playing different kinds of games. Even as I spend less time playing video games, I work in the video industry, and so I play a large variety (partly out of a sense of professional responsibility, and partly because I'm curious about what my friends in the industry are doing), but rather than spend 100 hours playing a Battlefield or Call of Duty each year I'll play a lot of smaller video games that deliver a complete experience in less than 5 hours. Playing a smaller narrative game like Night in the Woods felt like an emotionally fulfilling experience similar to watching a movie, whereas playing a multiplayer game like Battlefield or Overwatch just felt like hopping into an adrenaline-fueled meat grinder for an hour every day.


I've seen a similar result with video games. I'd much rather play a self contained single player game that I can play through once than be hooked into a multiplayer adrenaline fest (for me that was team fortress 2 and left 4 dead).


I think one of the most meaningful things in life for many people is connections to others, and it's something we can do easily during those periods that you mention. For example, PG's post made me think about how I could call my mom when taking a break since I don't see her often, and beyond that I should probably spend more time texting people and keeping up other such relationships.


This is good advice. And as far as "single-player" activities are concerned, I think pursuing curiosities as far as your interest will go is a good way to discover new interests. Read an article on a topic you find compelling? Find additional reading material. Maybe take a class. Catch the urge to make something? Go for it. Something might stick or it may not. Either way, you'll have done something you might not have otherwise done and it won't have been a waste of time.


> I think pursuing curiosities as far as your interest will go is a good way to discover new interests. Read an article on a topic you find compelling? Find additional reading material

As we get older, we develop stronger biases, so we think we can dismiss more and more as not worthwhile without even trying it. That's why I believe some outside influence is key.


What are your criteria for something to be "meaningful"? Does it have to be hard? Does it have to be emotional? Does it have to involve other people? Or can it just involve changing something for the better (e.g. via just a side coding project)? Because if I'm taking it at face value, to me, writing (say) a password manager that laymen and power users will all enjoy using (i.e. solving the password management problem once and for all) would be plenty meaningful, and it's easy enough to schedule into your spare time.


That's the weird thing about meaning it is completely subjective to that person.Having better connections with people especially one's immediate family and friends ,doing something that helps something larger you (like your pwd manager),etc has a good chance but does not gurantee meaning in one's life.

Overcoming a challenge which is hard (but within your limits a hard) is an incredible thing to experience.

As we humans are social creatures something emotional(mostly +ve) might also sustain your involvement in that activity and thus lead to eventual higher reward from that activity.

But at the end for most people who are present here I think I can safely say that doing something which involves less screen time and more "physical interaction" with the world would be beneficial.


It's practicing a creative art for me. I took up the violin. One of the best decisions I ever made. I look forward to the day I can play for others.


Work backwards. Envision the future you would like to live in 10 years and notice the details of that vision. For example, maybe you'd like to be living in a custom-built estate on Malé in the Maldive Islands, where you run your travel data business. Work backwards and decide what actions will lead you to this dream. Once you figure out those appropriate actions, decide what you can do in 2hr bursts. The hardest part will be finding what's "meaningful" to you, which will require some soul-searching.


First thing you need to know is your goals explicitly and then map your estimation of what steps you need to take to get there.

If you know those then you can work toward allocating your time optimally.

Most people have no clue what their goals are or what really motivates them, so they just float along doing whatever arouses their interest (those addicting behaviors).


It also might be helpful to do the opposite. Write out what your life will be like if you continue down the wrong path or just let yourself go entirely. I think we all have some idea of what our lives would be like if we regress, I know mine would be especially terrifying. This way if you aren't motivated to chase your goals you will at least have something to run away from.


Life is lived in every minute you're alive not in how you try to choose and partition it. Be present in every moment of your life and you will never be wasting time.

Setting goals or being motivated out of fear that you're wasting your life is totally missing the forest for the trees.


I found a project that was too big to ignore. I own and live on a narrowboat on the canals of the UK. It's been incredibly frustrating but in a good way. I found myself becoming too comfortable and that's how I was losing time.


I admire pg's sentiment here but I think the analysis is inaccurate.

There's all these "regret minimization" techniques and books out there - but they all fail at one thing; giving the true reason for why every person will ultimately have regrets: You are not you. The exhausted and tired you has different weights assigned to activities, most strongly correlated with energy required. The stimulated you after drinking 4 shots of expresso or taking amphetamines, is more than willing to do the things that tired you would probably have not done.

We wrestle with lazyness, consumption versus actual action, the great now for the shitty future or vica versa. You really can't please all modes of thinking -- ever. The deathbed mode of thinking is another entirely different beast.

But what pg says about "importance" vs "what matters" rings true and really penetrates through this incompleteness of self-thought. Love is the only thing that could never be wrong. Because it isn't a binary - it's not even just a feeling - it's a thing that modes of thought can't erase despite their different weighting schemes.

Do whatever you do - but do it for love. I promise you it won't be a regret.


might be good to be pg and have plenty of time to spenD with its own kid, after doing a phd in one of the most expensive colleges in the US, selling a company for tons of money, creating a extremely successful incubator

i used to enjoy his essays for a long time, til i started to see how out of the world of most people even the basic stuff he writes there -- he is able to afford to spend time doing stuff nobody can, then it's kinda of easy to be successful at whatever he does.


I feel like this depends on your priorities. Growing up, my mom was super busy acting as a single parent much of the time - waking us up, taking us to school, going to teach, picking us up, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, etc. And yet we had a lot of good, quality time with her in the moments in between and on the weekend and summers and so on.

She didn't go to an expensive college, own a company, make tons of money, or anything of that sort. But she wanted to spend time with us and so she found ways to do that. Of course, I think she's a very strong and smart woman and I've wondered if I could do the same; but I see more and more examples of this every day from people who follow similar guidelines as what PG recommends. If you have an achievable goal (I think spending time with kids can qualify as such depending on the circumstances) and you try to cut out the bullshit along the way, it can be done.


you don't need to be a genius to discover that. your mom did, just like mine, and father, working a lot, whenever they had time left off the day(which was rare), they would spent time with me or my brother. and this is the same for a lot of middle-class or any class individual.

for really 90% of the parents I know, they would love to have more time to spend with their kids, and it is usually their top priority, it just that they can't

ofc, that's because they didn't go to stanford or sold their company. in the economy of nowadays, you can only get rich if you do this in the US(in the tech sector), or is born rich. with to me, he got actually both

this advice in the essay is as good as you can get if you talk with a random person, yet, people admire it and 'PG recommends' it just because he has plenty of money and is some kind of geek inspiration.

this is very interesting, whenever he is talking about a random subject which isn't startups for very priviledged people, you can see that his 'wisdom' goes as far as what your neighbour probably also know

yet

that's so smart


I find it rather depressing how you got downvoted. That PG is speaking from a privileged background is kind of obvious, even if there isn't necessarily anything wrong with that. But most people don't get to manage their time much.


I don't know much about PG except what's been mentioned here, but I do know that I don't come from a privileged background and yet his article still was useful to me in reevaluating my current priorities.

Additionally, I would reiterate that I think this could indeed be applicable to many people. PG's example of a time-waster, "arguing online," could easily be substituted with "watching TV" and then apply to the average household in America. For example, if my dad had done like my mom and tried to reduce bullshit, he wouldn't have been an alcoholic who was either working or watching TV and never spending time with us.


I got actually +20... but on HN, the algorithm is probably some intern deciding on which posts go first and which ones go last. There is a lot of cases of people speaking around the web how HN is manipulated.


> he is able to afford to spend time doing stuff nobody can, then it's kinda of easy to be successful at whatever he does

I don't think that's fair to say (and I know I'm "arguing on the Internet" here... bad!). After cashing out for FU money, it's much harder than before to put in 100 hours/week and "invest" your own health in order to succeed at something against the odds. Money can't replace everything, especially not dedicated founder time. It's also much harder to see a point in proving yourself again. I know it's an unpopular opinion with many people, but it's been like that for me and other successful founders I've talked to.

What's easy is to make more money from money using proven methods (strictly not "whatever he does"). VC is not rocket science and pg is simply smarter than many others in the field, so he is fairly successful at it.


Yeah this stuff does not work for most people. Still, cutting out the bullshit is great advice.


Yeah, but it's kind of bullshit advice, too. It's not specific enough. "Unnecessary meetings" - how do you know for sure it's unnecessary? Etc.


I'm guessing with experience? When you've had a dozen of the same meetings or "emergencies", you tend to know which ones are actual bullshit.


Well, then you would most likely not take them even without this advice, hence my point the advice is not very useful.


You know its unnecessary if the meeting can start without you.


You know it's unnecessary if you didn't have to say a word during the meeting.


This reminds me of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs.[1]

It has often been described as a pyramid, with physiological needs at the bottom, and self-actualization (or maybe self-transcendence) at the top. The full heirarchy is:

  - Self-transcendence
  - Self-actualization
  - Esteem
  - Social belonging
  - Safety needs
  - Physiological needs
It's difficult for the higher needs to matter much when one hasn't fulfilled the lower ones.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_heirarchy_of_needs


I don't really think this is correct.

People who have issues getting basic needs met are just unlikely to also get their higher needs met. But I the misunderstanding of needs is also why people do things like smoke and drink and people from more healthy backgrounds don't understand why.

And people have been known to forgo comfort for causes. The basic things matter because without them you will often be in danger, but they don't necessarily matter psychologically.

I think self-actualization, i.e., some degree of mattering, some degree of respect, is important to pretty much everyone, it's just that if you are lacking food and shelter you're also probably having trouble finding a purpose, as well.


It sounds like you feel happiness only occurs when you have money. That will be true if your happiness can be purchased. Happiness is not the sole domain of billionaires (I'd almost assume the opposite). Regardless of income or financial standing, we all have the same amount of time in the present - spend it more on the things that you value most.


Telling a weird and only slightly related to the 'not waiting' part of this article (which I like).

I recently got bitten by bitcoin trading. Knowing nothing about trading it was extremely wasteful. Also soulless... every dollar I made was someone else's loss. But it made me approach waiting and time efficiency differently. I'm a very attentist person.. I wait.. waiiit.. In bitcoin there's a tension (I did minute scalping) to get started and leave at the right time. Also since no one wants to wait watching charts, it made me learn rust/kotlin in the mean time with way more energy. Stretching and working out too.

Surprisingly this stupid activity gave floor to other more fulfilling ones. Life is complex sometimes.

ps: sometimes too life make you blind to what would be your perfect life and then you miss it. uneasy feeling to get over.


I'm sorry you had a bad experience with that. I had the opposite experience where I started to get back into to bitcoin with a set of small trades and turned a small profit. I bought some more bitcoin and ethereum. The objective for me though was to learn the platform. It actually made me think of new ideas about how you could use the platform. I personally think that you need some skin in the game to truely understand some technology.

My perspective through trading bitcoin is that it isn't as zero sum as you say but more like your gain and someones loss could be seen as you are interacting with a system that may make people money in the long run.

I think its good though that you started to learn Kotlin and Rust and maybe you are being a bit too hard on your self of being guilting when you are trading cryptocurrencies.


Crypto peaked at 707 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. Less than three months later, market cap has now plunged by 65% to $245 billion, a drop of $462B.

Given how high transaction costs are (and production via electricity usage) crypto trading is almost certainly negative sum.

The only way it wouldn't be is if the non-monetary benefits (eg sense of security for different asset class, online purchases) exceed the electrical inputs.

I would be very surprised if it does given eg Steam and Bitcoin conferences stopped accepting crypto payment and the sense of security in an asset class is low after seeing -65% returns in a quarter.


This is just my persona. I may be one of the few sad altruist trader.

And I don't mind the losses etc, I didn't bet my house, nothing serious. I also think btc is not worth much, at least coming from my speculative/profit side. I think there are more interesting things to do.. so back to pg article :)

ps: I wouldn't mind a cute 3x profit, I know how I'd spend the money in very good ways.


A pleasant essay, but I think it is a bit dismissive of the situations people are in. A simple example is the teenagers he mentions. You can't help but worry a ton about what people think about you as a teenager - your "social subprocess" has just kicked on, and you are overwhelmed by a great number of new senses and feelings. Telling a teenager not to worry about things does nothing but make everything worse. I can come up to you and inject you with adrenaline and nothing you do (short of medical intervention) will make you feel calm, and certainly me telling you to "just calm down" isn't going to help.

The essay is well intended, and well written as usual, I just have an issue with the underlying assumption that people can simply change everything as desired.


It's the gospel of someone who experienced, by common standards, extreme success. No more, no less. I find his essays mostly to be opinion pieces without exceptional insights or conclusions that would make them stand out if they were not attached to his persona.


I still enjoy reading some of his stuff, but over the years I've realized that most of his writing lacks any rigor or evidence for what he says. He'd be a much better writer if it weren't for the way people read his good and usually thoughtful writing and take it for truth. This happens as you say due to him being successful, which I find kind of pernicious. I've found some of his stuff in hindsight simply wrong, but he'll never go back and correct it, nor will people listen to criticism.

My only wish was he was more cognizant of this and wrote accordingly, but his writing has gotten less rigorous and more flowery over the years, not less. It's a real problem across tech. I've read some comments on HN describing tech as devoid of culture, which has some truth to it, but the bigger issue is we don't really care about evidence, and that comes from the top.


I've actually noticed that too. I remember reading his articles from the early days of HN and being enamored by their insights... mad respect. But then he tweeted something along the lines of "There's no Uber or Lyft here in Austin, Texas. How do I get anywhere?!" (Uber and Lyft had left Austin at the time) which fundamentally changed my view of the guy.


I think his, and Spolsky's, writings are fine, and actually have some insights, but often have a lot of cruft around them. It's kinda like the internet condensed ;)


What's funny is that it's not like anyone is teaching teenagers proper coping mechanisms. They don't come up on their own. Knowing how not to worry about things is exactly that.

Hell, I still worry...


I think there are more coping mechanisms being taught these days than when I was a teen (I'm only slightly younger than Graham), but I agree with your point overall. We try to teach our son (9) that you can't prevent feelings, and it's ok to let yourself feel them, but that we can find ways to respond to our feelings. He's young, so we'll see how it works out, but it's what my mother taught me and it works ok. My wife's mother taught her to basically step on her feelings and suppress them. She has lots of anxiety/depression issues as a direct result.


Sam Altman published a very related piece three years ago:

“The days are long but the decades are short” https://blog.samaltman.com/the-days-are-long-but-the-decades...


You are right, it's a nice article!


> After my mother died, I wished I'd spent more time with her. I lived as if she'd always be there.

I love this article, and this line has always hit me particularly hard. He goes on to mention that she encouraged this illusion, and I think many people who are older do this as well.

As someone who is going through something similar, what do you do in this situation? Of course you can adjust your life to live as if people won't always be there, but how do you get them to stop encouraging the illusion?


I definitely agree with this article and believe that life is short, but it's also a good idea to relax and not worry about it all too much. I think the relaxing and having a piece of mind is undervalued by most people. It helps you have a better quality life however short it is. Remember that the time you spend on worrying about how short it is is also part of your life which you are kind of wasting. Having said that I agree that we should consider the bullshit in our life and cut in favor of things that we really want to do, because at the end life is to short for that.


"Relentlessly prune bullshit, don't wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That's what you do when life is short."

Wise words. It took me a long time to learn this the hard way.


I see this and I understand the sentiment but my emotional reaction is basically “Nah.”

Life is long and good. Even when shitty things happen to you, it’s a gift to be alive. (A gift from whom, you might ask? Probably nobody, but nobody knows! Isn’t that exciting?) I’m about to celebrate my 10,000th day on Earth. That’s a lot of days! And I have a couple times that more ahead of me if I’m lucky and I do some exercise.

I’m not waiting to do things that matter to me, not because the clock is ticking, but because I want to do them now. And I might not want to do them later, so it’d be a shame if I didn’t.

Of course I’m terrified of the day it ends. It keeps me up almost every night. But pragmatically, the more I think about that, the less I enjoy the time I have. And I plan to arrange a good vitrification at the end of things so I have a small chance of coming back for an encore. You’ve got to be practical about life, but you don’t need to be pessimistic. Life may not be long enough, but it is long.


Couldn't have said it better myself. I went on a trip with a friend for my day 10k celebration, hope yours is a good one :)


Related: two of President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/29842/president-john-tylers-g...

John Tyler was born in 1790, and he took office in 1841.


Oh my. My son is 7, and I know time with him will fly by. But realizing I can count the childhood Christmases that we have remaining hits me so much harder than knowing his childhood will fly by in general

I savor every day with him, even when I'm busy and a bit frustrated. I tell him that as well.

Reading the opening part of this hit me in the gut.


Interesting piece but perspective matters.

> don't wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That's what you do when life is short.

It depends on your situation. If you cashed out and don't have to worry about paying rent and feeding your family (like Paul) then it's easy to spend more time with your family.

If not: You are constantly torn between spending time with your family and getting your startup/career/job right to be able to finance the next vacation/school/flat. It's actually even worse. Every minute you spend with your family you face opportunity costs losing money you could invest into your family. If you work only your kids won't remember you.

Try to cash out before you hit 25, not later than 30.


I am not from silicon valley, is cashing out before 25 that usual? How much money are you talking about?


At macro scale not everyone can retire early. It's a pyramid of sorts. Who is going to wash the rich person's car? Until we have very advance tech, the answer is the person who didn't get lucky and cash out at 25.


Nice article, and I agree, life is short.

This is, of course, not a new observation. It's Easter, so here are a few Biblical quotes with the same sentiment:

"What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (James 4:14 ESV)

"Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow." (Psalm 144:4 ESV)

It's an old observation... but it's also timeless. It's good to be reminded. Thanks.


the corollary to "time flies when you're having fun" is that misery never ends. Chronic depression and entry level retail is the next worst thing to immortality...


For those with kids, is it better to have them early, or later?

I’ve always thought it’s better to wait until at least my late 30s, so I can live the first half of my life completely on my terms. My father was in his late 30s when I was born, and I think it was a pretty good decision on his part.


My wife and I (both 40 today) are a husband-and-wife entrepreneur team that started our software business right out of college at 21. We had our first child at 30 and second at 33. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of my wife's high school classmates who didn't go on to college are already grandparents.

We used our 20's to finish undergraduate college and go on to get our graduate degrees, do some traveling, and build & grow a successful software company. We looked at our 20's as the chance to build a business with little opportunity cost and even less overhead, knowing we had the rest of our life to recover from any failures. We put in a lot of hard & long hours, dealt with financial ups-and-downs, and had to learn how to build a team.

Today our software company, now a SaaS and e-commerce business, is stable and has a solid team in place. Being established, along with our kids enrolled in online school, enables us to have a significant amount of flexibility for family. We spend just over half of our year in Texas and the rest in Colorado. Work still has to get done, but we can work around family now.

I couldn't imagine us trying to build a business from scratch, especially as a husband-and-wife team, while also trying to raise kids.


Only you can answer this for you.

But I would say younger, given you know yourself pretty well and have a good idea what field you want your career to be in.

Yes, kids are limiting. But they also open up the world to you again. You don’t really understand most of art, culture, society until you have kids of your own IMO. It’s not like you can’t continue to have grand experiences, you will just hopefully be having them with someone who you will have a loving relationship with until you die instead of some random person.

Also I didn’t want to be unable to ski/bike/climb etc with my kids when they are young adults because I was too old.

Raising kids is hard. Be prepared to explore how petty and self centered you really are and be prepared to stop being like that.


I have two girls. I'd say the most important thing is to be in a place in life where you have time to spend with them. Maybe that means waiting for a career to mature, or maybe it means postponing some part of a career, if possible.

Note that "enough time" means different things to different people. Some people don't like their kids, and won't regret prioritizing their career.

But if you're anything like me you'll be astonished at how much you love your kids. You'll love them in a way and to to a degree that you didn't know was possible, that surpasses any love you've experienced before. Get to a place time-wise and financially where you can do that love justice.


I have a friend who was in his late 30's when he had his first kid. Now, he is 50 years old, his youngest kid is 8 years old, and I have heard him remark on several occasions that when he is attending his second child's high school graduation, he will be a 60-year-old man.

I've heard him remark somewhat wistfully that he wishes he had been able to spend his 30's (when he was younger and had more energy) running around in the park and tossing around a frisbee or rollerblading with them, rather than struggling to keep up with them now as a 50-year-old. And mind you, he's a pretty healthy guy (was a college athlete, not currently overweight or with any chronic health problems), he can bench press more than most guys half his age, and he still wishes he'd had those younger years to spend with his kids. I've also heard him mention once (in a much more somber tone) that if his sons wait as long as he did to have kids, he might not get to see his grandkids grow up, and even if he does get to watch them grow up, he will be a very old man by the time they're old enough to swim or throw a frisbee. (If physically keeping up with your kids as a 50-year-old is tough, imagine trying to do the same thing as a 80-year-old grandparent.)

Here's a question: would you rather spend your 30's globetrotting (or otherwise "living life on your own terms"), and then be raising kids into your 50's? Or would you rather spend your 30's raising kids, and then have your 50's to go on globetrotting adventures? Everything I've heard from parents tells me that raising kids takes immensely more energy than touring Europe.

Another thing that might go overlooked is that although I've seen some parents abandon hobbies to spend more time with their kids, I've seen some people with hobbies that they've gotten to share with kids that have been a great bonding experience, be it something like woodworking or playing a musical instrument or a martial art or running a side business on Etsy. And even if it's something that doesn't involve the kid, parents still get to have lives; I have a friend who has a full time job, is raising three kids, and still managed to write a novel in the past year. Modern American society has burdened parents (and kids) with lots of obligations like soccer practice/youth sports league of your choice, a constant regiment of scheduled afterschool activities and an attitude that says if you let your kids play in the park unsupervised you're a neglectful parent, but most of the anecdata I've observed tells me that both parents and kids seem to enjoy themselves more and have better relationships when they have large amounts of unscheduled time during the week; one of the things I'm most grateful to my parents for is the large amounts of time that they left me to entertain myself and discover my own hobbies.

Here's another thing: after your kids grow up, you (hopefully) get to be friends with them. My parents (now mid-late 50's) are empty nesters, and one thing that I'm constantly struck by is how much I enjoy being friends with them, traveling back to their part of the country once a year to go on vacations together once a year, calling them every week to commiserate about the trials of adult life, and so on. We have the kind of incredibly tight familial bond that you only get from living under the same roof with someone for 18 years and they're also incredibly good friends. If all goes well, I'll be able to spend the next several decades with my parents continuing to be a part of my life, and that's something that I'm immensely grateful for. The earlier you have kids, the more years of your life that you get to spend with them, and the more years of their life they get to spend with you.


With regards to the children argument I have largely seen the opposite where the parents directly/indirectly confess that they to a large degree regret having kids in their 30s /20s and would have rather globetrotted or did their own version of their pursuit of happiness.

My point is not that children are the source of the problem but that these things about what you would rather do is personal to each human.I don't think one can make a blanket statement about rasing kids or doing you thing as there are quite many people on either side who regret the path that they have taken.

Also your bond with your parents is quite heartwarming and I hope you od realize how lucky you are to have that.


Read it before a couple of times but always good to read it again, it is my favorite Paul Graham essay.


Life is short for those that have triggered immortal processes. There are no easy ways to do this however. (the easiest way being starting a family)

Most people probably feel that life is too long and boring and are always looking for something to do.

It's probably somewhat offensive to these people to claim life is too short when their major negative emotion day to day is ennui.

I think the internet has exacerbated this problem for some people. Those who can't bring themselves to do things because they can easily see that it's already been done before but weren't young enough to grow up in this new environment to easily consider doing things like game streaming or YouTube channels.


Should add that for many tech people the immoetal process often chosen is founding a company. Without a source of meaning like children they often don't have the motivation to grind out the rest of their days as a cog


Arguing on-line can be a good thing: it sharpens both your logic and articulation skills. If you don't like on-line debate, you can leave.

A good online debate ends up looking like a geometry proof: based on these givens, here's the logical conclusion using cold, hard, and clear logic.

Now, it may be that people disagree with the givens, being that many of them depend on assumptions of human behavior and psychology that would take million$ to settle in controlled studies, but at least one narrows down the reasons for their preference. Another reader can then "shop the proofs" and select the one with givens that best match their own circumstances or shop practices. Thus, good debates create clear(er) decision trees even though disagreements remain. Parameters will remain parameters.


"Life is too short" is also the core tenet of a philosophy called "Memento Mori" (remember that you will die!). It was even used as a greeting, instead of "hello" by the members of certain religious sects.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memento_mori

<rant> But the opposite is also true: while I am alive, I am never dead (as silly as it sounds). I never experience death. For me it is an eternal now which is always alive. Should I worry about things I will never experience? We only experience the death of others, we don't know what it is like not to be alive 100 years from now. Why should we care about that when we are in an eternal now that is always alive?

One way to deal with death is to leave something of you behind - kids, ideas or social impact. Another way is to remember that there is a great number of people who died as well - everyone before a certain birth date in fact. It's not like going in a strange place, it's like going where all these great people went before us.

When we die we're divided - the matter that was in our bodies goes to earth and is recycled in nature, possibly becoming part of another life. The genes pass on to our kids and our grandchildren, then spreading out in a vast number of people 10 or 20 generations later; genes have a life of their own. The ideas we had fly from mouth to mouth, having a life of their own as well. The memories are left with our friends and family and will have a second death when they die. But does it matter to you if you're remembered by someone who is not close to you? The life that was in us just reinvents itself again. We're split into pieces and every piece goes right where it should.

Another thing to ponder about: what else is a lot like death? In a sense, it's the time before we were born. It was like death, because we didn't exist, and then we came into being. How was it before we were born? Was it a bad experience? We have had eons of death before our short ~80 year span and it didn't affect us negatively one bit. If we're not affected by the 'no-life' of the time before we were born, why should we be affected by the 'no-life' that will be after we die?

In the end, what is important? I think all reasons in life are related to survival instincts. Even learning to walk and grasp, or how to function as a member of society, or how to date and how to raise children - they are all in the service of self replication (and protecting one's life). Our fundamental reason for being is self replication, and all our "good things in life" come from things that support it. Thus it is this recursive loop that creates the root value (that of being alive) and from it come all our other values.

But this kind of thinking is relative. When we're lifting ourselves from the basic loop of survival, we see how many of the things we hold dear and important are irrelevant. There is no universal good or reason to be. Meaning is being invented every moment and we're in control of it. We should think ourselves free and ignore the survival game as much as we like. That's the beauty of it - we're free to reinvent ourselves, or to embrace our instincts and values, which have been chiseled by countless generations of genetic selection before us. One strategy is exploration (there's no rule, we could be anything), and the other exploitation (holding dear the good things in life, those which fit our survival instincts). They're both valid. </>


I use this sentiment as a sort of a trick to help combat anxiety. There may be a billion universes in which I die this week, but it can’t be this one, because I am subjectively alive and experiencing this one. I can only experience the timeline in which I live. There may be other timelines, but I wouldn’t know about them, because I’m alive in this one.

I don’t experience the timelines where I do/did die, by definition. I can only enjoy the one in which I don’t/didn’t.


It is nice to see someone else articulate one of my favorite pet observations about personal consciousness. That from your own point of view, you always exist. Whatever does or does not happen 'after death' it seems one is, logically, subjectively eternal.


OTOH eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die


No matter what you do, life will always feel short.


Life isn’t short, it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do.


Who is this man? I wish I could be his friend.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: