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Why most people don’t succeed – How you can be the exception (dontgetburnedblog.com)
119 points by KentHealy on Sept 17, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Maintenance is boring.

Just a few things I don't think are boring:

  - sinking my teeth into some fresh sweet melon
  - a late afternoon jog in the woods
  - hanging out with friends and family
  - an ice cold beer at the football game
  - an all-you-can-eat salad bar
  - curling up with SO (even if it is a chick flick)
  - a hot shower, freshly brushed teeth, and a warm bathrobe
  - a happy dance after a new program runs the first time
If you think of the things you need to do to live well as "maintenance", they would seem boring, and you won't want to do them.

But if you think of them as "living", you'll embrace them and never give the concept of "maintenance" a second thought.

What about these thing, can they be counted as 'living'? Would many people count these as living at all???

  - Periodic management of bank account and making sure you have enough to do 
    whatever it is (survive, travel, have fun, etc)

  - Periodic visits to the dentist or doctor for checkups

  - If distance is an issue, periodically calling your mother.  
    Not all hackers live in their parents' basement. ;)  This one is a weak example.

  - Mowing the lawn, doing laundry, wash dishes, refill toilet paper, etc...
In addition, there are always trade offs. How about all-you-can-eat mashed potatoes and gravy vs. all-you-can-eat salad? Or slouching on a couch vs. jogging in the woods?

Just wanted to play devil's advocate and point out that it takes a certain mindset and definitely a conscious effort to live well.

"... What about these thing, can they be counted as 'living'? ... it takes a certain mindset and definitely a conscious effort to live well."

If you have live a sheltered life, yes. The mindset comes from realising the "living" bit and the circumstances you live for most is (often) taken for granted.

I was more pointing out that there are maintenance tasks that lean less towards something that would seem to be fun (for most people), such as keeping track of finances. These boring but necessary things are a part of life are simple things to do, but in the spirit with the article, the people who live well don't ignore these boring but necessary tasks.

Beautiful and true, and so easy to overlook.

Maintenance is just development without innovation; even new projects are boring when they lack innovation. Turning something that already exists into something that is 10 times better can be just a rewarding as building something from scratch.

So I'm not the only one doing the happy dance? Sweet! I'm not calling it crazy dance anymore.

Get honest about your current situation. Rate the following areas of your life on a scale of 1-10: Physical Health, grades, job performance, personal happiness, relationships, financial situation, etc.
 Then follow up with the question: What would it take to make this area a 10?

Steve Pavlina (another self-help guru which has gotten posted to HN a bunch) has a great post on why the 7's in your life are particularly pernicious:

What you’ll find when you leave the comfort of your 7 and go chasing after that 10 is that your 7 was never a 7. It was only a 3.

If you think you’re at a 7, you’re really at a 3 maximum. The 10 is way, way out there. You think you can see it, but your definition of a 10 is based on your experience of a 7, and you can’t even see a real 10 when you’re standing at 7. It’s beyond your ability to fathom.

If you were to go out and find someone who’s actually at a 10 in your area and asked them how you were doing on a scale of 1 to 10, they’d be able to label your 7 accurately as a 3. How would an Olympic gymnast rate your current diet and exercise habits? Are you really at 70% of their level? Ask a couple that seems to be googly in love with each other how they’d rate your relationship? Ask the most motivated, successful person you know how they’d rate your career? Is your 7 really a 7? Or is it a 3?


(it's Derek Sivers approved! http://sivers.org/hellyeah )

Not that the author is wrong -- everything he says meshes with lots of professional medical, health, and life advice. On the other hand, I'm constantly reminded of my grandfather, who ran his own business for something like 40 or 50 years, struggled a lot, raised a family, and never got caught gazing at his navel. He just worked.

So, I'm not 100% convinced that this sort of self-obsession is really all that helpful.

On the other hand, he did die pretty much on the job, and at several years younger than he ought to've ...

Self-awareness in general is a positive trait.

Surely you'd agree that it's especially helpful to those who, unlike your grandfather, are wondering why they have not yet achieved what they want.

Sure, self-awareness is good, usually. He might've been a lot more successful if he had stopped a time or two and really considered things like his strengths and his weaknesses, and figured out that it was good to get people that were good at his weaknesses, and that sort of thing.

But the tongue-in-cheek point is that I'm really beginning to get that all that consideration is just consideration. You still have to do stuff, and the people that I think of as the greatest examples of getting lots of stuff done don't seem to spend too much time dwelling on what they can do different, or on whether it's healthy, or on whether people appreciate it or not.

I can't imagine him wondering anything about his achievements -- even though he probably did occasionally -- because he always seemed to not have the time to wonder about it. He was busy doing stuff instead.

So what you're saying is that rather than thinking about how you can be more efficient, it's better to be too busy to think.

No, I'm saying exactly what I said.

Super insightful, it's like the quote "you don't know what you've got till it's gone". Humans seem to have to feel pain/hit rock bottom before we can go back up, instead of visually processing what the future holds in store and proactively changing it. It's an interesting cognitive process.

I know a woman whose husband died a few years ago, while they were only in in their 50s. They were deeply in love and she feels cheated by his premature passing. When I feel like I'm losing perspective on things, I stop and ask myself: What does she now wish she did more of while her husband was still alive? What does she wish she did less? I find it helps me not to miss opportunities or get caught up in stuff that doesn't really matter.

> Humans seem to have to feel pain/hit rock bottom before we can go back up,

Hence the value of a difficult childhood.

That's only half joking, most of the guys & girls that succeeded rather early in life had some luggage with them.

In my experience most people in general have some luggage with them, once you look past the surface. That's not to say all hardship is created equal, of course.

See I view "maintenance" as the key to a business. Nothing stands still. Everything is changing all the time. Except for those parts that you nailed once and for all, and that the rest of the world agrees you nailed, which is none of it.

Maintenance is king. Maintenance is the most interesting part of business. Maintenance is the only way that you'll stay in business.

So, you can call maintenance boring, and I love you for it. Because while you're standing still with your "perfect" initial system, I am eating you lunch, drinking your wine, taking your customers, and spending your cash.

Lot of us are obsessed with success. It is probably a good idea to define what success is to yourself, and yourself only.

A good exercise is to take 5 minutes and write the things you want in life. I was surprised to find that my list was much smaller than I thought and to the exception of 1 or 2 items everything I could do/have within a short amount of time.

My girlfriend just had a problem with her car, which she noticed when it wouldn't start. The oil light had gone on a couple of hundred miles before, and it was an old car. She panicked about how her engine was screwed,and it would cost her multiple thousands of dollars to fix, and I lost it saying how you need to check the oil regularly.

It turned out to be a $25 repair. They replaced a washer.

Sometimes things that look like they require some great, superhuman effort, but end up just involving basic day to day effort.

An engine will run a surprisingly long time with little or no oil pressure.

Yes it will. But it will have no power and will eventually take half of the car with it when it finally dies (draw your own parallels with life). Trust me, happened to me twice :(

In a talk last year at (I think) the business of software conference, PG said, among other things, that business schools are useless because successful business people don't waste their time teaching business in business schools, and instead either run their business or enjoy the fruits of their success (another song to the tune of "those who can't, teach").

His depiction of university professors accurately describes most bloggers.

Here's another take on this: those who are good at teaching, teach and those who are good at blogging, blog. In other words, some people are actually very good at teaching or communicating ideas, even though they may not 'do' them.

In reality, there are good teachers and there are bad teachers (and more bad than good).

Those who are good at teaching, teach implies that somehow teachers are selected by their ability to teach, which is not true. Teachers happen to be teachers for a variety of reasons; but their talent has little to do with the fact that they continue to be teachers.

The case of bloggers is arguably a little different; certainly lack of talent or experience does not prevent people from blogging, but traffic provides at least some objective (if imperfect) measure of success.

But I would expect people who describe the road to world dominance to first document what they really know about it: if they haven't traveled it themselves, have they at least interviewed many successful people? What books have they read before writing anything?

What do they know?

It also occurs to me that while 'bad' teachers can often still hang on to their jobs (I've had more than my fair share), very few bad entrepreneurs can still hang on to a business!

I guess the point I was trying to make was that some people are very good at teaching (or blogging) even though they may not have necessarily done what they teach about. For example, I've had great teachers - politics teachers, English teachers, professors in law school, etc - who didn't practice what they taught i.e. my high school politics teacher wasn't a politician, my university film studies professor didn't make movies, my law school professors were not practicing lawyers or judges (in fact my contract law professor was brilliant yet had only practised law for a year before turning to academia), etc. So it is conceivable that someone could teach or communicate something of value without having the personal experience of practising the profession they're teaching about.

Having said all that, when it comes to someone making grand statements about what constitute the keys to success, etc this may not be something that you can truly and credibly teach purely based on persoaln observations or academic study (as would seem to be possible regarding subjects such as politics, film and law to repeat the examples given above).

This seems more like someone attempting to teach or make statements about what it takes to successfully climb a mountain. Mountain climbing is one of those subjects - to which I would definitely add building a business - that can't really be taught by someone without personal experience. These are subjects where the 'lab' is the real world, so unless someone has been in the real world, they really don't have helpful lessons to offer.

"Adopt the habits of those you admire the most" - this presumes that those with exceptional qualities are also better at optimizing what they have, and that this optimization is somewhat universally applicable.

I'd say: try to understand the habits of those you admire the most, and try them yourself if it makes sense.

This whole process is too self-absorbed for me. There is this urge expressed to focus on things that cannot be measured. So the proffered solution is self-reflection. But just as it is easy for me to conflate reading technical stuff with working, it's also easy for me to find myself reflecting instead of doing.

The solution is measurement. If I want more of X, I need to understand the values of X at time Y such that delta X is always positive. That's where the author and I differ. Without a fuel gauge, I would not know whether or not my car needed attention. My life works like that too.

It's not enough to simply decide to keep up with "maintenance" and then do it, because if you are the type of person who lacks the discipline to stick to things, you will unconsciously resist any attempt at change. You need the ability to hack your habits.

I've been trying Giles Bowkett's system for building habits based on the "calendar about nothing" for a couple weeks. It seems promising (for example, two weeks is longer than i usually stick to things), but it's too early to tell. I think the key is to change only one thing at a time, until the habit is locked in.

I agree. Maintenance is crucial. Not always fun, but crucial. Really like the last line: "The difference between luck and skill is consistency." Well said.

Love this. Well written too.

how YOU can be the exception. Because you are. You snow-flake.

Sounds like a Fight Club reference.

You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everyone else, and we are all part of the same compost pile. ~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 17

Pretty bleak.


You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world. ~Fight Club movie, screenplay by Jim Uhls, directed by David Fincher, novel by Chuck Palahniuk

Snowflakes are all the same melting inorganic matter as each other.

Beauty and uniqueness are simply not automatic for humans.

I guess that kind of "screw the rat race" attitude doesn't play well on Hacker News.

That's really a good comment. It's not a true/false issue, so thank you for reminding that. Interest for tech doesn't mean screwing the rest of one's life.

There's no trick to it, it's just a simple trick!

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