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I'm going to say something that's a little tough but it's meant as advice coming from years of mistakes before I finally got my head on the right way: Part of growing up is learning to prioritize what you need to do, even if it isn't fun, over what you like to do. This is how the real world works, and it's what you'll spend the rest of your life doing. Learning to do it when you're young, when mistakes are smaller, will make the rest of your life so much better.

When you get your needs out of the way, the fun stuff you can do is all the better, and you'll know more about the fun stuff that you're doing enabling you to open more worlds of enjoyment later that you'll never be able to conceive of without putting in the hard work to start. Doors will be open to you that you'll never even imagine if you put in the work to build the foundation of your life right now. Digging the metaphorical ditches and laying the metaphorical concrete for your foundation sucks, but that's how life is. Lots of sucky boring shitty work, for a few profound moments of bliss.

I know this sounds just like words right now, but I wish this was a concept that I had truly grokked much earlier in my life before I had to spend years fixing all the bits and pieces I needed to do that I had deferred.

Nobody gets to do the fun stuff for long, without working out all the dreadfully boring bits a head of time.

Want to be an explorer? Spend months raising money and building schedules and looking at maps and buying equipment.

Want to be a rock star? Spend years learning to play an instrument, playing in dive bars and making demo tapes. Get a break then play the same 4 hit songs for 20 years.

Want to write awesome code and run an awesome business? Spend years learning computational theory, business management and leadership, raising funds, and last but not least, writing thousands of lines of boring boiler plate, edge case handling and plumbing code.

Want to be an author? Spend a few years writing a couple hundred pages on your topic then get rejected by 99 out of 100 publishers. Then do an endless book tour where you read the same passage from your book 300 times.

Learning to do the boring, dreadfully dull, uninteresting stuff...learning to just muscle through it...is the most important life skill any human being can learn. It's the marshmallow test magnified by a million.




First of all, I want to say that this comment is completely spot-on, and it also took me waaay too many years to learn it as well.

The other thing is, because so many things are such a slog, to get to the good parts, you've got to figure out what it is deep-down that does motivate you. The truth is, it's not going to actually be motivating you most days, but since you're going to be slogging regardless, you need to make sure you're slogging towards something that you consider to be worthwhile.

For some people it's family, for others it's money, for some it's a particular sport, for some it's owning their own business. For some it's writing, for others it's photography, or music. For some it's being a respected member of their community.

Think to yourself, who are the people you most respect? When you're 40, what kind of a person do you want to be? What kind of success will be most important to you? The answer might not always be immediately clear or obvious, but a vague idea can still help point you in the right direction.

But also: nobody can slog away at the same thing all the time, so make sure you make plenty of room for friends, fun, exercise/sport, romantic attachment, and whatnot. As long as you have those kinds of things, you'll find you can deal with the slog after all. And in the end, they're really what life is mostly about. :)


Just keep in mind there are diminishing returns on most things. If you want to be the best your going to have to work harder than 99% of everyone out there. But, if you want to be better than average you don't really have to work that hard just be smart about it.

10 hours of real effort a week will get you into most collages. 10 hours of real effort a week can keep you in great shape. And 10 hours of real effort is more than most people put into there jobs. The secret is to not slack off and to keep at it for years.

PS: Some of the best advice I have ever gotten was simply showing up is worth a lot.


There's another side to this line of reasoning. Sometimes, things feel tough because you are simply on the wrong track: Studying and working on the wrong things, have your ambitions set too high, working the wrong way (hard, not smart) or just push yourself too hard. If this happens to correctly describe the difficulties you have, the right answer is to ease off a bit - not just buckle down and push harder.

Which of these situations you're in at any given time is a difficult question which can't be worked out from three sentences written on a web forum. I would hazard a guess that given the "curse of the gifted", the former is more common in kids just out of High School. But I have often seen the latter as well, including on Hacker News. Both these situations can turn into mental health issues if you don't take them seriously.


I feel incredibly blessed that I never had to do any of this. I enjoyed computer programming. I learned to do all the stuff because it was fun. Learned to read and write files, learned to sort, learned to write languages, etc etc.

All of it was almost always in pursuit of some goal. I want to create ABC I needed to learn about DEF. etc.. Very little of it was just learning for the sake of learning.

I can't remember ever doing a boring thing related to programming off the top of my head. I can remember automating repetitive things but even that was fun.

I remember working lots of overtime but I don't remember disliking the work.

I don't know what to take from that. I've kind of assumed it's been the same for all the programmers I respect. I see them code as a hobby just like me. I assume they keep doing because they love it.

Maybe if you don't love it you're doing the wrong thing? Maybe if you don't love anything then your advice is true?


It's the gen x vs gen y philosophy at work here.

Gen X is about putting the time in and reaping the rewards. Gen Y is about finding passion in the work itself and thus is more willing to "soul search" when it comes to doing work.

It's certainly an interesting dynamic and recruiters/HR/managers have needed to shift their mindset to accommodate the new school approach to finding work.


The Gen Y approach doesn't apply to many professions,and fewer that pay well. Programming is one of the few, along with athletics and entertainment.


I don't have hard data to back it up, but beyond programming, I imagine there's a higher incidence rate of changing majors in undergrad, going back to do a masters in a field different than what you originally studied, and other such things going on. (going back for a law degree, mba, what have you).


Do you code for a living? If so, I think your experience ("no boring task ever") is pretty unique.


I'm in a similar situation. I got into writing code because the things I thought were cool required writing code to have; websites, irc bots, web apps, etc.

I have been learning new things about code (and in the process software engineering) for about 10 years and I find it more exciting than ever. I do have a a lot of boring tasks to complete but I often play around with them a bit, finding new ways to do an age old task and then it's cool again.

On a related note, I see qualified people my age working jobs they don't really enjoy for peanuts and it really sucks. I consider my self very lucky for having a full-time hobby that is rewarding and can pay the bills.


That's some powerful drugs.


I think this is key, and it's important to understand that the self-discipline you are required to learn to excel in school and university is a large part of the reason you're there in the first place. It's not just about learning what's being taught, or even 'learning to learn', it's about conditioning your brain to function while withholding rewards for significant amounts of time.

I can spend hours and days programming incredibly boring, repetitive code, because the end result is valuable. Teaching your brain to understand this is the struggle the OP faces.

BTW especially with maths, teachers mostly fail at providing any context above 'learn this rule, so you can apply a slightly more advanced version of it next year'. There is a huge amount of context and thought around the mathematics that's being taught, but little effort ever goes into expounding it. If you're struggling with maths in particular, try reading up on some of the history of the topics to find out why they were invented, and what problems they solve. It brings an incredibly richness to what can be a fairly dry, abstract subject.


I found studying the hjstory of mathematics gave a lot more depth about how things came about and why ie delta epsilon limit proofs and the centuries long journey to give a theoretical basis to calculus.


I'm relatively young and often fighting myself to get things done as well. I've taken steps to force myself away from distracting things and focus on stuff that needs to get done. For example, I've installed a website blocking extension on Firefox and blocked sites I'm drawn towards from 8am to 5pm, also uninstalled all other browsers (I have broken and installed chrome just to procrastinate, since uninstalled).

Right now I have a 1500 word paper to start but am stalling and finding a slow cooker recipe for dinner.

Nearly every day I am fighting myself to be productive, it can be pretty painful in its own way. I figure if I'm ultimately winning(being productive) then I am making some sort of progress in my personal growth.

What you said there is the main reason I know I have to push myself. I know if I don't then I'll just end up being disappointed in myself.

So, essentially, fear is what drives me.


It sounds like you're developing good skills that will serve you later. Nobody likes to do this boring stuff, but it just has to be done.

Advice: just write the paper. Between this comment and my last I've just brain dumped 1000 words down - 1500 isn't too much to write. Just get it done in some raw form, then go make dinner, then come back revise, edit, add sources. At least in the absolute worst case, you'll have something accomplished.

It brings to home a recent event, one of my childhood friends, who hasn't figured this out, has a couple kids by two different women, no education or good money making job skills. He's spent his entire life to date doing whatever feels good and interests him instead of making the painful investments in his future.

He just got his first paycheck after the courts ruled he needed to start making his child payments. That first paycheck was smaller than what he got from his part-time retail job he had right after high school in absolute dollars (adjusted for inflation it's way smaller).

He's turning 40 now and is just starting to realize that he's spent over 20 years accomplishing nothing, and in a little over 20 years, when he retires he'll have nothing to retire on. It's worse than if he had earned it then lost it all. At least he'd have the intrinsic skills and work history to try and rebuild it. Right now he's barely qualified for a low-paid, dead end salaried job working tech support.

It's all caught up to him and he's working all the time now and has nothing to show for it in the near or far term. He's getting by on the charity of others. He's looking back on the few opportunities he had, that if he had taken advantage of them instead of chasing immediate joy he'd be in a much better place and better able to realize his dreams, and better positioned to have and properly raise his kids.

There's a possibility one of his exes is going to move across the country and now he's desperately trying to figure out how to be involved in both of his kid's lives...and realizing he doesn't even have the money to make a single one-way flight to visit his other kid.

He has nothing to offer for his older kid's future either, now that he's only a few years away from graduating high school. And his kid, young as he is, has figured this out and is already making plans for his life outside of this mess...he's joining the military and this has my friend scared for the safety of his child.

This is not where anybody wants to end up, but it's all a result of tens of thousands of small decisions where he could have chosen to do the boring grindy stuff and invest in his future, or do something that felt like more fun and he chose the fun path.

It's not too late for anybody to turn the ship of their life around though, it just takes raw willpower and a single minded focus on your goals. Sacrifice near term fun for a better long term outcome.


I just want to emphasize the trick you outlined because it is the most effective for me. Have something to do? Just get started on it and do a little bit. I don't mean get started on it with the intention to finish it. This is what stops you – fear of actually doing it. So, really, start with the intention to just do a little bit. Tell yourself you're just taking some notes, you'll stop after 10 minutes. Then, do one of two things: (1) stop and do something else or (2) if you find yourself wrapped up in the work, consider allowing yourself to continue. But you must not think of option (2) when you begin. It's not an option.

Zizek once said that in order to get himself to write, he needs to to tell himself that he's just going to take some notes. One of the most productive critical theorists in the world has procrastination problems too, and he gets over them with self-deception. He also schedules every moment of his life though, so don't think one trick is all that's required to be at the top of your field.

Ultimately, I think finding a way to dodge your anxiety entirely is very important. I don't believe in "muscling through".


In essence Zizek's trick is to make some notes to himself and to then edit them later. The result of this is writing.

Here's the quote (IMDB):

Slavoj Zizek: I have a very complicated ritual about writing. It's psychologically impossible for me to sit down [and just write] so I have to trick myself. I operate a very simple strategy which, at least with me, it works.

I put down ideas. But I put them down usually in a very elaborate way. A line of thought and then in full sentences and so on. So up to a certain point I am telling myself: "No, I'm not yet writing. I'm just putting down ideas". Then at a certain point I tell myself: "Everything is already there, now I just have to edit".

This is from the biopic Zizek! (2005) which I thought was great. I'd recommend it.

Another quote from Zizek!:

I'm a total enlightenment person. I believe in clear statements and so on.

:)


This is how I go about tasks usually, I hardly ever expect myself to finish something completely unless it's small. Sometimes I just end up in the zone and happily punch it out for several hours, sometimes I work on it over several days.

Another thing I might work on is over-hyping a task, making it seem like much more work than it really is. For example, I started on this paper I need to write and was really dreading it. However, since I started it I've seen that it's actually nowhere near as bad as I had previously imagined.

I'm finding that momentum is constantly a large factor in my productivity as well, if I can get momentum I often begin to enjoy tasks.


I had this long diatribe pounded out and ready to submit, but, why bother? It's going to fall on deaf ears. People have bought into the "hard work" lie so fully. I'll just leave it at this:

While there are notable exceptions, hard work is not a reliable predictor of success. Do you really think those multi-million dollar penthouses in Manhattan and those huge estates in the hills on the SF Bay peninsula are inhabited by people who simply "muscled through it"? Being (or knowing) the right people is a reliable predictor of success. By and large, those guys are the ones making it big.

My advice to someone going off to college would be: 1. Go to the most prestigious one you can afford/luck into and 2. Make friends with the richest/most well connected kids you meet.


Who said hard work alone would make you hugely rich and successful? Hard work is just a requirement for those who weren't born into wealth if they don't want to live in poverty. Working hard allows you to make the most of your opportunities.

Also, it usually takes hard work to get into the most prestigious universities (if you aren't already a silver spooner). It can also be a lot of hard work to make friends with the right people if you aren't naturally a people person.


> Want to be a rock star? Spend years learning to play an instrument, playing in dive bars and making demo tapes. Get a break then play the same 4 hit songs for 20 years.

Wait, what? Is this supposed to be inspirational? Suffering for "success" to find yourself "playing the same 4 hit songs for 20 years"? It feels like this actually undermines the rest of your argument, so I'm kind of confused what you were going for here.


Well, do you want to play new songs or be a rock star? "Being" a rock star isn't all about jamming new tunes.

Understanding what your goals are actually about, instead of idealizing them is just as important to figure out where to best put your efforts. Even after you "make it", it doesn't mean there's still isn't drudgery involved.

A little meta, but HN sometimes almost veers into the "get rich quick" thinking, where somebody works for a month or two to assemble a picture sharing app or something, then expects to sell for a billion and wear unbuttoned oxford shirts and angel invest from their beachfront house in Hawaii for the rest of their life.

There's hard work in everything and even when you "make it", there's still hard work involved.


Is't more like the price you pay for getting to hook up with groupies the rest of your life.


Parallel construction with the other items:

Desirable goal? Drudgery, drudgery, drudgery...

He's not trying to inspire so much as inform you of the entrance requirements for the various goals.


Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.




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