How about just living a decent life? Being kind and helpful?
There's a kind of virtue ethics at work around these parts, and the primary virtue is "awesomeness." A sociologist or ethicist could write a whole thesis about this community.
It's not a universal idea. Some people have a primary virtue of "decency." Or even "humility." Taste those words for a moment...
"Comparing is as much of a disease as perfection. When we learn to be ourselves, be patient, and how to be comfortable in our own skin, then – and only then – will we achieve true happiness."
An ancient Zen poem says "For and against opposing each other -- this is the mind's disease." Of course, this site revolves around a highly competitive market. Ambition is its lifeblood...
I think that if you want to be happy, that's not going to come from success or ambition or striving. They seem more or less orthogonal.
An interesting question might be: What would you do if you were already happy and content? Think of it as like the question of what you would do if you already were financially independent. Call it emotional independence, maybe. Equanimity?
I think that idea can apply in all industries and creative endeavors. It's okay to be forgotten, just appreciate that future generations will stand taller on the sediment that you have created merely by existing.
To your last sentence, there was also a recent episode of the podcast Back to Work (http://5by5.tv/b2w/120) where they talk about safety nets, in response to their friend Marco Arment and the acquisition of Tumblr by Yahoo. I transcribed a few portions of it for my own reflection:
120: @43:30 - [posed as a question to the listener] What if you had enough of whatever you need to do something? What do you not have right now that the safety net would eventually provide?
120: @48:50 - You probably haven't spent your life rehearsing on how to be happy with what you have, you spend your life rehearsing what will happen when you "finally never have to worry about anything again".
120: @55:30 - Having more money will let you have a more expensive weekend, but unless you've practiced enjoying weekends during your life, it's going to be a very hard change.
Some of us require a certain level of striving to be happy. If we're not being awesome enough, we get depressed.
An interesting question might be: What would you do if you were already happy and content?
But short of a few things I cope with, I am happy and content.
Of course all these words are flexible and can encompass a wide span. If awesomeness motivates you towards real goodness, that's, well, awesome.
But I think that for some, it can have aspects of self-obsession, an excessive concern with entrepreneurial success, an overemphasis on individual achievement causing neglect of softer, less "specular" values -- like kindness.
Not to imply any lack of kindness. What I'm trying to say has more to do with how we value our kindness. The tragedy would be someone with a kind heart who thinks themselves worthless because they haven't completed any "awesome" projects on their own.
I think the takeaway message I've learned from school, and in life, is that there will always be someone who is better than you at something. I'm always envious of my peers who are better at (X), and I forget that if I reflect on my own skills, I'll find (Y) that I can do better.
You'll likely never find someone who is better than you at EVERYTHING.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I think there's a certain beauty in that, because by working together, we get the benefit of being good at X and Y. This is why cofounders who have complementing skill sets are so successful.
Find something you like, and just do it. Connect with people that do things you don't like to do or are not as good at. The rest will fall in place.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein
This is a great motivator for some people. For others not so much. One needs to figure out where one falls in the spectrum and moderate time spent looking at what the rest of the world is up to accordingly.
Given the time people are spending on the internet these days, exposed to things no other generation was, much of this happens subconsciously.
Amen to that. I usually feel more fulfilled when I restrict my online "achiever" voyeurism -- just enough to be inspired, but not so much that I feel a hopeless mortal among titans.
Quoting Lao Tzu from quote sites is to be avoided, except in ironic context. Lao Tzu (Lao Zi) is the supposed authors of a very small Chinese classic called Daodejing. It has 81 poems, and I wasn't able to find anyone that would be close enought to this "be yourself" quote. "Be yourself" is not even a concept that can be found in this book, because in fact "be", and "self" are not Taoist concepts.
What related teaching could be found in this book, you'll say? In fact, it could be more something like "kill your desires", "hide your intelligence", "return to the origin", and many paradox like "the dumbest is the most clever", "the weakest is the strongest", "be not having any will everything happens according to your wishes".
So maybe I can invent a Laotzu quote more relevant to the article: "try to be awesome and everyone is bored, try not to be awesome and everyone will wow in awe"
For example: I need to lose about 15 pounds. If I just accepted myself as me, I'd never really work towards the better picture of myself, 15 pounds lighter. Doesn't this apply when trying to better yourself in other ways?
If I'm not imagining a future where I'm better than I am right now, how will I ever get to it? What easier way to imagine how one could be better than to look at what other people have, and hope to have it myself.
I feel like, eventually, people just end up settling and stop fighting to better themselves. I think the older someone is, the more likely the are to have settled. I hope for myself, that I keep fighting.
However, being CRITICAL of yourself is about the most counter-productive thing a person can do. When you are critical of yourself, you do things for the wrong reason. Lamenting about how fat you are leads you to diet, but you never make real lifestyle changes to support it. A personal trainer friend of mine has made the observation that the best way to lose weight and get fit is to first develop the ability to be happy.
There is science to support this mindset. Constant self-teardown comes with real physiological changes in your body. You'll be more anxious, which means you'll spend more time in a sympathetic nervous state. The increase in adrenaline and cortisol leave you feeling sluggish and worn out. Guess what happens when you feel like that? You eat to much, you sleep to much, and you generally do everything you wanted to stop doing in the first place!
There are a whole host of things that go on when you push yourself instead of learning to be yourself. None of those things are very good.
I've been a driven guy. I've been successful in a startup. I've failed terribly. As I reach my mid-30's I've found myself focused on becoming content. Surprisingly, I've found that my productivity and desire haven't really changed much. I still want to do really well, but now I keep everything in perspective and I'm much happier for it.
Mistake #1. You have to visualize yourself as temporarily overweight, then go about exercising/changing your diet (you know, more fiber, less carb's) to reach that new set-point.
Measure your caloric intake, and your weight every day. If your intake is less than your standard metabolic activity, you'll lose weight. It's that simple.
> I feel like, eventually, people just end up settling and stop fighting to better themselves.
Don't do that! Yes the majority of people do that, but that doesn't mean you have to as well. I have too many old healthy people in my family to fall into that trap.
Faster feedback loops are better for training. You just have to spend a little time installing a filter sometimes.
The self is a state that can only be observed instantaneously, so change is an expected phenomenon. The key to losing that weight is to forget about the fact that you want to lose the 15 lbs. Don't focus on the result, but instead on the journey that will get you there. Learn to enjoy a daily workout and healthy diet. Success is a mindset, not a destination.
tl;dr Compare your accomplishments to greater accomplishments by other people. Feelings of inadequacy will motivate you to accomplish more.
(This, of course, doesn't go for everybody.)
Edit: Note that becoming rich and famous isn't the only way to feed your ego.
There is tendency today that everybody wants to accomplish so much. I know this from myself: Compared with many of my friends, I have accomplished quite a lot - but it doesn't satisfy me, I need more to be happy. I agree with the author that we should focus more on just being. Because, if you think of it, what happens when you have accomplished whatever you had aimed for? It feels great... for a little while. Then, life is back to normal. We often believe the fallacy that happiness is available somewhere in the future, not here and now, and once we get this or that - THEN we will be happy. And so you risk rigging your life in order to always reach for the next mountain top you have in sight, thinking that it's the final one.
An Australian nurse interviewed people on their death bed about their regrets in life. The second biggest regret was that people had worked too hard.
Think about the real motives for what you do: If you do something to prove yourself for others (e.g. fame and glory), you're fooling yourself. First of all because it will most likely not make you happy, second because you will be forgotten anyway (especially today when everybody claims their 15 minutes of fame). If you strive for something because you think it will make you more happy, you are fooling yourself to believe that happiness is somewhere in the future and not available now.
On the other hand, if the road is the goal, you are more likely rigging your life for lasting happiness. In the end, what is the use of accomplishing things if you are, and continue to be, unhappy?
The rest are here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-...
Von Neumann's ability to instantaneously perform complex operations in his head stunned other mathematicians. Eugene Wigner wrote that, seeing von Neumann's mind at work, "one had the impression of a perfect instrument whose gears were machined to mesh accurately to a thousandth of an inch."
Paul Halmos states that "von Neumann's speed was awe-inspiring."
Israel Halperin said: "Keeping up with him was... impossible. The feeling was you were on a tricycle chasing a racing car." Edward Teller wrote that von Neumann effortlessly outdid anybody he ever met, and said "I never could keep up with him".
Lothar Wolfgang Nordheim described von Neumann as the "fastest mind I ever met", and Jacob Bronowski wrote "He was the cleverest man I ever knew, without exception.He was a genius."
George Pólya, whose lectures at ETH Zurich von Neumann attended as a student, said "Johnny was the only student I was ever afraid of. If in the course of a lecture I stated an unsolved problem, the chances were he'd come to me at the end of the lecture with the complete solution scribbled on a slip of paper."
Halmos recounts a story told by Nicholas Metropolis, concerning the speed of von Neumann's calculations, when somebody asked von Neumann to solve the famous fly puzzle:
Two bicyclists start twenty miles apart and head toward each other, each going at a steady rate of 10 mph. At the same time a fly that travels at a steady 15 mph starts from the front wheel of the southbound bicycle and flies to the front wheel of the northbound one, then turns around and flies to the front wheel of the southbound one again, and continues in this manner till he is crushed between the two front wheels. Question: what total distance did the fly cover? The slow way to find the answer is to calculate what distance the fly covers on the first, northbound, leg of the trip, then on the second, southbound, leg, then on the third, etc., etc., and, finally, to sum the infinite series so obtained. The quick way is to observe that the bicycles meet exactly one hour after their start, so that the fly had just an hour for his travels; the answer must therefore be 15 miles.
When the question was put to von Neumann, he solved it in an instant, and thereby disappointed the questioner: "Oh, you must have heard the trick before!" "What trick?" asked von Neumann, "All I did was sum the infinite series."
Von Neumann had a very strong eidetic memory, commonly called 'photographic' memory.Herman Goldstine writes: "One of his remarkable abilities was his power of absolute recall. As far as I could tell, von Neumann was able on once reading a book or article to quote it back verbatim; moreover, he could do it years later without hesitation. He could also translate it at no diminution in speed from its original language into English. On one occasion I tested his ability by asking him to tell me how The Tale of Two Cities started. Whereupon, without any pause, he immediately began to recite the first chapter and continued until asked to stop after about ten or fifteen minutes."
It has been said that von Neumann's intellect was absolutely unmatched. “I always thought Von Neumann’s brain indicated that he was from another species, an evolution beyond man,” said Nobel Laureate Hans A. Bethe of Cornell University. "It seems fair to say that if the influence of a scientist is interpreted broadly enough to include impact on fields beyond science proper, then John von Neumann was probably the most influential mathematician who ever lived," wrote Miklos Redai in "Selected Letters."
Glimm writes "he is regarded as one of the giants of modern mathematics".The mathematician Jean Dieudonné called von Neumann "the last of the great mathematicians", while Peter Lax described him as possessing the "most scintillating intellect of this century", and Hans Bethe stated "I have sometimes wondered whether a brain like von Neumann's does not indicate a species superior to that of man".
Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken.
"... his mind, the amulet on which he had always been able to rely, was becoming less dependable. Then came complete psychological breakdown; panic, screams of uncontrollable terror every night. His friend Edward Teller said, "I think that von Neumann suffered more when his mind would no longer function, than I have ever seen any human being suffer."
Von Neumann's sense of invulnerability, or simply the desire to live, was struggling with unalterable facts. He seemed to have a great fear of death until the last... No achievements and no amount of influence could save him now, as they always had in the past. Johnny von Neumann, who knew how to live so fully, did not know how to die.
To be absolutely clear: I am certain I wouldn't behave any better faced with my own upcoming death. I just think it's not too good to heroise famoous people and stories about them to the point they are no longer recognizable as humans at all...
And to be fair to the great man, here is a nice biographical article by noone else but Paul Halmos himself:
Years later, when John Mauchly was defending his patents on digital computers (after it had become declassified), the First Report was brought up as a public disclosure.
Today, a lecturer is grateful if the majority of students stops playing WoW for 5 minutes during the lecture.
Von neumann, definitely is the greatest mathematician in the past few centuries.
I tend to compare myself with people who win despite having no natural talent for it.
Took some pictures, posted them and looked at other profiles, went back to the camera, worked harder, rinse and repeat. Turned out, the others were working for National Geographics and the like.
People don't start out as the greatest mathematician in the last few centuries. And how do you even differentiate between talent and hard work?
The author of the piece, however, is pretty clearly comparing herself to peers - "kids that have had a computer since 1987". This is a valid mode of self-criticism; you can legitimately glean some insights from comparing yourself and your actions to those of people in similar circumstances. If this results in feelings of inadequacy, well, just waving it away is a disservice to yourself.
It really pissed me off for ages, because I was like, what's the point then? What's the point if I can't be the best at something? But then I realised that if someone's always going to be the best and beat you, you don't have to strive in life to be the best at something. It kills the ego for me, which is a big battle for a lot of us. Being good at it and enjoying the journey is enough. I try to be excellent at what I do, but It doesn't matter if I'm not the best. Even if I am, It's unlikely I always will be and that's fine. For most of us that are average, it's unlikely we're going to be the next "Big thing". But who cares.
On a side note, this article seemed kind of nothingy, I don't think I learnt anything new from it so i'm wondering why it's so high on HN?
And I'm glad. I knew everything that the author said yesterday. I probably knew it 10 or even 15 years ago. But it's really difficult to keep these ideas at the forefront of your mind. Being reminded of it often is the only way I've found so far.
Indeed, reading HN makes me feel pretty horrible a lot of the time, reminding me of all the cool things people are doing, and that I might be able to do such things if I could only get off my ass. That I've been unable to focus adequately to get any practically useful coding, let alone reading, done in the last couple years has brought me significant distress, and seeing so many brilliant people on HN only makes me feel like i'm falling behind.
It's so easy to feel trapped by this, only entrenching yourself in inaction as you compare yourself to every person you feel is smarter or more successful than yourself.
Fox example take Paul Stone, who started to workout after age of 60 
Or Leslie Nielsen who's known for being a comedian started to act in comedies at the age of ~54.
This way, you can improve every day (week/month/year) and become all that you can be without the stress of knowing that you'll never be the next Bill Gates or Zuckerberg or Musk.
But if you strive for creating value you can start in an instant, by just being helpful to someone or (in the case of being a tech entrepreneur) building a small web service that you know that a handful of people find valuable.
With time, striving for creating value will take you on a straighter path to success than if you were aiming for success all along the way.
You see Kevin Rose's list of accomplishments and it seems overwhelming and insurmountable by a regular pleb such as yourself.
But Kevin Rose is just a regular pleb – and he certainly wasn't any different than you or I before he got "famous". You know what happened? He had one break-out success, and was then able to leverage that into a wide variety of other opportunities.
So focus on creating that one break-out success for yourself, the rest will come in due course.
When I turned 41, I started taking burlesque dance classes. I got a lot fitter and learnt a ton about how to carry myself confidently. I didn't have either of those things in mind when I started, or when I kept going to class. I was just getting out of the house and enjoying myself.
Oh, you feel inferior to you peers, etc.
So what? Do something about it, or shut up. Because you read Hacker News and a variety of other tech blogs you're predestined to be great? What is the difference between you and the teenager that reads Cosmo and wants to be beautiful and famous? Why are you even pursuing fame, or if that's not it, what are you pursuing? Why are you taking time out of your day to write blogs, don't you have something more important to do?
My opinions are formed by the life I have lived as it is the only life I will ever experience. I guess my interpretation of awesome is more in line with inspiring awe.
Depending on her background, her situation could very well inspire awe and be something she never thought possible. From my experiences, her examples of "awesome" in other posts are what I would consider "Sweet" even though she has several things I wish I had. If you measured everything in the world on a scale of awesomeness, rather than believing something has to hit a threshold of actually inspiring awe, then her life would be well above mine.
For more common forms of awesome, things like watching my younger brother with autism be able to take my dog for a walk is pretty awesome given everything else I have gone through with him. Living in the suburbs though, getting a piece of plastic that extends credit to me is not awe inspiring.
From that essay: Mediocrity wants to “be smart” and for everyone to know it. Excellence wants to do smart things. Mediocrity wants to be well-liked. Excellence wants to create things worth liking. Mediocrity wants to be one of the great writers. Excellence wants to write great works.
Right. But as Kefka said, "You sound like chapters from a self-help booklet!" Everyone can get behind these ideas-- it's a nice pep talk-- but you're actually going to end up in opposition to society if you try to live that way. It's hard. People in power will try to beat the crap out of you. If you really insist on doing great things, you should expect to pay for it. Trying to do great things at work injects a lot of job-loss risk that most people can't stand; trying to do great things outside of work requires discipline that most people don't have.
It's never "too late". We don't understand the brain, with regard to aging, very well and have no idea when a healthy person's creativity or cognitive power peaks-- it's somewhere between 15 and 70, but highly individualized-- which is another way of saying that there isn't a meaningful enough difference for us to know. (It's like a world in which unfair coins turn up heads 50.000001% of the time; it will take an ungodly amount of time to determine whether a coin is fair or unfair, but it just doesn't matter.) "Too late" is not what one should be worried about. Peoples' perceptions of us change dramatically as we get older. When you're 40, you can no longer exploit the chickenhawking of a corporate middle-manager who did his 20s wrong and wants to live vicariously through someone more sociable and attractive than him, which makes becoming his protege impossible... but, by the time you're 40, you really shouldn't want that. How we're perceived changes dramatically from 20 to 25 to 30 to 40. What we can do (in terms of creativity, courage, integrated understanding) seems to be increasing monotonically until very close to the end of life.
Really, though, "being awesome" is the wrong goal. The discussion should be around "doing awesome".