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How to Work Hard (paulgraham.com)
1223 points by razin 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 1124 comments



When I was an undergrad at CMU, I learned how to work hard. Really hard. After having coasted through too-easy high school, I spent all day every day at CMU either programming, doing mathematics, or thinking about one of those things (to great effect: often the trick to prove a theorem would pop into my head while showering or while taking a walk). I would fall asleep while programming in the middle of the night, dream about programming, then wake up and continue programming just where I left off.

One thing from this essay really stuck out to me:

> The most basic level of which is simply to feel you should be working without anyone telling you to. Now, when I'm not working hard, alarm bells go off.

One thing that always happened at the end of a semester is we'd have a few days after exams but before flights back home. On these days I'd typically try playing a video game (my hobby before college) and every time I would stop playing after just an hour with deep feeling of unease at the pit of my stomach. "Alarm bells" is exactly how I would describe it - a feeling at the core of my psyche that I have been wasting time and there must be something productive I should be doing or thinking about.

Years later, having tackled anxiety problems that had plagued me most of my life, I came to recognize that my relationship with hard work during my college years was not healthy and that this deep seated desire to do more work is not a positive thing, at least not for me.

I've since reformed my ambitions, instead of looking to start a company or get a PhD in mathematics, I've decided that hard work is not the love of my life and instead I should focus on my hobbies while looking for a career path that can be simultaneously fulfilling but laid back.


I feel the same. I can hardly sit through an entire two-hour movie or play a video game without feeling like I should be doing something else. I cannot feel good about myself if I cannot sense that I'm making progress learning a skill, and am stuck for hours looking down at a blank page as a result.

But what's dangerous for me is that this alarm system does not trigger consistently. I might spend too much time on HN, for example, because my impression is that HN is a place to have intellectual discoveries. I might spend too much time on YouTube because I can't think of anything else to do. Ironically there is a wealth of knowledge contained in some games that would be more worthwhile than a bunch of highlights on YouTube, but YouTube is just too easy to go back to.

When I work on some of my programming projects, I come out with the feeling that I'm just using the act of constantly working on them as an excuse to not have to worry about the fact that my life outside of them is one-dimensional and currently stagnating. I work way too hard on such non-work projects and burn out only to stop and instead spend weeks anxious that because I'm not doing anything, I am not growing as a person. I still believe this is true; I don't think I am much different from the me of two years ago, except that I've made some progress on programming projects.

But it's weird because I enjoy programming. I think it is because I enjoy programming so much that I become blinded to things that I should have seen as more important. I think I am already good enough at programming to not need much more to learn, and am only applying the skills that I happen to have built up for years.

But when I turn back to the other hobbies I always told myself I wanted to spend my life doing, all I find is a void of interest, and I ultimately accomplish little.

I also believe this was a result of how I was raised and the coping mechanisms my upbringing/college ingrained in me.


This is me. Though I didn't just learn this in my upbringing - I feel like my entire working life has been one of false promises and dehumanization, that has left me unable to enjoy anything.

I'm 47 now, have worked at 6 failed startups in a row, and can't face work, or looking for a job. I used to blame social media and hacker news, but I now recognize that too much delayed gratification and overwork have had a much greater effect.

At this point, I can't work, and can't not work. I do a lot of sitting quietly, with my mind almost empty of thought. All the processes and systems I have used in the past to overcome this are failing me. I feel exploited, betrayed and overwhelmed by alienation; genuinely broken.


Work is a drug and I seriously think it triggers some sort of endorphin response in the same way that exercise does.

Unfortunately, many white collar types of work are insular and while you are sitting on front of a screen getting a buzz about solving little problems, or even quite big ones for specific issues, the world is moving on.

It is possible that you may even be compromising your career by being good at the technical issues of a job to the extent that some bosses who cannot stay on top of what you are doing may feel they would be more comfortable with a safe, matey colleague than a bit of a strange wizzkid who gets to be known as the oracle of all things.

Fortunately, 47 is still pretty young no matter what the newer generation of employed go getters thinks, and there is life yet to be pursued.

I would say try taking up a sport - gym, cycling, rowing, jogging, or even something physical and competitive. Get the buzz of routine and physical wellbeing and socialising going again.

Then take a deep breath and think about everything that you have learned over the years that can be actualised into real value. The great thing about coding is that it teaches its practitioners that progress only happens from meeting certain logical imperatives - build on that and problem solve your way to another commercial enterprise.

You have got this. The main thing holding you back is your own thoughts.


I'll second the advice to take up a sport or other physical activity. Easiest for me to get going with was 'body weight fitness' aka calisthenics, since all I needed was my apartment + youtube videos + time/practice.

It took me a while to turn it into a regular habit, but now the effect on my mood + energy is a night/day change. Wish I'd made this happen years ago.

A last tip on it: if it's un-fun, doesn't stick, etc. experiment, try variations, new activities—but keep going back to it. (Their seems to be some initial resistance that is partially psychological if you're just beginning to work out after a long time without; parts of you, maybe unconscious, may try to convince you to quit. Be understanding of that, but persistent in continuing (imo)).


Might I suggest healthy / healthier eating to go along with physical activity and fitness.

Eating more healthily stabilises energy levels which makes physical activity less challenging to 'start'.


> It is possible that you may even be compromising your career by being good at the technical issues of a job to the extent that some bosses who cannot stay on top of what you are doing may feel they would be more comfortable with a safe, matey colleague than a bit of a strange wizzkid who gets to be known as the oracle of all things.

This is always a possibility... however in my experience things tend to fall more on the side of bosses being all too happy to offload responsibility onto that whizzkid and then tuck them away in a box away from any possibility of career advancement.

After all, if you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.


True - I have seen this on a few occasions; sometimes the 'tucking away' includes a social element applied by overriding responses in conversations, making detracting remarks and generally casting shade over said whizzkid - boxing them in in the co's social as well as organisational hierarchy.


> have worked at 6 failed startups in a row, and can't face work, or looking for a job

I don't know much about your situation but this comment on HN from 2013 (1) might be helpful in your situation:

Burnout is caused when you repeatedly make large amounts of sacrifice and or effort into high-risk problems that fail. It's the result of a negative prediction error in the nucleus accumbens. You effectively condition your brain to associate work with failure.

[snip]

On the heels of the failure of a project where I have spent weeks building up for, I will quickly force myself to do routine molecular biology, or general lab tasks, or a repeat of an experiment that I have gotten to work in the past. These all have an immediate reward. Now I don't burn out anymore, and find it easier to re-attempt very difficult things, with a clearer mindset.

(1) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5630618


You're just burned out. I hope you have some financial cushion and can take some time to just do nothing. Or try gardening, or woodworking, or something really different that can be personally rewarding with no pressure to meet anyone else's expectations. With time you should heal.


Unfortunately, I've been burnt out too many times now, for too long. Every job now ends in burn out and takes 6+ months to recover from before I can start looking for another job. This time, however, feels different - it never felt insurmountable like this before. I can't work on my own stuff, can't level up my skills, not sure how to get back to that.

I suspect that my situation is likely common among aging coders and might contribute to a lot of what is otherwise attributed to ageism. I can no longer pretend that the kind of work open to me is going lead to anything but more suffering, and I feel like this results in increasing interview anxiety.


So stop coding, or put yourself out to pasture at a low intensity coding gig.

I came from a family of engineers and I watched my dad work himself to death at the expense of virtually everything else in life. One day he up and died, and that was the end of it. Most of his projects are no longer applicable or noteworthy. Life is the process of taking a daily step towards death every day. In 100 years, no one is going to remember us. Even the man rich enough to prolong their life can only make their path longer, but we all get there in the end.

Just find things you can enjoy and do them. Everything else is wasted time.


As someone who's considered this idea, the problem I wind up with is "but people still want 8 hours of my time per day".

If people are laying claim to that, then I want to be compensated as highly as possible for it. Try as you might, it's very hard to get rid of one of those 8 hour blocks, and make time for yourself, while retaining that daily/hourly rate.


Depends on the hourly/daily rate if you ask me.

Are you hooked on that quarter million per year at a FAANG (or on getting there)? Yes you will probably have a hard time getting rid of those 8 hour blocks.

Get a 'normal' job at a normal enough company? You can probably do a comfortable version of the 8 hour blocks that you enjoy, which sometimes are 9 or 10 hour blocks and sometimes 6 or 7 hour blocks or an afternoon off.

Personally I love the pandemic WFH. It's been possible to do flexible time arrangements without the 'bad feeling' you have when you leave the office early, while everyone else stays. People are in different timezones anyway now, asynchronous communication for many things is normal etc. YMMV as always, like that WP article that is also currently up here on HN.


Thank you for the reminder. It's hard to see the reality with such clarity, sometimes. <3


Why not work a service job for a while? There's no delayed gratification in bartending or waiting tables. Show up, clock in, serve drinks, go home. It's not easy, but the success conditions are clear, and when you're done you can completely forget about it until it's time to go in again.


This is something I've considered, as I'm in a similar situation to OC. With a PhD, I feel certain expectations about my career haven't been met. Publications dropped off, I'm not even sure I could pass an undergrad exam in my field of expertise anymore... so I look overqualified but feel underqualified. I'm nervous about unexplained gaps in my career because I regularly see that as a reason not to interview a candidate. But a service job? All I can hear is my judgy coworkers laughing at a resume with recent non-technical work.


I don't know if this helps, but I've hired people in situations like this.

If somethings stands out in a resume, people will ask. But the fact it's there doesn't mean it's negative - the question is what's the story. If the resume as a whole makes sense but has a curveball I'm probably more likely to have them interviewed, not less.


Maybe call it a sabbatical on your resume. You get to decide what is and isn’t a sabbatical for you. Then disclose the details if and when you trust the hiring manager.

Most of all, don’t let worry about that damage your long term mental health.


Do you want to work with those people anyway? Maybe they are part of the issue you’re facing with wanting to work.


I've got a cousin who unsure with things got a job as a delivery van driver for a while. Worked ok for him. He now has a fairly cushy lowish level job at a pr outfit.


I imagine that in comparison to the income from software engineering that would just feel like a waste of time.


The main issues from the person comments don't seem to revolve around money. And doing nothing won't make any money.

This is not something you have to do for the rest of your life.

But the point is to do something, anything to avoid sinking into the swamp. Visible goals that you can mentally pick up and put down with some human interaction thrown in, might help. Only one way to find out.


this is what I don't get about this site. The world is software. you can code anything. and yet the majority of people sit around and complain. Its no wonder that you all are burnt out and bitter. The best is when people complain about tracking software, or windows telemetry. Software engineers wrote it! they are you're own people. its not a business guy that wrote the code. you're all weak!


>you're all weak!

You have some toxic ideas about what "strength" and "weakness" are.

Strength is facing your demons, being honest with yourself, admitting your mistakes, being able to change your opinions in the face of new evidence, and admitting when you're failing. Real strength is humble.

Weakness is "manning up" instead of dealing with the problem, reducing all situations down to a conflict of two sides because the reality is too complex, being unable to admit that you were wrong, "pushing through" instead of working out why, and being unable to face reality when it's not what you expected. Weakness is a fragile ego full of pride.

Yes, software engineers wrote tracking software. That doesn't mean we all agree with what they did. They're not "our own people" because we don't see the world as "software engineers vs business guys".


The world is not software. That's a silly catchphrase.

You can't code meaning, joy, health, or good company into someone's life.

Software won't provide company and solace to a dying patient or make you feel blissed out when having sex. It can't give you the pleasure of talking to your six year old child or getting into the mosh pit of an aggressive rock show.

Software development is a nice profession with lots of benefits. But it's easy to spend too much time in solace and inside your head. And as a human we have needs that it won't be able to meet.


But they're not complaining about the software, they're complaining about being forced to use it.


This comment is incredible on so many levels.


time is the scarcest resource. could argue it's a waste of money, but one man's trash is another man's treasure


I do not know your situation, but my observation is high-performance requires high-maintenance.

Also, see this article: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32056943/

Anything else I might suggest might sound like an advertisement, but apply your skills in software to what's required for your high-maintenance needs.


I can't believe that I've never heard of the phrase "high-performance requires high-maintenance" before. I really like little aphorisms like this as a way to regulate behaviour. Thanks!


I've previously heard it phrased "work hard, play hard", though that has a different feel to it.


Maybe try finding an open-source project you are interested in and contribute to it? It might energize you and let you re-connect with whatever you originally were looking for in a job.

It might morph into a side-project, but either way its something you can keep going even while working at a regular job, and then the job might be less of a make-or-break proposition.


I feel bad for you. but eventually if you've failed 6 times, you have to look at yourself and understand what you're doing wrong. It actually sounds like you might have clinical depression, and that's not anything to take lightly. There is tons of help and support and if you want, I'd be happy to help.


I wouldn't say the fact that 6 startups that they worked on failed is their fault. A lot of startups fail.


in my early 50's, and I think 5 failed startups now. I kinda lost count. Just closing off the latest failure this month.

I'm taking July off completely, finishing some creative coding projects that I haven't been able to work on while coding for the startup. Then I'm going to work out what's next.

I sleep a lot. There's no motivation to work. But I've been through this before, and it changes. I went through a serious clinical depression a few years ago, and have learned that the trick is to keep breathing and trust that everything will change over time.

The whole "work hard" mantra is interesting, and not nearly so simple as PG makes out.

Yes, to do great things we need to work hard. I love those times, when I'm inspired, the work is flowing, and all I want to do every day is work.

But working too hard for too long is not healthy. It causes this kind of burnout. Sitting staring at the keyboard, the last thing I ever want to do is switch to the code window. Emotionally drained. It's not a matter of discipline, or willpower. It's deeper than that. I'm literally unable to focus for any length of time even if I force myself to work.

I love my work. I genuinely enjoy building things. But I can't do it all the time. I have to take time away from it because it's a marathon not a sprint, and I need rest periods.


"Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worth while." ~ A.G. Sertillanges, O.P.


At 41 y/o I am going mostly through the same. Without my wife I would have become a completely numb robot. But even if you don't have a good partner -- or friends, or your older family -- to turn to, I'd recommend the following:

Engage in interviews but be upfront: you're not looking to prove yourself, you are not interested in stocks / futures / options / whatever, you're not scared of tough work but you're also looking for a good work-life balance, and you're willing to take a small pay cut for not taking on all the responsibilities that senior programmers are expected to have.

Say something like this: "I have all the chops to not only be a senior programmer but also a team leader; I have all the necessary qualities but I don't want to practice them for a while. I'd like to use those skills simply to be the best colleague you have."

I don't know you so the following might be severely misplaced and please forgive me if so: but I'd advise you to take A LOT of walks in nature. Even if you don't have some nearby, find a routine every now and then: take a taxi to a nearby big park (or bike/drive to it), and force yourself to just not think about anything.

Additionally, re-read a favourite book -- even if it dates back to your teenage yours.

You likely have a lot of negative inertia in your brain and you need to engage in semi-passive lifestyle to help it remove the negativity by itself which usually happens by eating well and sleeping as much as you need.

Finally, consider cannabidiol (CBD / cannabis) pills. They are absolutely harmless, they cause no hallucations at all, you can't overdose on them (I am getting those with 15% concentration), and their general effect is to slightly alter your brain chemistry in the direction of reducing anxiety. It will help you look at things from a new angle and I found it extremely therapeutic because this in turn helped me deal with my problems in sustainable and lasting ways. (Unlike before when my knee-jerk reactions only made things worse with time.)

Meditation, if you can master doing it for 30-40 minutes, works wonders too. Mind you, some people need weeks of practice every day until they feel this tranquil state of mind. Eventually everybody succeeds though.

I wish I could actually help you because I think I know what you're going through. There is a way out but sadly it never happens exactly as we want it, e.g. we can't just not work until we feel better. But there are middle grounds that help achieve the same result, albeit slower and with a bit more deliberate effort.

I hope you manage to pull through.

(EDIT: Forgot to mention something important: cardio exercises! Forget strength training. Absolutely learn basic yoga for stretching -- especially the exercises that deal with your core area because they will heal your guts and bowels! -- and do loads of cardio: run, bike, plank, nevermind which one. Find your cardio thing. Again, forget about strength training. We the sedentary people need to get our metabolism going again. Make your heart pump faster, consistently and regularly. That's the exercise that's going to make the biggest difference for your mental health.)


Great comment, but I wouldn't throw out strength training that quickly.

Some people are more motivated to do strength exercises than cardio, for whatever reason. And there are types of strength training that get your heart rate up as well. I think the most important thing is to do not overdo it, or you'll just end up with one more thing that puts stress on your system.

The biggest benefit of cardio (in my opinion) is that there are many things that you can do outside. Not quite as simple with weight lifting for example, although possible.


Yeah, I don't disagree. F.ex. planks are definitely both strength training plus cardio and they are my favourite cardio so far. Riding a bike I love as well but I am in the middle of a city and just biking to a big park that I love is by itself an entire workout session, quite the long and risky one at that (since you have to navigate traffic and people -- no bike lanes).

My message mostly is: "get your heart pumping". The sedentary lifestyle reduces the speed of the metabolism which is one of the worst things that can happen to our bodies. Thus we have to actively work against this negative phenomena.

How does one go about it is indeed a personal journey.


If you wear a heart rate monitor, you'll find that genuine strength training spikes your heart rate something fierce, much more akin to HIIT than low-intensity cardio.

And building lean mass as one tends to do with strength training is one of the most effective ways of increasing one's metabolic rate. Lean muscle mass is much more metabolically active thank a similar amount of fat tissue.

And that's not even getting to the effects on glucose/insulin sensitivity, body composition, self-confidence, quality of life improvements, etc.

Ideally one should be doing a few hours of cardio and a few hours of strength training every week.


Your compassion is distilled to crystal purity through these words. Thank you for sharing.


Thank you for the kind words. From where I am standing, I can completely sympathize with my parent commenter and I know how it feels like being stuck. I wish our society tried to help us treat all of this (because avoiding it in the first place seems to be too much to ask of it).

They are just words and I have no big hope they will help somebody but if they do, that will genuinely make me little happier.


This is the best piece of information I have come across this year.

From the depths of my heart, thank you.


I can only feel happy if my blabbering helped you. Reach out if you have any questions or need advice (although advice is a dangerous thing in general). I've been around, I learned to be kind and I love helping people when I can.


I’m curious why advice is dangerous. Can you expand on why you feel that?


http://pathways.shc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/HunterSTh...

Dangerous advice from a dangerous man:

Hunter S. Thompson


Advice as I see it is a bit of a risky affair because (assuming you do want to actually listen to it and implement it) you kind of give up on a situation and would like to be steered in a certain direction because you feel you cannot make the right decision at the moment.

I am well-intentioned but I don't know your life, your upbringing, nor am I empath / telepath and thus I don't know how do you feel inside. Hence, me giving you an advice assumes a lot of context that applies to myself only and not to you. So if you follow my advice you will likely end up in a situation that I can deal with. But will it be a situation that you can deal with?

Example: I am one of those people who can deal with meetings and people quite fine BUT I get tired of it and there's an upper limit to it, and surpassing that limit renders me literally useless for the next several hours. Thus, I could give people advice of the kind "you feel your job requirements are not clear and that's stressing you out -- go chat with your team lead, your colleagues, then your manager, it will help you have a peace of mind". Good advice, right? But some people can't be in a meeting more than 20 minutes a day before they need to retreat back into their shell and thus this person could have one small meeting but have no strength for the next ones. What's worse: from the perspective of the more outgoing people they started a good initiative but never pursued it to completion.

So I'd say that in this hypothetical situation I actually gave them a bad advice while still having only good intentions.

(A better advice in the above situation would be for this person to have a very quick voice/video chat with their manager and tell them they feel the requirements towards them aren't clear and that they would like to receive a document / Wiki outlining those in clear language. This avoids the additional meetings.)

---

TL;DR: Advice, even when given with the best of intentions, misses a lot of context. The receiver of the advice has to carefully weigh this factor; it's OK to reject an otherwise excellent advice if it doesn't apply to you one way or another. And sadly there's also the aspect of people blindly accepting your advice and then blaming you for the consequences.


> I do a lot of sitting quietly, with my mind almost empty of thought.

This is a totally natural state. There's nothing wrong with it and if you want a change of mind then I suggest you let it happen.

And probably get off social media too.


It's not. It's anhedonia. It feeds on itself. It makes things worse over time.

Mindfulness is overprescribed. Having practiced meditation for quite a few years in the past, I'm convinced that it's not good for people that are prone to anhedonic depression.


No solution suggestions here, just curiosity, so feel free to ignore. What does your depression look like in terms of time? Is it constant, or do you get hours/days/weeks/months off? Is it recurring, or is this your first experience? How long has this bout of depression lasted, and what triggered it -- the end of your last job?

I've had a few bouts of depression myself, three to be exact: ages 21, 31, and 34. The've always initially been triggered by some extremely negative emotional experience (e.g. a breakup), but continue for 4-6 months, long after U'm over whatever the initial cause was.


I highly recommend some low cost of living place like thailand to help heal your scars- thai massage is very therapeutic.

wish you strength and recovery.


you realize that software coders made social media, and humans consume it.


I am in a similar boat and the most painful part for me personally is trying to overcome the hurdle or stigma associated with being older but not having idyllic career beats to show off to potential employers.


It's easy to look at past failures and blame those failures for your present circumstances. But say one of those startups had made it big. What would you be doing instead? Because if your mind is stuck mindlessly scrolling social media and shaming yourself for it, it could be worse - you could have $10mm in the bank and still be mindlessly surfing social media, and shaming and guilt tripping yourself for not doing more with it and you'd feel even worse about it, and fall into substance abuse issues (eg Tony Hseih; Zappos).

Mindset is key. If you want to get into philanthropy with your imagined largess, there are tons of philanthropic organizations looking for help, not to mention, fundraising for non-profits isn't entirely different than trying to get VC funding.


6 failed startups in a row!! Sounds like recipe for burnout and depression. You may well have shown much resilience to not end up in a mental hospital after that. Which could be a good sign in terms of recovering from all this? (It may take time though) Why do people do this to themselves I wonder? Must've been super hard work, and for what? I guess, the hope of making it big? To achieve 'FU money'? Well, going forward from here, there are less stressful tech jobs... They don't pay as much, but... a not-very-well-paid software job is still overall a not badly paid job. As for ageism which you allude to in other post, can be a problem if all one's colleagues are much younger, depends on the environment of course. I'm a similar age to you, seems like if one has good (i:e in-demand, and of long-term value) skills, people generally don't mind one's age. My coping strategy with age (less energy and tiring responsibilities outside work) is look after your productivity super-powers e:g command-line, vim, which take years even decades to learn. Sometimes us oldies are more efficient than the younger ones even if they can put in more hours.


Why not join a slow enterprise F500 and recharge, focus on hobbies and coast through the 9-5? Start ups in contrast over work you and leads to burn out.


start ups lead to burn out if you're not successful. That's what most people on this site don't understand. You are in control, you are in charge, don't blame others.


> I can hardly sit through an entire two-hour movie or play a video game without feeling like I should be doing something else.

One summer we rented a beach house, I had delusions of lazing on the beach under a big umbrella, drinks, books, dogs, netflix, music, a endless orgy of entertainment and sunny weather. I went stir-crazy in about half a day, there's only so much lazing about I can do, after 2 movies I thought meh, I'm wasting this day. I envy the people who say they're going on vacation and do nothing for a week, two weeks even. I can't seem to do that, and I don't know whether that's something intrinsic to who I am, or that's a toxic thought pattern I need to get rid of. When I'm back at home and at work I am so busy I have a tendency say "I wish I had some more time to unwind" a lot.

At the present, I'm trying to have focused and purposeful idle time. With intent, sit through a movie, read something, play a game, whatever, for a chunk of time, or deliberately do nothing at all. The last one is very hard for me, I don't think I've managed 15 minutes of it.


I had a very similar experience a few years ago after travelling to Rarotonga for a holiday. There was little reception for mobile data without a new sim - this turned out to be an absolute blessing. The first day or so was easy, but the next few were restless. We had explored the island, snorkelled, swam in the pool, and tried lots of the local food. We had run out of things to do.

The funny thing is, it took there being nothing to do, no phone to idly turn to, to truly start to unwind and relax. I didn't initially realise it at the time, but my body and mind had been in this constant state of stress. After pushing through that initial restlessness and that constant need to be actively doing or reading about something productive, my whole body began to feel noticeably more relaxed. The invisible state of constant stress was finally parting. Waking up later than usual, grabbing some tropical fruits and enjoying them around the pool with a light fictional book at the ready started to feel more natural and enjoyable. It started to feel like I could truly enjoy doing "nothing" and just bathe in the relaxation.

After returning home, there were many noticeable improvements to my creative thinking, productivity, and my general feeling of wellbeing.

My take away from this experience is that it is so incredible difficult to fully disconnect from day-to-day life when your phone can provide constant access to information. It's oh so easy to go on holiday but still turn to your phone and hn or reddit when idle. I highly highly recommend taking a holiday either without your phone, or without any easy access to the internet.


What works for me is, in advance, saying that I will be doing X thing for 10 minutes, an hour, or whatever.

Even when I'm waiting for something, I'll say: "I will leave in 5 minutes" and set an alarm, knowing and trusting that I will leave and I can relax until then.

I know it sounds paradoxical, but it helps for me to schedule both creativity and relaxing time since I know for those times that I'll be able to do be purposeful about my relaxing or making.


Going on vacation doesn't mean doing nothing. Like you I don't understand how/why people do this. I think it's about doing something different. Travel, visit, explore, camp, hike, do sport, meet new people, share that with family/friends or not.


For me it is about the approach. I like to plan very little. Plan something, but not very much.

Holiday goals, simply to have somewhere to go. They don't matter if you don't do them.

As you get to that goal, you take time to look around, maybe duck into a place here, do an activity over there. Or maybe not, and simply let life roll on by as you stroll to your destination.

I have gone hot air ballooning, day hiking, snorkelling with turtles. Wander over, have a chat, book it in for the next day or two. It is then the goal for that day and might lead to something else.

For me having a list of "places to be, things to do" means I have to be switched on, getting there and doing that, and if I don't then I have failed.

Holidays is noFail time. Allow serendipity to take charge.


Yeah it's a good one. You need to feel comfortable with the time you have though. It's really great to fully be in the moment.


> Like you I don't understand how/why people do this. I think it's about doing something different.

You raised the question and answered it in two sentences. This is exactly why some people are able to take a complete break and "do nothing" - their daily life is already filled to the brim with work, family, kids, etc, that when they get on vacation, what actually feels different is doing "nothing".


Fair point. I believe I manage to save enough time of "doing nothing" in my daily life (although it might feel uncomfortable sometimes as others pointed out in the thread) that I don't need that during vacation. I see it as an opportunity to do things I don't have time/energy to do otherwise.


Fair enough too. In my case I tend to go for 50/50 - I take about half my vacation days to literally "do nothing" (meaning catching up on games I missed since my son was born by lack of time, waking up late(r), watching movies and series, etc) and the other half as a family getaway, bringing my son to new places, trying out new things together.


I have the same feeling, out of the fact that I have not achieved anything I want in my life so far and I can't adjust my targets according to my shortcomings.

Everytime I take a vacation I feel bored from the 2nd or 3rd day and want to _do something_. Maybe I can indulge myself in one night of games/movies but the second night I'd definitely feel very uneasy.

And frankly the older I am, the stronger the feeling is. I want to tell myself that OK this guy can achieve _nothing_ I want in his life and he is almost 40 so maybe relax, but I don't listen to myself.


maybe its time to be honest with yourself. you don't have the drive to achieve something big. you watch movies as your big night to relax. do something better. who feels accomplished after watching a movie. cmon. the amount of people on this site that lie to themselves is too much.


I wish I could do so because I really want to go over those 4-500 games in my backlog and stream them for fun. It's an impulse that I can't control.


Why sitting through a movie is a bad thing? Have you tried watching some “harder” movies? Maybe you’re just bored with the specific movies you are watching. I for example know that I have a very specific love for sci-fi genre; but unfortunately a lot of sci-fi is basically trash with good CGI and I can’t help myself but think that I am wasting my time when I watch stuff in that comfort zone.

However there’s a lot to film that is quite hard to watch. Maybe of the recents Almodovar comes to my mind. It’s engaging and very unique.


It's a moving target. At first I wouldn't sit through genuinely asinine popular media, like 'Friends'. This is not unhealthy: most of it is shit. But over time, I've found that I can't sit through anything that isn't utterly engaging. My SO used to joke that I 'hated everything' until that started to make me feel bad.

Paying attention to anything that isn't doesn't at least appear to be addressing existential dread has lost all flavour. I'm not sure what the solution is.

Before anyone suggests it, it's clear that I'm dealing with clinical depression, but medical help has been of limited benefit. Therapists don't seem to be familiar with the situation that is being described by posters here, don't have tools to suggest. I suspect that it's not so widespread a phenomenon outside of knowledge work.


Not really unusual, I don't watch 99% of film or TV either because famous quote time is the fire in which we burn, you just end up losing interest in bs. The solution is find better media https://archive.org/details/2013ThePervertsGuideToIdeology/2...


if you've already exhausted traditional routes, perhaps give psychedelics a chance.


Psilocybin results in profound sadness for me, that lasts for days. Microdoses, macrodoses - it just varies the intensity/duration of the dysphoria.

NMDA antagonists were an amazing find. A ketamine prescription allowed me to function at all for the last few years, until I started to develop bladder pain and had to discontinue it. I've recently experimented with nitrous oxide, but hasn't turned out to be feasible.

LSD, I can't source. Given my experiences with Psilocybin, I haven't tried very hard.

The further out stuff, such as salvia divinorum, is so under examined as to be utterly speculative. Can't say it had much of an effect, either.

I've also used induced hyperthermia, which has a minor effect on my mood. The effect is also of very short duration.


Since you're willing to try some out-there stuff, here are the two things that turned my life around: a shamanic healing ceremony (literally saved my life) and EFT/tapping (allowed me to work through what was left).

I was in the same boat you seem to be -- crushing, horrific depression that hadn't responded to anything medical and counselors and therapists had no idea what to do with the sense of dread and self-loathing I was experiencing. They kept telling me to try meditating or do breathing exercises, which I did to no effect.

Then a single 20-minute encounter with a shamanic practitioner changed everything. This was over 10 years ago and to this day I have no cogent explanation for the experience.

As an aside, I later learned that I was hurting for quite a few nutrients -- most notably B12, magnesium and lithium. When you get nutritional insufficiencies sorted out, you start feeling a lot better.


Question: how much time do you typically spend outside in something approximating "natural" surroundings? Worked wonders for friend, is why I ask.


I spend at about an hour outside at a local wooded park or at the beach each day. Got to take care of the dog.


How is it getting ketamine prescribed in the US for depression? Do they give you 30 lozenges to take one a day? I've had no success with SSRIs and want to go that route, but don't know how to ask a doctor for it without looking/sounding like I want to get high, when I just want to be functional and normal.


Find a doctor that specializes in treatment resistant depression, which IIRC is defined as failing more than two conventional antidepressant.

I'm anything but objective on this, but I'm convinced that SSxx classes of antidepressants are entirely useless for depression (and likely anything else).

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5299662/

The usual method is IV ketamine treatment, every 6 weeks, but this can cost $400+ per session, which at the time I started treatment was not an option. My doctor went out on a limb for me and prescribed intranasal ketamine, which is off-label, and only $60 for a six week supply. I was taking it every three days for several years.

There is also intranasal esketamine, which is quite likely what you will be offered these days, as it has received FDA approval. Unfortunately, this is not as effective as regular intranasal ketamine, while getting you 'higher' into the bargain. Why did this get drug get developed? Because ketamine isn't patentable, but an enantiomer of ketamine (s-ketamine) is, so there was money to pay for clinical trials and pharmaceutical executive enrichment. The other enantiomer, r-ketamine, is actually less innebriative and more therapeutic. So, why produce s-ketamine? There's no reasonable explanation for them to bring s-ketamine to market other than to be able to milk the patents as long as possible.

That said, I'd still encourage you to pursue s-ketamine, if it is your only option, but IV ketamine may be better route, if you can afford it: insurance will cover esketamine, but not IV ketamine.

I should mention: It's not clear whether the ketamine alone was responsible for the bladder discomfort (which was never more than a mild sensation - I discontinued mainly out of concern that it might worsen): it's likely that autoimmune illness played a part too. It's not usual to experience this on the dose of ketamine that I was taking. S-ketamine is not any easier on the bladder, and it was able to pass the clinical trials.

Good luck.


A reasonable question. But, it's very hard to watch a "serious" movie or read a "serious" book while at the beach. There's a reason why there exists a genre called "beach reads". I am not going to watch Almodovar or Bunuel or Bergman or Aronofsky or Inarritu on the beach.

I can't watch trashy movies either, but my tolerance for them is more flexible at the beach.


Severely off-topic to the OP but have you tried watching "Battlestar Galactica" in full? (The remake from the 2004+, not the original -- tried the original and didn't like it at all.)

I mean, you don't get much CGI there but the premise is extremely realistic and the actors are absolutely brilliant.

Plus, you'll get to cry, a lot, during the long series finale.


Star Trek Deep Space Nine. One of the best.

Avoid the newer ones like Discovery and Picard... utter trash and not Star Trek at all, thanks to Alan Kurtzman.


Or The Expanse, if you want realistic space battles and what our potential future might look like if we do colonize the solar system.


Seriously? The "and they have a plan" which turns out they have no plan and it's just Androids that find religion?


Yeah, that part was a bit weak and not well explained but it was IMO a natural evolution for thinking and feeling beings. I agree it could have been shown better and more gradual -- it was kind of sudden in the series and that's one of the valid negative remarks towards it.

90% of everything else was IMO top notch.


Or Downton Abbey, or ST:TNG, or...

Lots of great shows out there to just enjoy.


Your description here, and others, eerily match my own angst with 'being productive'. As someone who has spent covid traveling the States in an RV i've come to realize that I don't know what I really like doing that's not work (for example I enjoy, but have no deep passion for, outdoors recreation). Instead I spend hours aggressively reading and writing reviews on books because that feeling, 'being productive' is the only somewhat satisfying feeling in my life.

Have you had any luck adjusting your thinking or finding other joys in life?


I didn’t have “hobbies” for a while after graduating. Having kids and making time for them as they grow up was one of the catalysts that helped me (re)discover things that I enjoy.

My grandfather passed away a while ago and when we had to empty his house, I took some of the larger telescopes he had. He was a die-hard astronomer and astrophotographer. I’ve always loved looking up at the night sky and now I’ve picked up astrophotography too. It’s a great mix between gear, science, patience, skill and technology. There’s something very rewarding and humbling about capturing the light of a galaxy 21 million light years away.

Electronics is another one of his hobbies that I was always fascinated by that I’ve now picked up. Building some toy gadgets, getting the soldering iron out to fix one of my children’s toys. It feels fun & productive.

I used to play sports as a kid and teenager and kind of forgot about that for more than a decade while working hard. I’ve now picked up skateboarding with my son. I love it. I think our human body benefits from intense movement, especially when you’re used to sitting stationary all day. Skateboarding is rewarding because you can learn something new every session. The place that organizes my kid’s skateboard lessons also does sessions for parents. It’s double fun since you also get to meet other people.

Anyway. I was in the same “work hard” position 2 years ago. My mind spent most of its “cycles” thinking and worrying about work. Now it gets diversions and downtime. I think it helps.

Hobbies are this thing between work and entertainment. It’s rewarding like work without being forced or mandatory.


Like you, I was very recently considering doing some kind of traveling. I don't know if it would be in an RV or other vehicle. I'm still on the fence however; it would be the most radical thing I will have ever done with my life.

I understand that just traveling isn't really a solution to my problems, but I feel like my life at present is too sterile and I don't have much to say. Some writers say that first-hand experience is valuable in creating new ideas. Maybe I just need more experience.

It's like when I read the passage in Kerouac's On The Road where the protagonist wakes up in a motel and realizes he's farther away from home than he's ever been. I feel like, if I choose to write for fun, I don't think I can write properly without experiencing that kind of thing myself (though opinions may vary between people). That's at least true for everything fictional I've written so far, despite how little I've actually written.

If that doesn't work then I could find something else like working abroad, provided I have enough contacts to help me, but I struggle with that sort of thing. I also wanted to find some people I feel comfortable keeping in touch with, though I haven't quite put in enough effort to reach that point.

Because about all my therapist does is sympathize with the things I talk about (such as the issues in my parent comment) I don't think much real change is going to come out of that relationship; it would only keep me sane. That carries its own value, but I feel that there's something more I'm missing. This is the kind of thing that I have to get my hands dirty in order to have any hope of fixing it.


Travelling by motorcycle added a dimension to it. I always had to plan ahead, keep the bike running, find my next place to sleep, and generally make sure I'm not just driving through and missing everything. It's hard to just sit there when you don't carry your home with you.

It felt pretty productive, in the sense that your only idle time is riding the motorcycle, and the end-of-day beer and meal.

It felt rather silly to take a vacation from my vacation, but sometimes I just had to stop for a bit longer to recover. It really felt like work, but the kind that leaves you proud and fulfilled.


Have you tried volunteering?


You know, I once read, or was told, that volunteering is a great way to get out of your head. In fact I spent a good amount of time before traveling doing so and really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to getting back to stationary life to get more involved in it again.

Have you had good experiences volunteering?


I can relate to a lot of this. One thing I learned about myself recently is that I tend to default to programming because it practically guarantees that I'll feel good (dopamine from making things work, fixing bugs). Since I don't have many other hobbies that guarantee similar reward, there's not much of an incentive for me to do anything different whenever I'm feeling antsy about sitting around and not feeling productive.

one thing I've been doing with the help of some therapy recently that's somewhat helping is scheduling time (1 hour) to NOT program. No expectation of actually doing anything and accepting any uneasy feelings that arise. Just making sure that I make the time to tune in to feelings / thoughts without the option of picking up my computer as a sort of pacifier.

first time I did this, I just sat nervously for 30 minutes until I got bored and then looked for problems around my house to fix (which took 2 hours and was pretty satisfying). After a few rounds of this I noticed myself acting on small, non-programming interests outside my scheduled times.

just figured I shared in case others are feeling same and want something to try :)


Me too. I've been actively working to do the opposite. To build my outside of work life, give it priority and give myself the permission to have it be the main focus of life and stop running from the bear all the time.


I have started using a pomodoro timer, not as a way to keep myself working and improve my productivity, but as a way to remind myself to stop and smell the roses.

So far it's been good.


Same. I love the phrase "give myself the permission." That's probably the best way I've ever read to express that feeling.


I don't have anything substantial to add to the discussion beyond another data point: I also relate to the feeling of wanting to be 'productive' most of the time and not really enjoying pure leisure time. I recently spent 2 weeks working remotely from a nice location in Italy and definitely would've enjoyed the time less if I couldn't have also worked from there. I also enjoy hobbies/free-time less when I believe it ultimately doesn't lead myself to becoming the person I want to be.

On the one hand, I think this is only natural if you are an ambitious person (this desire is imho exactly one of the things that allow a person to achieve ambitious feats); on the other hand, I am definitely struggling with finding enjoyable, non-work activities that recharge me.


Really appreciate you saying this because it matches the way I'm feeling exactly.

I grew up poor, achieving and being productive made me stand out. Went to a good university got a job at FAANG and feel pretty empty, unable to relax because it feels unproductive, spend time working on side projects I don't care about because it feels productive.


Really well written, thanks. It's interesting to read how others have faced and are facing the same problems. I've found it's a question of comfort and social environment that pushes you regularly to do things you'd not normally do and forcing you to set aside the whatever programming or other "self-improvement" you were planning to do.

It's not necessarily a bad thing if you can diversify your targets of learning to multiple areas that are not as solitaire as programming. Music, anything with performing and socializing is great. Gym or a physical sport - very important. It doesn't have to be just programming. And I at least am more happy after having practiced music than having just played video games.

But I grant that even with multiple hobbies one still sits well inside their own bubble and it isn't really a life-altering experience to practice music instead of coding some npm library. What one needs is social connection to satisfy the basic primal desire for one's own tribe. It's weird how we are hard-wired like that, but if one stays alone inside programming something "useful" it does not really tick the boxes our biology craves.

In any way, my point is - do I have a point? Well, the problem is basically how to rewire our brains to react to certain input in a way we find the most pleasing. We all can't be rich, beautiful and famous so one should do with what they got. If chatting with friends makes you more happy than programming inside maybe you should focus on nurturing that. Not being content is a good start for development. I think some people really try to fool themselves to believe their current reality is 'ok' while in fact they are not happy. I guess taking responsibility for changing things is too much and they rather just forget they even had a chance.


I might spend too much time on HN

Maybe it is evidence of an interest in writing. I am pretty sure that is the case with me. There is no place more likely to produce quick direct and possibly thoughtful feedback.

Writing for pleasure is a thing that is hard to accept as worthwhile. It costs our lives. Hours we will never get back for imaginary internet points.

But…oops I did it again as they sing.


I was the exact same way in college. I remember saying to a professor one time that whenever I was inside studying hard I would look out the window and say, "What am I doing? I should be outside in nature, enjoying the beauty of the world for the short time I have here." But when I would go outside, I would immediately say, "What am I doing? I should be inside studying so I can make something of myself and contribute to the world!"

No matter what choice I made, some other choice always seemed like the mature decision, and I was perpetually stuck in either a childish pursuit of good grades on paper, or a childish avoidance of work while I frolicked outside. I just couldn't win.


This is pretty much me as well. Some things you touch on are definitely me while others not so much but I can relate to them none the less.

My interests are so varied and I can get bored so easily on anyone of them that nothing seems to ever get done, if I start on them at all.

But then at work everyone is super pleased with what I do. Little do they know that some days are much harder than others to do good work.


I try to have hobbies outside of programming that still feel productive, either due to a social, health, or simply intellectual aspect.

BJJ hits all three for me.


> I also believe this was a result of how I was raised and the coping mechanisms my upbringing/college ingrained in me.

It probably is. You deserve the chance to know. Wether it be through therapy, an ayahuasca ceremony, months long backpacking trip in a foreign country or nature to find yourself - whatever floats your boat - you're worth the effort. Dig deep into your psyche and unwrap the trauma that makes up your personality. You'll live better for it. Framed under capitalism, if a month off helps you better realize your potential, such that you earn twice as much money the next year, then the month off pays for itself in a year.


Every personality has its problematic characteristics. I think that one of the more problematic, even toxic, ones shared by many Type A personalities is a need to try and make other people feel bad for not themselves being sufficiently neurotic.

(I realize the Type A/Type B personality theory is largely crap. I'm just using it here as a useful shorthand that many people will recognize.)

That paragraph the quote came from makes me feel kind of sad. It prompted me to mentally re-frame PG's life, not as one that is defined by material success, but one that is defined by near constant anxiety. The material success is apparently just a by-product of that anxiety.

On the other hand, at least he gets to have some excess material comfort to take the edge off a bit? I imagine things would be much harder for him if he had fallen into the presumable silent majority of people sharing the same kinds of productivity-oriented anxieties who haven't been so lucky in their business dealings.

On the other hand, maybe it doesn't work that way. Maybe it just raises the bar, so that your future accomplishments have to be even more spectacular before you're able to see them as genuine accomplishments. Which sounds to me like a bleak existence. A bit like that of an addict who's forever chasing the dragon.


I saw PG speak once. He didn’t strike me as the anxious type. And I do not think it was polish: he is a good speaker, but he also seems like the type of speaker who would be exactly the same after the speech.

It felt more like he was….excited. Like in a childlike way, in a positive sense. That’s how I’ve interpreted stuff like the paragraph you cited: he is like a big kid excited about his work and does not want to waste time getting distracted from it. The same way a kid might acutely have a sense of boredom if not doing what they thought was important. The key here is PG really seems to find meaningful work fun.

I’ve known anxious types and they’re all rather different. Beset by doubts among other things.


It is possible that he is fueled by an anxious drive. Even probable, but there are a small group of people that find meaning in what they do. When the work towards that they get a buzz that is insatiable.


This was exactly my experience except Masters instead of Bachelors. I had this feeling that I mostly coasted during my bachelors, only putting any effort the week before Finals or Unit Tests. I did my Masters in EE from a university renowned for being a tough program. I was up for the challenge, doing exactly what you did: thinking math all the time, feeling like I was wasting time any moment I was not in front of my books.

I have the exact same problems you mentioned: not being able to just be, always anxious to be doing something productive, can't bring myself to watch a movie unless the movie was an all-time classic and "worth wasting time on".

The pandemic, weirdly enough, brought me back down to Earth. I faced some real mental lows but now I am able to relax more. Time management and deep work a few hours a day goes a lot further than just fretting about being productive all the time. I still have a lot of work to do, and I still don't think I've fulfilled my potential but posts like yours have definitely helped me re-calibrate my expectations.

Thank you very much.


Fwiw CMU undergrad CS has a similar reputation.

There are university programs where you can coast through a degree, and others where doing that will at best leave you at the back of the pack.

It can be fun to be in a program where everyone is pushing hard but it can also be very stressful and not healthy for everyone who tries it. It is possible to live the rest of your life like that, but the vast majority of people I know who have tried it, aren't happy. The exceptions are outliers in several ways.


"My heart is in the work" - Andrew Carnegie

Probably a very stress-inducing sentence to a lot of CMU CS grads


Yup, I reached the same conclusion. We even had that same "sick on the stomach" feel after playing video games.

I used to carry "working 80-90 hours/week" like a badge of honor. I was such a fool.

There are smart ways in making money that doesn't simultaneously reduce my lifespan.


I'm closer to retirement age than the beginning of my career. Some of my age peer friends are already retired, and many of them could be if they wanted to. It's not even on the radar for me. I'm a bit envious, as I'd love the freedom to be done for life, and to be able to take or leave work as I please.

The flipside is that I've taken a lot of time off along the way. I've taken whole years off between many jobs, I've traveled a lot, and I've spent a lot of time just doing nothing. I have some minor regrets about not making better use of my time between jobs, but I don't have regrets about taking the time off. I would have gone insane if I had worked nonstop for 20-30 years, only taking a couple weeks of vacation a year.

If I were really passionate about the work--especially if I'd launched my own business--I might not have felt burnt out or wanted time off. But I never wanted to bust my ass just for the sake of working hard, or for some nebulous future goal (although that future is now my present). If health or something else prevents me from enjoying life as much in the future, at least I've got memories of the past.


You remind me of a coworker I had four a couple of years. He and his wife were both extremely competent and well-compensated programmers. Their lifestyle was basically "work for two years or so, save up a bunch of money, then quit and wander the world doing whatever they liked until the money ran out, repeat." I've thought about them several times. Some part of me is really, really uncomfortable intentionally living off of my savings for a prolonged period, but I also sometimes wonder if they haven't figured out something important that I haven't.


15y ago I met a guy who was specialized in repairing escalators. So what he did was repair some escalators in the city, and then he spent some weeks or even months motorbiking with his buddies. When money ran out, there was always a broken escalator to return to. Obviously he was so certain he would find work that he didn’t feel the need to save up any money.


That's awesome and you don't have to take it to that extreme. Right before covid I took a 3 months break after my last contract as independent consultant. Traveled in South America with a backpack and it was awesome. These 3 months feel (fill) in my memory so much longer than the year and a half of covid. Can't wait to do that again once travelling is easy again. Only issue is that when I came back I needed a more meaningful work meaning that I'm not independent anymore. But I'll trade that off again and repeat happily


> intentionally living off of my savings for a prolonged period

For most people, this is what retirement means, no? So one way to think about it is they are trading off time, and doing some things while they were young and sure to enjoy them.

The flip side is I have known people who never took a 'real break' and worked doggedly until 65 or whatever, then found a few years later health issues constraining what they could do.


That was my parents. Both worked into their late 60s. Both dead before 75. The amount of retirement they even had a chance at enjoying amounted to about three years.


Having been through CMU and YC, I think while this piece makes sense for the average person, for someone who's been to CMU it's very easy to read this with a re-traumatizing reaction of stop-glorifying-working-to-the-bone.

CMU and YC were maybe the 2 hardest working environments I've been in, but CMU SCS was just plain more hours of staying awake, more implicit peer pressure, less mature peer support systems (mostly from being younger) in the median case of a class/batch.

You can get by (with a huge cost, as evidenced by the semi-regularity of suicide when I was there) with that intensity solving finite problems in semesters that come to an end but not tempering that attitude and knowing when to take strategic breaks in the infinite game that business is can really do harm.

CMU is a weird place, the kids that get in are very smart but often have their inferiority complex relative to say MIT or Stanford, which coupled with the uncompromising academics makes them work insanely, often unsustainably hard. I loved it there, but I'm very glad I had a training in balance going in.


I didn't go to CMU. But to me, as I read this essay, that was balanced by the "quit when you're too tired to do your best work". That's not working-to-the-bone. That's working hard, and then stopping.

Now, someone who went to CMU may be too traumatized to hear that, but PG did say that...


That's sensible, but it's an extremely difficult thing to build concrete awareness for when you're so deeply in a problem space that often your best ideas just pop up from your subconscious.

There's also ways some kind of work you can be doing for any given energy level that adds up to your end goal.

Do you have good advanced strategies for knowing how to identify when you're too tired to do work in complex scenarios. Always happy to absorb more of those :)

I should also clarify that I think this essay is written with the best intentions. I also think there's a specific audience that can very easily misinterpret it. You're not in it, which is great!


I also bet that anyone who went to CMU will read this essay and go "duh, why did he spent this much time writing this obvious stuff"


I had the exact same issue in my undergrad. I was suffering from pretty severe anxiety/depression during highs school, to the point where I dropped out in my junior year. I started “thriving” in my undergrad, if by thriving you mean busy and getting good grades, and my anxiety was much reduced. But the reason it was reduced was because I was going to school full time and working 40+ hours a week and I simply didn’t have time to stop and think. Whenever I had a vacation, or significant time off, I had extreme anxiety, to the point of panic attacks, about not getting anything “important” done.

Ultimately the overwork gave me a chronic neck injury that forced me to have quite a bit of time off work, and over the years I have become very happy with myself, to the point where I can sit and do nothing, be alone with my own thoughts, for days without the anxiety and self-loathing entering my mind at all. I’m not sure when exactly the switch flipped, but it made me a much better person. And I am much happier with myself, my life situation, and my work.


Very similar experience for me. I have a hard time spending time on hobbies at the moment, because it feels like I should put that time towards my PhD instead of "wasting my time and energy". Yet, I somehow have no problem spending hours every day on reddit, YouTube, hacker news etc. because I think I tricked my mind into believing that those things don't cost energy so it's ok. Unfortunately they don't really bring joy and fulfilment the same way hobbies do.

I think the real problem for me is that the work of my PhD is never fully done until I've defended and submitted my thesis. It means that even though I definitely don't get even close to doing 40 hours of actual work per week, it feels like I am working all the time, which is exhausting. It's bad feeling like you are not supposed to take a break and wind down. It's probably why people burn out all the time...


The most impactful activities I pursued during my PhD had absolutely no bearing on my research itself.

Here's one example: I created a robotics blog where I wrote about some of the new, interesting developments in the field that piqued my interest. It ballooned into one of the top 3 robotics websites on the web. I felt guilty about it for a long time... until I realized that the blog had a bigger impact & reach than any of my research -- I was known in the community; articles were cited on Wikipedia and in Congressional testimonies; and it established my credibility.

There are at least a half-dozen similar examples -- including just pursuing random intellectual curiosities. What really helped me come to terms with this is "Structured Procrastination":

http://www.structuredprocrastination.com/

As long as you're doing & not just consuming, you will probably find value.


I would just block those websites from your devices. They are a trap. The illusion of progress or social connection for karma.


This is absolutely a common feeling in PhD programs - I think partially because it is a transition out of structured programs and a more nuanced idea of "done". I wouldn't beat yourself up about it, part of the process is learning for yourself how to deal with finding the right balance of focus and exploration.


> On these days I'd typically try playing a video game (my hobby before college)… wasting time… hard work was not healthy

It sounds like playing video games was your medicine, and denying it from yourself traded “wasting time” for something worse, like bad anxiety, which you don’t have to get into.

It’s obnoxious that the Paul Graham culture targets video games. The alternative medicine is always worse.

Of course, what he’s omitting isn’t some nuanced take on what is and is not wasting time. He’s omitting that he doesn’t give a fuck about hard work that isn’t about making money.


Do you think he writes essays to make money?


Yes, definitely, he is the template for the "thought leader" scheme.


As someone who also did their undergrad at CMU, I can confirm that it was the hardest I've ever worked (even considering my 10+ years of professional experience). It was burnout level with how many units you had to carry and how difficult some of the advanced math and CS classes became.

We used to sit in the Tepper Faculty Lounge (always unlocked = free coffee) many nights from 10 PM - 4 AM to merely crank out a 6-question problem set...as a group.

I find that I can still get into the mode of "hard work" that CMU instilled but I also find myself generally disinterested in getting into a world where that becomes my life again...it was fun, but tiring, and I don't need to be tired/worn out to have fun anymore!


Yeah I went to a not-at-that-level-but-still-rigorous state school, and one of my first impressions of my internships and out-of-college jobs was... "WOW I get to get paid to code, and no homework? I can spend my evenings+weekends however I want!?"

Was a really lovely feeling :)


Part of what makes programs like this work (there aren't a large number, but CMU is hardly alone) is the fact that it's a fixed time to create a pressure box in.

I know of an undergrad double honors program that was unreasonably proud of the fact that after inception it took something like a dozen (maybe fifteen?) years before anyone actually graduated from it; everyone dropped one or the other half to lighten the load. Trying to pitch something to almost-but-not-quite break you only works when there is a finish line.


> Years later, having tackled anxiety problems that had plagued me most of my life, I came to recognize that my relationship with hard work during my college years was not healthy and that this deep seated desire to do more work is not a positive thing, at least not for me.

This resonates with me.

I would often try to outwork depression, anxiety, grief...basically any difficult emotion. Work was my coping mechanism and all external signals were positive about that--i.e., "he's a real go-getter." The pathology of all this became apparent after, well, becoming a parent.

Fast forward to now, I still sometimes struggle with those "alarm bells" but for the most part I can solidly state that I am not defined solely by my productivity. Contentment is an active practice, I suppose.


If you read his footnote, he’s talking about how these alarm bells go off on the order of days, not hours, and how taking vacations is good.


Thanks for pointing this out.

While I fundamentally believe I experienced the phenomenon PG writes about, there's something to be said about the scale of it. Taking a sufficiently generous interpretation of his essay, an admirable goal for self-growth is not to work hard all the time but to develop the self-discipline to work hard when you intend to be working (with the restraint to not be working when you intend to not be working, and the internal clock to help you schedule the two at whatever the correct balance is for your life).

Perhaps as a life goal as I enter my 30s, I should endeavor to revisit my love for mathematics and computer science (as opposed my work-life-balanced but frankly boring current career path), using both the restraint and discipline I've learned, so to not make the mistakes I made in my early 20s.

After leaving the work-always atmosphere of CMU, I moved in with my then-girlfriend (now-wife) and committed to working exactly 8 hours every day to keep work from taking over again. Trying to cram all the ambition and passion for work I once had into 8 hours of junior dev work basically turned me into a soup of anxiety, inferiority, and resentment[0] for some time. I thought I was wasting my career, after trying so hard in college. It took years to reorient my priorities (and also to reach a position that was a bit less meaningless than tech support for Matlab).

I think nowadays I could do better. Maybe next time a hip startup emails me with a job opportunity, I'll give them a call ;) thanks

[0] Anxious to try and find ways to work harder and achieve more in a bland corporate environment where the build system was more of an obstacle than the actual project, inferiority compared to the success that some of my still-overworked friends were experiencing in silicon valley (with opportunities I didn't have in Boston), and even occasional resentment towards my girlfriend, for whom I had chosen to restrain myself to 8 hours of work a day, because I felt I could do such great things without that limitation.


I did this, ended up at MIT due to work ethic, and thankfully ended up having a number of kids who are akin to a vector field with locally negative divergence (for these feelings).

There are always things to clean up from the chaos, and so much more meaningful than if I were doing it fit myself.


Thanks for writing this. What you wrote describes me perfectly with the exception of the redemption at the end.


I feel you.

I think I was lucky in a way. I had my first experience with vertigo while working 80+ hour weeks for several years. In my dizziness I couldn't see my computer or cell phone screen to email or text my boss to let him know.

I was down for several days, literally only able to lie in bed and breathe. It was then that it dawned on me that if I died right then, I sure would miss a few things I'd been neglecting or putting off in life.

Vertigo has not returned yet (may it never!). It was a catalyst to a lot of meaningful change in my life.

Hobbies can be a very useful endeavor. So can volunteer work. I've been intrigued to learn more about the Civilian Air Patrol (US based, CAP) and how they help during disasters. Also fun to go up in planes and take pictures, either for training or in consequence of supporting disasters. They have more they do as well, but these things are fascinating to me. There are thousands of organizations with these kinds of opportunities.

You're not alone. Good luck in your hunt for meaning beyond output!


I had a similar realization. My inner desire had weird bits of fear and narcissism at its core. When that side of me cracked the desire to perform vanished. I did do some math after that (mostly to asses brain damage after health issues): i could do some new stuff, and did enjoy it.. but something changed, there need to be solid reasons: either aesthetical (a sudden epiphany that I need to study topology) or social for me to go into workhorse mode.

Another thing is that I also realized that crushing is not progressing.. so very often I understood things without any effort, what it took is for my brain to accept an idea more than anything else.. so I stopped forcing things, I simply walk around ideas and let things come and go.

All in all.. I also believe that is simply biology talking.. when young all you care is being the best, with age your focus spreads over other people (SO, kids, family)


For me the similar thing was when I started to read HN, 3 years ago.

It wasn't until 3 month before graduation, when a guy at the lab that I admired suggested HN and all the hustle culture and the background stories of successes was available first hand, that I started to get truly anxious about the time I felt like I wasted/ was wasting during college. Playing games are really hard now, so is watching movies. My list of movies or clips that I'm supposed to see on downtime is filled with daunting "productive" materials.

Also created the bad habit of quitting (job) when I feel like I'm stuck or "not growing/improving" due stress. The mentality of having to "constantly be productive" also caused strain in my personal relationships.


Frankly, all of this sounds pretty miserable.


> a feeling at the core of my psyche that I have been wasting time and there must be something productive I should be doing or thinking about.

It's a little bit of relief to hear that others have experienced this issue. I've had this feeling when playing a video game, reading a book, watching a movie, etc. As if a part of my mind has trained itself to believe that the only worthwhile pursuit must be "productive" in some way. I've had to teach/remind myself often that it's healthy to relax, so keep playing. I think it's starting to sink in over time. :)


> I've since reformed my ambitions, instead of looking to start a company or get a PhD in mathematics, I've decided that hard work is not the love of my life

I 100% agree. Having just finished my masters (a bit later in life, I'm in my 40s now), I have concluded that I have exactly zero interest in pursuing any further formal education. I just don't have enough f*cks left to give for that.

But I do dream of starting my own company. But maybe it will stay a dream. And even if I realize it, I'm talking about a lifestyle business and not an attempted unicorn.


I like Cal Newport's Deep Life framework here a bunch, highly recommend everyone check it out:

https://www.calnewport.com/blog/2020/04/20/cultivating-a-dee...

He has these alliterative buckets, like Craft, Community, Contemplation, and Constitution. Everyone's priority stack is different but generally speaking ... all humans need a bit of each.

ONLY craft ('work') isn't enough for a deep life!


"My heart is in the work" indeed.


>I spent all day every day at CMU either programming, doing mathematics, or thinking about one of those things (to great effect: often the trick to prove a theorem would pop into my head while showering or while taking a walk). I would fall asleep while programming in the middle of the night, dream about programming, then wake up and continue programming just where I left off.

This is such a great experience. I wish I could study at CMU on-site and experience all this. I'm an old horse still kicking :P

>I've since reformed my ambitions, instead of looking to start a company or get a PhD in mathematics, I've decided that hard work is not the love of my life and instead I should focus on my hobbies while looking for a career path that can be simultaneously fulfilling but laid back.

Glad that you figure it out. Guess the study burned you out :(


> This is such a great experience. I wish I could study at CMU on-site and experience all this. I'm an old horse still kicking :P

In truth, it was a great experience, it was just also the worst experience of my life. It's a little tough to explain but, in the end it comes down to personal expectations and mental health.

I often miss the work itself. A single problem set at CMU felt more interesting, impactful, and substantial than a multiple months-long project at a corporate job. Professors typically give you starter code that's ready to start working on "the meat" of the problem - here's a C++ project that loads a 3d geometry and renders it but the key function in rendering isn't implemented. Now go write a raytracer. Now go write a typechecker. Implement "malloc". Take this efficient sequential algorithm and design a parallel version that's provably more efficient, and implement it in functional code.

The big problem is that the pacing was brutal and inescapable and for many - such as myself - failure was not an option. When you don't get to sleep on sundays, wednesdays, and thursdays, every single week for a few months, all while dealing with the anxiety that maybe doing your best still isn't going to be good enough, you start to daydream that maybe you'll get hit by a car finally have an excuse to take a break.


I also went to CMU and had a similar experience. I got into programming because of my love for video games and ended up thinking they were a waste of time. A few years after graduation, my friends tricked me into going to a PC cafe (telling me it was a hip bar) and I rediscovered my love for gaming.


I had exactly the same reaction, and I also went to CMU for undergrad (not SCS though). However I found that it didn't translate to long-term productivity during my PhD program, when I needed to think about my career goals 5 years in the future. There I needed to focus on sustainable work ethic and working "smarter" rather than "harder" -- for example, okay I got an A in my quantum field theory class, but who cares? Other students who took easier courses but were able to start writing papers probably got ahead in the long run.


> I would fall asleep while programming in the middle of the night, dream about programming, then wake up and continue programming just where I left off.

This was almost always the case for me in group projects as we'd invariably do a waterfally style project management and each person would be 1 day late turning my 7 day window into 3... And worse yet usually what I got handed was crap and I'd just have to rewrite the project keeping only the barest clues of their work in place.

Not that much has changed 20 yrs later in my career.


This idea that work is required(!) and that rewards of it should not be wasted can be traced to some religious roots, for example. This view on work ethics has been given rise to interesting theory more than 100 years ago in the birth of economic sociology: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protestant_Ethic_and_the_S...


> this deep seated desire to do more work is not a positive thing

This, 100%. I got trapped in a work loop for several months this past year and am slowly recovering from it.

One of the most important rules for sustainable productivity that doesn't damage your health is having hard limits for the amount of time you spend working. It's very tough, especially when there are deadlines and other people encouraging you to exceed safe limits.


Read Byung-Chul Han, he has some insights on this.


Thank you for this suggestion. As an Asian, I have always found the American fetish for "passion for work" disconcerting. My passion is for poetry and grammar. Unfortunately, in Asia, you really can't feed your family on this. Your career is distinctly "what you are forced to do". So it is a sense of duty and self-sacrifice that forces me to work, and I would gladly avoid any unnecessary bullshit work and virtue signalling, so that I can read fiction and poetry.


I currently experience this. Every moment of downtime the last 4 years is plagued with these alarm bells that I'm not properly using my time. That I should be working on something productive. This even extends to avoiding home improvement projects because a more efficient usage of my time would be to continue to work on work/side software projects.


The protestant work ethic: it's a real thing, and it makes real victims.


I’ve heard this same mentality from many people who went to rigorous colleges or had a rigorous college experience. (It isn’t just prestigious schools that are like this - choose the wrong major at particular public schools and your life can be just as difficult)

I’m of the same opinion. I still don’t know how to enjoy just existing - even small pleasures can be hard to do unless I think there is some kind of “work” aspect to it. Video games need progression or bragging rights, hobbies need skills that will make me better at something, and simple pleasures must be only to get me back onto the progression track. Recharging must be to get me back in the game and working hard again. Etc… I was overtuned in college to always be working on something because if I didn’t, I was going to flunk out. (Yay for bad professors and academia that cherishes weeding people out than growing what they have)

I despise the way college trains people. Feels like capitalism training 101.


How do you motivate yourself to work hard if you feel like you're distracted and want to be lazy all the time?


Coding to sleep, dreaming of code, and waking up to coding - I burned out on that… I wonder how you did it


is it anxiety? I don't have a single hobby at this point that doesn't involve learning new stuff or having to work as part of it. I've totally stopped watching movies for enjoyment or playing video games because it feels so "unproductive"


Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions here but there seems to be something obvious that you and others in this thread are overlooking: not all leisure activities are created equal. Some nourish the soul or the body, some are spiritual deserts.

Video games are in the latter category. Of course you’re going to feel bad about spending your time on them. But you could instead read a classic novel, play a sport, play some music, converse with friends, keep in touch with family, etc., any of which will help you develop as an individual in dimensions that will simply not happen otherwise. They connect you with the rich tapestry of life and human society.


This is an outdated view, computer games are a cultural vehicle like others. They can even connect you with a rich tapestry of human life.


If anything, old video games were more innocuous, as they didn’t try to be anything other than simple distractions that you would naturally tire of before long. Today’s games are precision engineered to be dopamine treadmills in the guise of immersive cinematic experiences, yet due to the primacy of gameplay mechanics, remain hobbled as works of art or storytelling.


Some are, others are not. Some build communities, others do not. Some games are played with friends and family, and some are not.

Some fiction has artistic merit, other fiction does not.

Your views are about as up to date as “games are for kids”


Sure, some gaming could be a healthy bit of fun in a social context, but it tends not to be, doesn’t it? It tends to become a massive time sink, the accumulation of which over many years, usually of your youth (notice that older people just lose interest in games, like they suddenly don’t see value in them anymore), will not leave you well-read or physically fit or able to entertain others or even good memories - just precious time committed to the void.


Again, your attitudes are merely snobbish.

None of this is anything more than lazy, outdated stereotyping, indicative of nothing so much as ignorance.


Is it stereotyping, or deserved stigma?

I am not ignorant of video game culture. I’m just honest about the actual quality. I know games have storytelling. For instance, the Marathon series has an excellent story told via text read in terminals, utilising different types of prose and poetry, even concrete poetry, quite creative. The Halo series has something similar, except the primary storytelling mechanism is cinematic cut scenes, which, like 99.99% of such things, are terrible. Like the worst dregs of the sci-fy channel would have more artistic merit.


Some of both - I’m never going to claim that all games are of cultural significance, but I find the assertion that gaming is a passtime devoid of spiritual reward on a par with the idea that reading novels might be devoid of spiritual or intellectual reward - trivially true for a large proportion of the material, perhaps, but no more true for one medium over another.


I get what you're saying, and think you're mostly right.

However, I just booted up Breath of the Wild for the first time in a year (it's the not the first video game I've played in a year -- I just haven't played it in a year) and was absolutely astonished at how beautiful and well-designed it is. "Soul-filling" is a proper adjective for its affect of me.

Some games are obvious dopamine and money pits; some games are art. Those in the latter category are unfortunately few and far between, but I suppose every medium is like that. Some books are just as pointless and trashy as Clash of Clans.


Speaking for myself, I haven't lost interest in games as I grew older. What happened, rather, is that I lost the drive to go through the initial learning pains to get to the point where the game is truly fun and enjoyable - and so I end up mostly playing older games where I already know the ropes, and, occasionally, new games that rehash the old formulas and thus don't require much learning.


Video games probably taught me more than any other activity in my youth. I also played football and was an avid reader of fiction.

I don't really play them anymore because I played competitive games (As opposed to very casual or story driven games), and being good at games is no longer a priority to me. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain your skill level, let alone increase it.

I definitely still see value in playing competitive games, but I think I've already extracted most of that value.


Computer games are build to make you addicted and waste your time and money.

"They can even connect you with a rich tapestry of human life."

Tapestry of human life? Seriously?


Not gonna lie, this is incredibly ignorant.

Just because you cannot appreciate the story telling of games, or the skill/teamwork needed to play competitive games, does not make them a waste of time.

The value of time spent is in the eye of the beholder. There are people who burn every evening/weekend playing games, and they are less happy and enriched from it. Equally there are people who spend a lot of time gaming and are much happier doing so. I can't spend a lot of time gaming atm because of personal projects, but the time I spend playing Stardew Valley with my girlfriend or competitive FPS games with my friends is invaluable.

Try opening your mind a bit please.


your argument is flawed. in your story gaming could be replaced by drinking or toilet cleaning. as long as you are doing it with friends/strengthening relationships the activity is positive. but that is precisely what gaming is missing! there is nothing wrong with doing a lan party with your buddies, but playing an hour every day of the week your favourite game is just a waste of time. it's highly unlikely that your mind is relaxing, especially in competitive games you mentioned.


It's odd to me that you're telling me what I am feeling. Regardless, does everything have to be some hyperefficient activity for you?


That's a _ridiculously_ reductive view of what games are. Like any form of media they range wildly from simplistic and addictive to rich and artistic and everything in between. Suggesting that all games are built to addict and waste time/money belies an utter lack of understanding of the landscape of games.


I could say the same about novels and be just as correct.

You’ve never made friends through a shared interest in games, or even through the games themselves? You’ve never been enthralled with the story of a game, and been left richer afterwards? You’ve missed out, and you’ve missed out through snobbery.


A novel can make you addicted? Like you have to read it every day?

I played a lot with friends, but I never made friends through playing.

I was enthralled by games, but when I was finished I wasn't "richer" in any way, just shorter of time.

It is ok to waste your time if it is fun, but trying to glorify wasting your time is just trying to find an excuse.


Like I said, I would be just as correct. There are addictive games and gamers, just as there are trashy novels and people who devour them one after another. I would consider neither more valid than the other.

I have met people I value through games and gaming, just as I have through Internet forums. I have experienced emotional highs and lows through the characters I’ve encountered in games, through the twists and turns of stories.

Like I said, perhaps you’ve missed out.

I’ve also blown off a lot of steam and enjoyed it as frivolous entertainment. I’m not trying to say it’s always worthy, social or a growth experience, that would be as absurd a claim as that it can never be so.


> A novel can make you addicted? Like you have to read it every day?

My wife used to spend multiple hours a day reading Harry Potter fan fiction to the detriment of other aspects of her life. It might not be designed to be addictive (same way HN isn't), but it can definitely have that affect.

>I played a lot with friends, but I never made friends through playing.

I know people who have made lifelong friends through online gaming. I do not know people who have made lifelong friends through reading books.

>I was enthralled by games, but when I was finished I wasn't "richer" in any way, just shorter of time.

What games were you playing? I've definitely felt absolutely floored by the technical achievements, storytelling and genius design in games before; the same way a good book or album leaves you shocked that a human could have created this.


[flagged]


I don’t consider myself a loser, as a successful software consultant with a house, a partner, a lot of travel under my belt and enough cash to basically do what I want. I’m moving to a new continent in a little over a month, to spend more time fishing and exploring the wilds, not lurking in a basement somewhere.

So... :shrug:


You're getting repeatedly downvoted but I think you have a point here that could have been articulated with less snobbery.

There's many folks here who grew up on videogames and most likely find it to have been a vehicle for meaningful experiences that are to some extent comparable to some of the things you've listed (for example, often videogames have social dimensions to them where lifelong connections are made).

I find you more agreeable with your emphasis on artistic value however towards developing a person. While it is true videogames are an artistic medium as well, the vast breadth of human art and knowledge/ wisdom lie in more established mediums that have been around for longer such as literature and music.

Videogames certainly have the potential to provide artistic value that is comparable to this long accumulated pile, but this is no easy task, pleasure and relaxation aside.


I worked my way through college as a mover (and came out the other side with high 5-figure debt). Many of the older guys I worked with had drug habits. I worked 16-hour days with those guys. They'd get on me for not running up stairs, for packing with too little paper around glass, for setting things down more than once. None wrote articles entitled "How to Work Hard." None knew Warren Buffet as a child (see Gates). None attended the most expensive schools, if they had they certainly wouldn't have chosen to drop out because they got bored or were unfulfilled (see Graham and Zuck). Take a look at the top 10 highest valued YC startups. All their founders came from schools with less than 10% acceptance rates.

Privilege is what I'm getting at. Having an income 300:1 your lowest paid employee is disturbing. Making millions or billions off speculative, debt-fueled VC is disturbing. Proselyting your brand of success is disturbing. Recommendation: every time a founder, investor or businessperson starts to wax poetic on virtue, look for an angle. Why do founders want to appear virtuous and hardworking? Why do we need that from them? How else can they justify making sometimes up to 50% of their companies entire payroll? How emotionally satisfying must it be for Graham and his ilk to tell you why they got what they have?

What if most of serious wealth and success is decided at birth?


I was a mover and then I ran a moving company. I love movers and the culture of people who work with their hands. They tend to be much funnier than office workers.

I realize yours is a common reality, but it's not been my experience. I always felt surrounded by underdogs, and our privilege mostly came from former underdogs choosing to bet on me.

My parents are middle class New Yorkers. I went to a public high school, ran track, skateboarded and played with computers and programming for fun.

I went to Wash U in St Louis on financial scholarship. A great school but not the ones that tech companies recruit aggressively from. My freshman year I bootstrapped a moving company and a custom apparel company, and I worked constantly at both on top of a full course load for a double major and social obligations. I probably couldn't do that today, but it didn't feel like work then. It was fun. Both of those companies did well enough that I got introduced to Joe Lonsdale as he was starting Addepar, and I made enough money from them to pay off all debts and enter adult life with over 150k in savings.

I joined Addepar my sophomore summer. It was me, Joe, a CMU dropout, a Berkeley grad who was working at Yahoo, a snowboard apparel designer, and a santa clara grad. We hacked it out, and now that company is worth over a billion dollars. Joe was a Stanford graduate, the rest of us made it with equity.

While at Addepar in SF I met Keith Rabois, who tried to recruit me to Square. I turned him down because I wanted to graduate school, but we became close friends and eventually started Opendoor together with Eric Wu, the child of immigrants who went to University of Arizona. We recruited a great team, and now Opendoor is a 10 billion dollar public company.

There are a million and one privileges I've enjoyed, but they were mostly people being willing to bet on me. And most of the money I made was in equity. I never had a six figure salary until my last 6 months at Opendoor, and I didn't take any money off the table until year 5.


I appreciate you sharing your story! It's cool to hear about your success and I definitely understand that it's different than some might think of it. Congrats! I'll try not criticize your narrative or how you frame it and focus on sharing how I think about mine instead.

I'm American, white, male, and got into an American college. I studied economics in school, got super stressed about my debt and income inequality. So I came to SF after college, doubled down on my debt with a bootcamp, and got a high paying engineering job. It was a big, stressful risk and paid off. I paid all my student debt off in a few months. My life has been an absolute dream since. I would never, never in a million years say this:

> ...our privilege mostly came from former underdogs choosing to bet on me

From working with those guys at the moving company I can tell you, seemingly small missteps lead to irreversible stagnation in traditional measures of success (career, achievement, wealth, etc). Let's cast all that aside though and just focus on demographics. Americans represent ~4% of the world's population. About 32% of Americans have graduated college. ALREADY I'm part of ~1% of the world's population and we haven't even included white/male. And I bet you like what half of SF engineers and YC founders fall in that population? Just incredibly disproportionate.

During the Great Depression stocks didn't rebound for 20 years. Over the last 20-40 years interest rates have steadily declined, ROI across the board has shrunk, and VC funds have proved highly profitable. All of that means that the last 20 years have been gangbusters for VC funding, SF, and software engineering. Had the next long protracted economic crisis hit during my job search, what would've happened? I was job searching for 6 months before I got my first job offer at a doctor's salary. What even is that!?

I worked hard, I was lucky, and I was successful. I don't even pretend to understand the cause and effect there.


> Americans represent ~4% of the world's population. About 32% of Americans have graduated college. ALREADY I'm part of ~1% of the world's population [...].

FYI, other countries have effective college/university programmes too :)


One other thing, last I checked one third of the world doesn't have access to clean water daily.

Facts like these should be a mandatory preface to any success stories, tips, or tricks shared by the ultra-wealthy. The preface should also include this xkcd comic: https://xkcd.com/1827/


> What if most of serious wealth and success is decided at birth?

There is no 'what if'. It's just a fact. You can pretty accurately predict what a child will be able to attain in life by looking at their zip code.


It's not even really material inheritance or gifts. It's that successful parents teach their children how to be successful.

When I reflect on my life I realize that pretty much everything went right because my parents had explained all the steps. I followed my parents advice to learn programming, I followed my parents advice on how to get a job, I followed my parents advice on how to negotiate how to negotiate higher pay and when to put the squeeze on management.

And now I'm doing pretty well for myself. I did work hard but I could have worked just as hard in the wrong direction and got nowhere. But I was already shown the path by my parents.


Any idea how anyone who never got any meaningful advice from their parents can learn these things?


My best advice would be to find a friend who is doing well and learn from them. Chat and meet up often. Ask them about work and stuff. Personally I give out as much advice to my friends as possible and have helped them get started in software development careers.

Knowing what you can and should ask for is so important. Recently management suggested that it would be better if I had a formal certification. I then requested that the company pay for me to go to university. They accepted despite it not being an advertised perk. If I had not seen my parents do the same thing previously I would not have known this is even something you can ask for.


This is really good advice.


While I'm not naive to not see that life is inherently unequal, I completely disagree with you.

I know plenty people, including myself, who not only had the wrong zip code, they didn't even have a zip code. Somehow they made it. You can get lucky after you're born. And if you work hard, you can increase your luck odds.

Also, why zip code is the axiom here? I'd say having good parents is more significant than being born in the right zip code. Who's to say?


Nobody's to say. For some reason some people think that statistics dictate reality when obviously they just take an average. The zip code thingy is silly, but on average more expensive zip codes produce children with higher incomes.


Yeah because their parents are better educated and pass on their values to their kids. So what?

I am frankly tired of this modern idea that is is somehow unfair if parents pass on their advantages to their kids. That is what nature has always been about. It even starts before people have kids - they seek out partners that maximize the potential for their kids. So if a woman chooses an intelligent (or even just rich) man as a father for her kids, it is somehow unfair because it gives the kids an advantage. Even trying to become attractive (for example to become rich) to make you a good choice for parent is somehow unfair? It should be obvious that all that is some Marxist bullshit, where individuals are not allowed to operate for their personal advantage anymore, and their bodies are being utilized (women are not allowed to choose attractive partners anymore, or have children for their own enjoyment. Everybody has to be dedicated to the benefit of society or "fairness").

Stephen Curry's father was a professional basketball player, and now Curry is one of the best Basketball players. Is that unfair? What would have been fair, to disallow his father to play basketball with his son, and instead mandate he gives free basketball lessons to poor kids?

Maybe it is unfair that Curry's father didn't push for him to become a lawyer or a doctor, "forcing" him into a career as a basketball player. Well his dad knew about the world of basketball, so that is where he was able to help his son. Why shouldn't he do that? I personally will see to it that my kids learn to code, because that is where I am able to help. I don't feel bad about it at all. In fact I wish there were other things I were able to help with, but there are not. Still, they can go out into the world and seek other teachers. Especially with the internet, a lot of things are free to learn. There even is a Masterclass by Stephen Curry about learning to play Basketball.


parents passing on their experience isn't the only part. They also pass on their wealth, their connections, etc. The rich family can send their kids to the top schools. The rich family generally has connections. If your parents are house cleaners or gardeners or plumbers, can they loan you $100-200k to try out your pet startup idea? Can they introduce you to people that as likely to want to invest 5-7 figures in your idea? Are they even likely to know which topics to study or what opportunities exist?

The point is not that any of this is wrong. The point is to recognize all the benefits or luck or privilege or whatever you want to call it that one person might get that another does not and then add that to the sum of things it possibly takes to succeed.

Person A, has taxi drivers for parents, manages to go to a nice school, works hard, maybe has a chance at hitting it big

Person B has rich parents, is sent to the top schools where other top students challenge them, was idea, parents fund it, if not directly at least by knowing that they'll have a fallback should it fail, via top school connections or family connections they are given tutors, advisors, and or access to top talent for their startup, their chances of success are far higher.

Another example: Person A tells parents "I want to make an app". Parents say "that's nice". Person B tells parents "I want to make an app". Parents say "oh, I can introduce you to Ms.X, she designs apps, and Ms.Y, she had a successful startup, on and Mr.Z, he says his daughter just graduated CMU with a CS degree and she might be interested in joining you"

Again, nothing "wrong" with that . Just maybe it would be nice to fine ways to help Person A, not how to hinder Person B.


Success and wealth tend to compound intergenerationally. That can be a good thing. When societies have economic mobility, wealth tends to enter and leave families over a couple generations.

I love music from Drake, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Justin Bieber and the like. Their music and the fact we live in a society where stars are bred for music -- that's incredible. Fair/unfair isn't a very interesting binary. Natural variance and inequity is an important part of healthy competition. How much inequity is too much? That's a very interesting question.


Instead of fretting about people who became successful, we should think about how we can help more people become successful. Which incidentally seems to be a huge part of what PG does.

Even poor people today live better than kings in the past. The things we can afford, microwave dinners, washing machines, were only available to kings with lots of servants in the past. When you consider medicine, it becomes even more obvious that we are better off now than rich people in the past.


> ...we should think about how we can help more people become successful.

It's like you're purposefully missing the point.

What if most of serious wealth and success is decided at birth? What are the logical consequences of that?

Let's go extreme: A rich guy wins the lottery. He then tells everyone in town how they could've won if they bought tickets. What's your reaction?

> Even poor people today live better than kings in the past.

I generally agree with this on quantitative measures of productive or technological progress. Other quantitative measures don't look so great: education, housing and healthcare costs; health (esp. mental health) issues in developed vs developing nations; prison populations in the present vs past.

Michael Foucalt has better arguments to make here than I do [1].

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJTeNTZtGU


Stats measure our shared experience. Is there something better for this?

The human spirit isn't unconquerable. Believing it is has the side effect that you write off others because, "try harder."

Vertasium did a fairly convincing bit on the zip code thing, which is -- I think -- why it's top of mind: https://youtu.be/3LopI4YeC4I

I encourage you to dig into economic data and not use your experience as a frame of reference for the economic reality of others.


Statistics wash away any hint of individuality


The claim is not that all wealth and success is determined at birth, just that most of it is. This claim can't be disproven by counterexamples.

It's more productive to look at broader trends. The average Chinese factory worker works more hours than the average westerner, yet tends to end up less successful. The difference is that they had the bad luck to be born in a poorer country.


PG talks about that in other essays, on how you should probably move to the right location. He compares Milano to Florence - it is unlikely people in Milano were less intelligent, but all the famous painters emerged in Florence.

Nevertheless I think your claim about the zip codes is too broad. Most people will have average lives. I suspect even in Silicon Valley only a small fraction of kids grow up to be successful entrepreneurs.


Note that everyone on this forum is prima facie remarkably privileged compared to someone in this world. 'We' all went to some kind of school as opposed to no school. 'We' all have amazing technology at our finger tips, as opposed to lacking basic nutrition and sanitation and personal safety.

The difference between 'us' and the abject poor is much greater than the difference between 'us' and PG or Bill Gates. The abject poor can't even post on here to point this out.

My point is that privilege tagging is hypocritical, and not useful. As such, I simply read this essay calmly for what it is, knowing that I too was born with more than enough luck. Yet I constantly fail to honour that most essential fact about my life.


It's an article called "How to Work Hard" that doesn't once mention luck, psychology, or basic human needs.

What do you get from the success how-tos of multi-millionares? Do you really not see it as self-serving? Disclose survivorship bias, incredible privilege, and impossible odds and I'm in... I think? At that point I'm still unclear why the rich have something useful to say here that Maslow or other academics don't.


I've lost track of what your critique actually is. Anyway, I didn't read this essay because PG is rich. I do not in fact know if he is rich or not. His wealth neither increases nor decreases the likelihood that the essay is worthwile. I starting reading PG's essays because he made HN, which I find valuable, his net worth is irrelevant to me. I know about him because of HN, because of something he created, and for no other reason.

I am able to contextualise his essay myself. It is not necessary for him to start the essay with a laundry list of disclaimers (eg I'm a neurotypical rich white guy with good parents, no major medical conditions, good teeth, 4 limbs etc).


You have just become lucky because you stumbled upon the article and can act on it. So it is not necessary to mention luck, because the readership of the article is already selected for luck.

The article also mentions the necessity of talent.

It also doesn't say everybody can become a billionaire by simply working hard.

Also even if you are born in Africa with no access to schools (or in some US ghetto were everything is sooo horrible), you can probably set yourself apart from your peers.


A lot us are able to take pleasure in other people's success and try to learn from them. It isn't very useful to assume the worst about people. The generalizations you are making here about rich people, etc. etc. are honestly ridiculous. Some of the most generous people I've met were filthy rich.


What are those assumptions?


That rich people are different than other people.


I appreciate others success. I generally really like Graham's essays.

I don't believe wealthy people are different, just under extraordinary circumstances.

Here are some assumptions I'm holding:

- I don't believe the wealthy have any secrets on virtue that anyone else doesn't.

- I believe power messes with people's sense of reality.

- I believe we're poor judges of our own intentions.

- I believe we tend to more generously assign intent to the wealthy.

- I believe success can give us false confidence in unrelated disciplines.

- I believe generosity is a form of communication for the wealthy.

- I don't believe the wealthy often become poor from their generosity.

- I believe wealth inequity is the third worst problem facing the world today.


For who?


if that is the 3rd worst problem, I guess life is pretty darn easy


Every time pg puts out a new essay, we get into this privilege bingo stuff. It’s always irrelevant. There’s a huge audience of people who don’t care if their CEO is 300x better paid than they are, or that they didn’t go to an elite school, or that they didn’t have prestigious family connections: what they want to know is how did he work, what can we do to unlock our productive potential, how can we create things that we can be proud of in the same way. That’s who Graham is writing for.


Maybe the way he worked is also a product of his environment, and could thus be dependent on things like wealth, family/genetics, upbringing, network, etc.?


And those could also be good topics to explore. There’s room for different types of introspection and self-reflection. But from the perspective of how can we learn from or emulate or find proxies for the benefits of these other factors, not starting from the preposterous notion that Graham is writing self-serving screeds to hoodwink us.


> All their founders came from schools with less than 10% acceptance rates.

This says they were overachievers in prior pursuits too. Universities may not do a perfect job of it, but their admissions is primarily based on merit. In fact the kind of person that will make a big impact on society is precisely what they look for in addition to grades and test scores. Perhaps they are just pretty good at it.


Why are they overachievers though? What factors -- over which they had control -- formed their psychology, intellectual capability, access to resources and education?

I'm guessing zip code predicts "overachiever-dom" depressingly well. I'm also guessing it's not everything, life is noisy.


What difference does it make if there were factors they had control over? I suspect grit or tendency to work hard is primarily inherited just like intelligence. So you could also say anyone who works hard is not really doing so by their own doing.

I’m not sure what exactly you feel victim of.


Hey Soheil! I'm actually doing really well and my life is awesome. No complaints personally.

I'm worried about the future -- my own, yours, my parents, those of the guys I worked with at the moving company, etc.

The problem when wage growth stalls for most of the population [1], but wealth grows disproportionately for the wealthy [2] is three-fold:

- The wealthy don't spend additional wealth, they invest it. This leads to lower velocity of money, which is a factor in consumer spending.

- Economic mobility stalls with decreased consumer spending and concentration of wealth. [3]

- As people lose faith in economic mobility and experience economic hardship, political instability follows. [4]

This cycle is compounding. It's about long-termism and general social welfare.

Economic competition is good. Inequality can be good. Current levels of economic inequality and mobility are concerning. Like pre-Great Depression concerning and it's only getting worse.

Right now we need people, especially wealthy people to be in-touch with how out-of-whack our economy is. The gospel of prosperity is poisonous right now. We need more people to acknowledge luck and to understand the economic suffering of others.

1. https://www.pewresearch.org/?attachment_id=304888

2. https://otb.cachefly.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/wealth-s...

3. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/02_econ...

4. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00220027177234...


I guess you have to balance the harm caused by the "lower velocity of money" as a result of wealthy investing a portion of their earnings vs decreasing the incentives that allow one to become wealthy in the first place thus reducing wealth generation to flatten the inequality. Hasn't this been tried in almost every socialist country in South America?


And by the US in the 1930s with the New Deal [1]. Many at least partially credit it for the economic prosperity that followed WWII.

It's a tricky balance it seems.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal


A lot of people had access to those things and were not overachievers. Arguments like this stink of jealousy.


Alright, Cardi B. This isn't about haters.

Success has been compounding in fundamentally destructive patterns that are causing serious, unintended economic and societal consequences for 100 years now. If you're benefitting from that, great. I'm genuinely happy for you! But when it comes to policy making and interactions with others, holding onto a sense of personal exceptionalism hurts everyone. It also makes you look like an ass.


I think this 12-minute video by Veritasium provides one of the most concise and nuanced takes on the role of luck in success I have encountered.

https://youtu.be/3LopI4YeC4I


Not all hardworking and talented people become successful, but all successful people are talented and hardworking. Some people are born with better chances than others, but we should strive to make a society where at least most people are born with a good chance.


> ...all successful people are talented and hardworking.

I doubt it. Most measures of economic mobility show this is becoming less and less true -- if it ever was. I think believing it is important though.


Suppose someone is average and lazy. They're practically guaranteed to live a life of coasting by from job to job, living paycheck to paycheck, and struggling to get by in America these days. That is not success by my measure.


What if that someone is average and lazy in their work to devote the rest of their time to their family? What if they raise a bunch of kids that love their parents, care about each other and the world and want to make it better? Would that be success?

What if they were molested and use drugs to cope, but live their entire life without molesting anyone else? Would that be success?

What if they have serious depression and they check out by playing video games, but they don't kill themselves? Would that be success?

Holding up a few spectacular achievements as the paragon of human experience is fucking stupid.

I genuinely think really rich (and smart) people do it to try to salve their guilt and signal for others.


Just want to say that I agree with everything you've posted in this thread, and it's always shocking to me that people still believe the prosperity gospel in 2021.


Yes, in general, but in the context of the original article success would be defined as higher education, well-paying job, able and healthy body, etc.


In the context of the original article, success would be defined as what people can do to contribute making the original author more successful.


Ahh so "How to Work Hard" is really "How to Work Hard for the Privileged and Unsuffering."

I was confused as there was no mention of privilege, no disclaimer, no recognition of his revelation as an innate human need as fundamental as those for connection or play.

Graham figured out work folks, pack it in. Maslow, step aside.


What if you were born into a family worth millions? Sounds like massive success in my books.


And if they are stupid and racist, they get elected president.


Well the most important factor of economic mobility has historically been women marrying up. So you might be on to something - it seems doubtful that wives who were able to marry up work that much harder than other wives.


... what? Do you have a source here?

> The major correlates with high economic mobility Chetty identifies are racial segregation, income inequality, school quality, family structure and social capital.

https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_featd_articl...


> but all successful people are talented and hardworking.

Citation needed.


It isn’t, obviously, because look at the example of Bill Gates: starting a business as a 20-year-old college dropout puts you at a big disadvantage compared to people with more life experience.


The Bill Gates Mythology in this essay is a bit odd though. No doubt a hard worker, but the claim

>"Bill Gates, for example, was among the smartest people in business in his era, but he was also among the hardest working. "I never took a day off in my twenties," he said. "Not one."

doesn't align with the facts that have recently emerged about him. [1] Maybe PG should examine selection bias and self-reporting bias a bit more before making the claim he does here.

[1]https://nypost.com/2021/05/10/bill-gates-womanizer-held-nude...


From the linked article:

Another ex, Jill Bennett — described as his “first serious girlfriend” — said they split because of Gates’ fixation with working long hours.

“In the end, it was difficult to sustain a relationship with someone who could boast a ‘seven-hour turnaround’ — meaning that from the time he left Microsoft to the time he returned in the morning was a mere seven hours,” she told Wallace.

I don't see that being a "womanizer" is in any way incompatible with being a workaholic.


Again. He claimed not a single day off, which is insanely unhealthy and almost certainly untrue if he had time for naked pool parties.

I’m not claiming he was lazy, just asking “why take his provable lie at face value?”


I don’t see misalignment at all. I see complete irrelevance between that quote and the facts. Why can he not be a womanizing workaholic? They are not mutually exclusive and possibly actually correlated.

Sex lives need to be private or at least not included as judgement of individual as they are not relevant at all to people’s accomplishments in politics, business, academics, or any other facet of an individual’s life.


Because “not taking a day off” and “naked pool parties” are incongruent.

Like I said in the parent. No doubt a hard worker, but let’s not mythologize for no reason


Incongruent? I've frequently worked full day and then hosted a pool party in the evening. More often, I've also hosted pool parties in the day time and went on to work 12+ hours afterwards.

I'm left assuming either you've never owned a pool and incorrectly assert that it's a full day activity to host a party or since you seem to want to be a myth buster I could assume it's the "naked" part you see as an issue. This completely ignores the fact that in the '80s, it was not uncommon to do business at strip clubs and a naked pool party is really not much different. So maybe the party was his work that day? He sold software, right?


What an extremely revealing comment on your part. For your sake, I'm sorry the world has moved past your heyday of 'business in strip clubs'. I'm also sorry that your life is such that you can't even enjoy a full day off. I have two separate threads of response:

1) You think Bill Gates just had friends who he could casually invite over for a naked party? You don't think that he had to invest a significant amount of time into coordinating those parties (read: finding and paying for his guests, since it is also widely reported that most guests were strippers likely under NDA)? I really want to know what world you live in where you can be a semi-famous (at the time) sexual libertine who operates in secret without devoting a lot of time to it. Maybe you pull it off, given the confident tone of your comment, but I'm guessing not.

2) I'm in shock that you can read PG's essay on hard work (Assuming you did), then make a comment that 'maybe the naked pool parties with strippers WAS his work for the day.' Even if that was true, my point about mythologizing 'Bill Gates' hard work' still stands.

EDIT: Tell me you've never been to a strip club without telling me you've never been to a strip club. Maybe they were brighter and quieter in the 1980's, but I somehow doubt it.


> What an extremely revealing comment on your part. For your sake, I'm sorry the world has moved past your heyday of 'business in strip clubs'. I'm also sorry that your life is such that you can't even enjoy a full day off

Revealing on yours as well. You make broad assumptions and put words in peoples mouths. I take plenty of time off. I never glorified the "heyday" (your word not mine), but I am aware of it as fact. I didn't enter the workforce until the 2000s and it was pretty much over so I never even experienced it second hand.

> 1) You think Bill Gates just had friends who he could casually invite over for a naked party? You don't think that he had to invest a significant amount of time into coordinating those parties (read: finding and paying for his guests, since it is also widely reported that most guests were strippers likely under NDA)? I really want to know what world you live in where you can be a semi-famous (at the time) sexual libertine who operates in secret without devoting a lot of time to it. Maybe you pull it off, given the confident tone of your comment, but I'm guessing not.

Bill would pay a party planner. He didn't operate in secret, it was just not as big of a deal back then. There was this thing called the sexual revolution that had just ended but the norms hadn't fully shifted. It wasn't seen as news worthy as it is today. The title of the linked article called him a "womanizer" and I don't think that was even much of a thing at the time it happened. You need to but social norms and actions in context to the time and circumstanced it occurred.

> 2) I'm in shock that you can read PG's essay on hard work (Assuming you did), then make a comment that 'maybe the naked pool parties with strippers WAS his work for the day.' Even if that was true, my point about mythologizing 'Bill Gates' hard work' still stands.

I'm just not ready to myth bust based on a moral difference even if I disagree with it. Where as you seem to prefer to completely ignore his hard work and accomplishments because you think he was a bad person. He still worked hard and accomplished many things by all accounts. Typically if someone says "i didn't take a day off my entire 20s" they aren't being literal or it doesn't mean they didn't take a single moment off (they were on call, or took meetings from family vacation, etc - still working). Others in this thread attribute it to his status at birth ("privilege") and I could see that as a stronger argument to make. But still doesn't prove he didn't work hard; just diminishes the value of his hard work to his ability to succeed. To use an analogy, Keven Spacey was cancelled. But his body of work is still excellent. I refuse to ignore his body of work where as you may feel that it should be stricken from cinematic history.

> EDIT: Tell me you've never been to a strip club without telling me you've never been to a strip club. Maybe they were brighter and quieter in the 1980's, but I somehow doubt it.

What does this have to do with anything? If I've been to a strip club or not has nothing to do with this topic. Strip clubs are legal and people make their living there. You're obviously on some moral high horse where only your view of the world is important.


Lol -

1) Ok, let's say it's not your heyday, but then what are you basing your claim of 'business done at the strip club' off of? Stories you've heard? You said you didn't even experience it second-hand, so how do you have this information?

2) Did you read the article at all? a) Operating in secret: "but newspapers like the New York Times hid the unflattering reports to continue getting 'spoon-fed stories" - sounds like he dedicated a fair amount of work-time to otherwise needless PR then. b) Hiring a party planner: "Gates would visit one of Seattle’s all-nude nightclubs and hire dancers to come to his home and swim naked with his friends in his indoor pool" - sounds like he spent a lot of time in strip clubs & would pick his favorites. How likely do you think it is that all-nude strippers willing to go to a John's house are also on-board with cutting said party short so their John can get back to work? As you state, it was the 80's so I'm sure everyone was sober enough to make that decision every time.

3) The literal quote is "I never took a day off in my twenties, not one." He doubles down IN THE QUOTE. I agree he's a hard worker, but it's not good to tell a generation of up and coming entrepreneurs that they should strive to 'always be on call' when Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Eric Schmidt, etc. etc. all have VIBRANT personal lives that REQUIRE TIME OFF. That's the only point I'm trying to make. Time off is important and even an actual psychotic hard-worker like Len Bosack admits it.

4) Kevin Spacey is an actual pedophile (Anthony Rapp was 14), so EXTREMELY weird example. I don't think people shouldn't watch American Beauty (it's the second-best film set in Sacramento!), but to glorify him the way you do IS kind of sus.

5) I was just making a joke about the 'business in strip clubs' thing. I think sex work is great when done right (Evidenced by the fact that I know what a strip club is like on the inside). It's one of the most innately human things we do. I just think you're out way over your skis.


Feels like I’m an adult arguing with a pre-teen here. The way business was done, first wasn’t the only way business was done, but it wasn’t uncommon either. It still occurs to some degree. Why do you think strip clubs are open for lunch? Second, it’s common knowledge documented throughout pop culture and I’ve spoken boomers and older that remember it well. You might be shocked to know that women weren’t a part of the workforce until this time as well. What do you think happens when it’s all men doing business with all men? The machismo exudes.

Literal quote yes, but it shouldn’t be your literal interpretation because not every statement is literal. If I said my commute today took “forever” how do you interpret that? Am I still commuting? Is that my eternal punishment?

So we’ve established your ok with sex work. Which in gates example was done correctly. He went to professionals and paid them. If you agree with the work, you have to agree with the acts of the clients. So, I guess you just think it’s a horrible thing that he knew it would cause embarrassment and wanted to keep it out of the media. That’s what most people do. Have you ever heard someone tell there mom, I’m going to the prostitute but I’ll call you when I’m done? No that’s embarrassing. People hide their embarrassments but that’s not wrong in of itself.

Kevin spacey was meant to be an extreme example. Yet you agree his work was good. My “ his body of work is still excellent” comment was not glorifying him, you’re really bad at this. Let me say another way, if my dry cleaner turns out to be a serial killer, well he is still the best dry cleaner I’ve ever had.


Take a look at the faces on the Forbes list and get back to me. Just how white, male and western are they exactly?

It's not that Gates wasn't smart or hardworking. It's just that it's easy to be hardworking and ambitious when you had books growing up, proper nutrition, when your parents stayed together, when you're in good health, when you got tutors and went to great schools, when you were engaged in extracurriculars, when you lived in an affluent society, when your parents were well connected, and on and on and on.

Are his contributions to humanity worth 60B+? Scientific discovery springs up in a bunch of places simultaneously and organically. I have to assume his contribution to society would've too, maybe with a smaller amount of value extracted to his personal fortune?

He's a philanthropist now, so that's good. I would be too the way social and political tides are turning. Funny how philanthropic the wealthy become. Even Epstein.


Having good health, proper nutrition, and extracurriculars in an affluent society, i.e. having two parents who don’t suck, is a regular American baseline that public school kids experience. Gates’s particular advantages were being smart and having access to computers in high school in his day, which countered the bad luck of not being born a few years earlier such that he’d encounter computing in college with the same lead time before the 8086. Of course he found some great luck in business, too, well after the company was established and had employees on the payroll.


> Gates’s particular advantages were being smart and having access to computers in high school

You're forgetting something important[1] about Bill Gates' mom:

> Her tenure on the national board's executive committee is believed to have helped Microsoft, based in Seattle, at a crucial time. In 1980, she discussed her son's company with John Opel, a fellow committee member, and the chairman of International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Opel, by some accounts, mentioned Mrs. Gates to other IBM executives. A few weeks later, IBM took a chance by hiring Microsoft, then a small software firm, to develop an operating system for its first personal computer.

More about this here[2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Maxwell_Gates#Career

[2] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/05/how-bill-gates-mother-influe...


> having two parents who don’t suck, is a regular American baseline that public school kids experience

Is it? Not from my experience, but I wish every community could boast such "baselines".


Good health and proper nutrition is the not the baseline, as over 40% of children in the US are overweight, obese, or severely obese [1].

Two parents, let alone parents who "don't suck", is also not the baseline, as 25% of children grow up in single parent households [2].

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/obesity-child-17-18/obe... [2] https://thehill.com/opinion/finance/543941-americas-single-p...


> Gates’s particular advantages were being smart and having access to computers in high school in his day

That's a rather inaccurate description of his advantages.


If that’s inaccurate, tell us what gives us more bits of information distinguishing him from the general population born in the same year he is. The smart part puts him in the 0.1%, 10 bits right there, and early access to computers adds another rare multiplier to that.


What did his parents do?


The difference being that gates was never in any real danger. His credits didn't disappear. He lived in a paid for apartment. He did not have to worry about money, and if he chose, he could've gone back to college at any time. It only puts you at a 'disadvantage' in business circles, because there's a slight chance that people with more experience will not take you as seriously


> Take a look at the top 10 highest valued YC startups. All their founders came from schools with less than 10% acceptance rates.

This is not true. AirBnB is the top valued company that went through YC [1]. AirBnB was founded by Brian Chesky among others. Brian Chesky went to the Rhode Island School of Design [2]. The RISD had an acceptance rate of 20% in 2020.

[1] https://www.ycombinator.com/topcompanies/ [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Chesky [3] https://www.risd.edu/about


Your point is not very well taken, because RISD is an extremely prestigious design school.


I'm not going down the list because I don't have time at the moment, but #2 is DoorDash, and the two founders with Wikipedia pages went to Berkeley and Stanford. Both schools with lower acceptance rates.


I am not going to engage with most of this topic, nor am I disputing that Bill Gates had advantages most of the world didn't : mom on numerous boards, dad a successful lawyer, got into Harvard, etc. However, I will dispute that Warren Buffet knew Gates as a child. In a YouTube video Gates describes his first meeting, as an already wildly successful tech entrepreneur. https://youtu.be/VBIiy5CnTiY


Then we would be living in an alternate dystopian reality.

Has privilege just come to be a catch-all to explain any difference in outcomes? I mean you mention Buffet first, kinda ruins the point you are making here.

As a software engineer, I fail to see what is so impossible about any of the people's origin stories. With a little programming knowledge, a somewhat novel idea, and a laptop anyone could become the next Zuck. They aren't royalty, no special blood requirement anymore.


Your story doesn't actually demonstrate that you have to know Warren Buffet as a child and attend an expensive school to become successful.

I don't think anybody here claims that working hard automatically makes you successful, either, just that it is difficult to become successful without it.

Also your movers could probably afford to work less if they dropped their drug habits.


> What if most of serious wealth and success is decided at birth?

You don’t get to decide how much wealth you end up with.

You do however decide how much you do not end up with.


> Having an income 300:1 your lowest paid employee is disturbing

I can imagine how and why communist revolutions were so "successful". This ratio simply shows theft from the workers. Probably, if we don't get a regulation in that area, so that let's say the maximum ratio could be no more than 10:1 and heavily tax capital gains, dividends and other means that privilege class use to extract value without having to work for it, this history will repeat itself. In some western countries, extreme left parties gain huge support, because people are simply fed up of reading that e.g. Amazon got another record year while they themselves have to sleep in a tent because they cannot afford paying rent.


The Russian communist revolution succeeded because Tsarist Russia was brutal and despotic, and the brutal and despotic Bolsheviks were merely the lesser of two evils and better fighters. The Chinese communist revolution succeeded because the Chinese Communist Party waged a guerilla war while the Nationalist army fought the Japanese invasion by themselves. Once the invasion was defeated the Chinese Communist Party fought a brutal conventional war marked by long sieges where 100,000s of city dwellers starved to death.

I think political and military factors are underrated as explanations for the success of communist revolutions compared to social and economic factors.


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