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[dupe] Startup - Bill Watterson, a cartoonist's advice (zenpencils.com)
199 points by linux_devil on Sept 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments



I wish more people in software followed this kind of advice. I see posts about air hockey or ping-pong tables and fully stocked mini-fridges as if that is an acceptable replacement for ones free time and best creative years. Are we children, so easily fooled by the shiny, bright candy in the checkout aisle? Worse yet those who take the corporate-ladder type jobs at a big corp like MS, and sacrifice their friends, family, and home for something as meaningless as office or tablet apps.

Your startup is probably not changing, or even improving the world. Your social media killer app is part of the problem, not the solution. And I know Microsoft/IBM/Oracle/etc gave up on improving the world a long time ago, instead opting for "shareholder" value, whatever that is. What good is money you can never enjoy? Your kids won't thank you if they don't even know who you are and have never spent time with you. Exhausted evenings don't count.

I have chosen door number 3. I live an ultra-frugal lifestyle and am already planning an exit from my day job in the next decade, to retire before 40.

People like Bill Watterson, Cory Doctorow, and Richard Stallman are on to something. They are actually enjoying life now - Are you?


I do not have a corporate job, nor have I ever. The closest I have come is teaching in schools. However, I find your sentiment at odds with the experience of many I know in the corporate world. Most work long hours, but they find time for what is important to them and they find their work rewarding. The family time comes from what used to be Call of Duty or sport-watching time. When the kids grow up they get to do those things with them too. These people take care of their health, travel, and have rewarding family lives, they just have to be ruthlessly organised and priority-driven to focus on what is important to them (of which a respectable career is one aspect).

In the past I have thought the way you do and the way the original post outlines, but I concluded that I was actually a little jealous of people with more stable, better-paying jobs who were well enough organised that they could still do the things that they considered important and I was actually just looking for ways to frame the situation to my superiority. When I hung out with these people I almost wanted them to sneer and demonstrate values that "someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interest and activities is considered a flake", but they never did. I feel like most corporate folk I know totally "get" what people who haven't taken the same path as them are doing.

At the moment I live in Japan and have friends who work some insane hours. Their Facebook efficiency to set up band practice and baseball (and even now cricket!!) for the few hours they have to spare is a source of constant astonishment to me.

Right now, I'm looking at getting myself organised in that way and heading for a corporate job, not fleeing from one.


Both approaches aren't mutually exclusive. I give priority to what you and the article are saying, but once you realize that, there's no reason why it can't be complemented by a high paying job. 40 hours of work a week, if you manage to find something you (half-)like, is a minor inconvenience compared to the alternative of not being able to enjoy many of the things our modern world has to offer.


Problem is that many of the things the modern world has to offer fall conveniently between the short pauses of sanity we have to enjoy them in that 40 hours of work a week.

And excluding work, we also need time for life as well. Things like shopping, laundry, cooking (if we do that at home) and fixing things that break. I hear plumbing does this quite often. Almost as much as code. The modern world has created an atmosphere that specifically caters to these things. Even games, if you think about it, are to be quickly done with in time for the next expansion or chapter. When was the last time you spent 6 hours working your way up to get a magic key with a picture of a goat to unlock a treasure cave... that itself holds another key to somewhere else?


This is a bit of a tangent, but no, it's not plumbing; it's the living things that take all the time.

I'm sure experiences vary, but since 1998 I've rented houses and apartments, spent a year helping to run a B&B with self-catering apartments, and have owned a house for 7 years now, and in all that time I've probably spent a day or two on plumbing-related maintenance.

But taking care of a dog or two? A lawn? A garden? Fruit trees? Children? That's where the serious time goes.

I wouldn't advise anyone to avoid taking on organic commitments (ha ha), but it's all about balance. Don't ever get a new puppy (10-15 year commitment) when you or your partner is pregnant. Don't buy a big house with a pool and a beautiful yard and vegetable garden unless you know who's going to be maintaining all that.


Yeah, but if you worked 20 hours a week for yourself instead of 40 hours a week for the man, then you could easily make just as much money and have tons more time to enjoy it.


>>Your kids won't thank you if they don't even know who you are and have never spent time with you.

Most kids, the moment they grow up will rather like you pay for their college fees, take care of them while they are settling down and you leave them a good inheritance.

May be small kids would like you spend time with them, but even teenagers are smart enough to understand the importance of financial priorities in life.

>>I live an ultra-frugal lifestyle and am already planning an exit from my day job in the next decade, to retire before 40.

I don't know how you propose to come back home so early, practically do nothing on the side. Don't start a business on your own. And yet save your way to becoming a millionaire(Which I can tell you as a some one saves and invests very often, that's just not possible).

Have you planned for medical emergencies, rising house rents, inflation and many other routine problems which come regularly in ones life etc?

>>People like Bill Watterson, Cory Doctorow, and Richard Stallman are on to something. They are actually enjoying life now - Are you?

There are two kinds of enjoyment a human being can experience. The pure philosophical kind of enjoyment of sitting on grass and sleeping under a tree. The other one is partying on a yacht.

Both have their own fun.


I don't think leaving a large inheritance for your kids does them any favors. The issue is that providing for oneself and one's family is a legitimate goal, but at some point your kids grow up and they need to make it for themselves. If they are always punching your meal ticket they will have a hard time developing their own sense of self-worth. Certainly there are some individuals who will use your gift as a springboard to their own successes, and some who will realize all this and jump out of the nest on their own, but I believe those are the exception.


How many of the world's problems, the kinds that make so many safety concerns necessary, come out of others' insecurities, bred in turn by the lack of an emotionally fulfilling upbringing?

I would posit that being available to raise one's children in a loving environment, one where children find themselves valued outside of extrinsic factors, could do even more to facilitate their material well-being.

I bet it's possible to reap all the security and benefits of expensive education, insurance, etc. through the kind of healthy social network which comes with internalized self-worth and good socialization.


>> Most kids, the moment they grow up will rather like you pay for their college fees, take care of them while they are settling down and you leave them a good inheritance.

I'm still young with no kids, but that sounds awful. Especially "leave them a good inheritance."


I'm not sure it's entirely true.

I think with increasing life expectancy most people are settled into their lives long before their parents die.

Speaking as a parent I can see that I'll never stop wanting to be a father to my children and making their lives better in whatever way I can, but speaking as a child my only wish for my father is that he enjoys the rest of his life and if that involves him spending his money (that he earned and that, not to put too fine a point on it, I have no right at all to) then so be it.

Essentially as a parent, it's something you'll want to do, but I'm not convinced that it's something your children will expect of you.


If that thought sounds awful, don't have kids. Seriously. And not because you'd find it awful to pay for their college fees or help take care of them while they are settling down.

But because that's the easy part.

The hard part is realizing that you're in it for life. It's not a 20-and-done commitment. It can be a life-long commitment, and beyond.

But if that's your answers, you mentally aren't prepared for parenthood. Not that everyone who has children are ready.


The guy probably has a plan that he just isn't sharing. The lack of details doesn't mean their aren't details, and he doesn't need you criticizing him for not thinking things through.


Some hard questions.

Why being with children is more important than drinking beer and playing hockey(In this case why having children is important?)?

What is wrong with world?

And how you would change it?

Everyone goes on week long holiday every month(everyone in same time), what happens? How we can everyone go on week long holiday every month? Can this be solved? I mean, everyone. You run into nightmare solving this.

It would be amazing if everyone, yes, everyone would go trough some hard questions about values and what they want, then put solutions in pool, partially solving many things. Professional consultant in the field with 20 year experience can only do so much.

What is to enjoy life without experiencing hardships of life?


At this point "follow your dreams", "live a satisfying life" and other variations thereof are cached wisdom. When you go to a high school class and hear people who admit they didn't go where they wanted in college telling you the same thing, you'll notice something like an epistemic code smell. Unless the proportion of people working for "the man" has changed significantly in the last...whenever this meme became popular, I can only conclude that the sort of "creative work" which seems to have become something of a holy grail to young job seekers is possibly:

1. Unattainable or unsustainable for the vast majority of people.

2. Not as good as it sounds on paper.

3. Economically infeasible.

Otherwise we would all be cartoonists.

EDIT: Maybe I'm not 'getting it'. Considering that other HN thread on the front page where everyone complains about contrarianism, I have to wonder if theres something fundamental here that I'm not seeing.


I think what you're referring to are platitudes. People say "follow your dreams", but most of the people saying that in schools didn't follow their own advice.

Watterson actually lived by his own standards. This included forgoing millions in licensing deals, and retiring to pursue personal art, when the strip was at its peak.

He achieved great success, but to the conventionally minded he seemed positively insane for a long time. He spent four years living at home, working a day job and submitting cartoons, without success.

When most people say "follow your dreams" it's implied that they think you should do so within existing structures.


>I think what you're referring to are platitudes.

They are, and I guess my point of contention with Watterson is that I'm having trouble distinguishing between his advice and the platitudes, even though he actually lived it.


I think the difference is having your own standard and actually following it, even if others think its crazy.


I'd say of all those three number 2 is the most common reason why people don't 'follow their dream', but I don't think it's the main reason.

The main reason, I think, is that it's just real hard to wander off the beaten path. I suspect the primary problem is those first steps and then keeping at it for a while. We are taught from very early on, especially if our parents were 'normal' middle-class people, to do the 'normal' thing.

But based on my interactions with people who 'do their own thing', it seems quite feasible, and often a good recipe for happiness, and not so hard to keep up once you've done it for a while.


Actually, most people don't tell you to follow your dreams. Most people tell you you'd be crazy to give up a "good paying job", i.e. one of those ones where they keep the vast majority of profit from your work effort for themselves. Most people get angry and defensive at the slightest suggestion that you're doing something different from them, that you have a different set of priorities that doesn't allow for you to take the same path as them.


As someone who dodged the corporate world and everything a person is 'supposed to do', I'm now in my early 30s. And while I did do the things I thought important during my 20s, I wish more than ever I had adhered more to the things one is supposed to do in order to 'get ahead'. I liked saying I was living more than everyone else I knew back home who stayed in the same place, with the same people, doing the same things...but I now know I was merely living differently, not necessarily more. My main comparison with all those people now is they are financially sound due to jumping through the hoops, and I deal with near poverty for having vagabonded around the world, learning about cultures and languages, while doing this and that to make ends meet. There's worth in what I did, sure, but that time spent on learning for learning's sake came at a cost.

The recent research by Princeton, et al. on the effects of poverty on the mind nailed what I go through daily. Now I'm learning to program in hopes to fix the problem (later, when I've spent a year learning to code) that most affects me day in, day out.


Why is this prefixed with "Startup"? Unless I'm missing something... while working at a startup might be more inspiring than a large corporate job, it doesn't seem to be AT ALL what the author is talking about. Leaving your job to become a cartoonist is a LOT riskier than working at a startup.


I have no idea. This title ought to be changed. It's not the original, and is not really the context of the original either.


If you're living alone on a desert island, there's one job available: scavenging for food. It doesn't matter if you're a genius mathematician or something, your job is to search for food.

If you're in a town full of dotcom businesses, you can probably find a job building web-apps in JavaScript. (Hey, it's a million times better than scavenging for food...)

I really like this cartoon. It's exactly how I feel about "having a day job" vs "doing something cool".

I've been reading PG's essays for a long time. Since back around the time that he created Y Combinator in the first place. I think his essays are brilliant and honest and inspiring.

But at the end of the day... I just don't care about starting a company. If I can live a normal, middle-class life and have a normal, middle-class retirement.... then, man, I really don't give a shit about getting rich. I have an endless supply of awesome things to work on and think about.


This calls to me on so many levels.

I was contracting all around the UK traveling up to 5 hours per day with a 5:30am start and home around 9pm and even living away.

Now I've gone permie locally. I get up at 7:30am, walk the dog, make breakfast for the family, walk/cycle my child to school and then cycle off to work.

If my daughter is ill I can even shift work and start at 2pm (wife works to 1pm) so we don't lose holiday.

In theory I could work 8am-4pm and be home by 4:20pm. Most nights I'm home by 6pm after going on a long cycle ride.

Money isn't as good as it was contracting, but my god, is my home life better, and not just for me. THAT needs repeating, NOT JUST FOR ME.

I smile a lot more these days.


It's not the contracting that was bad it was the kind of contracts you were getting. Did you pay off your mortgage and set aside some money for your kids?


Amazing advice. But just that these kind of things don't workout for majority of the people.

Most people have to get married, have kids, prepare and pay for medical bills, pay rents or loan installments, send their kids to school and live life like other humans around. So you can't really sit the whole day under a tree play lego with your kid. Sooner of later you will run out of money and then the kid will itself want you to go out and work.

Our ancestors didn't write Ant and Cricket stories for nothing.

Working hard, and then savings and investments matter. Looking back the happiest families I see around with their kids doing well are generally kind of ones where parents worked hard and made sound financial decisions in the past. Which now takes care of their health care bills, post retirement expenses and nearly everything else.

So unless, you don't want to run into trouble when you are old you have to earn well enough right now.


> So you can't really sit the whole day under a tree play lego with your kid.

I don't know where you are getting the idea that the cartoonist(the artist) or Bill Watterson(the cartoonist has used a quote from Bill Watterson's speech) advocates doing nothing.

If you go by just the cartoon, the first panel shows him working. He doesn't find drawing the jeep for the advertisement fulfilling, and he isn't interested in having beers with his co-workers. Overall, his job isn't for him so he quits. Later, his old company comes with an offer which he considers but rejects because that will mean not being with his kid and going back to drawing jeeps for advertisements.

Do you know Bill Watterson's story? These aren't empty words. He pretty much followed this to the letter and spirit. He started at some news agency drawing cartoons(or was it ads). He didn't find it fulfilling and quit. He started Calvin & Hobbes. He could have become a millionaire had he merchandised it, but he fought against merchandising because he believed it will dilute the art. Now whether he did the right thing or not doesn't matter. Calvin & Hobbes is his; he can do whatever he wishes with it. On a slightly related topic, all this "Calvin pissing on cross" and "Calving kneeling against the cross" make me angrier than it should. For fuck's sake, I don't give a shit whether you are a militant atheist or a religious nutjob. Come up with your own ideas rather than stealing from someone who clearly doesn't wish his creation to be merchandised.

As the cartoon states, the whole point is creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul. If your 9 to 5 does that, superb. If not, everyone owes it to himself to pursue something that does.


Bill Watterson got successful by doing X != If I do X I will be successful.

Even if you follow the advice in the same letter and spirit as he did.

Though I agree you increase your chances of being successful that way.


> Bill Watterson got successful by doing X != If I do X I will be successful. > Even if you follow the advice in the same letter and spirit as he did.

You will notice that I didn't mention success once, nor did I talk about if I do what Bill Watterson did, I will be good. You are intentionally or unintentionally misreading the article and my comment.

The article or my comment isn't about "follow your dreams and you will be successful"(that will be incredibly stupid advice). The point is I don't have to care what you or anyone else thinks of what constitutes success. My monthly income is above average for an engineer in Bangalore. That is partly due to my hourly rates and partly because I put in long hours. If I had a kid, I won't put in long hours. Period. Will it affect the amount of money I make? Of course. Am I under the illusion that doing that will somehow make me more successful? Fuck no.

> Though I agree you increase your chances of being successful that way.

If only...


I like Bill Watterson's sentiment. It puts into words that I wasn't able to find why I've made the decision I have. That decision: to keep my software company a one-person operation. I don't _want_ the company to be bigger. I don't _want_ to have lots of employees. I don't _want_ to make a quadzillion dollars. I want the joy of running a tiny firm, where I can choose how to run every aspect of it. And have lots of free time for my other pursuits.


Does your one-person operation let you pay the bills or do you do it on the side?

I sometimes see small shops here on the streets of Lisbon and they seem like specialty shops where (I imagine) old men who have perfected their craft sell their wares and services. When I pass them I think to myself that the world would be way better if everyone sought to be a master of their craft, if they just focused on one thing and on doing it well...like Jiro (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-aGPniFvS0).


It is my sole income and sole work. Definitely lets me pay the bills


Are you a fan of rob Walling? If not, you should look him up:

http://www.amazon.com/Start-Small-Stay-Developers-Launching/...


Very cool. This is exactly the type of book I was looking for ideas on how to better describe my current situation and for ideas on where to go next.


Awesome. Just noticed you're in Montreal too. My email's in my profile if you want to talk. I'm not a developer but find most of the advice still applies.


A great cartoon but wasn't this posted just two days ago with the exact same title: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6303776


Seems to be that the previous submission of the link included a backslash and this one didn't. The HN software may not take that into account.


By the same user, no less!


They must really like it :)


Again and again, the same point comes up: It is VERY difficult not to compare yourself to others. Once you can stop doing that, you can decide for yourself how to live on your own terms (if - and this is a big "if" - if you are fortunate enough not to have any circumstances on your plate that prevent that - disabilities, debt, bad circumstances, and so on).

On top of this challenge, if you have the support of a loving family, your chances are orders of magnitude better. Without such support - or with resistance - then things can be even more difficult.

No one said it is easy.


Indeed. I find myself become ever more aware of how even when I think I'm not comparing myself to some norm, I subconsciously am doing this anyways.

I find that meeting people wildly different from myself in lifestyle or perspective really helps. Traveling to 'foreign' cultures too.


It's funny that some parts of this are exactly the opposite to the culture here in the Netherlands. Everyone's expected to be happy with who they are, and ambition is often looked more or less looked down upon unless you can explain how much happier you are for it even if you don't reach the top.

Ironically, with the peer pressure to seem happy, in a collective definition, the result is more or less the same: few people are brave enough to break out of expectations and live according to their personal values.


The title is misleading. This is not by Bill Watterson, it is inspired by Watterson's work...


The art is not Watterson's, but the words are.


Can't really say it has anything to do with startup's either.


I thought about starting-up a company about stuff I like to do in my freetime, like creating video-games. But when I look at the game industry I get the fear that it's a bad idea.


Some of this advice is good but I think it ultimately misses the mark it's aimed at. It's interesting how "follow your dreams" and effectively "don't worry about fulfilling your potential" can simultaneously fill the same cognitive space despite being diametrically opposed.

I wish I had more time to reply here so if these thoughts are muddled or incomplete: my apologies.

Ultimately I think advice like this is possibly a net disservice to people. The end result tends to be people who accept living a life without ever trying very hard at anything. The crux here is that societal pressures on achievement, status, and wealth are onerous and by and large should be rejected but if that leads to nihilism or something close, which it often does, that's not much better. There are many people today who are just not trying very hard, because trying hard has been associaated with corporate bullshit and classism and so on. But many people are capable of some degree of amazing things, and those things take effort and perseverence. Not necessarily sacrifice ofall of one's free time or health or anything like that but it will require effort and time. And without a drive to achieve one can miss out on the potential of creating great art, great tools, or even becoming a great parent.

So don't give up on the idea of fulfilling your potential just avoid getting suckered into climbing into a hamster wheel just because you think that's what everyone around you wants. Take the time to make your life choices carefully and intentionally but don't be a nihilist by accident and don't avoid greatness merely because it's hard.


Is this the third time this showed up in a week or Am I having trouble with cache?


No, this was submitted twice before in the last few days.


I'm glad you posted this. It's a much needed reminder.

Your artwork is excellent and I love the sentiment. I signed up and look forward to seeing more from you. Keep up the good work!

BTW, thanks for the free posters!


Working over the wkend for the company. Took a break to paint a space marine. read this comic. Crying on the inside.




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