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In my experience extreme workaholism can often be a way to avoid or defer major life decisions that someone doesn't want to make or even consciously recognize. High status careers are often structured, full of positive feedback loops, and well compensated, all of which can strengthen the urge to defer existential questions about meaning, purpose, community, and identity until some unspecified future date, even (perhaps especially) in highly rational or analytical thinkers. Eventually the debt comes due but sometimes not until many decades later.

> all of which can strengthen the urge to defer existential questions about meaning, purpose, community, and identity until some unspecified future date

I've quit my Software Engineering job twice now to spend years of my life doing whatever I want. First time I spent two years driving from Alaska to Argentina [1] and second time I just spent three years driving right around Africa [2]. Both times I had no job, no boss, no timeline and I did whatever I wanted every single day. Hiking, camping, taking photos, cooking food, learning a new language, writing when I wanted to, etc. etc. I had ultimate freedom, living off my savings.

Without a doubt, the "freedom" life is much harder for me than the "desk job" life for exactly the reasons you listed above. After about six months for me I started to really, really think about the meaning of my life, what direction I want my life to take and a ton of other things that simply don't enter my mind when my life is on autopilot (i.e. going to work every day).

Going to work everyday is easy, because it means you don't have to decide the direction of your own life if you don't want to.

[1] http://theroadchoseme.com/expedition-overview

[2] http://theroadchoseme.com/africa-expedition-overview. & http://instagram.com/theroadchoseme

For a brief period of time I thought the “quit job to travel” was the dream life, but I soon realized, at least for me, that traveling for the sake of travel was just another way of running away of my problems.

It also made me realize that most people are happiest when they feel like they’re contributing to society in some way, and traveling non-stop feels like you’re side stepping your role in society rather than making any contributions to it.

Though I do think there’s a ton of value in mini-retirements or sabbaticals of maybe a few months to a year, and travel during those times can play a huge role in helping break up your routine and provide some perspective.

Why does traveling non-stop make you feel like you're side-stepping your role in society?

One of the things i like best about traveling is that i have the time and mental energy to engage with the people around me. I eat at restaurants, i go to bars, i listen and share stories, i'll contribute to the local economy and perhaps put a smile on someone's face.

When i am working i suppose you could say i am contributing to society, in the sense that i am helping to build some software that performs a function our customers appreciate. But most of our customers don't live in my community. And even if they did, i'm not really employed to serve those customers, i'm employed to increase growth so that the company will make more money for its investors. Trickle-down theory says that's still a net contribution to society, but it feels very abstract to me.

Meanwhile, when i work i am too exhausted to spend any of the money i earn doing those things that i would when i travel - i don't spend money at local businesses, i don't talk to other people in the community, i just go home and sleep and go back to work again. It's the life most of us are forced into to survive, but i wouldn't really call it contributing to society, or at least not in as direct a way that people do when traveling.

Solo travel is an inherently selfish pursuit. You are just consuming, and not creating anything of value for society.

They're likely helping to create positive experiences and memories for other people during their travels. Some of my best memories in life are thanks to random solo travelers I've met during various trips.

I met a solo traveler waiting for the airport bus in Thailand, and the next week we did a road trip across the country and back together. I met a solo traveler in Hungary on the train that needed accommodation, so they stayed in my living room and we spent a few days traveling. I met a solo traveler in Italy, and the following week we decided to hitchhike to various coastal cities. Their "selfish pursuit" brought me all sorts of value.

What a pessimistic, consumeristic and consumable view of travel. Are stories of travels not value? Are people who's lives you touched not made greater for a friendship, even if for a short time? I'm not saying theres not a way to be a total consumer and a net negative on society as a traveler, but I'd rather society be filled with thoughtful people who've met and made relationships with people of other than someone who slaves away all day at a draft board creating the next phone with 5 more megapixels.

I’m not particularly inspired by people who run away from their problems. I’ve met many people while traveling myself who were perpetually traveling and the vast majority were aimless and uninspired. The worst are the ones that resort to actual begging (yes, it happens) to continuously fund their travel.

It just isn’t an enlightened pursuit. If you want to escape life as a corporate drone or whatever running away isn’t the answer.

> If you want to escape life as a corporate drone or whatever running away isn’t the answer.

'Escape' and 'running away' are roughly synonymous.

What other escapes do you prefer?

The key difference is responsibility.

You can leave an unfulfilling job for another form of responsibility in life that is more fulfilling.

Endless travel is really just life without responsibility. Having zero responsibility actually does not make most people happy in the long term. It’s an unnatural human state, particularly for grown men, and most will wake up eventually (perhaps once it’s too late) and realize there’s nothing enlightening about a life lived that way.

These are the traditional conservative values and beliefs, yes.

A lot of us think it’s time to design new values and beliefs.

It’s not conservative so much as innately human. A society made of individuals who feel no shared responsibility to contribute to society is literal anarchy

As you point out, someone begging to fund travel certainly fits the description of non-contributor to society.

But many (most?) self-fund their ongoing travel, whether through odd jobs while traveling, savings from a previous stable employment, or "digital nomad" work on the road[1]. In that sense, they're just shifting a portion of their contributions from time period B to time period A, in the same way that spending during retirement works. I don't see how this can be described as "feel[ing] no shared responsibility to contribute to society" any more than someone who spreads their contributions more evenly over time: it's just describing the use of money as a store of value.

When my wife and I couldn't afford to travel we hosted couchsurfers, including solo ones, from around the world and very much enjoyed their conversation (and cooking if we were lucky!)

It's not any more or less selfish than the existence of 90+% of people just going through the motions to get through the day. The "value" most people create for society is a byproduct of that person needing an income. If they could get the same income without doing any work, most would choose that.

Travel has made me a better version. My worldview was so small before. After it, I've learned we are more of a global village than separate nations.

It kind of sounds like what you like best about travel is having free time. In other words it's not about how great travel is, but about how much you dislike like your (all-consuming) job.

I don't really hate my job. I think i would rather be a software developer than many other things. I do tend to work around 45 hours, but i don't take my work home with me. Well, not physically. It's more the emotional toll that it takes - having to be extroverted and "on" all through the week uses up all of my spoons. By the weekend i have nothing left.

I definitely would be happier if i had more free time. But my feeling is that i would also be a more productive member of society. At the very least i know i would engage more in the community. I am currently on day 5 of 12 days annual leave, and i am only just getting to the point where i feel i have the energy to venture out of my apartment. Surely this isn't the most efficient way to "contribute to society"?

It sounds like you are doing a lot of things right. I can offer one thought. A coworker of mine once told me that biking to & from work helped him decompress & be emotionally present for his kids when he got home, while driving just brought all the stress right home with him. I've come to agree. Bussing with a mile of walking down a nice lane has also had similar results.

All very impressive -- hope this guy is as happy as his scrupulously cultivated brand requires and celebrates.

But I wonder if this represents a cautionary tale -- someone who took their non-"desk job" and assiduously commoditized their adventures. The 110% workaholism never stopped.

Click here to buy the book, follow the instagram, subscribe to the YouTube.

Or maybe this is what can happen if you don't indulge your wanderlust in your early 20s. The scariest, hardest and most rewarding thing always turns out to be connecting with the people around you. Instead, "Rabbit, Run"...

This is how i see travel bloggers too. Constantly updating the world about your whereabouts, framing every experience as something to be shared, it sounds exhausting to me - just like work!

I don't begrudge them, though. If this person ever needs to go back to work "in the real world", they've kept a brand going that proves they have a work ethic. And if they don't, then presumably at least they've found a way to earn enough cash to maintain the lifestyle they want.

One of the things i wrestle with as i get older is meaning. I don't have a partner and don't want a house or kids. I don't have the killer instinct needed to become a corporate bigwig or an entrepreneur. I keep puttering along as a senior dev, quitting when i have enough cash for a sabbatical, then going back to work somewhere else when the savings run out. I'll never have the means to retire and live my perfect life. I'll just die somewhere, poor and aged out of the profession i never really wanted to do anyway. I suppose that's how most humans go out, but it feels a bit pointless.

I envy people who are very driven and have a clear goal in their lives - whether that goal is to be a rockstar desk jockey, to travel blog the world, or to connect with the people around them. It seems life would be much easier that way. I just kinda drift about, mostly having mediocre or boring days, occasionally having good days, and one day i'll die. It's far from a terrible life, but i can't help but wonder if goal-driven types feel that their lives are more rewarding.

Why not make it your goal to find a goal?

Due to hedonic adaptation, the journey of working toward something is usually more rewarding than reaching any particular destination, especially if you're getting lots of feedback along the way.

Also, I've spoken with literally thousands of entrepreneurs, and most don't have what I'd describe as "killer instinct." Many of them gained a purpose through their business, rather than starting their businesses to satisfy some pre-existing purpose. It's a bit like how people find a new mission in life once they have a child.

What we think impacts what we do, but perhaps less obvious is the fact that what we do impacts how we think. Sometimes the first step is to throw yourself into a situation and then allow the motivation to come.

Finally, I'd say I'm an abnormally driven and goal-oriented person, and even I often think about my inevitable death and the purpose of it all. I think it's just part of being human and thoughtful.

I've come to the conclusion that living a good life is largely about being proactive. We like to think that given enough money and freedom we'll all do things that make us happy, but instead we tend to stagnate. It's easy for anyone to settle into simply letting the days pass: whether you're single or in a relationship, an employee or a founder, traveling or stationary, it doesn't matter. You can get into a routine of simply doing the least effortful thing.

For most of us, being proactive about living your life in a fulfilling way requires effort, the same way work does.

This is great career advice, but by the end of your comment it felt like it went in a circle that leads back to the status quo. If humans really need to work to find fulfilment, then why bother trying to find fulfilment outside of work?

I don't hate my job. It's okay. I'm pretty good at it. The pay is fine. If this is as good as it gets - the joy of seeing someone you're mentoring "get it", the pleasure of getting a complex refactoring done, the accomplishment of shipping a cool feature - then i'm already there.

What i find sad is that it's not viable to spend time on idle things that i enjoy more than that workplace success. For me, my happiest times have been when i was doing nothing productive at all. Watching shows. Reading books. Dancing till dawn. Learning a new language. Cooking something nice. Talking to strangers. Wandering around aimlessly. Playing a computer game. Sitting on a bus to anywhere. Getting drunk apropos of nothing. Those are things i love to do because there is no pressure involved. What makes them satisfying is precisely that they are journeys without a destination. If there's a goal, if there's purpose, then it's exactly like work, so what's the point?

I am not sure that given enough money and freedom everyone would stagnate. That may be true of some, but not of others. Having discussed this with retirees it seems like it is a very individual thing. Some people don't do well with retirement - they get antsy and want to keep occupied, so they join social groups and take part in community events. Others gladly enjoy the chance to live an idle lifestyle. It's unfortunate that those who prefer the latter lifestyle have to work 45 years for it, and (depending on circumstance) may even never get the opportunity to enjoy that time.

I can't speak to what we need to find fulfillment. I haven't met many people who've said, "I'm fulfilled." And is fulfillment even the right goal? Once you reach it, is it not something you must constantly strive to maintain, or at least avoid losing?

We have a significant divide between working and living that I personally hope to erase, or at least minimize, in my own life. I've had some success this year, mostly through being more human and less down-to-business in my interactions with coworkers and colleagues. For example, previously I'd always prioritize speed and efficiency at work, which spelled disaster for experiencing real happiness at work. But recently I've begun to do things like having long, meandering 1-on-1 meetings that feel indistinguishable from casual chats with old friends about life, love, and whatever's interesting. Because why not?

Does having a purpose make something exactly like work? Well, if work is something that can be truly enjoyable, then the question is somewhat pointless. So let's imagine it can't. Then I'd posit that enjoyment depends less on having or not having a purpose, and more on what that purpose is. Trying to rush to hit some metric, or prioritizing speed and efficiency above human connection, or always having standards for success or failure, or doing things alone instead of a group… these approaches likely sap a lot of happiness out of spontaneous endeavors. But I don't think there's anything wrong with a purpose such as, "I'd like to have a lot of fun and make memories with my family over the holiday," and using that to guide you to say yes to some activities that you'd ordinarily ditch in favor of the easier choice to be stagnant and do nothing.

I also agree with you that not everyone would stagnate given time and money, by the way. I didn't mean to imply that. Only that many of us do stagnate instead of being as proactive as we should/could be to get the happiness or the lifestyle that we desire.

> We have a significant divide between working and living that I personally hope to erase, or at least minimize, in my own life

This, in a nutshell, is why I plan to never retire. "Retirement" for me is finding a business that holds my attention enough to want to do it for the rest of my life. Right now it has to fit into the interstitial bits of time between "day job" and "family time" and "sleep."

BTW: I love your podcast!

> This is how i see travel bloggers too. Constantly updating the world about your whereabouts, framing every experience as something to be shared, it sounds exhausting to me - just like work!

A few years back, I took a ~yearlong backpacking trip which gave me a lot of exposure to travel bloggers, both personally and when doing research for my travels. The impression I got from many of them was that they didn't consider the blogging work, but rather a natural outgrowth of the journaling practice that many people do privately anyway, for the ostensible personal benefits. Once they had already gone through the work of framing and articulating their experiences, polishing it and sharing it with others wasn't a lot of marginal work (and added an extra layer of fun).

I'm sure there are people who treat it like a daily grind, but my impression is that, for most travel bloggers, it grows pretty naturally out of something they were doing anyway.

Your comment reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s thoughts - how wanderlust can keep us from leading meaningful lives. Worth a read: https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2019/04/wanderlust-keeps-...

We probably need an antidote to the current instagram driven travel as consumption lifestyles, but I think they protest a little too much. Most people who go full nomad seem to realize quite well on their own after a year or two that no matter how much they learn, being always rootless and disconnected is not a great life and go back to build a life in one place. Most people aren’t privileged enough to even get this far but for the ones who want to why stop them? Some of my most memorable times have been travelling/living abroad but I realize indefinite travel would not be great.

I wholeheartedly agree. I'm currently into my third year of traveling and third new country. I'm getting pretty exhausted of starting again (new engineering job, new environment and new friends) and I'm starting to yearn for roots. It does take it's toll on you as now nowhere feels like home.

Then you settle down and the yearn to travel again takes over. It never really settles until you have kids.. and then I wonder if it’s only temporary (really want to travel now but the little one won’t remember it, so I’m rooted to his hometown)

Speaking for myself only, the yearning does not go away. It gets overridden by the realization that trying to fulfill that wanderlust was never going to make me happy. For me, travel was just a way of trying to find a place to belong, and once I realized that was my goal, I also realized that going from place to place was the exact opposite of what I should be doing.

That said, the longing has not gone away. I just know it to be a siren song.

They don't have to remember it. They won't remember anything before about 5 anyway. The time with them is (in a way) a very private experience only you & your partner will remember. You're making memories- for yourself.

Or, to put it in different terms, they fly free until they turn 2. Get at it.

Lol oh I did that, but it was to visit family. I had companion pass so we only needed to purchase one ticket and just went to different cities. Now we are beyond that free ticket age, and we value the experience as much as our time together that we want to wait until they do remember. So our first REAL family vacation is still three years away but I’ve already got our Paris adventure planned out!

One thing about traveling in general while children are young is that they become accustomed to it. Getting on a plane this weekend was a nothingburger for us, because it was like our 18th time going into the clouds. Same with 3 hour road trips, it becomes another facet of life

FWIW I don't think it dies down. RVs are a huge thing amongst older folks for a reason.

Wow, didn't expect to see you on HN. A friend of mine and I have been watching your Youtube vids for a while now. They're wonderful (and I'm also a bit jealous of the J30 camper on your Rubicon).

I myself took this past summer off to travel the western US. I started to have similar thoughts. It was very hard to go back to work after returning. Not because I didn't want to work (I did), but because of what you said, I realized it was so easy to fall into patterns and let your career direct everything.

I realized when I was traveling every day that I was the one directing, and it wasn't always easy. I had to deal with new things every day, sometimes great, sometimes difficult, but it really pushed me both mentally and physically. It was the best thing I ever did for myself.

One positive about returning to work though is I care a lot less about my career path. It allows me to be more open and honest at work. I don't fear not getting a promotion or losing my job. I also don't care as much about being "right". That helps my stress level a lot. But it also helps that I'm planning my next adventure as well (6 months in western Canada).

What is your takeaway? What did you mine from really thinking about the meaning and direction you want to take with your life?

*clarification: I mean it earnestly, as I have not done anything that you have.

My takeaway is that I must make decisions and take action if I am to live the life I want, in a manner that makes me happy. Nobody else will do that for me, and if I live my life on autopilot I will be extraordinarily disappointed when I look back over my life and see that I never took life by the horns and charted my own course.

It's on me, and that is equal measures exciting and (some days) terrifying.

I lost my Mum to cancer earlier this year, and she was exactly 30 years older than me. If I live to the same age as her I only have 30 summers left for all the hiking and camping and exploring I want to do. I only have 30 winters left for all the snowboarding and winter fun I want to have. Most important of all I only have 30 years left to spend time with family, friends, community, food, laughs and good times.

I have a lot that I want to cram into those 30 years, and I'm going to be my own pilot to make damn sure it happens.

In my humble opinion, as it applies to me and me alone:

Earning money is the worst of all false gods to chase. We in the western world have lost our path, and it's making us miserable. I met thousands of people in Africa that are happier and more joyous than virtually everyone I've ever met in Canada, Australia or the US.

Money is not the path the happiness, and I don't ever want to fall into that. I only ever want to earn enough money for food and shelter, and every minute otherwise I don't want to be at work making someone else rich. I want to spend those remaining 30 years enjoying myself and bringing happiness to those in my life, not earning money thinking it will somehow get me there in an abstract way.

But, what do I know? I'm only 37 after all. I have a lot to learn.

> Earning money is the worst of all false gods to chase. We in the western world have lost our path, and it's making us miserable. I met thousands of people in Africa that are happier and more joyous than virtually everyone I've ever met in Canada, Australia or the US.

I don’t disagree with your point.

IMO earning money isn’t the problem. The key is the balance between earning enough money to not struggle to do the things I enjoy, but not letting work and responsibility become the only thing in my life, blocking me from the things I enjoy.

But I will concede that western society has placed an emphasis on consumerism and we evidently all need more stuff. Consumerism is killing our planet as well as making us spend more and save less.

I’m similar in age to you, and despite my privilege, life can seem pretty pointless without time to self-direct, enjoy our interests and not be consumed by our jobs without a break.

Also, losing people close to you can change your perspective on what you spend your time doing. If I only have 20 summers left, I wouldn’t want to spend them working. But I still have to eat and pay rent for that amount of time, and working is the way I pay for it.

> "I don't want to be at work making someone else rich"

There's no point in thinking this way and it just creates more stress. Think of work as something you do for yourself. There's no shame in earning a living to then pursue your passions. Don't worry about or compare yourself to others.

Yup. Making a living for yourself only in such in a way that you purposely don't make a living for anyone else is limiting and self-defeating. And if everyone did that, society would collapse.

It's not like the economy is zero-sum anyway.

Absolutely agree! I'm 11 years younger than you and I realized this myself recently after having 2 unfulfilling jobs out of college. I'm absolutely tired of making other people rich d ppl ing something I don't enjoy.

I really just need enough to survive, and more free to time to actually pursue my passions and dreams. I think that's the true way to live.

My coworkers are obsessed with working as hard as they can, putting it all into their 401k so they can retire in 30 years. What an awful way to think about life.

"I'm only a slave for 40 years then I can do what I want".

No, do what you want now!

Clear thinking and good priorities.

I found it difficult until recently to make decisions about career and money, mostly because of the way status and security are attached to them.

Giving that up has been really hard, but as I’ve learned to live with less security, my happiness and freedom have increased to the point where I’m happier than I’ve been since I was a kid.

> Money is not the path the happiness, and I don't ever want to fall into that

Oof, that is a very uncomfortable statement for me to ponder upon. For the last couple of years, I have been focused on saving, saving, saving. Your comment makes me think about whether that's wise. Thanks for sharing that bit of wisdom.

Saving makes sense if the security blanket it gives, gives you peace of mind you need. Beyond that, unless you are saving for something, it might not be the best thing to focus too much on.

Well you can make money alleviating other people's suffering. I mean the work you do should have some utility in someone else's life.

If you only make enough to help yourself then you have nothing left over to help others.

Making a good amount of money and then giving it away to causes that can meaningful help others is a highly underrated pursuit.

Aimlessly traveling is not happiness. I predict you’ll learn that lesson soon.

>Earning money is the worst of all false gods to chase.

Moloch is pretty bad, but Gnon is worse. uwu

‘I don't want to be at work making someone else rich. I want to spend those remaining 30 years enjoying myself and bringing happiness to those in my life’

How do you expect to live out those 30 years without working consistently? Do you have means of enough passive income ?

Once you’ve saved a certain threshold of money, say $1M, it becomes relatively easy to make your money work for you at a high level so that you can live off dividends.

Until it dont

Limit your drawdown to 4% (3% during recessions) and you’ll have money forever

Harder than you think. It means you need consistent 6% returns (2% inflation, 4% return).

There's nothing out there that I know that gives you a consistent 6% return and the stock market is a fickle mistress. 2007 to 2009, VTI dropped over 50%. That 1% reduction in drawdown isn't going to be of much help much when your $1M turned into $500K, you'll need a job.

But you stopped working for a while, so now your resume makes you less desirable than the competition and exactly when you need more income (at the bottom of the recession) the job market is at its worst. Likely it took you a few years to get that $1M and age discrimination is rampant in IT, further decreasing your odds of finding that job.

I think realistically, you need a significantly lower drawdown, more likely in the order of 2% or less to weather economic downturns. Without subsidized healthcare, that's going to be very hard to do with $1M, but I think it's doable with $2M.

You wouldn’t have your retirement 100% in equities though, you would be way more risk adverse. So in 2007-2009 you may have only took a 20% hit only to see that rebound by 120% within 2 years. In fact if you were paying attention in that time you likely would have loaded up on equities and rebounded a lot further. But you can see this is an edge case. Remove those years from the last 30 and you’ll see the 4% drawdown would have covered you perfectly through that time.

I think you are right $1m is becoming shallow these days, but that doesnt change the significance of my statement

It’s up 30% this year and we’ve been in a 10 year bull market.

Index and real estate funds pay actual dividends, which you didn’t mention, outside of just relying on rising share prices.

There are some slightly more advanced ways to generate income like selling options premiums that can generate income when prices are relatively flat.

By living a simpler life and not consuming for the sake of it. Earning ~$25k a year will easily pay for the life I want to life. When I drove around Africa and to Argentina I only spent around $17k a year while on the road.

You can still do it even if you don’t really want to. That’s pretty much the definition of work regardless.

How did you get across the Darien Gap?

I shipped the Jeep in a shipping container from Panama to Colombia. Full details on how you can do it too, and price breakdown are here: http://theroadchoseme.com/shipping-across-the-darien-gap-pt-...

Covered in the links: http://theroadchoseme.com/shipping-across-the-darien-gap-pt-...

It isn’t crystal clear, but it looks like they went in on someone with a shipping container.

If you don't mind my asking, what is your Myers-Briggs if you know it (Ex: INTJ)? I would guess it takes a rare personality type to leave behind the security of career to do what you have done.

Actually I have no idea, I have not done of those tests in maybe 15 years, and I can't remember the result.

I just view it the other way around. I don't think I'm leaving behind security now, I think I'm choosing to live my life now rather than wait for the possibility of living it later.


> This may come across as harsh, but driving on highways, pan-american or not, doesn't strike me as much of an adventure in the current era.

No worries, I totally understand where you're coming from. I don't disagree with you either - sticking to the beaten path can be very easy, especially in countries that are more developed and have lots of tourists. It can certainly get very difficult and adventurous if you wish.

From your comment I take it you've never been to West Africa. Driving across Nigeria, Mali, the DRC, Angola most certainly is an adventure, even in 2019. When I went looking for it I was right in it up to my neck, often wondering if I'd bitten off more than I can chew. I crossed a border where the border guard who had been working there for three years had never seen a foreigner in his life. Plenty of times kids ran away from me because they had never seen a white person. Yes, even today you can go and do that, in West Africa, if you go remote enough.

I got malaria twice. I rolled my Jeep. I got stuck in the mud alone. I drove through water that came over the hood many times. It was 100F and 99% humidity for months on end, even at night I was pouring sweat trying to sleep.

It's easily the hardest and most rewarding thing I've ever done in my life, and to be honest I wonder if I'll never find that level of being truly alive ever again.

If you genuinely want to know what I'm talking about, here's a video of me driving across the DRC, easily the 5 biggest days of adventure in my life. I'm happy to answer any questions you have about the DRC crossing, or anything else for that matter.


Wooo crossing DRC? That’s seriously hardcore. Reminds me of those books of Robert Pelton back in the late 90’s “most dangerous trips in the world” or something. Wonder what happened with that guy...

Wow. I would offer this comment does come across as unnecessarily antagonistic. Other than the links, the poster didn’t mention their book at all. Further, they didn’t claim to be adventurous as much as contemplative.

I didn’t see it as promotion but even if it is, his is a valuable perspective we can get something from and totally relevant to the discussion.

To play devil's advocate, what is to come of deliberating on existential meaning at great length?

Do you think you'll find an answer, rationally speaking (that is, using the tools of reason and logic)? Notably, Godel's incompleteness theorems suggest these tools may be insufficient. More specifically, if you try to rationally "justify" what you ought to be doing, you will always be able to - legitimately! - impugn its logical foundation.

This suggests that consciously reasoning about what someone's fundamental purpose is may not be the best way to go about things. Rather, just as how we make most decisions, an intuitive and heuristical approach may be better. In other words, "do what feels right."

What feels right may materialize as a family, as charity, as building a business, or even building a career. My point is that all of these can be challenged as "deferring existential questions" - again legitimately - because they cannot be justified rationally. (All of these, equally, can be criticized in hindsight as being "wrong": wrong marriage decision, wrong way to raise children, wrong work-life balance, wrong charitable/activist cause.)

As a result, I don't think the criticism that a career - even an all-consuming one (as a family may be) - is somehow less justified. This is not to invite pure relativism: some things do seem to be more meaningful than others.

But! It is precisely that this "seems to be" is intuitive, and not rational, which constitutes the foundation of our belief. And so if a career-focus seems "intuitive", then I think it's meaningful enough.


EDIT: One other thing to note is that people who are fairly content with their lives don't often ponder _why_ their life is meaningful. They've specified a priori assumptions for what makes it meaningful (e.g. charitable giving, helping others), or intuitively feel what is meaningful (e.g. family, friends, happiness), and that is that. It's precisely the people who end up endlessly questioning these assumptions - facing the meaning of their life head on - that seem to be most depressed. This is because it's an intellectual deadend - it cannot be deduced rationally. One way, then, to answer this existential question is to simply defer: don't question, do what feels right, and avoid what doesn't.

Ignorance may be bliss, but only if you can remain ignorant until the absolute end. I see evidence of a paradox whereby the most powerful analytical minds are able to most effectively construct defensive counter arguments to their own inherent existential needs, allowing them to defer these needs until a criticality is reached and existential crisis manifests as a state of limbic terror which is impossible to ignore. The crisis is ultimately inevitable, and thus the ignorance only temporary, because they are in fact smart enough to realize deep down that something essential is out of balance. A polish psychiatrist named Dabrowski labeled some of these experiences 'positive disintegration' and wrote prolifically about their role in psychosocial development.

After nearly 500 hours of meditating in relative isolation, i promise you, the collector collects.

Something inside us, wild and free, wants to be happy, and we stand in its way.

> the collector collects

Can you expand on this?

—— Short answer ——

I experienced some things in meditation, consistent with Buddhist cannon.

I encountered a “judge” mechanism, that manifested as an emotion. It “knew everything” (makes sense, it was basically me pointing the finger at me) and it wasnt interested in talking things out. It wants to be happy, and it blames me for its unhappiness. It was a terrifying feeling, very painful.

I believe non-meditators experience this during death, and that “wild part” of us comes back to have one last conversation, and a settling of debts.

——— Long answer ———

Ive spent some time doing vipassana, exploring my inner world -

I also read a lot of carl jung, and come from a family of non religious mental health practitioners. So i dont consider myself clueless, or particularly naive or impressionable.

After that intro ... i experienced some deeply disturbing things: bodily convulsions and pains, which subsided after some time too, and were experienced on an emotional level (meditation shuts/slows down thinking mechanisms, to stop generating mind chatter) -

when the silence increases inside our head, mind chatter disappears but something else takes its place .. emotions, deep intense emotions start to rise - its during those moments of deep mind silence that some pretty bad feelings start to arise inside me, of something deeply unhappy about how im living my life, because it wants to be happy, and i am in this body, is its tool. it wasn't just angry, it was full of grief, and so scared to the point of terror.

Again, it wasn't a discussion, i got the feeling it a prt lf me that wasnt interested in talking things out (it knows everything about me already, its me) it was a deep emotion of intense meaning, and terror and loneliness.

I didn't give my feelings significance before, im also still an atheist - but i now think/believe that being human has a truth we are blind to, and some of these truths are experienced at death, so if you lived a life against your “conscience” - if you ask me, id say it will hold you responsible for its happiness. (I havnt experienced the other part where its happy about what i do, in a way it was a corrective self-bitchslap. Life is still ongoing - so its not all terrible, yet)

Beautifully said.

Today it is pretty well established that it is your thoughts create your emotions. Dabrowski was on the path to discovering this but he missed the latent variable here and was too focused on having an individual having a crisis in order to bring about positive change which is not necessary or required.

Certain individuals may not require an existential crisis to achieve the uppermost stage of conscious integration but for others (most) I believe it to be absolutely necessary.

What exactly is an existential crisis? What differentiates it from a regular crisis?

Have you not met anyone who went through a period of questioned assumptions, got to their answers, and consciously chose a path that fulfills them? Those seem to be the happiest people around. Many people who have gone through this process do end up at the answers of family, or helping others. I'm unclear from your writing if you accept those answers as valid, or if you are being dismissive of those answers and assuming that anyone focused on family must not have gone through a self-discovery process in their youth.

The older I get, the more I find that almost everyone battles through the questions of who they are and what they are doing with their lives. Most people question their values and purpose. I disagree wholeheartedly that content people don't ponder their lives. On the contrary, they are content because they are past that phase of life, and content because they are living a well-considered path. We are not deferring anything - we completed the process, made our choices, and are living them.

I agree with your initial assessment but for second, It depends. I have gone through that or so I believe. And yet I don't see point in living in current circumstances.

The irrational or rational mind compares the experiences of others as a measure for their own happiness when they feel that something is not right.

Going by what feels right works as long as there is positive reinforcement otherwise it will have a negative side effect on life. Some people aren't for example aware of choices others have made in their life because they don't focus on them, those choices lead them to happiness or better standing ground but for others, those choices that aren't in their control leading to a very negative event may disproportionately affect them and questioning.

You can't control for your initial years or childhood and That I think has the biggest impact on whether you will come across solving it.

It feels right to cry out in misery but rational or irrational mind would think it might be pointless if for however long you cry, no one comes to help or nothing improves.

I don't know what is considered rational or irrational thing to do given anything may seem rational for someone in specific circumstances and irrational for bystander. Is there such a thing as objective rationality that can be verified?

I don't think OP is referring to meaning in an existential or epistemological sense, but rather discussing workaholism as a "practical" avoidant behavior for those who put off dealing with some kind of dysfunction or trauma.

In my own attempts at reasoning this stuff the only meaning that I've been able to find is that life is meaningless. Therefore the only thing to do is be comfortable with that null of an answer, and live as you see fit.

Life doesn't have external meaning. But that doesn't make it meaningless. We still have feelings and preferences. Some are short-term, some are long-term. The internal meaning of life is encoded in these preferences.

The preferences aren't stable, because we and others have influence on the meaning of life. You get some choice! Others can affect the meaning of your life. Hopefully for the better.

To say life is meaningless is wrong to me. Because we experience these profound moments of meaning on occasion. Either positive or negative. So to me, these moments of meaning are my guide. This means deep friendships, being there for people, contributing to society, trying to become a better / stronger person, and just trying to enjoy myself most of the time.

same but that leads to another locked door for me. Statistically speaking, the quality of life I want to get (expectations reduced by 5x for being extra cautious) still has a chance of 2-5% given my background of ever being real. Why should I place my bet on such a shitty investment package which most people get for nothing? Fixing my current problems alone would take me years and that will put me near average person by the time, the gap is probably already widened.

Sounds like you have a goal. Making progress toward a goal can be satisfying. Even more so than reaching the goal. One problem I see is that you are comparing yourself to others (you mention the average person). Whatever landed you where you're at is unique to you. It's your challenge to overcome and should not be compared to anyone else. There's only you today and you tomorrow. Keep moving toward that goal even if it takes a lifetime.

I am aware of that. I am not comparing my experience but rather taking average as a baseline.

If 40 out of 50 people end up in poverty in my neighborhood, then chances are I will given how similar metrics for ending in poverty is. Of course it's not always good but not sure where I can draw a line when I feel 'something' is not satisfying.

You can compare it to people who are unaware that they are depressed or have mental issues after pressure to accept it and reinforced narrative that everyone goes through it surrounding them.

Some comparison is needed :/ and it is too hard for someone who feels mostly the same when achieving something valued by society vs achieving nothing. Enjoying the journey is cool and all but it's a trap if all your motivation or enjoyment comes from self praise and you are not dependent on external stimuli for it. Being too critical of your self can be addicting itself but I haven't really find a way to balance things out and I doubt I ever will unless I change the fundamental blocks of who I have been so far. That is a disturbingly challenging thing to do and seems more effort than being a druggie and early death :3

I wish the voice in my head had a turn off button ugh. It's always a second person commenting on everything it sees.

You need to set your aspirations at a reasonable level and have goals that are relatively close (say, one order of magnitude away by some metric) to what you have now, with a plan that can get you there.


> If 40 out of 50 people end up in poverty in my neighborhood, then chances are I will given how similar metrics for ending in poverty is.

This isn't the case at all. Most people don't prioritise wealth generation. They prioritise things like staying close to family, maintaining old friendships, not moving, working in a specific field or on specific problems they enjoy, etc.

If you actually go out there and seek it, yeah, it's hard, but the odds aren't anywhere near as stacked as you're making out.

The odds are mostly stacked against you in the sense of things like health issues, or passports, etc. Growing up simply with not much money isn't that hard to get out of.

That was an example, not exactly my situation. If wealth generation alone was a metric, I wouldn't have that much problem but regarding the last statement, most research would disagree. Growing up in poverty fuels a mindset of poverty, I have experienced it first hand. Maybe things are different in other places so I am not gonna make a generalization about anything else. Poor countries with overflow tends to have people who put wealth accumulation above all.

And I think I set a reasonable expectation. That is one thing I am afraid of doing the most, setting expectations high that you would never reach for myself or others. I don't find any balance here. I don't have any metrics to compare or find a reasonable solution to what I should expect of others or whether at all. Do I expect my family to be reasonable or not? Do I expect my environment to be friendly or not? If overestimate, disappointment. If you underestimate, trap of trust issues and general existential crisis of why bother.

I just decided I want an average first world life quality eventually but THAT is hard. Eh, getting average quality of life removing the wealth as a metric here is hard.

I guess I could call it cultural, environmental or social disintegration?

I don't know a lot about your situation but it sounds to me like for the most part you need to 'get out' and somehow manage a visa or whatever to a first world country. That seems like a reasonable goal to me?

Different magnitude of situation, but I felt the same way about my hometown. It wasn't really about money, though it felt that way at the time - I just needed to find my people, and they weren't there.

> Growing up simply with not much money isn't that hard to get out of.

I might be misunderstanding but are you saying that upwards class mobility is easy, specifically from the lowest end?

Not at all. Upwards class mobility, in the true sense, is essentially impossible within a single generation. Speaking from a British perspective, a child with a poor upbringing is unlikely to be able to convince others, at least on close inspection, that they aren't actually a prole. (How might I know that?)

I am specifically talking about, as I say, "growing up without much money". A poor individual getting from the bottom, or close to it, up to a solid income (say 80th percentile). From there, the wealth is a matter of financial discipline. Some of the 'class' might come, but life is not an act, and Tarquin will always differ.

At least where I'm from (UK), it's a trivial problem in the sense that an equation might be trivial to solve, for an individual. The ingredients are there; an individual must apply themselves to the task at hand.

If you are healthy and of reasonable intelligence, obtain a degree from a good university, and apply those skills to a job, it's quite hard to fail at that catastrophically.

In a collective sense it is impossible, at least the way that society is currently set up. A lot of people have to not be on top.

What confuses people a lot is that they look at these statistical averages and assume that because most of the poor remain poor (and most of the rich remain rich - wealth is sticky), the same likelihoods apply to them.

But if you're actually trying to get out of that situation (most people honestly aren't - they might say they are, but it's not their #1 priority) you're not in that same cohort and you can quite easily be more competitive than those brought up in middle income families.

This is all based on my experience in Britain. In the US it's probably different.

If you're born in a poor _country_ then you probably need to get out first, and I imagine the whole passport visa situation is rather a challenge.

If you're born with severe disabilities, and poor, you could well be shit out of luck. So it goes.

> EDIT: One other thing to note is that people who are fairly content with their lives don't often ponder _why_ their life is meaningful.

Is meaningful the same as happy? What I think is there are a great deal of unhappy people who attempt to make it as if their thinking and point of the way they feel is representative of what others are like or even should be. Many of these people have either things going right in their life (job, relationships, money) and are still not happy (maybe because they suffer from depression). Or they have addictions they can't shake and are not happy. Or they are simply trying to be something they are not and are not happy.

Small example - Do I question why I comment on HN? There is no reason I just like to say things. I don't need to break down any impact other than 'it is something I want to do that makes me feel something that I like to feel'. Ditto for other things.

Look at how presumptions the title of the article is to begin with "What Happens When Your Career Becomes Your Whole Identity". Right off the top it is saying that it's wrong for your career to be 'your entire identity'.

Would anyone say 'what happens when being healthy makes you happy?'. What's this judgement with deciding what is enough for one person is the same for most people?

Then things like this:

> Dan’s story is not uncommon. Many people with high-pressure jobs find themselves unhappy with their careers, despite working hard their whole lives to get to their current position. Hating your job is one thing — but what happens if you identify so closely with your work that hating your job means hating yourself?

Not uncommon? Why does that matter? If I have a hobby that 'is not common' or feel a way 'that is common' so what?

I agree with your point, just want to add; I think the point of existential deliberation at it's root is to overcome existential despair. I think for 'typical' people doing what feels right is an effective means to overcome this, but people who deliberate on it obsessively do so because they either don't know what feels right or are unable to extinguish their despair by doing what feels right, and are driven to search for answers. Like you said, trying to use reason to find some meaning in life is probably not going to be successful. Some people, I suspect, might be unable to stop obsessing about the meaning of life and that could be the cause of their despair. They'll never find an answer and get relief in that way, but they also don't have the power to stop themselves from trying

I agree with you that being right about these things isn't possible. As you say, values are not deduced. But being in agreement with yourself is possible and that's really the whole point.

Some people may intuitively fall into agreement with themselves, but most do not.

Thanks for this comment, it puts into words some ideas I've been considering in a very concise manner. Also, the replies are quite interesting.

That positive feedback loop is one of the key things to watch out for.

Work tends to have many mechanisms which directly links what you put in with positive feedback in a relatively short amount of time, which leads people to optimize for that short term maxima. Putting in more effort, more hours, etc for a positive outcome on a project, a promotion, etc is an easy decision to make, can be almost addicting for many high performers.

However, the neglect that one does to long-term feedback cycles, like not spending enough time with your spouse, children, friends, family, personal hobbies, only manifest negatively in the long run. The investments on the positive side also play out mostly in the long run as well, so the direct feedback cycle isn't quite there.

Using work to get those satisfying consistent wins can have its costs if you aren't deliberate about balancing against investments towards the long term maxima.

For me work is what I enjoy the most about life. I would do it for free - In fact I worked on open source projects for free for almost a decade. Including some successful/popular ones.

That said I still feel burned out. I've come to realize that not only did the work I do for free not give me any financial advantage (which I expected), but the people who've hired me over the past few years don't seem to recognize that work as being valid work experience.

I'm 30 years old but what I've found over and over again is that managers will give promotions to 35 year olds who spent most of their lives playing video games.

From my perspective, the people described in this article sound like they have it pretty good. What I need is merely for people to realize that I'm actually a 40 year old work-machine trapped in the body of a 30 year old human... Maybe if I can achieve that, then I will eventually reach a high point in my life when I can afford to have problems with self-actualization like those described in the article.

So, there is an important distinction between technical skills vs the softer political skills. I ran into this problem as I had up-leveled myself before a job, but I was a complete n00b at the people problem.

Sadly, the people problem dominates most companies, and even pure technical tracks require people skills of a different nature due to the parallel power structures.

But it's still work - you call it work, for one. I mean you enjoy doing it, doing it for free, anonymously, without recognition - although the recognition part is starting to sting now - so why not? But there's other things to life than work as well. Find things you enjoy doing that aren't 'work'. Broaden your horizons. Even if it feels like a waste of time.

what I've found over and over again is that managers will give promotions to 35 year olds who spent most of their lives playing video games

They must be special be special because they place such a high value on their time, whereas you give yours away for free < the implicit premise at work in such transactions. It's sort of a personality thing; the more effort and diligence you put into getting hired, the needier you seem, whereas the insouciant entitled-seeming person is able to arouse the managers desire to hire them by being a Shiny Object. Appearances matter, not because they are such a good guide to substance but because of the social fact that so many people respond to them. It's also possible/probable that these managers were 35 year olds who spent most of their lives playing video games (or sports, or cards, or whatever) and consciously or unconsciously hire people with similar personality types.

Not only are life and business not a meritocracy, there is not a singular ordering of competence. Social rewards most often flow not to someone who knows how to do something but the one who knows how to get others to do that for them. So, you have good technical skills at whatever it is you do, you're good at working on your own, and you are also a Nice Person who likes to share. This pretty much guarantees you will be treated like a worker bee.

Now, consider a large project that is beyond your individual capabilities and would require 10 people with your skills and diligence to realize in a year. Can you work 10 times as hard? No. Can you do it over 10 years? Maybe, but you'll be short of money the whole time and someone else would probably pass you by or make your project obsolete. You could find 9 other people with similar skill sets to yours and then cooperate, but that seems a bit unlikely.

Or you could find 12-13 people who you think are 80% as good as you and then tell them what you want - in other words, give them your high-level understanding of how the project should be built and then making sure they have the resources to do it. So instead of thinking of development as a problem of memory, storage, CPU time, and bug hunting, it becomes a problem of resources, budgets, reliability, and HR issues. Managers are in the business of instructing developers while relinquishing control of (and eventually competence in) the lower-level stuff of actually programming the machines. Another way to think of it is that while you are programming the electronic machine to make current flow to do blinkenlights, managers are people who have learned to program/hack the corporate machine to make money flow to make people do things.

To sum up, you will never get promoted/resourced for your technical expertise. The better you are at solving technical problems, the more you will be taken for granted as an extension of the machine you program. The best route out of this is to come up with a small project that you could do yourself, but instead parcel the sub-tasks out between 5-7 different people, and then lavish praise upon them when it's completed.

You can do this by stealth or with the agreement of your own manager, but focus on the objective and be vague on the details of implementation; this is what gives you the room to solicit help from others. You're not stealing their effort, you're providing the structure and taking responsibility by giving them a clearly defined task that they can easily perform without having to think too much. Your bosses want a result and don't want to be bogged down in understanding the details. Your peers want clearly defined tasks and enjoyable rewards and don't want to think too much. You become a manager by taking responsibility; you worry about stuff for other people (the details for your superiors, the big picture for your team members) by sitting on the border between their comfort zones without asking anyone to actually leave theirs.

You expect them to spontaneously have a spiritual epiphany about your "old soul"?

Please man, stand up for yourself and learn the measures of business ethics.

You're jumping to conclusions. I often asked for raises and tried to negotiate. I quit companies several times after they failed to promote me or they failed to give me a raise. I'm pretty sure it has nothing to do with business skills. Just bad luck.

My last boss was so upset when I told him I was thinking of quitting that, in front of the whole company, he threatened to throw me out of the window but then he apologized multiple times and asked me to come back after he regained his composure (I had a lot of leverage at the time)... But I quit the next day to save face and find better opportunities. This company had tons of money (millions to spend on development) but they wouldn't give me a 10% modest salary increase after 2 years of excellent work. That's the kind of irrational people I worked for. There was no indication they were going to be like this when I joined. You only find out about this stuff after several years and then you already wasted your time and have to start again at a new company and hope that your next employer will be fair or rational at the very least.

Larger and older companies tend to have much more structured and consistently positive annual salary adjustments. You should try to find one of those before you turn 35.

You're taking my comment in bad faith.

I claim nowhere that you don't negotiate, I claim you do it badly and point to the area of knowledge that is required to change that.

It's bad pedagogy to even acknowledge you playing the victim card, that's your psychological issue and I'm not about to play therapist to a stranger.

Edit: thanks for the negativity I suppose, I'll make sure you profit from my advice in no shape or form as requested.

Would you please stop posting in the flamewar style to HN? You've done it quite a bit already, and it's the opposite of the spirit we're going for here, so we actually ban accounts that do it.

If you'd please read the site guidelines and follow them when posting to HN, we'd be grateful.


Seriously. Here's how the software business works: There are people in management with MBAs who follow the same template no matter what company you are talking about. Management sees everyone non-management as part of the infrastructure. Developers are not human beings to them, they are a commodity. A developer is the same thing as a printer or an office chair to them. To be in management, you have to also be "good" at dehumanizing others, drinking a lot, saying "yes" to anything regardless of how ridiculous that thing is, and generally going along to get along.

I have job-hopped many times hoping to find a place that values developers. After 9-10 jobs I now realize my mistake. There aren't any. Every place I have worked is more or less as I just described to you. This is 21st century business. This is what they didn't explain in college. This is what is wrong with all business in general is this commodification of people--they don't care if you're a good developer or a 10X problem solver, most are happy with cheap. If the labor comes from India or China or anyplace with a contract that puts the laboror in a one-down position of servitude, all the better because those people can be exploited much further. Again, they don't even care about quality, they desire only "good enough."

Now, there is something worse. White males are considered less attractive people to hire. They are trying to punish us for being intelligent and successful. If you don't believe me, just wait, in time you will experience it yourself.

It's also a psychological issue caused by bad parenting and disinformation in the media, which leads people to seek meaning in work, leading to various forms of codependency with their employers, which in turn cultivates learned helplessness.

It's eerie how accurately this describes folks I know who have gone through several cycles of excitement, codependency, and disillusionment. Finally, I no longer "seek" meaning in work -- the only meaning is that it is a "means" to an end, and the closer I get to finding the good enough solution, the more simple I make things for myself.

It's because when you're young, you're just happy to be making it on your own.

But I'm not sure everyone does reach the second stage. Some people seem to be content just living their lives and enjoying themselves without really wondering if they could have done more or whether they need to leave the world a better place than when they arrived.

I think maybe it depends on how much exposure to death one has had. Death tends to make one reevaluate ones own life, at least in my own experience.

That implies they are not really content so much as ignorant about the realities of their mortality.

I think the desire to make a mark on the world, leave behind some “legacy”, etc is itself a denial of mortality, and in some cases/to some degree a desire for validation from others. If you can put down that desire for validation, and come to accept that we’ll all soon be dust, you can focus on living a life that works for you.

I think society expects individuals to “live for some higher purpose” because that’s what produces beneficial outcomes for the society. Hard to argue with that. But I have found that the times I lived my life in accordance with those expectations were the times I felt most trapped and resentful. And conversely, when I focused on doing what I wanted, I encountered resentment from others for not “sticking to the script” (living for their benefit). But I’ve found that to be a heckuva lot easier to live with.

I still help others in my life quite a bit, but it’s on my terms, rather than a structural obligation built into my lifestyle.

Of course, I wouldn’t deny that some who attempt to impact the world succeed. And some of those impacts have benefited those who come after. And I doubt the world would be a better place if everyone were like me, but then that is true of anyone.

I just left a job I'd built an identity around. I was good at it, it was fulfilling and paid decently, but I spent all my time there and not much on anything else. Quitting was really hard. It felt a lot like breaking up with someone. It really does feel like leaving a part of myself behind.

I've been working somewhere else with less hours and far less responsibility so far. The first week or two was kind of a shock. Going back to the bottom of a place where I don't really have any kind of responsibility or even really knowledge of everything thats going on has been pretty tough. But it's refreshing in a way, i've gone back to a few hobbies and other things I haven't worked on for a while now and it's kinda nice just show up, do things I get told to do and leave without worrying about what I need to get done for tomorrow and stuff.

I think it doesn’t need to be due to deferring major life decisions, but rather just youth and inexperience. I spent a few years of my life working 80+ hour weeks, advancing my career. It wasn’t due to deferring some life decisions but rather was just something I felt I needed to do to prove myself and get ahead. I’ve since grown out of this, but I notice this in other younger people around me. Super enthusiastic, always on and available and ready to jump in to work on anything.

So the question is then if that phase is truly necessary for success or not. A lot of people say, "They grew out of it," but then to look at people who "know their worth and limits" early, they're not nearly as successful, on average. Part of that is that if you're not seen to be working hard, no matter how effective you are, you will not be seen to be effective, and will not reap the rewards of that effectiveness; the people calling the shots will not have it. So, if the expectation is overwork, and it is necessary to advance, is that something untenable to how work in America should be? Or, on some level, do we like it or view it as serving a purpose?

Boy, did I learn this the hard way.

How so?

Threw myself head first into 80+ hour weeks of work, career climbing etc to avoid dealing with issues (incl. some trauma) I had since childhood. Told myself I'd be "married to my work", because while people leave you, money lasts longer. Gained some modest success, but woke up after 5+ years to the realisation that no matter how much I worked, none of the success, money or appreciation from peers would ever feel whatever void/emotional avoidance I had inside and was trying to mask by marrying myself to my work. By this time, I had a severe eating disorder and probably some sort of severe burnout.

Thank you for sharing. If you don't mind me asking, what helped after you had the realization?

For me, as I got older, lost passion for what I had been doing for 20 years - and being on the old end of the ageism-specrum-stick... it is hard to deal with.

I have left 'Silicon Valley Tech' -- as I am no longer interested in any of the things I did before and seek positions which are more fulfilling in other industries and pay about 25% of what I used to make...

I have a PhD in machine learning and have had a fairly productive career now spanning almost thirty years. Even a few years ago, I used think that I would keep at it indefinitely. Lately however, I'm finding that the field simply just does not interest me as much as it used to. Contributing to this is the knowledge that I am financially independent - I just don't need to work at this point. I'm planning to quit later this year and spend more time on hobbies and studying cognitive science on my own.

Can I ask why you are not interested in the field anymore? It seems to be having a major, major renaissance at the moment.

Gary Marcus has articulated it much better than I could in his new book with Ernie Davis: https://www.amazon.com/Rebooting-AI-Building-Artificial-Inte...

I really dislike the single minded focus on deep learning to the exclusion of everything else.

What I struggle with is the issue of health insurance. What are really the options of safety when chasing your post-tech dreams? That risk and uncertainty is what keeps me from moving on with just taking a few years to try something else.

Just the other day I met an artist, 50 years old, he currently plans take multiple years of to travel the world and make and display art - just like that.

If you have very little income, health insurance actually becomes affordable. The trouble comes when you make enough not to qualify for subsidies but work for an employer that isn't large enough to negotiate good rates.

What sorts of industries or positions are you currently working in or seeking?

There is a comment that replied to mine that is now dead but is fairy accurate for me as I do not have a college degree. I’ve been able to some what transition to a technician/mechanic path but I make barely enough to support myself without kids or any other expenses. I have found myself in many ways much happier with my work, but the instability and low wages definitely add stress at times. Unfortunately, I have found few opportunities where my many years of software development experience mean much to potential employers outside of the industry. Of course this is very anecdotal.

I am in exactly the same boat. Could not have said it better myself.

Me too, but I need help. I have been working on ideas for my "2nd career," well, really it will be my 3rd, but that's beside the point. I need a way out of tech. I have enough money already, I just need a freaking path to another kind of work. It's not been easy. It's either I do what I am doing or it's $15/hr Target cashier type of job. Not bashing the Target cashiers, just making a point.

Have you thought about entrepreneurship? Building a product? That's normally fairly risky, but it seems to me that it's entirely worth a shot if your wealth provides the basic necessities.

If you have enough money, why restrict yourself to gainful employment?

I'm 35, I have been trying to turn the boat around on this for 2 years now. You're exactly right.

Existentialism is a trap. Camus pretty much nailed it but here it is in comic/essay form:


Absurd nihilism is not a get out of jail free card for existentialism. It's a structure to answer the existential question in the same way Nietzsche's answers are a structure or any of the other philosophers. It has a fundamental axiom at the bottom and a logic that blossoms out of it. Saying there is 'no meaning' is to answer the question with avoiding the question to begin with.

Writer's block / drawer's block happens when you don't have a structure for your ideas. Nearly any structure you can think of can be useful for starting work. Hero's journey can be used to prop up your ideas like a tack weld until you get something better.

The character in the article cannot get their ideas out because they do not have a structure for their work, their ideas and their existence. One answer is to lump your existence into the "nothing" category and another answer is to see how deep the rabbit hole of existence goes and come out with your own thoughts, structures and opinions.

The point of reading philosophers is not to become them, but to develop your own perspective. It's not a trap, it's a necessity.

The absurd is the tension between the search for meaning and the inability to find any. It doesn’t mean there is no meaning as a nihilist would argue. Nor does it imply destruction.

Camus’s absurd is more akin to Gödel incompleteness than nihilism.

The article repeatedly leans on nihilism as it's counterpoint to order and meaning. Time is infinite therefore we are meaningless is nilihism. You can fill in time with what means something to you, it need not be empty.

>The thirst for more sounds comically absurd when you zoom out and see that nothing matters, so it’s about going deep into the zoomed-in life you already lead. Your health, your loved ones, your work, your interests, your desire to help others, your values, your existence.

>What could be more meaningful than that?

This quote from the article sums it up, to have a meaningful life you must accept that there isn't any meaning in some points of the world. That worldview leaves a massive gaping black hole of meaning in time and space around you. That black hole where there is no meaning is nihilistic. It clears out the greater story above you that could actually be an expression of what you find meaningful as a human, with which you could fill the universe and replaces it with a pre-determined story, absurdism that includes nothing.

Godel's incompleteness can be used for any argument. Mathematical and computational logic is not the basis of all philosophy, nor is anything we know or the field would be dead. Defining your axioms is part of the game. Defining a world view that includes meaning in all places is a far more sympathetic perspective than to rob the reader's worldview of it's potential to apply in most places, by defining that the vast majority of external existence is non-meaning. Asking the reader to read more is a more healthy perspective.

Arguing that absurdism gives a valuable middle ground between meaning and non-meaning is something I'd heartily disagree with. The reader is more than capable of finding their own middle ground and becoming their own person in the process.

Life having meaning is like life having a door. There is only one way to advance and for a lot of people that door is locked. If you instead think that the door does not exist then you are free to choose any path.

It's not clear what specifically is the problem that defines the door as locked in your comment. I'm going to assume it's life circumstances. The problems you have to overcome or sacrifices you have to make to unlock and open the door are part of what makes the corridor behind the door meaningful.

In the lock itself resides the conflict needed to be solved, maybe the non-door path includes things you find valuable and you really are conflicted between two corridors of different values. Maybe family is more important to you than a purposeful career or whatever.

Ignore the article and read Camus. The point is that existentialism is absurd.

I don’t know if this is fair to say. The trope exists, certainly, but I don’t know if we can pass judgement on a way someone has chosen to live their life just because it would not fulfill us.

It’s absolutely true that many people regret prioritizing their career later, but there are also quite a few people regret not investing in their career as well.

My takeaway watching many people regret, and having regrets my own - or as you put it, my “debt coming due,” is that it is up to each of us to do our best to predict what our future selves will want. That’s all there is to it, and it’s unproductive to say “careers are bad,” or, alternatively, “focusing on family is bad,” or any variation of the above.

I agree with much of this, both out of personal experience and that of my friend.

Work is a distraction from what is really gnawing at your ankles. Even if you start to burn out it still feels preferable to the alternative, if you're even aware of that in the first place.

And to be honest, it's valid even though it's massively unhealthy. Facing your underlying issues, whatever they are, is hard work but also, it's ultimately the most rewarding work.

I've a lot to share about the matter, but it's a bit much and a little too personal for a public response here.

It’s interesting you say that... arguably I am an extreme workaholic, I work 70+ hours every week. I learn all I can on top of that.

I get satisfaction from it, but it’s not my identity. If I was a janitor, I’d try to be the best janitor, because that’s what I like doing, I like being good at my job. I also plan 2 years out and intend to have $X wealth by specific deadlines. I’ll work harder to reach it.

For me, as I’m only 27 (but have been doing this since I was 14) my goal is to be able to “retire” by 35. That means I need lots of money in the bank.

After that I can choose what I want to do, but before that you’re right, I don’t want to think about life choices. It’s hard to work when everyone else is having fun. But I’m also on track to be financially free (I.e. high enough passive income for lifestyle) by 35. So I can have a much more fulfilled life for 50 years or so.

Remember investments grow exponentially- meaning you want to invest as much as you can while you’re young(er)

A former boss of mine told me once: "if you think you need X before you do Y you will forever find Xs". He went on to be a very successful CEO of a F500 company so his advice likely has merit.

The takeaway I had was that you shouldn't wait to live your life by first toiling away at something. Live your life today because who knows about tomorrow. And work is part of life. Find a way to enjoy that too even if it's a means to an end.

> Remember investments grow exponentially- meaning you want to invest as much as you can while you’re young(er)

*grow geometrically (with apologies, am pedant)

Per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exponential_growth, geometric growth is exponential growth.

> High status careers are often structured, full of positive feedback loops, and well compensated

Problem is when people are in 'high status careers' that can't take the pressure or the heat of the high status career. And try to keep up with those who do.

I am not sure you find many athletes who once they make it complain that they wish they had chosen another path. My guess on why that is? Less luck involved (sure luck with everything). Less luck means more likely the strong or talented survive and they are appreciative for what they have and less likely to crumble and complain.

> Eventually the debt comes due but sometimes not until many decades later.

It's a dangerous path if you don't have things to follow on through (like a family, kids, grown kids university, new wife, etc...). There is no meaning to life and it makes more sense to end your life right now. (at least with the info/data we have available).

This. It's so easy to escape in workaholism and ignore the "hard" things in life (relationships, health, purpose, etc). It's easy (for me at least) to fall into this trap.

No, that’s just the human condition. Having an outlet for it is good!

I see it more as a way to fill gaps in someone’s life that they’ve either consciously or subconsciously rejected e.g. having a family.

This might be extremely controversial but does anyone else find it fitting that so many of the high profile Silicon Valley elite are single childless gay men?

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