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Ask HN: I feel so shallow and dumb when I see what other smart people are doing
530 points by cdahmedeh 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 336 comments
I was watching a video game documentary about the history of the RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise, a theme park management game that had both an easy learning curve but with incredibly sophisticated dynamics. What really impressed me however was the origins of the first two titles: written by one man in assembly language.

At that point, I realized how mediocre and untalented I was. Nothing I’m doing in my life are anything that people will remember me for. Throughout my life, I’ve seen many awe inspiring projects done by extremely talented people, way more intelligent than I am, come to fruition. Over the years, I realized how shallow and dumb I really am. I’m uninteresting.

Most of my career revolved around software development, something that I’ve done since I was 17 (now I'm 30) until a few years ago. I found myself writing entreprise software usually in the backend and that’s all I really knew except for some server administration and scripting sprinkled on top. Sat beside me were full-stack developers with expertise in DevOps as well. They knew how to do everything I could on top of so much else. As for me, I can barely write basic HTML pages.

I meet with incredibly smart people with master’s degrees and PhDs knowing so much about their field of expertise while I’m a University drop-out. People who know world history so well while being able to talk about the hard problem of consciousness at the same time. YouTubers and Twitch streamers who are so talented at playing games and entertaining us along the way.

There’s people who have paved the way for innovation and foresight that I don’t have at all. Those who make so much money due to their talents and bringing them to life in this world of ours. I’ve watched so many documentaries about all sorts of people from racing drivers, to game developers, comedians, data science experts, cybersecurity nuts, music producers, video editors, documentaries makers and so much more. These are all things that come to mind thinking that I’ll never be able to do any of that.

I’m mostly a self-taught person teaching myself skills as I go along with my life. I generally don’t pick up much except for a few facts that I can repeat to others. I can barely do derivatives anymore in math or draw like I used to. My talents are shallow and honestly quite useless.

Today, I don’t do much with my life other than binging on YouTube documentaries and reading Wikipedia articles not helping my case. My motivation for learning is shrinking slowly and would much rather stare out of the window while I’m not doing my obligatory 8 hours of daily work.

Now, I’m an unimportant technical writer composing documents for developers and users. There’s no path for career growth if I stay in this specialty. My work doesn’t feel like it takes much talent and I was hired a few times without having any credentials in business writing.

I’ve been told by previous managers that I’m always in “learning mode” and quite “creative” but I can’t convince myself that these traits are actually true. I feel untalented, empty and dumb.

My dreams do exist but they starting to seem more and more superficial. There’s a lot of subjects and activities that I’m really interested of getting into but I can’t just dive into it. I blame it on the lack of time and laziness but I have strong time management skills and can conjure up much empty slots in my schedule. I sometimes wonder if my mental condition or my medication has had an effect on this: I'm bipolar schizoaffective and borderline.






I have these kinds of feelings a lot. It is hard to feel useful in this day and age of a ubiquitous globally connected society because for anything you attempt to do you have instant access to the top 0.0001% of the Bell curve who you have no hope of ever beating.

I find comfort in that I am not alone, thinking of all the peasants and regular workers across history who didn't amount to much either, but still mostly fought on and had a good life. Plenty of examples in immediate family as well.

And lastly, I found that there is one thing that one can do that is absolutely unique that nobody can match anywhere in the world, and that is - as corny as this sounds - kids. It may be a touchy subject or not for everybody. But raising a human with the best possible effort you can muster is an accomplishment at least one person will remember and value 100000x more vs. any world champion in solving IOI problems or writing clever functional code :-)


it seems to me that the biggest problem OP faces is the relationship to themselves. Before you can effectively love others you need to be able to be good company to yourself. Because who will put up with you if you don't even think you're worthy of love.

I stopped counting the number of times they mentioned that they considered themselves stupid. There is so much negative and toxic self critic in this post that my feeling is that this is the biggest most fundamental issue that I would look at tackling.

Once you can sit in a room by yourself and be truly happy with your own company go and be open to relationships - but not before - otherwise you're back to square one but only worse because now you have an additional reason that you will use to justify your self hate. Love yourself first. Out of that love maybe you find somebody maybe not. It doesn't matter. Out of that maybe kids can happen - or not. If you ask your partner (or worse your kids) to fix you eventually it will all come back to you. You gotta do that work in the end by yourself. Anything else is cheating.


Your points are also true.

In my life, kids helped me relearn what it was like to be young.

It took me a number of years to realise I had bad depression / anhedonia.

My kids helped my focus on what was important.

I accepted myself for who I am and was able to feel happy again. My kids think I'm the great wizard with technology, even if I'm considered average.

Message to OP

We can't all be famous or the best at something. We don't all have eidetic memories. You will meet those savant like personalities and they will skew your view of the world, to think that you are not capable by comparing.

Stop comparing.

You can do great things. The greatest achievement is to live a long life and to challenge yourself. Be the best you can be. Accept your limits. Use your ability to help others and take joy in that.

If you can't be Einstein or Tesla, take pride in being part of their journey.

No one will remember us. This is the norm.


Ive had the same feeling now i make video games for my kids instead, who needs the toxic masses accept when you are the world to these 2 miracles..

Interesting example though, given that Einstein had very little outward success until the middle of his life as well.

There's another angle here too. Kids often force us to re-evaluate our own habits and improve. Here's what I mean. Imagine you are teaching your kid (OP: the kid can be imaginary, just imagine that you love them very much) about nutrition and all they want to do is eat junk food. You talk about how important it is for their health, and suddenly realize that maybe your own diet isn't the greatest. And if you wouldn't advise your own diet to your kid, why are you eating this stuff? Same with the overly harsh inner critic. Imagine your kid with this kind of self-talk. You'd want to hug them first and foremost, and second - teach them healthier ways of processing these emotions. Yes, having ambition and pride in one's work are important, but so it having confidence. Undermining confidence is counterproductive to achievement. Ideally you'd want to see your kid try hard, notice when they fail, take responsibility, and try harder next time rather than hitting the easy mode "mope button".

My kids taught me both these lessons.


"Because who will put up with you if you don't even think you're worthy of love."

The answer is people who don't know the real you. Would anyone love you if they saw a clip show of all the lies, betrayal, hypocrisy, times you yelled at your family, embarrassing fails, wasted potential, etc. But for many of us that clip show plays daily in our heads as a reminder to stop being so shitty and it comes at the price of our self-esteem.


>I stopped counting the number of times they mentioned that they considered themselves stupid. There is so much negative and toxic self critic in this post that my feeling is that this is the biggest most fundamental issue that I would look at tackling.

This. OP sounds like a great candidate for counseling/therapy from a psychologist who is a licensed counselor. It sometimes takes a few tries to find the right one, but it is worth the effort.


Family, kids — I agree. I stopped giving a shit about "changing the world" when my kids came into my life. They became my world. And you will change their world.

I suspect they'll remember me forever.


My father was a major foundation for what I do. Someone has to build these foundations. Many people don't take good enough care of their kids and many responsible people don't want kids. So it is literally world changing to be a good parent.

This! I was constantly looking to grab the next rung up on the career ladder. Having kids made me rethink my priorities on helping them mature into happy, productive members of society. Sure, we made a pile of mistakes along the way in our child rearing efforts. I'm hoping the same, that they will remember me and my wife forever. I think they will.

"I suspect they'll remember me forever"

Laughed out loud at that. Funny because it's so true.

For me personally it didn't stop me from wanting to achieve something in my life. Which I realize only partly overlaps with wanting to change the world. It was impactful nevertheless and I'm sure my kids will remember me :-)


Goes in the other direction also, assuming your own parents are also decent people. You can provide immense satisfaction to them by sharing your time with them.

> I stopped giving a shit about "changing the world" when my kids came into my life.

Does that mean we oldies should be okay with tech employers showing a preference for young workforce?


nah. employers like young people because their desire to "change the world" can be exploited

This is a delightful sentiment, and I'd go further and say that things as simple as being kind to the people around you, cleaning up after yourself, etc. are similarly important and impactful. They sound trivial compared to acts of "genius" but a ton of people are jerks, every day. It's not trivial at all to make the people around you feel better, it's not easy to do it every day, and if everyone actually did it, the world would be a vastly different place.

I find kids overwhelming, in fact, if I had kids (I don't yet) I would be constantly worried about making sure they get the best of life. I have a dog and he is already a lot of work, I even feel bad on days when it rains and I can't take him out as long as I would like to. I feel bad when I go out for dinner with friends and have to leave him alone. The feeling of raising a dependent is not fun (for me at least). It definitely gives me a sense of purpose every day but the thought of going away from him makes me very anxious.

I almost feel it is a happier life to have lived like a nobody. I can relate to the OP because I feel exactly like him many times. But then I remind myself that we are all stardust and there is inherently no purpose to life. Somehow that makes me feel very calm.


Your post reminded me of when my first daughter was born. I remember me and my ex-wife would wonder, “how do people do this with two children!?”.

Not too long after, we had our second daughter. We very quickly realized that the answer to the question was “you just do”.

At least for me, I also realized our second daughter got less attention/coddling, but turned out just as great/spirited/happy.

Sometimes, I recognize that I hold myself to an unrealistically high standard/expectation. While setting the bar high can help one accomplish great things, but can also leave them feeling like they never measure up to their unreasonably high standards.

Kids are a lot of work for sure and require a lot of sacrifice. However, I hope you don’t avoid having kids because you don’t think you can be a good enough parent. The fact you are worried about it is already a sign, in my book, you’d make a pretty great and thoughtful parent.


Don't worry. The more kids you have the more your grip on them spirals out of control as they interact with others and develop their own agency and personality. So you do the best you can for them every day, and the butterfly effect will do the rest.

Just stop feeling bad about these things. You are probably doing 99% right (just by trying) and it’s the completely insignificant, outright noise 1% which brings you down.

One thing I realize as I get older is those 10x people are 10x in usually one aspect of their lives. They've dedicated a huge amount of time to one thing. There's lots of people like that who sacrifice other things that you value and vice versa. You can specialize in one very nice thing and get really good at it or spread out your time to more than one thing.

Children are the ultimate creative project. Beyond that, proper child-raising is promoting the well-being of the future of the human race. This is the 99%'s highest fulfillment and should not be looked down upon as being incomplete. Indeed, it is a wonderful testimony to the abundance of giving life to promote more life-giving.

>And lastly, I found that there is one thing that one can do that is absolutely unique that nobody can match anywhere in the world, and that is - as corny as this sounds - kids. It may be a touchy subject or not for everybody. But raising a human with the best possible effort you can muster is an accomplishment at least one person will remember and value 100000x more vs. any world champion in solving IOI problems or writing clever functional code :-)

I know you are trying to be helpful but this is probably not a good answer. I don;t think we know enough about his background to be recommending such a major life choice. Although each kid is unique, there is nothing unique about having them.


> And lastly, I found that there is one thing that one can do that is absolutely unique that nobody can match anywhere in the world, and that is - as corny as this sounds - kids.

Eat, shit, sleep, reproduce, die. Living being 101.

But the main thing about having kids is that you will not have time to think about how your life sucks anymore. Probably better than taking drugs to achieve the same result.


Bullshit. Now in addition to sucking at my job, I suck as a parent. And also suck at my job more. Double burnout whammy.

> you will not have time to think about how your life sucks anymore

s/to think about how your life sucks/to ingest content that convinces you that your life sucks/gi


Wow so edgy and deep

What if getting a trophy at IOI is easier than making a kid?

As for me it was...I got silver medal there, but I would have given it away easily for being able to date one of the many hot hostesses on the competition. My life would have been so much easier if I just spend my life in the gym instead of solving math and programming problems.


You do IOI in high school, so one would expect you to hit the gym regularly at that point.

Also going to the gym is pretty easy, so if you know “the path to happiness” why not just take it?


,,Also going to the gym is pretty easy, so if you know “the path to happiness” why not just take it?''

I'm doing it but I'm 40 and the gains are not the same...my girlfriend left me for a younger and much stronger guy (and no, just younger wasn't enough in itself). Also in the 90s whenever I asked a girl if she likes muscular guys, they usually answered ,,not that much''. They are much more open nowdays about what they want from a man than 20 years ago.


I got in fantastic shape and was less successful with women than before. Getting strong and fit is great, and I highly recommend it, but it really, really does not fix how we feel about ourselves.

That's strange, for me it definitely helps

You are smart, seems to be well off financially and still relatively young, so the future should not look that bad, probably you can get a younger girl too.

Sure, I have a much better and easier life than at that time when I was depressed, I just wanted to point out that just because a person goes to IOI, it doesn't mean that he's happy. Also finding a person to have a family with hasn't become easier, so I guess I'll just keep up with serial monogamy.

there's a great bit from Louis CK on this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1-7AKx_4Ug

"You get to read to kill a mockingbird." when he says it is hilarious and I often remember that when moments seem shitty.


This is a great bit of his. In his 2017 special he provides a darker, but similarly themed line of thinking. He has a whole bit about a man whose life is, from the outside, seemingly so dull and horrible. And the entire premise "what is delaying his suicide?!" I know dark humor is not everyone's cup of tea, but the bit did remind me that the perseverance and self preservation of man is a beautiful thing.

Louis CK is a genius. One of a kind.

There is some solace to be found in the fact that our world does not perfectly adhere to the ideals of a real meritocracy. While living in such a world may contribute to unfairness, it also enables you to be in a better position in life than someone who is more naturally gifted.

In fact, one might suspect that you're more likely to find moderately gifted individuals at the top levels of success than very talented ones.

From the micro point of view, a talented individual has a greater a priori probability of reaching a high level of success than a moderately gifted one. However, from the macro point of view of the entire society, the probability of finding moderately gifted individuals at the top levels of success is greater than that of finding there very talented ones, because moderately gifted people are much more numerous and, with the help of luck, have globally a statistical advantage to reach a great success, in spite of their lower individual a priori probability.


Regarding kids and at the risk of sounding overly negative:

Given that 100% - `0.0001%` of people are basically average and judging by my Internet most of the people have a very pessimistic outlook on life and the future, is it really fair to have children?

If they don't, by slim chance, become that one in a million that just breezes through life ... they will become as pessimistic as we are ... and at some point they will find that their only contribution is having kids on their own.

(Disclaimer: I am not anti-kids, I/we always planned on having some, but as we are barely making ends meet it has never really been a good time and now we are in our mid-30s and time is running out)


I think the commentary largely speaks for itself, but there is an aphorism that I think would be helpful:

If you measure yourself by someone else's yardstick, you'll always fall short.


That is a good point, but also why settle for coming up short if you can improve yourself.

I feel the opposite, I've been frequently told I'm smart, hard-working and that I've achieved things but all that usually in relation to that I'm disabled but I personally would trade anything to have a normal 'regular worker' life if I could.

I couldn't, not just because of the disability, But I'm easily bored and I need 12 parallel side projects to escape reality and I envy those who seem live carefree, doing what they're told and most importantly - living in the present.

So OP, there's no point in comparing with others be it smart or dumb from one's perspective. There are people who envy your lifestyle. Social media oversells the value of 'being known', I'm certain many in the top-tier of being known would rather wish they were unknown.

On average our society would prostrate to corrupt politicians, immoral celebrities or new age celeb-billionaires but would treat a homeless musician who makes little money without cheating or hurting anyone with disgust. Many put up a facade to keep up with this society, but for the sake of our mental well-being it's good to remove the facade every now and then.


I have the same problems... That's because I have many mentally problems and my brain found an easy way to have "work addiction" - my psychotherapist says.

There is the only way: go to a doctor. Books don't help much.


I don't know about others but this comment is pretty eye opening to me. My mind just went complete 180 degrees right now. Thanks. There is so much food for thought.

Have a good one!


> And lastly, I found that there is one thing that one can do that is absolutely unique that nobody can match anywhere in the world, and that is - as corny as this sounds - kids.

Great recommendation to a man who is bipolar and have a schizoactive disorder.


I once heard someone suggest that “settling” for where life might be now as generally good, because it brings you peace and absolves you from guilt of not being good enough.

My recommendation: feel your feelings, all the way through.

There might be some tendency, when you feel small, to feel bad about feeling small — as though it is further evidence of your worthlessness — and that itself makes you feel worse, and down the spiral you go... Been there (:

But if you make space for (or even _welcome_) those feelings, even if you don't like them, then in my experience you end up at a better place.

I only mention this because you seem to be beating yourself up about this ("I feel shallow/dumb"). You can feel bad and still be a good person; it's an easy mixup to make.

(I am reminded of this funny image: https://i.redd.it/9ubhqov2u9k01.jpg [1])

Also, not that this makes your feelings go away, but looking at people who are rich/smart/influential/famous is looking at outliers, and people who likely had a lot of luck in their background, upbringing, genes, education, being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time, etc. etc. to achieve their success, on top of their hard work. For every succesful indie video game, there are 1000 people who worked just as hard on theirs but didn't get a big break. The same is true in all sorts of areas of life, big to small. And just in general, FWIW, I don't recommend judging your self-worth by comparing to others, whether they're outliers or not (:

But sorry you're feeling down; *internet hug*.

[1] (in case the direct link dies) https://old.reddit.com/r/wholesomememes/comments/82lny8/i_wa...


I have a hard time understanding what you mean by welcoming them, or feeling them through. But if I interpret that as “accepting it”, as in understanding that it’s totally fine and that pressure is always created from comparing yourself, then I agree. Feynmann himself is famous for saying “disregards”.

That's how interpreted it. As the monks during meditation would say, don't try to fight your thoughts and have an "empty mind" which is impossible, but instead examine and observe your thoughts freely.

> what you mean by welcoming them, or feeling them through. But if I interpret that as “accepting it” ...

I think acceptance is the right idea, yes.

There can be some urge to deny one's own emotions, perhaps push them aside as some sort of inconvenience or character flaw. Some might inwardly shout at themselves "stop whining! you're selfish to wallow like this!" (or any number of variations, both quiet and loud). That tends to just create more misery down the line, IMO. So, "welcoming" was meant as the opposite of that.

And processing emotions takes time, so by "feeling them through" I just meant allowing that process to run its course, rather than trying to inhibit or deny it. I don't think there's any stopping it, you just have to ride the wave.

YMMV of course, I'm no psychologist (:


This is a common thread in many traditions of wisdom. The words change (surrender, accept, be with, open to, observe, witness, feel, welcome, embrace etc.) but the idea is the same: you have to feel difficult emotions fully in order to process them.

Dr. K's Healthy Gamer Twitch stream offered another descriptor I like - digest. Emotions can be digested if you allow yourself to feel them without getting swept away or identified with them.

That which you resist, persists. I could go on, but your comment reminded me that sages and therapists have pointed to the same thing.


not OP but for me it means not sedating myself with drugs or distraction. But to stop what I am doing and let that feeling rush over me so I can study it and learn from what that feeling is teaching me. Why do I feel that way? is it rational? Oh it is just a feeling. It will not last. Creating this habit allows me to be clearer about what triggers my emotions, how to deal with them and fix the underlying cause. Once fixed new emotions or fears always come sooner or later again (and they always will), but I know I can deal with it.

I know the feeling but I will leave you with this:

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

― Ernest Hemingway"


Thanks. The horrible thing is I came here to say that sometimes I find a project that I did a year or two ago and end up feeling shallow and dumb.

You will be surprised how much you know. Comparing with others is almost always a losing game. Trust me because I do this a lot myself. There is always someone whom you want to be like. But remember there are a lot of people who want to be like YOU. So just focus on yourself and keep becoming a better version of you and most importantly, keep an eye on your Goals whatever they may be. Remember that there is a cost to everything. You may look at someone and say "Wow they are so smart or successful or whatever". But do you know what they don't have or what they truly desire ? You will never know. May be what they truly desire, you have it.

Embrace that feeling but reframe it. It means you've learned something and grown since you did that project a year ago.

If you looked back on work you did five years ago and didn't see room for improvement ... you've had no growth in your skills and experience.


This. Life is a constant process of reframing.

Try being a photographer. Work I delivered just a couple of years ago - or sometimes even months - makes me cringe. Those are someone’s once-in-a-lifetime event that you now think looks terrible and that you proudly posted to your social media accounts.

That’s gotten better for me in recent years, but I suppose that means I’ve somewhat plateaued. Either way you can’t win.


This is a quote I remind myself of a lot, because it's important, but for the life of me I can't find a source for Hemingway ever saying this. I think it was attributed to him before even before Kingsmen: The Secret Service but I'm not sure?

There are a lot of people who look at that past self as being something they fell away from. In some cases by choices they made and regret and in others where they suffered some accident. I'm not sure how the Hemingway quote is supposed to make them feel.

That the future can still inspire, once they account for sunk costs being irrelevant even if emotionally difficult.

This is one of those things that is both very true, and very much easier to say than do.

Agreed!

If you're so emotionally mature as to avoid the sunk cost fallacy, do you need the emotional boost of inspiration?

It's like saying "once you're happy, you're no longer depressed".


You do. Maintaining maturity can be difficult.

This resonates a lot with me. There will always be people smarter, richer and prosperous than you. Appreciate the fact that you are always going to be in a line where you'll have people better and worst than you. Being able to motivate and make small consistent improvements is the key to being a better yourself.

The first part of the quote reminds me a bit of the ted talk on leadership and starting a movement. More to the point: leaders are over glorified. Follow what you like. That's more important. I hope that the OP can see that. Find something that you like to do and follow it. It could be knitting, could woodworking, could be gardening . . .

It has done its rounds, but still enjoy watching this: https://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_moveme...


Maybe nothing noble about it, but it sure feels good to be the best at something or close to the best and respected and successful

I think that's the point Jordan Peterson has been making for a while, referencing increased serotonin released in lobsters who win fights against other lobsters, and a lowering in the ones who lose.

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” ― Jordan B. Peterson

Best reply here.

Comparing yourself to others is a fool's errand. Never goes well.


But the quote isn't relevant to the way OP is comparing themself to others.

If that quote is about trying to win the race, then OP is lamenting being miles behind the leaders. The feeling of not pulling your own weight is a different sadness from "oh no I can't be the best".


With the exception of a few details, I swear I could've authored this post. I feel the exact same.

I'm starting to slowly realize that it's a vicious cycle for me. When my family wants to go do things, I want to stay at home and "work on my projects". So I spend a lot of my free time in front of the computer, trying to think of a cool thing I could build. That turns into youtube binging or twitter stalking, realizing there are so many talented people out there, solving all kinds of interesting problems and building cool things. I see them talking about the mountains of ideas they have, but not time to get to them all. Meanwhile, I have zero ideas - none.

The reason, I think, is because I live a small life. I'm so inside my box and my comfort zone, that I don't have new experiences, or discover new things. I don't run into new problems to solve, or socialize with people to discover problems they're trying to solve. So the ideas never come, but the way I consume life doesn't allow for it.

But rather than break the cycle, and spend more time away from the computer and living my life - I just rinse & repeat. I'm not getting any younger, and so many are out there building things, in the open, at lightning speed. How can I get where they are if I don't park myself behind my keyboard? How can I make a name for myself?

"Great, 4 hours before bed. What can I build tonight?"

"Ugh, how is 2 am already? Time for bed I guess. I'll try to think of some more ideas tomorrow."


> When my family wants to go do things, I want to stay at home and "work on my projects".

Try to get into the habit of saying yes to all their activities for a while. You gotta treat time away from the computer as room you make in your head for new impulses.

You will never find it on the internet. The internet rewires your brain into inaction. Especially since your body is inactive as well in front of the computer.

Imagine all people doing cool projects to have a write-only interface for the internet. They do things in the real world and then type stuff into their computer for others to consume. They never find inspiration through browsing the internet.

Maybe you won’t come up with cool projects or ideas, but if you move your body and do things, the desire for them fades in a positive kind of way, because you nurtured your prehistoric brain.


I do agree, it's hard to break the cycle. I've been a little better in the last couple of months, but I can work harder to allow myself to step away. I know I can't will myself into an epiphany, so why try?

Definitely feel this, wow, even worse for me is when I work on something for someone else the whole time I am thinking: "I should be spending the little time I have working on my own stuff" then when I have free time to do that, exactly what you have written above happens lol.

I think this touches on the real answer. Ideas and inspiration are things you discover by getting out of your comfort zone and exploring. They aren't things you create.

I'll be brutally honest because I used to be in your situation.

Each and every person you admire has poured thousands of hours into some project. For some that's a degree. For some it's a game they wrote, for others it's company that they've started...

Have you done that? Spent thousands of hours on a single thing? Focused on a project long enough to actually see results? I'm guessing not, because if you would have then this would have been a Show HN post.

Ask yourself why you are content with doing anything besides the one thing that you should do: Commit to some project and don't give up until it is done?


What's interesting is that most of these people didn't start with OP's mindset. They didn't say "I want to pour thousands of hours into this one thing until I see results so I can compare myself against other people and feel satisfied." Starting from that mindset is already putting you behind. Doing something because you love doing it and not because you have any expectations will get you there faster, but only if you can do it. It's all survivor bias.

I agree with that, but I had to learn this lesson the hard way: By trying to do things I hate.

If you have that belief, sometimes the way to get out of it is to play it out to conclusion.


This is it! I guess often people don't realize how much work it is gonna be when they start. If they did they would have never started working on it. But they may actually like the work or want to improve and learn something new while working on it, maybe the work even gives them a meaning of live. They have an imagination of the final thing and can't wait to see it done. So they work and work and work until they finish it. Days are too short for them, sometimes they are so hooked up they are forgetting to drink enough or eat. That applies to musicians too. First they need a talent (prerequisite) and then they have to play the instrument all days long, repeat the same song over and over again and improve. I think it is not "normal" and most people don't have patience for that. Some people have bad environment and are being distracted too much (by family, noise, social media).

It would most often be a Show HN post which then went nowhere. Just because you dedicated a massive amount of time on something doesn’t mean it will be a success. OP perspective still holds even if he’s done the thousands of hours thing multiple times without it panning out.

You can't guarantee results, but you can guarantee a good attempt to get results because the latter is under your control.

True. I had one project pan out financially and the other was a complete dud. The wonderful feeling you get when you’re “done” though? That was the same for both.

This gets at the crux of my angst along the OP's line: When I look at people who have dedicated themselves to that thing that they pored so many hours into, what I always wonder is, "How did they make the decision to put so much of their time into that thing." Like, I agree with OP that the Roller Coaster Tycoon one man project is really impressive. But there's no world in which I could possibly care enough about building a roller coaster video game to put that time in. And besides a precious few things that are ludicrously hard to break into - contributing to cancer research, working on nuclear fusion, space travel, etc. - it's hard for me to imagine pouring my soul into things that require so much commitment.

And that’s ok! I am happier with my current life of balance than I ever would be with that level of singular focus. The hard part is not comparing yourself to people who have made those choices differently than you. I often find myself saying things to myself like “Sure, if I put that time in, maybe I could be like that. But I choose not to, because that is not important to me.”

Well how can you find something you like without giving it a serious try first?

I've been playing guitar for 16 years. I'm not pro-level, but I'm as good as I want to be and I love it. Did I love it from the get go? Hell no. I actually hated guitar for the entire first year of practice, but I stuck with it and as I got better I eventually developed a deep love for it.

Trying new things, REALLY trying for long enough to actually get somewhere, is a risk. Question is, are you willing to take such a risk? Or would you rather do the alternative which is sitting and waiting until something compelling falls in your lap?


That's the thing though, the number of things to try is unlimited, there is a large opportunity cost to really trying pretty much anything, and it's not at all clear a priori which things will be worth it.

There is an even greater opportunity cost while you're not trying anything. Even if you don't end up liking the thing you're trying, at least your life has more breadth and depth than it did before.

People tend to find use for those skills / things attempted.

That opportunity cost is much lower than we all might think.

If it is interesting, that right there is often reason to try it.

Also, things connect in surprising ways.

The real opportunity cost lies in not doing.


You know the saying..

People say that they "don't want to invest a decade in something", but fail to grasp that they are invested a decade in something (perhaps watching youtube) -- regardless if they decide to focus it or not.


You're right, you can't try everything. But you could try n things in life, if you're willing to risk picking the "wrong" thing for a while.

Go after your interest

> Ask yourself why you are content with doing anything besides the one thing that you should do: Commit to some project and don't give up until it is done?

This!

It sounds like OP wants to be the best basketballer but only plays one game ever second weekend, but then compares themselves to that person who is practicing hoops straight after dinner for 3 hours in the rain.

Turn off your TV, stop watching Netflix, and close that YouTube tab...

Prioritise your goals, pick the top one, spend at least one hour per day towards that first goal until done, then move down that list if there's still time in the day. Repeat!


This attitude is nice, but unfortunately in most cases it does not apply.

Many people have different sensibilities and tastes. Those that become great alone are extremely talented, gifted and innately know what to filter and how to improve.

Most of us do need some guidance and there's not enough hours of piano playing for us regular folks to discover all of the learning tricks with which we become insanely good.

Programming is hard and just putting in the hours won't help that much, especially now when the whole internet is polluted with unnecessary stuff.


I understand where you're coming from, but a person in the situation that the OP is in has only two options: Do nothing, or do something.

Yes, achieving "greatness" is sadly not in the cards for most of us. But to try is a choice anyone can make. In the end, would you rather have tried and failed or not tried at all?


> Each and every person you admire has poured thousands of hours into some project.

Many millions of people you don't admire has poured thousands of hours into some project as well. Time is necessary but far from enough. The time is the easy part, understanding what you should do with that time is the hard part, that is where almost everyone fall.


> the one thing that you should do

You are not being brutally honest, you are just trying to crash this party with your own particular mindset.


Perhaps, but I believe it is a mindset worth pushing forward.

Reading through the various comments, I wonder what happened to good old-fashioned ambition. Other than my post, all I can see are "it's ok, I feel the same way, don't change" replies.

We used to admire our heroes and try to emulate them, and if fortunate enough, come as close to them as our talents and circumstances would allow. And we did that through hard work, through having lofty goals and working hard to achieve them. Yes, many failed to reach their goals, but ambition and hard work is what built this species, this civilization.

Why are we forsaking that in favor of a "you don't have to try so hard, it's ok to be mediocre" mindset?

Why did we stop trying?


    Why are we forsaking that in favor of a "you 
    don't have to try so hard, it's ok to be 
    mediocre" mindset?
One reason many feel is the fact that being "the best" often just means making some crappy corporation richer; when you start to feel that the whole system kind of sucks it gets harder to care about accomplishing things within it.

I grew up wanting to be a game developer, but what would that mean in a practical sense? Working 80 hours a week and at the end of the day I'm just making Microsoft or Activision or somebody richer? Even John Freaking Carmack eventually wound up working for Facebook.

Or going solo, and risking my ability to feed/house myself if things don't work out? Or working 100 hours a week because I'm already working 40-50 at a day job?

Ultimately as we get older those kinds of achievements tend to mean less to us than human connections.

If you hate this kind of thinking and/or feel it's wrong, I'm not here to change your mind. Just mentioning why some feel those kinds of ways.


> Working 80 hours a week and at the end of the day I'm just making Microsoft or Activision or somebody richer? Even John Freaking Carmack eventually wound up working for Facebook.

It appears you forgot the original motivation. You wanted to make games. That’s what you’d be doing besides “making a corporation richer”.

Similarly, Carmack is helping to shape the future of VR on the daily. I’m sure that’s why he does it and couldn’t care less how much money any corporation is making based on that.


People who want to make games usually want to be (co-)authors of the game and not just cogs in an organization with little to no to say about what the game should be like.

I think it's perfectly fine to say "I'm happy where I am, I don't want more".

But that's not the OPs sentiment. I think that deep inside OP feels entitled to higher achievements than they have been able to reach, and are resentful of the fact that life hasn't been unfolding properly for a person of their talent.

To that I say, how long are you going to nurse your ambition without getting up and doing something about it?


I think ambition is motivated by a variety of things, one of which, is by comparing oneself (or having others compare them) to the accomplishments of others. While OP is pretty critical of themselves, they’re also reflecting and asking for feedback. Sounds like they would like to be more ambitious, but need some self-confidence.

To your point, I agree with you that advice like “be true to who you are, don’t change” may be the exact type of advice to where someone would be content with where they are, instead of striving to grow and try something new.


> One reason many feel is the fact that being "the best" often just means making some crappy corporation richer; when you start to feel that the whole system kind of sucks it gets harder to care about accomplishing things within it.

Ok, google makes billions and you make millions. that is a fine compromise by me.


Nothing has changed. I admire lots of people but I don’t want to pay the price needed to achieve similar results. You have to love or at least tolerate the struggle to get results. So pick the struggles you want to have. Don’t pick the results you want to achieve and try to do the work needed. It won’t work.

This is such a callous take. OP has clearly spent time doing just that, and has reached a point where any rational agent would question the heuristic and seek advice. Without rational justification the heuristic is nothing other than dogma.

This could be called callous, yes, but I urge you to re-read the post. The OP didn't even complete his degree, and haven't done any other worthwhile project that requires some tenacity.

trying too hard is seen as uncool. We're kinda in an anti-work era in which the notion of having to work too hard or too long at things, is shunned upon.

There's more of us than of you. Fuck off, Achilles.

/s - of course.


Watch out! You might be conflating success and happiness. We all know how common it is for professional outliers (be they geniuses, celebrities, athletes, etc) to struggle with depression, loneliness, anxiety, and addiction. In the 1900s becoming a world-class jazz musician was basically a sentence to death in your 40s. Consider the stereotype of the man who devotes everything to his career only to retire bitter, alone, and wealthy. It's all too common.

People are happy when they have meaningful social time with friends and family, when they spend free time building or growing things with their hands, when they are able to be active and healthy, and when their basic physical needs are met. Once your career is able to reliably cover your basic needs, the next thing to optimize for is freeing up your time. Unless your passions in life are truly aligned with your career, and you're able to stave off burnout, I see few compelling reasons to make your profession your legacy.


A couple years ago, I came to terms with the fact that I wasn't going to be a Beatle. My family and friends had come to terms with that fact 30 years earlier - it just took me a little longer...

"but I can’t convince myself that these traits are actually true. I feel untalented, empty and dumb."

They probably are 'true' in some sense, but that doesn't mean you can't feel untalented/empty/etc at the same time. Appearing to be 'creative' and 'in learning mode' is how other people see you - feeling untalented/empty is how you see your self. They can both be true at the same time. But your feelings about yourself aren't the whole truth, and they can (and will) change over time too, just like other people's views of you may change, depending on you, the other people, and other factors outside of everyone's control.

Maybe you should stare out of the window for a while - I don't mean forever, but it seems like you're trying to engage in some self reflection, and that can take time. And 'wasting' time is often not seen as a good thing by others, or indeed ourselves. I struggle often with trying to give myself some 'time off' for anything.

With all that said, you dropped a bomb in the last paragraph about medication. There's no doubt in my mind that this is a contributing factor to your mental health state (it might be a positive factor, but it's certainly in the mix). and as such, you should also be seeking out some folks with experience with these medications.


You touch an important point tangentially: Most of these issues are mainly cultural.

I'm in/from Mexico. And I've had the chance to live a d experience lots of different cultures (while living in Europe for 8 years).

American culture has this idea of ruthless working extra productivity/ how to churn as much as possible in little time. Very competitive.

But in other cultures (mexican, german, spanish, serbian/Croatian etc) theres a culture of more easy living. Work to live instead of live to work . Men's ambitions are to raise a healthy family, while in an 9 to 5 (or 7 to 3) job and go back to enjoy the evening with family, friends, tv. People get born, grow old and die having lived good lifes with that.


This is one of the best HN posts I've read in a while. It feels so close to home, and I think it's amazing that people are sharing their feeling about this topic.

Sometimes I feel the same as OP, but then, when I encounter a post like this one, I remember that most people aren't going to do super-duper gigantic world-changing stuff and that's ok. Really!

Don't beat yourself because you didn't create RCT using assembly by yourself. As others said, people are so different and we all live under different circumstances.

The thing that I always try to remember when I feel like I am "nobody" is to do things that I enjoy and that matter to me. I don't need to change the entire world to feel accomplished. I can do what I feel is important and be happy with the impact it makes on my own life and other people's lives.

Don't worry OP, you're not alone. :)


You might also be absolutely stunned if you ever learned what specific individual sacrifices were made by the people you see as being successful. In most cases, I think, something in the chain is likely to cross into a no fly zone for your own moral compass.

Yep agree 100% I am slowly learning to accept that if I only want the results but don’t want to pay the price (thousands of hours working to accomplish the results) then I really don’t truly want it. You have to pick the struggle you want and the results will be the outcomes of that choice.

No struggle. You simply guide your focus. Find focus by using the law of attraction and following thoughts, ideas, and feelings which are good. Your active attention (followed by action) will create worlds. You do not need to struggle, if the idea is great you will attract people to grow it. A labor of love is not a struggle, its different.

All sounds good in theory, and I used to believe that as well, but it doesn’t work in practice. I have achieved everything in life I deeply wanted and now there is nothing I want badly enough to pay the price.

Wow some downvoted clearly doesn’t want what I am saying to be true. Unfortunately it is. I used to believe otherwise but reality is what it is. Accept it and move on.

You sound a lot like someone I know. And like someone I know, I gave them lots of advice like the kind you're getting here that never really took with them. Then I realized something. The way you experience the world is different from "most people", and thus the advice for "most people" will just make you feel more empty as you struggle and fail with it.

Here's what I can tell you about yourself. You are probably much smarter, much more talented, and have more good qualities than you realize. You have to constant challenge these messages you're telling yourself (use CBT as a framework). Start digging _deep_ for your good qualities, remind yourself of them constantly. Start "doing the opposite", and work on radical acceptance. Get a good coach/therapist who can understand you, and help you see yourself.

You can find joy and happiness in life, once you accept that what that looks like for you is different than how it looks for other people. Acceptance is key.


I feel OP is painting very black & white, but a little exaggeration might help convey the importance. Also I'm currently more in a white phase, than a black one.

That being said, I was drawn to the thread for helpful replies and enjoyed feeling that I'm not alone in feeling like OP.

Your reply resonated most with me personally. I even told my wife about it specifically and would like to explore it more.

>Start digging _deep_ for your good qualities, remind yourself of them constantly. >Start doing the opposite, and work on radical acceptance.

I have a fundamental feeling, that I should do this even more. I have been seeing a therapist a couple of years back who helped me there. No that I'm OK, I struggle to go there more in order to go from OK to GREAT, it feels entitled.

>You are probably much smarter, much more talented, and have more good qualities than you realize.

One part of me, knows that on a "for a fact" level. But another part immediately spoils the party by calling that "arrogant", "full of myself". It's all relative as others have said pick the general population in my city, country, planet and I'm "successful". Pick the 0.00001% NBA-all stars and I'm not.

I was trying to research more about what "insecure overachievers" can do to help accept/unlock themselves.

>You can find joy and happiness in life, once you accept that what that looks like for you is different than how it looks for other people. Acceptance is key.

Again this is hard for me personally to internalize.

My first reaction is dismissing that statement as "entitled". "Oh do you think you're so special you need a special definition of joy and happiness and success?"

Probably, because (i) I have been taught and (ii) I'm telling myself and (iii) teaching my kids now that "entitlement" is not good.

Having re-read the statement over and over, it's less clear how it can spark these negative emotions against myself.

Of course we are all beautiful snowflakes, that's also something I learned, believe and teach my kids. Why is it so much easier for me to grant that privilege to every human being than to myself?

Thank you for reading.


Thanks for your thoughts!

A note on the one about entitlement:

Everyone is _entitled_ to have their experience of reality acknowledged (this opens up a can of worms, but bear with me).

Someone who is neurodivergent (like OP) experiences reality differently than someone who is neurotypical. It's subjective, and hand-wavy, I know. But to some greater extent, we have to respect _and accept_ what people tell us about themselves.

I liken it to being a parent, when you see your child worrying about something, or saying something you disagree with. Instead of trying to force your viewpoint on them by telling them how they _should_ feel (have you ever caught yourself doing that? I know I have), why not ask them _why_ they feel like that? You gain understanding, and through understanding discovery, which leads to acceptance and a deepening of empathy for individual experience.

I've personally discovered that what comes across as well intentioned "advice" can often feel a lot like shame. And shame, is the death of joy. It only leads one direction -- downwards. So my "advice" is generally to listen more, to _accept_ more.

Anyways, that's what I was getting at. Hopefully this helps add clarity.


"Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for."

https://neil-gaiman.tumblr.com/post/160603396711/hi-i-read-t...


> And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did.

Nope, everyone did not. That's a good story to make yourself feel better, but Neil's personal psychological problems don't spread to everyone. People who feel accomplished due to their accomplishments exist.


No individual human being has the psycological makeup to completely feel the full accomplishments of Armstrong, so that is something to consider.

OTOH far more common is the exaggerated ego where people feel accomplished for things that did not actually happen.


> No individual human being has the psychological makeup to completely feel the full accomplishments of Armstrong, so that is something to consider.

I don't understand how it contradicts "Armstrong had an impostor syndrome therefore comparing with his individual quirks is stupid". We all sometimes doubt ourselves but OP's story is a bit different. What, if I worked in McDonalds and met all those people OP met, you would've told me about Armstrong too? The one and only advice you get in such situations is "do something which will distract you from how much you suck in the society, where the alpha and omega of your value is going to fucking space or earning billions of dollars".

https://www.gwern.net/The-Melancholy-of-Subculture-Society

Ah, the ultimate solution: forget about achievements considered important for the society and join small groups of other losers where you wont suck as much and be valued as you are, wasting your life as a D&D narrator or whatever. You are worthless for the humanity so step aside, play games, watch youtube and meditate - life is so wonderful.

> OTOH far more common is the exaggerated ego where people feel accomplished for things that did not actually happen.

Sounds like a compensation for those who can't deal with reality. We are not talking about people imagining things.


Jeez, dude, don't be so hard on yourself!

Comparing yourself to other people is a losing game - no matter how awesome you are you'll always find people that are "better" than you at whatever, as they would to, unless you're Michael Jordan.

Find things you like to do that make you happy and do those things. That works for me. I'm a college drop-out/software developer with skeletons in my closet just like you.


> no matter how awesome you are you'll always find people that are "better" than you at whatever, as they would to, unless you're Michael Jordan.

You mean failed minor league baseball player Michael Jordon? Remember that even if you are the best in the world at one thing, outside of your specialty people are going to be better than you.


Even at basketball, Michael Jordan was bad in high school and only at his first couple years of college did he build the work ethic to make him what he is. He’s not inherently exception.

Funny that you use Mickael Jordan as an example because one of his quote is quite popular these days :

> I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.


>> Comparing yourself to other people is a losing game - no matter how awesome you are you'll always find people that are "better" than you

This negative mindset may actually hurt you! Your subconscious listens to this.

In they past I used to do the opposite. I was learning game programming and when I learned something cool I was imagining that by learning this or that I started being smarter than hundreds or thousands of others my age.

So instead of trying to be top-of-the world I could never be I was simply leaving those not willing to improve behind.


There's no such thing as "raw" intelligence.

Those people you find so incredibly impressive who have done such worthwhile things? Every single one of them sucks ass at a multitude of things. Every single one of them would see something in your set of capabilities that would astound them.

It takes a vast constellation of capabilities, including yours, to create and sustain our world.


Yes there is, with that said it is not what matters in his examples.

John von Neumann could multiply eight digit numbers mentally and hold conversation in multiple languages by the age of six. How could that be attributed to anything but raw intelligence? Had his parents somehow stumbled upon the perfect formula for child rearing in 1900s Hungary?

Parlor tricks of the mind and a life of leisure allow for certain mental tools to flourish, rather than be vestigialized.

Eight digit mental multiplication isn't a difficult feat. All it requires is you to be able to hold 16 digits in your head. Or more easily, 4 chunks of 4 digits. If you practice and focus on it, you too can relearn how to do long mental arithmetic. But this also requires you're still able to "relax" and empty your mind like a child's, rather than be constricted into an adult's neurotic "I must always be doing something."

Holding conversations in multiple languages? Many bilingual children could join von Neumann, if their parents were as wealthy and involved. Wealth must be present; not only because physical resources give way to access to better tutors and learning material, but also to a tranquility of the mind and soul, that is not found anywhere else but the leisure class (i.e. if you're an upper middle class parent trying to "push" your child into enriching endeavors, all you're teaching is mechanical skill, at the cost of your child's creativity and individual expression -- their soul. Something I've seen too many times).

This is also why anyone who's been in the corporate world for too long, is forever locked out of any great creative or mental achievements: the mental tools needed have atrophied, and it simply is unlikely you'll be able to retrain them, unless some drastic lifestyle change happens (or you do just the right amount of drugs, another improbability).

t. Someone that could also do very long mental arithmetic and "hold conversations" in multiple languages at 6. Going from upper class to being a prole, due to a certain ideological group, has left me painly aware of all the things I've lost. Pieces of the mind and soul that are locked away from the rest; all due to economic circumstance.


There are videos of a 4 year old girl who can speak in the languages. https://youtu.be/7nzpnQZcFw0

Can you explain this?


dismissing IQ, intelligence is just another social fad. it's wrong.

Maybe you'll change your opinion after reading the list of his achievements. Or just after looking at the size of that list.

"There's no such thing as "raw" intelligence."

Well, that's sure a bold statement. I suppose in order to have this discussion, we'd have to agree on a definition of intelligence. For me, it's one's intellectual capacity to learn. Emotionally, physically, mathematically, etc. I'd argue that there is absolutely a thing of "raw intelligence". If we have mentally handicapped and Stephen Hawking, there must be a standard bell curve of intelligence in-between.


Yea but if you are a megamind in math that doesn’t mean you are a Shakespeare level writer. Intelligence isn’t general it’s specific

You’re very much going against the scientific consensus with that statement. General intelligence is exactly what IQ tests measure.

I mean I don’t really need any studies. Was Einstein as good of as a writer as Shakespeare? Nope! Although I’m sure he was generally “smart” his main focus of intelligence was physics.

However, after re-reading my comment I was a little unclear. When I said: “Intelligence isn’t general it’s specific“ I should have said: “My (And I think others as well) definition of intelligence is how well educated you are in a specific subject. I would never ask someone how smart they are (not useful) but I could ask if they are good at calculus (intelligence in math)”


What really impress me are people who are great at many varied things. The creator of Stardew valley drew every image. Composed every song. Coded every line. It’s an insane accomplishment.

Also super rare (currently), I am extremely curious what the ratio of nurture to nature is for these folks? Having crossed paths with a couple of folks like this they don't seem much different than other people. Humans are basically wonderful all purpose organisms, with the right interest and enough time on task they can do almost anything.

Maybe a unique perspective or a deeply ingrained and unflappable "lets try this or how does this work?" attitude is all it takes.

Stay curious!


I love you.

These feeling are not unique to you. These feelings are a product of the times.

There are many doors. The internet let's you see them all. Some are wrong to open. You have free will and creative spirit inside you.

Whatever you do, do it out of love and what feels good.

You know what good feels like. Do more of that. Things that make you feel good. Figure out what makes you feel good and do that when you have spare time. Try to reinterpret something.

Be thankful for what you do have. Be general at first, you have air to breathe.

Now just play and have fun creatinf. Even if it fails. We wouldn't be growing & learning without failure, now would we?

Figure out how to move quickly and interate.

Reduce the time to recovery from mistakes. Make failure cheap.

Share it with the world and try to find collaborators.

Rinse and repeat.

Remember we all have the power of creation in us.

I AM


Hey I have bipolar and borderline too! But I just want to say, life isn't about achieving things; it's just about being happy. And a little secret: achieving things doesn't actually make you happy. Maybe temporarily, but anyone who achieves great things is never satisfied. Otherwise, they never would have put in the work to achieve what they did in the first place. It's sort of a prerequisite.

I was really good at a sport through high school and college. And one thing I noticed very early is that how good I was didn't make me happy. Sure, in the instant I won, I was happy. But then I went back to practice the next day, and was just focused on the next opponent. And then when I lost, I was crushed. I didn't become any happier as a person or enjoy my life more or anything as I got better at the sport. I cared a lot about getting better. What actually made me happy was just doing the sport itself, especially in the moments where I let go of the outcome. It's the old, appreciate the journey, not the destination. It's really true!

I also know a lot of people who are really good at things. They are no happier than anyone else. It's not something to be jealous of, or feel bad that you are not like them.

I also will say that I started to focus on achievement a lot less when I had a kid. It became obvious to me that what I did for my kid was infinitely more important than what I achieved for myself, and pursuing success for myself was really just a kind of game.


This is called Imposter Syndrome. I had the same thing when I first got into a company where I was working with seriously smart and talented people.

- https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-an...

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

- https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/imposter-syndrome

Long story short: If you're hitting your goals and getting paid, don't sweat the extracurriculars.


Second to this. There are a story I read about a very successful diplomat who was so hard on itself that one day he fainted from the stress, because he thought he wasn't good enough. As he found the hard way that this cannot continue, he decided to fake it, if he cannot make it, and que sera. Very surprisingly to him, noone noticed and he was no less successfull afterwards.

I'm working on some music synth stuff because I learned to play piano (rudimentary) and know how to write code. It's a great creative outlet.

I am not, and never will be, the next Kraftwerk or author of SuperCollider or whatever.

I do like exploring and have interests. And with what I do know (enough code and music to be dangerous) it ends up being a lot of fun (well it involves code so sometimes it's frustrating as hell, but any creator will say the same thing about their medium).

I guess the point here is that you could get angry or disappointed with life or you can focus on things you enjoy.

This can be naive advice if there are other issues. I had luck with therapy, it's a good idea for every human IMO. HN is OK but professionals are better.


I consider myself a person of above-average intelligence, insight, and drive. But working in Silicon Valley, I find myself constantly surrounded by people who are complete outliers. People who I consider close friends who I think are absolutely smarter, more creative, more driven, more knowledgeable than me.

And you know what? You can choose to compare yourself to them (and find yourself lacking) or you can choose to use it as inspiration. Look to those people for the traits you want to find and nurture within yourself. Actively choose to include those people in your life and let yourself become better for having them around. It's never too late to change how you look at things, or to become something different than what you are right now.


For this reason, I purchased a 5ft by 3ft canvas print of the Hubble Ultra Deepfield photograph and hung it on my wall.

Somehow being reminded that there are 5000 galaxies visible in a single 24 millionth of the sky makes me feel better about not having "accomplished as much" as some other members of my particular species on my particular planet in my particular solar system in my particular galaxy.

It helps keep things in perspective. That feeling of inferiority is just an evolved pressure to be the most worthwhile mating partner. It's not as big a deal as it feels like, just natural selection's unkind handiwork.

( https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0d/Hubble_u... )


Hey I've got a Comp Sci PhD and let me tell you I'm dumb as a rock. I have very little short term memory and my long term memory is also terrible.

FWIW the people that finish PhDs are the most stubborn/persevering and not the most intelligent (the most intelligent are those that DONT start a PhD haha).

But in all seriousness most of the achievements you see are product of someone just picking at their stone day to day. It's just a matter of doing a d doing every day. You could write a assembly game or anything else if you decided to sit down , start and dedicating 1 or 2 hours a day every day .

Regarding medication, I take amitriptyline every night and I dont think it makes me stupid. It does remove some of the mood "edge".


I think all of us have these thoughts and feelings. I'm in an engineering team, surrounding by incredibly skilled, experienced but most of all _committed_ (embedded) engineers - and I'm the only guy on the business side. If you've ever felt stupid, just think how the sole marketing guy feels in an otherwise fully engineering focused company. It's not a nice feeling.

Anyway. I've come to realise (suspect?) a few things:

- People who achieve _Great Things_ are, more often than not, unidimensional. They focus most of their lives one single thing (or a small select set of related things). What this means is that they achieve highly in one area, but are somewhat useless in many others (even somewhat basic ones). It's a personal choice whether you think this is OK or not. The book Range by David Epstein is an interesting read (or if you like horrible business buzzwords, 'T shaped people')

- None of the extreme achievers would be able to do what they do, without the rest of us. I don't feel this is some new age woo-woo stuff to make us minions feel better, but in reality if the base of society doesn't exist or function well, you can't go do the cool 'big think' stuff. Without farmers, Elon would probably either starve or have to go grow his own crops (bad example maybe, whatever).

- The people that do achieve _Amazing Things_ sit at (I believe) a very special intersection of inherent capability (e.g. ability to integrate information quickly), personality (often very driven and quite selfish, just lucking into very beneficial mindsets early on, don't suffer from depression), familial advantages (wealth, exceptional early education), geographic advantage (not just first world wealthy country, but even micro-geographic advantages, such as say Silicon Valley vs a small rural town) and probably a few others I don't have a grasp on.

So in my mind, the combination of the above factors not only enables _some_ people to achieve wildly, but also puts them on a path that they almost can't stray from. This strays into pre-determinism I suppose, but (in my mind) it's more related to a series of environmental and personal factors playing out, as opposed to Some Large Guiding Force.

I dunno, that's my current view at least.


> Nothing I’m doing in my life are anything that people will remember me for.

I never expected to be remembered beyond my generation and it always surprises me to find out that some people DO expect that.

I'd argue that 99% of people are entirely unremarkable and will be forgotten entirely within 2 generations of their death. The sooner you come to terms with that and accept it, the better.


To build on this: Why does being remembered matter at all? It doesn't. It's a weird trait in the human brain to want to be remembered.

The instant you die you will have no memory of yourself, your life, or anything really :) So it's a fool's errand to care about what people think of you after you're gone, because you won't be here to know about any of it.

The only thing that matters is to make the most of the life you're living NOW. Do things that make you happy, feel productive, ARE productive, are enjoyable, etc. If doing something now will leave a mark on the world and make it a better place, then by all means do it and go for it.

The moment you realize that It. Just. Doesn't. Matter. what r whether people think or care about you after you're gone, the moment your life will take a turn towards more satisfaction.

BTW: Note that "making the most of the life you're living now" doesn't necessarily mean "do whatever you want" or "do what makes you happy". I'm not trying to give pedantic greeting card BS advice that many people know is impossible to achieve. Sometimes living your best life means struggling in a bad job to provide for your family, build wealth, etc.

Just make sure you're doing things with agency, that you're doing the best possible thing for you/your family, and that your aiming to maximize the time you have here regardless of your life circumstances.


I was rewatching the original Muppet Show and they have on guest after guest of incredibly multi-talented singing, acting, and dancing stars of stage and screen. The irony is that as famous (and incredibly accomplished) as they were just recently, few people have even heard of those folks today.

My take away from that observation is that if you are going to do pretty much anything, do it for its own sake.


I feel you. I’ve been to programming since I was a kid and made a career out of it. Nowadays, I see kids doing shit that would blow many (most?) professionals out of the water, a seeming experts in very difficult domains. For as long as I’ve been programming, I haven’t made or done anything notable or worthy of any sort of intrigue by my standards. Most people I have immediate relationships with would probably consider me pretty damn successful, and most people on places like here would consider me middling hack. I don’t really want either of their ideas of “success”, but the dumb ideas I have of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know a little about a lot. Mostly things that are of no value whatsoever, and only enough to make me sound like I have some level of expertise. But if I real expert stepped in I’d likely get schooled immediately (as had happened many times).

I don’t think I’ll be able to do more with my career in software than I already have, nor drive it in the direction I’d like. And frankly, I’m getting tired of the “a little more money, same bullshit” stuff. I still have love for programming, but the way I inherently approach it and work are just not going to ever get me anywhere.

I too, have spent some years bouncing across a handful of interests, typically only to find out I don’t have what it takes to even get a few inches deep into it (whether that be cognitive ability,focus, or whatever). I’ve seriously thought about going into academia for a bit to get the thrill of working on edge of something, hoping that the structure and resources provided might show me something new, but that’s mostly because of the implementation), but it feels like a distant pipe dream more than anything. By the time I’d be able to do to, I’d likely be to old to fit the profile of what that type of organization wants from somebody, and me doing anything remotely novel or innovative feels so alien. I don’t even want recognition or immortalization, or even money really. I just want to have worked on something that I’m proud of.


This was strangely motivational. Given how you write and your degree of introspection you can get to where you want to be.

One thing I realized lately, is the hard work you put in today may not bear fruit for a while. There's also a power of compounding. Ultimately it all starts with what you are passionate about.

Not to be rude, it's good you feel shallow and dumb, because it shows you perceive the absence. So now it's a question of what you do with that feeling.

What gets you excited today? How can you start making baby steps towards that? Start small, and remember if you make 1% towards something every day, that will really quickly start to add up.

The worst thing you can do is nothing! And then you'd grow old, look back at your life, and feel the regret of what you could have done, when now you are old, graying, wrinkly and dying.

Isn't life too short to have that regret? And you are only 30!


>And you are only 30!

Seriously. This is very young. Even among very successful people, most have just barely built their foundation at age 30.


I think you're underestimating your talents. A technical writer with a development background, when applied correctly, is a powerful force.

You have the ability convey complicated concepts in a concise manner. You can do so much with that. Is there something in your tech world that you're interested in, that's hard to grasp, that you could start your own blog/YouTube/ebook/course with? Perhaps you'll become the goto expert on it.

I often wonder how the oracles in our industry get to where they are, and everyone starts and persists - often for years - before being recognised as such. Small consistent progress over a long period of time is what makes an overnight success.


I personally feel that as long as you are above a certain aptitude threshold (one that's closer to the average than the best) in some field, you can achieve a lot more than the average person through the power of routine daily work. Actually creating sticking to that routine seems to be the biggest hurdle.

For example, I know many devs (myself included) that work professionally on big and successful projects as part of a team. We often work on projects in our spare time but they tend to get dropped within a few weeks and never really go anywhere.

It feels a lot more like a battle of willpower than one of skill in these situations. With the willpower to stick to a project and work on it for even two hours a day for a full year, I have no doubt it'd end up as something to be proud of.

At some point, I read a blog post about how we have a finite amount of willpower per day, and focusing on a task costs a large chunk of it. However, once you do something regularly enough it becomes a habit/routine, and the willpower cost decreases making things easier. I'd like to believe that's true, though have not committed hard enough to my own work to know if that's really the case.


There's a great scene in Band of Brothers where an officer gives the following advice:

"the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier's supposed to function. Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse."

I feel the same applies in day-to-day life. The sooner I accept that I am a nobody, the sooner I'll be able to function as someone who has nothing to lose should act: without hesitation, without submissiveness, and without regret. And if I can do those three things consistently, then maybe I will become a somebody.


First, I would say if you're worried about your mental health, don't wait, go get help. It does sound to me like you might be a little depressed, but don't take the word of a random internet stranger.

With that being said, when I get like this, I take a step back and look at the bigger picture. First, there's plenty of people in the world who would look at your situation and be floored. "If only I could pay my bills / stay out of trouble with the law / stay off drugs / etc.". There's always someone better and always someone worse.

Second, ask yourself what do you want. Would you be satisfied if you made the next Rollercoaster Tycoon... Or would you say yeah, but X developer did way more in a shorter time and made more money? Like, would it actually be enough? Instead chase what you enjoy.

But it sounds like you don't know what you want. That's not bad, that's exciting! Try things! Maybe you always had an interest in cooking, or writing poetry, or hiking, or whatever. Or society is so obsessed with external validation, instead focus on intrinsic value.


There's always a bigger fish. Always someone better than you, to such a degree you cannot imagine competing. There's only one thing you can always be better at than everyone though: living your life in a way that fulfills you, without the need to win the right genetic & environmental lottery to be the best of the best.

A large amount of people at the very top of any field have problems in other parts of their life. That is because intelligence can also be a drawback. It leads to heavy introspection for one, which you need to control or enjoy heavy depressions and anxieties. That is not to say that many high-performance people are not perfectly happy too. They are, and that is fine: you can focus on making yourself perfectly happy. It's not a zero-sum game.

I hope this makes some sense, it's the best way I can put it.


"Never compare the insides of your life to the outsides of someone else's."

--My wife ;-)


Your wife is very wise :)

very succinct. I like it a lot.

I don’t know if you will get to see my comment by now but you are an incredibly good writer. Miles above the email churn I deal with daily.

I found myself reading and just flowing over your ideas. Your pace is good, your writing is simple yet thoughtful. Your sentence are not too short or too long and your paragraph boundaries make sense to me. Honestly, you are a good writer.


My exact thoughts as I was reading the OP: "This guy doesn't know how talented he is at writing".

I agree. It's good writing! So many artists complain about their lack of talent, this person is in good company.

I mean everyone is unaccomplished compared to chris sawyer for roller coaster tycoon :)

Most software projects are forgotten pretty quickly though, so if you're looking for a longer impact on life in general, consider the community you live in. plant a tree. clean a highway. Software dev is ephemeral, and most software rockstars aren't even known outside a small circle.


> Nothing I’m doing in my life are anything that people will remember me for.

I've played RollerCoaster Tycoon, and I'm sure I've seen the developer's name more than once, but don't remember. You didn't repeat it in your post, so you probably saw it and immediately forgot. That's the extent of fame they got from that.


Chris Sawyer. I knew it offhand. It was a great game years ago and is so great that it lives on on the iPad. He also wrote Transport Tycoon (which is clear upon a casual glance, as they have the same UI.) The guy is definitely famous in his realm.

In the past if every city had one talented person, he would've been a celebrity. But no one felt bad since 99% of people around would've been average and there was one exceptional person. Now with the internet, we get to watch the talented person from every city and town in the world. Social media and google have become efficient in surfacing the most exciting/valuable content in front of us.

Given our window of attention is limited, what we see all day is excellence and we feel mediocre.

In short get out of your virtual world and go people watching in the real world to find that you are good enough.


The greatest misconception about life is that you are ought to "achieve" something. You're not. Do what you want, not what you ought to do.

I've found solace in the fact that I wasn't blessed with the circumstances, disposition, possibly intellect, or combination of those that led to any of the things you mentioned, and those aren't necessarily within anyone's control.

So you know how to program assembly, and Tycoon games haven't been invented yet. Suppose you have the idea to build a tycoon game and the time and money to do it; unlikely. Do you have literally nothing else you'd rather do for year(s) than work on building a Tycoon game that may or may not be popular? I sure as hell wouldn't want to. I'd rather have a social life, be in nature, or anything else. Ya it'd be satisfying to complete it, but how many people now complete building games that in retrospect were a total exhaustion of their enthusiasm without any substantial payoff?

It's important to consider the things you are lucky/fortunate/skilled at. If you've been employed consistently in any arbitrary position, for 10 years, you're already way further ahead financially or experience-wise than me. I've burnt out 3 times and have lost my job because I didn't realize early enough how to identify the problematic relationships with life and discipline that have caused me tumult. I've had a fine time in other respects, but have zero money and have no prospects for earning enough over my career to retire, buy property, or have children if I wanted them. That said, I can hold a conversation well, am decent at certain things athletically, and have a great relationship.


Man, I see in Hacker Rank the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential. And I see it squandered. Goddamn it, an entire generation writing docs, fixing bugs, typing code. Slaves in digital collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war's a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised on internet to believe that one day we'd all be crypto millionaires and famous scientists and popular video bloggers. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

Welcome to the club, pal.

P.S. > I sometimes wonder if my mental condition or my medication has had an effect on this: I'm bipolar schizoaffective and borderline.

I wonder why you wonder. Read the side effects of your medications: depression, sleep problems, aggression, agitation, fatigue. If you had this since childhood, that was one of the reasons you dropped out of university. The people you talk about don't have to deal with this shit, most people don't.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_schizophre...

Look at this. How many people there are really famous and what's the proportion to the famous people without it? 0.000001%? And I bet most of them were just born in the right family and in the right country.


One book that helped me in this respect is "Mastery" by Robert Greene.

Go through this Twitter account and if anything resonates with you, I definitely recommend reading the book.

https://twitter.com/masteryquotes

Envy is a capricious emotion.


His books in general are an interesting thing to pick up. When the student is ready the master reveals themselves.

Go easy on yourself and don't compare yourself to other people. That old classic saw "be yourself", springs to mind, but it's important to enjoy yourself too.

You are anything but shallow if you can think and write as you do. I've read your other comments on this site from 2015. I come from a Christian equivalent in some ways.

Some things that have helped me, in no particular order are, but many smart people have recommended are:

Read Philosopy, join a charity (I reckon you'd be an excellent helper in after school educational activities), take up more than one sport and join a sports club, chess, make more art, change your diet, get more sleep.

I can't speak to your mental condition or medication because that requires expertise but you can always, and indeed should always, get a second opinion and seek to alter your medication under supervision.

Trite on this forum, but emacs org-mode is a great thing to learn and might help using any available empty slots on your schedule, it's also great fun, such a total cultural immersion. Org-mode with magit and babel et cetera is for me the most powerful documentation system available, and most open source projects need to improve their documentation. Maybe try to use your considerable talent, skills, and experience to help your favorite digital community?

Stare out of the window more! It's an amazing thing to do, so contemplative and calming. Take time with yourself. You're a human and being human is truly wonderful.


It's okay to be average or below average. Most of us are. We just have to make peace with what we can reasonably do in this short life. History remembers almost no individuals, and to be one so lucky as to be remembered by history is beyond our right to ask for.

I don't you're lazy. It's just that you're taking the wrong approach. I've done an analysis on what makes successful people tick and this is what they have in common:

1. Preparation/Research/Attention to detail. A good deal of masterpieces were researched for about a year or so before anything started. Will Wright doesn't start away thinking how he'd make a game of something, he'd just keep reading more about the topic and then get fascinated about things that would otherwise be boring, like traffic theory.

2. Beginner's mind. They approach problems like they don't know the answer, but learn a lot so that patterns are clear.

3. Passion. They can't stop doing it, can't think about other things. Probably a side effect of heavy research. It's easier to build passion than discipline.

4. Self-doubt. Often the first thing people bring up in interviews. You have to come up with a solution yourself. For some, it's building the thing before sharing the idea, because they know others will bring them down. For others, it's accepting that failure is normal. Or some take on a very small piece.

5. Effectiveness. Prototyping (especially writers). Research. Most don't follow a usual track or try to be good at everything, e.g. photographers may only take care of the basics of lighting, many writers are dismissive of character, plot, prose and so on. This goes along with beginner's mind.

So for the most part, it's not that you're untalented, mentally unhealthy, or demotivated. It's probably that you're going at it at the wrong angle.


A big part of the problem is that a lot of success you see is due to non-linear outcomes with high upside. However, we humans are predisposed to thinking linearly, I.e 2x the effort leads to 2x the outcome. This cognitive dissonance makes us unhappy.

For example anything produced with code or most digital media have these effects. Your Tycoon game example is this: it seems like such an incredible thing for one man to not only accomplish, but also for you to have discovered and enjoyed it.

If you apply linear thinking when comparing yourself to someone with non-linear output, you will feel like you could never reproduce that in 10 or 100 lifetimes. And you would be right! But bear in mind the only reason they could have that success is because they chose to work on something with a non-linear outcome. And the only way to be like them is for you to chose to expose yourself to similar upside, and the risk that comes with it.

For more on this topic, read Taleb's Antifragile (and other books in his series). Reading his books led to a paradigm shift in my mind that made this way of thinking no longer an issue for me.


There's a huge factor of luck to a lot of these successful geniuses.

I guarantee, that for every RollerCoaster Tycoon, there are hundreds - maybe thousands - of people who wrote games in Assembly and went bankrupt trying to market them.

A big chunk of "success" (whatever that means) is completely out of your hands. It's luck. I felt it was a lot easier to forgive myself for not being a hyper successful genius when I realized that.


It doesn’t matter.

I’m a bit of a ‘positive’ existential nihilist, and I strongly feel that everything I do is not important in the greater view of existence / nature. That doesn’t mean that I think everything I do is worthless, some things are definitely worth a lot to me. It comes down to what I think is important, for me. I have a tiny window in time to experience life on earth. I want to spend that time doing things I like, preferably with people I love. The chemicals in my brain makes me feel good or bad depending on the day, but this is something I just need to realise and reflect/act on.

I’m quite creative and relatively successful (I’m not a millionaire though), my hobby’s include making things (music/art/code/design), which I enjoy a lot. That helps me find some purpose in my life.

I can be very lazy and I don’t want to put too much effort into certain things. Which is totally fine! In my youth people always told me that I was lazy, and in general that made me feel guilty throughout my life. Luckily I moved on from that state of being.

Currently I’m doing a well paid ‘bullshit’ job and I’m paying off some debts, buying music gear and searching for love. I could die tomorrow, or in 40 years. I do hope that I can stay for a while. I like humans. It’s nice to see them learn something for example. Teaching is fun.

I’m diagosed with dysthymia FYI. I hope you can find some relief in your situation in sharing your thoughts, it usually helps to process thoughts by bouncing ideas with other people. I just want to say, it doesn’t matter. Some people would love to be in your position (technically speaking), the mental part you need to figure out for yourself! Luckily humans like helping each other, so maybe try to keep communicating with others. Peace can be found!


:-) Thanks for articulating my mind too. I want to accomplish things with my talent and least amount of pressure, while still feel happy.

I think the prevalence of social media in the last 10 years has not been good for people like me, commonly hang out in HN. Sometimes I wish internet can be reset before the culture of success glorification swept the mass.

On my spare time, I will cook healthy food, watch K-drama, sleep well, drive around in the suburb, and hang out with my family. Hopefully it helps others. Sorry, I also have not found the elixir of life, but those things help.


Social media hasn't been a part of my life for years now. It feels great, I wish I could get back the hours I've spent on social media. I see why people like it and how it can be useful, but if I would want to kickstart another depression I'd install the Facebook/Instagram apps again.

My social life has improved massively since I've quit.

Simply delete your accounts permanently. You'll thank yourself later! And while you're at it, update your /etc/hosts file to block all network requests to FB ;)


read up on stoicism. In the grand scheme of the universe all of us are completely insignificant. In the context of our society, only a very few will be remembered 20-30 years after they are dead and even fewer 100years.

I could achieve so much more if I was willing to put forth the effort, take the risks, or make the sacrifices. Im not though, and I have come to grips with that. Ultimately everything is a choice. Every day you choose to do what you do. The key is to be happy with the choices that you make instead of wishing that you would make other choices. Whatever I do, I choose and I accept it. (Im aware of the discussions of lack of true free will)

Does creating a new software language, a new backend, social media site really matter in the grand scheme of things? Does being mayor, governor, or even president? Are you willing to make changes to achieve goals that are out of your reach? If not, why be upset with yourself?

This thought process of the ultimate meaninglessness of life can lead to nihilism or contentment.

I am fortunate that I have always been happy with my choices. But many people have to work a bit to come to acceptance.


I pick small projects I can do in a day, and sometimes come back and improve those projects. I have to do fun things in small chunks that can be completed in just a few hours or I get distracted. I have learned that I can build momentum that way! The more I get done in a project, the more I'm able to do later in that project. Perhaps that would work for you too?

If you had been born in the middle of the 1960's or so you too probably would be a crack assembly programmer, you didn't really have a choice in 1982 if you wanted your stuff to run at an acceptable speed.

The good news is: retrocomputing is a thing and you can set up an environment like that for pennies nowadays. But it will take time and you will have a lot of frustrating experiences, nothing more humbling than computer from four decades ago that does exactly what you tell it to do, no more, no less (which is rarely what you intended it to do...).

Best of luck getting your feeling under control, I am very happy that I'm not forced into todays' fast moving environment where skillsets usefullness has a half life that is short enough that you will have to retrain many times during a single career, something that in the past was much less of a problem. And this pace is still accelerating, people born today will likely have it worse.


My possibly unpopular opinion.

Go and find a part time job in Amazon Warehouse or a Restaurant. You will find, there are a lot not so smart people. And they are working "extremely" hard. Makes you treasure your current job which is being valued by your brain power.

I have also met lot of "Smart people" on paper, academia, or people specific in their domain. But the world have moved everything into niche domain that these people sometimes are so abstracted from the real world, to me on many fronts they are no smarter than those working in blue collar.

We dont have a simple way to measure polymath or generalist.

And I believe there is no such thing as laziness. Only Inertia.

And my final opinion, those who think themselves as dump are often the one who may not be very smart, but wise.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Erikson#Erikson's_theory_...

Welcome to stage 7. (Don't mind the age ranges, which shift with time and place.)


Pick something outside of work you are good at and become the best you possibly can at it.

Switch from a consuming mode to a creating mode.

Try to touch one persons life and make a difference.


There are people 10x smarter than you who feel like schlubs, and people 10x dumber than you who feel like rock stars. I fail to see your point.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. This isn’t an uncommon feeling. The people that develop extraordinary skills are often quite ordinary.

YMMV but this works for me…

Have an interest in some topic? Develop that interest, deliberately. Build it into a passion over time. Allot a small amount of time every day to learn and think about it. Everything we love to do has an ugly side. Embrace it. Accept it as the cost of doing what you love/want to do. Most of the time spent developing skills and interests can feel like complete drudgery. Or it can feel like a journey, with moments of enlightenment along the way.

If at all possible, never let your personal situation be an excuse for feeling this way. Just go for it!

Edit: a word


I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself. I know what you are feeling and have felt it myself.

One key is although you have many years of experience professionally, on any individual project, you are a beginner. Anything substantial, like you mentioned, takes consistent effort over years to build the complexity. I’m sure all of those projects started with hello world just like you will.

Try not to compare your beginnings of any skill or project to someone else’s middle and definitely not their end.

You’re fully capable of doing any of the things listed with time and it’s exactly that, a function of time.

To me, the harder problem is deciding what to spend consistent effort on. After that, focus and enjoy the ride.


One thing I have noticed in opensource projects is very often a lack of proper, well written technical documentation.

Very likely some of the same developers who you are looking up to are stressed and having issues finding time (or the words) to express how the software/hardware is used to make things easy for the end user.

Some of these projects are used to do very important things in the world. Joining up with a project which is attempting to do something you feel strongly about and seeing how the users and devs are gaining from your often overlooked work can be a very good boost to well being.

Nobody is unimportant. Everyone makes an impact.


Try to find some new hobby, something you haven't tried before. From swimming in the open water to dancing, from singing in a choir to learning ancient Sumerian, from playing nards to writing music, from drawing portraits on the streets to gardening, from participating into community charity work to religious devotion, etc. The list is endless, and high chances that if you find something you really enjoy doing, you wouldn't even think about the need to be great in it. You will dive into this new purpose just because you like it.

Everyone is born with different privileges, traits, circumstances, and opportunities and I would separate intelligence vs skill vs knowledgeable.

I meet a lot of people who think very highly of themselves because they can recite a lot of information at me and can explain how something works. Generally I see these people as extremely knowledgeable but that doesn't necessarily entail they are somehow more intelligent.

The same can be said with skills. You may be the worlds best at a task or hobby but let's not automatically assume you are somehow more intelligent.


The vast majority of software ever written is not only not executing on any computers today, but is completely lost to the ether.

Get used to your contributions in this field being irrelevant to the world at large, especially in the long-term. It's a statistical probability.

My personal happiness went up substantially when I started building physical things in the real world. Writing software is a great way to earn money, but making a lasting positive impact on the general public is a lot easier to achieve if you do something tangible, like build/restore housing.


I’m a photographer. I regularly go on Instagram and see the best work from some of the best photographers in the world.

It’s a bummer.

Here’s what I do to cheer up: I look at local photographers. My work is generally better, and significantly so. They might even get more work than me, but I can be proud of my what I do all the same.

Maybe in this example you aren’t me. Maybe you’re one of the other local photographer, but I bet you aren’t the worst. You’re only noticing the people who are inherently noticeable. Try everyone else.


I once tried joining elite group at uni but when they started solving N-dimensionals puzzles I just got depressed and left.

My advice is enjoy what you have and enjoy yourself and be kind. You have to be born ultra talented or compromise a lot. Some of these people in elite group cried openly that they didin't have childhood due to study (and some still went on easy mode and now aren't even in field as got bored. Such is life)

I for example started coding when I was 12 on extracircular stuff and guy from these classes he studied a lot and now is doing well at Google Zurich. You could think he's smart (and indeed he is). Still I myself wouldn't trade my time exploring more - hacking, playing MMOs with friends, trying to create games, balroom dancing etc. This is stuff that I still remember fondly.

Anyway if you are fine with trading some comfort then probably there's some cool startup that would hire you

All that blocks most people is comfort and fear of death. We already live in world full of opportity. Elon said he had epithany after trying to live only on noodles for month. Steve Jobs also had interesting talk.

My bro-in-law traveled half of world fot free (Couchserfing). My other nighbour got killed in Africa. Such in life. I still think risking more to pursue dreams is worth it.

smart != wise so don't beat yourself

Also "shallow" skills combined often are more practical and valuable, just hard to market

To sum up my advice and life experience: be kind and squarely to yourself. Jesus was onto something


One of the really fabulous things about working in tech (or doing it as a hobby) is that you can participate in creating new things, bringing something useful into existence. Another is the joy of figuring out how intricate things work/solving fun brain puzzles. A third is that the end results of this process (the things made using tech) are often fun and interesting in their own right (apart from how they work or the techniques we used to make them).

These three joys are probably what attracted you to get involved with tech in the first place. You can rediscover them if you don't devalue your work by comparing it unfavorably with that of others.

Imagine you are eating your favorite food; let's say it might be pizza. Do you enjoy a good pizza less because there is a better pizza somewhere on the planet? Does a flower in your garden look less pretty because there is a better one somewhere else? Of course not. If you have $20 in your pocket, is your $20 worth less if the guy next to you has $50? Of course not. $20 is still worth $20.

The moral is, if you have created things which were useful or interesting, take pride in your work, even if it's less impressive than the work of others. Did you put effort into your work? Did you learn something in the process? If so, that's great.

And if you choose to spend time improving your skills, don't waste time worrying about whether you are progressing faster or slower than others. Are you learning things which are interesting to you? Can you create things now which you wouldn't have been able to create earlier? If so, that's great. It doesn't matter if someone else could have done it faster.


Y'know, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder both are things that are hard to handle. The latter is usually connected to having had a childhood that was so chaotic and confusing that it was hard to tell good from bad.

That's likely gonna give you all sorts of feelings about the stuff you're interested in for your own reasons. The truth is – knowing that your own dreams do exist is the biggest step anyone can take. And unlearning all the things you learned that insisted that your dreams are superficial and worthless compared to what other people are doing… that's something you owe it to yourself to do, so that you can live your own life.

The neat thing is that when you learn how to allow yourself to live your own life, the things other people are great at aren't such a threat anymore. It's actually really neat that the guy wrote Rollercoaster Tycoon in assembly, by himself. Wild! And that also says nothing about you, or what matters to you, or whether you're deserving of your own wants and interests.

The trick is learning why you came to believe that these things are reflections of your own perceived incapacity and unworthiness. The only way I know to do that is in therapy, and it's tough, but it's worth it. You get to unlock your own self, that way. Good luck!


Do you have a few good friends? A wife or girlfriend? Do you get along moderately well with your family? If you hit 2/3 with this, let alone 3/3 you are in a place much better than the majority. Add to that you have a decent career, I’d say you’re top quarter easy. Are you healthy? Add decently healthy to this and your lot in life is probably top eighth easy.

Grow, improve your self, follow your dreams, but remember at least every now and again to count your blessings too.


It sounds like you're suffering from a spectacularly severe case of Imposter Syndrome. I can relate because I suffered the same when I cared a lot about what others thought about me.

I can't explain exactly how I broke free of this mindset but I think that the people around me helped a lot. They supported me, encouraged me, cared about me, and gave me the confidence to be less self-conscious in almost every aspect of my life. I stopped asking "why me?" and started asking "why not me?".

You already have the most important trait you need to succeed in anything: 'always in “learning mode”'. Best technologists I've met have always agreed that they don't know everything but they're willing to keep learning.


Been there, thought that. Great stuff in the other comments as well, but adding the comment that stuck with me from my first therapist: „To compare yourself means to hurt yourself.“

Finding out _why_ I felt I needed to be ultra special was the first puzzle piece towards healing to me.

Accepting myself as I am, loving my imperfect self and connecting to the needs I had as a child was the second one.

And if you still think you need to be special after that, I‘ll leave this quote from Ira Glass for you for your way ahead:

„Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.“


I understand these thoughts and feelings 100%. All I can do is leave you with some fighting thoughts (in the sense of fighting for a meaningful life):

* Compare and despair.

* What good do these thoughts and emotions do you? Yes of course perhaps you need these feelings to be driven to achieve what you want. But if you dwell on them for too long then you'll just waste more years not doing the things that you really feel to be meaningful, and then you'll be in an even deeper hole.

* Furthermore I'm skeptical that these "compare and despair" thoughts really will succeed in driving most people to "go out there and make it happen". I personally have found it much more invigorating and inspiring to acknowledge/praise/bless my fellow people. "Wow! They created that. Good for them. What can I learn from them?" Yes I know this reeks of "growth mindset" lingo but it works. At minimum it's a thought/emotion pattern that makes me not miserable day-to-day.

Also it's very interesting that you're a technical writer! I have been one myself for 9 years. At first I had major inferiority complex to engineers. I wonder if it's a common problem that is maybe specific to our field? Happy to chat about our industry 1 on 1 if you think that will help. Find my contact on my website (link in bio).

And last I will say that I know sometimes people just need to vent and need support so I feel a bit rude giving unsolicited advice to strangers. But this is a forum and I only share my thoughts in the spirit of hoping that something clicks for someone and helps them breakthrough.


Don't feel bad. Don't forget that a lot of opportunities in life are positional: there's a contest to get them, and the loser can lose for entirely different reasons than competence. A tiny bit of noise is all it takes to change the winner from one person to another. And for every contest where there's a line, there are a lot of people who are really close to the line.

And every opportunity that someone gets tends to give them more down that path later on. All those smart people doing stuff get to do more smart people stuff. That guy who scraped into medical school is a doctor, and the guy who almost made it isn't. Same goes for almost every profession.

What you can do however, is to learn those things that are not subject to competition. Basically everything that you can learn academically is that kind of thing, until you need to get a PhD advisor to take you on. With a bit of intellectual maturity, you can also know whether you understand something. The satisfaction is entirely your own.

Ultimately, positional goods aren't actually all that satisfying. Do you even want the respect of someone who respects you for being rich or accomplished? You can have all the friends in the world regardless.


One of the most sure fire ways to accomplish nothing is too judge yourself based on your accomplishments. The other leading cause of procrastination, according to modern learning research, is too give up when frustrated... The belief that things should come easy.

If you stop judging yourself on your accomplishments, then you can grow without goals, with just experimentation and whimsy. I guarantee that was the mindset when roller coaster tycoon was created.

To help, accept that wealth is based more on luck (were your parents rich when they banged?) than any kind of skill. The vast majority of wealthy people did not work for it, and probably will never have to work at all.

Also, just living day to day in a society that wants you to judge yourself on accomplishment is hard. Dump these ideas, meditate, calm, and then grow.

Edit: I'm going to add another thing about labels, specifically when people call someone else "creative", and how harmful it is. Instead, label actions. Sometimes I do a creative thing, but that doesn't make me creative. Sometimes I do something cruel, or yell. They doesn't make me mean or cruel... That's the fundamental attribution error.

I recommend seeing a counselor to help you with these negative thoughts.


> There’s a lot of subjects and activities that I’m really interested of getting into but I can’t just dive into it.

I mean you could pick one of these and try to get in. If it's about SW dev, it would probably make things easier if it's backend related or at least including backend like fullstack. Actually backend stacks are also evolving quite slowly. What usually impresses people is something that you built with technology that you really like. E.g. once at an interview there was someone presenting I think a web based managing tool for music albums. Like end-to-end working, not many feature but just worked. This kind of software exists hundreds of times, it's not about the idea but the execution. Or like one time I applied for a job and showed them my self-hosting stack (Email, Web server, Wiki) written entirely in Ansible. You could pick a stack that is both in demand and that you like, pick a possible idea and realize it. I guess learning by doing is anyway easier. You could then host it on Azure or Heroku for free. (Or EC2 or EKS if you want to include DevOps) Also basic design can be realized with Bootstrap or whatever is the current go-to-framework for that. And then perhaps put it on Github in a single commit once you're done. Most devs don't involve in Opensource activity and get fine very well anyways. FWIW I appreciate working with fullstack+devops because of the changing tasks but don't expect any badges because of the broader knowledge which is then not necessarily very deep. Also it's just work after all :-) But I admit it's easier to find new jobs.

So yeah, learning by doing and there are blogs posts/Stackoverflow/YouTube videos/forums/Discord chats for everything if you're stuck.


It's probably also helpful to join a community of people doing the activity. It's easier to stay motivated (and learn faster!) if you have a bunch of friendly people to talk to.

Honest question: why do you care? What is it in your psychology that makes you want to do something that impresses the world? If you don’t like the struggle needed to achieve those things then accept that you deep down don’t really want what you think you want. Instead ask yourself: What makes you happy? What makes you be in the “zone” experiencing flow? That is what you really deep down care about.

>What is it in your psychology that makes you

it seems like you missed the punchline

>I'm bipolar schizoaffective and borderline.


I understand your comment but I don’t think it makes a difference. I could be wrong of course.

I suspect that if you keep peeling away the layers here, you may come to find that this, in the end, is a struggle to find meaning. It is the same struggle that haunts many: we want to matter. How can we matter? We then grasp the idea that if only we could climb the mountain and reach the pinnacle of human achievement - if we could change the world - well then surely we would have mattered.

Well, I have news. If you were to radically transform the world, if your work surpasses any of our industry "titans" and creates the foundation of a utopia to last for thousands of years, if you are adored around the world by everyone alive young and old and captured in the annals of history... congratulations, you have affected the lives of approximately zero of the beings that have lived or have yet to live. And you will still die. And they will still die. And in time everything you have wrought will be destroyed. And you will be utterly forgotten. And all of humanity's history will disappear from knowledge. And the earth will be devoured by the sun. Inevitably. So it goes. It is irrationally tilting at a windmill to think that the degree of your impact in this life has anything to do with the meaningfulness of your existence.

The takeaway here is that you are no less important and your life is no less meaningful than any mogul or genius that you can think of. It is reasonable to think that nothing that you or they do will ever matter. Or even can. But that's ok; life is still beautiful. And if you have others in your life, you matter to them incomparably more than any of those geniuses ever could. I think if you look, you can find meaning there.

It's not settling, it's understanding the reality of things. You don't need to change the world to matter; you can just be you.


It seems that you're taking the best aspects of many people and combining them into one idealized person. This is most clear in your post when you transition from speaking about people who are "very intelligent" because they have graduate degrees, and then directly after that you mention how many people earn exceedingly well. It doesn't really work like that. If you pick a life of academia, you typically forfeit high pay although you likely aren't motivated by currency anyway); while conversely moving into industry with a vicious interest in money will more likely land you there.

This is similar to the problem with social media. People see the highlights and assume they're missing out on life. We often forget that the few victories (which may seem small compared to the years of effort places in them) that we have are shuffled into that feed, so everyone gets their moment of fame.

Don't get too upset about it and keep remembering that it's because were all sharing these moments that it seems like people are doing so much. We are, but its collective. Dont worry, you're doing great.


1. Ignore toxic positively

2. Not everything is as it appears on the surface. You don't know what advantages people had, and challenges they had to overcome. You don't know how they felt, and perhaps at some point they felt like you

3. Everyone will eventually wither and die. Failure and decline are the norm and they are a shared universal human experiences, everyone before you is dead and forgotten. Everyone around you will eventually fail, give up and decline. There is no escape from this, the question is when, that is the fact of the human condition, the absurdity of life

4. Watch your own plate, only compare to improve. Comparing to others without value is an act of self harm, it does nothing but lower your self-esteem

5. Speaking of low self-esteem, make sure have enough Serotonin. Exercise, sun light exposure, do a little ego boosting so you can tackle something

6. Do something you like, get good at, then better at it, then great

7. By posting and sharing this, it told me than you're self reflective, have a solid realistic grasp of your situation, and wanting to improve. I can assure you that you are way better than you think you are

Good luck buddy.


I think everyone has these feelings. There is always someone you admire knowledgewise and there are just so many things to learn.

Don't forget, the internet you are connected to contains hundreds of millions of people and we all follow the same 10 k top performers? And I think 10 k would even be generous, perhaps it's 5 per niche ( eg. dotnet, python, gamedev, unity, ... ). The dificult thing is to not completely compare to them.

Eg. Scot Hansselman ( https://www.hanselman.com/ ) is a great evangelist of dotnet but also works for Microsoft. He has more easy access to many resources and he shares those.

John Savill also teaches at Pluralsight and has a great youtube channel for Azure weekly updates ( Eg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUcbSNK6LGg ). But he also works at Microsoft as a Principal Cloud Solution Architect, so it's also easier to accomplish what they are doing ( i'm not saying it's easy though)


The only thing, and I mean that literally, is how you feel in your head. That's it. Your legacy doesn't matter. Your contributions don't matter. Not really... They only matter if you let their perceived omission make your life in your head feel worse. Find a way to be happy in your head, and you will live a better life than almost all of the people you think are better than you.

I have two comments. One is, why do you feel the need to be remembered and be great in the first place? Most people won't. Maybe the problem is your desire, which is something you may be able to change. Acceptance in combination with my second comment may be a good way forward for you. I'm personally not that productive despite broad and deep knowledge and I accept that I won't be great because I enjoy what I do.

Second, you say you're self-taught and you probably have a lot of experience. Why don't you start learning computer science online at this point? Not just another skill to stack on but something to contextualize everything and broaden your horizons while deepening what you already know about (not something unrelated: keep specializing.) I've done this with some things and it can be really mind-blowing to fill in some gaps, more than you might expect.

Make sure you take care of the relationships in your life too. You may just be looking for what you need in the wrong place here.


I may be considered a somewhat talented dabbler of many things. What I've found is the most important thing in getting good at something is building up things slowly, patiently you could say, and having some type of encouraging environment to let you flourish.

And then having a variety in what you do is great also. Physical exercise is almost as critical as having the motivation and time for doing something. When your mind is feeling good, you'll also get better results.

I'd say forget about coding something amazing and just focus on your physical and social side. Cut the Youtube a bit and find other sources for entertainment. Just break your routines and maybe you'll find that one intriguing thing you feel you can just endlessly immerse yourself into. We all in the end have quite limited resources to get good at many things and have to pick - even if you were super smart - what to focus on.


It's not so much imposter syndrome. It's that research-based graduate experience matters, not in what one learns, but that it forces a person to go through 4 to 7 years of deeply focused introspection, often on fundamental reality.

I suspect similar experience can be gained in a monastery or deep spiritual processes. It's not that PhD is a requirement, people gain this ability in different ways, just it's the most standard way to set aside 4-7 years to focus nowadays.

It's not the kind of experience that one can gain from standard undergrad education, or in a regular 9-5. Also when we are older, it's difficult to find the kind of time to do deeply focused introspection on a single topic.

Without this process, it's easy to get trapped into superficial learning, and confuse regurgitating factoids with knowledge and insight.

The key to do this once again is that instead of trying to learn everything, focus on a singular topic very deeply for a non-trivial amount of time.


I don’t have answers, just thoughts. I’m always impressed how some people can take something I thought was either obvious, common knowledge, or nothing interesting and intrigue so many people with it. You might know something that most don’t, and you might be more interesting than you realize to the right people. And hey, you know the internet! That’s where most of the people are!

I believe that everyone has a niche, but they might not realize it, or people might assume it should be bigger than it is. When I started doing web stuff and “making things,” I dreamed of changing the world. That was like 25 years ago. Now I’m making the things that I like, putting it out into the world, and hoping that somehow the right people find it. I don’t want to change the world anymore, I’m just hoping to accidentally change a couple people’s worlds in tiny, beneficial ways.

Small steps. All we hear about and witness are the big leapers. We’re not all big leapers, and that’s so perfectly OK. I’ve come to rather make a single person very happy, even if only for a few minutes, than make 1,000 people kinda happy.

Maybe it feels like staring out at the ocean and feeling completely insignificant. But maybe it’s really that you’re just not meant to do anything with the ocean.

I’d love to hear more about the ins and outs of technical writing. You probably have learned a lot more than you realize about do’s and don’t’s, tips and tricks, etc.

Look small. Don’t expect to make waves. Do things because you enjoy them. If you feel like sharing that with others, do it! Don’t focus on what they want, focus on you enjoying something. Whether that’s learning something in front of people, trying something new, reviewing a YouTube documentary, or whatever.

Or, you know, don’t. :) Just be, and enjoy learning and watching YouTube and know that those things aren’t damaging the world, and that’s a hell of a lot more than many people can say.


It's important to learn to be ok with our own limitations, our proximity to the average. I like Mark Manson's writing on the subject, e.g. https://markmanson.net/being-average or his book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck"

These are deep questions and they are hard to get a handle on for many: thanks for opening up a discussion! You're not alone and if you ever want to chat one-on-one my email is in my profile.

> Now, I’m an unimportant technical writer composing documents for developers and users. There’s no path for career growth if I stay in this specialty. My work doesn’t feel like it takes much talent and I was hired a few times without having any credentials in business writing.

Do you get feedback from anyone at your job about your work? If so, do they disclose the value of your work to the organization or to individuals? Perhaps you can start a conversation with someone on your team, in your user base or in management to get more insight into the value as perceived by others and see if that helps?

Have you considered schooling or certification that you could pursue to help validate your current knowledge and experience? Your employer may have programs or would be willing to sponsor some of the costs to help you.

If your current workplace doesn't have an avenue would you consider a coach or mentor who might be able to help steer you to a new company or career path that you might find suits your needs better?

Self-care is quite important. If you're having trouble feeling at home with your daily routine and aren't feeling able to fully care for yourself or to follow through with the changes you hope to make then asking for help from friends, family, community, doctors or peers is a great way to help move the needle.

> I sometimes wonder if my mental condition or my medication has had an effect on this: I'm bipolar schizoaffective and borderline.

If you haven't talked to a doctor about your current situation it could be helpful to share what you're going through and ask if they would recommend a change in treatment or if they have other resources they could recommend.


It's not so much imposter syndrome. It's that research-based graduate experience matters, not in what one learns, but that it forces a person to go through 4 to 7 years of deeply focused introspection, often on fundamental reality.

I suspect similar experience can be gained in a monastery or deep spiritual processes. It's not that PhD is a requirement, people gain this ability in different ways, just it's the most standard way to set aside 5-7 years to focus nowadays.

It's not the kind of experience that one can gain from undergrad, or in a regular 9-5. Also when we are older, it's difficult to find the kind of time to do deeply focused introspection on a single topic.

Without this process, it's easy to get trapped into superficial learning, and confuse regurgitating factoids with knowledge and insight.

The key to do this once again is that instead of trying to learn everything, focus on a singular topic very deeply for a non-trivial amount of time.


This feeling is familiar to me as well, I'm sure almost everyone feels it.

It reminds me of drawing advice, people always want to know how to get better at drawing, and the answer inevitably is just "practice more", I'd bet drawing skill matches very closely to "time spent drawing" and programming is probably the same way too.


I'd say what you probably need most is to get the hell off the internet as much as possible, because so many apps are designed to suck away your time and have known negative consequences for mental health.

I'd also say - get some professional help. If there are indeed some issues you need to work through, then processing them will enable you to have more perspective and "solve" the problem you've outlined here.

But for a very quick starter: "don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides".


Hey, I definitely relate to some of this. The trick is to turn it from passively consuming information to turning it into active learning. When you watch these documentaries, make notes of what you just heard. You start to become more engaged. This video helped me, https://youtu.be/V-UvSKe8jW4, How To Remember Everything You Learn

I realized I’m always curious to learn how things work. So I figured out I could use it to make it my center of focus and try to build a company around it. This is the start http://rigelblu.com

We make the world more complex than it needs to be sometimes. Probably often. Maybe you can use your curiosity in those subjects and interests to help make it easier for others?


I've always felt that if one can point to themselves as kind, thoughtful, and willing to listen to and help others, they can count themselves among the very best society has to offer. Those are skills anyone can foster and use to brighten someone's day and make the world a kinder, happier place.

There are some conflicting currents in your description above. On the one hand you sound quite unhappy and dissatisfied and on the other you express that you lack motivation to change. You need to join those dots.

I actually do suggest youexplore your thoughts about the medication and whether it affects this. I say this from knowing someone who, during the course of my knowing them went onto anti-depressants, and I saw their personality change in a somewhat similar way. It made them more stable but it took the edge off their passion and their motivation to change. I saw a similar contradiction where they somewhere inside wanted to change but their motivation to do it was blunted and they couldn't "connect" that desire to action.

This is only a thought and obviously you need to work through such a thing with professional guidance.


I've had this feeling too, and I've found this hack to keep feeling hopeful of eventually being the top 100 of something

There are ~8x10⁹ people on earth, if you are at the top 99.99% percentile, that still leaves ~800.000 people better than you.

But now lets see this from a different angle, and let's assume there are at least 100 different areas of expertise you can choose from, and you are young, you can still become an expert in more areas. If we calculate the combinations of 3 areas of expertise, we get 161.700 combinations, that leaves on average ~50k people on each possible combination, you are now competing against ~50.000 people instead of 8 billion!!!, if you become the top 98% percentile of that group, you are now in the top 100 worldwide of that combination.

Now try those calculations again but with 1000 areas of expertise


I'm almost 40 and feel the same. So be warned that you will probably feel the same throughout the whole life. After all most of us are mediocre at best but modern technology exposed us to so many bells and whistles of the world every day. I literally find all topics of science, history and many other fields fascinating. I guess most of us never truly grow up to get used to the boring life.

That said, I urge you to pursuit whatever you have in dream immediately because however cliché it sounds like, life is short. Think grand and make sure you will never reach your dream in this lifetime because greed for knowledge or whatever else fuels the heart when it is 5am and minus 20 degree outside.


It may help to consider that the most impressive human being ever is extremely shallow and dumb compared to what is possible.

Future humans will have genetic engineering and computer augmentation, at the very least. They will (correctly) view all previous generations of human as comparatively primitive. That won't invalidate what they did.

My thinking is that:

1. Some humans make large contributions to humanity's progress.

2. Almost everyone makes some contribution.

3. A few unlucky people contribute nothing at all.

4. We should count ourselves lucky if we can contribute something.

5. There's no reason to spend a lot of comparing contributions, except insofar as it helps people contribute more in a healthy and productive way.

6. We should all contribute as much we can figure out how to, as one part of living a full and happy life.


> What really impressed me however was the origins of the first two titles: written by one man in assembly language

you arent alone, i think that is an impressive and time consuming feat.

OP, youre in a much better place now skillwise then back at 17, sounds like youre unchallenged at work and maybe burnt out. Take some time off to contemplate what youd like to do, open all the possibilities that interest you. Remember you arent starting over, you have a relevant skillset already. Maybe build some personal projects of any kind, to remind yourself how fun building things can be and your motivation may return.

that plus ensure youre getting daily exercise and sleeping well. Motivation follows those almost automatically at times for me. If i feel fulfilled, i have more energy


You should remember that whenever you see things people put out, you're usually seeing their best, most polished work. It's true that if you follow hn for example you'll see lots of impressive work done by really motivated and talented people. This, however, is the tip of the tip in many ways.

Don't judge yourself harshly and try to detach from comparisons with the world. In your spare time do whatever you find meaningful because of the thing itself, not because of how impressive it is.

Also note that building things, even if they're basic, is more motivating and useful than going over endless tutorials, wiki pages, online courses etc.

And again, do what is meaningful to you, not what is fashionable or impressive to strangers, hn, recruiters etc.


I have to say that HN is toxic if you are suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Clicking the stories on here is always going to make you feel bad. Take some time off from HN. Most of the human population isn't doing the things that the people on here are doing.

In short, your brain chemistry is currently in an unusual situation and that also affects how you feel about your life.

My advice would be to work on feeling better.

There's plenty of things that I'm bad at, not only compared to the top 0.1% of the internet, but also compared to my real life friends. But I can enjoy doing them just the same, despite my obvious lack of skill. You can be both useless and a good person at the same time. Plus chances are, others will actually value your contribution, even if it seems like nothing to you. So the first step should be to find something you enjoy doing, or to relearn to enjoy something you did in the past.


Work on developing your inner score card. The way you feel about yourself should have zero, zip, zilch to do with what other people around you are doing.

Benchmarking yourself against other smart people is just the kind of dumb stuff smart people do, and you shouldn’t do it. After all, what is smart? high iq? Wealth? happiness?

It’s also insane how many people operate with an outer score card like this. Pretty much everyone, but you don’t have to.

Here’s a start: be a decent person who is kind to others. Take pride in that. Keep points on your inner score card. Surely you can look around you and see how many people no matter how “smart” or “successful” lack these qualities. Not all of them but plenty


Consider human evolution and human psychology. What has been most important to most individual humans, for all of history? Having a safe and satisfying individual life, providing for and integrating with those friends and family in our immediate presence.

That's the biological firmware running in your brain. The Internet screws with this perception. It can be a "make yourself feel bad" machine under the right circumstances.

Hold those 0.0001% up as personal heroes (keeping in mind most people have no connection at all to writing Corkscrew Follies in Assembly) and use that inspiration to live your life to your own satisfaction. That's what Chris Sawyer was doing too.


Both penjelly and pgruenbacher mention great points. Personally feeling very similar to OP as well.

The things I need to do better are sleep better and exercise more.

Counseling helps address some of these feelings but only go so far to motivate one to take care of themselves...


Time + Commitment = Improvement

You can improve in a few months what it takes another a few years depending on your circumstance. There are no shortcuts. Find ways to increase the amount of time you can devote to your dreams. This will compound. And if you stay the course, you greatly increase the odds of success, whatever that is. Being satisfied with your accomplishments.

I'm not saying it's easy. Everyone has things outside of their control that demand their time. But a lot of people don't make attempts at changing that circumstance. There are a ton of ways to optimize a bit here and there to gain time that compounds.

Use it wisely.


I run an 8-minute mile.

I feel dumb and weak because I used to run a 6:30 mile in high school. I tell this to other people, and they apparently can't beat a 10-minute mile (or have never tried).

Its all relative. If there's one thing about "track", its taught me to enjoy whatever level you manage to get to. I wish I was as strong as I was when I was half my age (and I'll continue to practice for it), but I can accept that my level of effort has brought me to an 8-minute mile.

When I started, my first run was a 12-minute mile. So I know I've improved. I felt really weak back then, and now I only feel kinda-weak.


Mother Teresa is an inspiration for me. She wrote "You can do things I can't, I can do things you can't. Together we can do great things". I went to India once to volunteer at her place and my eyes were opened that there are so many things we can do for people. We don't need to be Einsten or somebody super smart/talented to be able to help people around us. We just need to find what sort of things we can see ourselves consistently doing for a long time that can help people around us. It doesn't necessarily need to be a big thing.

I too have felt this same feeling, it's normal that everyone experiences this in ebbs and flows in life. Ultimately though, there's hard truths I had to face in order to get through this hump:

1) I tolerate this pain, which is why I am not changing my circumstances. 2) I believe that I myself don't have control over my own happiness/life.

Once you have hit that point where you can't tolerate the pain, make the change. Say to yourself that you don't want to live your life this way, and start doing what you like without caring what others think about you. Hope this helps!


Be aware that people tend to present the successes and high points in their skills.

Even Feynman (according to Gell-man and others) did this. As an example (iirc) he fluked a combination lock and pretended it was some magic skill.


Don't compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to what you were before.

Welcome to your quarter-life tech crisis, dude! Have a cookie.

You aren't untalented, empty and dumb. You just lack self-esteem and perspective.

You don't appreciate what you're capable of. If you can write code and combine technical knowledge with well-crafted English sentences, you already have skills most people on the planet never will. If you work in tech in general, you are blessed with a life free of physical exertion, with a flexible schedule, and the opportunity for a high paycheck. You are very fortunate. If you were actually untalented, empty and dumb, but still benefiting from this occupation, you're very fortunate indeed!

And you don't feel bad because you think you're untalented, empty and dumb. You feel bad because you're judgemental and egotistical. You look at people who, to you, appear to be more accomplished, and then you look at yourself, and you judge yourself. Imagine if you were doing this to someone else; "Catherine is so untalented, empty and dumb, because she hasn't achieved what Karl did. What a stupid loser!" Your egotism drives the urge for an inflated self-view, but then your self-judgement for lack of accomplishment lowers your self-esteem.

You want to be someone better; someone that you'd admire. But you're unwilling to put in the effort and risk it takes to be admirable. You're here on HN telling thousands of strangers how you feel like crap, wanting one of us to give you some magic words to make it easier to either reconcile your thoughts or make something of yourself. But there are no magic words. Whether you're satisfied with life or not is completely up to you alone. You can decide to be satisfied and be happy. Or you can decide to be unsatisfied and be unhappy. Or, you can decide to be momentarily unsatisfied/unhappy, and do the difficult work to change that state. Climbing tall mountains isn't easy.

You don't have to "do something" or "be smart". You don't have to learn anything new, be impressive or accomplished. Those things will not make you a better person, or even happier. But you can attempt those things if you choose to. Coast, carve, or climb; pick one. And stop judging yourself, and stop underestimating your own accomplishments.


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