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Winning Isn't Normal (jasonshen.com)
261 points by jasonshen 2179 days ago | hide | past | web | 89 comments | favorite



Reminds me of a singular experience I had several years ago. I'd been driving pizza delivery and in general coasting through life after dropping out of college. I had wanted to be a programmer when I grew up but a personality conflict between myself and the head of the CS department at school convinced me to hit the bricks.

Anyway I was doing a delivery to a local apartment complex on a windy day and on my way back to the car this little pink piece of paper blew across the parking lot and fetched up next to my shoe. I picked it up and inspected it. It was printed on both sides, one side had some kind of spam advertisement for carpet cleaning or real estate or something, but the other side caught my eye. All it said was "If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done".

While it would make a great narrative to say I went back and quit my dead end job immediately and dedicated myself to getting my shit together, it was another year before I started putting my life in order. But ever since that day, whenever I felt like I was in a rut or whatever, I'd remember that little piece of paper.

Eventually I got my shit together, educated myself on a couple of programming languages and joined the workforce as a developer, married, bought a house. While I don't think that piece of paper is solely responsible for my successes, the idea "If you want something you've never had, you have to do something you've never done" has been kicking around in my head ever since, and I'm sure it's colored at least some of the choices I've made since that day.


Did you keep that paper and framed it? It would have impacted more people who visit you, and your kids, and grandkids too.

Thanks for that quote, saved in my Chrome home page plugin.


Thanks for sharing - that's an awesome story.


what was that personality conflict that you had with the head of the CS department?


That's a story for some other time. :)


http://imgur.com/9dMGz.png

What is this crap? I'm running Fedora 14 with Opera 10.63. I guarantee you my computer has no "malware". And if it does, you sure can't detect it from an HTTP request.

Just a guess: I am on a university network shared by lots of humanities majors, many of whom probably browse porn websites on unsecured Windows XP boxes. The company that provides this "service" for Jason sees that many of the computers on this network have been infected by a bot net, and then decides that it's a great idea to block the whole sub net. Now over 5000 people can't read Jason's blog. Is this really effective security? If you want to be really safe, I recommend you block 0.0.0.0/0.


Sorry - I signed up with cloudflare which promised a faster safer experience for my readers. =( I'll talk to them.


Just following up on this - here's how Cloudflare replied. I'm going to set my security levels to low.

Information about how the challenge pages appear can be found here: http://www.cloudflare.com/wiki/DataSources The party could look up their IP to see why the challenge is happening here: http://projecthoneypot.org/search_ip.php

One thing that you can do is set your security settings to low on CloudFlare so only the worst offenders get challenged (attackers, etc.). You can do this by going to settings->CloudFlare settings->Security Level->Change to low.

There will be false positives with data, of course, but there are two options available to challenged visitors: 1. Pass the captcha to gain entry to your site. 2. The site admin can whitelist the ip address of the visitor in their CloudFlare Threat Control Panel, which will (a) override CloudFlare's behavior, and (b) help correct false positives.


Well, whatever you did worked. Thank you, I enjoyed the article.


Please take the cloudflare off.

I clicked. Got the landing page. Figured you had been hacked. Did not bother going through the captcha. Closed the browser tab.

I am sure I am not unique in this regard. There is far too much content on the web, and not enough time. If the content is not there when I need it, I go somewhere else.

You have basically put up a version of the "free signup to read the rest of the article" ... you see on so many big sites. I cannot even remember when I last completed such a free signup.

The short version, you will lose readers, and just so cloudflare can try and flog me some Windows anti-virus software when I am clearly running linux! Take it off.


It's probably doing something cheap and tacky like checking a DNS blacklist, which you usually get on for "running a proxy" (having ports open, pretty much) or sending spam emails.


Yup, same here with OS X w/ Chrome.


Why are you taking a jab at humanity majors. It seems to me your network admin is at fault here.


If they were IT majors they'd probably be able to browse porn without getting their computers infected, or at least fix their computers if they did get infected. Different people have different areas of expertise. An IT major couldn't write a 2500 word critique on Kant if their life depended on it.


>An IT major couldn't write a 2500 word critique on Kant if their life depended on it.

I can, but that's because I did a philosophy degree before entering CS. At any rate, I still can't believe how many people get viruses from porn. With the proliferation of tube sites, you don't need to download anything. AdBlock takes care of malware-serving ads. You pretty much have to fall for the "this video requires a codec. Click here to download" bullshit. I get that some people can barely google, but it depresses me that there's enough of them to make it worthwhile for people to write viruses.


> You pretty much have to fall for the "this video requires a codec. Click here to download" bullshit.

The less knowledgeable ones fall for the "codec" bit. Those who have been bitten fall for the "your security software needs updating" bit. I've helped plenty of friends and acquaintances, but they're fighting an uphill battle because they don't stay up to date with their knowledge of the new scams.

I even taught a class on this stuff at the library for a while (I was volunteering for the group giving classes, but I created the internet security one on my own). Take it as optimistic or pessimistic if you want, but everything I did was but a drop in the ocean. Still, at least it's my drop.


That wasn't a jab. Specialization exists.


Same here... Really annoying.


I like the point that "winning" requires abnormal behavior, but I don't like the phrasing as "winning". Winning implies a competition, when many worth-while things in life aren't a competition and often simply passing a personal bar will suffice.

It is a good point that doing extraordinary things requires extraordinary devotion, but the focus on overworking and beating an opposition bothers me.

I'd like to think that accomplishing extraordinary things requires an extraordinary goals and extraordinary passion. You need to have a goal to direct your energy towards, and you need the passion to pursue that goal even when it feels like it might be out of reach.

I think the real message of this article is just that accomplishing extraordinary things requires a lot of hard work, persistence, and patience. I think it misses the love and passion that is required to do that long-term.


I think the missing (but important) point from the post is that life really is a zero sum game.

I've "won" at a large number of things throughout my life, some of which I wholeheartedly value, others I consider to have been an unwise waste of time. To win at something you must sacrifice another, and the bigger the win the bigger the loss on the other end. When you see a huge win but no downside, check your surroundings and tread carefully.

Unless you've invented ways to artifically extend your lifespan, or have tripped into a time warp, time is the ultimate limiting factor in everything.

The author mentions that he often wished to have a "normal" childhood, but then dismisses that (all too quickly, IMHO) given the scope of his accomplishments. This is not to denigrate his achievements in the least, but rather that in hindsight many of the things that I sacrificed and fought for had hidden costs that didn't make themselves evident until much later on.

The advantage of leading at least a marginally "normal" childhood is your ability to identify, internalize, and connect - something I dismissed in my youth as being either irrelevant, or fixable later. It is definitely not the former, and the latter gets exponentially harder as you get older.

All in all, this is not a discouragement from going nuts and working hard, but rather a strong warning that one's time resources are severely limited even if you push your body to the limit, and that the price you pay for these achievements is non-zero and often hidden.


> "To win at something you must sacrifice another, and the bigger the win the bigger the loss on the other end."

My wife was a pretty big win, and she was worth the opportunity cost of anything else I could've spent the time and effort for. My son, too. It's not really zero-sum unless you're using a strange metric.


The opportunity costs are still there - maybe you can't do reckless things like climb Mt. Everest now, or maybe you can't risk your family in extremely risky startups, or... etc etc.

It's not zero-sum in happiness, but it is zero-sum in time and possibilities. You certainly sound like you've found a good solution to the problem (i.e., maximizing happiness, avoiding sinking valuable time into things that don't)

I don't think my original post was that well-written actually, and the point I was trying to get across is probably better communicated as:

- Every hour you spend doing something is an hour you're not doing something else.

- What you do contributes directly to your happiness. It is non-obvious, especially when young, what contributes to happiness in the long run, and what doesn't. Hermit'ing up and writing code like a madman for a week, for example, will improve your programming skills, but will also exact a toll on your personal relationships. One gives a larger short-term rush on accomplishment and accolades, the other is a better bet at long-term satisfaction.

- It is also sometimes non-obvious (especially when young) of just how much you're missing out on or damaging in your unrelenting pursuit of "winning". Your obsession with winning can also blind you as to just how good the reward is.

It's more or less a generalized form of something I've thought about over the last couple of years - human relationships matter above any material achievement. All the trophies, medals, and awards in the world pale in comparison to good relationships. And there are no easy hacks for relationships, they take a great deal of time and effort - and running an extreme "achiever" lifestyle poses an extreme risk to that.

I fucked that up in high school, and some of college, and it took meeting someone with a far better grok on life than I do to set me straight. I'm hoping fewer people fall into that trap.


> I fucked that up in high school, and some of college, and it took meeting someone with a far better grok on life than I do to set me straight. I'm hoping fewer people fall into that trap.

I wish I could vote you up 100 times. I only am learning this lesson in middle age, and I’m coming to regret having shut myself off to others in high school and college. (Though it wasn’t just career; I also had fundamentalist baggage to jettison.)


It's zero-sum in the sense that you have a finite amount of time to spend. If you spend time on one thing, it necessarily means spending less time somewhere else.


I am sorry if this is an overly literal interpretation of your post, but it doesn't seem to me like you are applying the correct meaning of zero sum game. In a zero sum game, every win for you is an equal and opposite loss for your opponent. Who is your opponent in life?

Now I'll certainly agree that every decision made rules out other possible options, and hence there is an ever present opportunity cost for all decisions.


> "Who is your opponent in life?"

Yourself, I imagine. My meaning with the term is that every win (measured by some metric) for you is also an equal and opposite loss for yourself (measured in some other metric).

> "and hence there is an ever present opportunity cost for all decisions."

Well said. My point of my post was that often we are dismissive about these opportunity costs (I know I was, along with my other overachieving peers), and often not fully aware of their scope.

To bring some specificity to vague concepts: I didn't put the time in to really socialize, connect, and date during high school. I did better at it during college, but to be perfectly honest I still put too much time towards achievements that don't in the end make me happier. I'm still recovering from the effects of that now; IMHO it's easy for high-performers (in the scholastic sense) to be blindsided by this later on. I've had more than one depressing/uncomfortable conversation where the true cost of this sacrifice dawns upon a high-performer. I've had this realization myself.


>Yourself, I imagine. My meaning with the term is that every win (measured by some metric) for you is also an equal and opposite loss for yourself (measured in some other metric).

If your metrics are real metrics, and actually have some bearing on utility/happiness, that can't be true.

The trivial counterexample is a situation where you're attempting to get out of a burning building. No metric I personally would use would give the option of dying in a fire equal weight to the opportunity cost of the rest of your life.

And there are countless lesser examples where there's a "losing" choice and a "winning" choice when we're going across the tree of all possible life outcomes.


You're totally right Periodic. I didn't talk about passion but that's definitely one of the main drivers of my efforts (the others being parental pressure and personal ambition).

I think competition is healthy and good as long as it doesn't consume your life. Whenever you engage in an activity where you can compare your performance to others, there will be competition. So why not try and be better?

More broadly speaking, winning can also more a general term for "being successful" or "achieving your goals".


You're taking it too literally. It's not saying everyone who is not winning is a looser; I think you could replace every instance of "winning" in that article with "doing extraordinary things" and retain exactly the same meaning.


To do extraordinary thing also require you to believe in something that's accurate and correct but not many people believe to be true.


This article also underscores how important that you choose wisely what it is you want to win at, since if you even want a chance of it you'll likely have it consume your life.


Although I greatly admire the author's personal accomplishments, I feel like some arguments in this write up are based on false premises.

Here is an example: "winners will do what losers won't"

What about the guy who gets the second place? the third? Surely, he did a lot of things that losers didn't but isn't he also a loser? This quickly grows absurd when you talk about competitive sports, but perhaps the line between winners and losers and what they do to become who they are is not as well-defined.

Framing everything in terms of winning and losing ends up producing cultural constructs that are by and large unsupportable with real-world evidence and experience. I know this probably sounds like sour grapes or one loser's whining, but reading between the lines of the original post it doesn't sound like author was particularly happy "living" that categorization himself. Perhaps, I am imagining things though.

I also think competitive sports are exceptional in how strongly work correlates with achievement. When I look at winners in business, for the life of me I don't think their accomplishments correlate with "work". Work is but one aspect, but there is also talent, intelligence, luck, and background. All of those matter too.


Good post, and exactly right. Look at anyone who 'wins' and you'll often see extreme habits. Athletes are easy examples to look at because they compete so directly and much is written about them. If you look at a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods you'll of course find talent, but also an unrelenting competitive drive that made them practice for hours and hours a day. Their practice schedules were/are not normal even for the professional athlete level.

There is a good quote from a forgettable rap song:

Losers make excuses, winners make it happen

The author of the blog post made it happen even if he wasn't aware of doing it at the time.


As much as I support making it happen over making excuses, I sometimes find it a difficult distinction to make.

Jason's story hits home for me in many ways. I was also an overachiever in high school who came home at 10pm from gymnastics, did homework, slept 4 hours and did it all over again. I went to a super-competitive high school, stressed over my GPA to two decimal places, got into the top schools etc.

Looking back, I did it out of something that I can only describe as pure competitive drive. I did it because I had to do well. I was concerned far more often about being a winner than about identifying and achieving a particular thing that I really care about.

But winning felt good!

I seem to have forgotten that since I came to college. My mindset for the past three or so years has been "I don't compete with others. I'll figure out what's really important to me and I'll work hard to achieve that." The result? I haven't figured out what's important to me. I don't feel like I've been a winner in many things because I've allowed myself to think I don't care about winning at those things. For example, I have allowed myself to say "I don't really care about algorithms" and gotten Bs and Cs in algorithms.

I tell myself that blindly winning at the wrong thing for the sake of winning could make me unhappy in the long run, that I should slow down and explore and figure out some real goals first. Yet it sounds a lot like a lame excuse, and it's even more difficult to do when one feels that one is "falling behind" compared to one's peers.

My conclusion is still that simply making it happen may be too superficial. It was for me. A substantial question is what you want to make happen and why.


I faced this my senior year of college too. What drove me out of the rough was Dweck's Mindset. Get your hands on a copy if you haven't read it yet. The take-away for me was that the apathy I sometimes felt was a kind of scapegoat for avoiding situations where I could fail. Instead of increasing my effort when I was faced with the hardest problems, I decreased it by avoiding them. This reduces the probability of failure but also ironically of success as well, which tends to sting in the long run if you don't catch it.


Thanks a lot for the suggestion!

You've got a point apathy being a mechanism to avoid, or even rationalize failure.

I realized something else: that winning gives you ownership and confidence.

To use my previous example, If I had diregarded "interest" in algorithms and gotten stellar grades in algorithms classes just for the sake of "winning", I would come to be proud of how good I am at algorithms. I would become empowered, I would like the feeling, and I would like algorithms.


Wow - another gymnast on HN - that's awesome. It is definitely important to select meaningful goals, especially if you get caught up in competing with others. My main point was that for dreams to come true, you've really got to approach your life much differently than most people.


I see systems that are design for his success. Take away his systems, I think his probability of success would drastically decrease. His systems set his expectation. I'm sure his school consistently produce high calibre people like him and even the gym that he went to after school. I'm pretty sure if he had siblings, they would also go to a top tier school. I say that to say that the take away from this is not about doing abnormal things but being in a system that expect superior performance.

I think the goal is to seek out these systems and become apart of them for our given endeavors.


You're certainly right. I'm not trying to pretend like I'm some kind of super-person. We had advantages: my mom was a gymnastics coach, I was in a great school system, high expectations were placed on me. We had disadvantages: we were immigrants, lower middle class growing up and neither parent had any experience with the US college application process.

I think Warren Buffet says it best: "Take me as an example. I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I'd been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can't run very fast. I'm not particularly strong. I'd probably end up as some wild animal's dinner."


I think the word "successful" makes more sense to me in this context. He was successful at prioritizing activities to achieve goals he wanted to accomplish, but what was won?

I congratulate the author on having the discipline to accomplish these things.

Either way, I think it's a good example of using discipline to accomplish ones goals.


What was won? The goals he set are achieved.

Now, you may question whether he set the right goals, but that is a different question.


Maybe it's a cultural thing (I'm an East-European who's never been to the States), but what's with this obsession about "winning", "not being a loser" etc?


It's a cultural thing, definitely. Some Americans take it too far, but even those who don't (many), who don't think everything in life is about winning a competition, still interpret most things as competitions even if they aren't officially so. We've got tons of sayings that subconsciously make us a winners-only culture: "Winners don't do drugs", "Quitters never win", etc.

As a teenager I was totally disillusioned with it, so I mistakenly thought winning of any form and encouraging others to try to win made you an intellectually bankrupt tool. Probably made me happier, but had the adverse effect that I feel a lot lazier than other people I know because I'm more prepared to do "good enough" rather than try to outperform my peers. Being American-born, I feel like I could be seen as a poor performer by my superiors simply because I'm not doing better than my peers.


As far as cultural things go, I'll take it over "tall poppy syndrome" anytime. I'd rather be looked down upon for doing poorly than be looked down upon for doing well.


I can't speak for the nation as a whole, but in Silicon Valley people are very competitive. There's a mentality that I too partake in sometimes of "why do it, if you can't do it well". (and 'well' has been pushed to the extreme of 'be one of the best') The influx of Asian students driven mercilessly by their parents has not exactly helped reverse this trend.


It is a good trait in many ways, it drives people to put in the extra yards when they may not have. Given that so many things in life are when stripped down a competition.

There has been argument in Australia recently over schools giving the message to primary school kids that it doesn't matter who wins in there sporting contests. I think not only does this ruin a game (when someone isn't actually trying in a game I'm involved in I lose motivation pretty quickly) but it carries over to other areas and gives a kid of close enough is good enough mentality.


For the wealth of a society it might be a good think, because everyone is pushing each other. For the happiness of most people it might be a bad thing, because only a few can win.


I can't give you a real answer, except to say that it probably involves Clint Eastwood.


I enjoyed reading the post, and agree with it. It would be nice to read a follow-up post on balancing life -- does being a winner mean not having a family, watching a movie with friends etc?


I'll see what I can do there! Certainly the post comes off as a little extreme but I was trying to make a point about what it takes to be successful. It's important to have down time and rejuvenation periods as well.


Winning is normal. If it wasn't we would have been extinct as a species a long time ago. What isn't normal is devoting your life to something not related to survival. At the individual level winning is important if it provides a benefit to the species as a whole. Otherwise it is transitory and unimportant.


"The Olympian stands alone." --John Biglow


In my personal opinion, winning is getting the feeling at the end of the day that it was spent well.

Most of us of course define this as achieving something, like completing some new program module or getting a good contract.

The important part is that you are confident with the day, with your life.

Now I'm not sure if this guy in the article is winning or not, he forgot to state that. He just said that he was the best in a competition and got a very high score on a test. I guess he felt good those days, otherwise he would not post about it, I hope.

This is of course a subjective view, the concept is.


That is one way to look at it. Personally I do not believe winning is subjective, you either get what you initially wanted or you didn't - that has got to be pretty objective.

The goal you move towards on the other hand is obviously something that should be chosen by the individual who is trying to win and I will argue that all goal that really matter or bring happiness are chosen by the person who is trying to achieve it rather than by society at large.


This blog post reminded me of Alan Watts' Music and Life, which is great food for thought when pondering your goals in life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4


I like this article.

Our society places too much emphasis on superlatives. This emphasis creates a world that idolises extremes and pushes us further towards (ab)normal ideals.

The journey we take towards our goals is where lessons are learnt.


I agree,about our society, being too full of extremes, but the article doesn't change this at all. It's just more honest about what it takes to make it all the way to be a winner in - a lot of hard work and persistence and a willingness to ignore what everybody else tells you to do. It's not a new view of the way to success, but it is a great message which we have to be reminded of from time to time lest we forget it.


Hmm.. well, maybe it challenges the notion slightly, by highlighting the fact that winning is abnormal.

But then again, 'normal' is such a loaded term.


Winning isn't normal, but also I don't like to think grinding yourself through life is winning or normal either.

The author describes a one strategy to win in a simple environment with clear rules and way of progress (school, sports). I admire the discipline but I would like to see that energy to be channeled to building something valuable.

What I like think is a life where you think hard about things that are worth doing, and not mix motion(doing something) with action(getting tanglible results).


A corollary is that losing is normal. Or, maybe more precisely, not winning is normal. But in order to win you need to be willing to try, and if you try there's a chance you'll lose, or fail, or look foolish, or whatever.

A first step in being a winner it getting comfortable with being a loser.

http://creatingminds.org/quotes/failure.htm


"Intensity is the price of excellence." - Warren Buffett, page 293 of "The Snowball"


After reading the blurb about gymnastics I realized that this was the Jason used to compete with me back in high school over on the East Coast. Times like this reminds me how small the world is!


Reminds me of a quote:

> C'est en faisant n'importe quoi, qu'on devient n'importe qui !

Which (really badly) translated goes something like "It is by doing nothing important, that one becomes noONE important"


Like it, but wish the author had done this without so much braggadocio. It could have been done the same way without so much self-reference and would have come off better, IMO.


> Like it, but wish the author had done this without so much braggadocio. It could have been done the same way without so much self-reference and would have come off better, IMO.

You know I see this sometimes and I'm not sure it's a good thing - a person describes their achievements tangibly and concrete, and then someone says, "You're bragging!"

I got three thoughts on that -

1. It's a damn shame that people can't talk about their achievements in tangible, concrete terms without somebody whipping out the b-label. I mean, the author just posted his schedule and how much he sacrificed, and shared some encouragement for people wondering if they're not normal, and shared a good quote and a video. That's not empty braggadocio, no way.

2. This creates a strange sort of culture where the high status thing to do is to be all nonchalant and indifferent, and it's impossible to tell who is full of shit and who isn't. Earlier today, there was the "dealing with hostile lawyers" post, and a bunch of people said, "Who is this joker? Don't take his advice." But that joker happens to be a self-made millionaire with a crazy-good track record. But if he mentions "My win-loss record is literally 100% in this area" he'd get hit with the brag label again.

3. When someone says, "you're bragging!" - I think that reflects more on the person saying it than the original author. C'mon guys, celebrate when someone wins. Winning is good. Sheesh.


Reminds me of the world in The Giver, where bringing up anything outside of Sameness was socially taboo, and even compliments were frowned upon because they might make someone uncomfortable.


Well said.

I actually believe pride is a virtue if there is substance to back up that sentiment. I get a little miffed at the "aww, shucks, it's nothing " mentality from truly talented people.


It probably comes down to personality type as to whether you are comfortable with this sort of message wrapped in self promotion. I thought it was an effective piece, but it would have been more effective if someone else had written it about him.

And by the way, don't hate me because I'm beautiful.


Poor boy, he doesn't have a life, never plays a video game, never go to the movies, doesn't have a girlfriend, all he has is the satisfaction to be a winner, let him brag :)

I am a winner because I do almost whatever I want, most of the time. I don't leave for the office until 10:30; I keep time to read books, work on Beethoven's sonatas, and run outdoors. I don't give a f*ck about money, rewards and other people opinion. Find your inner winner!


Why do people always assume that being impressive and having a life are mutually exclusive? I kind of consider myself something of a winner (top school, top job, blah blah blah), and I've certainly busted my ass to get here, but I've also had a lot of beers, seen movies, dated girls, played [American] football, etc.

At the end of the day, I'm unconvinced that you can be a "winner" without doing all of it. I'm not completely convinced that the author is the huge virginal dork you made him out to be, but if it makes you feel better about your inner winner, more power to you, I guess.


I found the "bragging" interesting, because I scored higher than him on the SATs with zero test prep, and made All-State orchestra despite having quit violin lessons three years before and barely practiced in the last year.

We all have things that we're good at. Mine just happened to be the stuff that looks great on a college app at age 19.

Luck has a way of balancing itself out, though. I struggled mightily at fitting in with peers when I was in school, and I've struggled hard to do high-quality original creative work since. Haven't quite gotten the hang of either, while meanwhile there're people who create world-changing products like FaceBook and GMail and Google Maps within a couple years of getting out of college.


> "Why do people always assume that being impressive and having a life are mutually exclusive?"

They're not. But they are IMHO highly correlated - I feel like I was a good example of it in high school and the first bit of college. Textbook Asian academic overachiever, below-average social skills, and little of my life that others might consider interesting besides my unrelenting ability to code. It took a lot of work to leave that version of me behind, and much of that came from sacrificing academic performance. Absolutely no regrets about that.

That said, I think wazoox was out of line extrapolating the author's life like that. We simply don't know enough about the guy to make a judgment in one way or another.

Besides, doesn't his own point about finding your inner winner involve not caring about alleged overachievers?


I think it's because people who "have a life" (i.e. are down-to-earth people who get along with everyone and have lots of friends, etc) don't care about being impressive. I mean, do you like being friends with or even being around people whose lives are motivated by the need to impress you? I doubt it.

Seems like a lot of people on this thread don't understand that to really feel like (and as far as I am concerned, be) a winner, you need to stop looking for external validation. Constantly allowing yourself to seek it out or fantasize about it is just building a habit of feeling unfulfilled and insecure.


> I'm not completely convinced that the author is the huge virginal dork you made him out to be ...

I don't think he's such a dork, just joking, ... FTW ? All of this sounds so young, and that's OK. I attained some "achievements" myself at times but it feels so vain in the end, 10 or 15 years later. I even remember that funny hormonal boost called pride, but now I'm looking down at my former self, I can't even long for this anymore. Maybe I'm just getting old.


Perfectly valid position to take on things.

What I don't like is when, using startups as an example, someone put in regular days and be beaten by their competition who did say an extra 20 hours a week. As long as people know they can't always have it both ways.


Hey InfinityX0 - thanks for the feedback.

I realize that I came off a little strong in the article but it was to raise a point. I could have referenced more about others - clearly Richard Branson, Lance Armstrong and PG have done abnormal and extraordinary things to get to where they are. But I know much less about them and feel much less qualified to talk about them.

I do know that my life has certainly not followed a "normal" path and that when I was younger, I resented that fact. Now I don't. I do know something about winning and I wanted to share that with people.


I think you should be honored for your honest reporting of your life's path and your willingness to share your advice, not criticized. We could benefit from having a lot more of people telling their own stories instead of speculating about other people's.


I don't think you came off strong at all. It inspires me to read about others successes and especially how they got there.


I concur. The accomplishments mentioned were of the "I was an exceptional high-school student" variety and hence don't necessarily inspire jealousy from an adult. Perhaps if he'd closed with "and now I'm a jet-setting playboy" I'd have been put off.


I don't agree. His own personal experience is really the whole point here.

He's stating his credentials, which is important — lots of people are happy to offer advice on how to "be successful" or "win", and that advice is contradictory. As an empiricist, I think it's very useful to examine the results they report from applying that advice in their own lives in order to figure out what its results are likely to be if I apply it in my own.

Of course, people's reports of their personal experience are not perfectly reliable, but they're a lot more reliable than their ability to accurately derive explanatory theories from their personal experience.

As far as I can tell, the achievement Jason Shen is most proud of is working, as a non-founder, at a six-person startup that sells ads. If you dig a bit, it turns out he also cofounded a microfinance group in 2007 that has lent US$24,000 over the last three years, but says, "Microfinance isn't a panacea. We don't think of ourselves as changing the world. We're just making it a bit chewier." As far as I know, the difference between traditional low-income loan-sharking (you know, payday loans and so on) and microfinance is specifically the intention to change the world. (On the plus side, they do claim they're working to "end poverty" but I can't find any description of their actual program on their website. At first I thought http://gumballcapital.org/challenge/qanda/question/8/ meant they were making high-interest loans to undergraduates at elite US universities, but it seems more likely that the "Challenge" is a way for them to solicit donations, not their actual program.)

In short, nothing Jason Shen has accomplished so far in his life will be remembered a century from now, unless he becomes famous for something he does in the future.

To me, this provides a very valuable lesson: you can work insanely hard for years and years, practicing and studying 17 hours a day, and even think you're an expert on "winning", without ever achieving anything significant. Hard work is not enough.


You seem to assume (or at least imply) that being famous and being remembered is the definition of winning, but I must disagree.

Winning only means something within context, but as a broad rule of thumb it can be taken as a rough synonym for success in achieving the stated goals. If someone sets out to make the world better, and the world is actually better because of them, even if only slightly, then I would call that both success and winning.


Well, it's true that the first and most important thing is to ensure that the sign of your overall effect on the world is positive, not negative, before you attend to increasing its magnitude. But you don't need to train 17 hours a day to achieve that; more than anything, you just need to be in the right circumstances, so that the everyday living of your life helps the commonweal rather than hurting it.


Thanks for your thoughts kragen and of course considering what "results" I've achieved with the advice I've offered is a very good idea.

I did reference mostly high school achievements because that's when I felt like my life was the most not normal. Probably my biggest "claim to fame" on winning is that I was the co-captain of the 2009 NCAA Championship winning Men's Gymnastics team after 14 "dry" years.

I'm fine with not being remembered a century from now by most people. I mean, how many Presidents can you list off from the late 1800's/early 1900's? I'd be much happier if I could make a decent-sized positive impact on the world in my own lifetime than becoming some kind of legendary figure.


Your gymnastics achievements are pretty cool, I have to admit. I wish I’d ever had a body like yours; I can barely touch my nose to my knee without bending it, and I still can’t do a simple handstand, even backed by a wall. And it’s a huge step up from many, many high-schoolers who spent those same thousands of hours playing Mario 64, getting drunk, and screwing.

With regard to high-school achievements, though, what do you think of Julian Assange, Jon Lech Johansen, William Kamkwamba, and Aaron Swartz, who were high-school-aged at about the same time you were? When they were 14-18 years old, they disrupted overseas nuclear research; enabled free software to play DVDs; electrified their town with a windmill built from scrap; and contributed to defining RSS, published a standards-track RFC on RDF, and defined the Creative Commons metadata standards; respectively.

(I’m not saying this to make you feel bad. My own achievements in high school consisted of learning calculus, learning a little about the internet, and not getting anybody pregnant.)

It’s true that most presidents from a hundred years ago are forgettable. I can list quite a number of people from before 1910, though — let’s say people who had a substantial impact in the 1890–1910 period: off the top of my head, Edison, his assistant Dickson, Tesla, Bell, Michelson, Morley, Einstein, Carnegie, Hollerith, Curie, Becquerel, Röntgen, Hearst, Gandhi, Jack London, Mark Twain, Darrow, Susan B. Anthony, and Cixi.

Looking these folks up, here are their achievements during that time. I deleted a couple from the list above because they didn’t achieve anything significant during that time.

Edison: funded the invention of motion-picture cameras and projectors and did some of the inventing. First commercial film piracy in 1902. Electrocuted an elephant in 1903 to publicize the dangers of AC electricity. Developed first commercially practical fluoroscope, killing his assistant Dally in the process. Invented prefabricated concrete buildings. (He did a bunch of other stuff, but that was before 1890.)

Dickson: led the team that did most of the inventing, founded the first film studio.

Röntgen: discovered X-rays, received a Nobel prize.

Tesla: supposedly discovered the skin damage caused by X-rays before Röntgen discovered the rays, invented RF oscillators, built the first (?) radio, maybe invented transformers, built a radio-controlled boat, fought for AC, supposedly invented ignition coils and spark plugs, invented AND gates (?), invented the bladeless turbine, built history’s largest Tesla coil, went broke and somewhat mad. (Too bad I didn’t think of Bose, Marconi, J.P. Morgan, or De Forest off the top of my head.)

Bell: led the Bell Telephone Company, built hydrofoils, commercialized the phonograph.

Michelson: made improvements in the manufacture of diffraction gratings. Michelson grating ruling engines are still in use today. (His famous experiment with Morley was in 1887, and his high-precision measurements of the speed of light were even earlier.)

Morley: Replicated the Michelson-Morley experiment to much higher precision with Miller.

Einstein: in 1905, published papers explaining the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of matter and energy.

Carnegie: prevented the annexation of Cuba, launched Carnegie Steel Company, sold it for US$225 million, founded public libraries all over the US and UK, founded half of CMU, founded TIAA-CREF, failed to settle the Homestead Strike, which ended up killing a number of people.

Hollerith: founded one of the four companies that would eventually merge to become IBM and led the technical development of tabulating machines.

Curie: discovered that radioactivity made air conductive, discovered that thorium was radioactive, discovered polonium and radium, invented the word “radioactivity”, received a Nobel prize and many other awards.

Becquerel: discovered radioactivity, received a Nobel prize, died.

Röntgen: discovered X-rays, received the first Nobel prize in physics and several other awards.

Hearst: co-invented yellow journalism with Pulitzer, founded a national political party, and (again with Pulitzer) started the Spanish-American War, initiating US imperialism.

Gandhi: was accepted to the bar, failed at establishing a law practice, moved overseas, founded the Natal Indian Congress, led civil-rights activism in South Africa, survived a lynching attempt, organized a volunteer ambulance corps to support the British war effort against the Zulus, began to abandon his racist beliefs, gave up sex, and invented satyagraha.

London: got arrested for being a Socialist, and wrote The Call of the Wild, The Unparalleled Invasion, To Build a Fire, White Fang, and The Sea-Wolf, all of which are still read today.

Darrow: represented Debs in the Pullman Strike case, once successfully and once unsuccessfully; helped organize the Populist Party; successfully defended Big Bill Haywood, Moyer, and Pettibone; published his first book.

Twain: wrote Pudd’nhead Wilson, The Mysterious Stranger, Letters from the Earth, his autobiography, and a vicious literary criticism of the Leatherstocking series that’s better reading than the Leatherstocking series itself; did a six-year around-the-world lecture tour; survived a depression when everyone he loved died; introduced Helen Keller to the rich benefactor who paid for her education; became VP of the American Anti-Imperialist League; received an honorary doctorate; died.

Anthony: created the National American Woman Suffrage Association; worked for universal adult female suffrage in the US until six years before hear death. She succeeded 14 years after her death.

Cixi: led a coup d’état against her nephew, the emperor Guangxu, bringing herself to power, and later poisoned him with arsenic; abolished the imperial examination system; and, through political miscalculation, ended 268 years of Qing Dynasty rule in China and 2133 years of imperial rule in China; but kept China independent.

So, I don't think it's hopeless to try to achieve things that will be remembered in 100 years. People do it every year. It's just that getting elected president isn't a particularly effective way to do it.


Great list and I admire all those people. My point was that becoming the President is an exceptionally difficult and highly recognized achievement and yet many Presidents are forgotten.

I certainly don't think it's hopeless to become 100 year memory - it'd be awesome if that happens and I think I have a higher than average chance at doing so. But I will deem my life successful (and consider myself a winner) if I achieve much more moderate goals. That's a personal choice that we all have to make about how we approach living.


You are right. Hard work is not enough. To be famous one has to mail bombs to professors or gun down people on a University campus. I'm not being facetious because there are plenty of people in academia or art committing "martyrdom" just as radical when they are simply producing crap as crappy as the next guy. I would even raise the stake higher and say that either you nor I will be remembered a century from now, but the difference is that I don't give a shit. Being remembered a century from now is not enough.


I found that to be the most interesting part of the post.

Honestly, another post saying "you have to work hard" is boring (to put it mildly). But in this article, I actually found:

1. Concrete facts and numbers from a "proven" winner.

2. A very interesting life story.

Both of these are traits that too few stories on HN have, for me at least.


Congratulations you've done everything the world told you that you need to do in order to become a "winner"

It's a shame you've never seen the prize though.


Great blog post! Winning is hard, sustained work.




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