Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

From Bukowski's Factotum...

"If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It's the only good fight there is."

Wow, I'm kind of surprised at all the "Woah, so inspiring!" comments. This is the kind of cultish "advice" that results in boatloads of jaded, isolated folks. It's shitty advice for 2 reasons:

1. First, most people who follow the "only follow your passion" advice WILL fail, so not only will they have lost their "girlfriends, wives, relatives", etc., but they'll feel the dejection of it not being successful.

2. More importantly, and this is really my main point, but I think most people who follow this advice and succeed will find it is a pyrrhic victory. When you've reached what you thought was they pinnacle of your success, but you look around and you see you've burned most of your bridges to get there, it turns out to be a very lonely place.

I think the vast majority of people will find that if they give appropriate attention to their self care and their relationships, it will make achieving their goals easier, not the other way around.

I don't think he means that you have to follow your "passion" per se, but just to put effort into whatever you're doing, make big leaps, compromise yourself, and fail a lot.

"If you're going to try, go all the way."

This is beautiful. This is my experience as a 30 year serial start-up man.

When I say to myself - "I will do whatever it takes to make this work" vs. "We'll see what happens" these have always been two distinct universes in terms of the journey.

"Whatever it takes" is always a nightmare filled with anxiety and stress, but the second attitude - I've rarely experienced any kind of real success with.

Both journeys are pain. The first is racked with anxiety and obsession the second is mostly fear and indecision.

The end state of both is relief. But "We'll see what happens" most always ends with some form of regret - perhaps I didn't do something I could have. Woulda coulda shoulda. And then it's over.

"I'll do whatever it takes" is always a crazy ride towards an unknown destination, has cost me far more than I anticipated, and the rewards are never what I predicted to begin with. But it's this universe I rarely regret (and reportedly those that were along for the ride with me).

So yeah, "If you're going to try, go all the way" resonates strongly with me.

Beautifully put, thanks for taking the time to write it.

It's also a perfect summary of why I'm struggling mightily with working a predictable job (that anyone should love) vs working on my next business or other volatile pursuit.

I need to get Go All The Way tattooed on my forehead. I hope it's a mindset I have the courage to maintain for the rest of my life.

So what does your user name mean? Was it still a lottery and not the result of going all out?

Bukowski may have said, "If you're going to try, go all the way," but Bukowski's tombstone reads, "Don't try." Bukowski spent most of his life as non-functioning alcoholic, a lifestyle which is unenviable even in the slightly-romanticized form he presents in his writings. If you ever want to watch something truly unpleasant, pull up YouTube and watch him berate his wife on public television (possibly drunk). Bukowski was insightful on a lot of things, but his life doesn't look like a happy one to me, and I'd be cautious about taking life advice from him.

I did and gosh, my life is not where it should be, but I don't want to learn from this guy: https://youtu.be/EJmQHT_HLOo

That link isn't to the interview where he yells at his future[1] wife.

However, I think if you linked the actual interview, it would be inappropriate according to HN's content standards: Bukowski uses some very colorful language.

[1] I was slightly incorrect in my previous post, she wasn't his wife yet at the time of the interview.

I'm pretty damned sure that the tombstone advice means "Don't try ... do!" (As I recall, that was a line in a popular movie. Taking poets literally is risky.) IOW, 'go all the way' is not like a new-year's resolution.

Bukowski spent most of his life being Bukowski. Better results than the post-office position. Beats the great, grey middle all to hell.

> Bukowski spent most of his life being Bukowski. Better results than the post-office position. Beats the great, grey middle all to hell.

For us it's great, we get Bukowski. For Bukowski, it seems less enjoyable.

I believe most of you are missing the point. Bukowski was arguing this in favor of doing something you truly feel passionate about regardless of whether it succeeds or not. The philosophy doesn't work well for highly specific, practical-minded goals of an emotionally ambiguous nature: If you really want to be an artist that gets his paintings on display in the met, but see that you're not getting anywhere with it, you can easily let go and move onto something else. The important thing however is that if you have a wider, more fundamental dream (say to simply live for your art and experiment with it as long as you have the faculties to do so) for which you can spend your life struggling and be happy with the process itself, despite frustrations, then you can try different practical paths to success, experiment flexibly with them as needed but take sheer pleasure in knowing that the all-in journey was worth it even if some specific ideal destination wasn't reached. Considering it this way takes survivorship bias, luck and low probabilities into consideration but with an awareness that even if they might sideline you, the overall effort was simply how you wanted to spend your life.

It's not often that I find myself wanting to quote Cavafy:

    When you depart for Ithaca,
    wish for the road to be long,
    full of adventure, full of knowledge.
    Don't fear the Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
    the angry Poseidon.

Whatever dream or wish you have, sooner or later, whether "successful" or "failed" by whatever measure, you realize that you've reached its bounds. Please don't reduce his words to pursuing something material, because it's much more than that, as hinted by:

> You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter.

If you say I reduced his words to pursuing something material than you've misunderstood my point. In the most basic sense of us all having to make use of a material world to achieve anything over the course of a lifetime, then yes, all pursuits are material in some way. Beyond that however I was simply using a specific example to explain that a more fundamental understanding of what Bukowski was saying can take into account things like survivorship bias and the danger of completely impractical dreams being pursued too far while still being coherent advice about how one should live their life. This is to pursue a larger meta-dream through practical, flexible steps and never give up because the meta-dream you've chosen fulfills you spiritually in the simple pursuit. It thus does this regardless of success or failure and specific hardships. You ride life to perfect laughter because you've chosen your fundamental calling knowing its cost and sacrifices.

This is the "never give up" fallacy, a sort of magical thinking in our times. But sometimes giving up is the smart thing to do. You rarely hear anyone emphasise that though, due to survivor bias.

I agree with tagirb that Bukowski was talking about a different thing. But I wanted to expand on the "never give up" issue, even if it might be slightly out of topic.

Giving up doesn't sound sexy. It's definitely something everyone should learn, but hey, maybe we aren't "selling" the concept well enough.

In my experience, in most cases where you have to give up, what you really have to do is to stop trying to achieve a certain abstract goal through a certain specific method. Not renounce to the goal, the drive, the passion itself, but renounce to the methods, the rigid views you might hold.

Maybe you want to write great songs, but you are failing because you are just trying to repeat something similar to what your favourite artist already did. Maybe you want to get better grades, but are just re-reading the lessons, expecting something to stick, when you are not even focusing on it or trying to understand the previous lessons that lead to the current one. Maybe you want to jump a 2 meter fence, but you are just running against it, without ever having tried with smaller ones first.

It's never so simple, but this is the main point.

Sometimes we have to face reality. In many cases, the only thing we need to give up is our naive views and past mistakes. Some people will repeat the same mistake over and over and call that "trying really hard". Sorry, but no. Trying really hard is not that. Trying really hard is being able to let go your naivety, to keep exploring alternatives, to keep learning, and learning, and failing, and going back and retry in a different way.

[and this is still not what you were talking about]

For me this "never give up" does not mean fighting through this life, it means "never give up on yourself", on that sparkle in your eyes, on your inner smile, on the light inside you, call it however you want.

Go all the way with it, don't trade yourself for whatever "benefits" offered to you, well, by your own mind, first of all.

Once you're out of _that_ slavery, then you're truly free wherever you are and whatever you do.

That’s why we’ve rebranded it as pivoting.

And more: people who write stuff like this (from experience) are usually the lucky ones with hindsight bias.

Similar but different I think is also walking away, if it is just a situation you don't want to be in or negative I think it is effective to just cut it off hard and come back later

I must be too cynical for this. Seems like the sort of slogan MLM people could have.

I like to imagine a tribal villages before civilization went into overdrive. That’s the lifestyle humans originally adapted to. I imagine that in the village, there are niched personalities. One guy is way spiritual and offers guidance and spiritual support. Another is a warrior spirit, always eager to conquer and to gain more resources for his village. A third is the carpenter. Society today must accommodate these same people types, or they’ll feel out of place. It’s okay if you (like me) don’t respond to the Don Quixote type narrative; I think it sounds naive, but it’s always easy to be a critic.

Tribal villages like constant strife and either going all-in Spartan with daily military drill or else getting swallowed and seeing all you love die and get savagely raped? The ancients had it hard and we have it really, really easy with our peaceful freedoms.

Is this comment historically accurate? How often are lands conquered? I think not, to what you say. Also, this only accomodates the last ~3000 years of human history. Before the agricultural revolution, humans lived a very different life as apex predators. It was not until we can grow and store crops that armies could exist.

It’s not. Even in their own time, the Spartan bullshit was a myth pushed by themselves. Some civilizations such as the Chumash in what is now Los Angeles worked as little as 8 hours per week in order to survive.

> Some civilizations such as the Chumash in what is now Los Angeles worked as little as 8 hours per week in order to survive.

What was their life expectancy?

It makes more sense to me to calculate how much total free time they had compared to now. So even if they lived to be only 40-50 years old they would still have more freedom in hours/days than the modern worker.

I worked remotely for a whole year and it was 100x better than working in an office. I can only imagine what only working 8 hours a week is like.

> It makes more sense to me to calculate how much total free time they had compared to now.

You won't have much free time if you and your family can only aspire to reach the ripe old age of 30, if you manage to be the lucky ones who are lucky on the infant mortality lotto.

> You won't have much free time if you and your family can only aspire to reach the ripe old age of 30

That was never the case though; ancient societies had much lower life expectancy at birth because they were very likely to die in early childhood. People who made it to adulthood, sure, didn't live as long as today on average, but the difference is much smaller than life expectancy at birth numbers would suggest. You seem to recognize the high infant mortality, but not understand how it affects the other stats like life expectancy at birth.

Their mortality rates were 100%, as are ours. Their life expectancy was infinitesimally small relative to the eternity they'll be dead for, as are ours.

> Their mortality rates were 100%, as are ours.

You're desperately trying to avoid the question. Their free time doesn't mean anything if they die in their 30s while living a life where they are forced to endure famines and the deaths of loved ones for avoidable problems such as lack of medical care.

Life is suffering, this is ancient wisdom, and an absolute. Serfs suffer. Billionaires suffer. Ants suffer. We suffer in a variety of different ways, but nothing changes the fact that we suffer. Talking about our ancestors like their lives were exclusively miserable is like pitying kids in the 80s because their video games weren't as good, it's ridiculous. They just played different games. There's nothing meaningful here to measure quantitatively, it's all a matter of perception.

> There's nothing meaningful here to measure quantitatively

Yes, there is - their age.

I'm must be out of the loop, because I've never met a dead person who is the least bit upset that they're dead. It's only the living who freak out about it, and they aren't even qualified to have an opinion on the matter.

Cool, nihilism it is. Nothing matters, everything is awful, and we're all just dead flesh anyways.

That's silly - otherwise we can rationalize infant death as a perfectly acceptable length of time to live.

Didn't Sparta lost quite a few fights? For all the myths,they were not succesfull at creating imperium.

Or not sufficiently cynical. What you describe sounds run of the mill caution


Is this a serious comment? Wagecuck? Really?

What is your criticism? Working for someone else? Not everyone can own a business.

A person who makes a good wage and carves out a life for themselves is successful by any metric. As far as erections, I hope when you reach the twilight years you will have more on your mind than getting hard.

>A person who makes a good wage and carves out a life for themselves is successful by any metric.

Just not by the metrics discussed in TFA, which is the whole point. It's not like everybody agrees that "a good wage" is success.

Some suggested edits to your comment:

wagecuck -> working stiff

when you can no longer maintain an erection -> when you are past the prime of your life

With these simple substitutions you can once again sound like a reasonable human being who is not overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery.

>With these simple substitutions you can once again sound like a reasonable human being who is not overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery.

Considering that we're discussing a Bukowski letter (who was "overly fixated on unnecessary crude sexual imagery" and proud of it), this is not necessarily advisable.

It sounds like a suggestion for the parent to "empty out" and adopt the officially tolerated sensitivity/language, lest some office drones be outraged.

I don't see anything in TFA that says being a wage slave is equivalent to someone sleeping with your spouse and that the implied appropriate response is to be hyper "masculine" for some definition thereof. But this is dripping in the parent comment and when I google "wagecuck" that is the kind of misplaced anger I see from a lot of apparent confused kids, many identifying with alt-right, alpha male or incel culture. It is anger and paranoia. I don't know Bukowski's work well but I sort of doubt that is what he was about.

"too cynical for Bukowski", that's a good motto :)

Reads like an ad for a potent drug, written by an addict. Add survivorship bias to a good measure.

How does survivorship bias apply here? He’s practically laying out a tautology: if you are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal, you’ll beat out everyone else purely due to attrition.

You’re saying that only seems true because people who succeed repeat it?

I feel like survivorship bias is more about obscure tricks that happen to work well for a random group of people who happened to succeed. No?

But that's nonsense. Even if I gave up everything today to practice basketball every waking moment for the rest of my life, I'm not going to be an NBA star. Some dreams simply can't come true for some people and can for others.

> Some dreams simply can't come true for some people and can for others.


The text reads like a lottery winner praising the virtues of spending all their savings on lottery tickets just because he got lucky. Will and determination alone are not relevant if the main factor -- opportunity -- is out of our control and might never materialize.

Yes of course you need to start with a goal that will still be physically possible after 20 years of trying.

I’m not claiming that magic exists, that’s a straw man.

> How does survivorship bias apply here?

Because he got lucky. No, sacrificing everything for the goal does not always get you the goal. There's 1,000 Bukowskis out there, many better, and we'll never hear of them.

Sometimes you waste it all, and then you're supposed to look back and say, "Well, at least I gave it my all, and I just had bad luck." Yeah, that's really fucking comforting.

> Sometimes you waste it all, and then you're supposed to look back and say, "Well, at least I gave it my all, and I just had bad luck." Yeah, that's really fucking comforting.

It's about intrinsic vs extrinsic rewards. For him, writing poetry was a reward in itself, and he didn't see himself joining the standard nine-to-five society anyway. So, even if he had failed after 40 years of writing during evenings and weekends, he wouldn't have any regrets. Of course, if someone does say startups just to get rich, and hates every minute of it, then it, if the spoils never materialize in the end, it will lead to bitterness.

There are not 1000s of Bukowskis out there in my experience. Some artists are undeniable and they don't have problems becoming famous. For example I've seen a lot of really good musicians in crappy venues. I've also seen musicians of the same caliber who are famous.

But I've never seen a great musician in a crappy venue. And when I see a world class musician it is undeniable that they are great.

In my experience there are 1000s of writers not quite as good as Bukowski and some of them will make it but very few. When a truly great writer comes along I believe the hard part is actually writing the great literature and not finding a publisher.

> There's 1,000 Bukowskis out there, many better

What does being better have to do with it? Are you arguing against the idea that the best people always succeed? I don’t think I said that.

I know people who spent bitter decades 'never giving up: to try and make it in the music industry. Ultimately they were angry with the world for not giving them what they wanted. They might as well have played the lottery instead.

> How does survivorship bias apply here?

Because he is evidently a survivor. I guess we need more info on other who tried the same and succeeded or failed to really decide, but nonetheless it's one person reporting on their experience. It has all the hallmarks of it.

> if you are willing to sacrifice everything for a goal, you’ll beat out everyone else purely due to attrition.

Big assumption that persistence assures success. It likely is a significant factor but that does not seem to be what you are saying.

I'll put it another way - I don't accept it is a tautology.

Man, I wish any of that were true. It seems that life is just too random to have that end up being true. Too many things happen that you can't control that then come along and wreck it all.

My SO achieved so much, had it all, got through grad school great, was going to teach at a University I know you have heard of, do amazing research all over the world, help out humanity in a very real way, all that jazz. Then, bam, the pain started up and has never left. The chonic pain disorder my SO has is a real sumbitch. I love my SO, terribly so. But all that my SO had just evaporated into the pain. Just one bad infection, like about 2% of the US gets, and there it all went.

No amount of drive is going to fix it. No amount of work. My SO can't work through the pain as it exacerbates the condition. Lord knows my SO spent months and years just trying to ignore it, making it worse the whole while. That pain just winds you, for days at a time. Takes it all.

And the shame that my SO feels just kills me. All the desires, all that motivation and drive that my SO had, it's all still there, clawing at my SO's mind, telling itself that my SO is 'just not good enough'. That person is still there, just enveloped with pain, trying to break out and work again. What gave my SO everything, all that honor and accomplishment, is not tearing into my SO and making it all worse.

Bukowski isn't wrong, per se, but he is not right either. That fire is dangerous in the wrong circumstances and it's very difficult to tell when you are in the wrong place.

One quote that has really changed as it has aged is that Bourdain quote:

> “I understand there’s a guy inside me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy.”

Yet Anthony died by his own hand. That drive, that spark and thumos, it was his undoing as much as it was his making. Would he have been as a sucess if not for that drive? The only person that could tell you is dead.

So, sure, sleep on the benches for it, go to jail for it, but remember, there are worse things than just temporary discomforts, mockery, and dishonor waiting in the weeds along that path.

Well said. Really this kind of discussion and debate tends to revolve around whether people assign importance to the destination or the journey.

If you're constantly striving and chasing some personal goal, ie. "once I achieve this, THEN I'll be happy" then there are two major risks. The first is that you'll fail - the fallout from this is obvious since your happiness was a self-imposed condition of achieving said goal. The second risk is that you do not live to see your goal, or, unfortunately as you've described in your personal story, the goal will become worthless for one reason or another - such as a major personal crisis or illness.

That's not to say you shouldn't strive for great things or have lofty goals and plans. I personally don't have the answers on the "key to happiness and success", but I do know that always chasing and never stopping to reflect or enjoy what you actually have can't be healthy either. I suppose that's where a lot of the power of things like meditation and mindfulness come from; because they're about being in the moment.

Personally, I think it's important to take each day as it comes and aim to be the best version of yourself you can be that day. You win some, you lose some, but hopefully, the cumulative effect of more good days outweigh the bad, and you can one day reflect on that without too much regret and with some sense of happiness.

On another note, Bukowski's requested that "Don't Try" is engraved on his tombstone. Some feel it is a comment about being authentic, not pursuing or pushing for something that isn't you, and about letting the work you naturally enjoy flow from you, as opposed to forcing it - or trying too hard.

Chasing personal goals is more or less how I fucked up my life. I thought I was doing the right things, I trusted that someday I’d feel happy and fulfilled if I achieved them. And I did achieve many of them, but instead of feeling happy, I just kind of felt like an asshole. I tried way too hard, I faked it till I made it, and when I looked back, I saw I basically lived a fake life, and had no one I could connect with on a genuine level. I had no “journey”, my journey was all about faking my journey, reflecting on it was just thinking about how I was thinking of getting to my destination.

This hits incredibly close to home. Have you figured out how to...for lack of a better phrase...be a person again? To have a real journey, to enjoy it, to be your authentic self? Has anything changed thanks to this realization?

Yet you still breathe. The journey is not yet over and you may still have some time left. I'd take what you learned and try to synthesize it for the rest of us to understand, I know I would benefit from such a thing.

> "once I achieve this, THEN I'll be happy"

Sometimes people achieve their goal only to realize that happiness didn't follow.

Of all the people I know who have made a similar statement and then found success, this was the most common outcome.

Being happy can be a surprising amount of work, and there aren't any instructions. It's better to figure out how you can be happy while also spending time on the goals you think are worthwhile. If you need them, there are other tricks you can use to motivate yourself that don't involve deliberately sabotaging your own well-being.

This is just one anecdata, but its really a timeless parable. So much of your life is wildly out of your control and not your doing. Hard work is neither necessary nor sufficient for great success.

It is the human condition told by the laws of large numbers. Devilish people prosper and divine people suffer. The only option is to do your best with what you got, and help your community do the same.

You gotta keep on keepin' on. Life's a garden, ya dig?

> Hard work is neither necessary nor sufficient for great success.

It does, however, make it a lot more likely.

Conversely: Not working hard makes failure a near certainty.

It's a point that is universally disregarded in these discussions as though it's not relevant, even though it's at the very core of the discussion. One can easily guess why it's intentionally disregarded: it's inconvenient to the mindset being broadcast (ie it's not a supporting element to the worldview being subscribed to).

Success requires luck and doing, action. The odds are strongly against you in most all cases, even with some luck. In the equation of success, those two things cannot be separated, they are bound together in all cases.

Not doing, not taking action, guarantees you will not succeed, you will simply never start at all. Luck will have no role in that for you have already reduced the possibilities to none other than no success / no attempt.

The more cynical view can be summed up as saying that because luck is a requirement, effort is mostly futile because you can't control everything. It's a personal mindset projection (someone is telling you their bias, giving you insight into their experience, their fears, etc), rather than any kind of useful insight into how you can or can't create something successfully.

Yeah, this. Also, I suspect there are significantly more people who give up too early/don't put in enough effort than there are who work on doomed projects/ideas for years on end and put tons of effort into something that'll never work out.

Our definitions of success are arbitrary. If you're feeling unsuccessful you can just change your benchmark.

I think this is only true for certain definitions of success and failure.

I read something different into that Bukowski quote.

Specifically, I read it as a warning against voluntarily putting your destiny and satisfaction in the hands of other humans or organizations; it is a call to independence of thought and action.

Your SO’s situation is an unfortunate roll of the dice. Any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But these seem orthogonal to Bukowski’s point.

Your SO is very lucky to have your understanding. While personal torment in a situation like this is probably the biggest issue, the fear of others judgement is a very real problem to deal with. So many things that people say are just wrong in these situations, things that are well meaning but misguided. So having the support and understanding of a partner is a great thing, and probably a rare thing. From your comment you appear to have a good understanding of what your SO is going through and that will help keep your relationship strong.

Look after her. And yourself.

It sounds like you have a very special bond.

Thank you for sharing this.

Why do you assume OP's SO is female? OP went to great lengths to avoid pronouns.

Thanks for writing this.

Relentlessness doesn’t mean “keep doing the same things you always did forever and get your fantasy life”. It means “pick one game, keep playing even when you have every reason to think you already lost the game, and you just might win it”.

No disrespect, I don’t want to diminish the utter torture that is chronic pain, but nothing you mentioned sounds like it’s preventing your SO from maintaining a posture of relentlessness every day until she dies.

It might not be what she wants, it would probably destroy her relationships and her mind, it would probably require her to do things that she abhors, but the door is still there.

> it would probably destroy her relationships and her mind

What then is left of a person?

Something new can be made. Some things can’t be lost.

“Worse things” await us all no matter what path we’re on.

Very true, thank you for pointing that out.

Thank you for this perspective.

That fire really is dangerous.

But some sort of other drive may help put it out. Look into Ayurveda and the source of inflammation (infection), i.e. pitta energy, and the sorts of anti inflammatory diets she could pursue, or reply for some links and pointers. Alexander the Great was going to create the most cultured empire out of a seat in ancient Babylon but then died of the fire, a fever after too many military campaigns and Indus conquest. Incredibly ironic too, since Aristotle was his personal tutor and Ayurveda (from India or the ancient Indus valley vedas) was the basis for Aristotle and other Greek natural philosophy, but they lost contact with the sources.

If geniuses like Alexander and Mozart had known about these philosophies out of India they might not have died on the prime of their third decade of life. But as you put it, the human condition is not so simple as only having drive.

Also avoid prolonged screen time, look for kindle or paper books and conducting work or research out of plain (or fancy) old notebooks as much as possible.

Screenshotted and saved for inspiration, thank you for sharing. I’m starting my own business right now and everything keeps telling me just lay off the accelerator. My natural mode is complete obsession.

"Burn the boats."

If there is no way to successfully retreat until you've won, then you win or die. Great way to focus the mind on winning (success) once casual retreat is no longer an option.

And it leaves only those who survive to extol the virtues - the countless legions of failures are dead.

Mother tells me, the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet, that two fates bear me on to the day of death. If I hold out here and lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies…true, but the life that’s left me will be long, the stroke of death will not come on me quickly.

- Achilles, the Iliad IX, 500-506

Ah, so people have delusions of grandeur and think they stand with demigods of ages past? That's neat.

I'm not a big believer in time travel, but I like watching/reading time travel stories. To my mind, it's a way to try to envision the two different futures that grow out of a single decision point.

You don't really get to A/B test your own life. You don't really get to know for absolute certainty where the road not taken would have taken you had you turned left instead of right at that moment on that day in that place with those people.

What you can do is develop mental models and compare against first-hand experience. Most actual choices in life don't literally involve life and death, at least not in an immediate sense.

Some can be life-or-death decisions -- casually sleep with the wrong person without protection, die of AIDS some years down the road -- but if you run around telling other people that every little thing you do in your life is life or death, they will soon decide you are a lunatic. So taking a reference to "burn the boats" too literally and acting like I'm the drama queen is really you being dramatic.

In practical terms, "burn the boats" is shorthand for "Make an actual decision and then commit to it. The longer you spend trying to leave your options open, the more time you waste."

If you stand at the cross roads forever trying to make it possible to choose to go either left or right, you stand there going nowhere at all. Just pick one, start walking and don't spend a lot of time looking back, walking back to the crossroads over and over, wondering if you should go the other way instead.

But that's not what that quote is saying, nor is the article - they are aiming for some amazing life, where you reject the easy path and take the hard one - where you end up in a land of glory. Otherwise Achilles saying "I'll go home" is equally valid based upon what you're laying out here. But that's not what the quote is saying at all.

But I'll remember to shout "burn the boats" before my next choice of soup or salad.

The writing is great but the message is bullshit. It's easy to focus on one thing and let yourself devoured by it, to drop every responsibility while fighting your challenge. What's hard is to juggle everything while trying.

On a tangent Yoda in Star Wars is also bullshit. You should always try.

You’re misunderstanding the Yoda quote. He means that trying simply doesn’t exist — you either do the thing, or you don’t do it. Aim to do the thing, don’t aim to “try.”

I need this right now. I've read it before, but thank you.

Thank you, that was a wonderful and inspiring read :)

A friend of mine is currently going all the way when it comes to animation. He produced 52 animated shorts in 1 year (one per week). One of them features this exact quote! https://vimeo.com/303537395

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