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What was your most painful realisation of 2012?
30 points by 3stripe on Dec 31, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 71 comments

That my mind produces ideas and features a LOT faster than my fingers can code them up.

One of the great frustrations I'm finding in being a self-taught, 1-man developer. I'm learning, and it's intensely satisfying, and it's going well.

But MAN does it take a long time to do things. I know I'll get faster, but things that I think should take a few minutes take a few hours. Designs I think I should be able to put together in a day take a week.

So the painful realization is that I'm going to get a lot less done in 2013 than I'd like. I'll still get a lot done, but it's sobering to realize the limits of your execution.

Most people, myself included, don't actually do the things they want to do most of the time.

Put another way, first order desires almost never really govern anyone's behavior, and second order desires are dictated almost exclusively by psychological baggage that has little to do with their adult lives.

"Most people, myself included, don't actually do the things they want to do most of the time."

The problem, in my experience, is that figuring out what you actually "want" is a very difficult proposition. And it often changes rapidly.

You can see this manifested in people who are trying to choose a career. Even smart, goal oriented people often flounder around the career question because while many things interest them, nothing seems to interest them enough to "want" to dedicate their life to it. And it just gets further complicated with generic advice from others like, "Do what you love," when the truth is they don't "love" doing anything.

So you twist your nips in the wind for a while trying to figure out what you really "want", and meanwhile the bar keeps getting lower. Pretty soon all you really want is a reliable car and to be able to make rent without a roommate. And while those might not be the noblest of "wants", you can find a certain personal gratification in them none the less.

I don't know man. I'm 30 years in and I still don't know what I really "want", and it sure as shit ain't for lack of thinking about it. Right now I'm content with a reliable car and a dry house in a safe neighborhood. I have a job that mixes 1 part things I'm interested in and 1 part tedium and it affords me enough time and spare income to tinker away at side projects that are probably of interest to nobody but myself. In all liklihood, a generation after I die, maybe sooner, nobody will even remember I was here. And I'm fine with that.

So when people say, "Do what you want!", man I don't even know what the hell those people are talking about.

I'm not telling anyone "Do what you want!" per se, and many people don't have a clear picture of what they want (of course most people just want simple things: they want to be loved most of all, to feel good about themselves, to feel safe, and to be free of stress and anxiety).

Instead I'm saying that even if you are, like me, a person who could write down exactly what you want, from the scale of your lifetime down to how you would like to spend each morning and evening, that clarity doesn't actually enable you to do any of those things.

I would love to wake up each morning and exercise for 20 minutes, cook a healthy breakfast with a small pot of tea, read the New York Times, and then watch the sun rise.

But I cannot do it. Not because it's hard, or because of its existential absurdity, or because it would require something that I don't have. I can't do it because my subconscious has other motives, like the motive to stay in bed until the anxiety of scheduled events compel me to leave it.

Psychology, in my opinion, does not seem designed for contemporary life, which makes many people's lives much more difficult than they need to be.

Wow, incredibly true, but sobering.

Could you elaborate? I'm interested.

By "first order desires", do you mean complete barbarism, such as seeing someone with an ice cream cone, and killing them on the spot so you can have the ice cream?

And where do you feel second-order desires come from? Are you talking about the idea that humans can acquire new goals without even being aware they have done so? [1] Or something else?

[1] "We do, as shown by decades of research on operant conditioning. When a neutral potential goal is associated with a stimulus of positive affect, we acquire new goals, and we can be unaware that this has happened:" from http://lesswrong.com/lw/5sk/inferring_our_desires/


Not a great entry but you get the idea.

That's a profound thought that transcends technology, thanks.

I have witnessed this in myself and others, and it is painful to both see and experience.

Of course the question is: what can we do about it?

Get passionate about what you want to do. Skive, make time, lie cheat and steal to do what you want. Make your hobby/free time important to you.

For me, the overwhelmingly best answer is therapy.

Can you elaborate on that?

A fairly normal person might decide on New Year's Eve that, this year, everything is going to change. "I'm going to stop watching TV, I'm going to eat only healthy foods, get plenty of exercise, and spend 8 hours a day working towards my goals."

But, of course, that person won't do most or even any of those things in a sustained way. The reason is that the person's second order desires, feelings like the impulse to eat ice-cream or the urge to put off making a certain phone call or writing a particular program, those desires are almost always more powerful than first order desires (like goals or ideals).

That's because our behavior is ruled as much or more by subconscious motives as conscious ones, and those subconscious motives aren't governed by the decisions we make or the picture we have of the life we want. They're ruled by an imprint of your childhood, by habit, and by anxiety, depression, and so on.

Another easy example is addiction. It's not that most alcoholics don't want to stop drinking. They can't, because their second order desire to drink is much more powerful than their first order desire.

I've known this was true for me for some time, but this year I really came to understand it and see it happening throughout every day of the year. And I realized the extent to which this dynamic dominates most of the people I know, and how difficult or impossible it is for anyone to overcome their subconscious motives with conscious ones. It's very, very hard and very emotional work to address your subconscious and most people aren't interested in doing it. So the patterns that govern their lives just continue, and they can't gain any freedom from their own conflicts.

OK, so basically the difference between conscious and subconscious motivations.

There's a lot of good self-help material dealing with getting those better aligned. Tony Robbins comes to mind.

All we love we leave behind. Converge released an album with this title this year.

2012 was bleak for me. I lost my grandfather and my aunt within a week from one another. Soon after, my girlfriend left me to be with someone else. I moved out of the house that we had rented together, and left her with the first two dogs that were ever partly 'mine.'

She left me with the last dog we rescued, Gatsby. Before we brought him home, she clarified he was my dog and that if anything happened between us I was to take responsibility of him. I guess I should have seen the break up coming.

So now here I am. Alone in this house, with Gatsby. I mostly think about how one day I'll have to leave him behind too. It's too easy to become jaded by loss and abandonment. It's too easy to tell your friends that you have work to do, just so you don't have to go out and face them. It's too easy to stop caring, when caring is what hurt you in the first place.

So is "all we love we leave behind" my most painful realization of 2012? Not quite, but close. These events took place about 5-6 months ago. From then until now, AWLWLB has been stuck in my head, but the most painful realization happened just recently. I _have_ to go on loving anyway. I have to keep trying to make relationships and friendships work. I have to put forth effort, whether I'll lose them or not.

It's not about what you've lost, but what you had. Eventually all of the things you have, will be things that you once had, and that's all you will ever have.

Here's to 2013.

Mine: Changing a formula (that is working somewhat well) too much at once, without a way to get back to exactly the old way, can really bite you in the behind.

Earlier this year, I took on a bit too much work, hired help, took on a new marketing channel to support the new capacity, decreased prices (relatively dramatically) in hopes to increase volume and changed the service I offered so I could produce it profitably at the new price point.

Any one of those changes could have been a great boost for my revenue + sanity but doing them all in the same month spelt disaster for about 3 months.

Here's what happened: I had too much work and when I brought on new person, even though they were smart and competent, they still needed training. Because I was spending time training them, I didn't spend as much time on sales. (Lesson: You can't just hire someone expect them to know everything you know.)

We had leads but I didn't get enough time to call them. At the same time, a really interesting opportunity presented itself where I could buy leads from a competitor and be able to double the number of leads I had each month. The price was expensive per lead but one sale would pay for a month's worth of leads so I pulled the trigger. (Lesson: Don't spend time and money on marketing unless you have the time and money to dedicate to sales.)

At the same time, I had a nice chunk of change in the bank so I decided to do some experimenting with what we were offering. I lowered prices of websites we designed dramatically to focus on monthly reoccurring revenue ($300 + $30/month instead of the more $2500 + $10/month hosting) we normally charge on average. I also changed the service so it wasn't completely custom, which allowed me to deliver in a much smaller amount of time. Weirdly, sales crashed with this new price point. I can't explain it with reason but I have some theories. That's for another day. (Lesson: Don't mess with a sales formula by changing too much at once because you won't know what broke it or improved it.)

So now I had 2 heavy expenses and a product offering that wasn't selling as easily and when it did sell, it made a lot less money. Wow, what a dingbat thing to do, right? Well the decisions had sound logic behind them at the time :D.

Luckily I was able to restore my business model to the way it was previously after a lot of tweaking and ended up with something that worked better than before... but those 3 months were just plain bad.

I think this is one of the reasons TDD/BDD have caught on lately, small refactors are easier to manage than changing large chunks of code.

Looking back at my coding workflow early on, I would often get lost in my own code because I would attempt large changes without testing or version control. Interestingly, instead of developing a better workflow, I first learned to keep more inside my head.

Yes, it's critical in code... but it's also critical in life/business to have things very well version controlled. :)

Mine was probably that I will never be more "satisfied" with my day-to-day life even if my startup is a huge success. I need to find balance and tend to the moment and the people that matter in it.

Second was probably that you can make huge impacts on the health of your business by tending to your pricing and pricing model. Don't just copy from other products that might have way different usage patterns.

That nasty code is as equally present in a 5 man development group as a 5,000 man group. Absolutely fantastic folks, but the codebase... <shudder>

One more un-closed tag and I quit!

The worst ideas are often the most well-received and the best ideas are often rejected.

Realizing that the US Government is getting very close to fundamentally destroying freedom on the Internet (domestically, with ramifications globally; and to the extent it still exists). It's not five or ten years away, it's now a daily battle with all the legislation they're throwing at the wall to see what they can get to stick. It was understood in the 1990s that they'd eventually seriously harm the Internet, given their unlimited thirst for power, but some part of my brain always hoped it was further out. It's clear they're never going to stop coming after it, and they have a nearly unlimited budget and apparently nothing better to do with their time.

Incompetent people will often take politically expedient decisions that cause more harm than good but protect their positions.

I would be cautious on your labeling them as incompetent--perhaps they are very competent at protecting their positions, you just have a different agenda.

Of course, I don't know your exact situation. But, people act according to their alignment of incentives. If one is more motivated by the work they're doing rather than the pay they're receiving, then you get one set of behaviors. Likewise, if they're motivated by power, you get another set of behaviors. It's folly to assign your values and incentives onto somebody else and call them incompetent because they're different.

You may just be golfing, and they're bowling, and looking at the scoreboard, you think they have a miserable score, when in fact, they're a strike away from a perfect game.

If you understand how folks like that behave, you can work with them to make decisions that will be in your best (or at least better) interests.

I agree in theory, but it's difficult to align values with someone whose strategy is to shift blame to clients and subordinates due to lack of planning and communication skills. These people create a toxic, reactive working environment and their damage needs to be managed. I don't believe that they bring good things to the table.

I realize that this sounds exceptionally bitter so I am open to the possibility that I have become cynical and am unable to see from outside the lense of my own vision.

That I'm an alcoholic, that I have ADHD, depression and social anxiety. I've got a lot to fix in 2013.

In my experience some of these things are self-reinforcing; alcoholism can lead to ADHD and Depression, which can lead to social anxiety.

The problem with alcoholism is the havoc it unleashes on your body's natural chemistry and metabolism and in turn your overall energy levels, mood, and perception.

Fixing your body chemistry may resolve all the other issues over time.

Suggestion: Take a multivitamin, drink more water, sleep more, get outside more. Oh, and always say YES to any social invitation.

For the most part, YUP. However, ADHD is not a chemical problem, it's a brain disorder that you're born with (there is tons of scientific research backing this up).

But YES otherwise. Alcohol screws with your body/brain, and Alcoholism, ADHD, Depression and Anxiety are all tightly linked in cause and effect.

> Take a multivitamin, drink more water, sleep more, get outside more. Oh, and always say YES to any social invitation.

and while all of this is good general life/health advice, it has nothing to do with ADHD.

I have no idea if these are true, but I like a person who can self-reflect well. I love folks who are able to attack/correct things they need to.

Best of luck!

100% true. It's actually quite empowering to discover these things- as bad as they sound, now I can work on making my life better.

fist bump

One of my favorite thoughts for this year:

"EVERYONE is faking it"

I've read this thought a few times throughout the year and it really stuck with me.

I frequently think to myself: "why is all this stuff (work, life, bills, relationships) so hard for me but not everyone else? I must be some kind of an idiot"

Perception really IS everything.

The truth is they don't know what they're doing any more or less than I do.

We all put on fake smiles and tell big stories all just to try to give the appearance of credibility and importance.

You are not an idiot. We are all in this experiment of life together.

Realizing that my company needed to pivot away from a rapidly failing line of business I was really interested in into a growing and profitable line of business that I wanted nothing to do with.

There's a lot more to the story, but having to talk away from almost a decade and a half of work and some very dear co-workers/friends was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But going into 2013 I think it was also one of the best decisions I've ever made.

How easy it is to fail.

How easy it is to do it all wrong.

How easy it is to make the wrong decisions.

How easy it is to get really down on yourself.

How easy it is to blame others for your own mistakes.

How easy is is to think others are right and you are wrong.

How easy it is to think it is hard to get back up and really "do it" and "do it right".

How easy it is to get back up on your feet once you've made a decision to do it.

How easy it is to then see others were wrong and you were right.

How easy it is once you've done it.

How easy it is.

This is almost a country song! Except that it ends on a positive note ... you'd need to reverse it to make it sad if you really want to make a hit out of it.

(Not criticizing -- I think it's nicely written).

Need to slide in a pickup truck and a dog somewhere in there. I don't think the country crowds would go wild for Cassandra and Node.js. :)

Too many people are peasants, and would rather have a king to petition or blame than actually solve their own problems.

For those upvoting: please be sure you mean it. I am not alluding to libertarianism, Austrian economics, or pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Rather the the opposite, actually. There's a whole lot of stuff that could be done collectively, even cooperatively, but isn't, because that would require a shift in mentality away from "waaaah, the king issued an evil decree!" to "our entire town has to pitch in to solve this together".

That during a double dip recession things can still get worse. A lot of my friends are now jobless.

That my boss wants to hear compliments. Nothing else. Ever.

Reading HN is the closest I'll ever get to seeing a start up grow any larger than 3 people struggling in a tiny office paid for by the EU.

I won't ever pay off my credit cards or mortgage. I'll never own a new car or any new hobby equipment. eBay and freecycle are integral parts of my life.

My performance based quarterly bonuses won't get paid.

America sounds like a bonkers place to live, I hope they (you?) start to do something about climate change.

America really is a bonkers place to live, but what can you do?

My friends frequently joke that everyone in blue states should move to red states and take them over!

I recycle, walk to work, and don't leave the lights on!

Gun control in the US - fixable bug in the system, or fundamental design flaw?

That a side project of mine, something that would take most here a weekend, has taken me over a year now (and it still isn't finished).

To be fair I've been learning a lot of things. redoing my work. Trying different options. Taking month-long breaks here and there.

A lot of the time it feels like I'm just running in place. A lot of things feel like progress, but really aren't.

And then I worry, maybe I won't ever be cut out for all this stuff here on hacker news. The culture, goals, start-up life. Maybe it it won't be any more than a dream.

Everyone dies. :'(

Damn man, I know how that feels. So sorry for your loss.

Professionally: that I'd been unhappy in my job for months, if not years, without realising it. If my brain was in denial though, my body knew it, and one day I was physically unable to goto work. That pain caused a life pivot for me, and I can't wait to find out what doors it will open next.

Personally: that you can still love someone, but not be able to live with them.

By not focusing on sales a lot earlier (and focusing on the product only), we left a lot of money on the table.

This is a big one, and one I'm in the middle of fighting with right now. As a developer its hard to release a product with your name attached when you know its not as good as it can be.

Releasing early means getting more exposure and possibly force you to realize your a writing something no-one earlier. What if though you are turning potential customer's away who are unimpressed with your first couple releases? Are those just considered write-offs and the cost of bootstrapping?

Are you writing software or running a company?

As a business person it's fiscal suicide to release a product for which there is no market. Most people see more benefit from a mediocre mechanic than a world-class buggy whip manufacture.

If the people who will see your product on the first iteration are the majority of your potential customers then chances are your business is a failure anyway.

How many of us think less of PG because HN uses tables?

Trying to do both.

"How many of us think less of PG because HN uses tables?"

I understand your point, but I think that is more of a implementation of features, rather than which features make it in for first release.

Its a valid point that if the first few users are the majority then you are in trouble. I would hope that the first few users/adopters however would become my biggest cheerleaders thus contributing to a snowball effect of new users.

No matter how much effort and thought is put into writing quality code, looking back in a year or two I will cringe at it. Second, I recently saw the accepted answers per tag on broken down by average age on stackoverflow. Just realized I am over the hill (as far as software development goes)...

We are all looking for connection, and many don't find it, don't even know how to find it. Much of the technology in our modern world (television, web sites like Facebook, mobile phones) make this problem worse. That is, there is an economic incentive to drive us apart.

I am 25 years old and I don't have the $100,000 job that everyone seems to have no trouble getting =(

When I was your age I was making ~25k/yr. (in today's money) working in a soul-sucking callcenter. Hopefully, you're better off than I was.

I'm making less than that now, but that's mostly thanks to our shitty currency exchange rates. I would gladly work for USD$25k/year.

You're still young .. not everyone has a $100,000 per year job :-)

Live within your means, learn at a pace that'll allow you to absorb, rather than simply skim, and you'll be on your way to success eventually.

Thanks for that :)

I intentionally left a decent-paying job at a Fortune 500 consultancy firm, for a job that pays less but actually allowed me to learn interesting technical skills (in robotics).

Honestly, I'm not sure whether I regret that decision yet.

Less late night gaming.

Hah! If only I had time for late night gaming sessions.

This is the year I learned that the longer I live, the more people close to me I will lose.

I don't know about painful, but I realized that I should focus on creating an internet company rather than a start-up. The stuff reported on techcrunch may get pageviews, but i realized it in no way relates to me or what I'm trying to achieve.

Life is precious and brief; we squander it by griefing, and we never respawn.

That I should pay taxes first and invest later, not vice versa.

The widespread evidence of the existence of extra-terrestrials.

Working at a successful startup is no fun at all.

Amen to this. I love my work-life balance, more than I like start-ups. I also hate stock options. I can't pay my rent with stock options.

Thanks for that :) I've read all the srtatup founder stories and they all seem to involve WAY too much work and way too many hours.

But hey maaan, if you don't love it, maybe you're not cut out for it maaan.

job != life. You need balance. Maaan.

That my people skills are close to horrendous.

It ended

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