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Time anxiety: is it too late? (nesslabs.com)
518 points by anthilemoon on Aug 27, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 167 comments

The single consistent thing I have noticed in dealing with this type of anxiety is that if I spend time with people I actually like being with, it completely disappears. It's impossible to be so self-directed if there is another person in the room who I care about or love.

To that end, the fix is simple: surround myself with people that I love. Friends and family.

Easier said then done, especially in our modern world, which is why I suspect this comes up frequently.

Somewhat related -- and boy I never thought I'd say this! -- some stuff started changing in my life for the better recently and I decided to get back on Facebook and get involved again (I hadn't deleted my account or anything, I just hadn't posted or interacted in a very long time). I joined a bunch of groups that interested me and more importantly for me, I started making an effort to like and comment on posts of extended family that I rarely get to see in real life.

It's been REALLY positive. Just last night, we had a huge family thread going sharing our family pasta sauce recipes. It.... made me really happy! Now at the somewhat-annual extended family get-together, we'll have something in common to talk about.

I know it's definitely not a substitute for face-to-face interaction, but in letting go of my prejudices just a little, I've found a nice bit of additional joy in my life and hopefully made other people smile at the same time.

I feel like your description of Facebook is what all the employees who worked on it circa 2004 were envisioning it would become. It seemed so groundbreaking yet so serene. A brand new way to do the same things.

I wish we could have all the good without the bad, but I suppose that's what makes this field so insanely hard.

It's just like most things in life: It's good if you consume the right amount.

The platform has also changed. Now it is ad-infested and algorithmically crushed in the pursuit of profit to something which actually discourages these interactions.

Ie, if the algorithms fail to make you over-use it

...and ignore the externalities...

I think the exact same thing too. I know I'm in a relative minority in being able to keep my Facebook privacy settings in check, for example. It's a really tough problem.

It's easy to have the good without the bad by unfollowing people and pages that post bad content.

Woah, that is a pretty compelling story to me. Makes me think about Facebooking a little.

One hint I can give you is that joining groups seemed to be the thing that really turned my news feed into something else. I've joined groups related to game programming, music production, Arduino and a bunch of others related to local music gigs (plus some support groups that I feel I can contribute to) and now there's actually a lot of interesting (and pleasantly technical) stuff in my feed. The other effect this had is that the ads I see are a lot better as well.

On a related note : That’s also how I use Twitter - carefully curated. I’m more of an occasional user, a lurker more than a tweeter. And the resulting recommendations, ads, and tweets are relevant and useful to me in the topics I like. It’s not perfect but it makes general discovery - breadth and depth - meaningful to me, whenever I go thru my feed.

If you mostly consume twitter I recommend trying tweet deck (which might be owned by twitter now?).

Its UI makes far more sense for consumption IMO.

What do you follow on Twitter? I’d like to use it more

I concur. I would also like to suggest voluntary service. Every time I've participated in a service project, I've come away with reduced anxiety and an increased appreciation for the people around me. I discovered what I should be focusing on.

One place to find service opportunities is https://www.justserve.org/ . There's an app too. It's worth a look.

This is exactly how I feel, which is also why it is so difficult for me: I'm in a long distance relationship because of work.

Same here. We met and dated for a year, it was lovely. Then I took a job 1 hour away, 50% higher pay and a promotion, but the relationship does suffer a bit from that 1 hour drive.

But then isn't it reverse time anxiety? You become scared of not being able to spend more time with them.

Yeah, but it's deleterious to my societal productivity. Like I'm happier spending my time with my friends. But I have less of that burning desire to build. I think I might actually be content to live just happily on the beach with the wealth I have now, so long as everyone I love is nearby and we frequently meet.

But obviously I don't want to be content with that.

In the short term you’ll move less bricks for sure.

But in the long term, I wonder if you as a group will be able to discover movable bricks that you wouldn’t have seen or cared about on your own.

And maybe those bricks are both more valuable to move and more likely to successfully get to their destination, because you’re doing so as a group not as an individual.

Not sure.

It's not obvious to me why you wouldn't be content with that.

Living on the beach with the people you love sounds pretty fantastic to me.

What's the end goal? Amass more wealth? Build a legacy?

Overcoming the desire to build a legacy is something I struggle with

> What's the end goal? Amass more wealth? Build a legacy?

Grass is always greener...

The world will be fine if you don't build

Well what do you want, to be happy or to be productive?

Happy people don't make great art.

I used to believe that. These days, I'm certainly happier making art than whatever it was people wanted to pay me to do on a computer.

Why can't happy people make great art? Do we also think that sober people can't write great novels, or people who survive past age 27 can't make great music? I can think of countless counterexamples to all of these. Just because there were miserable great artists in the past doesn't necessarily mean you have to be miserable to be a great artist.

> Happy people don't make great art.

This is kinda just a myth as far as I can tell. There is a often romanticized relationship between art and suffering, because sure, some art is created as a way to relieve suffering. But it's by no means mandatory, and at one point I've even been in the spot (like many many others) of being afraid to get help for mental health issues because of what it might do to the work I was creating. This is how the myth does harm. The longer people "trade" health for art, the more they put themselves at risk in service of this misguided idea. It's no exaggeration to say that people have died as a result of believing that treating their depression would diminish their art. A person in that situation has to win every day of their lives, while depression only has to win once.

But they're happy.

I experience the opposite. Meeting social needs is a motivating factor. If I'm lonely I'm less productive at my leisure.

I know there are some people disproving parts of Malcolm Gladwell's theories, but sometime in the last year or two it occurred to me that one of the consequences of the 10,000 hours theory is that you actually have time to get expert-level good at three or four things in your life even if you spent part of it 'fucking around'.

I've expanded that into a philosophy about 'Software eats the world": the only way that doesn't end up in a dystopian hellscape is if Software Developers go out and meet the World. Dive into hobbies. Get good enough at them to be a Product Owner. Make software that supports that hobby.

You'll also have something to talk to people about at parties other than what you do for a living.

I would take it even farther than that and say that people vastly overestimate the time it takes to get good at most things. It might take 10,000 hours (or more) to be considered an expert pianist, but you could spend a tenth that much time getting good enough to impress everyone you know with a few songs at parties, and with just 50 hours of practice, you'll be better at the piano than basically everyone you know (you might not be "good", but a lot of people are also easily impressed, if impressing people is your thing.)

I think this is true of practically everything that we don't personally make a profession of. A few tens of hours doing carpentry, fiddling with plumbing, or hooking up electronics, and you'll seem super handy to someone with no experience. What passes for expert-level in a lot of arenas is more like what an actual expert would consider passing familiarity, but passing familiarity is enough to feel good and to be really helpful to your community in a lot of circumstances.

I agree completely about hobbies. I think I read somewhere long ago that we ended up with a zillion apps for ordering food because that's the kind of thing that college kids think about. If we all learn a lot more about a lot of things, we'll end up with a much more interesting tech-ecosystem.

I wrote a book on this topic: https://first20hours.com

There's a ton of (replicated) psychology research that supports this thesis: the early hours of skill acquisition are very effective/efficient in terms of improvement-per-hour-invested. 20-50 hours is enough to see very substantial improvements in any skill, even if you have no prior knowledge or experience.

I wish more people focused on the early process of skill acquisition: that's what most of us will experience for most of our lives/careers.

Learning and practicing skills in many different areas is underrated: if you think of skills from an ROI perspective, spending a little time to get a lot better at a portfolio of useful things has a crazy high return.

I would add on by saying from personal experience that the wider your breadth of experiences, the more you find that experiences in seemingly unrelated fields overlap and synergize to make it even easier to pick up new skills. Anecdotally I found my background in software + college coursework in signal processing gave me a huge boost with getting into music production, and in line with the ROI perspective I feel like I'm passively reinforcing my understanding of Fourier transforms and whatnot when I'm playing around with Ableton so it's akin to the effect of compounded interest

The book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41795733-range argues a lot for this as well, and goes on to discuss numerous examples where generalists have made the breakthroughs and/or excelled in some way, due to synergy, overlap and inspiration.

I will second this recommendation. It has some great stories about people such as Van Gogh and inspired some new thoughts on machine learning.

Thanks for the link, the to-read list never seems to stop growing but that book certainly sounds like one I'll have to add

Sure but a course in the science of music production isn't unrelated to music production.

Right, and the example is meant to illustrate that. My coursework on signal processing approached it from a mathematical and computational perspective, so I didn't necessarily have an appreciation for its application in a music context. Once I picked up music production and started dealing with filters and EQs and all, though, the relationship then became apparent pretty quickly and certainly helped with understanding how all the effect processing worked.

As long as you don’t get stuck in the expert beginner trap.

I like to say that my long history of studying the art of studying helps me get over that hump quickly. But you’d have to ask other people if I have or I’m full of it.

Why is it a trap, though? I think the whole "T-shaped engineer" analogy applies really well here. Expert beginner of a lot of things, true expert of a few. Sounds like a great balance to me.

In this context you're not spending enough time on it to become an "expert beginner". You're not getting the same three months of experience a dozen times, you're getting them once.

Surprised to see you hang around here! Your TED talk with the ukulele + chords was also an eye-opening introduction to this idea.

Also check out this guy who documents his progress playing table tennis everyday for a year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4y21uwFUgkE. I'm nowhere near his level but I can tell he got pretty good.

Yes! Expertise is good, but overrated. I've found that you can be much happier getting good enough at a broad range of skills that combine professional, personal and whimsical

Very cool! Thank you for the link.

>It might take 10,000 hours (or more) to be considered an expert pianist, but you could spend a tenth that much time getting good enough to impress everyone you know with a few songs at parties, and with just 50 hours of practice, you'll be better at the piano than basically everyone you know (you might not be "good", but a lot of people are also easily impressed, if impressing people is your thing.) //

I learnt piano for years (from relatively late, ~12-17yo), and could follow a piece of written music but never just play.

My son, who at 14 has just started lessons could already play and can work out a piece by ear with essential only a few hours. He can play something you'd recognise, I can't unless I have the music.

He has 'natural aptitude', IMO gained genetically from his mother and through environmental exposure to music. Your 1000 hours would work for him, with this skill, I feel; but not for me.

There are other simpler restrictions. In my middle ages I've started karate, no one has a hope of mistaking me for an expert karateka unless I also address general fitness.

I would absolutely agree that a 1000 hours in you can have rewarding interactions with actual experts. Even 100 can open up conversations.

And as a software dev it’s almost expected that you’ll do that at least a few times for some problem domains.

10,000 hours underestimates transfer learning.

I definitely feel like I'm more effective coming back to something with more world experience than I was when I only knew that thing. Technically adept? Maybe not quite as much (after all, I'll be rusty and the state of the art will have moved on). Able to make better things? Certainly.

As a software eng who has always had a lot of hobbies, it's almost alienating how so many people in the office are only into TV shows, super hero movies, sci fi books, video games... It's like, there's a whole world out there people!

Serious question, what other hobbies can one have?

All of programmerdudes examples are different modes of consumption. In my experience the most fulfilling hobbies are those where you create something. It really doesn't matter what specifically - the creative part is the source of a sense of fulfillment. In my neck of the woods it now is a good time to try to make wine by oneself, for example. Just harvest some fruits, order yeast and off you go. Woodworking is pretty fulfilling, too, especially the manual, non-electrical side. Or wood carving. Carving takes about zero amounts of space and is pretty meditative. Gardening is great, and can also be started indoors with LED lighting, if space is a concern. Sewing is pretty fun, the beginner stuff are things like tote bags, i.e. you can use your own creations after a few hours. Some people like drawing or painting, or writing.

The plus for most of these is that you can actually use your creations by yourself and have a great source of gifts for friends and family.

Those are all pretty low-tec-examples, but of course you could also look into diy electronics, game programming etc. For some those aren't optimal because they resemble work too much.

I would personally avoid hobbies that tend to devolve into collecting kit, e.g. photography. IMO Great activites are those where the fun part is the creative task itself, and which involve manual exertion (assuming you are a desk worker).

Pretty similar to my list:

- Woodworking

- Car maintenance

- Gardening

- Baking

- Painting miniatures

- D&D

- Home Brewing

I currently don't have time to engage in all of them on a regular basis, but tend to cycle through them throughout the year :)

Great list! Creation, especially in the physical world is somehow easily overlooked

I'd also add social/multiplayer stuff (although many of these things might be improved by sharing) like team sports, a band, board games.

Just learned how to ride a motorcycle (more or less) on my own over about a month or so.

I took a motorcycle course over one weekend. Took the license test another weekend. Bought a bike and filled out paperwork during the week (registration & insurance). Rode almost every day for the first month, practiced maneuvers (finding the friction zone, quick stopping w/o skidding) I wasn't comfortable with in a parking lot.

Now I'm comfortable riding almost everywhere. All told, it took one weekend of high effort (motorcycle class), medium effort for one week (1-2 hours daily of either: riding, reading a motorcycle riding book, filling out paperwork, researching/coordinating/buying the bike), and low effort for the rest of the month (15 - 60 minutes of riding -- FUN).

Only took a month of effort to acquire a lifelong skill

You might be overestimating your skill level. Let's see what you think after your first serious crash.

Thanks for the reminder brother; no such thing as a safe ride ATGATT

croh on Aug 28, 2019 [flagged]

you might be underestimating your skill level.

Any sort of crafting hobby, which ranges from making clothes to making swords to making furniture.

Graphical arts, digital and analog (which covers everything from painting with all different types of paints to mixed media, large format, small format, from the side of a building to the size of a grain of rice)

These are all mostly looks-based, but you can also make things that do things, make electronics, restore old electronics, go antiquing for vinyl players, go antiquing for anything else.

Join a choir, join a band, join a barbershop quartet, go to the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival and listen to sea shanties.

The list goes on.

It always amazes me how many people are subscribed to /r/woodworking. There are some people out there living it up.

And I can never tell if my coworkers don’t have cool hobbies or the urge to bring them up has been beaten out of them.

For me it is brewing, cooking, infusing vodkas, and gardening.

Cooking is an interesting one because I try to learn various cuisines reasonably well and some of the dishes from places like Indonesia are very complex.

All of these have the point in common that they cannot be rushed so they force a mentality of taking it slow, which I think helps with the time anxiety as well.


here are the hobbies I have had

archery, bowling, pool, mountain biking, ice hockey, inline hockey, floorball, ultimate frisbee, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, rock climbing, shooting, reloading, hunting, home improvement (has a lot of sub areas), games programming, tae kwon do, kung fu, krav maga, jiu jitsu, paint ball, role playing games, online games, being helpful on forums, scuba diving, piano, golf, camping, chinese, poker, chess, settlers of cataan, cooking.

These are all activities that I have done for at least 6 months on a regular basis.

There are many things Ive only done a few times but will definitely do in the future (surfing, snowboarding, drone flying, 3d printing,etc)

At this moment I mainly mountain bike, kitesurf, krav maga, and bjj. In the winter I will snowboard and on my next beach vacation I will hopefully surf.

That's pretty good, but you're not at Simon Quinlank levels yet:


Kevin Eldon looks so young here! Loved Fist of Fun :-)

I make models. Metal Earth has some very nice aerospace ones [1]. Guillow's makes some amazing balsa wood models -- if you really want to, you can put RC engines in them and they'll really fly [2]. I currently play with Estes Rockets, but want to get into amateur rocketry like this guy who built a model Falcon Heavy with onboard navigational computer and engine gimballing [3]. Every Christmas, I add one more model building to my seasonal train set.

I'm also into photography, graphic design, videography, fishing, surfing, and backpacking. My wife's paints.

[1] https://www.metalearth.com/aviation [2] https://www.guillow.com/ [3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18504117

I recently took up baking (as in bread) as a hobby. It brings me joy to produce something as well smelling and testing as bread. Cooking in general could also be a hobby. Going hiking could be a hobby. Just enjoying life and being mindful of the things around you might open up your mind for hobbies you didn’t even think existed. :-)

Really anything that you're remotely curious about outside of what you do at work. Engage with something with genuine curiosity and you'll almost certainly find it leads you to a hobby you can try out for a few weeks. Get deeper into it or move on to the next.

Just to get started: instruments/music, foreign languages, cultural events, theatre/art/design, local volunteering, civic engagement/politics, outdoor activities, cycling/sports/yoga/gym, pets, travel, investing and finance, continued education (moocs/math/history/etc), meditation, ham radio, tabletop/video/retro gaming, books/writing/blogging, gardening, woodworking, cooking. Even "programming" things totally outside your field (little overlap with your day-job) can make for a good hobby if that's your thing.

Some are more fun than others to talk about to other people but that's not the point. I find whenever I'm feeling burnt out or stressed my problem is usually that I'm focused too much on work and not getting satisfaction from the rest of life. Hobbies can make up the rest of life.

You can have literally any hobby. Two of my lifelong hobbies, skateboarding and surfing, may seem somewhat atypical for the average software engineer, but you'd be surprised how many do at least two of the three.

My favorite example, William Stein (https://wstein.org/). Math/CS Professor at UW - absolutely kills it on a skateboard.

Personally, this year I started getting really into Scuba diving--a sport/hobby I hardly thought about for my entire life until I tried a single "Discover Scuba Diving" dive four months ago. Lately I've been diving deep into the hobby (hah) at home and in Thailand. I've been connecting with so many other people here in Seattle and discovered a whole community that's otherwise invisible. Most excitingly, turns out there's a whole new world down there under the waves! No need to search for alien life when it's already here on earth :D

Finding this hobby has given me pretty great happiness this year. I suffer from a fair bit of existential time anxiety, and anxiety over having too many consumptive "hobbies". Diving isn't exactly a constructive hobby, but it's opened up a new avenue of happiness that isn't strictly input/output for me.

A friend of mine has the same story. Went on a intro dive during a vacation in Hawaii because "why not?" and 3 years later he's a certified Master Diver, teaching classes and doing very technical dives & rescues. All as a hobby.

Thanks for asking, it's fun to answer, plus the other answers are a treasure trove!

For me it currently is archery, underwater hockey, running, volunteering (as swimming instructor), keeping a (planted, tropical) fish tank, learning a new language (a local Filipino dialect), electronics (home automation).

In the (in some cases distant) past (yet could come make a come back): drums, guitar, drawing, writing, photography, origami, snowboarding, reading.

I work as a(n independent) software dev by day. So programming is my job, but it is also my all time (well, since 8) favourite hobby.

I started doing Muay Thai recently, and I quite like gardening

I recently bought a Onewheel, after never having done board sports in my life. Now I spend at least an hour on it a day, if not two. It's tons of fun.

If you look at my post from the new year you'll see I wanted to learn cha... but (happily) I became distracted by kizomba... try it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_XO7eOl9tQ&list=RDb_XO7eOl9...

For me: Running, Cycling (around different places), sailing, creating apps, creating games, creating AI models.

What? He listed 4 things in addition to software. Just do anything besides those 5 activities. This is a joke?

Wow I love how many people replied to you here. For me it's painting, acting, meditation, yoga, guitar, and lots of broad interest in media that aren't so conformed, like foreign, old stuff, etc.

Working on and racing cars is a) expensive, and b) actually not as expensive as you might think, and totally within the salary of a modestly paid software engineer with many other financial obligations.

Exercising, reading, volunteering, traveling, writing, hiking/boating/skiing and other outdoor activities, photography, studying a language, playing an instrument.

There's so many where do you even start? Arts, sports, cooking, reading can all be broken down into probabaly hundreds of things to do

well, my current hobbies are: flying (small aircraft), pen and paper role playing (think d&d + others), board games, photography.

How delightfully smug to look down on people who like different things than you do.

Hit a bit close to home?

I think that my similar experience may be how I discovered this problem in the first place.

I like to think that brogrammers were trying to solve this very problem. But they failed by going too aggressively the opposite direction.

"Brogrammer" is just a term that means "male programmer I don't like."

> TV shows, super hero movies, sci fi books, video games

Aw, come on, one of those is not like the others.

Now let's argue over which one.

I always think back to this comic when I'm feeling the passage of time: https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/2012-09-02

You'll need less hours for your second thing if there are concepts that you can translate, or if you maybe start with a third thing in between that can be a bridge between the other things.

Some study skills translate, but there are categories where one kind hinders another.

I’ve been studying in a domain that doesn’t intellectualize things and that was really a hard row to hoe. But now that I have around a thousand hours I’m finding learning other intuition-based fields is quite a bit easier.

Examples for the curious?

Really good points -- this kind of cheered me up.

You think too highly of yourself. Why do you think whatever you create is something special. It's most likely Shit. There is freedom in knowing you are one in 7 billion. Real creation happens when you give freedom to your mind to do whatever it wants to. There is no time constraint, no feeling that i need to get this done. It's spontaneous. You are following someone else's script here. You are equating activity with accomplishment

While I appreciate the stoicism, this isn't just about delusions of grandeur.


* I'm too old to learn how to surf

* My relationship with my child is too far gone to improve

* It's pointless for me to save for retirement at my age

* The environment is fucked no matter what I do

These are all time anxiety type dilemmas that real people get hung up on that have nothing to do with impressing the world or building the next big thing.

I think all these examples are of thinking too much. Why not just this very moment do something you feel like. Then the next and then the next. Go learn surfing, call your child and if you are too lazy then just accept you don't care about that stuff as much and do what you care about. You care about netflix then watch netflix. Don't do what you think society or other people think is cool.

If we are completely present in the now and doing what feel rights. There is no room for all these negative thoughts.

Dispensing advice like this to someone with anxiety issues is exactly the same as telling someone with depression that they should get out of bed, meet people, be happy for what they have, or smile more.

It is the kind of swapping of cause and effect that many neurotypical people fall into when conversing with those who are suffering. All of the behaviors and habits you describe are largely the result of healthy mental states, not the cause (there can be feedback loops that make the distinction fuzzy, but those feedback loops are very fragile and require constant maintenance).

I'm sure its well intentioned, but it's just not going to be very useful advice.

What is your solution?

To the issues raised in the article? Unfortunately I don't have one to present to others. Everyone is different and my only advice is to find a professional that can talk through specifics and provide the right approach.

If you're asking more personally, I identify with a lot of the same struggles as outlined in the article and here in the comments, but I stop short of feeling the excessive anxiety. Instead I'm just paralyzed by inaction and have low energy for pursuing any ambition.

I'm currently in the process of ruling out all other possible health factors first (ADHD, hormonal imbalances, sleep deficiencies, metabolic issues), but if those end up being exhausted I'll probably explore Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Training myself to have healthier mappings between emotions <-> thoughts <-> behaviors seems to me like the best approach. And then maybe I'll be capable of applying the sort of "just do what you feel like" advice you provided above.

> Instead I'm just paralyzed by inaction and have low energy for pursuing any ambition.

I guess that's... normal? Most people don't have ambitions, they're just content with getting through life in a relatively painless way. The ambitious people are the exception, not the rule.

These are still all goal-based examples. You may be too old to ever be a good surfer, but probably not too old to enjoy farting about with a surfboard in some small waves. You may not ever be able to repair the emotional damage yourself and your child have done to each other, but you can probably enjoy going to a movie together.

Etcetera. AFAICS what this article is getting at is simply "do more of what you enjoy"

People often find themselves entering cycles which they're not really happy about, though. They may become especially unhappy long after the fact when they reflect back on how they spent so much of their time. For example, someone may intend to work on a startup, but instead they spend a whole year basically smoking weed and watching Netflix every day, or whatever, with no startup and almost no work to show for it by year's end. They may feel quite bad and ashamed about how they spent their time during the past year.

Not to say there aren't people who do truly want to do that and find that a good use of their time (like if they work a stressful job and only want to relax and zone out during their free time). But a lot of people find themselves endlessly procrastinating or doing things which brings them very little joy and yet which they can't seem to break away from. Same goes for drug addiction, and any other addiction, really.

This doesn’t make sense.

It’s like saying: I’m out on a hike, and I think I see a mountain lion. But most human-cat encounters are with housecats, so I can safely assume this is probably a housecat.

No. You need to look at specifics and find a classifier regime which is appropriate for the information available to you.

Absent all other information, the logical thing is not to say “I’m probably not doing anything worthwhile” the logical thing is to say “I don’t know how worthwhile this is”.

Hear, hear

I remember in my 20s I had this constant anxiety about running out of time. That if I didn't accomplish whatever I wanted to accomplish soon I'd never be able to do it. The emotion gradually disappeared during my 30s.

In a way I was right. I'm 40 now and the things that seemed of extreme importance in my 20s are mostly gone now. In retrospect it's not that I wouldn't be able to do those things, but maybe I feared that I wouldn't want to.

Anyway, I feel much better about myself now. I would not trade this peace of mind for the raw energy of the 20s.

> I remember in my 20s I had this constant anxiety about running out of time. That if I didn't accomplish whatever I wanted to accomplish soon I'd never be able to do it. The emotion gradually disappeared during my 30s.

I had the same feeling in my 20s.

I'm now in my 30s, and the biggest regret I have in life is that I lost a relationship because I needed to "accomplish something before I ran out of time". Even though I had no absolutely idea what that "something" actually was.

It's a horrible, depressing realization.

To anyone reading this - please, please don't jeopardise a relationship because you feel unsettled or anxious about the future. You can backtrack from most mistakes in life, but a broken relationship is not one of them.

The feeling of regret about a past decision is an odd one to me.

It's based on the premise that you know with some certainty what would have happened had you taken the opposite choice. That premise is false, you have no idea what would have happened if you had done things differently. Your life could be terrible, your life could be better. You have no way of knowing.

I believe the best treatment for it is to make sure you find satisfaction in your current situation. If you have that, then you never regret previous decisions. At least that's how it works for me!

You never have no way of knowing anything. Cogito ergo sum and maybe we’re just a brain in a vat. But in the mean time we can make pretty good estimations, and saying “I expect a significantly better life with P above some threshold and error margin within some bounds” is a meaningful statement. Even in the face of nothing ever being certain.

You allude to it here:

> It's based on the premise that you know with some certainty what would have happened had you taken the opposite choice. That premise is false, you have no idea what would have happened if you had done things differently.

It isn’t false, note the “some”. You can have some certainty about hypotheticals. Experience and pattern matching are powerful tools.

But don’t let that get in the way of the exalted and commendable goal of accepting the past for what it is :)

Fair enough - and I agree with your argument. But it begs the question, if you know that the better life was within your grasp with expectation P then why did you not make the opposite decision?

Maybe you know things now that you didn't know when you made the decision. Or the circumstances which you hoped wouldn't come true as a result of your decision did come true so you got the lower probability sub-optimal outcome rather than a better one. Or maybe future you is different to past you and has different priorities which you didn't predict.

Either way, you can only make decisions on the information you have and with the judgement mechanisms you have learnt at that time.

With that in mind, regretting a well thought out decision that you now think was sub-optimal still seems odd to me!

Logically, you could be completely correct. Had I taken the other path, I may well be sitting here today saying "I massively regret not giving myself enough space to achieve".

And you're right, finding satisfaction on your chosen path is really the only way to deal with these types of emotions.

But all that being said, I'll fight tooth and nail to stop my kids from making the same mistake I did.

How do you know they were mistakes?

You believe they were mistakes now, with hindsight, for your life, but how do you know whether the same choices that you think were bad for you, might be wonderful for your kids?

I think of it like this: we all have many possible paths to take in life. But we only travel one.

I'm not in my early thirties and time anxiety is actually growing stronger. I worry about the big three: children, career, and personal health. My idea is that with kids... my finace and I are aging. Are we going to do this or not? We have to know within the next 2ish years. With career... what career path do I want to take? I need to focus on schooling or professional certificates ASAP so I can utilize those as I age. With health... how many years of testosterone do I have left? I'm very skinny and would like to build a basic muscle structure, not for vanity but for general health.

This is a personal comment, but if you're like me, I bet that anxiety is not just related to time.

I would be telling myself: How can I commit to a lifelong project like children? How can I decide what career path to choose, when there are so many options and I can only pick one? How can I work out, when its basically signing up to humiliate yourself? How can I take these _risks_?

In my experience, anxiety pretends that it's useful. It feels motivational -- like you are motivated to work out, because of your anxiety about being frail.

But contrary to how it feels, anxiety can have the opposite effect. You want it too much, that becomes dangerous, because you're afraid of trying and failing.

If that sounds familiar at all, my advice (since all HN comments have to have advice, right?) is to distance yourself from those goals and aspirations. Perform the Stoic exercise of meditating on the worst-case scenario. Let yourself make mistakes and look stupid. Just do it because you should, and damn the outcome.

I am pretty cynical when it comes to the attitudes people seem to have about children (I don't have kids so it's possible I don't know what I'm talking about). You and many others use the same language to talk about attempting to publish a book or starting a company that you use for having children: words like "project". In general I don't agree with this conception of children since failure in that endeavor often has disastrous consequence for a person that wouldn't otherwise exist.

It's not merely a personal risk in the sense that somebody else will bear the costs of failure. I tend to think people should generally feel more anxious about the incomprehensibly huge responsibility of making a person, not less.

Thanks for calling that out, I'm not trying to imply that these are only personal risks. In fact, it's often the risk to others that causes anxiety. So I wouldn't read too much into my use of the word "project" there. It's just meant to imply something that's a daunting, long-term commitment. (I don't have kids either, for what that's worth.)

>You want it too much, that becomes dangerous, because you're afraid of trying and failing.

Interesting perspective. I hadn't thought about this, but it rings true at first glance. Thank you for sharing.

At least for the last one: I can’t recommend enough just going for it, not being afraid of getting it wrong. The health benefits of weight training are very well documented, it leads to a longer life and slower aging, which will give you more time for the other topics! And you’ll feel better to boot. Give it a go, treat it like a puzzle, you can do it. It’s a skill you continuously hone. After you’ve learned the basics it can be done under 1h per session, and 3 times per week is already huge. Even 1/week is good! :)

Good luck!

Don't put those things off. Focus and go for it.

I'm interested in your perspective. What do you mean by "gone now"? Is it that now those things are not of importance anymore?

Yes. I have changed, I care about other things now and I give much less importance to the things I care about.

When I was younger I was very passionate about some topics and ideas, to the point that I could get angry when arguing with someone. Now I rarely get angry, much less about an opinion or an abstract idea.

I've come to the realization that so much is temporary and inconsequential. Nothing is really as good or as bad as it seems, at least for me.

I believe the word for this is Torschlusspanik https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Torschlusspanik - and sums it up nicely.

I'm a kind of morbid person by nature, but the more time goes on the more I realize that awareness of my mortality is helpful for getting me off my ass to get things done. Not necessarily work, just life in general. I wanted to live abroad "someday" and finally tried it when I was 30 (in the nick of time, it turns out). I wanted to start a company, and see now how it would've been 50 times harder to do it with a child than without. In my 20's I always thought I'd get around to going on X trip, maybe asking out Y girl, etc. and instead wasted 9 years in the same town doing not much of anything. Fortunately, the last 9 years have had a lot more going on.

I think there's a stoic principle of "Memento mori" -- remind yourself that you'll die so that you can make the most of your life now.

Tangencial to your comment that is pretty much the spirit of the Dutch 16th century 'Vanitas' paintings.

Wealthy patrons would comission art to act as a memento of their own fragility/mortality.

> Time anxiety ... means that your well-being is determined to a large extent by the importance of the value you feel you are creating with your life.

As a hacker doing mostly odd jobs and remote volunteer work for not-for-profits, I'm often consumed by the idea of whether I'll be able to "put my name on the day" when the head hits the pillow.

I have had a regular 0900-1700 job before, and it was nice to have the external validation thing to fall back on, the time-card that proves you showed up at least, or the mere fact that you're holding the job etc.

> Define what “time well spent” means to you

This is a great piece of advice. One source of metrics I found helpful to abandon is educational mobile apps / web programs etc that involve any sort of gamification. For example, I wasn't enjoying learning Japanese during the times I was redoing a lesson I didn't need to redo simply in order to make the education app make a fanfare sound and tell me that I had achieved my "daily x out of x points" ... I think measuring in time spent and effort exerted is a lot healthier, even if its complete inability to be quantified can be extremely frustrating!

I agree with basically all of the points of this article, one thing I wanted to point out though is that's also important to make time to _try new things_. And I don't mean just try them once, sometimes I've found I need to form a habit out of whatever it is I'm trying before I really enjoy it. Take exercise (or running) as an example. Running when you're out of shape sucks. But give it a couple weeks of running, gradually increasing the length of time and distance you run, and it can become a very enjoyable activity.

That said, its a balancing act, and you cant spend all your time trying new things.

I do believe you need a balance of habitual activities and trying new things. Doing stuff you've never done before and going to places you've never seen has the effect of slowing down the perception of time, which is great if you have the sort of time anxiety described.

Welp, this article can't have come at a more appropriate time in my life. Definitely struggling with these exact thoughts, constantly. Finding something meaningful, and rewarding to be a part of has become obsessive. Always thinking I'm wasting time if I'm not somehow maximizing it, with the end result being I spend more time worrying about it than actually doing it.

Maybe you're like me, maybe not, but meditation and CBT helps with this a bit. Also - and I'm gonna say this may make your anxiety better, it may make it worse - think about the most influential people in the last 100 years: Einstein, Turing, FDR, Obama, etc. Now think about the most influential people in last 1,000, then the last 10,000. How many people can you name from over a thousand years ago (hopefully you're not a historian)? My point is, even the greatest people today, although their contributions were great, will probably not be remembered by very many 10,000 years from now. We all ultimately go to the same place, great or not. Time is the great equalizer.

Thanks for the response, I've taken up meditation for the last couple of weeks. Definitely helps clear my head, at least for a short period of time. I'm really not concerned about being known throughout history, my only goal is that by the end of my life, I feel like I've done something fulfilling and rewarding enough to warrant the incredibly good fortune I've had being born during this time, to this family, in this part of the world.

Well my point with that response was more of: by who's metric are you measuring your warranting being here? If it isn't history's, then I think it should be your own. And if its your own, I really believe as long as you put in a good effort - not even necessarily your best effort all the time - then that should be good enough. A higher sense of purpose is excellent but you also have to understand that life is really weird and almost never works out how you expect it to.

But I'm guessing you already know all of that. At this point its probably more about moving your own metric and zeroing in on what you want to do.

I really believe as long as you put in a good effort - not even necessarily your best effort all the time - then that should be good enough

Do cats "put in a good effort"? Rabbits? Gazelles? Grasses? Fish?

While reading this article I couldn't stop thinking about the cliche (which I believe happens to be useful), "today is the first day of the rest of your life". The truth is we never know how much time we have left. You could walk out your front door and get run over by a bus at any time. All we can really do is engage in activities that we find worthwhile and fulfilling. At the risk of using two cliches in the same, short post, "life is a journey, not a destination". If you are trying to find meaning in life by reaching arbitrary goal posts you're missing the point.

>Dr. Alex Lickerman, the author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, says that time anxiety stems from some of the following questions: “Am I creating the greatest amount of value with my life that I can? Will I feel, when it comes my time to die, that I spent too much of my time frivolously?”

Even before that, time anxiety stems from the idea that we're put here to do X thing or achieve Y thing, and not e.g. just enjoy life.

While the notion is ancient, many cultures don't really have time anxiety to any degree to write home about. It's more common in the US than in Europe, for example, and perhaps goes with the "winners and losers" view of society as some kind of race.

> Future time anxiety: thoughts about what may or may not happen in the future, which are the cause of worry and “what if” types of internal questions.

gah, this has been torturing me for the past year, as I discover more and more what I wish I was doing. I'm only 21 right now, so a lot of my anxiety may be unfounded, but so many things I want to do require major risks, opportunity cost, or more importantly monetary costs. I want to stop worrying about the what-if's, but it just seems so much more complicated than that

It takes a lifetime to master a craft. The earlier you start, the longer it takes.

Wait until you hit 50. That's when you really hear the clock ticking (I'm 51).

Don't worry, a 60 year old will be along to correct you soon enough :)

"If I never start doing some thing then I'll never have to confront how far behind / late / failure"

This is my current best try at translating a deep and very strong and very vague physiological sensation that prevents people (me) from doing almost anything of importance.

the article is as close as I've seen to something useful on this issue. partly due to avoiding even confronting the issue. Presenting an audit process to modify behavior and increase time spent in important ways +10 value.

This is something that I deal with every day. You never know when you're going to die. But even when I was in my 50s, barring surprise diseases and accidents, it was far off in the distant future.

Not so much now. Especially because time is subjectively faster. Months seem like weeks used to.

But there is an advantage. Now it's a convenient excuse to avoid doing whatever I don't want to. I'm far less constrained by what others expect of me.

Personally speaking, the biggest specter for time anxiety is age-related cognitive decline. Unfortunately it happens much earlier than most people think. Especially with regards to both creativity and fluid intelligence.

Tech entrepreneurs are disproportionately clustered at 20-34. The probability of making a major scientific discovery starts declining at 40. Poets peak in their early 40s, and novelists not much longer after that. Mathematicians and physicists may on average peak as early as their late 20s.

Anyway as someone in their mid-30s, who would still like to accomplish a lot more than what I have so far, this has been bothering me a lot lately. I'm happy to hear any perspective that others have here.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/work-pe...

> Tech entrepreneurs are disproportionately clustered at 20-34.

Do you have a source for this? The article you linked to quotes one 2014 HBR article and then walks it back, saying, "all studies in this area have found that the majority of successful start-ups have founders under age 50".

And there was also this more recent HBR article "The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45":


Very interesting article. It even says that founders between the ages of 50 and 60 are significantly more likely to succeed at creating "extreme startup success":


"... it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms."

"Tech entrepreneurs are disproportionately clustered at 20-34. The probability of making a major scientific discovery starts declining at 40. Poets peak in their early 40s, and novelists not much longer after that. Mathematicians and physicists may on average peak as early as their late 20s."

None of these are indicative of cognitive decline (especially tech entrepreneurs, which as an aside it is a myth that it is dominated by the young -- https://hbr.org/2018/07/research-the-average-age-of-a-succes...). As people have a family, have responsibilities, etc, the drive to excel in a broader sense declines. Impressing the community, making a name, etc, just has far less of a motivating effect.

You could say the same thing from a "career" perspective if your role is as a salaryman under someone else: the drive to spend your life for someone else's gain diminishes.

I think that every generation is shaped by their environment when they grow up. That's why those who grew up within a certain timespan of technological innovation are more likely to be good at it. The distribution will change as those people get older.

The people who are born today will probably be good at something else. I guess they would feel that 'tech' is boring because it's something that was invented by old guys.

Also, the age distributions aren't caused by mental decline, but rather opportunity decline. Younger folks have more free time and opportunity to try something risky. People tend to settle down at some point in their lives.

Don’t despair, cognitive decline is real but likely not the cause of this distribution: http://barabasi.com/f/825.pdf The harder you work, the greater the chance of success, at any age. And remember: not all cognitive functions decline with age.

I think this anxiety comes from deep inside of me reminding that I've lost myself in that moment. It helps to just stop doing whatever I am doing, shut off my mind, turn to myself, and re-establish the connection with my inner self, which I tend to loose sometimes in the everyday hectic.

And what also helps me to retain and to strengthen this connection is simply love. Basically, to replace the negative thoughts, ambitions, etc. with truly positive values and things, to start caring about the people around, doing something good for the others without expecting anything in exchange and many other good things, which I'd never thought of before.

The books here have helped me to make the first step back then and are still helping me to stay on this way:


Hope they help someone else as well.

The bigger problem is that time anxiety often comes together with self-doubt so you spend a lot of time doubting your choices and ideas and then bump right into time anxiety Probably the only thing you can do about it is do something that feels right for you no matter when

Feels like everybody in our society feels time anxiety, in a different level.

During my 20s, it grew (and I guess to all of the Y-generation when thinking of my friends). It is interesting investigate the levels of time anxiety with different ages and different environment.

-- lately I had an increase of time anxiety, close to my 30s and big changes in my personal life :) So thank you for the article, it makes me want to investigate it more with myself.

Whenever I feel time anxiety I try to think of Ray Kroc[1]

He didn't get started on his version McDonalds until he was 64, an age that many people would be about to retire.

I'm not a great fan of McDonalds food but if you can start a company like that at 64 you can start anything at any age.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kroc

It's worth acknowledging that it was a different world when Ray was 64.

Of course but that's always true. It'll be a different world again when/if you or I reach the age of 64 too.

My issue with the pursuit of leisure activities, or the “If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves” quote, is that it doesn't leave room for ambition.

If I spend my years in momentary pleasure, I fear I will regret not tackling more ambitious projects. What could I have achieved if I was willing to suffer through activities that are not solely "activities you really enjoy?"

> What could I have achieved if I was willing to suffer through activities that are not solely "activities you really enjoy?"

I feel like that's kind of the point. The answer is: you will never know. Of course it's easier said than done but I think in the long run it's much better to cherish the present instead of fearing the future. What if you suffer for years and even then the question does not disappear?

Interesting essay.

Related to time anxiety, Oliver Burkeman pointed out the paradox of "making good use of time". Taken too far, it turns time into an instrumental goal. You never really enjoy it; you're always just investing time in a future that never comes. And you suffer time anxiety.

Never, never, never give up.

- Winston Churchill

Can confirm , in my 20s and it feels like the interal pressure to create something gets greater everyday.

The worst part is that I came close a few years ago but couldnt rally my partners to continue past the research phase...

However more recently ive been calming myself by just focusing on the present

Is it too late? My answer is always: I don't know, let's see. So far it hasn't.

It's later than you think.

I think we need to make peace with "achieving" later in life than our renaissance ancestors. The same holds for the Fields Medal (with an age limit of 40): many gre at mathematicians will only achieve much later than that.

What sort of person worries about having led a frivolous life? I can guarantee you that's the last thing I'll be worried about on my deathbed (assuming I have my mental faculties, which is not a done deal these days).

Me after reading this article : "Now I have a time anxiety"

"The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne" is certainly different than 'the life too short' or 'the craft too long to learn'.

> Cut out time-consuming distractions

Good idea. Time for me to close HN now.

Seriously... I spend (waste?) way too much time here.

I enjoyed this. Also, I now have some vocabulary for things that bother me, which is pretty nice.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

If the best time has passed, the next best time is now!

She's an ex-Googler, I trust her completely.

Strange to assume that you have time which will run out. Only thing available is “now”. Literally and figuratively.

Question is how do you convince your mind of this reality.

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