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.
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.
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.
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.
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)).
Eating more healthily stabilises energy levels which makes physical activity less challenging to 'start'.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most of all, don’t let worry about that damage your long term mental health.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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'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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the depths of my heart, thank you.
Dangerous advice from a dangerous man:
Hunter S. Thompson
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.
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.
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.
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.
wish you strength and recovery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
I can't watch trashy movies either, but my tolerance for them is more flexible at the beach.
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.
Avoid the newer ones like Discovery and Picard... utter trash and not Star Trek at all, thanks to Alan Kurtzman.
90% of everything else was IMO top notch.
Lots of great shows out there to just enjoy.
Have you had any luck adjusting your thinking or finding other joys in life?
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.
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.
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 had good experiences volunteering?
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 :)
So far it's been good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
BJJ hits all three for 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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
Probably a very stress-inducing sentence to a lot of CMU CS grads
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, someone who went to CMU may be too traumatized to hear that, but PG did say that...
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!
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.
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...
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":
As long as you're doing & not just consuming, you will probably find value.
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.
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!
Was a really lovely feeling :)
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.
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.
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 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
 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.
There are always things to clean up from the chaos, and so much more meaningful than if I were doing it fit myself.
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!
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)
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.
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 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.
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!
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 :(
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
Some fiction has artistic merit, other fiction does not.
Your views are about as up to date as “games are for kids”
None of this is anything more than lazy, outdated stereotyping, indicative of nothing so much as ignorance.
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.
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.
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.
"They can even connect you with a rich tapestry of human life."
Tapestry of human life? Seriously?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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'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.
FYI, other countries have effective college/university programmes too :)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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:
I encourage you to dig into economic data and not use your experience as a frame of reference for the economic reality of others.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
I'm guessing zip code predicts "overachiever-dom" depressingly well. I'm also guessing it's not everything, life is noisy.
I’m not sure what exactly you feel victim of.
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 , but wealth grows disproportionately for the wealthy  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. 
- As people lose faith in economic mobility and experience economic hardship, political instability follows. 
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.
It's a tricky balance it seems.
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 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.
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.
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.
> The major correlates with high economic mobility Chetty identifies are racial segregation, income inequality, school quality, family structure and social capital.
>"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.  Maybe PG should examine selection bias and self-reporting bias a bit more before making the claim he does here.
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.
I’m not claiming he was lazy, just asking “why take his provable lie at face value?”
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.
Like I said in the parent. No doubt a hard worker, but let’s not mythologize for no reason
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You're forgetting something important 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.
Is it? Not from my experience, but I wish every community could boast such "baselines".
Two parents, let alone parents who "don't suck", is also not the baseline, as 25% of children grow up in single parent households .
That's a rather inaccurate description of his advantages.
This is not true. AirBnB is the top valued company that went through YC . AirBnB was founded by Brian Chesky among others. Brian Chesky went to the Rhode Island School of Design . The RISD had an acceptance rate of 20% in 2020.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think political and military factors are underrated as explanations for the success of communist revolutions compared to social and economic factors.