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I was tricked into thinking I had “grit” (secondbreakfast.co)
370 points by secondbreakfast on May 6, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 210 comments

It is impossible to be really good at everything.... when I optimized for work, my fitness goals went through the window. When I optimized to get a project done, my reading (books) went down as well.

When I optimized for fitness (working out and soccer), my work and side projects started progressing slower. It is very hard to work on your project at home, when you are in a intense bulking, or 'cutting' phase, and once you come home form the gym you just want to chill....

When I say 'optimize for', I mean that particular facet of your life becomes the more important one, and you spend more energy. Often you have to make choices: eg. social life, or project you are working on?

The only key I found is to be good/focus your energy in one area at a time, while just being happy with being 'good enough' at other areas. Once you reach a desired in one area, you can switch your focus to other ones. *eg: once you reached a desirable physical shape, you can switch to 'maintain mode', and focus your energies to something new (e.g. learning a new tech, or starting a project). As gym rats say: 'Maintaining' is always easier than "Gaining, or Cutting".

It is just physically impossible to optimize on everything in your life, no matter how ambitious you are, or how much 'grit' you have.

(eg. you can't start a ambitious project, while having a great social life, and bulking up in the gym, while playing soccer regularly multiple times a week, and having a full time job, at the same time).

I think you hit the nail on the head. It's good advice, particularly if you're someone with a short attention span who's constantly jumping from project to project.

Nowadays, it's so easy to see just how far the talent pool is across the globe. You see the awesome cello player on Instagram, the amazing 3D games artist on Twitter, the world class gymnast on TikTok. You get so excited and inspired, and naturally, you want to be able to do the same.

But you can't pick up three things at once. Those people are exceptional because they focused on one thing - and only one thing only - for a long time. You only see what they produce, not the countless years of practice and frustration and experimentation that it took for them to get there.

That's not saying you can't get good at multiple things. But particularly for adults (who have far less free time than children), you are much better off concentrating on a single "improvement" goal at any one time. Maintain your other skills, sure, but accept that other people will overtake you in those areas. If you try and compete with everyone at everything, you'll just end up losing.

Indeed. Also, nobody posts their failures online. You only see success, and the path to that success is hidden or even misrepresented (“I made this in an afternoon!” ... and 5 years working 8h/day on the necessary skills).

I've started to make a conscious effort to post about my failures on Twitter specifically to help address that a bit, especially when they're hilariously bad (e.g. crashing a model airplane 3 seconds into its flight). Naturally, I've been failing at doing this consistently :)

I'm starting to find that people making posts about their failures offer me more value than people who post about their success. Reading them usually helps me be less hard on myself, and also sometimes provide insights into how to avoid such pitfalls myself in the future

That is 100% what I'm going after! I screw up all the time, figure out what I did wrong, and iterate. No one ever sees the 37 steps that went wrong before the successful outcome.

Reminds me of this (dubious) Picasso story: "It always reminds me of the story about the woman who approached Picasso in a restaurant, asked him to scribble something on a napkin, and said she would be happy to pay whatever he felt it was worth. Picasso complied and then said, “That will be $10,000.”

“But you did that in thirty seconds,” the astonished woman replied.

“No,” Picasso said. “It has taken me forty years to do that.”"

Apocryphal or not, the point of the arduous and often frustrating process hiding behind the product is relevant to any skill.

Definitely! It's understandable to want to hide the 99 crappy things you did before the 100th that came out looking good. What's more, a lot of us actively go back and scrub the failures from our history.

It's stupid, but I'm guilty of it too. I am trying to catch myself, though. It's easier to be more candid once you start having a bit of success.

I have a "rule of 3". You can be quite good at 3 things (give or take). One of them will probably be your job. One will probably be your relationships. You have time for 1 more. If you keep changing your mind about what that last one will be, then you will only be good at 2 things. There are ways to be good at only 1 thing as well.... or even 0...

A "thing" is just such a vague and general concept that is useless. If either your job or your relationships can be reduced to only mastering 1 thing I really envy you. If you say I am being unfair and of course it involves many sub-tasks , so why dont just choose to be good at life? So you can concentrate in just one thing and still have 2 other "things" to spare.

Now, less snarky and more serious, in any activity or discipline you choose, there are people who are dedicating their whole life to it, so you have 3 options.1) Hope your natural talent will compensate the less hours you dedicate to it (this is almost always false). 2) Accept you will never be as good as the crazies who spend all of their time on it.3)Join the fray and invest all your time on it.

Almost all great creations in humanity, things like Einstein's theory of relativity, Dante's Divine Comedy, Egypt's pyramids are the result of incredible and exclusive dedication for many many years.

What you say is absolutely correct ;-) However, I still find it useful to think in these terms. For example, I'm working on a game in my spare time and streaming (most of it) on Twitch. But I'm also making cheese and doing a lot of research for it. I keep thinking of writing a book about cheesemaking because the information available to normal people is by and large pretty awful. So I think to myself, "Are you willing to give up your game in order to write your book?" And the answer is, no. I may slowly write a few things here or there, though (just to reduce the amount of time I spend answering questions on reddit!) But I think a book would be a very bad idea for me even though it is sooo tempting.

Just blog. It's like a book, except you can stop whenever you want and you haven't lost anything. (That's what Eliezer Yudkowsky did, and those blog posts eventually became a book.)

Didn't Einstein had a day job at a patent office while developing the Theory of Relativity?

It's worth noting that much of his work at the patent office related to questions about transmission of electric signals and electrical–mechanical synchronization of time, two technical problems that show up conspicuously in the thought experiments that eventually led Einstein to his radical conclusions about the nature of light and the fundamental connection between space and time.

The special theory (among other goodies), but I am willing to bet nobody was investing more quality time at that problem at that year(Theoretical physics was a game played in a few European cities). For the General Theory he spent 10 years (1905-1915), he worked at the patent office until 1909, and even yet, he got almost scooped by Hilbert.

I think you also get better at some things as you get older, an some things require more upkeep than others.

For example, it's only been fairly recent since I dared to claim I'm pretty good at programming. And not even all aspects of it, but there are some aspects where I really notice I'm better at it than my co-workers. I've been doing this professionally for 20 years, so I guess it's about time I got good at it.

I've always thought I was pretty good at sailing; I think I have a talent for it. Used to do it a lot back in the day, but haven't been able to sail much in recent years. I'm not doing the upkeep, but I don't think I forgot any of it. I think I can jump in a boat and sail safely while teaching someone else. I don't think sailing costs nearly as much upkeep as something like physical fitness, which drops pretty quickly once you stop exercising.

I'm good at cycling, but doing the upkeep for this is easy: just take the bike when you go anywhere. I'm not as fast as when I was younger, but still faster than most.

I've been playing RPGs all my life, but I think I only recently got good at GMing (I've done it plenty of times before, but it was very hit and miss, and the misses sucked bad). But that's something I've been putting a lot of time and effort in lately. I clearly don't have any natural talent for it, but I've managed to accumulate quite a bit of experience over the decades. I still lack the discipline to do thorough prep, but experience fills in a lot of the details.

Despite having played a ton of different instruments (drums, keyboard, guitar), I've never gotten good at music. I lacked the discipline to practice every day, and though I would like to be better at it, I'm clearly not as passionate about it as I am about gaming.

I don’t quite agree with this. It depends on how often you change your mind about the third field, and what your standard for “quite good” is. If you put a few years of effort into a field and get to a high level of competence and productivity, that skill may stick with you for a long time, even if you fall out of practice.

For example, let’s say that you play piano, and you push yourself to a new level of skill and learn a few more advanced pieces. The decay rate for that skill is quite long, and with a very minimal level of work you can keep those pieces fresh for years or decades.

I concur; I was AFK for a while (pursuing other hobbies, living abroad with no access to a full-sized keyboard) but picked it up, and improved beyond my prior capabilities, pretty quickly.

I've noticed trouble playing advanced pieces within a few days to a week of little to no practice. But I guess everyone's different.

Very much in line with my experience, but in fact for me it wasn't even 'being quite good at,' but just sufficiently managing and exceeding minimum expectations. In my college years that was, for example, studying, working, and managing the faculty magazine. I had no time to give to friends or socialise even. Relationships are definitely taking up one of these 'slots,' so to say.

I've never thought of myself as being particularly "gritty" in anything; for me personally, mediocrity is good enough. I'm boring in that I get up and go to bed at reasonable times, in that I play video games for a couple hours at most, then I think I've had enough. I'm not trying to humblebrag, it's not something I do conscientiously, my main point here is that not excelling, not "doing your best" is also fine.

In agile methodologies the phrase "sustainable pace" is a recurring theme. You'll be in this life for 80 years if you're lucky, no need to burn through all that in a few years.

I've worked for nearly ten years at my previous company (consultancy), the most dedicated, hardworking people all ended up with burnout. I mean sure, I guess they earned a bit more money and stuff, but they also spent at least six months up to a year completely out of action, some went straight back into it and had to be put out of action again. And I hope they ask themselves "was it worth it".

This sort of "marathon" thinking isn't appreciated enough. You'll learn and do more with 10 hours/week of something for 10 years than 60 hours/week of something for 6 months. The latter severely underestimates the long term cognitive and sheer physical burden of intense effort.

Unless you are pursuing something that has an age or time factor (say, professional sports), I truly believe it's better to be a "marathon runner" than a "sprinter" when it comes to learning

Most professional athletes have about 20 years of practice before peaking (maybe around 15 in sports where the athletes peak younger such as gymnastics). When you see Eliud Kipchoge or Alex Honnold's achievements in their 30s being celebrated, you don't see them at 15 years old at regional competitions being average-among-the-decent.

User name doesn't check out. ;)

Truth be told, you hit the nail on the head for me, at all the different levels of the issue that you covered. As the years go by I feel more and more grateful that I'm still alive, and though I didn't do as much as I should have in nurturing my relationships as a young man, I'm really grateful I either did just enough - or am plain lucky - to have relationships to which I can now give my time and attention.

Unfortunately those same people also push others (or worse, their direct reports) to burn out as fast or faster than themselves.

It seems that it's more a problem with your inability to optimize correctly than anything else. But you are on the right way.

You are trying to do a multiple-objective optimization one objective at a time, and cycling through them.

You have already noticed that you can't totally forget the other objectives when working on one, otherwise you lose more over a cycle.

In fact what you seem to be aiming for is a single objective which is a combination of being good at work, soccer and relationship. At first order (i.e. when you don't aim for reaping the non-linear effects of being "the best" and ignore the non-linear effects in human physiology), the optimal optimization shouldn't exhibit such oscillations.

Quantify it, put it into a solver and do what's told. But the rule of thumb of good optimization (something something Jensen inequality) is that all your objectives must be growing all the time so you just have to be sure you are not letting something regress. It's called striking a balance. Then all objectives will grow following a S-curve simultaneously.

To avoid local minima (i.e. plateaus) which often plague single optimization problems, just increase the number of degree of freedoms in your internal representation and add some variability. Play various styles, try another way of working, spice up your relationships, do this simultaneously, memorize and imagine, and of course don't forget to try to improve (i.e. "pick the right move", as it's easy to just enjoy the fun of variability).

That's when the jack of all trade begin to reap benefit over the master of one. Some activities do synergize and help you progress deeper and faster.

Closely related is the eternal debate between satisficer vs maximizer which is just the primal-dual representation of the optimization problem.

> But the rule of thumb of good optimization (something something Jensen inequality) is that all your objectives must be growing all the time so you just have to be sure you are not letting something regress. It's called striking a balance. Then all objectives will grow following a S-curve simultaneously.

Does this assume no cost for context switching?

When I have tried to juggle several objectives in my life, I often have regressions in the ones I don't focus on at the time. For example, after focusing on working out for a while, I may lose interest and not follow an "optimal maintenance" regimen, meaning my abilities decay below their peak. I don't feel too bad about it, and use muscle memory as justification: when I return to the activity, I will get back to my peak much quicker then when I first got there. Doing so allows me to extend the time before I have to refocus on that activity again. (But maybe that's suboptimal in the sense that I pushed myself too hard initially, so I am fed up with that activity and don't feel like doing maintenance at all.)

> Closely related is the eternal debate between satisficer vs maximizer which is just the primal-dual representation of the optimization problem.

Can you elaborate on this?

Maybe you're working out or focusing too intensely.

I find that doing five minutes workout easily increases the amount of exercises I did for 40+ minutes a day. That's on top of my commitment to going to the gym and doing an hour worth of training.

>But maybe that's suboptimal in the sense that I pushed myself too hard initially, so I am fed up with that activity and don't feel like doing maintenance at all.

Yep, that's what I think. If you are oscillating for no reason you are doing it wrong. That's typically the yoyo effect people often experience when optimizing for their weight.

Humans do a really poor job at optimization in general. Quite often following a simple PID for control just make these oscillations disappear, and allow the optimization to continue instead of being stuck.

This is a simple model (quadratic), so it has its limits. Context switching shouldn't be a problem. Ideally you would have a zero cost to context switch, but if the cost is non zero, it only increase the variance but you should reach still your optimum as long as you remember that you are not just optimizing for the task at hand but for the combination.

The other limitation is when you have non-linear effects, but they are usually adverse, meaning big oscillations are more likely to result in an injury, than in an acceleration in progress. But sometimes, they can be beneficial like avoiding over-adaptation.

>Can you elaborate on this?

Which brings me to the satisficer vs maximizer point. There are often two school of thoughts when you optimize a problem that has constraints.

Once the problem become more complicated some people will assume a simplistic model and go with it, while other will try to find the best one before going with it. General-structure oriented vs detail oriented.

You can stay in the primal representation where you respect the constraints, then improve while respecting the constraints. Or you can switch to the dual where you give yourself some slack in the constraint while occurring a cost for violating the constraint that you add to the objective. You can also stay within the admissible region using some barrier method.

When you are working in the dual you are already juggling with multiple objectives.

You try to satisfy the constraints simultaneously focusing on those actively being violated, usually once all constraints are satisfied you are happy and stop maximizing even though there is still something to grab. If you want to progress further, you give yourself some additional constraints and satisfy again. Basically you are trying to land in a good-enough(TM) region of space.

The maximizer will aim for the peak. He will optimize for the sake of it. Instead of expanding the problem to a more interesting one, he will try his best to grab that extra-performance point on its limited toy problem. Once he reached the optimal point he knows that he has some slack left and only then he expands the problem to another dimension.

Sometimes he finds that deep peak inside a shallow valley, but most often he is spending a lot of energy just to make the satisficer look bad.

I think the biggest challenge to do this is trying to quantify probable outcomes from inputs. I don't necessarily have a model at hand that can predict my fitness level from inputs of time, and effort.

I wonder if it's useful to incorporate Bayesian probability here to account for this. Like, I could start with my prior belief of what my fitness level would be given time/effort input, collect the data, then update my priors based on collected data. In theory, given enough time, the Bayesian method would have to converge on the right coefficients for your model.

You can often find existing models. For example, in fitness/nutrition there is plenty of bro-science available. Tracking estimators like weight or IMI, calory burning formulas.

You can probably find the optimal resource allocation strategy if you are well-versed in multi-armed bandit and reinforcement learning. But often just respecting general optimization principle is enough.

You can do some gradient descent on time/effort resource allocation per activity parameters. As long as you don't change these parameters too fast (which OP was doing), and have a way to evaluate your progress (you can use Bayesian estimates aka Kalman or particle Filter there to track those smoother non-observable states). You will be just fine. It's not rocket science and you need to have a way to internalize it so that it can become practical.

The simple heuristic I suggested was make sure you always progress in all activities you care about, and avoid common optimization pitfalls such as oscillations (i.e. lack of stability) and local minimas.

Those damn oscillations are a typical symptom of being too greedy when selecting the step size. You think you are not progressing fast enough so you make a big adjustments then lose all progress. You can probably converge faster by using some line search procedure to find the optimal step-size, but the conservative approach of not changing things too quickly (small step-size) and letting time do the the work is good enough.

Usually you also don't start from scratch, as you are already doing some activities and are near equilibrium. And you add another activity, you slowly increase the time/effort investment parameters for this activity while taking it from used resources and keeping the monitoring to make sure slow but consistent progress is still happening everywhere.

I think similarly. I have this heuristics that my life priorities occupy a decreasing amount of my attention, cutting in half by each priority level.

I consider personal life, like time to family, friends, out of this system. I am including here things that I must focus on doing properly to improve myself and my life in a number of dimensions.

Goes like this, priority #1 gets 50% of your attention, #2 gets 25%, #3 gets 12.5%, #4 6.25, #5 ~3% (which in practice, rounds down to zero most of times, so for #5 and beyond I effectively equal to 0%).

I define "attention" as a loose mix of your time and your mind space.

So if you have a day job, kind of by definition it's your #1 priority. No matter how much you hate it, consider unimportant, or think you are neglecting it, you are still 8 hours of your day doing that, so it's your #1 attention priority. It has 50% of your attention.

My current #2 is my side-project that I hope to earn enough money to become my day-job and #1. Freeing space for other things I want to do (coincidentally enough, also reading books and playing soccer)

Then you have a kid and realize just how much free time you actually had...

Hah, that actually works more than once, as in "Then you have a(nother) kid and realize just how much free time you actually had".

Every night I think "hey I ought to hack on that little side project" after the 2 year old goes to bed but then the 6 month old wants to be held and cuddled and there's no way I'm telling her no so I can go work on a Scrapy project. It can wait.

As kids get older they take time differently. Just had my third kid and I notice a great difference in how time is used. My 6 year old is happy to spend time with my playing openttd (how he plays is interesting to an adult), and I go do something else at the same time. The baby needs me to hold her all the time and so I can't really do anything.

It only took two for me to learn my lesson haha

When I truly committed to my fitness goals, my work improved significantly. But I simplified the rest of my life. To some people my life looked really, really boring... to me, it was just right.

At the moment I'm doing too many things. By conventional measures, I'm doing notably well, especially given the present circumstances.

But I need to do a bit less to be even happier, and aligned with the levels of my commitments.

Cutting & bulking is not fitness, it's muscle building for appearance and status.

A good level of fitness can be achieved and maintained with an hour of separate core and aerobic exercise per day. You might not look like the guys in Men's Health but you'll probably swim a hell of a lot better than them.

There's more than one kind of fitness. Bulking and cutting optimizes for maximum power-to-weight ratio. I won't deny that there's an element of vanity to it, as there is with any effort to be fit, but that doesn't make it "not fitness".

To borrow your phrasing, someone who follows GP's program instead of yours might not swim as well as you, but they're probably a hell of a lot stronger.

This has been my experience as well.

I find it interesting that I've been given many compliments in life for "how good I am at so many things" -- but it's all come down to this rotation. I dive very, very deeply into an activity for a few months or year and get to a point where my maintenance-mode is higher than other people's "high" point.

Sometimes I cycle these, I've gone to fitness a number of times and hit some incredible goals, then go to photography, then to dancing, then back to fitness.

It _does_ mean that I try to optimize my activities to be inclusive -- if I can do an activity that both keeps me physically fit and provides social benefit, and has the potential for extra income -- I might stick with it longer.

I also favor activities that give me lasting benefit when I am not paying attention, such as investing, photography, or writing (all of which continue to exist or build money or followers when I stop). This allows me to focus in other areas while still "growing" in a different field.

> *eg: once you reached a desirable physical shape, you can switch to 'maintain mode', and focus your energies to something new

It should be noted that this does not apply to intimate relationships. They cannot be shelved and picked up again as you see fit. They require consistency.

I have made the mistake of putting relationships in maintenance mode, and it did not work so well.

Yes my findings match yours. "Gains" take much more focus and dedication than just showing up. That is true for muscle mass, performance, side projects and learning.

Anecdotally, I find this to be spot on. One thing I'll add that has been important for me is identifying what "maintenance mode" looks like for different areas. For instance, I'm in "ambitious project phase", so I put some upfront work into figuring out a somewhat mindless 30-60 minute daily fitness routine, what a maintenance amount of socializing looks like, etc. When I was younger, I was very bad at establishing this baseline for things that weren't as easily quantifiable (like fitness) and it led to some stressful times.

It's frustrating that life is like a Sim's game. There are sliders that have to be managed and you can only keep so many full at once. Often one or more will dip to keep others full.

> It is impossible to be really good at everything

That's true, but it is possible to acquire "meta-skills" which make it easier to acquire new skills. Someone with good meta-skills, like the ability to focus, or the ability to quickly triage what things ought to be optimized, or even just knowing what one really wants out of life, can get a lot better at more things than someone without them.

I've had pretty good results fitting both physical training and work, at least, into the day. 1 hour a day, 6 days a week, of training. Every other day is submaximal strength training with an undulating periodization model, every other day is conditioning. The latter workouts rarely take more than 30 minutes, so there's time for some body maintenance.

I do pretty much the same type of thing each weekday, with a set progression plan that I review every 6 weeks. I don't need to fret about what I'm going to be doing each day, I just go and do it when it's time, and then it's done. This is new because I definitely used to have a hard time getting serious about anything other than training. I think learning to program in such a way that I don't actively dread the workouts, and that I'm still functional the next day, has been key here.

I schedule things. I happened to use google Calendar, but the choice is unimportant. Block out time as busy: work, commute, gym, cooking, eating, sleeping, whatever. Pick the amount of practice needed for the desired target activity. It's quite clear when you can't add something new, and it's clear from progress in things when you need to shift. Some things take less to maintain than others.

It also makes doing things you want easy, and helps build habits. "Willpower doesn't work, habits do. Motivation doesn't work, planning does." is true in my experience.

Whenever I get a new job I optimize for work and stop fitness for awhile. It’s a lot of load to focus on work, and also skip eating what I want (iced coffees, whatever lunch is nearby, etc). I also just want to skip the gym.

I never introduce fitness again until I settle into a new position. This is just optimal for me in terms of dealing with stress.

It’s kind of like refactoring code in a new codebase, takes awhile to settle in and figure out the new routine.

This remind me of the Howard Marks 'Economic Reality' essay.


Simplified into something I say a lot: “opportunity cost waits for no man”.

..while having family/kids (but when you have them, your priority usually shifts anyway, so not a bad thing)

or, you’re like me if you imagine yourself to be this person who’s good at all the things, and become exhausted just thinking about it...

I'd argue, its not impossible. There might be people who are able to manage everything, we just don't know.

It's not impossible...but it requires strict time management and everyone else in your life will try to steal your earmarked time and complain that you never want to do anything. Even then, I agree - I'm constantly accidentally over prioritizing and having to even back out.

> everyone else in your life will try to steal your earmarked time and complain that you never want to do anything.

That is good phase. The bad phase is when those people eventually disappear and you have hard time to connect with anyone new.

yeah, it is physically impossible....

I gave you two disciplines: bulking up in the gym, or playing soccer...

while bulking up, you gain both muscle and some fat, and your soccer performance will suffer as your weight will increase, and your larger biceps and pecs really wont help your soccer game much (there is a reason that pro soccer players don't look like body builders). Also playing lots of soccer will hurt your 'gains'. (too much cardio is a 'gains' killer).

On the other side, while 'cutting', to be leaner, you are running on a calorie deficit for multiple weeks, or months, and your soccer performance will suffer since you are so glycogen depleted.....

You can be good at both, but not the "best you can be" at both disciplines at the same time as optimizing for one, will hurt your other one, and that's just physics.

Hope that makes sense....

That's almost entirely broscience.

Being at a slight deficit won't hurt your soccer performance. You're not a top tier professional that needs to optimize for every tiny thing. Even if you are, Ronaldo is shredded and is a top 5 footballer. And most footballers are naturally very lean, so what you're saying doesn't even make empirical sense.

Should you expect to play the Champion's League finals while preparing to do poses at a bodybuilding show and do your best? No, but you could conceivably do these a few weeks apart.

Cardiovascular activity won't "kill your gains", there's no such consensus, you just have to be smart about your caloric intake.

There's no physical law involved here so saying it's "just physics" sounds very dismissive.

Pro body building is built around taking insane amounts of roids which will get you caught during drug testing in pro soccer.

But then there's the discipline/scene of natural bodybuilding, where no steroids are used.

You also need tons of work on top of steroids to bodybuilding. Steroids by themselves don’t get you big. you can all the anabolics in the world and remain farT.

All these examples are very poor, bending reality to prove cliche folk wisdom, it’s actually kinda funny.

Súper bro science. It’s hard to take it seriously. Weightlifting is an integral part of soccer training. And cardio does not kill your gains.

*Steroids enters the room. Steroids: someone say they can’t bulk and cut? Hold my beer.

You are not going to be the best you can be at anything, unless you focus on it every waking hour of the week. Let go of that illusion and training things concurrently is a lot less anxiety-inducing.

I find it's much better to always do whatever I want to do, and if I find out I'm not doing what I want to be doing even if I'm doing whatever I want to do, inquire into what sort of crazy thing led me to believe I wanted to do X while I was doing Y because I wanted to do Y.

Conscious hedonism is the only way to live, but you better be willing to be conscious, cause doing what you "want" sucks until you get good at it.

everyone else in your life will try to steal your earmarked time and complain that you never want to do anything

Being able to say "No", and being willing to let people down because there are things you need to do that are more important than them, is a really important skill when you're running a startup.

You can't succeed if you're giving up all your time to other people's things. You have to stop and tell them you won't do what they're asking because you're focusing on your own stuff. They will complain. Some of them will stop talking to you. You might really annoy your family. Your real friends will understand and still be there when you're finished. Some of them might happily come along and help you with what you're doing.

You are dscribing a perfect way for an early burn-out and a lonely life.

Relationships are one of the most important things in life, and I say this as a guy who could litteraly not talk to anyone for two weeks strait. It's relationships with people that get you your first customers for your start-up, your key employees. relationships keep you down to earth, friends and fmily. The latter being one of the most important elements in your life, your kids and spouse.

Why am I saying this? Because relationships go both ways. When you care about people, chances are some of them will care about you as well. And if you don't really care about your customers, your company is screwed anyway.

Granted, everyone has a different bandwidth to handle these relationships, and seperating the toxic ones from the rest is problem. Which makes relationships all the more important.

I didn't say that you should say no to everything. I said you should develop the ability to say no to things that you don't want to do because you have more important things to spend your time on. Trying to make everyone around you happy by giving up time you want to spend on important things is a much quicker route to burn out than declining some meetings you don't care about.

I hate to say amongst the commenters I don’t think your opinion is a popular one here. I agree with you.

"declining some meetings you don't care about" isn't normally going to make your family angry and your friends drop you, so I don't think that's how people are interpreting your comment.

Optimize, prioritize, delegate, outsource. Not impossible at all. Learning to balance it takes time. But I assure people it can be done and I’m proof.

> It is very hard to work on your project at home, when you are in a intense bulking, or 'cutting' phase, and once you come home form the gym you just want to chill....

Zero excuse for this IMO. A work out of 1 hour is good enough and it’s only 4% of a day. Muscle growth happens when you sleep, so allocate 7 hours. Eating meals to bulk up isn’t hard.

Drink 30g protein shake with each meal, on top of the protein you get from your meals (another 30g or so) and you should be able to meet daily protein requirements (0.8-1g protein per day per pound of body weight). Then just make sure you’re getting the carbs and fats you require.

It’s easy, but there’s a catch. Your wrist size will be and indicator of how much muscle you can pack on your frame without steroids. If you don’t have big fat bones for your wrists then forget it your body’s bone structure does not provide enough surface area to attach as much muscle as you’d probably like. You will never be big naturally, so just focus on being lean.

OP said bulking or cutting. Bulking is easier from an energy standpoint (compared to cutting), but it's not trivial. Your body is still tired. Your capacity for problem solving is still limited. And eating (and buying, and prepping) the amount of food needed for bulking is time consuming.

And cutting is even worse. You feel drained. And you sleep more when cutting then you did when bulking.

Both are hard enough that it makes me wonder if you've done either for a decent period of time. If you had, it'd be pretty easy to see OP's point without a flippant answer that ignores what they're saying.

I consulted a nutritionist and had most meals prepped and delivered, so I eliminated wasted time.

I mean, good for you to have that ability.

> "Zero excuse for this IMO."

So, zero excuse, as long you have the money to pay someone to do all the thinking/planning for you. And as long as you have the money (and live in the right locations) to have someone do all the actual work of cooking for you.

I also suggest you go read the commenting guidelines, especially the "assume good faith" piece: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

None of those things cost that much compared to alternatives. Food delivery is a huge industry. A consultation with a nutritionist isn’t a big deal, might even be covered under your insurance.

I have learned the same thing about myself: I am (relatively) successful not because my grit allowed me to keep doing something which I disliked but were rewarded, but because the things I enjoy doing are things which are valued by our society.

I realized this after reading the following Warren Buffet quote[1]:

"I happen to have a talent for allocating capital. But my ability to use that talent is completely dependent on the society I was born into. If I’d been born into a tribe of hunters, this talent of mine would be pretty worthless. I can’t run very fast. I’m not particularly strong. I’d probably end up as some wild animal’s dinner. But I was lucky enough to be born in a time and place where society values my talent, and gave me a good education to develop that talent, and set up the laws and the financial system to let me do what I love doing — and make a lot of money doing it. The least I can do is help pay for all that."

[1] https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Warren_Buffett

...and that's why he also said on Monday: "If you took someone and asked them, without them knowing whether they'd be born boy or girl, black or white, with or without any relevant talent, or to rich or poor parents, and asked them when and where they'd like to be born. They'd answer, 'The US, in modern times'. There is no place on Earth, and no time in history, that a person can make the most of their talents, as today in the US. As hard as it is to be in the bottom 10% here and now, it would have been much worse any time in the past."

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69rm13iUUgE

I see how it could sound weird to the eyes of an American, but the only place where I think his statement would be incorrect is Western Europe. A part from that I'm confident that a majority of people around the world would very much like to either have been born in the US or give their children the opportunity to live there.

At least where I'm originally from, emigration to the US is seen as an an incredibly desirable outcome even more so than to europe. Though personally I'm glad I've ended up in canada! Funnily enough, my parents first choice was still the US and they only tried for Canada when they didn't get picked in the Us Visa lottery.

I don't think there is as much business opportunity in Western Europe due to taxes and regulations.

This is why the US has given birth to the majority of big businesses in the world in the last 20 years. A lot of startups that started elsewhere, moved to the US to continue their growth.

Europe might have some quality of life elements such as health care, vacation time, and regulations to protect citizens and workers... but being able to start a business in the US is what Warren Buffett refers to as opportunity.

The US might be the best place to start a world-conquering multinational like Google or Facebook, but it's not the best place to live for general social mobility or for starting a small business. Small business startups play a lesser role in our economy than other Western European countries. (https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/10/think-w...)

The entrepreneurship rate has been declining in the US for the past few decades. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-small-business/wp/201..., https://www.inc.com/magazine/201505/leigh-buchanan/the-vanis...)

This is provably false. It is incredibly hard to create a small business in western Europe. Capital borrowing is difficult, employee staffing is onerous, and local officials make sure that larger established companies compete more strongly in their areas.

That Atlantic article is both antiquated, and cherry picks data just after the 2008 crisis.

The social policy advantages in Nordic nations and Western Europe today vastly outweigh those in the US. Growing up in the US, I was lucky my parents had good jobs and pushed me to learn and grow. If I did not have their support (and healthcare) I would not have survived college or medical issues at that time, some of which are ongoing today. I'm extremely lucky to have an advanced education, be healthy, and be less than 10k in debt 5 years after graduating. That's entirely due to my parents funding my education and medical bills best they could through that period as well as the insanely good benefits from my current position.

If I was born into a Nordic nation I think I'd have been better off. I'd have had the same supportive parents but no burden from education and medical debts, or stress of finding a position with good benefits before turning 26. I might even be freelancing or building my own company right now without fear of paying for prescriptions out of pocket for me and my SO which would be significantly more costly than our rent.

The US is a great country for opportunity but it is not a place of equal opportunity.

But in his thought experiment what you're trying to avoid is being massively disadvantaged by where you were born.

If you're born in Scandinavia you'll have very good education and healthcare no matter what family you're born into. Maybe starting a business is harder, so what? You can move to the US later in life if that's your goal, you'll still be better off by having no student debt.

In the past this was a murkier trade-off as the cost of immigration vs the cost of student loans was much closer.

Nowadays, however, I'd say that it's possibly the better route to take from a debt standpoint, but there is still the reality that being able to move to the US (or most other countries) is not a guarantee normally.

I'm canadian, I sure as fuck wouldn't want to emigrate to the USA. Warren Buffet has huge biases and blind spots when it comes to sociological analysis. I strongly doubt the man understands what it's like to be making 7$ an hour working at Dennys somewhere in the bible belt because the public school system left you semi-illiterate, or living in any heavily criminalized urban area, or picking fruits in california because you had to escape cartels in mexico/central america. None of the people in my examples or developing their full potential, and there's a massive proportion of americans in this bottom social class.

*And canada could be doing way better. There are glaring social inequalities here too.

> huge biases and blind spots when it comes to sociological analysis.

...apparently so do you since your next sentence is full of such incredible hyperbole...

> 7$ an hour working at Dennys somewhere in the bible belt because the public school system left you semi-illiterate, or living in any heavily criminalized urban area, or picking fruits in california because you had to escape cartels in mexico/central america.

Not sure 'massive proportion' is right? I think its less than 50M in America, employed at labor jobs. That's around 12%?

Pew suggests about 50% of America is the middle class, earning about $78k a year. I'm not sure what fraction is in manual labor jobs but if labor means working then the rate is about 62%.

From BLS data, about 12.7% of the population lives in poverty, workers/children/etc. This group is disproportionately minority (non white) and an example of the social failing of the richest nation in history.

That sounds like a very mid 20th century POV. Which I totally get for Buffett.

Most rankings of social mobility put the US outside the top 20. The highs are higher here, but the path to get there, especially from the bottom 10%, is more difficult than almost any country we consider a peer.

I would be interested in how the US mobility fared if the metric was not %, put purchasing parity. I imagine it is better to go from the bottom 10% to 20% in the US than bottom 10 to top 10 in many counties.

After all, an income of 15k (ppp) puts someone in the top 10% globally and 30k is the top 1%

I don't think that's accurate. Economic mobility in the US has been so high for so long, that it stands to reason that most families in the US have already achieved their potential.

What is probably a more telling indicator is the degree to which poor IMMIGRANTS are able to move up - an indicator that the US dominates.


I don't think that stands to reason at all. That sounds laughable, especially in the context of the heinous things American society did to purposefully black families from "achieving their potential". While immigrant families' ancestors were in their home countries accruing assets, educational opportunities, and (relatively more) equal access to what their country had to offer, black people here were held back from their white peers. Home equity, educational opportunities, freedom from police harassment, the ability to organize politically without facing literal terrorism.

Modern times, sure. The United States not so much. If you aren't sure about any other factor, you might want to be born in a society that provides most of its population with the tools they need.

The problem with the that quote is that "it's better now than before" is used my large political movements to justify cancelling the effort that got us here, and letting us backslide.

Will Durant has an interesting quote that has stuck with me, something along the lines of: Out of every 100 new ideas, 99 of them will be bad, and inferior to what was replaced.

My impression is that "It's better now than before" is used to protect the effort that got us here, not cancel it. It's used to protect us against the 99 bad ideas.

I've never seen anyone on consequence suggest we cancel any major social program or civil right.

That sounds more like irrational fear on your part.

There’s a subtle issue with that quote: one of the predicates is “with or without any relevant talent”, but the answer of the modern US seems to assume talent that one can make the most of.

Why not pick a modern country with a better social safety net, lower inequality, and greater economic and class mobility?

> Why not pick a modern country with a better social safety net, lower inequality, and greater economic and class mobility?

If you have no talent or ambition, that definitely makes sense. You are better off in Sweden, Germany, or France.

Another classic: "I think that actually people in my situation should be paying more tax." - Warren Buffett

...and almost everyone agrees with him. The problem is that any time a Bill is put forward to raise taxes on "the rich", it also happens to include the upper-middle class, not the rich.

Economic mobility is down in most wealthy nations, especially in the US. Not to mention the demonstrable differences in outcome people have based on familial wealth, race, location, etc.

Innate potential as well.

Thanks for that.

I have often thought that boy, I would really have suffered had I been born in medieval or Roman times because I don't know what I would've done if I didn't work in IT.

I would describe the feeling as guilt, and it took me some time to just accept that things are the way they are.

Ancient Rome is legendary for engineering.


There is this notion I see going around that in the past people survived by being brutish animals and smart people would have died quick. In fact, it's the opposite. We outcompeted other animals because we are NOT like them. Because we engineer. In a hunter gatherer society someone who builds traps, designs better huts or tents, etc could be extremely valuable.

Buffet's self-deprecation is admirable but lacks imagination.

What you say is true.

The thing is just that I've been obsessed with computers my whole life and can't imagine myself being, for example, an aqueduct engineer or a blacksmith.

Where Buffet's quote struck a chord is that I'm thankful that society allows me to do what I love, but I should stay mindful that not all people have those opportunities.

I suppose a different way to look at it is that had I lived in a time before computers I wouldn't have known what I was missing out on, so there's that.

I figure without tech, I'd be a monk or clerk.

From what I gather, the actual monk-monks in your average abbey, the ones doing the routine of daily prayers and reading & writing in an established and bookish order, were largely children of aristocrats or otherwise well-off. There were very few of these relative to the total population. The rest of the folks living at an abbey lived some of the routine but were largely excluded from the life of study and learning, instead doing manual labor to keep the place running. They were usually classified as something less than full brothers/sisters. Most weren't literate and there was typically no serious program or intention to make them so.

Yes there were exceptions and various orders work differently, but talking about in general and during times when there were quite a few—though still not that many—full-on monastics sitting around writing commentaries on Augustine and such. Some orders took a work-and-prayer approach for everyone to keep their order afloat, but those generally seem not to have lasted long before morphing into collecting rents and relying on patrons. Turns out it's really hard to have a life of the mind & spirit without a bunch of other people working to support you—if you're doing the necessary work yourself, it's all you have time for, meanwhile a competing order nearby's adding a wing to their abbey with the money they're collecting from a share of a mill, rents on three commercial properties in town, and 30 acres of land worked by peasants, their wine cellar is full, and their abbot has significant influence in the court of the Duke. So. Maybe that seems like a better idea.

Somehow I think Buffett would have ended up a parasite in any society. There's always been a niche for the Buffett type.

Why do you think he's a parasite? He seems to live a modest life, and work very hard to make the economy work more efficiently. He's giving almost all of his money to philanthropic causes, and seems to campaign for all the right causes. He maintains a pretty low profile for his level of success (he doesn't even support philanthropy through his own family foundation; he went with Gates, since he thought they'd do a better job).

I think he's had about $10 million in frivolous spending in his life (a plane, and a home in California).

I agree most people in the financial sector seem to be parasites, but Warren doesn't seem that way.

I think his claim to be a beneficial 'allocator of capital' is bogus. He tends to invest in established exploitative companies. His investments have been made on an almost exclusive basis of growing wealth, which in the end is a very sterile end to aim for.

> I'll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It's addictive. And there's fantastic brand loyalty.

— Buffett, quoted in Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco

I agree he's led a modest life. I am somewhat dubious about his claims to be a philanthropist. I don't see exploiting the world (Buffett & Gates) necessarily redeemed by later posing as a philanthropist.

None of this is meant as a critique of capitalism. Just a critique of the kind of sterile, exploitative capitalism that Buffett practises, that he then tries to dress up as philanthropy. "It's ok if I give away all my money at the end" - well he can't take it with him can he? And at 89, he still hasn't given most of it away anyway.

Finally, here's a link to a much more detailed criticism of Buffett, if you're interested:


That article starts with an incorrect premise.

"America isn’t supposed to allow moats, much less reward them. Our economic system, we claim, is founded on free and fair competition."

That's called a straw man. No one has ever said America "doesn't allow moats" and that there is "free and fair competition".

The whole point of business is, within the law, to build a moat that makes it impossible for a late-starting competitor to compete with you. Patents are moats. Immense capital is a moat. Brands are moats. Regulations are moats.

When Disney pulls its movies from Netflix to start its own streaming service, it's using its moat to block a competitor.

I bet almost every dollar you spend in your life goes to companies that legally try to stop you from spending money with their competitors. From your phone to your bank to your car to your airline.

The Fed is currently propping up the price of assets through $3 Trillion of asset buying. This isn't a free economy.

Funny, I thought the point of business was to exchange goods and services in mutually beneficial ways. The rest is rent seeking.

That quote is probably right out of a business school textbook.

Any Apple customer will tell you they "benefit" from spending all their computer and phone money with Apple. Apple trying to build a moat around their ecosystem doesn't preclude mutual benefit.

The vast majority of businesses are what I describe. The large economic profits are mostly rents accumulated by a small fraction of businesses, in a Pareto distribution. I argue we’d do fine with less of the rentiers.

I think most Apple customers will tell you that Apple products are too expensive.

Most 'moats' are not beneficial to the consumer. What's beneficial to the consumer is competition, and companies innovating, not building moats, to stay ahead of their competitors.

> He tends to invest in established exploitative companies.

What about BNSF for instance?

> His investments have been made on an almost exclusive basis of growing wealth, which in the end is a very sterile end to aim for.

What is a more appropriate terminal goal for a hedge fund manager? Would you personally invest your parents' 401Ks, your alma mater's endowment, or your city/state's pensions in a fund whose goal is not "growing wealth"? Are you willing to contribute to each fund to make up the difference (or raise taxes)?

I read the linked article and it was terrible. It kept playing a sleight-of-Hans between him being an example of what monopolies empower (which he is), and he as somehow the cause of monopolization (which it doesn’t support at all, it just makes meaningful glances in that direction). Quite a lot of its arguments boil down to “he’s rich,” as though that were a sin in itself.

No one who went into that article without a pitchfork in hand is likely to emerge with one.

> His investments have been made on an almost exclusive basis of growing wealth, which in the end is a very sterile end to aim for.

This is what investment is, no?

>I think his claim to be a beneficial 'allocator of capital' is bogus. He tends to invest in established exploitative companies. His investments have been made on an almost exclusive basis of growing wealth, which in the end is a very sterile end to aim for.

How do you separate this from a more general critique of capitalism? How should capital allocation work?

The majority of Warren's investments are in the secondary market. These transactions are effectively just transferring ownership and don't actually make cash infusions into the companies at all. He makes some primary market investments and allocates capital between his fully owned subsidiaries. But I think many people naturally wonder the value to society of getting rich by buying and selling things in a secondary market. No products or services are produced and his gains(over the market return) come from a zero sum game between buyers and sellers.

> But I think many people naturally wonder the value to society of getting rich by buying and selling things in a secondary market.

Obviously, buying and selling stuff in a secondary market is enormously beneficial to the people doing the buying and selling (or else they wouldn't be doing it)... For instance, if I start a business, I want to be able to sell it to Warren Buffet. When that doesn't happen, I want to be able to buy a slice of the businesses that he has invested in under the assumption that he does a pretty good job (as I don't have time/ability/money) to do that myself. Beyond personal utility, the value to society comes in the form of more businesses, more products, more services when its easier to buy and sell abstract ownership in businesses.

What counterfactual would get rid of Berkshire but keep YC?

I think your question conflates the primary and secondary markets. If you start a company and sell all or part to Buffet, that would be a primary market, and money goes into the company which can be used to grow. Same for YC. On the other hand, if you buy stock from another private investor, the company sees no money

I am sympathetic to your viewpoint and will give it some more thought. That said, my immediate thought would be that a fluid and healthy secondary market is necessary for a primary market to exist at all. Also, a secondary market allows growth companies to channel revenue into investment instead of paying out dividends. Last and relatedly, the overall secondary market return makes it nonzero and this incentivizes investment in lieu of dividends.

> None of this is meant as a critique of capitalism.

Lol, I was really with you up until this point. There will always be people like buffet as long as there is capitalism.

> He's giving almost all of his money to philanthropic causes

His current net worth is $70b, for your statement to be true he would have to give away trillions.


One can be running a marathon and still have 40km left to run.

This only means that, so far, he's only talking about giving most of his money away, not actually doing it. If he'd be doing it at any significant speed, we'd be seeing monthly/yearly drops in his net worth.

I disagree with the author's premise that you have "grit" only when it can be applied in any direction.

To me, "grit" requires adversity instead of simply overall breadth. It's quite easy for us humans to do something if everything is going well.

What about when it's not going well? Do we have enough to persevere through all times, including hard ones? Your startup is failing? Your research is yielding no fruit? You can't get that promotion even though you've tried 3 times in 3 years?

Pushing through adversity and continuing the grind in the face of simply giving up is better defined as "having grit".

The problem simply is, maybe it is all just a waste? But that's not having grit!

Under the author's premise, you should be trying 1000% at all areas of your life all the time. Unrealistic.

I agree with you that grit means pushing through adversity.

Specifically in my life, I've pushed through adversity when I cared more about trying than I did about the outcome.

It's hard to quantify, but I've only recently enjoyed running. For years, I tried to run consistently and always gave up. Then, I moved to Sun Valley for a ski season. As the snow melted, I started running outside each morning. I looked forward to the cold air, the quiet mountains, the snow-capped scenery. Nothing changed in how I understood the importance of exercise. I just enjoyed getting outside more.

Reflecting on areas where I've been told I "showed grit," they've really been areas where I naturally was interested - regardless of the outcome.

Yes, grit is much more how much you stick to things you've chosen.

Consider two scenarios of a child playing who soccer:

Child 1 hates soccer, but is forced to play by their parents: I see no lack of grit in such a scenario if the child resists going to practices & games and pushes his parents to let him quit.

Child 2 likes soccer and wants to play. However, in their first game they play goalie and the team loses 3 to 0. If the child doubles down and decided to practice more, that is grit. If they get discourages and want to quit, that is a lack of grit.

Obviously there's still more to it than the relatively simple outline here, but it shouldn't be considered a universal ability to do any & everything or never abandon a project.

Right, is it grit to save your startup at the cost of your marriage? Life is all about tradeoffs.

Personally I think the ability to make appropriate effort / reward choices > "grit". Of course, to an investor, abandoning everything else in your life to focus on their investment is "grit".

Grit isn't about trading A for B. It's about trading off idleness and pain avoidance for effort.

Pain is temporary, different from destruction.

I've always viewed Grit through the lens of poverty and achievement, real achievement in the face of real adversity.

There isn't a single thing on his list that counts as grit (based on my understanding) except perhaps in some circumstances programming and networking, even that's with the caveat of using those two as a means to escape poverty. Most of this list are "nice to haves" and grit doesn't really apply:

Running, Lifting weights, Writing, Sticking to a diet, Developing a wake-up/go-to-bed schedule, Mindfulness, Reading, Networking, Music (piano), Baking, Cooking, Programming.

Grit is when everything has gone wrong, you're hosed and overwhelmed and the stakes are crucial and you get out of bed and "get at it" anyway. If you have even middle class parents to go home to... eh, then grit is mostly replaced by capital and calculated risk.

That definition would push people into local maximums, always continuing the grind towards the initial goal instead of stepping back and reassessing if the goal still makes sense. There has to be a balance between these actions.

Persevering through adversity doesn't mean ignore opportunity. It means when the most obvious desirable outcome is blocked by challenges hard or unforeseen, don't simply give up. It applies in many situations but its not a panacea.

Boxer (Animal Farm) had grit. Whenever things got tough, he'd say "I will work harder!"

After his death, his saying became a mantra and model for other good citizens to follow.

I revisited Animal Farm a few months ago. There are more and more mornings now where I'm reading the news, thinking about our world, and reminded of the animals on that farm.

Definitely, the people who think we’ve defeated the human issues in those books are horribly misguided. Stalinism is sufficient but not necessary to have Animal Farm.

I worked for a few companies whose mode of operation was exactly that.

This works so long as there's a steady supply of young, talented people but falls flat on its face when the company tries to scale up its business.

Spoiler alert:

The horse doesn't die, its turned into glue after being sent to a "vet" having collapsing from exhaustion.

I remember, that's why I dodged that bullet by quitting.

It is not important to work hard, it is important to be happy. Stop glorifying the act of working, please.

To me, a lifelong search for happiness seems flawed and ephemeral. It's culturally very American, but doesn't seem to lead to happiness.

I strive for purpose, meaning, and positive impact. When I succeed, I'm happy. That drives how I pick my job and how I run my family life. The Frankl book "Man's Search for Meaning" makes a good case for this as a life goal.

I'm not going to my categorical statements like yours. But in my life philosophy, it's not so much important to be happy, as to be a good person and to have a fulfilling life.

But if other people have other values -- glorifying working hard for example -- it's important to respect that too.

This is something I was thinking about lately. I think having the goal of being "not-unhappy" is more personally viable than aiming at happiness. In the past when I was seeking happiness I would just smoke weed and play videogames all day, which felt good at the time but the day after I would feel like trash because I wasted so much time/energy and typically ate straight garbage.

Anna Karenina principle: happiness is the absence of all the things in the set of things that make you unhappy

Maybe it's just the wording we use, but when you say "But in my life philosophy, it's not so much important to be happy, as to be a good person and to have a fulfilling life."

Doesn't that mean that being a good person and having a fulfilling life is what makes _you_ happy?

This is something I think a lot about, and I know this is a philosophical topic that has been around for ever, but how do we call the state in which we're "ok" with our life? In your case the mental state when you believe that you're being a good person and having a fulfilling life? Is that happiness? Or is happiness a by-product of that state?

I believe this is what Aristotle called achieving virtue, maybe, it's been a while since I studied philosophy...

No, it doesn't. There are definitely times when being a good person and having a fulfilling life does make me happy. There are also times when it's tough and painful and makes me unhappy. There are more of the former than the latter (and I do believe striving for a meaningful life is a good strategy for reaching happiness), so there's a clear correlation, but they're not the same. They're not actually even close.

There's an even bigger difference in why you do things. If you do something because it helps someone (and that results in you being happy) it's very different than if you do the exact same thing to make you happy (and that thing also results in helping someone).

The philosophy I described is close to the philosophy of Aristotle or Confucius, albeit without the same rigid roles and social hierarchies which they use to define virtue.

But the mental state of being content where you are is another thing entirely. That's related to several Eastern philosophies (Zen and Buddhism especially), but it's very different from the American philosophy of striving for individual happiness, or the Aristotelian / Confucian philosophy of striving for virtue.

Happiness may be your ultimate goal (or did you pick it up from pop culture and movies?), and it's far from universal across people, cultures and eras (unless you define happiness in an extremely general, tautological sense of whatever one strives for).

For many people it is attaining meaning, being and being seen as competent and useful, it is obtaining power or sacrificing oneself for an idea or their family. If you say that's all forms of happiness, then again that definition is pretty empty then.

It is debatable whether hard work should be an end unto itself. Certainly you shouldn't idolize hard work uncritically because, for example, someone told you that you are a worthless person if you don't work as hard as possible at everything. (I definitely think there are people who were psychologically programmed this way and never question it.)

However, there are many things which are important and which require hard work. Cultivating the discipline of hard work can thus be indirectly beneficial in a lot of ways.

And it's a sign as well: if you rarely find yourself doing hard work, then unless your life is exceptionally easy, you're probably missing out on something important.

And since hard work is a necessity, it's preferable to come to terms with it and develop the ability to enjoy it rather than hating it. For that it helps to draw satisfaction from doing it, which isn't quite the same thing as glorification, but it's still a way of putting it in a positive light.

Ultimately, if you define your own goals and do things for your own reasons, then hard work can fit in well with that. Just make sure your hard work is serving you instead of you serving hard work.

> It is not important to work hard, it is important to be happy

There's a reason that none of the major religions or ancient philosophers share this outlook. It's because a society that elevates the personal happiness of the individual above all else necessarily becomes self destructive.

> none of the major religions or ancient philosophers share this outlook.

That's because the major religions of history, especially the major organized religions, are part and parcel with their adjacent governmental power structure, and basically share it's interests, which mostly have to do with extracting value from the populace.

Plenty of philosophers, however, have spoken counter to this, from the Epicurians, to the Lokayatas, to Omar Khayyam.

you can work hard at a hobby, or fitness, or many other areas that aren't commercial.

My happiness requires capital to implement and gaining capital requires working hard.

I'm fortunate that I'm able to work hard in a career and field that also brings me happiness, so that's a bonus.

Do you think the two are causally related? (Either positively correlated or negatively correlated?)

Some people are lucky enough to find meaning in their work. That is a luxury. Many people need to work to live and will happily find meaning in other facets of their lives. But people shouldn’t believe that work is the only sort meaningful activity in life.

They may or may not. Many people are happy when spending time with loved ones. You can live a happy life and never work "hard". Just do your job and be happy. There is nothing wrong with tbat.

Working hard makes me happy.

Working makes a lot of people happy. Stop glorifying your preferences and pop wisdom.

> When I was a college runner, I had teammates whose drive and determination seemed almost boundless on the track, and nearly absent in the classroom, and vice versa. Instead of asking whether someone is gritty, we should ask when they are.

This makes sense to me. On the personal level too. The trick is not to push harder, but to figure out how to make it so that you want to do it.

The grit discourse is mostly about attributing poverty to individuals, rather than as an effect of the system as a whole.

Could poverty not be an effect of both?

The hardest-working person on earth will probably die poor.

You're right - there are a ton of factors that contribute to poverty, but grittiness (or lack thereof) is probably overvalued among the already-successful.

“Grit” is just about which people get sorted into he poverty bin, not how big the poverty bin is.

It is important to learn when to give up too. I guess this isn't talked about as much. Give up what you dislike or don't have real potential in favor of what you love etc.

There are countless good examples of course; off the top of my head:

- Darwin neglected his medical studies, to a point his father sent him elsewhere to become a parson (priest). All while pursuing his interests, and slacking off occasionally.

"Darwin spent the summer of 1825 as an apprentice doctor, helping his father treat the poor of Shropshire, before going to the University of Edinburgh Medical School (at the time the best medical school in the UK) with his brother Erasmus in October 1825. Darwin found lectures dull and surgery distressing, so he neglected his studies. He learned taxidermy in around 40 daily hour-long sessions from John Edmonstone, a freed black slave who had accompanied Charles Waterton in the South American rainforest."

"Darwin's neglect of medical studies annoyed his father, who shrewdly sent him to Christ's College, Cambridge, to study for a Bachelor of Arts degree as the first step towards becoming an Anglican country parson. As Darwin was unqualified for the Tripos, he joined the ordinary degree course in January 1828. He preferred riding and shooting to studying. His cousin William Darwin Fox introduced him to the popular craze for beetle collecting; Darwin pursued this zealously, getting some of his finds published in James Francis Stephens' Illustrations of British entomology. He became a close friend and follower of botany professor John Stevens Henslow and met other leading parson-naturalists who saw scientific work as religious natural theology, becoming known to these dons as "the man who walks with Henslow". When his own exams drew near, Darwin applied himself to his studies and was delighted by the language and logic of William Paley's Evidences of Christianity (1794). In his final examination in January 1831 Darwin did well, coming tenth out of 178 candidates for the ordinary degree."

- On technology there are too many to count I guess? Bill Gates halted his undergrad at prestigious Hardvard. Or Elon Musk "In 1995, Musk commenced a PhD in energy physics/materials science at Stanford University in California. Eager to pursue opportunities in the Internet boom, however, he dropped out after just two days to launch his first company, Zip2 Corporation."

Perhaps you could redefine Grit as ability to endure pain or keep motivation when you have worthwhile goals in mind (if you want to just adapt the word). Perhaps courage is a better word. To give up when you need or push through when you need.

Interestingly, the book cited in the link (Range by Epstein) talks about "grit" but it also talks about this same point - successful individuals are (generally) not only those who have grit but those who are good at knowing when it's worth persisting with grit and when it's better to give up.

Measures & metrics of "grit" are, at best, not that great. It is a quality difficult to capture, and methods tend not to distinguish between projects a person chooses to undertake and those a person has no interest, believes are without value, yet is forced to undertake. I've used Duckworth's grit assessments, and not found the results to be particularly predictive of the outcomes I was trying to measure

Now, that said, "grit" is not always well understood. It's often considered a general-purpose quality. However, grit isn't necessarily about being good, or "gritty", at everything. It's much more about how you perform on something once you've chosen to do that thing. It is not about doing things that you don't believe have value to yourself.

The athlete that sleeps through class is a good example: That person didn't explicitly choose academics. Academic responsibilities were an unwanted side effect. It wasn't something the person ever really wanted.

Compare that with someone who chooses to go to college for academic reasons: Do they work hard? Stick to it? Persevere through problems? That is grit.

Man: go read Aristotle’s ethics and learn what the real good life is.


Prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude. You need them all to lead a full life.

I lack grit in exactly the same way. I love working on things I'm passionate about, I'm fortunate that programming is one of them (or more accurately: some aspects of programming), but there are plenty of things on which I struggle to motivate myself to do them.

I tend to call it discipline or willpower rather than 'grit', but I guess it's the same thing.

I did notice that my wife and I have and lack this willpower in exactly opposite ways. I'm good at doing the right thing when it involves not doing something, like avoiding unhealthy food, or staying at home (which is suddenly very relevant). She has better willpower when it comes to doing things, like handling taxes and other paperwork on time.

Yeah, I think most of the conversation here would be more clear if we simply traded the somewhat-ambiguous "grit" for the better-defined "discipline" and "willpower".

Man, this is probably my single greatest struggle as, like, a human in the world.

I know I have the capability to try hard. I’ve done some neat stuff when I try hard. And yet, sometimes, I don’t. Even in areas, and on things, that matter a lot to me. And that makes it tough to look at myself every once in a while.

I hope I get better at trying hard. Or maybe just understanding when I’m gonna try hard.

I think you misunderstood (and my experience alignes with OPs).

It is not about trying hard. It is not about working long hours, giving your best, persevering... it is about finding things you enjoy doing, context in which you shine, people who appreciate you. When a person is given a chance, they will try hard - not because they should, but because they enjoy it.

It doesn't always work and sometimes you need to just push through. But mostly, I can't imagine working hard at something I don't find joy in.

Have you ever been tested for ADD?

The concept the OP may be looking for is Aristotle's Techne.


In the things you do in your life, you are either a spectator or a participant, and if you are just a critic of something, you are a spectator. Really good seats don't make you a participant either. Physical competence is a different way of relating to the world.

"What I cannot create, I do not understand." —Feynman

Francis Bacon established the same idea as the foundation of the scientific method in "Novum Organum."

When I worked for a pensions company they sat me next to the CEO. He was a pleasant man most of the time, who could sometimes show a touch of arrogance towards his PA. I saw him mostly work at a slide deck all week and reading a book called Grit. Later I noticed he put a few sentences from the book into his deck. "We don't go home when we are tired, we go home when we are done" stuck in my head.

After a few years of my own struggles at being consistently productive my conclusion is grit is an emergent behaviour you cannot optimise for. You most probably want to use different words such as 'consistency' (this one works for me). I see grit as something opposite of health and balance. A short-term display of stamina that might trigger unwanted consequences in other areas of life.

Like a friend of mine who collapsed after, comparably, running a marathon when he had not fully recovered from the flu/covid-19 or something similar. He’s OK now though. He never bails out unless unconscious. He’s one of the most reliable persons I’ve ever known, and he has gotten where he wants to in life so it’s not necessarily bad.

Friend's father was like that (and a very successful man). He died at 52 from a heart attack while running...

Grit is just a marketable term for what has been know for a long time as conscientiousness, one of the five main personality traits in psychology

I can see where the author is coming from and I think most of us have made sacrifices when it comes to things we wanted to learn or achieve. Time is never enough, social obligations pull you further etc. There are many reasons for that.

I think people should choose wisely where they want to spend their time. The quote "Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at" by one True Detective is very poignant.

That's why I prioritize when I need and I say "when" because the constant fight to prioritize for time is also time consuming and energy draining. If I'm reading an interesting book, I'll prioritize finishing it and I'll work less on my projects, but I'll leave enough time in the day for exercise (which is something very important to me) and work on them. That's on top of having a full time job and a partner. If you make yourself a routine based on certain slots you can use, no matter for what (top priority at the time) things move and happen! Projects get finished! Books get read! Exercise is done and you feel good and aching.

We're not just machines despite how prevalent that sentiment is. We change all the time and life is change itself - constant movement. You either go with the flow and make your decisions based on the circumstances or you stop and die (mentally, psychologically).

Continuing when you're hit with adversity is what "grit" is. If you really want to do it, you'll find a way to do it. But you have to make it easier for yourself and that is a constant fight!

> isn’t because of grit, ... It’s because I enjoy doing them

"Enjoying doing" is a gift, like a talent. Considering division of labour in a society, maybe each should use their gifts?

An exception is needs, as in the article: diet, exercise, sleep ... but also things you need to do in order to get to the things you enjoy doing...

Having both "I enjoy programming" and "12. Programming" may be an example of that.

Just a comment, that i don't want to sound as a critique or a judgement of any kind...there's is a great value in re-evaluating and without this step the "grit" becomes easily stubbornness...BUT it's also very important not to use the "re-evaluation" to mask or hide 1) lack of clear objectives (why am I doing this thing that i don't particularly enjoy) 2) laziness (it's sooooooo easy to fall into the "i'll do it tomorrow" mentality).

But honestly having a clear objective and a reasoning behind achieving it that we believe in and you get all the grit you need to achieve it!

The gym is the classic example, most people sign up but they aren't too convinced about it...why are you there?where are you trying to get?will this reasoning motivate you after the initial "this is not bad" or "hey I am improving quickly" phase?

ps disclaimer I don't go to the gym (but I do other sports)

People are all driven by something, and it is not being gritty for the sake of gritting. Figure out what it is and you can hack yourself into whatever you want just by pushing this "get up and get it done" motivational button. Find reasons why whatever goal fits with your deeper purpose and motivation will be by definition.

I dont get this article. Is he blaming the school for complimenting displayed characteristics?

Does he think an element of character is a superpowered attribute that works everywhere like a videogame?

Take the complement and move on, your character is not the same as fixed biological attributes or abilities. You weren't "tricked".

I think he's talking about his own evaluation of himself (based on what people told him) and how that caused him to deploy his own resources.

People who tell me I'm strong are complimenting me, but if I end up thinking I can carry a big ol' sofa up the stairs all by myself, I'm going to have a bad time :)

I recently realized in the past I’ve had an inflated self-perception of myself specifically around work ethic and “grit.”

But I conveniently ignored areas where I have failed to put in the work and push through.

It may be okay to not have “grit.” I no longer believe I have any more or less grit than the average person.

I’m not sure what this realization necessarily means nor do I fault anyone else for this. It just is what it is!

I don't know what to say, it depends on what those "ignored areas" are. We have a primary goal and prioritize for it, not getting all the way on your second and third priorities isn't exactly uncommon.

Do you "have" grit or do you display it? It's part of character we choose how much energy to put in.

I've been more skeptical of Grit after reading this:

A Skeptical Look at the Latest Educational Fad By Alfie Kohn


The gist of the argument is that grit may not be what we ought to aspire to sometimes. The justification for grit is circular. Why focus on just 1 thing as oppose to have several interests and activities?

The author approaches the topic from perspective of raising children / education. It looks like grit is about forcing compliance with shitty curriculum in schools.

Lots more good stuff in the article I linked to.

Some very valid criticism there, but it seems to assume the educators involved will be small-minded hacks who just want students to be compliant. I've had the misfortune to get to know some educators like that, but also many great teachers who genuinely use "grit" as a jumping off point to help students identify goals that are important to them and to then develop the ability to pursue that goal even if it is not the most fun thing to do sometimes.

For some students the satisfaction of sticking with a task through challenges and completing something difficult and meaningful is a revelation.

I don't think it's a bad thing to get high and play video games, but if that's the only way you know how to have fun you are missing out on something worthwhile.

"Instead of asking whether someone is gritty, we should ask when they are."

> The reason I’ve stuck with the things I have isn’t because of grit, as I might have once believed. It’s because I enjoy doing them.

“Enjoyment” is only one way of achieving the focus required to succeed. Frustration and ego (e.g. proving yourself) are just as common and useful. The trick is priority ranking what we focus on given our comparative advantage and the opportunity for improvement. What drives our relative ranking algorithm differs between people in any given situation.

Grit is the ability to overcome what Paul Graham calls “schlep blindness”. Grit applied to low impact problems is what the cool kids call “bike shedding “.

Range is a very interesting book. Has a generalist I felt inadequate for a long time when I was younger (the pressure being find a domain and stick with it). I wish I had read something like this 10 years ago.

I thought this was going to be about getting tricked to sell subscriptions to "Grit". There used to be comic book ads from the 1950s to the 1980s that got kids to go door to door to sell subscriptions to a newspaper/magazine called "Grit". Supposedly, if you sold a lot of subscriptions you could get a free bike or a stereo or something.


Every successful startup has a half dozen times it's on the verge of failure. Any reasonable person would say it's over. But those with grit refuse to give in and find a way.

But I've also known founders who repeatedly fail, constantly survive crises. They lose their house, get divorced and still soldier on refusing to give up.

Both entrepreneurs have grit, but only the first one is successful. Grit is vital to winning but it's not the only thing you need.

In my opinion the ultimate form of "grit", which is something along the "NEVER QUIT!" line, is (as are most "ultimate forms" of anything...) completely counterproductive and even dangerous.

If nothing important is in line there is no good reason to dissipate resources into something when doing otherwise would be more efficient.

It is true that its much easier to stick with and get good at things you love. But life does not always oblige our preferences. There are times when you have to buckle up and do things you very much rather not and the ability to do this without complaining is very valuable over time.

> I am smart

I'm honestly grateful I've never been under any illusions of having grit. It sounds exhausting to be this laser focused on achievement and maximizing your success.

Relatedly, Paul Graham on Obsession http://paulgraham.com/genius.html

I was tricked into reading that. Clever title, well done!

Grit = Just Do It (Nike Slogan).

My easy definition:

  while(person_has_grit) {
    if(pivot) continue;
    if(give_up) break;

  person_has_grit = false;

Grit is overrated. Determination is what matters. Grit implies you'd grind yourself down at a task you know probably won't go well for you, just because you'd never give up, even when you get zero enjoyment or satisfaction out of it.

Grit is finding the smallest gains and consistently hitting them in a difficult situation. It burns time to hold space. It works best when you need to hold something at nearly any cost. Its rare morale holds that long without a strong structure backing it up.

You'd be hard pressed to find a rewarding skill where you don't absolutely suck for at least a year when you start practicing it. If you pick up something and you don't fail immediately and often, it's probably trivial.

I agree it is overrated. Was just defining grit. I think it matters to have a combination of traits, whether it be grit + determination + ....

For fun, my coded solution for determination:

  while(!found()) continue;

As far as I know, "grit" is the only thing really needed for success. That and luck.

And grit will even out the odds for your.

It's a pleasure to read with hanging punctuation on a screen.

They might not be a gritty writer. But they are a good writer.

thank you! made my day

There is a price for high performance. Read the road signs.

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