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Do whatever you can't stop thinking about (shime.sh)
516 points by a7b3fa on March 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 219 comments

Being totally honest here. I don't find any work that I totally can't stop thinking about. There is always something that I need to get done that I don't relish, that I don't enjoy.

Here's how it goes - there's an idea that you think is really nice, you start talking to people then you are hit with reality - no one gives a shit about your idea. Some do, but most of them are like meh. There comes the first punch and you either think they are all dumb or ascribe some positivity to what others are saying and start talking to more people or start working on a prototype. Then you realize you have to build a front end. Welcome to front end hell. You have no fucking clue how CSS has evolved over the last 6 months. The npm package you thought was useful is now outdated or not maintained. So by now you are more or less exhausted. What started as a fabulous idea in the head has now boiled down to 'shit let me get done with this CSS crap and move on'. At this time, I don't even want to think about CSS, let alone HTML. Rinse and repeat this until you find success.

At least, this has been my experience.

Here is what I have discovered after grinding at that process many times: You have to find a mechanism of internal feedback and drive the project through that.

What I mean there is, simply, when you get the idea and your first instinct is to seek confirmation from others, you've already erred by basing the entire thing on the whims of others. Even if you get them to become stakeholders with a substantial interest, they are still most likely operating on their whims. They go to the meeting because they are obliged to have a meeting, and the extent that they care is simply the extent that you have entangled them in it. You cannot rely on others in this regard; they can be great friends in most aspects of life and still be utterly perplexed by your ideas, even if they start seeing them working in practice. We all fly to our comfort zones. But this means that being a good student, a hard worker or a loyal friend is not sufficient to cross the threshold into realizing something original.

What you can rely on to make that crossing are tools of logic and reason: first do some philosophy and determine your thesis. Find principles, themes and references to give it structure to hang the work off of. Make sure it coheres in an explicable way, with logical premises: compare everything pair-wise, make diagrams, whatever you have to do. There are a lot of possible "systems" but having one is the important thing. You do not want to be in a position of blind faith in the idea alone, and a strong high-level concept has the power of making it easier to rationalize, explain, and argue for a certain way of doing, thus eliminating your doubts.

Once you have some starting point, generate requirements with binary true/false factors: it must have this, it cannot have that. Sketching out requirements can tell you something about the principles you have in mind so it helps to cycle between the two a bit. But you don't build a solid project just on requirements because those are so often subject to whims: "why do it that way?" "meh, felt like it." You instead challenge each requirement against the broader idea to ensure that it works at scale.

From the aggregate of binary factors, key metrics to focus on also appear. And as you do requirement generation, the motivation to do the work appears naturally because you have to do it to answer the question!

And of course, doing this, it becomes a marathon, not a sprint, because it quickly takes you out of the space where you just grab off-the-shelf solutions and slap it together. You start going well out of the comfort zone to answer your question. Now you have experiments to run and research to follow up on. The principles and themes of the project never change once established, they only become more refined and nuanced as you evaluate what the best means of achieving them are.

And I think that is, in essence, how you do it. You can achieve something resembling a successful creative work by accident, but if you stick to a principled approach your chances improve sharply.

Very helpful insights. Thank you.

It sounds like you're too goal oriented. Leisure activities can be simply about enjoying the activity and don't have to lead to anything. If you like to work on an idea, work on it. When you're annoyed by having to put a front end on it, just don't. You've played with your ideas, you've hopefully learned something and enjoyed passing the time. Now you are free to drop it like a hot potato and move on.

I spend my work time on embedded engineering. I like it well enough, but it's stressful because there are goals to be met and drudge work to be done. But I spend my free time working on classic sports cars. I fix what I want on the car and if I'm tired of it, I just get rid of it and move on to something else. No goal, no stress, just enjoyment.

Not who you replied to, but you described me to a T.

Problem is - I have no idea what to do about it.

It's so hard to do anything fun in my free time because the moment I think about doing / starting something, goal oriented t thoughts follow, which means stress follows.

I wish I could just go into "kick the can" mode whenever I wanted and turn off the part of my brain that wants to see results, progress, and checkmarks.

It takes practice like anything else, but one trick I found is to pick something that you definitely won't ever want to make money or a career from.

Maybe you have absolutely no desire to be a painter or artist. Pick up a pencil and just doodle for 30 minutes. Get some cheap paint and a small canvas on your way home from work and just spend an hour going for it.

Maybe you've always wanted to try fencing. Find a place and take a couple classes just to see what it's like.

I'm also like that, anything I start as a side project almost immediately becomes "if I don't change the world with this, why am I wasting my time?" So I had to start doing things that I know will never amount to anything, and specifically tell myself "This will never matter." When you can accept that you're spending a little time on something that's just for its own sake, then you've done it - you're experiencing an honest-to-goodness leisure activity.

i created and abandoned a project gathering developers not to do anything. people odly understood :) there was going to be a yearly newsletter that was never send out and participants were free to do other equally unimportant things together using the name of the org (that was never picked) overal it was a hilarious experience. most of the work was in assuring people they would not be contacted for anything.

You can always out source it and work the interesting part of the idea in the time available.

It’s a shame people can’t think of software projects like this —or businesses

>you start talking to people then you are hit with reality - no one gives a shit about your idea.

I think this was your first mistake. I believe the author's point is that whatever that thing is, it's important to you and potentially you alone. If it so happens to be interesting to others that's icing on the cake. And, there's at least some chance that that thing you find to be so important others, somewhere, will find it valuable too, more or less. But maybe not, and that's OK.

I use a more generic version of this scheme: 1) You keep that what makes your life worth while far away from potential critics. 2) Expect those deep into something not to want to share anything about their passion until you fully assure them of your respect and sincere interest. IOW they specifically don't want your [negative] opinion about their stamp collection or their model trains.

I realize that CSS itself isn’t really the point here, that it’s just one annoying thing in the pile of annoying things. But I wanted to mention...

As a front end dev and someone who teaches front end stuff (React mainly), CSS really doesn’t change quickly, and when it does change, those changes are additive. CSS is very very good about backward compatibility.

To give a specific example, CSS Grid is a newer feature than Flexbox, but both are useful for layout, and in this case newer isn’t better, just different. (I know, newer == better is nearly a universal constant in the front end world, but CSS doesn’t suffer from that nearly as much as JS does).

I just wanted to mention this in case part of the problem is that you don’t know the “new” way to do something in CSS, and you don’t want to learn it, but you do know a way to do what you want... just do it the way you know, and it’ll very likely be fine.

You might enjoy a utility CSS framework like Tailwind [0] that relieves you from some decisions and gives you some nice shorthand without locking you in to a specific look or a specific JS framework. (I know, another thing to learn... but it’s worth a quick look, might save you time in the long run)

0: https://tailwindcss.com/

My problem is I don’t know a way. So I go searching for resources to learn from. Except there are dozens of ways to do a given thing. And all are really just partial, incomplete solutions, in different ways. Some are outdated, but how can I tell when I’m not a domain expert. And I don’t want to be an expert on every single domain I have to touch to build whatever thing I am working on.

It’s a frustrating world.

That’s a really interesting point. I learned CSS back in the early 2000s and it was easy. Not only was there less to learn, the resources out there were high quality. It was clear that CSS was the new “best practice” and the alternatives (tables-based layout and font tags) were legacy. Whenever I try to brush up on newer CSS features, the signal-to-noise ratio seems much lower than it used to be. Part of that is probably that I’m experienced enough to recognise bad advice now, but part of it is also the industrialisation of the web industry and huge influx of new developers.

You just need to learn the fundamentals of a few CSS techniques, like flexbox [1], [2]. Flexbox is honestly the last new CSS thing I really remember learning that was core to what I did, and I learned it before my last job (~4 years of React full time). New stuff comes out but the core stuff last long and serves you well, esp. now that the old old browsers have died.

[1]: https://philipwalton.github.io/solved-by-flexbox/ [2]: https://css-tricks.com/snippets/css/a-guide-to-flexbox/

Not to add the the CSS confusion, but I guess this means flexbox is finally caniuseable. 98% coverage ain’t bad.

How about just using bootstrap? Or is there some inherently difficult UI component that you need to get just right (without a UI toolkit) for the MVP to be _good enough_ for proving the market?

I realise this is anecdotal but have you considered there is a whole territory of work that never requires html npm css front end madness?

Yep, but I have only worked on market/users based ideas which invariably need a front end prototype to start with, hence the bias.

I'd suggest sticking to Bootstrap for a prototype with maybe changing the colors for a bit of customization and that's it. Of course that may not be possible depending on your project but when it's possible it saves a lot of work to reach MVP level without burning out.

Yes, it’s called vanilla css.

Problems with talking to people: (1) can't communicate it properly (2) too few people to hit one who loves it

What worked for me: make an absolutely minimal version of the idea (2 hours), and a webpage that describes its promise (9 hours). 500 people looked at it, one thought it was cool - that was enough for me.

Have you tried work other than software development? Like something adjacent in a scientific field, or working on creating art? I don't mean working on scientific computing software or AI-generated music, I mean actually doing biology experiments or playing the piano. It seems like software development just frustrates you, and I can understand why. But you might find a lot of joy doing something entirely different.

More productivity porn. War on leisure! Only this one particularly bad because it’s trying to say “no pain no gain” is a lie. That if the gains come with pain, the gains must not be worth it

He’s not strong enough to squeeze the orange (rails contributor life perks) so the juice must not be worth squeezing

Basically, that hard work ain’t worth it. Fun Uber Alles

But it’s like, the process of building a sexy body is not easy or fun. It’s gonna be at least a year, maybe more, till ppl start wondering what you look like shirtless. you’re telling us the Payoff isn’t worth it?

Becoming a rails contributor was a worthy goal, no one said it would be fun. plus, what about when your personal project gets bigger, you don’t like maintenance work? You can’t be a developer. Developers maintain software. Youre going to work on toy software and tutorials all your life?

You should enjoy your leisure time and you should not shy away from hard work and you should take care of your health above everything else. This guy even dropped a humblebrag about neglecting his personal life.

Some rich ppl wake up early. That had nothing to do with their success. Hard work doesn’t determine success either.

Basically what I’m trying to say is feeling productive will not guarantee success. Productivity is the new prayer

Except that's the opposite of what he's saying. Instead of valuing feeling productive, he now values feeling energetic and excited every day. I think you may have missed that part.

Not everyone wants to get swole or be a rails core maintainer.

He did want to be a rails maintainer. Did you miss that part?He wasn’t willing to do the work for it. So where’s the lesson? What are we applauding?

Changing goal posts is cheating yourself. Self discipline a sin now?

It’s the American stigma of failure, deeply flawed national trait

The argument is that hard work saps energy and can damage your self esteem so therefore it’s evil. No matter the benefits, they’re not worth it if they don’t come easy.

This is like bizarro Silicon Valley

The author is not selling you anything. He is not saying that hard work is bad. His _whole argument_ is that we should work on projects that excite us and benefit us, as opposed to working on Rails because it's trendy and has lots of stars on Github.

To be honest, I think you would agree with the author if you focused on the overall message rather than specific points in the post.

No he didn't want to be a Rails maintainer. He wanted the improved job prospects of being a Rails maintainer but didn't have real interest in developing the product itself.

Yep that's what I took away from it too.

haha, I keep telling people to think of their performance as a training schedule. You monitor your health and overall well being, do as much as you should to gradually improve, not doing enough is as bad as doing to much. The response is that hilarious story how they imagine any amount of work to destroy them gradually.

So where’s the lesson? What are we applauding?

If your position is that changing your mind about anything ever is a sin, then what use is a 'lesson' to you? You can't learn it.

replace "productive" with "feeling energetic and excited" in that response and their arguments are still valid. If you want to work on something, anything, there are going to be days where you are energetic and excited, and days you will feel like shit. The author of the article is suggesting to quit when the days are shit, and that is a bad advice.

There is nothing that will keep you excited forever.

No, the author is suggesting that you work on projects that are intrinsically motivating, i.e. things that you would want as opposed to problems other people want you to solve.

Really, when your mind tells you that you are bored and sick, you should do something else.

If the circumstances force you to eat shit, it's still not the right thing to do.

No, there are goals that require delayed gratification. You’re saying getting out of poverty is hard, so don’t do it. You’re saying don’t exercise, it hurts. Hate gutters In bowling? No problem, you’re as good as anyone, it’s the thought that counts.

Sometimes you gotta eat shit because it’s the right thing to do. Changing the goals won’t fool anyone, not even yourself.

No ones born knowing how to code, it takes practice, it’s not fun, it can be deeply hurtful sometimes, hell all careers can hurt bad

Painful lessons aren’t worth it cus they’re painful? We’ve crossed the rubicon. Point of no return is way over yonder

I'm not suggesting to change any goals; just to have a break from any singular activity for a while.

But whatever myth you think there is for goals that require delayed gratification simply does not exist (at least for most people).

The journey is more important than the destination and all that. Reaching some arbitrary goal doesn't bring you lasting happiness.

No ones born knowing to code, but learning to code can also be fun. Like many other things. The worst thing you can say to somebody learning anything is that "this is very hard to learn".

No, the absolute worst thing you can say is "It's fine to give up as soon as it gets hard."

If you have a pile of cash you can lead a life of not much. But lottery winners and multimillionaires almost invariably seem to get bored by constant holidays, permanent no-destination travel, and other kinds of freewheeling.

Most people need a goal and a focus. And as soon as you have one you're going to frustrate yourself by definition, because you don't have the skills or the character to reach your goal immediately.

Which means work is involved. And that's going to suck in at least some ways at least some of the time, because work does - even if you're financially self-sufficient and are doing it for passion not money.

I'm only saying one should not have to continually withstand frustration or bad circumstances. Sometimes giving up (and doing something else) is the right thing to do. Sometimes you need a break to be able to continue. And so on.

In any case you should never prime for difficulty, it only decreases performance and motivation.

And since very few things are actually really, really necessary, I find it's very hard to pass morality about "the need to do more".

What I don't agree with is that everyone needs strong goal-oriented thinking and psychology to accomplish things.

Perhaps in the strictest sense everybody has goals but being goal-oriented is another thing.

If you push yourself enough you get stronger, fail to push and you get weaker. Accumulate enough weakness and everything in life becomes really hard. Truly terrifyingly hard to the point it just gets bizare. Running a marathon is easier for some people than walking to the car is for others. If you build up enough strength you can also accomplish things that take a lot of effort and time. The satisfaction you get from that cant be compared to instant gratification. But more importantly, you feel fantastic when you have the energy and know you can do hard challenging things right when you decide to go for it. Not next week, right now!

"when your mind tells you" what does this really mean??

"When you feel bored and sick"?

Sorry. I guess I tend to think in a dualistic way.

to quote ragnar "happiness is nothing"

My problem is that I get excited about different things with far too much frequency.

This past week I've become obsessed with a video game idea. The week before I was obsessed with a design app that I'm working on.

I do that too. The top slot in my mind flips between ideas on a weekly basis. Last week it was a videogame. This week it's worldbuilding. Next week it might be something for the job, or it might be an Emacs mode, or who knows.

One thing I've noticed though - regardless of whether or not I do something about my current top most exciting thing, these things come back. The same videogame idea has been visiting me regularly for the past six months. This means that even if I lose steam after a few days of working on something, it's not work lost - I'll probably resume it for a bit a few weeks or months down the line.

On top of that, I've learned to not consider any hard intellectual work as wasted. Things I've researched for random harebrained ideas I later flaked on often find a way to become useful in my dayjob, or a different harebrained idea.

The last point needs to really be emphasized. I've had a couple of pretty major career breakthroughs over the last year simply because stuff I worked on in the past suddenly became relevant to my research.

I've also noticed that I become a lot more committed to a project when I bring other people on board.

a lot of the things you do aren't useful in and of themselves but lead to new opportunities as you expand your skillset.

I've started writing down those ideas of interest so I can see if there are themes, or better still a meta-idea that connects some cluster of them, to start work on.

My "joke" is to abandon them professionally. Ideally they are left in a state where someone else can pick them up. (could be me 10 years from now)

> This past week I've become obsessed with a video game idea. The week before I was obsessed with a design app that I'm working on.

But why? What was special about the video game idea that interested you, and the same about the design app?

In my experience I often fail to see things through because they only interest me superficially or are primarily orientated around making money (quickly!).

But I know what I actually want to do (and I'm working towards it), and the reason is that I feel that activity has merit on so many deeper levels than just making money or the intellectual challenge of solving a problem. It aligns more with a sense of purpose than anything else.

So for me now, that's my yardstick. I may still do side projects that don't align with that core goal, but I don't expect too much from them - in fact if they were to actually take off they may get in the way of my core goal which would make the "success" seem pointless.

Perhaps through questioning yourself and digging into your motivations you'll be able to find something that you'll be able to stick with when other things come along competing for your attention.

For me, those side tracks are often closely related to a core goal, but still act as distractions that I have to avoid.

For example, my business is in the residential real estate industry. I think a lot about rent prices as a result. I have a pet theory that there's a bubble in the world of big building financing. I would love to spend weeks just digging into the data and trying to find out what's really going on, but that's not going to help my business succeed.

I resonate with what you said re: a sense of purpose. I think the way rental housing is done on the whole planet is a trainwreck, but a fixable one. I think it could improve the lives of millions of people if someone could shake off some dust and introduce some new ideas. It's huge and exciting.

I guess the fundamental problem is that there are many interesting and viable angles to solve the problem, but if you want to succeed, you really have to focus on a much smaller cohort of those angles (if not just one). So yeah, I don't think it's as simple as having a better sense of purpose unless your sense of purpose is extremely narrow in scope.

this would make for an interesting blog post.

That's okay! Accept that many projects started will not go until completion.

But many times, you will learn something on the way that you can recycle in a future project.

PS: if you don't tell anyone about your "failed" projects, this strategy will make you look like a genius.

I'm similar to OP in that I'll get excited about something but I don't usually get past the very intro before I get bored or frustrated and stop.

So I learn very little, and often restart the same things over and over. Eventually I give up and play computer games because they steer the focus and drip-feed novelty and reward compared to actually doing anything more productive.

This pretty much sums up my experiences.

I've noticed my frustration tends to stem from a feeling of not progressing quickly enough, or getting bogged down in architectural details before strictly necessary and then abandoning the whole thing due to the assumption it's too complex for my knowledge level...

I think that boredom also plays a role.

Imposter syndrome plays a role here. Only a tiny fraction of the population will be wired in such a way that the tedium of reresearching and reimplementing is obviated by near photographic or eidetic memory. Those people can rattle off entire APIs with all of their classes and methods for things that they haven’t seen in years. It should be no surprise that these people are the leaders of our industry and make us feel shame for our pittance of knowledge.

“I know everything, just not at the same time.” But for our most gifted engineers, it’s practically as if they know everything.

The same way social media tends to amplify only the good parts of one's life...

I had this problem but then realized that’s the way to get nothing done. Makes much more sense to commit to ideas for a specified period of time before moving onto the next thing.

Some things will stick and some won’t. But I suggest testing each project you’re excited about for at least a month with a daily habit before moving onto another one.

Yep. I was stuck in that rut for years. But the design app has been my sole focus for almost 3 years now. It feels really good. The temptation is always there though.

What I do is write them all down in an evernote note. I have 50+ ideas in there. At one point I went through and decided which was most interesting. I still add new items to the list, but at least it's out of my head and I can go back to the one I decided I'd focus on :-)

That's my problem as well.

The docs told me I have ADHD. Maybe you do, too?

I came here to say the same thing.

“Because every minute spent doing something other than what you love most today is a minute you’re more likely to regret when you’re 80.”

I think the opposite is true. Most things that I hated doing when I was 20, I’m today at 49 happy that I did. Workout, do the homework, even my military service. Many things I loved doing in the moment, play video games all through university, for example, I’m not so sure about.

I'm absolutely glad that I did things _my way_ instead of succumbing to some general false conceptions of "doing the right thing".

This includes things like skipping military service and basically living as an outlaw for many years because of that.

I've also played a lot of video games and consider that time well spent.

If 80 year old thinks that not playing video is more regretful than not working out, then nothing anyone says about living a good life or being productive applies to you

“I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol, and wild women. The other half I wasted.” - WC Fields

Seems like the author did X one time, and he felt great about it, so he decided to write an article about the life-changing experience of X. It might be true, but from only one data point, can you really say?

> I wasn’t tired, I was excited afterwards. I've neglected my other habits because of it.

Let's see how you feel after cranking out your 10th side project after working 8-hour-or-more days. Who knows, you might absolutely love it, and decide to start a second business while working.

You might also discover that your partner is starting to feel neglected, your apartment is a mess, and you have gained 10 pounds, because exercise is not what you love.

Either way, I would not recommend the approach described in the article.

What a simplistic way to put things in.

You need to do a lot of things you do not love before you have the skills, the vision and the attitude to actually do what you love, and accomplish the goals you want to accomplish...

As a millennial, I think this kind of attitude is the problem with our generation. I mean both simplifying things into instagram-quote-sized senteces like "always do what you love" and also convincing ourselves that if you are not doing what you love, you should be doing something else.

Maybe we should focus more on how to be able to still motivate one-self to do things you do not love so much, but that are necessary.

Often, things that I really do not want to do are necessary for me to achieve things I really want to achieve.

Articles like this, and the beliefs they seems to want to propagate, are probably a big source of depression and failure in young adults (and not so young adults) these days.

The following quote helped me a lot: "The professional knows that the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, sets in motion a mysterious process that produces inspiration.

The amateur waits for inspiration, the professional knows that it will come after he starts.

The professional therefore acts in the face of fear, when the amateur fears a big creative endeavor he waits for the fear to disappear, the professional knows this will never happen and starts anyway."

Basically, what it says is that you'll never feel like doing something that you don't want to do, and that's exactly the reason why you should just start doing and get it over with. That's my opinion

I have observed that most of the times, when I am not motivated to work, it is becasue my sub-concious mind is unable to correctly traverse the behavior tree and find a route from 'the non intuitive task' leading to the 'sexy results' I am after. My concious thinking mind has already done that.

But your sub-conscious brain being able to link the results with the efforts is not a precondition to start working. It only facilitated the process, and does not act as a deciding factor.

What an apt description of how I often feel.

"The War of Art," if anyone needs a source.

Thanks for that. Could you help me with something? I'm reading the foreword of that book right now from Amazon's preview, and it says that it's the 1st of a set of 3 books. I found the 2nd, "Turning Pro", on Amazon, but I can't find the 3rd, "The Higher Realm". Was that book renamed to something else after the foreword was written, or has it still not been published, or what could have happened to it? Do you know anything about that?

EDIT: Hmmm... On checking the foreword again, I see it says that book one is actually "Defining the Enemy". I'm starting to think that these 3 "books" are actually sections of the physical book. I guess the physical book "Turning Pro" of the same author might be completely unrelated to the equally named book two the foreword mentions. That's pretty confusing if true.

I have that book on kindle and just checked the contents. You’re correct. The book is split into three sections called books.


As it happens I was looking at the book the other day and decided not to buy it. Maybe I should take another look.

Oh boy, I enjoyed that. Everytime I sit down to face a nasty problem I get a little sick, but as I start working a flow slowly starts to build, and before I know it the Starbucks I'm at is empty.

I wouldn't consider myself a professional, but I know how to beat my own inner dialogues it seems

I can relate to that.

Sometimes I'm dealing with a problem that is really complicated and I tried to solve several times without success... I can feel the resistance in bed, when having breakfast and before I sit on my chair and fire up vim to go to that very block of code. It also tears me apart to go to work and leave it unsolved.

Resistance drags us down really, really bad. It makes it difficult to go back to working on a problem.

Not a professional here, but boy this is the point where amateurs quit and that's exactly where I feel the urge to quit too... but somehow I just don't. That's where it clicks "I have to find a solution to this somehow!". Maybe it's a bit of ego but I don't drop something I started[1] and when I finally find the solution, it's almost orgasmic. I feel like I'm the biggest man in the world, and that's my drive to keep moving[2].


[1] Unless it becomes crucially destructive and is clearly harming people, but I guess you get what I mean.

[2] I don't want to make it over minimalist because there's a lot more to it, but I'm referring to this specific motivation building block (I believe motivation isn't just an isolated urge to accomplish thing, but rather several `blocks` that together compose this `will` to do things).

From chess I learn that being professional about things means absolutely nothing. You just do it and get to the point where instinct wants you to run away in horror. To me, this is where the work starts. The point where the boys stay behind and the men move on. If you want to be better than others (like in chess) you cant just stop where everyone else would stop. That would be silly.

>The professional therefore acts in the face of fear, when the amateur fears a big creative endeavor he waits for the fear to disappear, the professional knows this will never happen and starts anyway."

It sounds like the most fundamental and precise definition of (the reason of) procrastination.

I am in a bind now. I agree with your quote, although I just stated that reducing complex matters to tweet-sized sentences is one of our big generational problems.

Whether or not it was an intentional, what a magnificently oximoron-like answer! I tip my hat to you, sir! :D

It's actually a really important quote for me, I have it saved in my notes and I had it printed on a A3 paper and stuck it to a wall.

If more people lived by it, the world could be a more productive and fluid experience, instead of all team members waiting for the last day before the deadline to actually start working or a project, I'm sure you all know how that feels...

> You need to do a lot of things you do not love before you have the skills, the vision and the attitude to actually do what you love, and accomplish the goals you want to accomplish...

I disagree with this, and I'm curious what long term goals you might have that aren't aligned with whatever it is you're doing now.

How do you suggest a millennial choose a "long term goal they really want to achieve" in the first place? In my experience, goals grow out of a person performing an activity and having a desire to master it, but you appear to be suggesting that a person start with a goal in mind and then work on doing things they aren't motivated to do with the hope that the goal will be worth it in the end. That, to me, sounds like a recipe for depression.

Now, I'm not suggesting one should avoid doing anything difficult. Learning hard things is difficult, after all. The problem, in my experience, is that people are initially curious about something, but then tell themselves they can't do it. That they don't have the brain for it, or whatever it is. They're curious about something and so they make an attempt at it, but they don't do a very good job, and so they say to themselves that they aren't good enough and then they quit. This, to me, is where resilience is necessary. This is where it's necessary to do something even though it's hard. But resilience to do something you don't even want to do in the first place because you've set some arbitrary far-off goal for yourself? That seems like a gamble to me.

You make a fair point, but I think we are looking at the article in different ways.

At any rate, you stated yourself that goals come form performing something and getting the desire to master it.

Would you say that such a desire sprouts in everyone the very first time they try something?

I doubt it. It sounds like "love at first sight" and I believe it is very rare, to say the least.

I am saying that, even to get to the point where you know what you love, you need to "push through" a lot of difficult moment that will make you think you hate that very "thing" that you might -through persevering- find out you love.

Yes, I agree with you on these points.

I think what we both agree on is that "find your passion" is not good advice by itself. The mistake people make is thinking that their "passion" will be something they have a natural aptitude for, and that once they stumble across it, it will feel natural and fun and they'll never find it hard or challenging. Most of the time, it does not work this way.

My reading of the article is that rather than seek out activites that are lucrative we should instead follow the thing that make us curious -- pay attention to the little voice in the back of our minds that says "I wonder if I could make something like that", and then go make that thing. When you do that, in my experience, you find yourself energised by your hobbies rather than depleted. And if you do your work in a place where other people can see, you start to meet people who are curious about the same things you're curious about, and that's a truly wonderful thing.

I also would agree that one should prefer things one is passionate about over things that are lucrative (although IMO most people do not have the luxury to completely disregard the lucrative side of things, and need to factor it in).

I'd like to water that generalization down a bit: Unrealistic expectations and following/giving bad career advice are multigenerational human problems that have likely plagued humanity for millenia. I'd wager this problem began in earnest the moment humans started farming.

Generational division is also nothing new.

Please try to respond to the bad advice, and not provide generational troll bait. I'm not saying this with any authority, I just want to keep the level of discourse on HN from devolving.

Please don't respond to this if you disagree, just give it a down vote so the discussion stays on topic.

> Generational division is also nothing new.

This is a person of generation X talking about a problem of the same generation (i.e. X).

> Please don't respond to this if you disagree, just give it a down vote so the discussion stays on topic.

Down vote trolls, not people you disagree with. Down voting for disagreeing leads to negative experience with the whole discussion platform.

>Down vote trolls, not people you disagree with. Down voting for disagreeing leads to negative experience with the whole discussion platform.

Using downvotes to disagree has always been ok (and encouraged) on HN.


That's a thread from 12 years ago. HN is obviously a different community now than it was then. One problem on HN is how quickly a discussion item will fade or disappear due to excessive downvotes.

And for example, unlike Reddit, you can't downvote items on the main page, just comments.

I'd be curious to hear an updated discussion on this, but I've seen salient points being downvoted into obscurity simply because it accrued a lot of downvotes, and I'll find myself upvoting posts I disagree with just to keep the post alive.

>That's a thread from 12 years ago. HN is obviously a different community now than it was then.

Yes, pg doesn't make a point of reiterating it every year. Is the community really different? I've been around for some time and I haven't noticed. dang is a mod/admin. Here he is repeating it again a year and a half ago:


So we have a community manager repeatedly saying "yes, this is intended", and a random user saying it's not. The downvote button on articles is a completely separate issue.

Those are interesting points, but I think despite the official position by dang and pg, most HN users don't downvote points they disagree with as a convention. I think this is due to the fact that a comment's karma score is not shown, which is another thing that differs from Reddit. There's no real reward or feedback for downvoting a post, and you can't know for sure if that post has -2 karma or +27 karma, so you don't really know what difference it makes. I think that's a good feature of HN, by the way.

I do think HN is much bigger now. There's less discussion on philosophy of startups in general. PG himself rarely blogs about it any more. It also seems like political topics get more frequently introduced on the front page. Also there's frequent toxicity and negativity about certain technologies which do warrant intellectual discussion, but get dog piled by naysayers. Maybe that's always been there and it's my imagination but it does seem like some of the "hacker ethos" has faded.

I fully agree with you here, and think pg is utterly wrong in this regard. In the long term, it hurts everyone involved. With enough people downvoting to disagree and upvoting to agree, the community devolves to tribalism and echo chambers, and scarily shifts towards Youtube comment level of discourse.

Upvote or downvote comments, not people.

Upvote comments not because you agree with them, but because you feel they contribute to the topic at hand, for those who read the thread after you did. Especially if they make you stop even just for a few seconds and consider a new point of view, even if you end up discarding that point of view.

Downvote comments not because you disagree, but because they are of low quality (for various reasons) and a waste of time to read, given the topic at hand. Comments you disagree with can often seem that way, and it takes self-control and, shall I say, maturity, to see which is it.

Oh yes, and feel free to downvote this comment if you must, I did hijack the topic somewhat rudely here. :)

Personally, I view the vote controls as a three-way toggle. Low-quality comments get down-voted, unless they're already greyed-out (no point in piling on, unless it's truly toxic). Comments that I disagree with but are otherwise well-written and contribute to the discussion I leave alone. And comments that I agree with and that are well-written I up-vote.

But sometimes I up-vote comments that I mostly disagree with, but that I think make such an excellent point that others still might find them interesting. Or if a comment is greyed-out but I think it still contributes, I'll upvote it to counteract someone else's downvote, even if I don't necessarily agree with the comment.

Ultimately, users can do whatever they want with the up and down arrows.

> Please don't respond to this if you disagree, just give it a down vote so the discussion stays on topic.

So that the forum stays an echo-chamber? That's not why I come to hackernews. On HN (and sometimes, but less on Reddit) I can be sure there will be a respectful conversation of the all the viewpoints. That doesn't take away from the discussion, it adds to it.

I admit I might have generalized a bit, but I was far from trying to bait trolls.

I am a millennial myself (I do not know if the author is, and I do not think it is relevant) and I truly think this kind of attitude is damaging us. It sure has damaged me and and a big portion of people I know.

Besides... I did, as you say, try to respond to the bad advice. "We should focus on how to motivate ourselves to do things that we do not love, but that are necessary".

I am well aware that I might be wrong, and I think HN is a good place to debate different, and interesting, ideas. I also prefer to argument my disagreement in words rather than downvotes, because there is no discussion, otherwise :)

To be precise, the author isn't simply saying "Do what you love", he's saying "Do what you love in your leisure time".

I think that's an important distinction. He's not giving diligent work short shrift, just trying to exclude drudgery from leisure time specifically.

And he's not saying "do what you love" either. The word "love" appears only once in the article, and that is inside a quote. He's saying "do what you can't stop thinking about." That is not the same as "do what you love."

It's maybe hard to know "what you love" but it's easy to know what keeps floating back up in the top of your brain, even if rational you says it might not be the best use of your time.

Then again if "Dance Monkey" won't stop playing in your head... doesn't mean it's great art.

that's a fair point, but I still think the general sentiment is disagreeable.

as many other commenters wrote, if one is just supposed to wait to get inspired, wait to have something to love and be unable to stop thinking about, a wide majority of people will wait forever.

I have a much better time when I try something new, give it everything I got, and try to learn everything I can from it, even when I do not like it. This includes hobbies.

That being said, I wont force myself into doing something I hate. It's just the absolute approach of the article that I have a problem with.

Agreed. I see a lot here and on Reddit, any time something comes up that the person doesn’t want or like, the suggestion is to quit and move on. Work problems? Quit and find another job. Boyfriend problems? Leave and start a new relationship. Landlord troubles? Move out and find another place to live.

My sister in law went to college and started working in the job she wanted at the company she wanted but at a location she didn’t want. She couldn’t get a transfer to the more prestigious location within her first year of working so she said it was a waste of her time and everyone was holding her career back. She’s now stocking shelves at a grocery store at 29 years old.

You gotta shovel a lot of shit before you get to the top, but that stuff isn’t Instagram friendly so it’s not glorified in the media.

You’re just taking the opposite extreme.

Yes, you have to shovel a lot of shit to get to the top. But you also have to dump a lot of people (and jobs, and interests, and homes) to find people and places that really complement you.

Maximum progress is made by people who can both trust their inner voice, AND can grit their teeth. The really hard part is using the former to know when to apply the latter.

The only thing I wish someone had told me is you only get one chance to start those “we were here together from the start” relationships. So before you set off on that big search, really think about whether there is something or someone around you that you might want to know in the end, alpha to omega, and stay in touch with those people or places. Because if you disappear for 10 years, you won’t be able to go back.

> Maximum progress is made by people who can both trust their inner voice, AND can grit their teeth.

Part of this is having an educated inner voice. IME one does best with the intersection of ones passions and demand for those skills.

My younger inner voice craved to make videogames. Until gritting through the process a few years and learning about industry norms re-educated that voice. University also helped me discover some other passions that paid better and had better work-life balance, all with less risk. (Albeit none of the prestige.)

When you start accepting all the shit you don't like in your life,you just end up getting more and more of it.Most things,if you don't like them,are almost impossible to fix without some drastic measures. Having said this, things need to be done in a reasonable way with some sort of planning. If the job is shit because there are 10 assholes working in your department, you can't just remove them to make it better. You can, however make sure there's another job lined up before telling them what you think about them and etc.

I agree with you and I can’t say for sure but I think it’s even worse in the next generation as well. I’ve talked with/tried to mentor more than a few but usually one gets fed up with the other because of this very issue.

I knew a girl who wanted to be an astrophysicist. She could’ve done it too. But she started rock climbing (I was mentoring her), and eventually gave up college so she could be a climbing guide because “it’s what I love.” I tried my best to remind her that she also loves physics and can participate in BOTH if she pursued physics. But now she’s working to be a guide somewhere.

I’m not saying being a guide is a bad thing, but I know more than a handful of people who’ve guided most their life and wish they had just put in the time to get skills to get jobs that pay more and have more longevity. This anecdote is just one example (there are more) of my experience with the next generation that I haven’t quite seen in millennials. However, I’m not the most social of person, and I’m rarely on social media other than here so I could definitely be wrong.

Off-topic, but the following had me thinking:

>"However, I’m not the most social of person, and I’m rarely on social media other than here so I could definitely be wrong."

Do you people of the HN consider HN as a social media?

I personally don't, to me it feels more like an aggregator of knowledge and useful opinions.

The way I read HN is that I first look at the comments, and then based on that decided if I'll read the article.

I understand why social medias exist, but to me they feel useless and quite often they have many serious negative effects. None of which are present here on HN.

> Do you people of the HN consider HN as a social media?

Yes, definitely.

At times when I'm really busy, I'll even occasionally blacklist it to avoid distractions. The feelings HN gives me are very similar to the feelings that Reddit/Facebook would give me. I think that platforms like Reddit have additional downsides that HN has managed to avoid, but HN is a social forum.

Yes, definitely. I kind of see it like a hobby subreddit from 5 years ago or a niche forum from 15 years ago.

It is well-moderated (thanks dang!), it doesn't have the critical mass of users which leads to wider adoption, it has a narrow focus on thought-provoking material, it is pseudonymous, and you don't need to download an app to use it.

But even though I occasionally learn useful things from HN, I still think it fits the definition of "social media": it is a way to waste time when you are otherwise lonely and bored, and it involves interacting with other people.

I don’t. I also don’t consider other anonymous post-comment sites like Reddit to be social media. It’s only social if there are actual connections, relationships, friendships, etc. being formed or perpetuated. That doesn’t happen on here or on Reddit or on other similar anonymous sites. There is a particular sub-reddit for a hobby that I spend a ton of time on. I honestly don’t know if any of the comments I have ever read on there are from people I’ve previously read comments from. I never read usernames and wouldn’t remember them anyway. For all I know, every comment was left by a bot. There is no community, no relationships, no friendships, etc. Just like HN. That’s not social media.

I would call it a forum. You can’t follow people, which I would consider a necessary condition for social media.

That’s a good point.

I do by definition (because I enjoy reading some of the conversations), but it could easily be used just as a news site. So I’m my mind it’s usually in a separate place than other social media. Also, as much as I’ve heard some people critique the quality of conversations on HN, it’s definitely a lot better than most, if not all, other conversation based platforms.

Maybe random forums are better, but I don’t consider those social media really.

Today's HN fills the hole in my heart where BIX, CompuServe, and my own old BBS network used to be.

Maybe a good rule of thumb is to sit down, do an instropection on all the things you love and identify the one that assures the most financial stability and security.

Choose that thing as your job and make the rest your hobbies.

The next generation after millennial - they're like 18 right? That doesn't sound like a generation thing that sounds like a teenager/young adult thing. And I think the hippies in the 60s were way further on the "follow your heart" thing than teenagers now, and a lot of them grew up to be like conservative bankers or whatever.

The number of hippies from the 60s are vanishingly small proportion of the population. There're 100x people spitting on Vietnam protesters than there were protesters.

And there are probably an even smaller number of 18 year olds telling their mentors that they're going to leave behind their dreams of being a physicist to become a rock climber. Those stories stand out and get all the attention, and people really want to find ways to claim following generations are going astray, but the 100x people in gen z going on to study STEM fields and getting well paying jobs get outshadowed as people decide that the random person that wants to be a rock climber is going to define the trend. And hey, it's early days - rock climbing competitions and stuff need a winner too, and while I wouldn't expect every person that makes the call to leave a "Boring" path to become a rock climber or a musician or actor or whatever to succeed, id expect to successful ones to have stories along those lines. People had to be that way to create this generation of daredevils and movie starts, why would the next generation be any different?

Totally! And I wish her all the best and when people ask for a reference I send them to her (because I don’t like spending my time teaching newbies anymore). I just have these anecdotes that could mean nothing but are concerning to me. Now that I think about it, I probably am more concerned about all the people out there who live cookie cutter lives without honest introspection.

maybe climbing was the better career move.

if astrophysics is anything like most of academia, there are a lot of low-paying, unstable short-term positions as everybody scrambles for the few permanent jobs. i'm sure there are a lot of astrophysicists struggling to survive in adjunct/lecturer/lab assistant positions who wish they had just gotten a normal job that pays more rather than pursuing what they love.

That’s a great point, but I’ll let you know that there aren’t many jobs in climbing and the number that actually pay well are very small as well. So maybe both are impractical? But that is a good point.

There are many issues that go into making the stereotypical Millennial psyche. But I think an issue overlooked is the loss of context for your own life in your own community, which in my opinion has been brought on by the internet and media machines, overwork, and with the individualist movement pointing the spotlight squarely on yourself. We have disconnected and disenfranchised a generation from the community, then told them to compare themselves on the global stage of highest achievers, while their local avenues for community support get diluted into commercial ventures and shallow social media connections.

Couple that with the commercializing of pretty much everything that the sun bares down upon, such that nothing around you has much authenticity, which leads you to have bizarre situations like humans who think brands are their friends, and there being no non-commercial spaces to meet new people at. It's no wonder there are so many confused Millennials who don't really get how to fit into society anymore.

I regularly get obsessed with making video games and writing sci fi. I am regularly allowed to pursue these precisely because I work a flexible-schedule job that provides for my family and gives us the freedom to dream and live in peace together. Even if that job does not provide the flash-in-the-pan inspiration and passion all the time, it provides a warm glow that will last.

Focus on things/projects you can’t stop thinking about, not tasks. Tasks are just the steps you take.

Of course you won’t love every task, some might even be downright terrible, but if you can’t stop thinking of the overall goal, then keep going.

But if you find yourself not caring about the end goal, time to reconsider.

This isn't advice so much as one person advertising his own professional status. But this article hits upon a good point:

> To the experts, what looks like hard work from the outside, is play from the inside.

People who are obsessed with "motivation" point to people like Elon Musk who work extreme hours, and recommend others do the same. But they have cause and effect backwards.

You start working insane hours when your own personal talents align with society's rewards, and you are blessed/cursed with ambition that demands to be satisfied.

Elon Musk didn't start off saying, "I'd rather spend time with my family and play video games, but I'm going to start working 80 hours a week to get rich." No, it started with a spark within him. How did it get there? I can't say.

They say talent is rare, but I don't think that's true. I believe what is rare is the intersection of talent and ambition.

I've been on both sides of this -- I've been very ambitious, and I've been not very ambitious in different parts of my life. It's hard to work your butt off when you don't feel particularly ambitious, and it's hard not to when you do.

For my side projects I try to start with things I can't stop thinking about, but with a low bar of daily/weekly effort. It's that low bar that helps with the grind. Especially when the next shiny thing comes along, or other priorities prevent a 'real' effort.

Some days I can put in hours. Though in practice I have too much else going on. So the baby steps help maintain momentum without feeling like I can't finish anything.

It also helps to look back at milestones that were satisfying to me even if no one else noticed. And to remind myself it's OK to walk away if my original goals proved too far out of reach.

I tend to have a similar approach and experience to yours.

My point is that to get me where I am today, so that I can even put a finger on WHAT it is that I love, i had to go through many hours of doing things I did not love.

I definitely think that attitudes like "only do what you love/is automatically motivating" is a huge source of imposter syndrome, depression, and anxiety in me as a grad student

Thank you. I have had the same exact problem with imposter syndrome and innumerable motivation issues with things I felt like I loved (and still love).

The "do what you love" narrative that our generation has been fed, I am not sure how and by whom, caused me to doubt my decisions much more than I think it's healthy, just because "I am not loving this, is this what I should be doing?". This applied to my university career, to my profession, to the jobs I took.

Luckily through lots of work on myself I am able now to look at these feelings with more lucidity and to work through them.

Thanks for sharing.

"Do what you love" at face value doesn't make much sense, but IMO that's the wrong way to look at it. "Doing" is not only the mere act of doing something but also the time you invest towards a goal.

I'm not sure I disagree, but I would like to add a caveat.

> You need to do a lot of things you do not love before you have the skills, the vision and the attitude to actually do what you love, and accomplish the goals you want to accomplish.

It will be very difficult for you to get the skills/attitude/vision you need if you don't have a clear vision of where you're going and why you're getting them -- and if you're struggling with motivation, asking yourself if you really care about the end goal can be valuable.

As an example:

I've been working on the same game for almost 2 years. There's a lot of boring stuff that goes into that, there are a lot of just multi-hour, multi-day coding sessions that are not spent on cool gameplay stuff, they're spent on optimizations and infrastructure, and signing up for conferences and writing blog posts. Stuff I don't really enjoy. I've spent 8 hour weekends just working on this, to the point that I struggled with insomnia at some points. And there's some stuff there that's really not fun.

BUT, every day I get up I'm still excited about the game. Every day I get up I desperately want the game to be completed. So it's not actually all that hard to work on boring, mundane things that will get me to that goal. I know, with 100% certainty, baring some kind of horrible accident I will finish this game -- because even with all of the mundane and difficult work, finishing the game is easier for me mentally than living in a world where I have not finished the game.

On the other hand, there are side projects I've tried to invest a lot of time into and when it got to the boring stuff, I couldn't be motivated to work on it. And I spent a long time trying to figure out what the difference was and why I couldn't pull off the same 8-hour practice sessions before realizing that I did not care enough about the final goals of these projects to put in the work. I am not a very good piano player. I'd like to be, but I don't care enough to put in the time and practice. I'd like to be the type of person who's an excellent piano player, but I don't actually love playing the piano.

If you really, genuinely love something, you will be able to put in the time on the boring stuff. If you do not genuinely love something, putting in the time on the boring stuff will be exponentially harder. So while being able to preserver is important, I also advise people who are trying to do hard things to first find hard things that they really, really care about.

Some motivational problems do come down to perspective, not character. I do believe that some people have problems with maintenance and work. But I also believe that sometimes people who can't preserver are in that state specifically because they have convinced themselves that they love something that they don't actually care about.

If I wasn't working on my current game, I would go insane. Motivation does not factor into it; I just do whatever needs to happen next regardless of whatever it is, regardless of whether or not it's fun, because that's what needs to happen next and I emotionally need the game to be finished eventually. To me, that's what working on something that I love means: caring about something so much that you're willing to do hard or mundane things.

If I'm going to spend 3-5 years on game, maybe even longer, I need to know up-front that I care about it on that level. So one of my tests when I start working on a game is exactly what the article asks: "can I stop thinking about this?" If I can stop thinking about it, then I probably am not going to have the motivation 4 years from now to spend a bunch of consecutive weekends debugging stack traces.

Agreed. The focus on the interior world (feeling) versus the exterior world (results) is one of the reasons recent generations have not innovated

On the other hand, this idea is the fastest way to level up your "tech tree" in one specialization.

A lot of my friends are children or grandchildren of Boomers and have been spending a lot of time lately asking and not answering the question of how they got like this, and so I’ve been trying to answer that for myself. Below is my barely half baked theory as it stands today.

After the War, there were kids everywhere. So, so many kids. They had to open schools. Whole industries about kids exploded into existence. But as one of those kids? There must have been ten other people wanting to be what you wanted to be and half of them were better at it than you could hope to be. That, my theory states, fucked them up badly.

When they had kids, they pressured us into being unique snowflakes, to be exceptional. It was too goddamned much pressure, and that fucked us up. So the next cohort started congratulating their kids for doing absolutely nothing at all. Which fucked them up worst of all.

So, like, we are very sorry, but we were just trying not to pass our neuroses down and ended up giving you different ones. Same as our parents.

This is an interesting take on the sociological change.

I definitely think the pressure was one of the top factors in fucking us up :D

Life is supposed to be simple, people overcomplicate things.

Gosh, the dismissiveness of the average HN comment in this thread! I am surprised.

Whatever you might think of the author's age or number of data points or whatever other platform you choose to berate him on, he still has a very solid argument: there are things that simply exhaust you when you are doing them. That's a fact.

Haven't you all ever experienced this?

And no, I never grew to like doing the dishes or cleaning the apartment. At 40, I still need some good music and a hole in the schedule of both me and my wife for us to actually not grind our teeth while doing it. So yeah, please only talk for yourself, guys.

> I am surprised.

I think this all turns to reddit (the comments are very much Reddit like) because this is the 20billionth article about 'following you passion' basically. And this title really seems to annoy people who have seen it all before; most people cannot just drop everything and do whatever. No matter if you are thinking 24/7 about playing in a bluesband; most (by far and wide) people cannot and will never be able to do that unless they win the lottery. And then you have all the negative thoughts; the anxiety attacks and the cravings that you really should not give into... It is all not so surprising response wise, but I thought it would just drop out and be dead before this went so much Reddit. That usually does not happen.

> I think this all turns to reddit (the comments are very much Reddit like) because this is the 20billionth article about 'following you passion' basically.

Sure, I get that, but this bring the nuance of the point of view of a working programmer.

For a long time I had a hustling voice inside me that was very toxic and insisted on me working on things it thought were useful but I hated doing (sadly I was used to hate doing everything in my life back then so I couldn't tune out the noise and pinpoint any particular problem). Took me like 10 years until I finally said "f that crap" and just started working on whatever I found interesting. Almost immediately, I felt better (even with a health condition that I now have to actively fight to cure).

So okay, we've all seen such posts and maybe we grew cynical about it but anything that adds a bit of a further nuance might help others reduce the toxicity in their lives by at least commanding some happiness in their leisure time.

> And this title really seems to annoy people who have seen it all before; most people cannot just drop everything and do whatever. No matter if you are thinking 24/7 about playing in a bluesband; most (by far and wide) people cannot and will never be able to do that unless they win the lottery.

Not many have the chance to make a U-turn late in their careers, true. The eternal pessimism and cynicism don't help as well though; and they might even set your brain up on a path where it doesn't actively look for opportunities to give you a better life. Depression in general desensitizes you so if you can avoid that you're already ahead compared to many.

> And then you have all the negative thoughts; the anxiety attacks and the cravings that you really should not give into...

Here I can agree (if I got you correctly) -- giving in to fantasies is very toxic and makes your landing back in reality extremely painful. But we shouldn't cut it off entirely; some day-dreaming helps us push forward.

It's a terrible title for people who can't stop thinking about bad things, such as suicide or smoking as mentioned by other in this thread.

Yeah, whenever I get this advice I always answer (stole from some comedian): Great! But where do I get a Camel, a Midget and a Clowns-costume?

I used to constantly read articles like this about how to get motivated to do all sorts of things I thought I needed to do. Then I was diagnosed with ADHD and found a suitable medication.

When you're quitting smoking, that's exactly what you have to do: light a cigarette!

I found this article really useful. It's important to note that the author is explicitly talking about what you do in your leisure time, not what you do for work.

I have often found myself trying to start side-projects that I didn't really care about, because I had some abstract, perhaps irrational idea that I "should" be working on this particular thing. Usually it's something that will teach me a new skill.

Recently, I've gotten a lot better about evaluating whether or not something is worth doing in my free time, but I still don't really have a good criterion for when I should pick one thing over another: When should I spend my free time learning about X, and when should I learn about Y instead?

One suggestion may be to pick whatever is the most useful or the most likely to help you earn money in the future, and indeed this is more or less the rule I have been using in the past.

I posted this article because I thought it gave some remarkably actionable advice for picking between different side-projects, namely:

> The basic idea of personal energy management is that you should focus on increasing your personal energy and lifting up your mood in your leisure time, instead of working on things that drain your personal energy. Hobbies should lift your mood, not drain you. This makes you better perform all the other tasks.

This is a different outlook from what you usually hear, but it makes a lot of sense to me when presented in those terms.

Caveats being: every inspiring side project eventually becomes the draining monsters that cause us to find new side projects. The true key to happiness is to constantly pursue it, because there is no key, there is only chase. Sure, spend time on inspiring things, but also be able to sit down with a check list and do stuff you've been putting off, and be able to take a project from inspiration build out, to checklist maintenance, in good spirits.

This ends up becoming “work on small side projects and distractions all the time, to the detriment of everything else” for me.

Nothing wrong with that.

I have responsibilities :( Thank goodness I don’t have a full-time job at the moment, but I’m fearful of what I’ll do once I get one…

This caused me a brief moment of reflection. I realised I can't stop thinking about riding my motorbike and trying to have sex with someone.

Like...at the same time?

Oh no. I blame you for this.

The only thing I think about is leisure time, vacation, indefinite amount of time in front of me with no obligations, commitments, or constraints to acquire resources that meet my biological, psychological or social needs.

Any behavior that I engage in that has productivity as a side effect that I rely on, ie to be paid money or to retrieve food or to nurture relationships, even if that productivity is not a conscious focus or stress, is inherently upsetting and painful to me.

If I had complete financial and commitment freedom, I literally would not do anything (and that sounds amazing). I know myself well and have introspected on it very much, and truly I would not do anything if I could. I would just sit there like a bump on a log and watch nature. I would not spend time with people. I would not busy my mind on any kind of puzzle or reductionist exploration of nature or myself. I would just sit there for years and years and years. That’s all I want to do.

"Doing what you can't stop thinking about" is exactly the reason we have unemployable 25 year olds with $275k in student loan debt from private art schools.

Yall, let's be real.

Realizing your dream into reality will entail hundreds if not thousands of hours of suffering, in some form or another. It will cost you, there ain't nothing coming to just drop your dream lifestyle into your lap. Even if you have skin in the game, you will lose battles and you'll be forced to remember the war, you'll be tested boundlessly, endlessly.

That being said, whatever you are fixated on, that may be a good place to discover what direction to work in. If you dream of writing a groundbreaking video game, I can promise you that you'll spend a lot of time coding it all, but you must also consider your rent, your car note, your family, etc.

It ain't simple, but you CAN dream your dream. And if you feel, you SHOULD.

"I decided to work on a side project last weekend." not to be an idiot but author should wait a few months before writing any strong conclusions; if he's anything like me he may get bored of the side project in a few weeks. There's nothing wrong with that, we had our fun and learnt stuff but this "follow your passion" theme is framed the wrong way imho.

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I think there's a distinction between "do whatever you can't stop thinking about", which I believe to be good advice, and "find your passion", which I believe to be well-meaning but ultimately misleading advice.

Something like "find your passion" implies that you have a single passion hidden away inside you that you need to unearth. Once you find that thing -- knitting, sailing, whatever it is -- then you can do that activity for the rest of your life and be happy. This, in my experience, is wrong.

If rather than searching for your passion you instead focus on following your curiosity, you give yourself permission to play. This may end up leading you from domain to domain, but you'll find yourself energised and intrinsically motivated to do the work. This is the feeling I personally try to cultivate. It lifted me out of a depression 10 years ago and has seen me grow my skill set considerably since then.

I think the problem with this generation is not that they don't want to do hard things, but that they've lost touch with what they're even curious about.

Everyone is going to be shit talking this article because it’s just so horrible and bad advice, so here’s my two cents:

A mind shouldn’t be what controls your life, because really your mind isn’t you. Your mind is mostly noise and chatter and sometimes we observe that and think we must do what our mind says, but it’s not true. We must do what we must.

The way to live is to discipline yourself to do the things that must be done. This requires pulling in context from the world and people around you. You know what you have to do, so do it, and lay down whatever excuses or distractions your mind is thinking about. Let instincts and intuition guide you, not “thoughts”. They are not the same thing. Iron sharpens iron.

I didn’t think much about this post, I just posted it because I knew I had to, so I did, and now I will probably never think of it again. That’s how it is.

I love this. Reminds me of other articles about "flow" when you are so engaged you lose track of time.

This happens for me when solving hard problems. I can't stop thinking about it and work from the moment I wake up to when I go to bed. It looks like hard work, but it's energizing.

I like what Uncle Bob said about "the flow" (or "the zone"):

> Here’s a little hint from someone whose been there and back: Avoid the Zone. This state of consciousness is not really hyper-productive and is certainly not infallible. It’s really just a mild meditative state in which certain rational faculties are diminished in favor of a sense of speed.

I mean this is true. But it does feel good to be in flow and it’s undeniable that if engaged in physical activity it’s beneficial.

My problem is that I get excited about my current job (at a very large company). I'd love to do my current job, but my way. Open source part of the work, run Linux on my development machine, focus more on the tech, less on the market analyses (we did them but management is not buying in, while I am a firm believer myself). I love to build my own front end, with modern technologies. Too bad the company does not appreciate side projects that potentially compete with them. I understand it of course, I have 0 risk and get to do what I like and they pay me quite well. Sadly I can't afford risk right now. I'd love to start working 80% and spend 10-20% doing it fully my way, and alone, at least at the start.

How can you reduce risk?

Find a job with steady contract that does not mind side-projects? I've tried. It's not easy. But I have my eyes open ;)

Alternative: stop thinking about what you can't do

When I must work on something I dont want to do its like the solution to all world problems reviel themselves. My brain goes like this: Should I cure HIV and cancer, build a FTL and anti-gravity engine, or should I do this thing I dont want to.

I obsess about some real nonsense, from buying a Leica to moving to San Francisco and building a startup there. I mean sure, they're not impossible but they take money, planning and no small amount of sacrifice.

Maybe it should be do whatever you're most scared of. Obviously if it's driving across Syria might want to give that one a miss but I mean more if it's public speaking attend a Toastmasters, if it's job interviewing stick your CV up on Hired and attend at least one interview, if it's selling do some prospecting on LinkedIn or it could be that hairy bug on your backlog which you keep putting off.

That sounds like it might be a good philosophy, except that it runs afoul of our normal, day-to-day living and the social mores we live amongst.

What if you can't stop thinking about 'that tall, slim blonde from Accounting'? The #me-too crowd will have something to say to you if you decide to go and 'do' her.

What if you can't stop thinking about how to commit the perfect murder? Same problem. The cops would soon have a few questions for you.

Note that the two examples I have given you above are also perfect examples of 'side projects' and have nothing to do with your day-to-day job. <grin>

> Never work on anything you would regret looking back on your deathbed and spend as much time you can on doing whatever you can’t stop thinking about.

What if the thing “you can’t stop thinking about” would lead to regret later?

In my case, the project I really want to do right now is to start a blog and write about video games. But, I worry if I look back on this time later, I will regret spending time writing about what others have built when I could have been building something myself.

So, I’m trying to balance my time between the writing, and also a programming project that isn’t as enjoyable, but which will hopefully be more fulfilling long-term.

If the author is reading this, please make your font higher contrast (darker color), it's barely readable in good lighting conditions

11am, plenty of natural light, and a calibrated desktop monitor. Looks completely readable here.

Yes, but not everyone has perfect eyesight and perfect monitors or perfect lighting conditions. Thin font, plus a 5:1 contrast ratio (text #606f7b to white bg) isn't ideal for reading.

Original vs higher contrast, objectively, one is easier to read https://i.imgur.com/kDMPhfx.png

I see the one on the right on my screen (iPhone XS and 5K iMac). If what you see is more like the left, I’m with sibling comment: you could use a display calibration.

Strange, mine looks like the one on the right, except a shade darker and without the horrible aliasing. That one on the left looks like your display has the brightness maxed out. I agree people should be more conscious of typography legibility, but what you're seeing on the left looks like there is something wrong with your display. Viewing on my iPhone 11 Pro is crisp and dark as well.


But that image I've attached is a software screenshot, not a picture of my screen, so calibration should have no effect when you view it on your screen.

Maybe it's just superior macos/ios having font/color rendering and not the display itself.

Edit: Opened it up on Android, it's better there than pc for sure. Might just be font rendering on on system that's crap.

Yes, Windows font rendering is famously bad compared to MacOS. Though the color should not be affected like that.

I can’t stop thinking about Coronavirus

I get where the author is coming from but it's a message that can easily be said wrong. I don't obsessive people, drug users, impulsive people or people with anger issues should do whatever they can't stop thinking about.

How about learn to manage your mind so that your life is enriched from within.

Most people can't stop thinking about instant gratification of some form

This is a good point. One thing that has helped me is removing other sources of instant gratification, such as social media and television, that condition me to expect an instantaneous high whenever I do something.

I constantly think about taking a 6 month sabbatical and writing a game engine or hobbyist OS for fun, but it seems unrealistic financially.


To start doing what you can‘t stop thinking about is play. To finish all the things involved that you hate to do is work.

I wish more people, ultimately everyone, was privileged enough to think like this and act on it. If I didn’t need to provide for a family I’d probably study pure mathematics and work on developer tools for writing, checking, and proving mathematical models of software systems. I would probably also read a lot more and spend a year or two now and again writing. Or I might spend it becoming a cabinet maker and getting better at fiddle so I can join the jam down at the pub.

However modern capitalism isn’t structured in a way that enables most people to think this way. Many people don’t have time outside of work to think of anything but their dependents and getting enough sleep. Many more have it much worse: working in Bataou or in a Foxconn factory; any hope of a life writing the next great novel or chasing proofs is not even a possibility.

If you do have the privilege though: use it as much as you can. We never know where the next breakthrough comes from. And maybe think about the layers of people, processes, and externalities that have come together to put you where you are.

That reminds me of the opening to The Great Gatsby...

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Great advice, but I'm hesitant to enter the adult entertainment business yet :)

The author is quoting someone else: “Because every minute spent doing something other than what you love most today is a minute you’re more likely to regret when you’re 80.”

Depending on how literally one takes that, you’re going to be one sorry motherfucker when you’re old. I like taking a shit, but I don’t love it. But I gotta do it, my Yelp review on “taking a shit” notwithstanding.

Personally, I quit being so spoiled that every moment must be filled with things I “love” and have a “passion” for. Oh, I pursue those things. But I’ve also learned to love the mundane. There’s more to washing dishes than you think.

But enough shit talking the post, the take away stands: if you’re not being paid, select your activities carefully. I would add that one select from those one is willing to commit to, if only for a little bit. Keeps you from being flakey: “do not love, next!”

> But I’ve also learned to love the mundane. There’s more to washing dishes than you think.

When I was looking for an entry-level New York studio apartment four years ago, one thing I absolutely insisted on having was a dishwasher. Screw the overall size of the kitchen or the square footage of the apartment, or even whether I had a stove or an oven—I needed a dishwasher god damn it!

My parents and a lot of my friends told me I was being silly. Washing dishes doesn't take that long, they said, and dishwashers take up a lot of space you'll want to have in a tiny kitchen.

Every day when I use my dishwasher, I'm glad I didn't listen to them. I do have exceedingly little space in my kitchen, but I don't mind, as long as I don't have to wash dishes.

My point here is, there's a lot of ways to cut down on mundane tasks, and it's really worth prioritizing that effort over other concerns.

Also live in NY and I bought a portable dishwasher 10 years ago and have brought it with me during every move. It's on casters and functions as a countertop (which I need anyway) when not in use.

I went for a few years without using it in my newest apartment because my adapter didn't fit my new faucet. For some reason it took me a few years to think to look for a different adapter.

Anyway I very much appreciate using my dishwasher. It feels like it makes an impact on my life in a way that most other tech doesn't. It feels like magic. You put in dirty dishes and out come clean ones. I liken it to having a washing machine that you put dirty clothes in and they come out clean, dry, and folded.

I bought rubber gloves and it completely changed the game for me.

Washing dishes is a zen-like experience. As the utensils, glassware, cups, plates and whatever pile up, you start to feel the itch to clean up the mess. As you finally get to it, you contemplate on what a pig you've been. And when the work is FINALLY done you can admire the cleanness. Then you say to yourself that you will only use ONE plate and ONE cup and wash them straight after, only to find yourself again in the same situation a couple of days later.

My point here is, there's a lot of ways to cut down on mundane tasks, and it's really worth prioritizing that effort over other concerns.

This is exactly the reason why we went and bought a Roomba. It doesn't clean as thoroughly as a human would, but it does it every day, and each time with the same robotic determination.

I currently have a more polished apartment than I ever cared for and at the same time am dedicating less time to keep it that way. What's not to love about that?

Yayy for dishwashers AND dishwasher Tetris is a totally fun game!

We started using a dishwasher when our kid came. It turns out a dishwasher does a much better job of cleaning and drying dishes (hence better disinfection) than doing them by hand, especially milk bottles.

Washing dishes takes no time.

If you were single, it definitely takes less time than putting and maintaining the diskwasher.


Because I'm single, and I've done both, and the dishwasher is very clearly easier and faster to me. Maybe you have a secret dishwashing technique that I don't know?

A decent dishwasher doesn't require much maintenance at all. And the very, very little that it does is generally a more interesting use of time than washing dishes is anyway. But I started using dishwashers maybe 5-6 years ago, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've needed to mess around with fixing one.

I'm single, and the only problem I have with dishwashers is that it takes about a week for me to actually fill it with dirty dishes. by that time, there tends to be a gross smell whenever I open the door. I also have only one of certain utensils that I need to use more than once a week. I know dishwashers are pretty efficient and it's probably less wasteful to just run a half full load than to clean plates by hand, but I have an irrational opposition to doing this.

Yeah, you need to just go ahead and run the dishwasher.

You're not being wasteful: when the dishwasher is full, it doesn't work as well. Which means you need to pre-rinse dishes, which wastes water versus just running the dishwasher more often.

You could also get extra of the critical utensils. The price of, say, a second or third spatula might be covered by the time saved by a dishwasher.

I have a single apartment and I probably spend 15-20 mins a day washing dishes. I don't have a dishwasher, and I don't have a vacuum cleaner. I use a broom and I mop the dust every one or two weeks. It may take a little more time, but I agree with that other comment that it can be a zen-like experience. And I feel I need it as a balance from all the mental work I'm doing all day.

IMHO it usually take time to wash dishes

Sometimes we just get stubborn like little children and no amount of logic can get us out of that. Happens to me too sometimes.

Sometimes getting that little meaningless thing you want in your life is very important. If you can't even get a simple dishwasher when you _want_ it, then what's the point?

Just getting the thing is probably more advantegous from a psychological standpoint.

They make portable dishwashers that hook into your faucet. You could have had one for a few hundred bucks and also lived where you wanted.

Reminds me of CS Lewis: “The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and becomes a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening.”

The 80 year old you you and the current you are two different people with different interests.

Of course the future 80 year you would love it if you made every effort to make his life better, but the current you may value comfort more than going on terrifying adventures that make for amusing reminiscing if you survive them.

I'll add to this—I feel like 80-year-old me is just going to be pissed off that he's old. He might make various statements to rationalize his discontent, but those won't be the core issue.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

Our 20-25 year old influences our education/career based on our interests at that age. But shouldn't we make those decisions based on what our 40 year old will be like?

Of course a career change at 40 is totally doable but wouldn't it be better if we had been working 15-20 years towards that goal instead of starting from scratch at 40?

Impossible, I know, but something interesting to think about.

>Of course a career change at 40 is totally doable but wouldn't it be better if we had been working 15-20 years towards that goal instead of starting from scratch at 40?

I'm almost 40 changing careers and can confirm, in spite of how doable may or may not be I can't stop thinking how things would have been different if my father said "yes" to purchasing a personal computer when I was fawning over them through computer magazines as a kid.

I agree. If regret-minimisation is the goal, one can go about it the other way, by learning not to regret so much. In my personal experience, loving the mundane and not regretting things I haven't done has come naturally with age (and perhaps as a result of a steady meditation practice.)

By 80, I should be so satisfied in my cynicism, I should not regret not having done anything in particular.

> There’s more to washing dishes than you think.

I also find it quite relaxing, perhaps even therapeutic

I do too, sometimes. If I'm not in a hurry to do anything else. Unfortunately that's not often.

For example, I don't want to waste much time on lunch break doing dishes. I usually try to clean my plate and utensils, but sometimes even that has to wait. After work, I might just want to grab a coffee and something to eat and go relax with music & books (or HN..). After that, I might have more pressing chores -- go buy milk and coffee and something to eat for the next couple days. Exercise. Shower. Hmm, do I need to do the laundry today too? Try to put some time into a personal project, as if 30 minutes here and there were enough to ever bring them to completion.

What ends up happening often enough is a pile of dishes and no motivation to go relax with them because there's more pressing (or more relaxing) stuff at hand.

I'm glad I have a washing machine, and I hope my next home will be big enough for a dishwasher.

I hear you, and I'm glad I have a dishwasher now after 30 years without one... I hope you get yours very soon!

I mostly only do a subset of dishes like pots and pans, or an odd plate / knife from making a sandwich here or there, mostly on the weekends. But still, after cooking a big meal on the weekends, it's nice to find time to just not think for a while and decompress while feeling the water in my hands, listening to the silence...

> ”Because every minute spent doing something other than what you love most today is a minute you’re more likely to regret when you’re 80.”

You can learn to love what you do, no matter the task. You can foster love and appreciation with anything.

Learn first to love what you do, no matter the task.

Many times it’s the time spent doing something you don’t like in the moment that produces the best memories. At the time, I hated waking up in the middle of the night to feed or change my newborn baby. However, as I have grown older, thinking back on those moments that I did not like at the time, are actually some of my best memories.

> do not love, next!

Ha yes, how will you find anything if you already have everything figured out?

> Do whatever you can't stop thinking about

Hm, so that means I should live in an underground bunker with filtered air, hydroponics, and a decade long cache of provisions until the pandemic passes.

Boobs ?

So, cocaine, hookers and booze?

But only in that order :D

So... premeditated murder?

Suicide...thanks for the daily push to do it. Not today.

I try. Regrettably, my wife very much can stop thinking about sex. It's like a superpower.

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