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Life is wasting my time (daemonl.com)
128 points by daemonl on March 11, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 56 comments

Maybe I misunderstood this because of what books I have been reading lately, but I really enjoyed reading this piece as a piece of irony. Apparently the word irony, pre-14th century had more to do with an author writing an opinion he or she did not hold, as if he or she did hold it.

When I read this as if the author doesn't believe that life is wasting his time, but is being ironic, because the inherent flaw resides within himself, and not within life, then I find the piece to be a really, really interesting and an exposing and humble read.

You totally got it. Apparently not many others did, my bad. Thanks for your comment.

Thanks again for writing this. You're writing about a feeling that I've experienced and can relate to, and I thought the piece was excellent. Great job.

Blame it on a verbose minority not getting it... I think your opening title was a pretty strong hint of the direction you were taking it. Well done

Great article, but I couldn't help thinking my time could have been better spent elsewhere. ;)

I'm pretty sure that wasting time with your partner/children/family/friends IS the whole point of life :)

Excellent article... At first I wasn't sure whether it was serious or not. I guess many have gotten into the trap of complaining that they don't work like a robot in a robot factory. I have gotten more than once into it ;)

Got it, too and found it quite close to some ideas I wasn't sure how to write.

Would that be called sarcasm in the modern day?

I don't think so. But this stuff is always in flux. I see irony as constructive - it intends to produce something. In the case of the author, writing from an ironic perspective was the best way to describe a feeling and emotion that would have been hard, if impossible, to capture otherwise.

Sarcasm is entirely destructive. It isn't comedy, and it isn't irony. I'm pigeonholing it into a very tight definition, but when sarcasm is used, it tends to be used as a way to put the person using it on a higher pedestal than whomever the sarcasm is directed at. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but think of times when someone acts in a sarcastic manner. It usually isn't funny, and it doesn't communicate a feeling, it's just meant to make a witty or kitschy point that is meant to bring the subject of the sarcasm down and elevate the person who is using sarcasm, his or her feeling of self worth.

The OED defines sarcasm as 'a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt'. Irony is often used in a sarcastic remark, but it's generally the cheap sort of irony - 'Well done, genius' in response to a stupid error - rather than the more literary sort, which when particularly well-developed we call satire.

IMO sarcasm is a form of irony that's brief and especially cutting.

> Apparently the word irony, pre-14th century had more to do with an author writing an opinion he or she did not hold, as if he or she did hold it.

It still means that; people just misuse it when they actually mean "coincidence".

"There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always.

"When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him - least of all the things that really should have."

Sounds interesting, for those who don't know its from "The Phantom Tollbooth" book:


Story of my life. I took a look at the link notimetorelax sent (thanks man) and read the exert. Seems like a good book so far. I'll be sure to go out and get it today. That is... if bookstores still exists.


Great piece, I am sure many people on HN can relate to this. Its especially true in this community where you are constantly reminded that other people "like you" build these amazing things. The project that millions use, the open source software that is a godsend to developers, the game that is getting rave reviews, the prototype that is so amazing in a technical sense.

Add to that the interaction with super smart people that talk alot about programming best practices, new technologies, the future of computing, maths, literature.

I think as a person inside of this world, its really hard to not get sucked into the mindsight of:

* i need to get more work done

* i need to start this amazing project

* i need to learn more

* i need to grow

* i need to make more money faster

All this is well and good, but for me it often results in being impatient when doing things "normal people do". I have this constant feel of "i should be doing something more useful" no matter what i do. This is were it gets dangerous and i think in the long run it will lead to alot of unhappiness.

Atleast that i am aware of it and try to reflect on it, is the first step to more happiness, or so i hope.

What if being aware of this mindset problem and yearning to be more content and calm is just another iteration of the exact same generalised problem of being overly mindful of the imperfections in one's life?

I think at that point you begin meditating, where the point is to have no mind at all.

Possibly true, but i still believe that self-reflection is very important.

When you're sick of being sick, you're beginning to get well

I felt like my life was being described by the author. However, I don't feel like that anymore. My life changed when I got to be responsible for a kid. There's nothing I rather be doing instead of being with my child; there's no nagging in the back of my mind anymore telling me to go read some more, to come up with the next big thing, to hack something out, to work out math problems.

I still enjoy doing constructive activities, but it's no longer my life's purpose. For me, it's like seeing the 'big picture' of life. I remember, like the author, being extremely impatient with family life and social activities because I would rather be spending time building something, learning something new. Normal human activities seemed boring and purposeless. I made a promise to myself that I would never have a family for the fear of being too draining and becoming frustrated for not having enough time for my projects. All of that vanished in a couple of weeks after meeting my now wife's kid.

The kid I'm responsible for is not my biological child, so it's not just the instinct of caring for my own child that's at play here.

Perhaps that's why the most important scientific discoveries come before scientists have kids; it's not the responsibility and the time suck that impede growth, it's an overwhelming feeling of happiness and indescribable feeling of "doing the right thing" that rearing a child brings.

I honestly thought that child rearing distracted and frustrated parents because they HAD to become selfless. It doesn't feel that way at all. Self-growth seems superficial and meaningless now in the grand scheme of things, and I am a pretty ambitious and obsessed person.

While this is amazing for you it should be taken with a note of caution from readers. This may happen or may not if you decide to have kids. There are many parents who are unhappy with their families and feel trapped. Before having a family do research into it beneath the pop culture "transformation" ideas. This transformation may happen and you may be incredibly happy. It may not and you will feel trapped. Have children because you want to, not because you need them to change your life.

I love my son and I love playing with him, but it did not change my life in the way GP describes. I try to be present in the moment, and I work part-time to spend more time with my son, but it's not rare that I feel a bit impatient for him and his mother to go to sleep so I can build stuff.

This very well goes with the thoughts I have had about life for some time now. To really be content with what I do, to have the feeling of doing what I'm supposed to do, I have to do something that has an impact, changes the world. After all, I have only a finite number of years to live and I think it's my duty to not waste that time. As I'm young and inexperienced I have come up with only three ways to do so:

1) Build that next big thing everyone uses, which improves peoples lives (which probably only is in the list because I spend too much time on HN)

2) Help people in a very direct manner. A great example for this is Johnny Long, who stopped hacking for money and went to Uganda, using his energy and skills to help those who need it most.

3) Have and raise children. To me this seems to be the most commonly chosen path, mostly because it's only natural. But if you think about it, having children and raising them to be goodhearted, responsible persons with a high moral self-demand [1] is a honorable way of improving the future of our world. Thinking about it this way, though, will probably make the decision of having children myself one day really hard, the responsibility seems remarkable.

That said, it probably comes down to what it always comes down to in life: strike an appropriate balance between all factors of life.

[1] It's really hard to say what makes a good person. I hope you get the idea :)

That evokes some interesting feelings. While I'm ready to let go of being the 'uber-hacker' in favor of, you know, life, I still want to be among the elite, or at least do something big and great before I settle in to the bigger picture of life. But that's probably got something to do with not being able to see the bigger picture. How recursive. Is it truly better when you get there?

The thing is, I now definitely feel like I'm "en route" towards doing something amazing and every step in the journey feels right and resonates with my whole being; something I never felt before even though I was doing a lot of self-growth and I got a huge adrenaline kick of learning new things. The goal, which in my case is raising a wonderful person, is not totally within my control, so the only thing that I can do is focus on the process, on the everyday things, the often mundane. I'm not working toward a big goal, and I don't feel like "It'll be great when I get there" anymore. In other words, I've become process-oriented instead of goal-oriented, and that's something I should have done a long, long time ago.

This is the first time that the cliche "it's the journey, not the destination" that makes sense to me. I feel at peace now, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. Before this, when I was self-growth and build-stuff oriented, I never got to enjoy the journey. I felt like I was always working towards some far and amorphous goal, letting the rest of my life to pass by. If someone told me I was going to die today, I would feel like I have lived to the fullest. Before this epiphany? it would had been a tragedy.

Is it possible that while you had these nagging thoughts to read, build and hack, you were never really fully interested in it? Rearing a child may have given you the impetus you need to abandon those stressful goals.

Please. Unless you have adopted a goat, don't call it a kid.

I hate the terms 'kid' and 'kids'.

What is wrong with 'child' and 'children'?

Definition of kid (noun): 1. informal a child or young person


I prefer 'puppy'. Perhaps for overweight kids we could start using 'calf' ?

I'm sorry, English is my second language. Could you explain the difference?

There isn't one. "Kid" can mean the young of either humans or goats. "Child" is a bit more formal, but that's about it.

What's wrong with the terms 'kid' and 'kids'?

I hope the author is reading this thread.

What struck me was this line: "Family time bores me because I could otherwise be doing amazing things".

I felt like this for a long time. I was in a long-term relationship with an amazing woman, yet I spent my free time working or thinking about all the "amazing" things I could have been working on. Up to the point where she left me.

Family time is the one thing you should never consider a bore or a chore.

Thankfully, the last sentence of the article states: "Then I'm going to the beach with my partner to 'do nothing' for an evening."

Just to add, it's not mererly a lack of "doing" something, but valuing the "being" part of ourselves: Father, husband, partner, friend, etc - out of which the "doing" bit naturally flows. Due to my personality flaws, I too often "do nothing" when in presence of my wife, which can be just as destructive for the relationship as wishing I was doing something somewhere else.

I don't get the nasty comments on his blog, it's clearly a self aware piece poking fun at it's own sense of superiority. If he really had things the way he wanted them, he wouldn't need to be there in the first place.

And on top of that, it's brilliantly poetic.

Read the entire blog before commenting? What a waste of time! Better comment first. ;)

Thank you, that's really nice!

I felt the same way. But I gave up struggling and accepted that my destiny is to lead sucky life, waste my time here on earth with mortals and mediocre jobs and most likely never accomplish anything non-average.

What's a sucky life?

Writing code for other people, even on sucky projects, pays for an awesome life for me :)

As long as that's because you have realised a 'sucky' life isn't all that bad.

Same feeling here . But i guess its not that bad after all .

It's same for me, too. How long did it take for you to decide that way? I do not think about giving up until I get my master degree and plan my future again.

Sounds like depression.

It's actually the very opposite of depression. Depression is generally a lack of hope for the future. This would be a case of so much hope for the future and himself that he is unable to live in the present, as what he is currently doing simply cannot live up to his hopes.

It's interesting how similar to depression the effects would be.

Depression is a long period of negative thought patterns. The person is locked in a loop of insatisfaction, disappointment, health concerns, feelings of wasting life (guilt), followed by feelings of worthlessness. It is a terrible place to be. And unfortunately a lot of smart people fall into this mental trap. I am emerging from such an episode myself and I can relate perfectly to the article. I was helped by the book "Feeling good: The New mood therapy" and I highly recommend it to anyone who seeks help.

Journey, not the destination.

This bring to mind the Kevin Spacey monologue in Casino Jack:

Cause in reality, mediocrity is where most people live. Mediocrity is the elephant in the room. It's ubiquitous. Mediocrity in your schools. It's in your dreams. It's in your family. And those of us who know this - those of us who understand the disease of the dull - we do something about it. We do more because we have to.

Read more at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1194417/quotes?qt=qt1477054

I struggle with this myself. But sometimes the problem is actually the thing you're pursuing. What if the thing you're second guessing is a zombie startup? Or really any pursuit that isn't measuring up to reasonable standards set for it.

Setting lofty goals often involves taking on projects and employment opportunities before they are mature ventures. And you end up asking the question "am I being unreasonable and impatient or is this project doomed?" It's not an easy question to answer.

Mate, I can also relate to this. It's tough. I know the problem is myself but I don't know how to solve it. Although, I do know how to solve it, yet somehow I don't. Sure, it might be a "humblebrag" but it's a god damned frustrating one. I Think a lot of people, especially people on HN, feel this way.

Not sure I agree with you, but I really enjoy your particular version of English-as-a-second-language.

You have a partner and access to a beach. I have neither and haven't had a job since 1988. Yet the only thing I have found boring about my life of late has been reading this. I am not going to tell you to stop bleating, to accept the uneliminatable imperfections inherent in life so you can better focus on reducing the recurring overall inefficiencies because I feel it would fall on deaf ears. You can't be helped. You can only help yourself out of this mental rut and change your subjective perspective towards your circumstances by developing not a positive mental attitude but a pragmatic one. I can't reach into your cerebellum and rewire it. You can. It will take about six months - assuming you don't kill yourself in the meantime.

My whole life is consumed by this feeling.

I feel like I should already have achieved something great, yet I don't explicitly think I'm special, although feeling like this and letting other people know about this constant irking feeling might understandably lead them to think that I think of myself as someone special or superior to them, especially when talking to people who haven't experienced this kind of push and don't have these kinds of aspirations. I think that in my case there's a healthy part to it and there's an obsessive, blown-out-of-proportions part to it, based on the healthy part. And it's not easy to tell, where one ends and where the other starts.

The most dreaded thought to me is the thought of mediocrity, me being just another working bee as someone put it in the comments, with no power, ability, skills, and certainly no destiny to build or do something great. What "something great" is, I didn't really outline it yet. Maybe this should be the first step towards actually starting a project that matters. I cannot relax. I cannot let go. In my life it is rare, when I can just kick back and relax and enjoy doing something that is not the next step towards something big.

Whenever I'm left alone with nothing to do, the feeling of guilt sooner of later overwhelms me, I cannot have a breakfast without my thoughts rushing. I just keep thinking about what I had done wrong or why I haven't achieved anything of significance in my life. For one part, there is this feeling that I already should have achieved great things and this feeling implies that I should actually be able to achieve great things, and therefore that somehow I am destined to achieve great things. Then rationally I know that I am not special at all, but I can be. I know that things that I consider great can be achieved by just people like me, because I know people who have achieved great things. And that there's no destiny involved, just hard work and a lot of skills which can be learned. The thing that is special about these people is their attitude. The only times I came close to feeling relaxed and being able to kick back and relax, were times when I've felt that I actually had something great going on in my life, something that I've felt could go somewhere, something with potential.

I consider the notion of potential one of the greatest things in life. I would even go as far as to say that I value potential more than I value actual results, more than I value potential realized. Potential is the start of everything, potential contains everything in it, nothing is determined yet, nothing is sure, but everything is possible.

And I think I'm afraid of stepping out of my zone of potential into the real world, because out of the infinite possibilities, I have to choose one, I have to choose a direction, _one_ direction and go there, knowing I will probably never be able to go back. And take directions after directions, and from the abstract notion of being everything at once, out of all the possibilities, I have become only one path, one string of life, that either becomes successful or withers and dies.

From the place where there is no meaning to failure or to success, to certainty or to uncertainty, to decision, because everything is in there all at once, and there is only excitement and anticipation, to the place, where I might fail like many people have failed before.

For now I try to focus on doing things I really like, things that deeply excite and interest me, things that matter to me, and I try to put the maximum amount of effort into doing those things, and now I just have faith that out of these things a project will emerge. And that as long as I can find things that excite me, there will always be a project in there somewhere that's worth doing.

It is only healthy to value potential more than actual results if you agree with the Chinese proverb...

'The journey is the reward'

I agree with the sentiment expressed by this and feel that it is silly to defer gratification to the completion of a goal, whether that reward be pride in your accomplishments, money, or fame. Especially as many long term projects may never be completed as your personal circumstances change to prevent it from being realized, or the endeavour taking so long that it is rendered irrelevant by someone else finishing a similar work before you so that the potential audience you were after has been entirely satisfied by their solution.

If you would still work on whatever you do without payment and you are not obsessing daily about fame and riches coming your way through doing it then you are well adjusted. Obviously, a source of income has to be found for your survival and shelter yet a lot of people work in moderately well paid full time jobs in order to fund lifestyles that compensate them for the time that they have sacrificed or their lack of self-worth.

1. Uncontroversially, nice cars, houses and foreign holidays are paid for largely by not just being part time with maybe some rewarding side-project or voluntary work making them feel that they haven't entirely wasted their week.

2. Controversially, having children is very expensive and time consuming and bad for the planet as the ecological impact from not having a child is the countless generations that will not exist, consuming and polluting, for centuries to come. It may be a matter of being forced to choose between your brainchild and the fruits of an intimate relationship. Luckily, there are signs that educated women are less interested in having babies so men shouldn't resent heterosexual partners that are smarter than them as it may be to their advantage to have them be the one with the powerful career whilst they run the household and code from home.

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