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Why Sometimes I Hate Myself (tomaszdziurko.pl)
221 points by tdziurko on Sept 16, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 132 comments



This feeling is an extension of the "HN complex", I think. You see when people post amazing things on Show HN, but you don't see when people are sitting around watching House of Cards. It's the developer version of "everyone on Facebook is having more fun than I am." Try to remind yourself that your perception of others is warped.

Past that, I've struggled with this feeling a bit, and this is what I've come up with (YMMV, of course, but it works for me):

- Keep trying new, productive side projects--just a half hour every couple nights, or something. This could be open source work, MOOCs, reading a book, whatever. Anything that makes you proud of yourself the next morning.

- Eventually, you'll stumble upon something that grabs you--you wouldn't care so much about improving if you didn't enjoy some aspect of what you do.

- If a project grabs you, let yourself get carried away. Buy some red bull. If it doesn't, pat yourself on the back for trying, take a few nights off, and keep trying.

The trick here is to keep moving until something clicks. The advantage of this approach is that you're still doing productive things, but you also have plenty of time to goof off between tries, and (at least in my experience) you'll feel less guilty about it. Forcing yourself to spend your free time on something you don't enjoy to the nebulous end of "self-improvement" will accomplish nothing and make you miserable.

EDIT: after re-reading the OP, I wanted to add that all this is completely optional--if you really do enjoy this self-improvement shtick but have trouble getting started or pacing yourself. There are many, many software developers with great jobs that work 9-5 and go home to their families or non-technical hobbies, and there's absolutely no shame in that. All the corporate blathering about "passion" is just a ploy to depress market wages.


> Try to remind yourself that your perception of others is warped.

I am a strong believer in this effect. I saw it expressed well once in a book, paraphrased: "You are comparing your inside with other people's outside."

I've held on to that concept and its been an important part of me keeping my natural self-pessimism in check.


My absolute favorite illustration of this point:

http://www.viruscomix.com/page528.html


I've seen this collection before, but I don't think I'll ever get tired of it. It's great.


"You are comparing other people's highlights with your bloopers"


Similar quote always stuck with me: "You judge others by their actions and yourself by your intentions"


Interesting, I read this quote with the opposite meaning. I use this quote when you are very critic of others, but lenient with yourself.

Example: corruption. You judge others because they evade taxes. You do it too, but you forgive yourself because you are only evading taxes because you need the money to pay for your mother's treatment.

This way you are very harsh on others, using a very rigid moral judgement. But very flexible on your own moral.


To play devil's advocate: I consciously know this, and absolutely do my best to remembering that my perception is warped.

But the better part of my effort goes towards keeping that self-pessimism in check, simply because I naturally compare myself. I've found it better just avoiding a lot of those perception warpers, or remembering that I live my life at my own pace and as long as I stick to what I want to do, I'm better off than most.


> All the corporate blathering about "passion" is just a ploy to depress market wages.

This is the important point to me. The rockstar stuff serves only VCs and big employers.


There is a way to buy passion - equity.


Your last sentence is very true. I have recently discovered a new passion on photography, and I feel great with that. Photography, theatre, singing, woodworking, doesn't matter what it is, as long as you like it.

I only feel guilty doing things that don't improve me, such as playing games or reading HN. I guess one could argue that the concept of "improvement" is fuzzy (why is photography better than playing Dota?), but I have my own classification.


> I only feel guilty doing things that don't improve me, such as playing games or reading HN.

I fell for a trap here, because for me HN feels like improving. I spend my time here mostly on comment threads, and I learn something new every day, while refining my communication skills thanks to reading and participating in thoughtful discussions with many smart people that frequent this site.

Or at least that's how I rationalize to myself the immense amount of time I spend on this site.

I'm starting to classify it as my own interpretation of information diet. HN is like fast-food - very tasty, addicting, but nowhere near as healthy as reading a good book, or even a paper or a good article on some particular subject. I definitely don't want to remove fast-food from my life altogether, but it shouldn't be the main part of the diet.

I learn a lot here, but I think I could be more cost-effective wrt. amount of time I spend on this site. Still figuring out the right balance.


I've noticed that there are extremely diminishing returns here. You get 95% of the benefit of HN in the first 20 minutes of skimming the front page and commenting, and the rest of the time is significantly less beneficial. Thus, I try to only visit it once or twice a day for ten minutes or so, and have reply notification to comments set up.


> and have reply notification to comments set up

How do you do that? That would probably cut my procrastination in half! HN used to be connected with some push notification startup and there was an option for it in profile, but it seems missing now.


Not OP, but I use HNNotify. http://hnnotify.com/


Yep, that's what I use too. It's a free service, and it breaks sometimes, but it's fantastic.


Thanks guys!


> playing games

I've managed to address this by only playing games with an excellent plot/atmosphere/gameplay, ones with a specific beginning and an ending. So it's like reading a good book or watching a good film.


Your concept of improvement making things worthy is interesting, but very subjective. What is the difference between getting better at photography and getting better at playing Dota (or chess for that matter). These kind of discussions evolve into meaning of life debates really fast.


Yeah, I guess there's really no qualitative difference. It's just that I suck too much at DotA to justify the hours upon hours I spend on it, whereas my photography is rather better without spending that much time on it. That makes the latter a more worthy pursuit.

If I had a hope of being a professional DotA player, maybe the distinction would not be as clear.


DotA is a competitive game, and if you compare yourself to other players, you're chasing a moving goalpost while your returns are diminishing. It would be the same if you were measuring your photography skills by one-upping other photographers on a some kind of daily amateur photography tournament.

I like to look at things as training skills (see my 10-100-10k model, [0], nicely improved by noahl). If you never played DotA before and sit on it for a dozen hours of so, you'll be familiar enough with it to decide whether to continue deliberately training it to get better, just play it casually for fun, or drop it altogether. The first implies that you have a goal, so I'd classify this as productive (towards that goal, maybe you really want to be on top of a local ladder, or whatever it is in DotA; I don't play it). The second means that it's just recreation for you, and it's fair to classify it as such. We all need to do something for leisure, one man plays football, another plays guitar, yet another plays StarCraft.

In other words, I classify things as something I either deliberately want to get better at (thus doing it is productive), or do just for fun without caring about improving the skill (thus this is doing things for fun). Both ways of spending time are good, but it helps to be clear about which is which.

[0] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8197334


I don't think it's as clear as that. I want to get good enough to win Dota most of the time, but the global matchmaking means that I only win 50% of games, and enjoy only a percentage of those.

Similarly, for photography, it frustrates me that I can browse the top page on 500px and see thousands of photos per hour that I can never hope to match even once. Still, I do it because I like it. I don't think I've ever done anything just because I want to get good at it, and I've been programming most of the day for 20 years, because it's fun for me.

All in all, there's a spectrum of the metrics you mention, I don't think it's discrete.


> All in all, there's a spectrum of the metrics you mention, I don't think it's discrete.

I agree. I simplified it to two different categories for the sake of the comment, but it's better to think of it as a spectrum.


You could use an productive/unproductive distinction.

After some hours of photography, you have some photos which did not exist previously. After hours of DotA you have only some improved muscle memory and so on, nothing tangible.

This heuristic would however rule out the learning of more "worthy" pure skills, jazz piano, unicycling etc.


I think adding creative skills and skills of physical mastery both make for more worthy pursuits. This would cover your jazz piano and unicycling and would exclude the Dota example. It also excludes reading fiction, which I think is not much different from watching a movie or playing a game.


Would it not also exclude learning a foreign language, though? Not to mention that it's pretty arbitrary that those skills are considered worthy, but others aren't...

I don't think I can formalize it easily, sadly. I guess I hate Dota because I play it even though it frustrates me most of the time, and it doesn't leave me with any lasting skill other than itself.


Yeah, as icebraining says, photos by themselves aren't worth anything. It's the improvement to my skill in photography that's worth it (and that's as intangible as my skill in DotA, or programming).


This is an interesting perspective. Is the goal of learning photography not ultimately to bring beautiful (or whatever) photos into the world? Or to achieve self-expression by doing so?

To me, creative skills are not inherently meaningful until practiced. Except I suppose for improving ones self-image as a "creative person," which is ultimately a self-destructive pursuit.

If one goes around "being a maker" without actually making, that distinction exists only within ones head. Seems pretty solipsistic.


Ah, I see what you mean. There are probably extrinsic and intrinsic components in everything. In that light, Dota is like most sports, you play because you like it, but you also produce a spectacle to fans in the process.

Photography, for me, is similar. I take photos because I like the process and the output, not specifically so other people can see them. There's a tradeoff there, but I'm not sure I could say that playing basketball is useless, for example (although that has more health benefits than Dota).

It's a hard question. Similarly, learning a foreign language feels very useful to me, even though it doesn't produce anything at all.


I think it's just a matter of how much you value being better at photography vs. being better at DotA. If you care about improving a skill, I'd call actions towards it productive.


I don't think we lack photos, though. "We have more photos than before" - doesn't sound particularly useful.


Having a subjective criterion is fine, as long as it's applied to oneself, and not to judge others. Telling other people what constitutes improvement for them won't go over well, but could be very useful way of deciding how to spend your own time.


"Forcing yourself to spend your free time on something you don't enjoy to the nebulous end of "self-improvement" will accomplish nothing and make you miserable."

You have a financial and ethical obligation to your employer to spend at least some working time thinking of process improvements, and part of that is self improvement. Don't be "that guy" who spends 10 hours a day on youtube and than has to spend 6 hours of overtime frantically trying to keep up with the 8-5 plodders, but you are literally failing in your obligation to your employer if every time you start to lower your nose to the grindstone you don't at least put forth a minimal google effort for a way to eliminate or automate or shrink the very grindstone you're about to impact. Don't let your employer down, do at least a little self improvement every day. If you feel guilty about it, turn one of your ten daily facebook/twitter/HN breaks into class time, just one is better than nothing.

Programming is not a piecework manual labor job. You're supposed to be learning.


"Programming is not a piecework manual labor job. You're supposed to be learning."

As a coder at an Indian outsourcing firm I (slightly) disagree . :D


This is really good advice. I had similar ideas but your comment helped me to gather all of them together :)


Heh. I can relate to this sort of exeprience.

I used to be moderately to severely depressed at least somewhat in part because I wanted to get something done by a certain date, but I didn't have the focus or motivation to touch it. As the deadline creeps closer and closer and the dust collects on your git repo, you tend to feel a growing sense of despair that maybe you should just give up because you're not good enough.

Then you say screw it, turn off the computer, go watch a stupid movie with your friends while talking about inane things like the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion. The sun sets, the pizza is delivered, maybe vast quantities of soda and/or alcohol are consumed if that's your thing. The night wears on, everyone goes their own separate ways. As you lay down in bed, staring at the ceiling reflecting on how happy this evening made you feel, you realize you're too stimulated to sleep. Then your mind goes back to your project. Not the deadline, but the reason why you started it in the first place. And for once, you focus not on the gulf between where you are and where you ought to be, but rather the next feature you can't wait to implement. So you turn on your laptop and code until the early dawn hours. Then you remember you had to work the next day.

And that is why I have a severe coffee addiction. But it beats burn-out.


I think this kind lifestyle could take a toll on your lifespan.

That being said, I get the part about the feeling letdown with yourself. I set a lot of goals, made elaborate to-do (or rather, to-don't) lists, and instead of executing I spend hours crunching through articles on HN, reading Wikipedia, etc.

I've been trying hard to let go of what I see in myself as an "information addiction". I've cut short the hours I spend on HN (but not always), and replaced some of my online reading with more high-quality reading on my Kindle. One thing I've found is that once your start working on a project, keeping on going is easy. It's just the initial static friction that's hard to overcome. Force yourself to do that project, and in minutes you'll be enjoying it!


My point was that relaxing is often what you need to do to get things done. In my experience, at least. YMMV


This ideal is something that's also forced upon us by my company; a colleague and a manager both frowned upon me or even scoffed when I admitted I didn't do much (or any) programming in my spare time. Since then I'd rather not talk about my spare time at all - it'd actually be a risk to my job. But I just can't find the mental energy or motivation to do even more of my already mentally taxing job in my spare time. I don't see software development as my hobby, it's my 9-5 job. Video games and whatnot are my hobby. I won't win much cool points with those, but that's alright, I do those for myself, not others.


There are lots of people which do better jobs in my subjects than me, while only caring about the money.

Ideally, those guys should find something they had a real passion for instead. Because they/you might be really awesome doing something else.

I admire people that love something which won't pay them a salary, then do a job they don't care about so they are able to "waste" most of their time with (real examples) their board games, table tennis, etc. It isn't optimized for GNP, but people must decide [themselves] what they really want from life.

Edit: 'cauterized', note the word "Ideally". The last paragraph is even an impassioned argument that it is not a bad thing to live for something else than your profession. Sorry I wasn't clear.


Not everyone has a "passion", and if only the passionate were allowed to be programmers, the industry would have a ridiculous labor shortage.

Some of us do software development because we find it more enjoyable than, say, law, and because it pays the bills pretty damn well. Guess what? Outside this profession, and probably inside too, that's the reason MOST people in "professional" occupations choose their careers. The difference (that shouldn't exist) is that in most careers it's perfectly acceptable to work 9-6 to pay the bills and then spend your free time doing something you care about (like spending time with family) that will never earn you a dime.


a colleague and a manager both frowned upon me or even scoffed when I admitted I didn't do much (or any) programming in my spare time

Did they actually scoff or did you, essentially, "scoff" yourself.

There is often a subtext to this sort of observation, and it comes through in the blog entry as well -- it isn't enough to say "I don't do that. Too bad.", but instead has to take it further to saying "I don't do it, and neither do you, damn dirty liar. And if you do, you're doing it wrong anyways."

It's kind of ridiculous.

Some people really live this 16/7. And good for them. Others live it 8/5, and if it works for them then good for them as well. But it is obnoxious for the 8/5 crew to tell the 16/7 crew that they're wrong.


For those of us old guys on HN with kids, that time away from coding is almost exclusively spent with your children. The time spent caring for them or just hanging out and being a Dad are sure ways to break yourself free of the hyper-motivational-echo-chamber that is HN and the greater developer web.

Now a free hour to play a video game? That's especially hard, as it feels like you're robbing not just your professional time, but also your valuable parenting time.


I know a couple of different guys who both are raising 1-2 happy kids and manage to find some coding time nevertheless (as well as exercising). It depends on the amount of passion for the craft.


I'm one of those people that find time to code while parenting 2 young children. And yes, any time spent coding before the kids' bedtime comes with the unwelcome twinge of guilt saying "I should be playing with the kids," and therefore infrequently occurs.

The "amount of passion for the craft" sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it _really_ means is "willingness to sacrifice sleep, friends, other hobbies, and/or time with your family".

I LOVE writing code. I'd be doing it even if I wasn't getting paid. I'm sure I'll be hacking interactive art piece for my grandkids when I'm retired. But if you stand back and look at it objectively, me writing a new JS framework or embedded system library, even if they are incredible, pales in comparison to actually spending time with the ones you love. In other words, if your passion for the craft truly exceeds your passion for your family, you've clearly made some poor decisions in life.


Indeed! Time with my daughter is way more valuable to me as a human being than almost anything else. If there was a way to be paid to spend time with her I'd take it in a heart beat. She is way more fun than a computer.

That being said I do feel better about myself when I am the most proud of my work.

I just don't see the reason why it has to dominate my life. My work is important but it shouldn't be taking so much time from my life that I develop health and mental problems from it. And my family shouldn't suffer my absence simply because I want to be great at what I do.

I like other things too. Literature. Poetry. Theater. The reasons why we live. It's hard to enjoy those things when all you can think about is your work.

My ideal workplace is one that embraces the creative flow of energy. Sometimes I'm all about putting my nose to the grindstone and building something. Other times I go through periods of reflection and personal development and learn from what I have built.


"The "amount of passion for the craft" sounds like a noble endeavor, but what it _really_ means is "willingness to sacrifice sleep, friends, other hobbies, and/or time with your family"." - that is true, but you equally interpreted to make it sound bad. Time spent with family means sacrificing time spent with friends or time spent on "other hobbies" (unless of course you have some sort of alliance of people who all share same hobbies and hang out together with whole families).

"In other words, if your passion for the craft truly exceeds your passion for your family, you've clearly made some poor decisions in life." - I guess Nikola Tesla made a poor life decision?


He thinks so.

Tesla never married, claiming that his chastity was very helpful to his scientific abilities.[9]:33 However, toward the end of his life, he told a reporter, "Sometimes I feel that by not marrying, I made too great a sacrifice to my work ..."

And even though that so perfectly answers your question, it doesn't address my real point, which is that you made poor life decisions if you chose to have a family and value your work more than them. Tesla never had a family and therefore doesn't fit the context of my statement.


Not losing any sleep due to the lost hobby hours due to kids. Guilt for working, watching football or playing video games instead of watching my girls put on a dancing/singing show in the front yard?... massive.

The Tesla comment is a trap. Many, many people have chosen their work over kids, and some of those people created wonderfully awesome things. But you're not Tesla, and if Tesla had kids (no idea if he did) I'm sure they were probably missing Dad a bit if he devoted his entire life to his work (again no idea if he did, just using the example provided)

Honestly, some people don't see their kids as their #1 priority, just another priority in a long list and that's okay. I don't see this as wrong, but it's not the path I wish for my life or my children. It's also worth noting that for some it's not a choice, we're all discussing here today a problem for the (more than) adequately employed middle class.


Anyone can "manage to find the time", however that time is subtracted from one of your other daily activities. For some it's sleep, for others it's time with their kids or family. I'm not saying it's impossible, just wanted to point out that kids (for me) removed that self-hate about not coding more and suck up all extra time (because they are the single most important thing to me in life - easy choice).

Exercising is another topic my wife and I discuss. We both want to, but the thought of losing sleep, work or time with the kids doesn't seem worth it. We'll figure it out, but were certainly not obsessing over our productivity or the perception of, as much as the author does.


Some things aren't tradeoffs. We hiked well over 10 miles per month on various nature trails last year as a family. Weather this spring and summer was miserable but we still racked up considerable mileage this year.

I runkeeper and by looking at mile times its pretty obvious when the kids are along vs my higher speed lunch hour exercise. With kids equals mile times around 30 minutes. Well, whatever. It might not be good exercise, but its better than watching TV on the couch.

Speaking of lunch hour exercise... that's another non-tradeoff tradeoff.


You're right, exercising is something you can do with the whole family once your kids are old enough (mine are almost there). Unfortunately "hiking" to my girls (both under 10) just seems like a long boring walk (that's a half-joke).

Recreational coding or geeking-it-up is a bit tougher. Sure my girls are interested in these/my hobbies, but incorporating them is less about the hobby and more about exposing them to something new. Takes much time and creativity to make a situation where they are entertained and you can also be "productive" with your hobby.


Speaking of lunch hour exercise... that's another non-tradeoff tradeoff.

Unless I could take a shower at work, it definitively is.


To give away my age and turn the snark on, I grew out of my "I hate myself and want to die" period. Rainbow t-shirt included.

Not only did I decide it was "OK" to have interests and passion outside of work, I embraced the idea. Recently, I've come around to the other side of the spectrum and have been using my interests to build my professional skills.

There's a point to the electives traditionally opened up in a scholastic schedule. In my opinion, the whole idea was to provide a space to try new things, to follow new interests, and maybe even fail. As has been noted in at least one book and arguments elsewhere, our society as a whole seems to have fallen into an excellence myth. That you must be passionate and succeed at everything you attempt.

I see this as the reflection side of the professional passion movement. "Keep trying, you'll get better" sounds too much like a kid's jingle. To market it, it's presented to adults with a show of hand-stuffing between a split fancy roll with gourmet mustard. Open your eyes, and you realize it's still a hot dog.


Nail meet head. That's why I don’t like going to developer meetups and such - I always feel inadequate. I'm just not as good as the person sitting next to me. I'm a child and they're the grown up. I'm a 9to5r with feelings of inadequacy.

I feel such guilt about it and shame that it just makes it worse that too often I surf pages for way too long counting the minutes until I can get off the computer. There are moments of true bliss working on some code, but it's so hard to take the first steps to get there, having to climb over this giant wall I put up in front of myself.


You should talk to the person sitting next to you. I find developer meetups great fun. I've never met anyone there who compared the size of their GitHub repos! You can get to meet a whole range of people, and if there's an interesting talk and free stuff that's a bonus. Pretty much all of the time we talk about other stuff, where we work, our bosses, the local news, philosophy, bitcoin or whatever - it could be me, but we hardly ever talk about the specific topic of the night.

The hardest bit is when you don't know anyone else and have to break the ice on your own. But the next time there would probably be someone you met the first time...


As someone who probably makes the person sitting next to me feel inadequate during developer meet-ups because of the knowledge I have: Don't.

Instead, try to focus that feeling towards curiosity instead. If they're anything like me, they would love nothing more than to teach someone what they know. And if they're snobby, fuck 'em, be the better person and they'll be jealous of you when their relationships fall apart. :D


I learned long time ago not to sell my soul the company or whatever is the tech of the day.

Go to work, do the 8 hours, only stay if the team really needs help.

No one is going to remember overtime when the next round of firings comes.

One should keep learning, after all the technology changes everyday, but not at the expense of family and friends.

There is only one life.


"Reinventing the wheel is a young man's game" - Gary Bernhardt

Thing is, most young people (read: 20's) don't understand this. They think they need to be the person who came out with underscore.asm (or whatever terrible fad) to work on their "brand." Get those Github stars! Write more blog posts! Get more Twitter followers!

Because nothing says "hacker" like slavishly believing increasing a bunch of crappy vanity metrics means anything.


Remember that I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is working at the chocolate factory? That's what keeping up with new technology is like. And all the kids think that the problem is that one of the pieces of chocolate rolling by isn't theirs.


> "Reinventing the wheel is a young man's game" - Gary Bernhardt

Where can I find that quote? I want to see it in context.



I think you pasted the wrong link.



We all like to perceive ourselves as 100% professionals, real craftsmen, brushing up and sharpening our toolset all the time.

I don't; I'm human.


The pretentious programmer culture irks me. As a programmer we are not doing a decorated job.

We take pride in making ourselves different. In showing off ourselves as informal, as rule-breakers. "No, we will come to office at 3 PM. In half-pants." We perceive non-programmer employees as mere mortals. And, oh, we are so awesome!! We build our own communities, worship our own heroes and immerse ourselves in our own society; instead of the immersing in the actual society we live in.


You're misunderstanding that which you call "pretentious programmer culture".

I show up at (0700-1200) or maybe whenever the meeting starts. I wear jeans or shorts. I leave at 5 if nobody has a reason to keep me there || I'm not interested anymore. I'm available the rest of the time for a quick fix or it's interesting.

If I'm awake and I can wave my magic wand and make a coworker's life easier, why not? I'm never very far. Because computer, network.

Non-programmers are mere mortals. So am I. Maybe I'm awesome, maybe you're awesome. Not knowing one way or the other I try to satisfy myself with the idea that, eh, we probably don't completely suck. Go us!

The community you think we should all belong to, the heroes you think we should worship, and the society you say we live in: Who's the pretentious one here?


I am not generalizing programmers. I am commenting on the culture which is unfaithfully becoming a hallmark of true programmer. The problem with culture is that you can remove the core values (that you work hard) and still flaunt the culture to pretend that you are a part of that group. Just like you can dress up and act like a rich person without being rich.


I have a better sense of your frustration now and I suggest you learn to live with it or let it go. There isn't a "true programmer". If there is, I have no idea what it means.

"that you work hard" is not a core value of my culture. Couldn't have been removed, never was. I'm all about the Slack. My Slack comes from midnight hotfixes, finding and fixing that bug, adding a useful feature with as little effort as possible, learning something that'll make me better at something I care about, using what I know to help a friend (coworker?) in need.


It's actually a part of this culture:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_work_ethic

Working hard for little reward used to be seen as a sign of your devotion to God.


Working hard was a core value of the programmer culture? When?


Not a programmer here, though sitting on the fence a bit - please remember that many programmers faced abuse and were ridiculed during their school years for their general attitude and their passion. Ever heard the words dork/nerd/geek? They weren't that trendy a few years ago.


If its about explaining the attitude of forming their own cool hangout, I do agree with you. But I don't buy that an attitude inspired by revenge is justified because they were abused.


Their own "cool hangout"? I'll let you in! The secret handshake goes like this:

Open your right hand, palm down.

Make a fist.

Now let your middle/long/tall finger extend.

Rotate your hand 180deg clockwise.

Bend your wrist upward.

Congrats. Welcome.


Why should we care if it's justified? Was the abuse justified?


Because love is the only way forward. And I don't say that out of altruism. Hatred will consume and embitter a person.

There are people who have suffered far greater injustices than being bullied in school and were resilient enough to maintain a generally positive disposition that serves them well. There are also privileged individuals who never faced anything most people would consider a real problem and yet are extremely cynical and bitter at the world as they see it.

Setting all judgement aside, what is the better way to live solely for oneself?


Does one live solely for oneself?


We build our own communities, worship our own heroes and immerse ourselves in our own society; instead of the immersing in the actual society we live in.

Everyone does that. There's no "actual society" besides the one composed of smaller groups immersed in their own reality.


Exactly. Constant focus on a single thing is a recipe for burnout. 'Downtime', whether that's a hobby, exercise, cooking, or watching mindless TV, is a good thing. Humans need time to rest their brains; every person who has described themselves this way (and actually appeared to do it) has been miserable IME.

Never apologise for having a life.


I think this is a case of the typical mind fallacy.[1] We generally assume that everyone else is as calm-neurotic/driven-lazy/straightforward-dishonest as we are. That's simply not the case. Genes, upbringing, and life experiences shape our minds differently. There are people who do nothing but work while being quite happy with their lives.[2] Some of us got lucky. Others, not so much.

That's not to say that people can't change. Even tiny alterations to everyday life can drastically affect one's happiness and/or productivity. Meeting a new friend, moving to a new place, or just being preoccupied with some new problem can completely change one's outlook.

So I agree with the author: Don't deny your faults.

But still try to fix them. They're not as immutable as you might think.

1. http://lesswrong.com/lw/dr/generalizing_from_one_example/

2. Jiro Ono comes to mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukiyabashi_Jiro


I used to have a similar feeling about not "improving" enough, until I realised something: doing all that messing about (watching TV, films, reading books) makes you more human.

When I'm not at a local meet-up, or conference, most of my conversation revolves around non-programming stuff. Most people don't want to hear my opinions on Python, Django, Scala, JavaScript etc. but they do want to know if I saw that ludicrous display last night.

If you want to think of it in "self-improvement" terms, then imagine you're working on your personal database of trivia that you can talk about.


What was Wenger thinking sending Walcott on that early?


Fing about Arsenal is, they always try an' walk it in.


> I don’t play computer games” they say, “I read five blog posts every evening”, “I don’t watch stupid TV series”.

For me, saying this would be a point of shame instead of a point of pride (and it often is). I never understood the "I live for my work" macho-masochism. Even if you're passionate about something, I think it's healthy to have other interests.


I agree 100%


Everyone with more than 15-20 years of experience in the industry I have interacted with, more or less has the same advice when it comes to having a good work life balance and sustaining the passion for your work for a long time.

They tell me that it is very very helpful if you are able to disconnect yourself from the technical world on a regular basis. This time could be spend doing anything, but it should not be spent fretting about work or thinking about the next exciting technical idea.

They tell me that having a non-technical hobby or spending time with your family/friends/social circle is essential for a rejuvenated mind that can focus back on work.

I agree with OP, lets no be so hard on ourselves and enjoy life. Cheers!!!


I think it's more a self-imposed pressure than a external thing.

I've never heard anyone personally saying that you should devote 100% of your time to be "a developer" (though there are general suggestions that seems to go on that line, like "constantly improving", etc)

It's more the feeling that you should be able to do as much as "everyone else" (which really are a very small minority). The ones that creates very useful tools, do podcasts every week and do a blog post every day. But, normally, those three activities are done by different people, or maybe it's their full time job.

Just relax and be yourself. You're doing great.


That's probably true. We are constantly seeing that someone's wrote a book, posted something on his blog, created open source library. But in most cases they are achievements of multiple people, not only one.

And it creates pressure that everybody is doing much more than I am to improve/learn.


When I'm wearing my "artist" hat (painting, drawing) it's easy to think of goofing off as "seeking inspiration". Sit at South Beach and admire the views and throngs... Then spend that inspiration by expressing what inspired me. I think I spend 90% of my artsy time just getting inspired to create.

Coding isn't much different. I think it helps to let inspiration build up until you just gotta let it out. Part of that is the feeling that I need to do something rather than the nothing I've been at...


The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. -- Bertrand Russell


He actually probably never said that specific line. But he did write an essay called "In Praise Of Idleness": http://www.zpub.com/notes/idle.html


Interesting backtracing of the origin of that quote: http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/06/11/time-you-enjoy/


Thanks I did not know that. I found this quote and attribution in [0]. (Sadly there were many other errors in that book.)

[0] http://www.stroustrup.com/Tour.html


Its a perfectly rational feeling. The problem is we also like to perceive ourselves as individuals, but in fact are products of a system.

I spend huge amounts of my time watching movies, doing things absolutely not related to my personal career ambitions, and yes I do feel guilty. But as this thread mentions, we are human, and the feelings pass away in time.

I've learned that one hour of focused productivity is worth 10 hours of "doing stuff" which you think will make you a better programmer.


Took me a while to realize 9-17 was 9-5 on a 24 hour clock.


Huh, I didn't realize 24 hour time was so scarcely used in the US.


In the UK it's not that it's used scarcely, it's that the expression is usually written as "9-5".


Hmm, yeah... In Greece we use it interchangeably with the 12-hour time, but whenever my brain sees 17, it just translates it to "5", so the expression made sense. Then again, I skipped that part in the article and only saw it in the comments, so I may have already been primed for it.


We use the 24 hour time here in Portugal (in every digital clock, written information, etc), but it also threw me off. 9-5 is a common linguistic expression, while 9-17 reads "nine to seventeen" to me. Maybe "9-17h" would work better.


As someone from the US that uses a 24 hour clock everywhere, I've gotten many questions and weird looks.


I thought the OP was rating himself 9 on a scale of 1-17!


It took you to point it out to me. :)


Sounds like a someone fighting with a form of cargo cultism.

There are people who live and breath technical pursuits and were either born or raised to enjoy/tolerate things and happened to turn out with the outcomes that others think they wish they had. The irony is that people who find the life of bathing in their work - likely don't have or care much about the trappings that come from becoming hyper successful due to their moderately unique self. SEE NOTCH.

Notch is a timely example of someone who gets so much out of plumbing the depths of programming that he is not going to be writing the sad article about how he sold his start-up and feels bittered about it and learned a bunch of lessons, etc.

For most people (which means it's normal), people are not wired to enjoy the process enough to be like the OP thinks he's supposed to be. He's internalized the idea that this is how you get the outcomes he thinks he wants. I'm thinking there's paradoxes everywhere.

If you: are fortunate enough to love the tasks dearly and not care what project/role you are on are fortunate enough to love the project/role you are working on despite the tasks are fortunate enough to love the project/role and your daily tasks

Then you'll likely not worry about if you do or don't need/want breaks. No self-hate there. You love what you do.

So, if you aren't feeling your "self" because you think you are broken, maybe believing that by pretending you're on the path to your desired outcomes - that your success plane will descend from the sky and bring you "the good times." That's the cargo cult.

You need to understand you and what motivates you. You need to understand what you are capable of and how that places you where you are today. You need to learn what you really care about, then remember where/who you are and where you want to be. Forget the judgement of others - be your own worst critic. You'll do fine. Hate yourself for failing yourself, not for failing others.


This is the mistake: There are high expectations to be met

Why are you setting high expectations?

Don't set high expectations, or any expectations for that matter. Expect nothing. Expectations are detrimental to creativity (I wish I had a citation handy that proves this once and for all [1]). You should be actively making a point of not having expectations.

Work on what you like instead, and focus on getting better not on being good.

[1] Alright, the closest I've come is http://intersubjectivite.com/drupal/files/Violations%20Of%20... and the last paragraph in the conclusion is below. What striked me as odd is that there's a propensity towards violence when you violate expectations. Which makes sense for me, considering I get upset when I work on something that doesn't feel right.

When being the violator of expectations has found a place in one’s hierarchy of motivations, it may well organize a variety of personal experiences, and thereby contributing either to a person’s creativity or propensity toward violence or both


I understand wanting to be great at what you do, but this is ridiculous. It makes me sad that our subculture makes people feel this way. In my opinion if you focus on work all day, every day, you're wasting your time. What are you working for if all you ever do is work? I work partially because I love it, and partially so I can have the freedom to spend time with family/friends/entertainment.


Love it. My wife admonishes me every night that I need to work less and relax more. She says that the key to productivity is giving your brain time to relax. If all you do is work, you never give your mind a chance to absorb the knowledge you've absorbed. Games and TV, reading a book for pleasure, having a run, etc, give us that exact chance.

I know she's right, even if I struggle with it.


I'm proud of being a "9-5" (9-17 in the article) developer. People that spend all their waking time focusing on development are likely to burn out very quickly and produce mediocre work. They're generally hard to work with and unnecessarily opinionated/confronting in my experience (having been one).

The real achievement is achieving balance in one's life. It's easy to spend all one's time hacking away at work and after work. What's the challenge in that? Give me a balanced employee over any one of these soon-to-be burnouts.

The industry will have you believe that if you don't spend all your time doing coding-related task, you're not worth it. Some will go as far as to use a github account or similar in lieu of a resume. This is a lie. The best developers I know do not work on open source. They might have at one time but are now too busy with other things. They have varied interests. They're interesting people.

There isn't a single other industry I can think of where people are almost expected to work even after work. If that's your thing, great, but expecting that to be your thing and hating yourself for it over it leads me to thing that there is seriously something wrong mentally here. These expectations of workaholism are unrealistic. You wouldn't expect someone to be an alcoholic or drug addict nor praise it. So why praise an equally destructive addiction? Yet the computer industry does so over and over again because it's in its own interest and the workforce is generally so young, it doesn't know any better.

If you're feeling down because you're not a workaholic, perhaps the question to ask yourself is why you would want such a terrible addiction in the first place? I'm just as thankful that I'm not a workaholic as I would be if I had gotten over any other undesirable addiction. The people still caught in the addiction are no measure to measure oneself by.


I was reading a book about how people remember certain kinds of stories of success, and these are better for marketing purposes, but the reality was that it was a bit of luck and a hard slog mixed together.

The example was how the eBay founders had this big mission to build a huge barter platform but the public didn't care until the 'marketing story' about how one of the founders had the idea because his wife wanted to 'trade pez dispensers'.

I forget the book, but it reminds me of this. The truth of the matter is there is probably no such thing as shining brilliance, it's just smoke and mirrors when advertised, and true achievements are partially luck based, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't live our lives studying and working and giving a shit.

But we don't need to do it 24/7, and we don't need to sacrifice our lives to be good enough.


Winning the Champions with your fav little club in FM is in now way a waste of time! (Proof : it made you happy)

Seriously, live your life. There is much more to it than reading tech books or whatever career-related stuff. Just do what makes you & your family happy. Keep an healthy balance.


I still feel bad that I lack a real blog or website. I bought a domain over a year ago and still haven't thrown anything up. The reason was that beside my 9-7 job and the 15 hours of freelancing I did on the weekend, I was spending too much time and drowning in too much business to actually put up the damn website.

Then, I got an offer to work for one of my clients full time, for 2x my salary, and now I STILL have no time to put up the website after taking the job.

On the one hand I feel bad because it seems I have failed in becoming a public voice - on the other, I'm doing so well in my career right now it seems I don't have time to look like I'm doing well!

Perceptions != reality. Sometimes, someone who has a great web presence may not have much else to be doing! ;)


I can relate to this hatred very well. There was a time when everything was new to us and learning was fun. But then, the technology improved rapidly and we got a lot to learn and create. If I look back, I find myself lucky to have begun programming at the time when I began (11 years ago). There's just so many things that one needs to learn to call himself a programmer.

And now, when I know enough to build software of any scale, I hate myself too, for not being as productive as I was as a beginner. As a beginner, I would learning continuously for weeks (with food and sleep breaks in between).

And as self-learners, we always have tendency to be better than what we were yesterday and thus the anxiety begins to build up.

I feel you, brother.


Although, I have recently found that mini side projects help keep the productivity at a healthy rate.


This resonates a lot with me, and I hadn't seen it from this perspective before.

I do get anxiety from feeling I'm not learning or producing enough in my spare time but your message helps me see that maybe I'm yearning for the kinds of days I had more than a decade ago when programming looked like a mystical island to be explored in an adventure. Now that I know the island in and out and know my tools pretty well, suddenly I don't feel like improving the island and I'm more interested in other aspects of life.


Amusing that he considers reading blogs a productive thing that you would brag about.


> We tend to keep it underneath, showing only our fully professional face: “I don’t play computer games” they say...

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

I am 45, play video games, watch TV (its all lame), and everyone in the office knows it - because they do too.

I don't know if its still the case, but a decade or so ago, recruiters used to lament the lack of "well rounded" applicants in tech. People who only do tech often have trouble communicating with their peers in other parts of the business, and therefore are less productive then their skills would otherwise imply.

Other interests, be they practical or impractical, are valuable.


Excerpt from a book:

In today's culture -- where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worth on our level of productivity -- spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

That's from Guidepost #7 of Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection. That chapter is subtitled Letting Go of Exhaustion As A Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth.

The previous chapter on cultivating creativity is also worth a read.


A short and meaningful post. We all indulge in the so called "wasteful" activities, but I have found some of my best ideas and inspirations sprang from those wasteful moments. It is during these moments, I believe, the brain is relaxed enough to have a spark of creativity. In these moments, brain consolidates knowledge and finds connections. Even if that does not happen, the joy that such activities bring is in itself priceless.

P.S. I have also posted this comment in the blog post.


Like taking a walk in the woods, for example. I think the main thing is that these should be done without the anxiety of thinking "I shouldn't be doing this" - rather they can be done as you say, in a relaxed way.


The gentleman doth project too much.


Personally i love playing games and not only computer games like DoTa or Heroes of the Storm but some more involving titles like World of Warcraft. Besides this i play Magic The Gathering card game and loads of board games... never felt bad about it. But same time i'm not a guy who says working 12 hour a day is a stupid thing and striving to be perfect is just a road to insanity.


Maybe the hyper smart feel this guilt. I spend most of my time plugging away, but I constantly fall short. Compare this with my hyper intelligent friends from CalTech: the ones who work hard are Directors at SpaceX or working on Google Glass, while the ones who are lazy are working at second tier financial institutions but sadly still doing better than I.


This article made me feel so much better about taking some time off from my current side project to splatter zombies in Dead Rising 3 lately. I do need to get back to it soon though...


About wasting time: I like this quote from Bertrand Russell:

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time."



Thanks! I won't attribute it to Russell anymore, but it is still a good quote :-)


It passes in time.


well the opening paragraph was a little dramatic


Just do suicide you stupid fuck! :P


To offer a dissenting opinion...

There are developers that LOVE what they do and do it nearly every waking moment. Guess what? they're way better than the average developer.

Personally I don't like articles like this because they basically make excuses for mediocrity. We as a society shouldn't shy away from excellence and striving for it.

The guys that work their asses off doing what they love and excel do exist and ARE awesome and we shouldn't take anything away from them.

I'm pretty sure I'll get down voted for this btw :)


I think you'll get downvoted for missing the point, not for daring to challenge the status quo.

"There are developers that LOVE what they do and do it nearly every waking moment."

Agreed. I'm one of them.

"Guess what? they're way better than the average developer."

Good for them! But this wasn't about skill, it was about self-perception, social pressures, and coping with imperfection.

"Personally I don't like articles like this because they basically make excuses for mediocrity."

Mediocrity is irrelevant. Even excellent programmers can suffer from depression, burn-out, or discouragement.

"We as a society shouldn't shy away from excellence and striving for it."

No, but neither should we obsess over it like a bunch of severely autistic extremists who value only programming skill and nothing else. Humans are wonderful, complicated things. Obsessing about excellence in one area at the cost of everything else that makes us who we are is dehumanizing.

"The guys that work their asses off doing what they love and excel do exist and ARE awesome and we shouldn't take anything away from them."

Yeeeeeah, I'm pretty sure everyone would agree with you on this comment, but NOT IN THIS CONTEXT.


I guess I don't understand the point of the article. He says that it's a "lie" that people love their craft and take it seriously. I'll take umbrage with that since he's not speaking for me and many I know.

This article is basically the equivalent of some guy that goes to the gym a few times a week saying that professional athletes are really just watching Breaking Bad every night instead of waking up at 5am to train and that they would be better of being more "well rounded" than following their innate passion.

There's already too much "everyone gets a medal" mentality in our culture, it doesn't really add anything.


It's all about the choices you make. I align way more with the author; I'd much rather go home, cook a nice dinner with my girlfriend, and watch The Sopranos than spend another 4 hours staring at some Python script. I'm no Kenneth Reitz, but I'm a pretty good (or at least good enough) Python developer. Occasionally I'll find something I think is interesting enough to spend a night hacking through, but 95% of the time, it's down time when I get home.

I'd totally agree that there's a huge payoff in terms of skill that comes with coding every waking moment, but there's also a cost involved - reading, exercising, grabbing a beer with your friends. I don't think it's taking anything away from coding ubermensches to say that most folks don't do what they do - more power to the Kenneth Reitzes and Armin Ronachers of the world for what they gave up to achieve what they did.




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