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On Improving When Your Friends Aren’t (sebastianmarshall.com)
82 points by acangiano on Dec 30, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

I have a very close group of 3 friends that I have known for at least 6 years each. We all come from immigrant families, went to a competitive, top 100 high school and all did well and went to good schools. We're all 24 now and two of them are busy hopping from job to job to find the biggest paycheck, bragging about their $160k base salaries (consulting/private equity) not including bonuses and how they quadrupled their savings with margins trading. Then there's me and my other friend in this group.

I've only ever done startups and the closest I've been to a BigCorp job was a yahoo internship. The aforementioned two friends just don't understand the world of startups and think I'm wasting my time and setting myself up for financial disaster. The other friend is on his 7th year of college. He picked majors because they were highly regarded and he saw that we were doing similar things, but did not interest him. Over the years he looked at our relative career success, did not think he possessed any real skills for the workforce and became suicidal, attempting to kill himself twice. Saved the first time because of a malfunctioning old handgun and the second because of a goodbye email he sent to the 3 of us. I check my email way too often and saw the email first and called 911 and then kept him on the phone.

I'm not quite sure what the moral is, but it seemed relevant and I wanted to share. I wish my friends did what they loved and not what their peers thought was cool or society deemed worthy. None of them love what they do.

The aforementioned two friends just don't understand the world of startups and think I'm wasting my time and setting myself up for financial disaster.

Who knows, they might even be right...

Or wrong...

If you don't love what you do it's probably not worth it in the long run. Doing a startup isn't necessarily going to put you in a financial disaster. It just makes the end result more volatile.

The way I look at it is with life there's a bell curve (maybe not normally distributed but still a curve distribution). Those with a steady consulting job will fall into the "average" middle area of the curve and be "safe" financially and might not ever be poor OR rich for that matter.

Those taking risks like in a startup would more invariably end up on one side of the curve (either on the side that makes you poor due to debt etc, or extremely rich but most likely you won't end up as an "average" middle area where everyone else is and regret not taking any chances in your life).

I wish my friends did what they loved and not what their peers thought was cool or society deemed worthy.

I wish this for me too, retroactively. I would have had a lot more to show for the 5+ years spent 'conforming to society/peers'.

" I wish my friends did what they loved and not what their peers thought was cool or society deemed worthy. None of them love what they do."

I think that's the money quote here. I think Steve Jobs said it best in a commencement speech:

...I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "no" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

After all the books I've read, after all the time I've spent on learning, solving problems and exercising my brain, after all the self-help/marketing/how-to blogs I've gone through, after all the effort I've taken on becoming a better person, after all the sacrifices I've made by going out of my way to help other people to make their lives better, I have found that there are many people who are better than me in many ways I cannot even begin to imagine, not because they try to be, not because they are more intelligent than me, not because they have any incentive to be, not because they are better educated, but probably because they just are, probably because they grasp the beauty of life better than me on a scale that I am not able to comprehend, probably because there is more to life than being successful and being better, whatever that means, or probably because of some other reasons I will never understand.

It seems like being depressed over that conclusion is just a form of vanity. It's a fine line between comparing yourself to others in order to learn from them and reevaluate your direction, and comparing to satisfy or starve your ego.

Exactly my point. :)

yes excellent restatement

I think you need to realize that life is not a competition in any way, life is not about being best.

Life is not like a RPG where you gain experience(points) in skills to increase your overall level. It doesn't matter how much you improve your external life, it's how you think that really matters. A poor person can be much happier than a rich and externally successful person, it's how the person is thinking about the beauty of life that really counts.

"Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within." - Helen Keller

"The person who lives life fully, glowing with life's energy, is the person who lives a successful life." - Daisaku Ikeda

The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. - Unknown

No man is happy who does not think himself so. - Publilius Syrus

Look inward and find the peace within. As you do so, the outer world will reflect the peace you feel - Unknown

You might be seeking external validation from other people. I've been there myself, I've improved greatly on certain things and when finally been awesome at it realized that it didn't really matter and that there were more important and way more simpler things I should have focused on to improve my life instead.

Improving your mind can be really hard even though it's damn simple in theory. The best way to be happy is to be happy. How do you gain happiness? By being happy.

You'll have to find a way to realize that you're happy in order to be happy. You can't say "I'm happy" without truly believing it with all your heart, it won't work. You have to KNOW that you're happy in order to be happy.

Granted, archiving external goals (being successful with women, socializing or work/business for example) is a great way to to convince yourself that you have everything you need in order to become happy - and happiness follows.

However, you must realize that happiness can not be gained be archiving goal after goal, it must come from within.

I liked your post, niyazpk, because it moves from the implicit comparison to looking internally for the reasons one is stuck in such and such a place.

Friends are not bad/good people as much as certain relationships are destructive while others are healthy. But this is not a permanent state - and ultimately says more about oneself than one's friends.

This pruning off of friends is perhaps a necessary step in some cases - reminds me of the '12-step program' idea of not associating with the people you drank/smoked/particpated in unsafe sex with/etc. But ultimately it says more about the person themselves than it does about the goodness/badness of those friends. There are people who can drink and not have it ruin their lives... If you are not one of them but you are hanging around people who can socially drink - they are not the problematic ones.

When we are stuck we tend to look outwards for reasons that we are stuck and place blame externally.

There is one of Montaigne's essays that I enjoyed since school days, #4 in book 1 called something like "the soul discharges its passions on false objects when the true ones are wanting". There are some very funny anecdotes - some classical and some more contemporary of people essentially finding external causes for their griefs or gouts. The essay builds to a climax with an example of Ceasar defying Neptune after being shipwrecked and the author ends with a brilliant single sentence paragraph:

"But we can never enough decry the disorderly sallies of our minds."

This is one example in literature of a remarkable turn from external to internal - a moment of crushing realization that you create most of your own pain and discomfort and the first step to freedom from this is this realization. Whether is it Buddha's Fire Sermon, Eliot's "Waste Land", Rilke's "Headless Torso of Apollo" - this is the answer. Not ditching friends.

We move to Portland because we are not doing well in New York (or vice versa). The change in scenery will do us well for 6 months and that might be enough to set on a new track. But more likely you find out you are still the same person internally - that will creep back in.

I have had moments in my life where I have been in a magnificent place and yet for whatever reason i happened to be miserable that day. Firenze, Mongolia, Cat Ba Islands in Vietnam. Beautiful striking places and on those days struck with deep blueness (i will not use that oft-misused word depression here). And being in those places intensified the self loathing:

"... you asshole - how could you be miserable here!..."

And the answer is always the same - because I am miserable. Not because my girlfriend is 8000 miles away (and p'raps not so faithful :-0 ); not because of friends or lack of friends or type of friends.

Did you rent a scooter and rider around Cat ba island? Good times...

Beautiful place. Actually took a boat around the bay and spent some time on one of the smaller islands. Also did som cave exploring...

I'm not sure what the point of your post is. Even if you're in the top 0.1% of the country, based on whatever combination of criteria you prefer, there will still be hundreds of thousands people that are better than you. It's a statistical fact that should have no bearing on your happiness.

Maybe they're better looking than you?

(but seriously, I don't think making sacrifices is particularly good for your character)

Your friends don't have to be "useful to you". Real friends are waiting there for you when you take a break from work to have fun, relax and shoot the breeze.

I've worked maniacally for the past 4 or 5 years and declined many many social invitations because I was focused on building my business. I would never EVER express that as "improving when my friends aren't" and I find this attitude deplorable.

They're just living life differently to me. They don't get in the way of the way I want to live my life at all and when I take a break I go hang out with them and we have fun - it's just that I don't do that very often.

There is no difference between focusing on a business, focusing on education, focusing on raising a child or on a new relationship.

It seems like such a cliche that you "improve" somehow and leave everyone else behind and then see them later in the street with your new friends and ignore them as you walk by and make them all jealous with how much better you've become.

Life just doesn't have to be like that. True friends are friends forever regardless of whatever life projects you're working on and if you're incapable of maintaining friendships with people who aren't living exactly the same life as you then there is something wrong with you.

The whole "I want to win so I surround myself with winners" approach is just admitting that you're so susceptible to peer pressure that the only way you can succeed in life is to set yourself up with a bunch of friends who will force you to succeed. That's a strategy for addicts, not winners.

What does "improving" even mean when it comes to life? Sometimes friends drift apart when their common interests change. The end. Put the ego aside.

I want this to be true, but I don't think it is. I really do think a lot of people just kind of drift through life, being reactive rather than proactive, with little in the way of goals or ambition. I don't necessarily know if there's anything wrong with that (topic for another day), but it does seem valid to say that they're not interested in "improving". Maybe that's the wrong word; maybe "optimizing" captures it better. Regardless, some of my best friends are those who I share surprisingly little in terms of common interests. But what we do share is that we don't want a life adrift, and we're working hard to achieve the things we care about. To me, that's what "improving at life" means.

Reactive versus proactive captures the notion perfectly. I'm not content to be reactive. I was that way for too long, but I realized it was a cover for fear. It is hard for me to relate to the reactive mindset now. I feel like codependent-prone individuals smell the change and try to follow you around.

I want to be able to relate to everyone well, but there's a point at which the mismatch emerges, and it is unfortunate. It just means my interests are changing.

It's not that simple. What the article describes is a very common problem with people who get healthy and lose a lot of weight. Their 'friends' often end up hindering their goals though often not on purpose.

When I talked to a friend of mine about her weight loss the hardest part for her was losing all her other overweight friends. They would constantly ask her why she was getting up at 5am or eating healthy or training for a marathon and then would make comments that it's pointless. They didn't drift apart because their interests changed, she had to cut them out because they were holding her back.

I split from some friends about 20 years ago...

We were a group of 5 top friends at high school. We were popular, entertaining, going on vacation together, you name it.... At college, we carried on meeting, going to parties, but something became odd for me. It was obvious they were willing to carry on with immature/teenager activities and I wasn't...

I just did not enjoy it anymore. It was not in me. I had grown up. I told 3 of them I was not willing to participate to this anymore. The 5th one did not care, we always got along well. In fact, he was participating in those juvenile activities less and less too and developed his own branch of friends.

Two really take it badly, as if it was some kind of betrayal. They adopted a dogma attitude. I knew them since I was 5 years old. They reacted emotionally and would not address the maturity issues. It was a one-sided conversation. They carried on their juveniles games until their early thirties.

I was even replaced by another guy to fill the gap. When #4 got married, my replacement was invited to the full ceremony and I was only invited to the cocktail. He knew my replacement for a couple of years then, I knew him for more than 20. It was a bit of a shock, but not a real surprise.

I knew they were acting juvenile beyond their 20's to cover for their insecurities and lack of will to become mature and responsible. Today, we are connected on Facebook and exchange messages from time to time. I do not regret the split 20 years ago. I got to meet different people and developed new fulfilling relationships.

>In a way, to put it bluntly, they’re not usefull to me.

(yes, I know this was the author quoting /someone else/ but I think the rest of the article was saying something very similar, albeit in a much more tactful way.)

Huh. I guess I have a similar exploitive attitude, but it drives me in the opposite direction. Having poor friends is /incredibly useful/ - need help moving but don't want to reciprocate? call up your highschool buddy who works at home depot. He'll be happy to help you out for a few bucks. It's only weird if you make it weird.

I've always kind of gravitated towards people who are smarter than I am, so my highschool buddies were an awesome recruiting ground. People who are smart but work cr-p jobs because they lack the social skills or confidence to advance make great employees for your small side businesses. And the great thing about that is I'm helping my friend while I'm exploiting him or her. Most of the people I've hired in this manner have gone on to get "real jobs" after gaining experience working for me.

Of course, all this is predicated on your ability to live a different lifestyle from your friends, and being willing to fire a friend. Never hire anyone you can't fire. On the other hand, if you loose a friend every time you fire someone, you are doing it wrong.

How incredibly self-obsessed and shallow.

I guess this is usual for the kind of material that comes from Sebastian.

There need be no mystery why the poor have such irrational loathing for the middle and middle-upper class when you witness this kind of attitude.

Part of being better person and an exemplar is to improve without an attendant increase in ego.

Humility and sincerity are critical virtues to have as a whole person.

Your comment is an incredibly offensive and judgemental thing to say to someone that you told don't know.

Just because he has different goals than his friends and is honest about the fact that they are helping him achieve doesn't mean he is "self-obsessed and shallow" and lacking in "humility and sincerity".

His friends who know him in person can and will judge him for the person he is.

Did you write this because you have some kind of preconceptions based on people you know?

His words are self-obsessed and shallow. I am expressing my thoughts in the hope that those words don't fairly describe his character. Maybe I can make him aware of his behavior before he starts buying into his own bullshit even more.

>His friends who know him in person can and will judge him for the person he is.

Or they'll stick around in the hopes of getting beer money for mowing his lawn.

>Did you write this because you have some kind of preconceptions based on people you know?


Just seeing this thread now. It's off the main page, so maybe no one's reading it any more, but -

> How incredibly self-obsessed and shallow. I guess this is usual for the kind of material that comes from Sebastian.

Man, you responded 14 times to this thread, mostly all with really nasty stuff like this. I appreciate that a few people replied to you, but I gotta say - man, this can't possibly be the best use of your time, can it?

Okay, you don't like me/my writings. I mean, that's fine, that's your prerogative. But 14 replies? Jeez dude...

so... it is better to watch your friends continue to work in the sandwich shop than to hire them to work on a tech project at below market (but above sandwich shop) wages?

I dono about you, but I'd rather be "used" and get the job with opportunities for advancement (and higher wages) I can count several people who were in this position who now make a good bit more money than I do.

edit: to be clear, I don't think I'm better than people I've hired. I am more confident, to be sure, but that's something other people value. I don't value confidence very much at all ( I have perhaps more of that than I'd like. But other people eat it up, so why not?)

Nearly all my friends are smarter than I am. (I'm not saying that people who are more intelligent are /better people,/ but it's a better standard than money.) and besides that, no competent manager hires people who are not better than he is (or who can not shortly be made better than he is.)

Hell, even if you keep score with money, several of the people who have worked for me in the past now make more than I do, and a few make more money than I would be able to make if I was working for someone else.

You're missing the point. Both you and Sebastian are tragically self-centered. You shouldn't even be entertaining the thoughts you're having, if you had an ounce of decency.

Friends treat each other as equals even when they aren't. This is a lesson I've had to learn and seeing the flip-side, I'm damned glad I did.

I'll take humility and genuine friendship. Blogging crassly about how great I am and how hard it is to be so much better than the people I know is obscene.

If you lack the discretion and discernment to recognize the vulgarity of this, then we have no common ground and can leave it at that.

Would my actions be "tragically self-centered" or "crass" if I did the same to people I did not know previously? Are you saying that hiring people and turning a profit from their labor is inherently evil? or is that only so when there is a pre-existing relationship?

edit: moved this from another comment of mine, as it really is a response to the "crass and vulgar" statement:

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not as refined as most people here. You could certainly call me vulgar, in most senses of the word. I certainly lack good breeding and taste. I never went to college.[1] Hell, I spent half my childhood in a mobile home park.

But I don't see what's wrong with offering someone a better job than they had before, even if that someone is friend or family, even if I turn a profit on the deal.

[1]I am both proud and ashamed that I didn't go to college. Proud, because I am able to earn a middle-class salary without going to school, but also ashamed because to be truthful, I didn't go because I couldn't cut it. My math is pretty abysmal, and there's no way I have the willpower to hold down a full-time job /and/ do homework, and that is something to be ashamed about.


Alnayyir isn't criticizing your desire to hire a friend. He is saying that the entire topic is judgmental and crass since it starts from an assumption of superiority over others. And I respectfully agree.

If the defining quality of friendship is wishing the best for others, it is hardly an act of friendship to think about one's friends in this fashion ("how can I dump them", "how can I exploit them"). The very possibility is paradoxical: how could a genuinely good person do anything but help his friends to the utmost of his ability? It is your conflating friendship with other dynamics that is being criticized, not your giving someone a job.

> how could a genuinely good person possibly wish to stop helping others, or not help them to the utmost of his ability?

The point I was attempting to make was that quite often, helping those who are not as good as you are at making money can be profitable for all involved. Hell, even from a "help the most people" point of view, finding a job with a path for advancement for a person is doing a lot more good than giving them resources. Even avoiding the issue of the recipient's self-worth, if I give away resources, I will eventually run out, but if I make money off helping people? that scales.

Perhaps what I should have said was: "If you feel that your friends are holding you back, you are doing it wrong."

the thing of it is, I believe statements like "person x is better than person y" are largely without content without context. I mean, if we are talking about money, you can say "Person X is better at making money than Person Y" and that makes sense, or "person X is better at lifting weights than person Y" or even "person X is better at writing essays without coming off like an arrogant asshole than person Y" -

I don't know if it was the authors intent or not, but I read this essay as "I am better at making money than my friends, and this is causing some of my relationships to end."

This is wholly accurate.

Thank you, I didn't have the patience to sway someone who seemed hell-bent on misinterpreting what I was saying.



Do you believe that you can not have a friendship when there are economic factors at play? That is an understandable belief, though I disagree, and if you believe that, the rest of what you said makes sense; in your mind I would be throwing away a friendship when I hired a friend. Of course, that's not what I believe, but that would explain our disagreement.

    Friends treat each other as equals even 
    when they aren't. This is a lesson I've 
    had to learn and seeing the flip-side, 
    I'm damned glad I did.
I can see how you might have that criticism about the linked article, but where in lsc's post did he ever write or imply that he isn't treating his friends as equals?

I assume from this - one of the earlier comments by lsc:

    Having poor friends is /incredibly useful/ - need help moving but don't want to reciprocate? call up your highschool buddy who works at home depot. He'll be happy to help you out for a few bucks. 
Though to be fair, it depends on what both of them mean by friend.

I think overall his post was spot on. There is an old saying that goes along the lines that 'you are the average of the 5 closest people to you.' This means if all your closest friends are losers you'll likely be a loser too. It's not mean or egotistical to recognize that people you spend the most time with do in fact influence you.

It's also a good thing to remove friends that are holding you back. Sports stars probably need to do more of this. They become famous, make a lot of money, but keep hanging out with the friends from 'the hood' and end up all sorts of trouble.

Another good example are people who lose a lot of weight. Whether on purpose or not their friends often hold them back. Losing all her friends was the hardest thing a friend of mine had to deal with when she finally decided to lose weight and get in shape.

Gads, what obnoxious, egotistical drivel.

Is there any way we can get a Sebastian Marshall / Tim Ferris filter on Hacker News?

I suddenly had the desire to smoke some weed and play tekken my buddies after I read his post

Same here.

I can really relate to this post a lot. While I have feelings of being sort of a dick when I come to terms with this, it is completely true.

I don't really hang out with a lot of startup people (perhaps I need to). But mostly it is because I really need a break from the scene sometimes. However, my only friends in the area are the same friends I had in high school who aren't doing a whole lot with their lives. It is frustrating to say the least.

Just tonight I got text messages from my friends telling me they drunkenly ran in my ex-girlfriend and are all having a great time out at the bars. Meanwhile, I'm sitting programming stuff into the night trying to make a business that could ultimately fail. But I'm learning a lot. Sure, I'm living in near-poverty. But I'm overall really enjoying myself -- even if it is quite lonely.

In a way, it is motivating. On the other hand, it bums me out quite a bit.

I can sympathize. Right there with you buddy.

This is a better attitude to take to the matter.

Just keep working, don't blog about how great you are on the blog whose main purpose is to tell other people about how great you are.

What kind of stuff do you work on? (I'm a programmer as well)


I'm creating a consumer/social polling website set to launch in about a week or so. On a consumer level it is basic. But we're going to offer advanced reporting, etc for bigger brands to connect with Twitter followers / Facebook friends, website visitors, etc.

If anyone would like beta access, feel free to shoot me an email in my profile.


Dude, this is Sebastian Marshall, one of the great strategists of our time. He specializes in winning and communicating the art of winning through his blog.

Now to the untrained eye, his posts may come across as the work of a delusional, narcissistic windbag, but if you look deeper, you'll find that with his hectic schedule it's amazing that he has time to write at all. Between fighting off Asian gangsters with high-powered kung fu kicks and hosting charity events for hospitals whose name he misremembers, he still finds the energy to offer priceless career guidance and moral support to patio11. Soak up his wisdom, so that you too may learn the entrepreneur strategies of the winning scientist.

As an aside, I would love to read more about his science. I've learned so much about strategy and entrepreneurship and winning from him, but not much yet about science. Please write about your science, Scientist Sebastian, so that I may seek to improve my own science, which has hitherto proven most unfruitful.

Extremely disappointing to see so many upvotes on such a mean-spirited comment by an anonymous user who has contributed to HN a fraction of what Sebastian has, in terms of time and karma. I understand that some people might disagree with what Sebastian has to say, but there are constructive ways to do so. Sarcastic, anonymous, ad hominem attacks like these are probably fun to write, but they hasten the downfall of a wonderful community. So thanks for that.

PS - I've gotten to know Sebastian over the last few months and he's proven to be a genuinely good person who wants to learn how to be better and help others do the same. It's sad to see people lashing out at him for that.

Sebastian's blog strikes me as intensely arrogant, self-centered and tasteless. Like others, I'm sure, I have my doubts about the truthfulness of some passages from his blog such as the following:

"I got into a shouting match protecting some McDonald’s employees from a mob boss in Hong Kong. A riot cop came to break it up, I was almost in a fight with three mafia guys.

I had two guys try to mug me the other day in a dangerous area. Bad mistake, doubled one of them over with a kick the stomach and shouted at the other one, “YOU WANT TO DIE? BACK DOWN, STAY BACK.” He did, he let me walk away while his criminal buddy was doubled over."

Even if every word of the above were true, which I doubt, it wouldn't impress me. It just makes me think the guy is stupid. The post bragging that he'll be making 250k/month in 10 years was similarly in-your-face, yet uninspiring. Ditto for the comparison of "high born" and "low born" people. Other posts push credulity in similar ways and give me the sense he's a runaway narcissist.

Honestly, I don't have a problem reading really odd stuff if there's enough value to take from it. One example would be Steve Pavlina's blog. I have little to no interest in new age philosophy and some of his posts come across as downright nutty. But they're thought provoking, though. Many of the earlier posts on online business and a wider set of personal development topics were solid gold. I rarely feel like it's wasted time to read that blog, even when I disagree with it.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Sebastian's blog or so-called "get victory" newsletter. Thus far, I haven't found a single article that's genuinely helped me (a high bar, I know). There isn't nearly enough substance to offset the obnoxious tone. Until he actually is a VC with all kinds of internet properties, making 250k/month, a lot of people just won't be interested in reading about his opinions, goals or tall tales.

As I said, I don't know the guy. He could very well be a great guy to hang around with, especially with his interest in self-improvement. Maybe if I did know him offline as you do, I'd have a greater appreciation for his blog. This comment isn't meant as a personal attack. It's a rationale for why I agree with zuckerborg's comment and why HN would be a better place without a constant stream of victory spam.

I can understand why you'd be skeptical - most people are unwilling to put themselves in harm's way to break up a fight, protect people around them, or explore the slums of a city to understand more about the development of humanity.

I do do those things. I don't know exactly what to tell you if you want to doubt that - there was a guy yelling and spitting on the floor of the Tsim Sha Tsui McDonald's in the late night/early morning, yelling at the staff. He was with two of his buddies. I told him to knock it off. Shouting match ensued.

I've had three attempts to mug me in my life - once in Shanghai, once in London, and once in Saigon.

You can dislike me - that's your call - but I dunno man, I don't say things that are untrue.

> Thus far, I haven't found a single article that's genuinely helped me

That's too bad. You've obviously been around my site a fair bit, and I do try to make it of value to a visitor. I cover lots of stuff that a lot of people have found useful - what are you trying to do exactly? What have you tried that I've written/advocated on that didn't work for you?

Sorry it's taken so long to notice your comment. It definitely deserves a reply.

Here's what I'm really interested in:

Languages: I've put a great deal of time into Japanese and Mandarin, some into Taiwanese, Cantonese and Spanish and a little into several others. I love language learning and I'm pretty confident in getting started with new ones, but I'm still not that confident in bridging the gap from very advanced to near-native. I don't come to HN looking for help with this.

Drawing: I've recently gotten really into sketching, but HN isn't for that either.

Programming: I've done bits on an off for 10 years, but have no real experience beyond simple scripts, a FF plugin and a couple of simple flash games. Resources for various programming things come up on here on occasion and I love them.

Business: I was partner in a small business in Taiwan for a few years. This whet my entrepreneurial appetite, and I'm very interested in stories about how founders or managers of successful business got started, overcame obstacles, etc. Mixergy is one of my favorite sites that comes up on here. Maybe this is something you could share (if you haven't already). I seem to remember you mentioning in passing that you ran a company. Personal stories (rather than opinions about things not so related to tech or business) would be interesting to me.

Fitness: Have you ever run a sub 3 hour marathon? Maybe gotten your bench over 350? Limbered to the point where you can do the splits? Trained to where you can dunk a basketball (if you're under 185cm). All those kind of things would be interesting to read about.

Resources: Found a great FF (or Chrome) plugin? A useful reference for something programming related? Share them!

News: First and foremost, I come to this site for news. It probably wouldn't fit well with your blog, but if there's something you've created or you want to share your progress on something, that might be interesting. Even something like the 250k/month goal would be interesting and possibly educational if you've made progress towards it that surpasses the norm.

Hope the feedback is constructive, even if it's not the most pleasant thing to see!

>What have you tried that I've written/advocated on that didn't work for you?

You're missing the point. You're handing out advice with no demonstrable expertise on...anything.

You don't discuss anything that requires talent, intellect, experience, or domain knowledge. You write about things you pull out of your head or other content you Tom Sawyered other people into collating for you.

Speaking of "content", that neuroplasticity and habits post is a travesty.

Your whole blog is so thoroughly preoccupied with your person that I can only think you are suffocating on the fumes of your own alternate reality.

In brief you are:

1. Without demonstrated accomplishment

2. Arrogant

3. The only thing you're superlative in is narcissism

4. Giving out advice to deluded hopefuls who want to have a site about nothing and to be paid for zero productivity and not work a day more of their lives than they have to.

People with work to do, work they love, they don't need people like you.

Bonus time! Since people don't seem to get it yet, I've taken the liberty of making an annotated version of the front page of his 'blog'.


With that, I'm done chasing this matter. I am exhausted with battling this banality.


In brief, and only because vicious attacks on writers I enjoy just rubs me wrong:

1. It is not Sebastian's duty to demonstrate his accomplishments to you.

2. Arrogant? If you hate yourself so much that you can't stand a person with ambition and grand intentions, that's your problem. I'll take Sebastian's "arrogance" over your condescending "objective criticism" any day.

3. On what basis can you say this?

4. I spend my entire LIFE working to build things to help fix the problems in the world. I enjoy reading Sebastian because he writes about doing the same. And from what I can tell, he is one of the hardest working and honestly self-critical writers on the internet.

> People with work to do, work they love, they don't need people like you.

Sebastian hasn't asked anything of you. He's a valued contributor around here for a great number of reasons, and has found a writing style that resonates with many around here. If it doesn't resonate with you, that's fine. We're all in a different place. But there's no cause or excuse for this type of attack. As Sebastian points out below, 17 posts? That is a bit scary. Remember, beneath the posts and karma there's real human beings around here, some of the smartest on the internet, and they all deserve a measure respect, regardless of your thoughts on the value they provide the world for free. What exactly are you trying to prove, and to whom?

> 4. Giving out advice to deluded hopefuls who want to have a site about nothing and to be paid for zero productivity and not work a day more of their lives than they have to.

Chris -

1. You've replied seventeen times to this thread, pretty much all negative and nasty. 17.

2. Now you're taking screenshots and drawing on them in a thread no one's looking any more. We're getting into borderline stalking territory.

3. You've apparently never read beyond a surface reading of my site, where I've always advocated really hard work and doing more through doing right by and serving other people.

4. I've achieved pretty high levels of professional success, mastery in hobbies/skills/disciplines, and other things. But hell, even if I hadn't, it still wouldn't put you in a position to

5. Please stop your borderline stalking. You're at 17 replies already here, and it's honestly getting to the point where it's scaring me. There's lots of important things in the world you could be working on, building, fixing, or improving - there's no possible way this is worth the entire hours of your life you've spent here.

>HN would be a better place without a constant stream of victory spam.

A beer on me if we're ever in the same city. I was starting to think I was alone in fighting the good fight.

That was one of the worst comments I've read on HN in a while -- like a week or so. Seems like the time periods between exceptional dirtbags posting keeps getting smaller and smaller.

I think there is a difference between somebody that is easy to criticize and somebody that should be criticized. Sebastian is easy to criticize, mainly because he has such an open and friendly style. I like what's he doing with his blog.

When you're 15 and still in school it's common for insecure people to pick on somebody who stands out -- for any reason. Hopefully this was just some pimply-faced teenager in his mom's basement and not part of a general trend towards easy sarcasm.

And yeah, all the upvotes bother me more than the one jerk.

I think this comment has explained a lot about why people don't mind Sebastian here.

It seems that his friendliness covers for the tasteless egotism and arrogance. (The tastelessness of his blog alone is something I could make a 5-page long The Oatmeal'ish infographic about.)

I guess people here are extremely charitable as long as you don't express any negativity or criticism.

This board is supposed to have started as a place for hackers to hang out and talk about startup and hacker stuff. Most times, startups don't pan out. The odds are against you, the culture is against you, the only thing you have going for yourself is your ability to dig in and keep going.

Why would we express negativity and criticism for what somebody else considers valuable enough to do? Caution, honest critique, our own experiences, encouragement? Sure. Even tell folks they are smoking crack if that's what you think -- just do it like you would to a friend, not like you're hiding behind a wall of internet anonymity and trying to see how snarky you can be.

I'm the first person to tell people I think what they are saying is messed up. Hopefully I do so by asking them to explain themselves, rather than trying to beat them down with words and then climb on top as the victor. That kind of behavior is petty juvenile bullshit and lowers the conversation and board quality overall.

We're supposed to be helping each other, not proving who can make the cutest joke, snarkiest comment, or most glib putdown.

If the conversation becomes whether somebody is "worthy" enough to do X, you can count me out.

I'm sorry, what has Sebastian hacked on lately?

Lets look at a list of recent subjects on his blog.

Letter: Gaming and Reading

Letter: New Year’s Resolutions

The Neurosis of Long Term Habit Change

Comment: “The Last Blow to Human Hegemony”

A Transformative Power of Perspective

On Improving When Your Friends Aren’t

Unorthodox Strategies for Winning

Comment: “There is more to it than just the choice of whether to ship. There is also whether you even get something ship-worthy made.”

Some Side Upgrades

Studying Patience

Twitter? Yes indeed

I don't think he's the kind of person we need to be worried about giving moral support.

We need to be encouraging productive people into doing more for themselves and their careers, not cheering on charlatans.

Sebastian has given me personal advice that I consider incredibly valuable, and has changed my plans in the coming year.

Just saying.

Also, I take small issue with this:

> We need to be encouraging productive people into doing more for themselves and their careers,

That's pretty much what Sebastian does, isn't it?

>Sebastian has given me personal advice that I consider incredibly valuable, and has changed my plans in the coming year.

Was this advice on his blog or was it offline? If was offline in person, it doesn't really have anything to do with the utility of the blog. Hopefully, nobody is attacking Sebastian the person. Seeing as how the vocal defenders of the site know the person, maybe it's worth considering that Sebastian the person colors your view of sebastianmarshall.com. Possibly it's why you don't find it as obnoxious as so many others do.

Hopefully, nobody is attacking Sebastian the person...

cheering on charlatans...

Kind of hard to call somebody a charlatan without attacking them as a person, isn't it?

That was a pretty clipped quotation. I didn't even see it as specific to Sebastian in my quick reading of alnayyir's comment. I suspect taking the entire sentence wouldn't have served your rhetorical purposes so well.

Setting aside that issue, I suppose the answer depends on your values. Obviously there's a connection. If you do terrible things online, you're probably not a great person. That said, I for one see it entirely possible for a blogger to be full of BS and false bravado when online, but a perfectly fine person in the real world. In fact, I don't think it's uncommon.

Nobody is trying to win an argument here.

My take on this thread is that it is a personal attack on Sebastian. That's why I commented.

I don't know Sebastian (although we're "friends" on FB), I don't read his blog as much as some, and I have no interest in either defending him or protecting him. He's a big guy and can take care of himself.

But if you don't like a post -- don't upvote it. If you have a problem with a certain type of blog article -- complain about it in general terms. If you think there are charlatans among us eager to prey on the innocent, then say so -- but do it in a neutral manner. This isn't rocket science. This is just the basic skills of how to get along with other people.

You can tell a thread is off the rails the minute somebody starts talking personally about somebody else. It's a sign that they have a weak argument and are more interested in scoring points than making a critique. There's no happy ending: if folks come on and say the person is nice, others will accuse them of having a clique mentality. If others come on and agree, it's just some random internet mob lashing out for whatever reason -- not an attractive thing to watch.

So let's not do that, okay? If you're saying that all these comments and upvotes were actually people just objecting to the blog and not the person, then I believe you. I personally didn't take it that way at all, but I believe what you are saying to be true. All I ask is that you take a look at this from another viewpoint.

And I'm done here. I have no intention of kicking this can down the road any more. If you don't get it by now, you're not going to get it.

>My take on this thread is that it is a personal attack on Sebastian. That's why I commented.

Wrongo, as far as I'm concerned.

Want to know why I'm in this thread?

>HN would be a better place without a constant stream of victory spam.

Personally motivated and predicated upon a total misunderstanding of what I'm striving for. Not the first time I've had this problem with you.


The last quote isn't intended to be of you, and the last statement isn't in reference to the last quote.

I emailed him, thanking him for one of his blog posts though I found insightful.

In my culture, a refined critique is something to savored like wine. Careful skepticism is favored over blind boosterism as well.

I am going to guess that you were raised in a more typically middle-class American manner.

> but they hasten the downfall of a wonderful community. So thanks for that.

Melodrama. You should know better than that.

In my culture, a refined critique is something to savored like wine. Careful skepticism is favored over blind boosterism as well.

The comment I was replying to was neither a refined critique nor an example of careful skepticism. Whether you agree with Sebastian isn't the point at all; comments like the one that zuckerborg made do absolutely nothing to raise the level of discourse. Which is probably why the HN guidelines are clear on this point:

Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation.

When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names. E.g. "That is an idiotic thing to say; 1 + 1 is 2, not 3" can be shortened to "1 + 1 is 2, not 3."

PG has said elsewhere that one kind of bad comment he tries to keep a lid on is meanness. I don't see any way that zuckerborg's comment wouldn't qualify, as it was aimed at the author's character, rather than this particular essay or argument.

I am going to guess that you were raised in a more typically middle-class American manner.

Finally, thanks for this jab at my (obviously inferior) background. It's always nice when someone you've never met or spoken to feels the urge to make assumptions about your character and intellect from a few sentences you wrote on a forum.

Maybe mattmaroon was right about HN.

>comments like the one that zuckerborg made do absolutely nothing to raise the level of discourse

I disagree, I think he artfully illustrated why some people find blogs like Sebastian's so repugnant. In doing so, he even managed to run down a laundry list of reasons.

Wasn't poorly written, either. Would you share an example of how better to express what zuckerborg wrote?

>And thanks for the jab at my (obviously inferior) background.

Inferior? I grew up in poverty. I haven't really seen this kind of behavior outside of the American middle-class.

That is, the blind boosterism that is a plague here. Not to mention the rampant Me-Blogs that get posted and cheered here, absent substance.

I'm exercising a great deal of restraint, too.

Your intellect and character aren't at question here, it's your aesthetics. Stop looking for an excuse to feel indignant, you don't have one.

Don't paste me the guidelines, you just got done decrying the "Fall of HN", something that PG has chastised people for in the past. Don't add hypocrisy to your involvement in this discussion.

>Maybe mattmaroon was right about HN.

Cut the meta bullshit and sideways complaining.

Do you care so little for sobriety and humility that you would defend a "blog" like Sebastian's?

Ad Hominem Day isn't until next Tuesday.

>Ad Hominem

That doesn't mean what you think it means.

You can add he submitted a post for me to HN that got 20k views to that list. I know you are being sarcastic, but I can confirm that he at least done that one thing, and for me that is amazing.

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