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Being OK with not being extraordinary (2021) (tiffanymatthe.com)
317 points by xrayarx on Nov 23, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments



Actually, being extraordinary is something most people can do. Now, by definition that seems illogical. However, here me out. Most people tend to view extraordinary along a single dimension: really good at math, or really good at running. In this one-dimensional view, most people can't be extraordinary.

However, you can be extraordinary in your own unique way. For example, running. You may not be the best runner, but you could have a lot of insight into running and a good writer at the same time, and thus be extraordinary at writing about running.

If you take the entire sum of your own unique talents, and find a way to combine them properly, you can become extraordinary simply by finding a new way of looking at the world, even if the individual talents you have are not outstanding compared to others.

Take programming as another example. You may be just a "good" programmer, a "good" teacher, but not necessarily outstanding at either. But maybe you have a third skill that will make you stand out when you are teaching programming. Maybe it's your sense of humour, or your ability to put people at ease, or even a talent for drawing that comes out when you draw diagrams.

Being outstanding or extraordinary in my mind means combining everything you have to be inspiring, because the proximal/end result of extraordinary really is just that: having the ability to inspire. Sometimes one-dimensional measurements like amount of money or raw strength measure that, but sometimes they don't.


Frankly, being extraordinary -- in the dictionary sense of being exceptionally special and remarkable, let's say being in the top 1% -- is something of a young person's conceit.

We all dream of making it to the top at one point or another. Nearly everyone fails to get there.

Early in life other people will indulge your fixation on this because you're young, but most of them aren't extraordinary either, so as you age, their patience with it grows thin. If you cling to a fixation on being extraordinary it will ultimately isolate you and tear you apart psychologically.

Fortunately there is an alternative which some discover as time passes. It is infinitely more powerful and useful than worrying about whether you're extraordinary or not, and will propel you to heights you never realized you could achieve.

The alternative is to compare yourself today only to who you were yesterday, and focus on always pursuing new personal bests.

By putting in the time and staying focused you can become uncannily good at almost anything this way. Far better than most people, and grinding out one little win at a time is surprisingly satisfying.

Will it make you the best? I don't know. This tactic is surely some part of how the best got to where they are. I doubt I am the best at anything but I have not bothered to check. In the end it doesn't really matter, you are able to become great and be happy, and that is more than enough.


I think this is kind of the point OP was making. You mention being in the top 1%—so now we have a definition of 'extraordinary'.

Now look at your life through every facet. Are you really not in the top 1% of anything? 1% is not even that high a bar. You don't even have to be the best on your block to be in the top 1%. Or even tenth best on your block.[0]

It could be anything that you're extraordinary at remember. Even if you want to limit it to creative pursuits, there are so many different musical instruments, art forms, styles of writing, types of dance, that with a bit of effort and specialisation, becoming 'extraordinary' is not that difficult, even before you start 'multiplying' skills (the best writer on running, the best ballroom dancing photographer, etc).

[0]: https://vlesdesigns.com/blogs/facts/how-many-people-live-on-...


> Now look at your life through every facet. Are you really not in the top 1% of anything? 1% is not even that high a bar.

While I haven't yet framed it this way using your language, I'll share the belief that complexity science thinking is slow-brewing within me:

That the very network structure of our social fabric (as it has evolved) is selected to be just so, such that we have the maximum chance to each be extraordinary, given the existing meme pool. Small world networks are a goldilocks zone of clustering and nearness of any two nodes. The subjective experience of this small-world feature is that the average path length between any two random points is "surprisingly close". The math is such that any two people, aka any two ideas, aka any problem and its corresponding best solution -- that all these things are on average as close together as the math allows (while still preserving high clustering), by virtue of the small-world networks properties of the social graph.

The universe wants you to remix ideas, wants your mind to be a recombinator of the most diverse ideas, wants you to be a memetic vessel containing the most extraordinary set of ideas the universe can offer you. Because that's good for the collective endeavour of humanity :)


I'm really not in the top 1% of anything, when comparing to the set of people who care about it. I'm mediocre. I think the point of the article is that part of growing up, for 99% of people, is realizing that. And realizing that you can still build a good life.


There's a significant difference between 'the top 1% of people' to 'the top 1% of people who care about a specific thing'.

The reason this is so significant is because now, your extraordinariness depends not just on you, but the thing.

If you're a drummer, for example, there are about 1 million drummers in the US. To be in the top 1% of drummers, you need to be one of the best 10 000 drummers in the US. One of the best 200 in the state. There are about 20 000 places incorporated in the US, meaning you need to be the best drummer in both your town and the next to be in the top 1% in the US.[0]

Compare that to go players.

There are around regular 50 000 Go players in the US. To be in the top 1%, you need to be in the top 500. Top 10 in your state. Best in your town and the next 39.[1]

But crucially, if you learn how to play go, and you practice, you only have to play better than 49500 players. If you learn how to drum, you have to play better than 990 000 people. And if you want to be an extraordinary guitarist, well, god help you.

Wanna be an extraordinary Tanana[3] speaker in the world? You can be the best if you can beat just 29 other people. Probably wouldn't take much study to be the best Tanana poet.

Examples are contrived and I've massacred the maths, but being extraordinary is not hard in an extraordinary field. It is hard to be extraordinary in a very ordinary field.

I agree though, coming to terms with whether you want to be extraordinary, and if so, whether you want to be extraordinary in a very ordinary field, is a part of growing up.

[0] https://www.drummerworld.com/forums/index.php?threads/how-ma...

[1]: Yeah, obviously this isn't true, because not all incorporated places are the same size. Spherical drummers in a vacuum here.

[2]: http://www.intergofed.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2016_Go...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanana_Athabaskans


It's harder to care about an extraordinary field, unless being in the top 1% of something is a goal in and of itself.


A lot of people missing the scope.

Getting to the top 1% isn't really hard. There are 8 billion people on the Earth getting to the top one percent means being in the top 80 million. I can think several things that I'm in the top 1% because most of the people newer do it.

The problem with the internet your reach is higher and you can see people who are one in the million or billion in one aspect of their life, but don't see anything else.


With enough dimensions, everything is on the Pareto frontier: https://erikbern.com/2016/10/25/pareto-efficiency.htm


The curse of dimensionality.


Being extraordinary is easier than just picking some random categorizations that you identify with and combining them. Just be yourself. There is no one else in the world like you. The odds of being you are less than one in eight billion. How's that for extraordinary?

Of course, like most simple things, this is far easier said than done.


Being unique is not what people mean when they talk about being extraordinary, though. With that term comes the connotation of not just being different from others, but being _better_ than others.


I understand that and am challenging that mindset. We are all seemingly in a hurry to diminish ourselves on the basis of external value judgments that are often arbitrary or unbalanced. Why do we value extraordinary athletes over extraordinary caretakers? If you are comparing yourself to others constantly, you are unlikely to reach your full potential, which is going to more or often than not inhibit you from being extraordinary in the conventional sense anyway.


If everyone is extraordinary in that way, like unique snowflakes, then the only really extraordinary thing would be to not be extraordinary in that way. Any property that is true for all stops being a meaningful differentiator.


This is true, but it creates a new problem: you have to find your multi-dimensional thing, which is tends to be quite difficult.


but thats the fun part


Most people deserve more fun


>If you take the entire sum of your own unique talents, and find a way to combine them properly, you can become extraordinary simply by finding a new way of looking at the world, even if the individual talents you have are not outstanding compared to others.

maybe i'm too pessimistic in the opposite direction but this kind of argument always sounds like appealing nonsense to me. appealing because we'd like it to be true, and because the number of possible combinations is great enough that it's not immediately obvious that it isn't true. but in reality, skills don't generally exist in isolation, and as long as we're still attaching some kind of objective qualitative value to being 'extraordinary' beyond just being unique, most people who are mediocre at two things are not going to significantly exceed being mediocre at their combination, whereas people who are extraordinary at one thing are (in my experience) quite often at least near-extraordinary at a few others.


Only reason to be sad about not being "extraordinary" (not "just" good but better than most) is if that is stroking your ego.

And this is just a mental trick to stroke ego more.


> Actually, being extraordinary is something most people can do.

I think that this isn't so different from the article's point, just phrased differently. But I also think it's worthwhile to remember that, while you can be extraordinary, you don't have to be. Giving someone permission just to enjoy something, without having to worry about whether they are extraordinary at it, is as important as reassuring them that they can be extraordinary.


The sad reality is nobody gives an F, if you are competent across multiple dimensions. You can be a competent software engineer with a very good business sense. However, a better programmer than you is going to get the software engineer role and a better salesperson is going to get that sales role. You will be left to grinding in a org that treats you as a cost centre.


It's worth pointing out that a competent engineer with a good business sense is the exact formula for an exceptional sales engineer.


And I'd say exactly what you need for a product manager too. And they tend to be the ones that make the key decisions in tech companies.


If your theory was correct we would live in a world run by specialists. But it’s actually generalists that thrive, start, scale and run successful companies. Specialist work for generalists.


* Certain kinds of generalists with skills at starting and running successful companies start and run successful companies

The generalists that don’t have the particular intersection of skills to be CEO end up being outcompeted by specialists for specialized roles. See: poor wages and working conditions for unskilled workers, who certainly have skills outside of work, but no skills that matter enough in the economy to get specialized jobs


Same is true for specialists. Only certain kinds of specialists will be paid highly.

Picking something that is not only interesting to you but also needed by the market is generally a good idea if you want to earn money. Otherwise it’s just a hobby.


"Picking something that is not only interesting to you but also needed by the market" is not always a feasible option. Good for you if you found an in-demand job that is interesting to you, but not everyone can find that.


I match the parent's example almost perfectly. I'm a "good" programmer, "good" teacher and I have a "good" humor. My students (university level) really laugh sometimes at the stupid analogies that I make in class. For instance, this year I teach operating systems concepts, namely processes, synchronization, scheduling, etc., with examples from construction workers and things like that (I've self built a terrace this past summer, that is why I use construction analogies - cement, paint, etc.). Some kids even say that they won't probably forget some aspects of the class because how funny (and stupid) some of the examples are.

But getting tenured? Here, where I live (Western Europe), only the number of papers and european projects you've been into matters, even if the outcome of the "research" of those papers or projects is nothing to be seen (who really controls that?).


Existing systems - especially heavily ossified ones, such as academia - are the worst at rewarding exceptional novelty as described by GP. They tend to reward conformism (exceptional conformism, sure!).

If you feel like you’re reaching a glass ceiling, don’t be afraid to go outside that box. Record some lectures and put them online. Self publish a book. Start your own school. Etc. (The exact way you can color outside those lines will heavily depend on your context, but you want to be coloring outside the lines).


> If you feel like you’re reaching a glass ceiling, don’t be afraid to go outside that box. Record some lectures and put them online. Self publish a book. Start your own school.

Yeah, I have an introductory programming course that I'm developing (like how to think algorithmically with flowcharts and pseudo-code for beginners) adapted from another class I teach, and I'm exploring teaching platforms such as Thinkific and Teachable. I also have some other courses (building a 16-bit OS from scratch, basic data structures, etc.) that I would like to develop as well. This semester I have a lot of class hours, but next semester I plan to put them online (and maybe do a Show HN).

But thanks for your words! It is a confirmation that I really need to do something else (by the side, at least).


Those are very good skills to have if you want to found a startup, or if you are less ambitious, you can build a side hustle that can turn into something that eventually covers all your costs. With good programming and business skills, you'll also stand out as a freelancer / consultant.


On the bright side, outside of a professional context people might care about the multiple interests and dimensions, and might find it fascinating enough to share experiences together.


That sounds absolutely perfect skillset for manager, that would be paid more than that software engineer


Conversely, by choosing the axes differently, Olympic gold medal winners become ordinary people.

Also, being extraordinary in one thing (e.g. running) doesn't mean what people think it means because how many people actually try to become a professional runner? If everybody tried, Usain Bolt would be ranked #1000 or perhaps even lower.


“If everybody tried, Usain Bolt would be ranked #1000 or perhaps even lower.”

I’m skeptical. The people who do become professionals are heavily weighted towards the fastest runners. People naturally gravitate towards what they’re best at.


As someone who follows soccer in the US, and specifically women's sports, there are some absolutely _fascinating_ reasons why that statement is way more complicated than it looks. There are so many factors — the means to access even rudimentary safe training and recovery, happenstance discovery by coaches or organizations, connections through friends and family — that leave me always wondering how many athletic talents simply don't pursue it.

SI ran a fantastic story[1] about Naomi Girma, a top young talent who's already cemented a starting position on the US women's national team, the holding and four-time World Cup champions. Considering the size and depth of the US talent pool, itself massive due to the relative dearth of women's team sports and the accessibility fostered by Title IX, and likewise also rife with abuse and corruption, the USWNT is arguably one of the world's hardest soccer teams to become a starter for.

Girma had none of the advantages of many of her teammates. She's Black, which is still uncommon on the USWNT and even less common among natural defenders. She's the daughter of an Ethiopian refugee and another Ethiopian immigrant, another rarity. She was discovered by a travel team — often difficult to join and expensive youth clubs — while playing at a YMCA, and stayed on a worse-performing team because she relied on getting rides from a friend's family on that team.

When it was overwhelmingly evident that she belonged on the better team, the team itself covered her rides to practice because her parents couldn't — in part by a parent driving Girma to a private school for pickup. Her coach promoted a feeder program to the youth national teams to her, without which neither Girma nor her parents would have any idea what her ceiling would be.

> “You know, my parents had no idea about the college recruiting process. They didn’t even know how to get me onto a club team. Even, like, what is AYSO? The concept of rec—all these little things—you have to learn that, and if you didn’t grow up here, why would you ever know what AYSO is? You’re not going to look that up. So I feel like a lot of things fell in place on my path because of the people I was surrounded by, and I’m extremely thankful for that, because I know I would probably just still be playing at the park on Saturdays—still having fun, but I wouldn’t have gotten where I am today.”

She went on to get a full-ride scholarship to Stanford, won national championships, became a first-overall draft pick in the US pro NWSL, and started for a San Diego expansion team that went to the semifinals in its first year. Girma was Rookie of the Year. She's considered a lock for the 2023 World Cup roster, playing for the defending world champions.

Her contemporaries as exciting young talents are in stark contrast: Sophia Smith, this year's league MVP and USWNT teammate, came up through a sports family where her mother, unlike Girma's, could afford to quit her job to cover the three-hour practice commute. She also had the advantages of a Colorado youth system that produced several other USWNTers.[2] Trinity Rodman is Dennis Rodman's daughter (itself a complex and fraught oversimplification of her relationship[3]). Olivia Moultrie's family was rich enough to build her a sophisticated practice facility, complete with her own pitch, as a pre-teen on her way to a Nike sponsorship and pro contract at 15.[4]

But if Girma didn't have a friend on a youth team who's mom would give her a ride to practice? If, instead of a supportive coach, she had an abusive one?[5] By her own estimation, she might still be playing weekend ball in a park with her dad.

Bolt's story is extremely well documented. But on top of the talent, and on top of the work to excel, to think there aren't hundreds of other kids out of billions with that same potential is difficult to reconcile. A faster kid, a better soccer player, a better wide receiver, a more clever pitcher might just not have a mom who can get them to practice.

[1]: https://www.si.com/soccer/2022/06/29/naomi-girma-san-diego-w...

[2]: https://www.today.com/parents/dads/trinity-rodman-opens-rela...

[3]: https://www.today.com/parents/dads/trinity-rodman-opens-rela...

[4]: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/soccer-pro-olivia-moultrie...

[5]: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2022/02/08/rory-dames-...


It's definitely an interesting thought experiment! A key question is how extreme outliers like Bolt are distributed. There's certainly a chance that there are others in his cohort who match or exceed his genetic potential, but 1000?

I also don't think you can assume the greatest outlier who has been discovered would be significantly exceeded by others who weren't discovered. If they could be better, my intuition is it would be by a very small margin.


I think it becomes even more obvious with team sports. Among males, Sweden is a top-tier ice hockey-nation but an absolutely disgrace in rugby while the opposite is true for New Zealand. There's a significant overlap in the talent pool for ice hockey players and rugby players so there's no reason why Sweden and New Zealand would be equals in ice hockey and rugby. Access to the sport makes all the difference.


As someone who grew up playing some backyard hockey, access to frozen ponds helps as well! ;)


There is some merit. Lots of people don't have the opportunity due to poverty, lack of access to good coaches, good competition, etc etc.

Would Bolt be #1000? Dunno, but if this were the multiverse then yes there is always someone better.


Well, Bolt himself was born into a poor family. Someone who has the genetic potential to be that fast is going to spend their whole early life being the fastest kid anyone around them has ever seen. Sure, some might not pursue it seriously for whatever reason, but any kid with that much inborn talent is going to know that they are fast, and others will know it too--that kind of thing gets noticed.

It's a bit like if a 12 year old is 6'6" and athletic... there's a pretty high chance someone is going to try to teach that kid to play basketball.


So we're digging our heels in that no one could ever be faster than Bolt.

> Well, Bolt himself was born into a poor family

Sure, but what about the really fast kid who was shot in Somalia or the other one who lost a leg to an unexploded antipersonnel mine. Or as innocuous as the really fast kid who didn't like the pressure of competition.

What about the people who were simply born earlier? Technology showed up in the 2 years that's making people even faster. Those throughout history were not given the same opportunity, but if they were, could they have been faster that Bolt? Possible.

Your skepticism requires that everyone be given an equal chance which simply isn't grounded in reality.


I mostly agree. Someone could definitely be faster. But I think you're underestimating how much of an outlier he is.


Culture matters too. It isn't a coincidence that Bolt came from Jamaica, which has a tradition of high level sprinting. If he was born poor in the US, my guess is he would have been a wide receiver or basketball player and only would have focused on running if it was clear he had no future in a more lucrative/higher status sport.


Not everyone wants the results of concentrating on a certain sport/job/hobby, even if they are naturally great at it. For example, many women (or men for that matter) might not want the physical result of being the world's best body builder, even if they are genetically predisposed for it. Being the world's best horse hockey might also not appeal to many, the prestige probably goes most too the horse and not the jockey. I'm sure there are other activities which are lacking in some aspect, which would make people who would excel at it turn away.

Also, as it takes some time to get past the amateur level and explore whether one actually had generic potential to be great at a sport, and that there are more sports than time, there's an element of chance whether someone hits upon the right sport.


I think you’re overestimating the difference between an elite runner and the average (fit) person.

Usain Bolt is only about 15-20% faster than a decent high school runner. The difference was even less when Bolt was in high school.

That kind of difference isn’t even noticeable unless you’re timing it or racing. It’s not something that’s immediately obvious to everyone.


"Only" is not an appropriate term there. Everybody races when they're a kid, and it tends to be a win a bit, lose a bit, and always by a margin of couple of steps. Beating somebody by even 5% is an unbelievably huge margin in a race that is extremely visible.

In a 40 second race a 5% margin would be 2 seconds - enough to quickly turn around, sit down, and feign some yawns as you wait for the #2 guy to come in. A 20% margin? That'd be 8 seconds in a 40 second event. It'd look plainly comical.


I can’t remember ever seeing little kids running anywhwre near a 40 second race. 10 seconds is probably a bit long for an impromptu race.

Also Usain Bolt was 15-20% faster at his peak than a decent high schooler. He was nowhere near that when he was in high school. In addition to genetics he was also training much more than a decent high school runner would.

A huge component of genetic potential is a greater response to training. Someone like Usain Bolt could easily slip under the radar just by being uninterested in running.


You never played football, tag, or even ran track in PE? I'm also not entirely sure where you're getting your comments about his high school stuff from. He won both the world youth and junior championships while in high school, and was the fastest man alive in his age group - a record that stood until quite recently. He ran a 20.4s 200m in 2003 at the age of 17. His ultimate personal best and still world record would be 19.19 in 2009.

Incidentally he also wasn't interested in running. He was much more interested in football, but seeing one kid Bolt across the field led others to convince him to try out track and field.


I played American football as a kid, but I know plenty of kids who never played any sports outside of PE. And PE was mostly just jogging around a track, dancing, and other non competitive actives. Plenty of kids just half-assed PE, and never would have demonstrated to anyone any genetic proclivity for sprinting.

>Incidentally he also wasn't interested in running. He was much more interested in football, but seeing one kid Bolt across the field led others to convince him to try out track and field.

Being seriously into any team sport makes being identified as a gifted athlete of any kind much more likely. Most kids are either not involved in team sports or aren't trying hard enough to really be noticed even if they are genetically gifted.

In addition in many countries almost half of the kids are overweight, obese, or just out of shape, which probably swamps out any genetic benefits in terms of sprinting.

>He ran a 20.4s 200m in 2003 at the age of 17. His ultimate personal best and still world record would be 19.19 in 2009.

That's about 10% faster than what's considered a good time for someone that age, and that was after, by that time, a ton of practice. My point was that he probably wasn't beating other "fast" kids by 20% margins.

My overall point isn't that when participating in athletic events, a genetically gifted kid isn't going to be noticed. My point is it's very possible for a kid with Usain Bolts genetics to go unnoticed, simply because they aren't interested in sports.

The differences in speed between young kids are likely small enough that it's not obvious just from playing tag a few times that this kid is freakishly fast. And many kids will just never run 40 second races. It's very possible that whatever genetic advantages Usain Bolt had didn't even show up till puberty.

Maybe the kid is just bookish and doesn't play outside much, maybe he plays with older siblings so his natural ability is dwarfed by the extra year or 2. Maybe he gets fat because his parents feed him too much etc...


One thing I want to hit on is how Usain would look against a normal person. Imagine Usain, at his best, (at 17) runs a race against the 200th fastest other 17 year old, of all time, at his best. How do you think this would look? From your comments I suspect you think it would be a photo finish. We can actually answer this precisely with a bit of math (and record keeping).

The current 200th highest world record for a U18 is 21.04. Usain's record is 20.13 (my mistake). In the 200m you're generally looking at around 4.2 strides per second with each stride covering around 2.4 meters. So we have all we need. The difference at the end would be (21.04 - 20.13) * 4.2 * 2.4 = 9 meters, or more than 30 feet - multiple car lengths!

And that 200th fastest 17 year old of all time is not just a "fast kid". He's a physical outlier several sigmas away from the mean that would be creating similarly lopsided finishes at nearly nearly every local, state, and even national competition he entered. But Usain is just on an entirely different level than even that. So Usain racing against anybody even remotely normal would look like "fast kid" vs "extremely slow kid."

---

Basically it's not really possible to fail to notice this sort of achievement. In PE he'd casually run laps around everybody without even trying. And by football, I don't mean any sort of team event - just a bunch of kids grabbing a football, imagining some nets, and playing. Nobody would be even close to being able to keep up to him. Literally anytime there is any sprint movement in anything, he would be on top - by far.

As for the hypotheticals beyond this, I don't know. We might have to just agree to disagree. I tend to think people are drawn to the things they're good at. And with running it's basically impossible to not notice that you're this many sigmas away from the mean. It's not like we're talking the best Polo player.


>or more than 30 feet - multiple car lengths!

Yes in a 200m foot race someone who is 5% faster is very noticeable (in a 20m race, which is closer to what little kids are doing, it's much less noticeable at 1 meter). But by that time Usain Bolt was already a well trained athlete competing in organized events, so of course he was noticed.

My argument can be broken down into 2 parts.

1. If we accept that Usain Bolt's genetic speed boost is the same throughout his life, so that at 4 years old he had a 10-15% boost compared to other other fast 4-year-olds with similar fitness levels--I'm saying that given the kinds of running and games 4-year-olds play, and who they play them with, that isn't a big enough difference to guarantee that someone notices it. That is, it isn't guaranteed to swamp out other variables. Bolt at 4 wasn't likely faster than his 6-year-old cousin or any faster in a short race than the kid who starts half a second before him. Hypothetical fat Usain Bolt at 4 wasn't likely faster than his fast 4 year old friend. Hypothetical indoor sheltered Bolt who never played outside, probably wasn't faster than his fast friend who ran outside all day long.

2. We shouldn't accept that his genetic speed boost stays the same throughout his life. It's very unlikely that Usain Bolt was the fastest 8 month old in the world. It's very likely that at least some of the physiological differences that enable his freakish speed didn't develop until puberty. Kids are not scaled down mini adults.

Kids generally stop running around for fun outside of organized activities well before puberty. Potentially giving hypothetical Usain 2, plenty of time to develop other interests based on other things that he might also be good at.

A deconditioned couch potato 12-year-old isn't going to be lapping his peers who play soccer every day after school, no matter his genetic potential--especially if he doesn't care enough to really try.


Yeah and running isn’t like say hockey where you need a load of equipment and a certain socioeconomic background to play. Literally every kid runs. Some are faster than others and some enjoy it more.


And some have older friends who are faster, and thus they give up and try something else.


Just to balance this out a bit... the alternate reality of "everyone tried" is kind of fictional, because a huge factor in high performers of their chosen sport/field/art is determination, resilience, imagination, visualisation, their psychology and finally personal desires - which are a product of their life experience combined with physiological predispositions.

In other words, what made Usain Bolt a gold medal winner wasn't merely physical potential and chance, but the mental ability to push his body to extremes and work at it every single day because he desired it that much and had the mental stamina to do so. In the "what if" reality, you would have to change everyone's mind to have the same psychology. You can have all the physical attributes and potential of a runner, but if you hate running and generally don't have much "grit", you aren't going to get far.


This "if everyone did x" is always a fiction, since it is impossible to get everyone to do the same thing at the same time. It is I believe a useful thought experiment, for the reasons you mention.

What if someone had the potential but not the determination to follow through. Or they did not have a way to train, or got injured the day they had the first competition, or the first training, or they did not like the coach or the teacher, or they preferred dancing or music instead of running, etc.


Your comment reminds me of a comedian who used to remark that for a person like Bolt it is not really extraordinary to do what he does: it’s his ordinary job. Extraordinary would be, say, a plumber dropping by the stadium on his way to work, outrunning Bolt, then quietly going back to his clogged drains.


> If everybody tried, Usain Bolt would be ranked #1000 or perhaps even lower.

Usain Bolt redefined the limits of the human body.

He's literally a rocket man.

There aren't enough extraordinary runners to make him rank #1000 or even lower.


> There aren't enough extraordinary runners to make him rank #1000 or even lower.

I do not want to diminish Bolt's achievements, but how do you know this?


> Conversely, by choosing the axes differently, Olympic gold medal winners become ordinary people.

See Michael Jordan trying baseball or every programmer who thinks they know everything about everything else because they know programming. One of my favorites is when an athletic guy comes into Jiu-Jitsu the first time and gets submitted over and over by one of the kids or women.


It's still just finding an unique way to stroke your ego in the end. I think learning to be happy without having to tell yourself "I'm better at this than other" all the time is overall healthier outlook. I get better coz if I'm doing something I might as well do it well, and for hobbies learning and getting better is just plain fun for me.

All I get from looking at people better than me at thing is desire to plunder their knowledge and experience to be a bit better at it myself. And working with people better than me is just easier, as I have to worry only about my own fuckups, not someone's elses. Well, except people that can eat what they want and not get fat, that I do envy, but then that's not a skill to learn.


Agreed. This is the same principle that is often given out as advice: excel at the intersection of fields rather than particular ones. The combinatorics generate a pretty ginormous space of possibilities to excel at even for 8 billion humans.


Wow this is superb life advice, thank you! You’ve given me a lot of food for thought.


If you would like to put that advice to practice, this book will help.

(The Art of impossible) https://www.amazon.com/Art-Impossible-Peak-Performance-Prime...

It guides you through discovering your mix of passions and strengths to land on what you might make you uniquely extraordinary.


That's such an insightful post! That's also why I find it so interesting when people career swap into engineering. They have a whole lot of domain knowledge and alternative perspective that can be incredible valuable.


I recently thought about this when I was thinking about my programing skills in my current job.

I'm not the best programmer there by a long shot. I didn't grow up programming at the age of 10. I don't have a CS degree.

But then I thought how nobody has the same experience as I do. I have a mixture of things I'm good at that make me unique and valuable.


Even with the single "job" like developer, putting out okay code that's well documented and tested is probably more valuable than just putting out very good code with barely any docs and tests.

Especially if you add some social skill to figure out what exactly needs to be built instead of taking ticket comment at face value then figuring out author of request had something else in mind once it lands in test environment.


Well said. People and problems have a multidimensional nature. For me, one major key to finding happiness in work is finding an environment where the skills needed to solve problems is in high alignment with the two of three skills that you believe you're "good enough" in.


This comment reminded me of a video Tim Ferriss posted recently on Youtube which basically said something very similar: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/kgO_Og-__HU

Very insightful!


Favorited, if I become famous for my amazing talent by combining 10 different things, it's your fault.

I guess that's what you're extraordinary at, making super stars with just one comment ;-)


May I recommend the coffee table-ish book, "Be Amazing"


Who is the author? A Google search for this title didn't narrow it down clearly for me. Cheers!


Maggie Koerth-Baker


> However, you can be extraordinary in your own unique way. For example, running. You may not be the best runner, but you could have a lot of insight into running and a good writer at the same time, and thus be extraordinary at writing about running.

Oh, my Lord, you type a people are just incredible. If everyone is extraordinary, no one is extraordinary. You’re only afraid to say this because saying it means that plenty of people will not be extraordinary and that kills not only their dreams but your dreams.

Just because you want to put all that stress in your life, does not mean you have to put the stress on everybody else’s life. My shoes are


The problem is even small niches can have ton of competition, and second, market share is too small.


This is similar to the Scott Adam's advise- which was great: https://dilbertblog.typepad.com/the_dilbert_blog/2007/07/car...

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing. 2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.

I always advise young people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who have only one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge.

Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix. I didn’t spend much time with the script supervisor, but it was obvious that her verbal/writing skills were in the top tier as well as her people skills. I’m guessing she also has a high attention to detail, and perhaps a few other skills in the mix. Probably none of those skills are best in the world, but together they make a strong package. Apparently she’s been in high demand for decades.


> But I don't feel inspired when I see extraordinary. I feel disappointed, jealous.

These are the words of a young person who was trained to see everyone else's success as an implicit criticism of their own ability and effort. It is not the author's fault. A mentally healthy person, when shown a display of excellence, is impressed, energized, and motivated.

I have never thought that "participation trophies" do any damage to young people. Young people are smart and know that participation trophies are bullshit. What actually hurt young people was the constant reinforcement that "anyone can do anything/anyone can be the best". The corollary of "anyone can be the best" is "if you are not the best, then something is wrong with you/you're not trying hard enough". Not everyone can be the best; many people have genetic and network-based advantages that will guarantee them better results at a skill than 99% of their competitors.

Young people have very little free time. The time they spend actually focused on their responsibilities is constantly overshadowed by fear and anxiety about The Future (grades, college, etc.) The remaining time they have is spent on their phones and computers, which is the only reliable way to make the fear and anxiety turn off for a few minutes. When they do have free time for extracurriculars, they're in sports playing against future D1 athletes and having metrics and social status tracked against them, or in theater getting cast as extras while the good roles go to the handsome kids, or in music listening to the musicians' kids and the international students play like professionals.

If you want to be okay with not being extraordinary, you need a lot of free time to get properly bored, and a social network with which to practice your hobby completely free from the judgement of The System. Practicing to try to beat a rival school headed by a college-bound athlete is stressful, but practicing to try and impress your friends at pickup soccer purely for fun is not.


I guarantee that the person who wrote this article doesn't get jealous of Olympic Snowboarders (to use a contrived example). The jealousy comes from thinking that you are competing with other people for a limited pool of money/ideas/success.

When people start to realize that the pool isn't limited, and that you aren't actually competing with anyone else (except in certain circumstances), it's a lot more freeing. You can differentiate yourself, your product, or your startup along any lines, and you will be unique and extraordinary. The only thing that's left is finding other people who think that.

It's human to struggle with jealousy like this, but the competition isn't reality. It's all a social construct.


Participation trophies are not bullshit.

I think most damage to kids is done by people who claim participation trophies are bullshit.

These trophies are for encouraging people to try and do something and not thinking: "I am not going to win anyway so why bother trying at all".

Kids are smart and they also know that running that 5km run and finishing first is hard work. They might not be happy about participation trophy but still they should be praised for the effort of putting on shoes and trying.

There is a lot of psychology about effects of encouraging positive behaviors that is misunderstood. Even if you have employees it is much more effective to praise them on positive behaviors than scolding them for mistakes. Because scolding for mistakes will push them into direction "I am not going to do this task at all because if I make mistake I will get scolded, so why bother doing this task at all".


Actually the research suggests that participation trophies are counter-productive, because it teaches kids that they don’t need to try, they are simply entitled to rewards: https://lancasteronline.com/opinion/columnists/undeserved-pr...

The whole concept of participation trophies came out of the “self-esteem” movement, which has mostly panned out to be BS.


Well this article sure as hell isn't by a researcher.

The quotes from experts say that "too much" and "undeserved" praise is bad.

A participation trophy is generally very minor in terms of praise.

Much more specific expert quotes are needed here.


Participation trophies are not addressed in your link.


>Participation trophies are not bullshit.

I have two participation medals from international sporting competitions. I throw them in the trash after I get them.

I've kept the two bronze medals.


Participation trophies are 100% bullshit.

The reward you get is learning that hard work is its own reward.


I see you want to come over to my house next week and paint the walls.

Od course I am not paying anything because hard work is its own reward.


Imagine painting somebody's walls and being given a participation trophy lol.


What? No!

I can just watch you paint the walls and get credit for just showing up.

This whole thing got me thinking about my time in Panama. It was a combat zone but we weren’t doing war stuff so didn’t get combat patches even though we qualified because the 82nd doesn’t give out participation trophies. Hell, they were talking about not giving us Combat Infantry Badges for the Gulf War even though we were running ops in Iraq before the ground war started because they all surrendered once it did. Though…I used to call my CIB “my participation trophy” when I was in the reserves years later.


> The reward you get is learning that hard work is its own reward.

Maybe for some people the internal feeling is good enough, for others, some token (however worthless you might think it is) works.

Why make people feel bad when its so easy to make them feel good?


> Why make people feel bad when its so easy to make them feel good?

Isn't the answer to this question point of the thread?

Participation trophies aren't just about tokens. Everyone who runs a race can get a shirt or something to show they were there. This kind of thing has always been around. Participation trophies are for protecting people from knowledge that there were winners and losers in a competition and that they are one of the losers.


When I did sports as a kid I constantly finished close to last. (Just had not one bit of talent and/or genetics)

I was very aware of that fact and nevertheless I went and participated. Mainly because my parents encouraged my personal progress and celebrated small victories and effort.

The particular sport I did also provided small tokens (usually a slightly "fancy" certificate, sometimes a cap or shirt or sth)

Did that help me become good at that particular sport? No not at all.

But the mindset of curiosity and going for your personal best even if others are better did help me later in live.

Preservation goes a long way and encouraging kids to do their best is not a bad thing. Keep it grounded in reality though ("You did good today, great process . Others will make that their career but you showed up and put in the work which is good by itself")


> Participation trophies are for protecting people from knowledge that there were winners and losers in a competition and that they are one of the losers.

Have you ever seen a participation trophy?

I have some from youth sports. They're a tenth the size of the actual placement trophies. They were not an attempt to fool people.


> They were not an attempt to fool people.

That's exactly what they are. The whole reason People started pushing them was to pursue an agenda to affect developmental psychology. Perhaps you are misreading my point, as are others who seem to equate not being a loser with first place. A third place trophy is not fooling anyone that the winner is equal to the first place winner either. Participation trophies allow children to accumulate a room full of trophies and praise from relatives.


If it's very clearly distinguished from placement trophies to everyone involved, then where's the deception?


I don't know who's getting that message from participation trophies, but I certainly understood winning and losing when I played organized sports as a kid.


Maybe because the goal isn't feeling good?


often, that is literally the goal. and that’s ok.


Found the boomer. You're right, the goal is to feel disappointed. Isn't that what your generation was about, "Disappointment builds character" and all that toxic nonsense?


[flagged]


What's the relevance here? Or are you just being rude?


> A mentally healthy person, when shown a display of excellence, is impressed, energized, and motivated.

The way I’ve expressed this sentiment before in the context of music was to find hope when I hear outstanding musicians, as my thought was usually, “we now know there is at least one human capable of such expression, so it’s possible for us to reach this level,” or simply to say “such an individual does exist.”

I think the author has deeper seated issues to deal with, especially if they spend time languishing over this, and then writing these posts to justify/circumvent their negative emotional reactions by reframing and then echoing their internal troubles to the rest of us like we need to be enlightened.


I agree. I used to feel very jealous whenever hearing superior musicians, but after a while it just becomes exciting, especially when you're often playing with people within the same sphere of talent as you rather than binging YouTube videos of the best of the best.

The author does have deep-seated issues to deal with, but I really don't think the author is uniquely broken. I would bet that at least half of the modern western population struggles with similar feelings.


My brother is in a band in the neighboring metro.

Each year they do a show at one of their houses, and the same core group of 6 or 7 guys shows up in different permutations in various acts. They also tend to bring in one or two "away team" bands as well. This year, they put on a show with a total of 8 acts.

Last year, when I went, I was in awe of what they'd built together. In a very punk DIY ethos kind of way, they've assembled their own little music fest. There were probably something like 60 people there through the night. Seeing these guys run through their music was so impressive to me. The level of technical skill and musicianship varies between the group, but none of them are what you'd think of as professional musicians. Some of the songs lack polish, or do awkward chord changes. There's plenty of sloppy guitar work. The vocalists are generally less than amazing.

But damn it, they're out there making music and sharing it with people. Don't like their stuff? Well, it's their house and their show!

In my own musicianship I've always been overly perfectionistic. How can these guys get up in front in random people and play these imperfect songs? And how can it be that the net result turns out to be the best show I've seen all year?

Because all of them care more about making music than being perfect at it. They'd rather be on stage with imperfect material than relegate their playing to the bedroom or garage trying to polish technique for no one.

I got the opportunity to jam with them after the show, and felt intimidated after having watched them all play. How was I going to stand up to these guys who just put together an entire concert?

But the thing is, I was able to hang with them. I was probably the worst player in the room, but I have enough skill to get up there and make music. It doesn't have to be perfect. We played the same chord for almost 20 minutes and the 6 people left in the crowd danced like we were the greatest show on earth

Sorry, this got long - but here's my point: Put yourself around people who do what you love. Don't worry about who's 'better' - there are so many dimensions that it's meaningless anyway.

The joy of life comes from going out into the world and playing your heart out whether you're great or terrible. I've been so much more inspired to play in the weeks since that show, and I hope to have some of my own imperfect original material to play next year.


Yeah it’s a blight of origins I cannot comprehend, to be blunt. Upbringing? Harsh parents? Bullying? Whenever I do see it however it’s a self destructive force, and people who have directly expressed these feelings to me before often have another more sinister feeling to go with it, usually in the sphere of arrogance, contempt, malice, or some sort of righteous indignation that the world isn’t fair. Give these people the opportunity to cast others out, I’ve little hope they would hold themselves back from lashing out at those they perceive as “worse, but seen in more positive light” than them.

Seen as such, these articles do little to show the authors attempting to turn the other cheek as much as they try to justify and reframe their negativity.


> I think the author has deeper seated issues to deal with, especially if they spend time languishing over this, and then writing these posts to justify/circumvent their negative emotional reactions by reframing and then echoing their internal troubles to the rest of us like we need to be enlightened.

Seriously. It is loud and clear. The justification of their own pathological behavior is wildly unhealthy. Too bad they don't see a therapist.


> What actually hurt young people was the constant reinforcement that "anyone can do anything/anyone can be the best"

I think Ratatouille corrects this idea well - Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.


Perhaps it should be; everyone can be the best at something. You have to find your something.

On the whole though, the entire concept of “best” is a mess in a world of eight billion. At this point it’s more up to the whims of the contest, and doesn’t seem very correlated with life outcomes. Better by far to be one of the best, working shoulder to shoulder with the others, and forget entirely about who holds the podium.


> Perhaps it should be; everyone can be the best at something. You have to find your something.

This implies there are at least 8 billion “things to be good at” which I don’t think is necessarily true. I suspect most people are not the best at anything.


True. There are far, far more things to be good at. I can make up a completely new board game right now and I'll be the world champion at it immediately.

At a slightly less extreme level, it's always possible to find something niche enough that is just so obscure that you can become the best by persistence alone. Maybe you're the world expert on blue umbrellas manufactured in 1993.


People don't want to be best at something for the sake of it, but because it brings some perks with it - recognition, fame, money. Being the best in a game which literally nobody else knows is largely meaningless. I mean, try it, it doesn't take much time to make up a trivial game. Does it bring any kind of satisfaction to know you're the best in the world (because nobody else knows it)?

(to be fair, there is also inner satisfaction coming from deep understanding and mastering of some activity, but alone it's rarely enough without any external validation to motivate people)


> I can make up a completely new board game right now and I'll be the world champion at it immediately.

That sounds intuitively true, but it's not.

I thought the same thing, until I met an actual board game genius who beat me at every single game we played that I invented and practiced before playing against him.

That's why he makes a pretty good living creating and selling board games and I don't.

People with talents do exist, unless board games is your thing, it won't work.


This sounds suspiciously like the story of Duke Devlin.


Maybe there are with combinations. I might be the best programmer who can do woodworking, play flamenco guitar, and squat 475 lbs. I'm just waiting for that category to be added to the Olympics.


I think your real niche is going to be creating software for luthiers that enables you to design the flamenco guitar of your dreams. Critically, you discover the ideal guitar body for flamenco is incredibly heavy…


so you’re the best at making yourself happy.

this is a good thing.


That seems like a leap to me. I bet there's plenty of people who could take over that life and rough set of preferences and do a better job of being happy.


i mean, sure? then they’re making themselves happy.

again, this is a good thing, they’re happy.


If I say that some people would be happier in some kind of impossible to reach theoretical, that's not a good thing, is it?

And the person you were talking to didn't even say they were happy! They just said they're the best at some combination of things. Even assuming they are happy, they're probably not near the top of the happiness charts. "best at making yourself happy" looks to me like a completely unfounded guess/hope.


>Perhaps it should be; everyone can be the best at something. You have to find your something.

What happens if you don't? What do you tell someone who managed to find something at which they are respectably competent, but not the best? Is that not sufficient?


I think the real and maybe not directly stated point is that every person on a planet with billions of people is virtually guaranteed not to be the best at something. It is statistically unlikely especially given how we do everything we can to label people into groups and funnel them accordingly to be used ( and be useful to ) by society.

That does not mean that a given person should not try to get better, because this is the only way you will start getting to a level of competency and maybe, with some additional luck and push, to a top performer level. Not everyone can be number one, but extraordinary ( the attached article ) definition allows for that. And being second best at 'whatever' sure beats just complaining about everything you did not get a chance to accomplish.

<< Is that not sufficient?

I honestly don't know. It is a very personal question each of us should answer internally. I, personally, want to do better and you do want to keep giving yourself progressively harder goals. I am currently working on a plan for 23-25 and I am getting kinda excited, because I believe it will move me to a better place in terms of my career ( and by extension better family life ) and interests, but I know it will require some buckling down and really polishing some skills. Maybe it is spending too much time on HN watching other people's 'Show HN' threads that got me to question myself "Why can't I do this?/"What is missing?"

I already know I can't be best. As mentioned in the very fist paragraph I do not believe it is even possible, but I still think there is a lot of untapped potential. Wasting it would be a shame.


There was a part in Isaac Asimov's autobiography that stuck with me, where in high school he wasn't the best student in any subject. However, he was the SECOND best at EVERY subject, whereas the "best" students were only the best at one subject. So I think for some people, there is value in not being the "best" at anything but being good a lots of things regardless of overall ranking.


This is what I’ve been implicitly optimizing for my whole life. Breadth over depth, but applied to a field. Pretty good at a lot of things to enable synthesis and creativity across domains. I’m very comfortable not maxing out a narrow set of sun skills, since 95% if the effort goes into the last little bit if performance, and the opportunity cost is then many other skills (or experiences or whatever)


Trying to be second best in a large group will also destroy you.

But okay, let's say 95th percentile to make it more achievable. Well, a normal person can reach 95th percentile in several things, but that's out of a list of hundreds of things or more. Being 95th percentile in most things is not going to happen, let alone all things.


A jack of all trades, master of none, is oftentimes better than a master of one.


Or “do not compare yourself with others, for there will always be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”


Doesn’t help when people like me are just terrible at everything, have accomplished nothing and considered subhuman by the rest of society!

This is a “thanks I’m cured” statement, no different from saying depressed people should smile more.


The statement is in fact useless. Changing your mental actions is what is useful. When you notice you brain doing it, then imagine you are a kind kindergarten teacher guiding a child to take crayons out of his mouth. Kindly tell your brain to think of something else. Then patiently tell your brain again.

Put down the internet drama machine and go do small good things in the real world.

—————

> considered subhuman by the rest of society!

Unless you are literally an AI, then as a member of society I can tell you that this is factually inaccurate. I think you are a human.

I also know that there is a tiny fraction of society that consider me subhuman. HP Lovecraft would be horrified by my very existence. The fraction of society that calls people subhuman is really bad at maintaining healthy relationships and so they don’t tend to hold onto power so I don’t care about them.

> just terrible at everything and have accomplished nothing

Do you have solid evidence that this is factually accurate, or does it only feel true?

If it feels true, then get up and go for a walk or roll outside, occasionally doing pushups or waving your arms about. That will help you see reality more clearly.

Also, teach yourself how to make scrambled eggs well. That way when you remember the parts of your life that do suck, you’ll at least be able to remind yourself of your ability to make scrambled eggs for someone.


Legitimately though, the act of smiling whenever you can pull it off, will elevate mood. At times it isn’t possible. Similar with choosing instead of discovering what you can excel at and flow with.


Not best, no. I can be top 10% at a few things, though. Not many, but more than one.

Top 10% doesn't necessarily make me "extraordinary", depending on how you define it. It's enough for it to be part of my something, though.


But this isn't true. Who is it benefitting to lie to people like this?


I mean, I’m definitely not the best songwriter out there but I’m definitely the best at writing songs about my own life!


Oh so we're just teaching people effective coping mechanisms? I guess that's fine I misunderstood the comment I was responding to i think

edit: also probably untrue, I bet there are lots of songwriters who could make songs about your life that the vast majority of people would agree are better than yours


A buddy of mine is definitely a better songwriter than I am and he has in fact written a song about me!

It would have been sometime in the late 2000s and I was visiting dear old dad in Christchurch, NZ, and my buddy James, aka Lawrence Arabia was playing a gig at the Wonderbar in nearby Littleton on Christmas Eve. I happened to meet a nice young lady, shit you not, named Eve, and we ended back at her place… her parent’s place. At 2am on Christmas Eve. Then her dad comes down and finds us fooling around on the couch in front of the tree. My ride had left hours ago so I had to call up pops. Surprisingly he was very pleased with my escapades and not too bothered with the wake up call.

Here’s James’s take on the event: https://fabulousarabia.bandcamp.com/track/give-me-love-tonig...

While it’s a fine song, it is definitely not his best, and I’m sure he’d admit that it is not as good as my better ones!

It is, however, better than my song about that night: https://williamcotton.bandcamp.com/track/eve-of-eve

My wife and I, complete strangers beforehand, were two of maybe 15 people who went to see James play at a small bar in SF about ten years ago. That dude has been getting me laid for decades!

Anyways, unless I happen to steal a steam engine high on cocaine or some other act of epic folklore there’s no chance in hell that some songwriter out there is ever going to write a better song about my life than yours truly.

If it somehow happened it would be an amazing honor.


You obviously wrote this whole story to brag about your success with women. I expect "I got laid" posts on Reddit, not on HN.


I'm sorry, but what is obvious here is that you have some insecurities around success with women.

Let's follow the thread. We have an article about learning to be OK with not being extraordinary. We have a comment about the article stating that you can be the best at something, you just need to find your niche. Then we have someone who says it's wrong to lie to people about being able to find a niche. Then I point out that for something like songwriting there is indeed a niche if you're writing about things that are personal. Then this person calls that a coping mechanism and says:

I bet there are lots of songwriters who could make songs about your life that the vast majority of people would agree are better than yours

Well, funny enough, I do know a very talented and accomplished songwriter and he happened to write a song about a memorable night. I happened to write a song about that same memorable night. It's a good enough story that it inspired two songs to be written, professionally recorded, mixed, mastered, and put onto albums with artwork and all of that hoopla and I'm not skittish about retelling a brief synopsis. Tragically, I say that James' song is actually better than my song about the event!

The only song that James has ever written about me is something that triggers your insecurities. Normal adults can indeed mention topical memorable nights like this in casual conversation. Normal adults can joke about "getting laid"... with their wife. Do you get why I added the part about my wife? We literally met at one of James' concerts.

Can you now see the poetry in all of this?

If there is anything at all to be critical of it is that I'm going out of my way to share my music. This is something that I am a bit insecure about! I made the decision awhile ago that my life would be better off if I focused on a career in software engineering as opposed to a career in music. Honestly, I haven't fully come to terms with this choice. I still seek validation for my art. I still hold onto the hope that once the kids are a bit older that perhaps I'll give it another go.


I didn't get that impression at all, I think this comment is revealing more about you than the person you're responding to


Effective coping mechanisms that are reasonably grounded in objective reality.

Whose decision is it that the other songwriters are better at expressing this one dude’s experiences? Thats not an objective question. It is a choice.


No, it's not a choice. It's mostly subjective and up to them to judge, but it's a judgement based on the merits.

Writing is hard, and there are very good reasons people work with experts to make things about themselves.

Related, have you ever seen this clip? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4Y6zimxi-Q


Hmmm… okay you are making the distinction between judgement and discretion and saying I’m wrong to categorize this as discretion.

Upon reflection, I think you are right.

> writing is hard

Oh definitely. I’ve certainly had the experience of Lin-Manuel Miranda expressing something more clearly than I can.


As people growing up in Canada were reminded of repeatedly, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OX6qUFm1HsI


> These are the words of a young person who was trained to see everyone else's success as an implicit criticism of their own ability and effort. It is not the author's fault. A mentally healthy person, when shown a display of excellence, is impressed, energized, and motivated.

I don't think that's universally accurate. While this is something I have observed living in the US, growing up in Germany was a completely different story: The people in small town Northern Germany went so far as to criticize and attack you for your achievements that far surpassed what they have accomplished. It appears to make them feel jealous and threatened, which in their view is best dealt with by making you less threatening instead of feeling inspired themselves.


> The people [...] went so far as to criticize and attack you for your achievements

I've seen this personally, including from family. Actually managed to get to a point with one family member where we could honestly talk about it, and it was a complicated sort of jealousy.

In their case, they correctly noted that I'm not so much smarter or otherwise distinguished as to "deserve" what I've accomplished so much more than them, and they felt cheated. When asked why they didn't do something like what I did, it came down to personal conservatism and fear. I was willing to risk moving to the "big city" without support (my family is poor). They were afraid to try.

You become evidence of their missed opportunities, and that makes them angry at you. So much worse if you are childless and have the temerity to be happy about it - that really pisses off some of them, too.


We call this "Tall Poppy Syndrome" in New Zealand. If you're a tall poppy you get cut down to size. The only successful New Zealanders that are approved of are those that elevate NZ as a whole on the international stage and attribute it to the country rather than their own individual talent and ability.


Here in Japan they say "It's the nail that sticks out that gets hit."


> The people in small town Northern Germany went so far as to criticize and attack you for your achievements that far surpassed what they have accomplished.

Isn’t this a salient feature in US culture? We attack the wealthy, celebrities, politicians. I’m not saying these people are saints by any means or it’s completely unwarranted, but the US seems to have an increasing victimhood culture. It manifests in different shapes and forms, but the outcome is more or less an attack on some person or group of people who we consider to be relatively more “privileged”, and we use that to dismiss their actual accomplishments or whatever good they may have also done. The root of the issue is always about comparing yourself to someone or some group and their accomplishments and justifying one’s or short comings.

Many of the diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, regardless of good intentions, are spin offs from this.

To be clear, I’m not taking a swing at the social justice movements. But what I am saying is that in US culture, there’s definitely massive resentment of those who are successful.


> Many of the diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives, regardless of good intentions, are spin offs from this.

I agree. Especially equity (as opposed to equality of opportunity) I think is very closely related to the extreme “egalitarianism” we have in the Nordics. The Law of Jante [1] is a great summary of our particular variety.

Be very afraid of this BTW… :)

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante


Wow. In what way did they attack? Were they neighbors or colleagues?


I think the other part of it is that even if you can be the best at something, there's an enormous opportunity cost to that. We look up to Olympians, but it's tough to fully grasp the amount of sacrifice it takes to win an Olympic gold. You're not going to have a normal social life or other hobbies - you're just doing your sport (or related practice) for as many hours a day as you can without sustaining injuries that would impact your ability to train more.

Same thing with the best musicians, lawyers, researchers and a whole lot of other professions, particularly those that we hold in high esteem - there are a lot of people who want to be at the top, and you can't stop to take a break because plenty of those people will be working more while you rest.

I'd rather be good at a bunch of different things and have enough free time to read a book or play videogames on the weekends than be extraordinary at one thing.


I think this is wrong. The olympians aren’t clearly working harder than other people who are trying hard but not naturally talented or well endowed.

They are working hard, but many people are for far less impressive feats.


Olympians are a combination of both - they have the natural talents/endowment, but they also put in the maximum amount of work. Michael Phelps has an enormous wingspan, but he also trained 5-6 hours a day. If he dropped that to 3 hours a day, he would lose to someone with a slightly smaller (but still well above average) wingspan who's training 5-6 hours a day.


I practiced with a state swimming champion. We practiced same number of hours as Phelps. There was no way I would ever get to his level and there was no way he would ever get to Phelps's level. There are tons of people putting in the work for sports and very few Olympians.


> Michael Phelps has an enormous wingspan, but he also trained 5-6 hours a day

Whereas a postman or police officer work 8 hours a day...


They are working 8 hours a day, not training 8 hours a day.


There's one Belgium (IIRC) football team member in the world cup who, before going pro, worked as a mailman. His comment about that is that people don't realise how hard mailmen have to work. I suspect his life at the top of the most competetive sport is much easier.


And I'm sure Michael Phelps couldn't deliver mail as well as those postmen. Leaving aside the obvious physical differences between working as a cop and olympics training, what point are you making exactly?


> "A mentally healthy person, when shown a display of excellence, is impressed, energized, and motivated."

I would add "inspired" to your list … I frequently visit digital art sites well known for the excellence of the work of their many artists, and scroll through the "showcase" areas especially, seeking out that specific thing. That which impresses me also often inspires me. Helps get the "creative juices" flowing before working with any of my favorite art creation tools (Blender 3D, Inkscape, Krita, Godot game engine, etc…).


What digital art sites are these? Been looking for some good ones.


A couple of my favorite inspirational art sites are SketchFab and DeviantArt. Both have some amazing talent on display on a regular basis, and both have given me inspiration when I'm running short on ideas or creativity. Both also have a quite wide variety of liberally licensed content (creative commons, etc) that you can legally re-use as a starting point for your own works, as long as you conform to the requirements of any given license.


>A mentally healthy person, when shown a display of excellence, is impressed, energized, and motivated.

What's your definition of mentally healthy, then?


Mental health is always assessed through the lens of cultural norms. Where I am (in Sweden) feeling jealous and acting on it is the cultural norm [1]. (Personally I agree with the GP though and see my own culture as sick.)

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_Jante


A mentally healthy person is content to live their own life, is honest, and doesn't hurt people around them.

Negative emotions aren't necessarily an indicator of mental unhealthiness; resentment, disgust, rage, anger, etc. are all healthy responses to the right set of circumstances. However, when these feelings are experienced when there's no danger, deceit, harm, or violation of a bargain or relationship, it implies an inability of the person experiencing the feelings to be content with their own life, and a desire for goodness to go out of the world (I'd rather you not be excellent at all then have to sit here and compare myself to your excellence).


I don't think these feelings are restricted to young people.


They certainly are not, but most people learn them when they're young. I've found that motivated healthy, competent young people rarely turn into bitter adults without a major tragedy.


Anyone who this article resonates with might want to check out the videos of Mark Lewis on YouTube. He was formally fat and depressed in his 30s and got himself into great shape (sub 20 minute 5ks, cat B on Zwift, winning age group at hyrox, completing ultra marathons). He speaks about his philosophy on life and training which is to be above average in whatever he wants to pursue which he describes as being somewhere to the right of the bell curve peak but not too far down. He says this is the sweet spot where you get the most fun and enjoyment; to the left of the peak and you feel bad that you’re not as good as everyone else, but trying to get too much better than average at something means you start having to sacrifice too much in order to achieve it which starts sucking away all the fun. Above average keeps you motivated to better yourself, is far more achievable and doesn’t require you to become crazy like a lot of high achievers. I think it’s a pretty good philosophy.

https://youtu.be/kViCSPXyU8U


Skills don't follow a bell curve or normal distribution. They follow a power law distribution with most people being terrible and a very small number of people being exceptional.


Today I learned:

> A few notable examples of power laws are Pareto's law of income distribution, structural self-similarity of fractals, and scaling laws in biological systems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_law#Power-law_functions

An opinionated comparison of the bell-curve and Pareto distribution:

> (1) The power law is often an empirical fact (the way things are) but not necessarily the platonic idea (the way things ought to be); and

> (2) We can tame or mitigate at least some of the negative aspects of the power law by encouraging eclectic and diverse strategies.

Tyranny of the Power Law - http://econophysics.blogspot.com/2006/07/tyranny-of-power-la...


Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the "Tyranny of the Power Law".


Is it really a power law or just that the right half of the bell curve could pass the interview?


I've never thought about it this way. Cut off the left side of the bell, rotate the graph by 90 degrees, and you can see that the high-sigma members of the distribution take all the reward and recognition in a limited attention economy.


I have adopted this approach (somewhat out of failure!), and what I have found is this: being significantly above average in a lot of unrelated domains is both far easier than being world-class in a single domain and often can make you even more effective than someone who is a savant in a single domain.


„being somewhere to the right of the bell curve peak but not too far down. He says this is the sweet spot where you get the most fun and enjoyment“

So true. So, so true.


Perhaps I would add also these distributions are high dimensional. Although being slightly above average is not difficult (unlikely to get paid doing it), if you can find a handful of non correlated features at which you are above average, you can be easily be the top few percent in your sub field (ie likely to be paid handsomely for your expertise)


I’m pretty sure you can be paid handsomely for being an above average accountant or plumber in a decent location (and mid sized or bigger city in the developed world for example)! Being above average at playing the guitar, not so much.


The point is more that above average multi-instrumentalist can outearn easily better (but single instrument) musicians.


Reminds me of this article from Derek Sivers: https://sive.rs/bronze


I don't know about you guys but the last week's Ask HN thread about their most impactful achievements really messed up my weekend.

I don't understand how some people can set their mind up and just _do_ stuff. I struggle with not doing stuff but when I try to my brain is violently asking why.


I think if you're using a feeling of guilt about not doing stuff as the principal motivation for doing stuff, that's a recipe for... precisely the results you describe.

I'd recommend taking a step back and thinking about what's truly important to you, and see if you can identify an activity or a goal where the journey itself makes you feel inspired and energized. In my experience, if you can find something with a positive feedback loop like that, one day you'll wake up and realize you've made it a lot further down that path than you initially thought possible.


Some people have unusually strong passions for very specific topics. Some of those happen to lead to high impact projects.

I have one such passion that played out well. The consistent work felt natural, while it rarely does otherwise. I can't stick to a gym or guitar practice schedule, but I can spend a few months building a slightly better tax calculator. Go figure.


This is exactly me! For some reason my passion lies in learning a particular foreign language (Mandarin Chinese). That's the only thing that I kept on doing for the last 10 years. Nothing else sticks, not even other foreign languages like Japanese or Korean.

When people compliment me on my Mandarin I say "thank you" but I really want to say that it's not really "talent" or "hard work", unless finishing Game of Thrones or reaching high level in World of Warcraft also counts as hard work.

I wish my passion was in something more useful and impressive (in my opinion) though, like having a side project that I don't lose interest in after a week, which could become my own start-up eventually, but alas.


Have you considered that maybe your brain is right? I've accomplished a lot of things I've set out to do in my life and not a one of them made me a happier person.

Is the goal to accomplish or do you want to accomplish because you think it'll make you happier?


Have you considered if you might have ADHD? If you feel like you have great potential but can never apply it to anything productive, or only for short periods of time, then it might be worth first doing an adult ADHD self-assessment checklist (easily available online from official medical sources) and then if you score highly on it, book yourself in for a psychiatric appointment.

You may not have it but if you do then it can be a life changing diagnosis and subsequent medication and learned coping mechanisms/coaching.


Do you have any good ADHD coping mechanisms or other tricks and tips?


Use alarms and your calendar religiously, alarms for unmissable events, calendar for every appointment. Use your phone for this, you're probably addicted to scrolling or games on it anyway.

Exercise and get good sleep. Caffeine helps but isn't as good as ADHD medication.

Remove distractions aggressively. Don't beat yourself up when you fail; expect it and move on.

Use people in your life to help be your executive function for you. It isn't really fair on them but if they love you they may be willing to anyway. A gym buddy or sports team is another way of achieving this without needing them to love you particularly.

Block all the sites you lose hours to, aggressively. You're not smart enough to build a system you can't get out of but you can make it high friction. Same for games or media or whatever it is.

Pair programming is tiring but it works for using an external party as your executive function. Keeps you on track.

Negative external consequences are motivating but stressful, use sparingly.

Try find a job with or structure your life with enough variety to keep you entertained; I find people to be stimulating but YMMV.

Medication is far more effective than any coping mechanism.


I feel like I can get a glimpse of how these people can pull it out. I have done stuff. Cool stuff, even. My brain has had moments where it didn't shout why all the time. What really wonder me is how they can be _consistent_ at it. How can they pull it off everyday for a long time? I'm crashing every week. Sometimes I can hold this glimpse for a couple of months, but if there is something certain in my life is that it'll crash at some point. And it will be painful.


So many accomplishments are the result of someone just putting one foot in front of the other with a vague idea of where they're going. Hopefully, their north star is something others find respectable once achieved. They're then labeled "geniuses" if it works out and "fools" if it doesn't. Accomplishments are only impressive with hindsight.


90% of life is showing up. Just grind it out. It’s work, and it might not pay off. But doing nothing definitely doesn’t pay off.


"This disappointment would incite me to take action, but after a few days of hard work, I would just quit."

Extraordinary people usually aren't like that. They have this strange ability to be "always on". So why can't the rest of us be like that?

Some people can just focus. Eight hours in the office, tune out all other distractions, head down, work effectively and well. But that's merely very good, not extraordinary.

So how can you be "always on"? By having an overriding passion that makes you want to be. For some people this is just material success. Laser focused on the most profitable career. Is that what you want? Badly enough? Others really want to do, say, theoretical physics. Either it's inherently satisfying, or they want to pursue a particular research goal. Whatever the overriding goal, it's the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thing you think about before you fall asleep.

But is that what you want? In your 40s or 50s, ignored life's other pleasures, maybe never had a family, or haven't spent enough time with them, can't remember the last time you really relaxed, but boy, you've accomplished extraordinary things?

Anyway early middle age will probably take care of it. Where you take stock of who you actually are, rather than who you thought you should be. And then make the best of that.


The fact that my hard work has never yielded anything of value except disdain from elites that consider me an “NPC” is why I wish Harrison Bergeron was real.

For the record, most people of high ability aren’t on 24/7 like that.


The best programmer I know would leave the office at nearly exactly 5pm every day.


He probably automated the 5pm to 9am shift!


> But is that what you want? In your 40s or 50s, ignored life's other pleasures, maybe never had a family, or haven't spent enough time with them, can't remember the last time you really relaxed, but boy, you've accomplished extraordinary things?

What's wrong with that? The first half of your comment is insightful, but is it really that hard to believe that maybe some people do derive satisfaction from accomplishment?


i enjoyed the article. i believe the gist of it is true in my life.

ive been partial to this poem since i discovered it: https://twitter.com/nktgill/status/1550429172786515968

i will reproduce it here.

Do Not Ask Your Children to Strive

Do not ask your children

to strive for extraordinary lives.

Such striving may seem admirable,

but it is the way of foolishness.

Help them instead to find the wonder

and the marvel of an ordinary life.

Show them the joy of tasting

tomatoes, apples and pears.

Show them how to cry

when pets and people die.

Show them the infinite pleasure

in the touch of a hand.

And make the ordinary come alive for them.

The extraordinary will take care of itself.

- William Martin


I think Lynyrd Skynyrd put it best in Simple Man:

Mama told me when I was young Come sit beside me my only son And listen closely to what I say And if you do this it'll help you Some sunny day oh yeah

Oh take your time don't live too fast Troubles will come and they will pass Go find a woman yeah and you'll find love And don't forget son there is someone up above

And be a simple kind of man Oh be something you love and understand Baby be a simple kind of man Oh won't you do this for me son if you can

Forget your lust for the rich man's gold All that you need is in your soul And you can do this oh babe if you try All that I want for you my son is to be satisfied


Reminds me of the School of Life - Why an Ordinary Life Can Be a Good Life by Alan De Botton

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHVZVCbicTg


In work I don't aim to be one of the top eg. leader. I don't think I'm cut out for it. I also don't want the responsibility/making choices for others/the pressure.

Personally too what I make outside of work is probably crude/crap but I enjoy the process of it. Even as a mediocre developer/software person I'm still able to have a good life.

I also acknowledge my mental shortcomings I can see someone else read an algorithm problem and know the question/spit something out much faster than me. Same for math. I just aim for personal freedom/happiness at this point, not to be the best/stick out.

It would be nice to contribute/have a legacy of some sort not just be forgotten once I'm gone but that's ego I suppose. There is also the desire to stay under the radar.

It does sound like coping eg. you could try harder eg. did I fail because I'm not FAANG level.


This topic strongly resonates with me. I remember Dan Luu’s controversial take on how being better than 95% of people isn’t that hard: https://danluu.com/p95-skill/

I find it fascinating that some people are able to achieve so much in the same time I have on this planet. I believe it’s those super-talented and hard working individuals that actually push our species forward. Newton, von Neumann, von Braun, etc etc.

How can one not feel sad when they think about similar people.


I don't see why we should feel sad about that since not everyone's blessed with the same genes or family background or connections. But I guess one can feel sad about not being as lucky as others.


It's not the luck that makes me sad. I think those people had extraordinary insight into how world works. Things that I consider difficult or problems that would take me months to solve (or I wouldn't be able to do that at all) would take them minutes on the back of a napkin.


I have come to believe that the cultural obsession with extraordinary individuals is a big part of the breakdown of solidarity between Americans in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Because when your individual success becomes your entire sense of self worth you cease to see the power of collective action whether it is to accomplish some goal or to raise your standard of living.

In fact, this obsession creates a contempt for "average people" because they are the signifier and the constant reminder of one's own failure to self actualize. So not only does the culture of extraordinaryness create the grounds for alienation but even worse it reinforces that alienation by creating a class of untouchable peers due to their contemptible ordinariness.

Reconnecting with the human social organism and consciously developing a love for commonness is the only antidote as far as I know.

https://youtu.be/IiZbjYR0YFQ


There's this phrase I heard recently: "Losers focus on winners, winners focus on winning"

Now, I don't _love_ this phrase because it implies life is a zero sum game, and that if you haven't achieved success you're a loser -- neither of which I think is true. But I do think it gets to something important, which is that the best way to find success is to focus on how it relates to you, not to someone else. I'd love to be running my own successful company, but if I look at my own script, what do I need to do to be the kind of person that could pull that off? What are the intermediate steps? I think when you compare yourself to others, you're essentially trying to live by someone else's script, but why should their script ever work for you? They have entirely different advantages and disadvantages. I think you're almost always going to fail trying to do that.


'But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.' 1 Corinthians 12


Are you going to provide, for those who don't make the link, an explanation for what St Paul is saying here? :) What I've heard is basically, we're all meant to look after each other, and use the talents we have, to the best of our ability for the common good, including helping others do their best (For themselves and for everyone). Which is the reverse of the individualism all over this thread. Many people here seem to be thinking "How can I do the best for me" instead of for all of us. and the irony is when one tries to do the best for others, that's when one often develops skills and becomes the best one can be for oneself, too. Personally I believe Jesus knew exactly what's good for us and makes us happy, (helping others being a big one) but most of us spend our lives ignoring his advice because its counter-intuitive and often hard to do. (or we think its all made up and he didn't exist anyway ;) ) I guess he's up there with God sighing "well I tried to tell those guys, I really did". Meanwhile down here are lots of people saying "I wish I had more money/ could run faster/ could play my instrument better" than loads of others otherwise I feel inadequate. Resulting in this destructive competitive attitude instead of helping each other be happy. Its never too late to change tack though. ;)


Something else to contemplate: it's striking how often, usually after they have died or written their autobiography etc, you find out that "extraordinary" people were deeply unhappy in their lives. So many of them struggle with depression, self doubt, etc. even while appearing externally happy and successful.

So if you have this type of envy, you have to question why you want to be extraordinary. If it is because you think it will make you happy ... pause for thought and think again. It is far from a given that would happen. And then if you decide it's not to make yourself happy? Perhaps you should evaluate whether actually pursuing happiness is a more worthwhile purpose in your life.


I think everyone needs to feel seen—to feel that they have some unique value that they provide to their community or tribe.

If you have a rich local network of in person friends and family, I think that mostly resolve the unhealthy need to be extraordinary. Because I think that need often comes from feeling socially isolated and relying on online social interaction for validation.

When the public commons where you are seen is run by social media aggregators that only highlight the world's best of everything, it's very easy to fall into a trap where you feel like unless you are front page material, you're nothing.

But the real answer is to get a handful of friends who think you're front page material in their actual lives.


One thing that the media are biased towards are the top-athletes, top-scientists, genius programmers etc.

They do that because we all enjoy reading about them, and there's nothing wrong with that as such.

But just don't expect to be in any of these groups automatically, certainly don't feel pressurized that you ought to. But by any means if you're passionate about something, try hard to master it as best you can, with your focus on the passion for the activity and not the "must-be-#1-at-all-cost". Chances are you might become the #1 by focusing on the activity, not comparing yourself with others all the time.

Alan Rusbridger, the former Guardian editor-in-chief, wrote a lovely little book about his aspiration to be an amateur pianist. He was passionate about the piano, but realistic about his limitations of it being a hobby (subordinate to his true vocation of being a journalist) and not properly trained since age five like the piano geniuses. But he set himself the goal to learn to play one classical piece by practising regularly, as well or as badly as he could master, and he eventually performed it in front of friends. A real pro would probably still cringe listening to him, but I admire that he took up a self-set challenge that commensurate with his circumstances (prior piano skills, available time), and went all in to reach his goal. That's the spirit...


I did the same thing with the guitar, exception being I placed it in front of a large group, probably 100 people. Easily one of the most rewarding and terrifying things I’ve done; the confidence bump is invaluable.


I recently read and have very much enjoyed a book called “stop fixing yourself.” It pointed out that the best way to improve yourself is to learn to understand yourself better. When I stop judging myself, it’s easier to understand the cause and effect nature of my behavior, which then automatically leads to improvements.


I definitely can relate to the author as well. I think we are all putting a lot of effort in standing out in some way because that is how (western?) society distributes rewards. We favor the things that are special or unique in some way. We celebrate all the possibilities that allow us be special and unique but sometimes overlook that this also generates a lot of pressure and when you fail to stand out its easy to feal inadequate. I liked the book by Michael Sandel "The Tyranny of Merit" which goes somewhat in this direction.


You should absolutely be extraordinary, but only if you've defined that for yourself, and know why you want it, beyond "positive attention from strangers." Figure out what you think is important to do with your life, do your best at it, and forget about if others think it's extraordinary or not.

Striving to be extraordinary implies that you are motivated by others opinions and feedback, and putting that above your own judgement, e.g. the number of followers on a youtube channel. Being actually extraordinary requires vision and leadership, which is basically the opposite of "doing whatever I can to make people think I'm extraordinary."

Most people I admire that did things I consider extraordinary were motivated by an internal passion or vision about how they wanted something to be, and didn't waste any energy on the opinions of strangers. Mostly, they didn't expect anyone to care about it, but focused hard because they wanted to for some internal reason, e.g. they enjoy it. In many cases they initially never even planned to ever share the work with others, they did it for themselves.

I think the author here is close with the final point of "extraordinary should not be the end goal" but is missing the importance of having a personal creative vision, and a goal that is resistant to others opinions.


> "The internet always highlights the first place winners, the billionaires, the award-winning artists, the best-selling authors, the largest philanthropists, the extraordinary. Their stories are ones of success, of inspiration"

The intro outlines the fact that the author is not familiar with the promotional industry.

Allowing for some rare exceptions all the people whose name you know are the people who want to be known and go out of their way to self-promote.

It's not about the quality of the work per se but the noise being generated around it. All those stories of mega-success are generated by PR and marketing firms and the person who is the protagonist most likely went for a stroll in Central Park after the meeting, and be sure that nobody genuflected or got on their knees to kiss the ring. Michael Bloomberg took the subaway every day.


This is a good point. The key to being 'successful' (in a fame and financial sense) isn't about being the best in a field. It's about convincing other people you're the best/one in the best in the field.

Which could in theory be an equaliser in itself. Not the best programmer or writer or musician in the world? Well, you can still be 'extraordinary' by convincing other people you're extraordiary and outmarketing those who are better than you. The person who gets the job isn't necessarily the best candidate on a technical level, but the one who can talk a better game in the interview.


The problem is that the ability to self-promote is inversely proportional to the promotee mental health.

You could in theory put a white blanket on your head and pretend to be a Saudi Sheikh to pickup chicks at nightclubs but come showtime you’d not be able to get hard due to lack of self-confidence which brought you to lie in the first place, so what’s the point?

The best is to be able to put together a certain initial capital and just outsource self promotion.

Every person who handles their own self-promotion are people who have mental issues, especially in the tech world. Compare it with how chill are those who outsource such as musicians. Rappers nowadays or rockstars in the 80s. Their managers have to drag them kicking and screaming away from drugs and parties to do media and promotion


I've been really enjoying sucking at stuff recently. I like to think I'm pretty good at my job, and some of my hobbies. A few of my new pass times however, I am woeful at. It has been genuinely refreshing and enjoyable to sit back and watch myself suck at something, laugh, and keep trying.


1 - if you think you're extraordinary or want to be extraordinary you're almost certainly ordinary (and there is nothing wrong with that).

2 - the saddest thing about this very sad piece is the idea that "extraordinariness" is about accomplishments and success.

3 - I think it is fair to say that many actually "extraordinary" people would say that it is at best a mixed bag and not automatically something to feel jealous about. We live in a society where being "not ordinary" aka abnormal is not accommodated and often not accepted or tolerated - and where being right in the center of the bell curve of human experiences and realities means that the world is optimized for you.


I used to be competitive athlete in sports. Judo and Wrestling. Until my 28s, I tried to be extraordinary in the sports. Then I did the transition to full time software developer and I didn't bring this competitive spirit with me. I found my peace, I work in the stuff that are interesting to me and bring the money that I think i deserve. But maybe to be able to perform well, make my money, provide to my family and enjoy the time together with them, and without them, makes me extraordinary too, since not everyone can do it and many envy my life style. It is very unusual or remarkable, which are one of the definitions of extraordinary.


The fact that we exist and live is baseline extraordinary.

What we do after that is so-called gravy.

But seriously. Measuring ourselves against the Einsteins is a path leading nowhere.

What you do adds to the universe.


The problem with being extraordinarily is you need a measure. And as we all know measures can be misleading. The big billionaires businesses are powered by many extraordinary efforts by extraordinary people, but when measured in $, fame, titles, accolades they seem ordinary. Those same people may provide an awesome environment for their kids to grow up or be cherished friends or help their neighbours.


One thing I've noticed is the older you get, the less extraordinary you can be despite what you have accomplished because there is less time for you to more stuff, you have less potential , at least in society's eyes. My take is to look at it as an opportunity to liberate yourself from needing external validation and celebrate your acheivements and enjoy life while you can.


Being OK with a context is often the best way to deal with or benefit from it. There's a strange balance into accepting your in one spot on the map, getting rid of the pressure, yet keeping the ability to get moving to other / better places at later point in time. It's a wild organic where you try to coast and when an opportunity shows up you accelerate.


What is this obsession with always comparing yourself to other people? Don't feel intimidated by other people's successes as a reflection on you. That will only lead to depression. Do what you do for you and you alone (and family). If you stop worrying about others and focus on your own life then you realize how irrelevant others are to you.


My interpretation is that the author wants to emphasize the process of getting there, rather than the end state of "being extraordinary".

I think it's a good point, but some may also interpret these words differently - I would be careful not to take these words as permission to be mediocre.

I think mediocrity is extraordinarily boring.


What is boring about pushing yourself to get better at something?

If an activity is boring to you unless you’re better at it than other people, maybe it’s just…boring to you, and you simply crave validation?


I think you're strawmanning me here, I didn't say it's boring to push yourself to get better at something. I said to "not take these words as permission to be mediocre", as in, don't settle for mediocrity, i.e. DO push yourself to get better

Ah I understand that my pivot in the second sentence has thrown you off, I will edit my original comment so it flows better.


"What looks like skill is often just consistency"

You can absolutely become extraordinary, just not overnight.


Why should one want to be extraordinary? to feel validated? isnt that wrong solution to a right problem?


"I feel disappointed, jealous." Perhaps this is why you don't understand what being extraordinary is all about. I didn't get where I was by feeling sorry for myself. I spent the time and energy learning where I failed and remediating that failure. That is really what has become the definition of extraordinary. Continuing on when the average person quits.

The author touches on this when she says, "Extraordinary should not be the end goal." This is very true. The goal is the satisfaction of a job well done.

By adding up enough repeats of the satisfactions of a job well done you will find yourself extraordinary at something. If you complete a task and you don't get that satisfaction of a job well done then re-evaluate the process and fix it for the future.

I only have 25 years of experience at enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done. Look for extraordinary people in your life and ask them how they started and what made them better at what makes them extraordinary.

Remember: Keep up the good work.


This reminds me of this scene from Harold and Maude that I think about a lot:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0FX_ROcNV4


The nice thing about investing and the stock market is you do not have to be extraordinary or that talented to be successful. Index funds, maybe some leverage, and you can beat most active managers and funds.


80% are enough for almost everything the last 20% just hurt way too much.


Good article. Great writing. Solid premise. Whatever nuanced likes or dislikes I may take with the article I'm happy to ignore them because theres some wisdom in this piece.


Is she confusing 'extraordinary' with 'famous'?

I am extraordinary! Some people see it. Most don't. I'm fine with both.


What exactly is wrong with being mediocre?


made me think of The Genius of the Crowd by Charles Bukowski https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0doGM_6izYg


I gave up on extraordinary long ago. Even average seems out of my reach now.


Thanks. I've been needing this perspective lately.


I came to love being boring :)


or how I learned that everybody is extraordinary




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