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Ask HN: How do you deal with professional jealousy and getting older?
558 points by tastyface 896 days ago | hide | past | web | 408 comments | favorite
I'm a 26 y.o. software dev working on going indie. All my life, I've struggled with procrastination. I find it very hard to sit down and work on a project without an external motivator, and on many nights I end up vegging out in front of the TV or aimlessly clicking around on the internet. As a result, even though I am successful on an absolute scale — CS degree from a top-10, worked at a startup and a large company, enough savings to last a few years of solo development — by my own metric of success, I am crippled by the feeling that it's "too late". Every day, I read an article by some hot-shot young dev who has a handful of fancy projects behind his belt (not to mention a great website and design sensibility) while I have exactly zero — and he's half a decade younger than me! How will I ever be able to catch up? Experience-wise, I'm still a junior dev.

It's a constant, irrepressible gnawing in my chest. Every morning, I take tally of my age. Whenever I encounter a technical article, I immediately and compulsively investigate the author's age. If I'm behind — which I always am — I will lock myself in my room and force myself to work, even though I still end up on HN half the time. It's exhausting and terrifying, but I also don't want to loosen up. At my core, I am intensely ambitious. I have so many great ideas, and knowing that the main obstacle between them and me is only myself keeps me in an endless state of panic.

It's been getting better. For the first time in my life, my procrastination is starting to get tamed. I've been working hard on my first big project, and I expect it's going to be a great one. But I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19 — then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer. Mentally, I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me.

Does anybody else have this problem? How do you deal with it?

> It's been getting better.

It's not, it's getting worse.

You are in a cycle of slave-driving yourself. You remind me of Jiddu Krishnamurthi's assertion that "Influence acts strongest when you don't realize that it is acting". I would venture that most of your accomplishments are a result of being told what you should do, what you should be.

You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you are not.

Choose the opposite for a while : stop doing things that don't motivate you. Find out what motivates you. Be spontaneous. If you find a small plant at the roadside that you want to water, do it. Observe that absolutely no effort was required in this action. This is the mark of genuine flow : you will not feel the effort. If you chance upon some project which you execute in this natural state of interest, you will not feel tired.

Almost no one takes my advice because it's so threatening to be natural. What if you are not naturally ambitious? That's a horrific thought to have while being in the company of achievers, isn't it?

>> You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you are not.

>> Almost no one takes my advice because it's so threatening to be natural. What if you are not naturally ambitious? That's a horrific thought to have while being in the company of achievers, isn't it?

Awesome. Yes, this is pure Jiddu Krishnamurti. Basically, comparison causes conflict, conflict causes anxiety, anxiety causes fear, and fear makes mind dull. There's no intelligence where there's fear. Key here is to eliminate comparison. I keep reminding myself often :)

> Basically, comparison causes conflict, conflict causes anxiety, anxiety causes fear, and fear makes mind dull.

Unfortunately, I can report that I have done all of my best work in my career when I was extraordinarily anxious, feeling like I was holding to the side of the cliff with just my fingernails. Whenever things have started to get too comfortable, I found that hubris has disrupted my successes.

It's a sad thought, but I see absolutely no reason to believe that the natural state of humanity is to be happy (or, more specifically, content). The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness [0] seems like a pretty harsh place, and that's also where I've found most brains function best.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology#Environ...

>I see absolutely no reason to believe that the natural state of humanity is to be happy (or, more specifically, content)

What about the fact that stress is tremendously destructive to our health? It is directly a threat to the survival of both individuals and the societies they live in. If being in an anxious state for extensive periods of time were the most advantageous to survival, then evolution seems not to have noticed it. The structure and functioning of our endocrine system heavily suggests that humans were built for occasional short bursts of high stress, not extended periods of constant high stress (as we have designed society to require of most people).

Fear is biologically advantageous in moderation. Without fear (anxiety, stress, etc) you would have not lived past infancy.

Stress doesn't kill you until after the age of reproduction. There is no way for evolution to select against it.

Looks like there are multiple paths for success :) Human being is such a complex machine, I don't know why people think that there is only way to succeed - _genuine_ motivation for the job. What is genuine and what's not? If the job is getting done, who cares!

Sometimes its just good enough to be like cockroaches to survive and succeed.

When you say you were anxious and holding to the side of the cliff with fingernails, were you also particularly busy?

I ask because I can recall several times in both school and career when I was much more productive because I had to be due to time constraints than when I had ample free time and was not as burdened. I'm wondering if you are describing that as well.

The question is not really what the "natural state" for humanity is to be happy, but what would you choose?

Would you rather be happy or productive?

How come Happiness and Productivity have become opposite things. Why there is no happiness in Productivity ?

Can an unhappy person be truly productive, not just doing some thing mechanically and painfully ?

If I had to pick just one, I guess it would be happy. But I choose both. Fortunately for me I am happiest when I am productive, so it works out.

Producing a happiness revolution would be the most productive thing I can imagine and being happy is a good first step.

false dichotomy alert

Here's a light-hearted and humorous read / perspective.

The Underachiever's Manifesto: The Guide to Accomplishing Little and Feeling Great

(Affiliate Link): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007C17AJE/ref=as_li_tl?ie=...

(Non-Affiliate Link): http://www.amazon.com/Underachievers-Manifesto-Accomplishing...

>Basically, comparison causes conflict, conflict causes anxiety, anxiety causes fear, and fear makes mind dull. There's no intelligence where there's fear. Key here is to eliminate comparison.

What a great quote

It's like a cross between "Fear is the mind-killer" from Dune, and something Yoda would say.

And to actually add something useful to the discussion, I'll add that I think the key to dealing with fear, and distressing emotions in general, is not to try to get rid of it, but to learn to function effectively in it's presence. Sometimes fear is a valid response, and should be respected. A lot of the time, fear is not a useful response. Sometime, when fear isn't seen for what it is, when I'm acting out of fear but not aware of it, fear can be quite destructive.

Check out "Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong" (http://www.amazon.com/Things-Might-Terribly-Horribly-Wrong/d...), as well as almost anything from Pema Chodron.

Yes of course it is very important in some situations.

"To survive in grand prix racing, you need to be afraid. Fear is an important feeling. It helps you to race longer and live longer." - Ayrton Senna.

I disagree with it. The fires of conflict forge the deepest bonds.

I find I don't end up being comfortable with someone until we've argued about something. One of my favorite ways to become friends with someone is to find something we disagree on and debate it.

That particular sort of disagreement is underlaid by much more fundamental agreement. If you did not share a tremendous amount with the person, such a debate would not be possible. Debate is not a competition in situations where the participants agree upon the fundamental means of determining truth, it is a collaboration. All participants are attempting to reach the truth through contributing facts and reasoning. A conflict would be if one person was of the belief that truth is determined by the intuitive feeling of correctness and another believing it to be determined by rational soundness and correspondence with reality. In that case, neither can contribute anything which helps the other person reach understanding, giving rise to competition.

Agreed. Upvote.

>> comparison causes conflict, conflict causes anxiety, anxiety causes fear, and fear makes mind dull

Am I the only one who read this in Yoda's voice?

I read it in Grovers voice, dang it.

No. No, you are not.

Oh wow I was not the only one thinking about Jiddu K while I was reading OP's post.

This isn't kindergarten where you can just show up and start scribbling.

Even if the actual act of coding (or painting, or martial arts, or writing, or watering roadside plants) is effortless, there's a hell of a lot of effort that goes into just getting yourself in a position to do it.

Example: perhaps painting is effortless for you, but putting yourself in a position to paint involves a lot of mundane things that require effort. You still have to buy and stretch canvasses. You have to buy a brush. You have to clean your brushes. If you want to make a career of it, you need to tackle some basic business tasks. You need to deal with an agent or gallery. You need to file your taxes, because painting gets a lot harder when you're in jail or the IRS has taken your stuff. You have to work and pay your rent, because it's tough to paint when you're homeless and worrying about your next meal and whether you'll survive the night. And so forth. There's a lot of shit that has to get done just to place yourself in a position where you can regularly put brush to canvas.

When I started my own business that was my experience. Writing the code was the fun part. Effortless, you might say. I was compelled to write it - it was harder to stay away from it than it was to work on it. But I went through hell just to be able to write that code - I worked long hours at my day job so that I could pay the bills, I often had to choose between writing code and having a social life, and so on. And prior to even starting that venture, it took me years of hard work and college education just to develop the skills that allowed me to write that code.

Your advice is, at best, useful only to those who already have their basic needs provided for. Trust-fund babies and the like.

We are probably not in disagreement. My point is to choose the direction of your ship from inside. There will be a lot of shovelling of coal into the fire in the dirty engine room. I'm not claiming that you just stand at the railing and say, "That way", and other people will do it for you / "the universe" will do it for you magically.

But the quality of energy will be different when you are shovelling the coal if YOU chose where the ship is going, if the dream of what lies on the other shore is yours. That vision (in your case, of starting your own business) is what fuelled your efforts, IMHO.

Why does he want to waste time on HN? Somewhere inside his heart is screaming a voice, "No, I don't want to do this". He's not lazy (CS top 10 school). It's just that the self-flagellation stops working for many people once they hit 20.

The difficulty is that the outer actions of someone like you (self-motivated) and someone like him (self-flagellating) may be the same. So the poor guy (or gal) tries to be like you and suffers.

You said: >>"Your advice is, at best, useful only to those who already have their basic needs provided for. Trust-fund babies and the like."

The OP said: >>"CS degree from a top-10, worked at a startup and a large company, enough savings to last a few years of solo development."

> Your advice is, at best, useful only to those who already have their basic needs provided for.

Most of commenters on this site are software engineers — and this profession usually pays pretty well, to the point that we can safely assume that if the person is a capable software engineer, he has his basic needs provided for.

Only insofar as he remains motivated to use his skill for his own support. Even for well-paid software engineers, it can be difficult to amass substantial enough savings to feel comfortable taking 6-12 months off (depending, of course, on individual circumstances). Personally, I believe a sabbatical every few years would do wonders to prevent burnout, but very few plan well enough to make that happen.

It's pretty easy if place where you work and place where you take a break have a different money scale.

You will never come to love what you do to make a living, because that enslaves you. It doesn't free you.

Which is why everyone must strive to have a side income/early retirement plan because you need to experience true freedom to enjoy things in life.

This is entirely untrue and extremely dangerous. It is very possible to love what you do for a living (I do). Some of us find "true freedom" in tricking people into paying us to do things we would gladly pay to be allowed to do.

Really? I must be an exception then. I love what I do and wouldn't want to stop doing it. That said, I can imagine myself in a few other jobs too, so it might be my attitude towards work that makes me happy.

I'm not talking of happiness in that context. You are never truly free if as long as you have to work to make a living.

Once you have financial independence you can do anything you want, take unlimited vacations, learn music, go hiking, ride a motorcycle all day, heck you can even code all day and work on interesting projects without the fear of getting fired, denied a raise or whatever.

Work you like makes you happy, but not free.

Your statements carry with them the implicit assumption that "anything you want to do" and what you do to make a living aren't the same thing. For some they are.

OP here.

Believe me when I say that there's nothing more I'd rather do than what I'm doing right now. Not even in question. I love programming, I love the project I'm working on, and I love the ideas that are waiting to be worked on in my future. My heart fills with joy when I think about holding those finished products in my hands. When I get into the flow, I can zone out for days and work on my projects with hardly a break for food and sleep.

However, I have a natural weakness towards idleness. Like any negative personality trait, I have faith that it can be worked on. (If you're depressed or socially anxious, you wouldn't just accept these as the way you are, would you?) Internally, when I run into this problem, it doesn't feel like swimming against the tide; it feels like a massive speed bump that needs to be overcome, but that I know from experience has a smooth road ahead of it. I think it is a mistake to believe that every ambitious person is naturally driven, from beginning to end, solely by their ambition. Sometimes it's not enough.

Were I to succumb to my personality, I would sit in front of the TV, depressed and unfulfilled, for literally decades. That is not an option.

> If you're depressed or socially anxious, you wouldn't just accept these as the way you are, would you?

Have you considered that you might have an anxiety problem?

You mention being crippled by fear. You mention a constant gnawing. You mention a daily rehearsal of a major anxiety, your always feeling behind, frequently feeling exhausted and terrified, an endless state of panic, and being endlessly haunted. That is a whole lot of anxiety, and there are other kinds of anxiety disorder besides social anxiety.

My tip for you: find a therapist you like and go regularly. You've got two problems here: you are trapped in a behavioral loop, struggling for context. And, being young, you don't have enough life experience to see as many patterns as somebody older, especially somebody who spends all day talking with people. Regularly seeing a good therapist will help with both of those. They can also help you consider whether your level of anxiety is unusual, and what your options are.

I should add that when I was your age, I was too arrogant to do that. I was sure that by dint of raw smarts I would figure it out on my own. Which was both true and dumb: reinventing psychology from scratch would in some sense be an achievement, but like most reinventing of the wheel, it's not an achievement that anybody cares about, not even me.

Anyhow, I have worked out an anxiety-related checklist over time. Now when I notice anxious feelings, the things I wonder:

* Am I getting enough exercise? 30-60 mins cardio 3-4x week is about right for me.

* Am I carrying a lot of stress in my body? Yoga, massage, and hot tubs are helpful.

* Are there environmental factors? E.g., noisy environment, messy living space.

* What am I eating? My mood is most stable on foods with low glycemic index, worst with junk food.

* Am I getting enough sleep? I do best with ~7.5 hours on a very regular schedule.

* What's my drug intake? More than 100mg caffeine or 2 drinks alcohol and my mood will be less stable the next day.

* Am I taking my vitamins? This could be placebo, but I take a B-100, a sublingual B12, and some fish oil. My doctor recommended them for reducing the effects of stress.

For me, my procrastination is directly driven by feelings of anxiety. The more chill I am, the more I get done.

Also: are you getting enough social interaction?

I live in Japan, most of the time holed up in my apartment and hardly interacting with anyone. On the rare occasions I get to enjoy a true fun interaction with someone, it really helps improve mood and reduce anxiety.

> find a therapist you like and go regularly.

In England the BACP are the registration body you should look for if you go private.

Short courses of CBT for anxiety should be available on the NHS - either see your GP (and you may need to push this) or self-refer. A web-search of your county and terms like "IAPT" (improved access to psychological therapies) or "talking therapies" should return your local number.

You might find good results after a short course - 8 to 14 weeks.

Here's the NICE guidance for anxiety disorders: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs53

It's easy to think of anxiety as being a mild disorder, but it can become pretty severe. OCD is an anxiety disorder and that can hospitalise people.

I like your list of lifestyle interventions.

This sounds about right for me. I had the same problem as OP and still do, but I've come to realize that the points you've mentioned above are really important.

I actually never realized how anxious I was, I just never knew I had it. It was really crippling. I've been trying to elevate my anxiety and as a result I've been more productive. I use my github page as indicator, it was empty for 2 years until recently. Almost two months now of me working on new frameworks and my projects.

This. Happy to talk in private about my experience with anxiety and procrastination. "Find a therapist you like" is great advice: it may take a couple tries. Good luck!

This is a very good list. I see huge differences in anxiety and productivity (time in the zone) based on diet and sleep.

This is fantastic advice for anxiety.

You don't have an age problem or a distractibility problem, you have an anxiety and neurotic problem. Who cares what other people are doing, at what age? There's always someone better than you. And almost everyone would rather be lazy, that's not unique to you.

Just work on your project and be happy with your accomplishments. Find something to give meaning to your life like volunteering for a charity. It's vanishingly unlikely anyone will care about your (or the vast majority of peoples') legacies 100 years from now. Honestly, just enjoy your work, help others, and stop thinking it's a competition.

edit: I'm significantly older than you, so 1) I have some perspective on this and 2) sorry if this was less sensitive than what your generational peers might say or lacked trigger warnings.

This hits it in the head for me.

The problem is not how to become "successful" it's how to stop caring about it.

I suffer from the same weakness as you. I always have. I also love my profession, programming, more than anything I've ever done in my life. Also, like you, when I get into the flow of something, I do it better than most people I know. I go hard for days/weeks, but when it's over I can spend endless amounts of time playing video games or clicking around on the internet. All the while reading what the "elite" developers in my field are churning out in a state of awe. How do they have time for all of this? Does David Nolan have some sort of time altering machine??

I'm a little older than you, so I'll give some advice about how to deal with our personality "flaw." Embrace it. Be aware of it, be OK with it, and learn how to make it a positive thing. A few years ago I stopped worrying about being better than some programming idol. You're probably a pretty creative, innovative type if you're anything like me. You can't teach that, in my opinion, and that's a big advantage. You have this skill, programming, and you enjoy it, mostly. You also enjoy some down time. Use your down time how you wish, but always be thinking about the next big idea be it a business, a technology, or a new library. When you find the right idea, it will give you a jolt. "Holy sh#t, no one else has done that yet?" These moments are the ones that catapult me back into that driven, ambitious mode that makes me so productive.

Just remember that no one expects more of you than you. Don't be so hard on yourself. Know yourself and learn how to take advantage of your natural traits.

I'm a 25 year old, not a hot shot by any means, but I try to be aware of my motivations and ambitions. The thing that people seem to be debating here is whether determining factors are innate traits and traits that are by choice or are the result of discipline or history or experience or a combination of these. For my own sake, I'm hoping it is the latter, as I think OP is.

To be honest, I do struggle with procrastination, and it hurts me to think that by now, I could have finished that miniproject that I've been working on or that other one, etc, and I use some of that as motivation to push me back into the act. I'm an introvert (which has it's own downsides), and I leverage that to spend my free time on my projects and learning. I do however try to minimize the "souless fun" time and maximize doing things that I find fun but I see as productive. The reason I even try is I believe I can overcome my procrastinating personality and become much more productive.

If I believe you, then I give up on that desire to better myself. should I? Perhaps it is different for different people?

EDIT: My final statement sounds challenging, but if you think it is healthier for me to not fight that part of me, then that's fine. I welcome your point of view; I want a discussion, not validation or an apology.

I'm definitely not going to advocate that someone not try to better themselves. If you feel like you want to try to overcome some part of your personality that you're not comfortable with then that's a positive thing. I do, however, think that after multiple failed attempts at overcoming that trait, it's best to reevaluate your perspective on it. Sometimes it's best to admit that something is just a part of who you are and that it is, in fact, a flaw. Of course, we are all flawed in some ways, but it's how we learn to live with those admissions that will determine your self-esteem. Sometimes, even, what we think are flaws from one point of view are actually advantages when viewed from another. For example, procrastination is generally seen as a flaw or a "bad thing", but if you learn to take advantage of that by fully thinking out the problem you're actually trying to solve when you finally DO start working, you might might find that you create brilliant, innovative solutions to difficult things. Solutions that the non-procrastinator didn't think of because he was too fast to the keyboard.

I appreciate your reply. I think one of the reasons I feel that it isn't an innate trait for me at least is that I didn't procrastinate as much as I do now until I started college. Perhaps I always had this tendency, but its intensity is something I hope to temper. It isn't until recent months that I've decided to do something about it, so hopefully, I'm not due for surrender yet.

I had a rather romantic and gifted English teacher in my first year of college who claimed that procrastination is a part of the creative process, likening it hatching an egg, she claimed that procrastinating helped mature ideas before you put pen to paper, similar to the idea to use procrastination time to fully develop a solution to a problem, as you said. Yes, there is a correlation of my hearing of her doctrine and my increased procrastination, but I can't blame her for it.

I've had the same issue in my career. I always thought of myself as lazy. I loved what I did, but my drive evaporated after 3-6 months on any given project (or any given hobby, for that matter). I always thought of people as falling along two spectrums: naturally talented and hard working. I saw that those young multi-millionaires generally had an overabundance of both. I've always seen that I have a whole lot of talent, but I simply couldn't find the motivation to work hard for extended periods.

After a decade of roller-coaster productivity, I finally went to see a therapist to discuss these issues. That was the best decision of my professional life. I was able to talk through my issues, but after a few months of behavioral changes (light box therapy, exercise, mindfulness, etc.), the issue, while better, was not fixed. So I was referred to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with ADHD. I got a prescription for Adderall, which I've been on for the past 4-5 years now. It has turned my productivity and career around. I'm making twice what I was making 5 years ago and finally am seeing a lot of the potential that I and others saw in me finally being realized.

ADD (ADHD is the technical diagnosis, but I have no "HD" symptoms at all) isn't really about "having the attention span of a gnat"; it's about inability to sustain focused attention long term, about not being as excited by the last 20% of the project as you are about the first 80%, about not being able to get started--but once you did, it's usually interesting enough to keep your attention for the rest of the day. That definition certainly fit me.

The OP said a couple of comments above: "If you're depressed or socially anxious, you wouldn't just accept these as the way you are, would you?" Chances are that if you are depressed or socially anxious to a point that it affects your life in negative ways, you'd see a professional about the issue and may end up with medication to help with the issue. You don't just wish those conditions away; nor do you wish ADD symptoms away. I'd recommend considering talking to someone about your issues with productivity.

I'm not saying that it's for everybody, nor do I believe in overmedication, but from my experience, which sounds exactly like the OP's, it was the right choice for both me and my career.

I also agree with jeletonskelly here: to a certain extent, embrace your "laziness"... laziness leads to working smarter, not harder. Know your strengths and flaws and come up with a way to use both of them to your advantage.

First of all, it's not a race. Statistically speaking you aren't number 1, and that's OK. It doesn't mean you stop trying, but you can stop competing.

I'd say find out what is important to you. What is important to you is not what you'd rather do or even what you love. What do you think is important for the world, for your life? Do you want to raise a child? Do you want to help society communicate? Do you want to solve a problem? If you couldn't do any "thing" what idea is the most important to you?

Idleness isn't a weakness. It's a response. Idleness is what your mind craves when it is under too much stress. Stress is mostly internal, you can be idle and still be under a lot of stress because you hate the fact that you're idle, this can be paralyzing.

However, if you didn't feel that idleness was bad, you would not feel that stress, and you wouldn't be trapped in idleness. You'd still be idle, but it would be easier to take action.

You focus on what you haven't done. This is the worst. You aren't excited by the cool things that those programmers have done, you are disappointed that you didn't do them.

Instead you should focus on the things that you are doing. Don't "force yourself" to go and work on something, that only reinforces that feeling and will cause you to retreat from that stress as soon as you can.

One thing I do in this sort of circumstance is try to do nothing. Simply be idle, but don't go and distract myself with the Internet, just do absolutely nothing, get a tea and stare out the window, do this for a few hours. Any feeling of things I have to do, I just let them go away. Pretty soon, there will be things that I really want to do. When I'm at that point then I'll go to work.

TV and Internet are terrible though, you go to them because you're looking to be idle, but they're just stimulating enough to keep you from relaxing. But it's not idleness that's bad. The desire to be idle is a response, and it's healthy, just learn to do it efficiently. Don't do it in front of the Internet or the TV because they distract you from actually being idle.

I wouldn't say idleness is inherently a bad trait. Doing something all the time is a good way to burn out and miss out on actually living.

It's great that you have a passion for programming and you get into the flow of working on something you actually enjoy. I can promise you that most - if not all - devs go through such period of flow and not being in the flow. Sometimes you lock on to a project and spend days on it, other times you don't want to touch it with a 10 foot pole for days. I don't think that is bad unless it is harming some important end goal like a company deadline or life goals.

Are there other things you are interested in? If so, you can fill your so-called idle times with those. HN here, going outside and meeting people (if that's your thing), a hobby or two that you can naturally flow into as well.

If programming is your only passion, then you can fill a good chunk of idle time with other programming-related problems you find interesting. Random library you want to write? Go for it. If charity is your thing, find some group for social good that can benefit from your dev skills - make their website better, write an app for them, improve their inventory system, etc.

That said, it takes conscious effort to not be swallowed by the stuff that makes the news. Forget about those who seem to be starting $90000 billion businesses at 23. They've found something they like and it worked out well for them, great! Find your own interests and work on cultivating and growing those instead.

You need to read The War of Art.

> “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

> “Every sun casts a shadow, and genius's shadow is Resistance. As powerful as is our soul's call to realization, so potent are the forces of Resistance arrayed against it. Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We're not alone if we've been mowed down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here's the biggest bitch: We don't even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed. I looked everywhere for the enemy and failed to see it right in front of my face.”

That book is a treasure trove in how to change your thinking and defeat this. But it does require changing your thinking and a great deal of discipline.

And Nancy Sinatra in "You Only Live Twice":

  You only live twice
  Or so it seems
  One life for yourself
  And one for your dreams
Its use in the last episode of Mad Men -- where Don is watching a fired colleague contemplate the life not lived -- was brilliant.

In a similar vein I think these lines from T.S.Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" beautifully expresses one's struggles with the self:

  Between the idea
  And the reality 
  Between the motion 
  And the act
  Falls the shadow

  Between the conception 
  And the creation 
  Between the emotion 
  And the response 
  Falls the shadow

  Between the desire
  And the spasm 
  Between the potency
  And the existence
  Between the essence
  And the descent
  Falls the Shadow

OP, ignore my speech if it's a bit too much. I suppose you just have to find a balance and take some natural breaks.

Please don't do this : "for days and work on my projects with hardly a break for food and sleep"...At least, question yourself : how much of driving oneself is excessive? Generally, we don't pause to think about these things, and that's why, when you take a break, you crash. The pendulum swings to the other extreme, tortoise and hare, yada yada... you get it. With a handle like "tastyface", I know you get it :-))

(I'm just kidding with you. Please don't take this as an offensive statement)

It sounds like you have two problems: one long-term and one short-term.

Long-term problem: Comparing yourself to others. When done in modest amounts this can be a huge source of inspiration. But taken too far and it becomes a sure path to anxiety. Beyond that threshold the only person you should be comparing yourself to is the "you" from yesterday.

Short-term problem: Sounds like you have an addiction to distraction. I suffer from this also and just started reading this[0]. Too early into it to tell if it will help but so far it looks promising. I've also found the Pomodoro technique helpful.


I have just one question. Do you (day)dream about code? If so, you're golden... This might sound flippant, but I have my best ideas and revelations while I'm being "idle" (showering, walking the dog, watching mindless TV). Desk-time is overrated in my book. Stuff needs to "percolate".

Yeah, pretty much. If I hit a sweet spot in my project, I take a lot of pleasure in just thinking about the architectural decisions and data structures while going for a walk or something. :)

Here's some of the science for why we come up with the best ideas when our brains are turned "off" -- it allows the brain to make other connections that we aren't overly controlling it to make. If it works for you, meditation could also be a useful tool for harnessing these moments: http://lifehacker.com/why-great-ideas-always-come-in-the-sho...

I have come to accept that my way of working is in bursts. Whether this is at a 9-5 admin job (work intensely 9-10:30, slow down until 12, work intensely 1-2:30, take it easy the rest of the day unless something comes up), or working on projects (do nothing for a week or two, or a month, then push out a months work in a week).

While studying, I used to beat myself up about the fact that I could not get into the habit of reading every night, and studying a few hours every day.

Sure, sometimes if I just go and start doing the task I need to do, then it starts to flow, but mostly if my head is not in the right place to do it, then what you get is lackluster output.

Some people are the "Work steadily on a regular basis" on a project, others are the "18h days for 5 days and then done with the whole thing".

The concerning part of your post is that you feel you would sit in front of the TV depressed. Have you checked with your doctor if you are actually depressed?

Beyond that, it took me until my early 30s to realise that I should not beat myself up for not operating the way I assumed everyone else does. Ironically, people are under the impression that I work non-stop all the time or that I studied every night, because that is how they perceive that I must be doing things. Once I found this out from talking to people that I was in awe of, only to find they thought I was doing fairly well and must be working my butt off, I realised that even though I have a tendency to beat myself up about my work patterns, I should perhaps give myself a little more leeway and look at the results.

Perhaps it comes down to pressure as well, some people work very badly under deadline pressure, others are unable to be productive until they have the deadline pressure, but have had all the details in their minds for the rest of the project.

Here's two thoughts to keep in mind that might help. 1. Look up the ages of the most famous professional athletes on your favorite team. Odds are you are older than most of them. For a sec it might feel like you feel reading about younger programmers, but after a moment you'll have easy perspective that you are not them and nothing is comparable and that's ok. It's hard to regret that you never became a pro athlete.

2. Yes, yesterday is gone...but think about all the other people you are ahead of...half the planet isn't even on the internet yet. Probably less than a fraction of 1% of the world is a junior dev. You are literally ahead of 99% of the world. Don't lose your dominance and fall behind more people...youll never be ahead of everyone...but you can stay ahead of almost everyone!

Is that tendency toward idleness punctuated with productive spurts actually a weakness? I would hold that it is actually the appropriate situation in many respects, and that our society simply hasn't adapted to account for it yet. One of the only physical characteristics that humans have going for them compared to other animals is their physical endurance. We're built for long stretches of physical work. We are not, however, built for long stretches of intellectual work. Economically speaking it also makes sense. While a worker performing physical tasks establishes a level of productivity and remains mostly constant, an intellectual worker multiplies the productivity of others tremendously. They change the nature of the work being done. Economically, at least in a capitalist system, this is supposed to result in those intellectual workers seeing their compensation rise tremendously as well - providing them with the resources to take long breaks allowing them time for contemplation, improvement of their skills, etc. Were it not for the illegal actions of major tech companies early in the growth of the software field, we might see compensation related to the value intellectual workers produce. As it is, they set the standards for what such workers should be paid and divorced it completely from the value of the work being performed.

This has happened before, back during the Industrial Revolution. Factories and mechanical automation enabled workers to leap in productivity over their craftsmen predecessors, and factory owners divorced their compensation from the value of the work. Eventually, whole families had to work extremely long hours 6 or 7 days a week just to be able to afford to eat. Society let this happen because they saw the workers as not deserving of a share of the value they were creating because 'a machine was really doing the work and the owner paid for the machine'. Things eventually reached a breaking point and society forced factory owners to pay a single person enough to raise an entire family on for 40 hours of work in a week. This was a monumental change. Whereas previously about 3 incomes with each working 60+ hours a week was necessary to raise a family, 1 income from 40 hours reaching the same amount was not a minor adjustment.

Social change takes time. Mental workers being a large group is really quite new, and society hasn't yet figured out how to handle them best. They're trying to just treat them the same as physical workers, which will inevitably fail simply because the human brain is not built for decades of constant mental work.

Reading the OP and this comment I can't help but think "hmm, sounds like me when I'm unmedicated."

I'm a very ambitious and motivated person. I love stupid hard, nitty gritty problems. I've been writing code since I was 8. I landed my first coding job when I was 16 (working for the USAF Research Laboratory, no less). I'm now 29.

Growing up I was always driven by my interests. If I wasn't interested, I wasn't going to do it. If I was interested there was no stopping me from doing it. I was smart enough that I coasted through high school, but when I hit college I very nearly flunked out.

The problem was that my interests ran hot and cold. One day/minute/hour I'd be deeply interested in some subject, and the next I couldn't care less. This would happen with topics which I knew were captivating to me in a general sense. Sometimes I'd get so interested in some project I'd skip other classes for a week or more because I couldn't stop thinking about it.

However most of the time I'd find that without exercising hurculean amounts of discipline there was no way I was going to be able to stay on track well enough to study and finish homework/projects.

I'd sit down for a lecture with all kinds of ambition to focus and absorb the material. 20 minutes in my brain was somewhere else and the margins of my notebook were filled with mindless doodles.

When my grades dropped low enough my school's intervention programs kicked in. It was suggested that I go get checked out for learning disabilities. Since I felt somewhat compelled to show I was making an effort, I did.

I figured I didnt have any kind of disorder - especially ADHD. I wasn't hyper, and when I was "in the zone" it was nearly impossible for me to shake my focus.

It turns out that having ADHD doesn't necessarily mean that you are never focused. It just means you have a very difficult time choosing to be focused. In fact, hyperfocusing (marked by losing track of time, forgetting to eat, etc) is a common symptom.

Occasionally I go mine my old college notes for some obscure detail. With a single glance you can easily tell if a page was written pre-medication or if it was written post-medication.

If you think this story echos your own experiences and struggles, do yourself a favor and go have a chat with a psychiatrist or neurologist. It may just change your life in a huge, incredible way.

Finally, do try to stop comparing yourself to others in such a destructive way. Success stories are a bit like airbrushed models in lingerie ads. They don't give you the whole story. They're there to capture your eyeballs with hopes that they can be monetized, marketed to, or both.

Try to focus on incremental goals, instead. Scope these goals with a focus on finishing rather than perfection, and don't beat yourself up for not being superhuman. Specifically, try your best to fight the thought that success is predicated upon the kind of hard work that produces exhaustion. Success comes from routinely focusing on well-scoped, iterative goals.

So, you think inability to focus is the cause of your interests running "hot and cold"?

On medication (assuming some kind of CNS stimulant?) do you find that you're less prone to get excited about new things, and spend more time on things you're already invested in?

For me, it's really easy to get excited about new things. I throw a lot of stuff at the wall. Some of it sticks, most of it doesn't. But the more things that manage to find their way into my interests, the less time I have to focus on any single one of them.

I've been able to work around this to a certain extent with some pretty strict scheduling, but no matter what I'm working on, there's always a piece of me that REALLY wants to be focusing on something else.

> So, you think inability to focus is the cause of your interests running "hot and cold"?

Absolutely, but this may be unique to me. I find complex things interesting. If I can't maintain focus long enough to get a certain level of complexity all loaded into the forefront of my consciousness, I find that I don't become interested when I otherwise would.

> do you find that you're less prone to get excited about new things, and spend more time on things you're already invested in?

No, and yes, respectively.

I am still subject to distraction while medicated, especially from new and interesting things. I'd guess that new things are as likely to pique my interest whether or not I'm medicated.

The difference is that medication makes it easier for me to decide on a scope for my current activities and makes it so that a conscious decision is required in order to react to a stimulus or tangent which would take me out of that intended scope. Without medication I don't usually have direct control over this choice, and I'm very infrequently conscious of it.

> there's always a piece of me that REALLY wants to be focusing on something else

I experience this whether or not I'm medicated, but medication makes that voice in my head shut up once I get moving on an unrelated task.

This sounds very much like me. I beat it by finding a routine that works for me, a routine that helped me become more disciplined... and it took a while to beat, so don't expect immediate results. Also, while this worked for me, it may not work for you, everyone [despite those telling you that you're not a unique snowflake] is different and different things work for each of us so take what is helpful from my routine and ignore the rest, YMMV.

First step: Finding your zone. This is a matter of conditioning and conditioning doesn't come easily. Find something that puts you in a zone of focus. It doesn't matter what the focus is on, it doesn't matter what that zone is - the key is finding focus and maintaining it for longer and longer periods until you can easily maintain focus for a number of hours at a time [I'm told there are drugs that do this very effectively, but I personally try to avoid drugs wherever possible]. Whatever it is should be something that doesn't allow you to lose your focus or give up, even when the going gets tough and every instinct in you is telling you to throw in the towel.

For me it was cycling - totally unrelated to programming. It was better for me than being in a gym because if I decide to stop pedaling, I stop going anywhere. In a gym, this means just getting off the bike and I'm no further behind. If you're 10 miles from home and stop pedaling, you're 10 miles from home and the only way back home is to get back on your bike and start pedaling again. Sitting on the side of the road procrastinating isn't going to help, nor is it going to be in any way enticing to sit there. After 40 miles, you could be exhausted and realizing you still have a 5 mile climb ahead of you before you can put your bike down; there's no way around it, you just have to get on and do it.

I've set up a playlist on my phone of music that runs around 130-140 bpm [that's approximately the speed of club music that makes you wanna dance] and will run without looping for the duration of my ride. I listen to the same playlist every ride. You might get sick of it, but you listen anyway. After a few weeks of agony and wanting to throw in the towel but doing it anyway you start to find peace in the pain and it becomes a meditation, you don't even hear the music consciously any more but the beat drives you forward, you find the zone and it's just you, the pain and the road and before you know it the circuit is over. For me this process took a number of weeks, but now, if I put that playlist on, even if I'm not on my bike, my brain snaps into that zone. It's been conditioned to focus when that playlist comes on, just like Pavlov's dog salivating when the bell rings. [This requires ongoing maintenance]

Step 2: Remove necessary distractions. When I say necessary, I mean unavoidable things that will need doing and will break your focus when they are required to be done because you didn't take the preemptive strike of killing them off first. Things like important phone calls to your accountant or the bank. If you can't focus while you have a messy desk, clean your desk, get your coffee, eat your breakfast, do all of these unavoidable things first.

Step 3: Understand the problem intimately, ensure that you can recite it inside outside, upside down and backwards. You don't want to have to keep going back to ensure you understand the problem, this will break your focus. If you need to pester someone to help you understand the problem, pester them until you have fully digested every nuance of what it is you're trying to achieve.

Step 4: Understand the solution to that problem intimately. Ensure that you understand every single step that will take you from where are right now to where you need to be. Any pieces you don't understand, go back and reread step 4. If you keep having to come back and figure stuff out, this will break your focus. Again, pester whoever you need to in order to completely understand the path to the solution.

Steps 3 and 4 are my biggest triggers for procrastination. If I don't understand the problem or the solution to that problem well enough, I can't maintain focus. It might take me days to get down to it if I let myself skip either of these steps - so I don't.

Step 5: Everything else can wait: No Facebook, no Hacker News, no Blinkfeed, no Quora, no email, no phone calls, no text messages, no whatever else it is you like to waste time with. Put them all aside and have the discipline to stay away from them until you're finished this step. Now, do whatever it was from Step 1 that puts you into your focused zone. Get on with completing the steps you've laid out in Step 4.

Step 6: You're done, go reward yourself with all those other distractions that you put aside to complete Step 5. Congratulations.

Wow, this is eerily close to describing me. Even the bit about your first coding job being at a young age at a research laboratory (though mine was a university).

> When my grades dropped low enough my school's intervention programs kicked in. It was suggested that I go get checked out for learning disabilities. Since I felt somewhat compelled to show I was making an effort, I did.

This is where the stories diverge though. My college's intervention program was basically them calling me lazy and forcing me to sign a paper agreeing that I would improve. I knew I couldn't accomplish that, so I didn't re-enroll the next semester.

I had always accepted that I was very lazy and learned to work around/with it. But over the past few years I feel like it has been getting much worse. My passions are starting to feel like chores. I used to practice the guitar for several hours each day, but now it's closer to an hour each month. Even sitting down to watch a whole movie on Netflix can be tough. I'm not sure if I've watched even a single movie in it's entirety at all this year.

But of course, I won't even notice myself spending 4 hours aimlessly browsing the web without leaving my chair until I realize that I've wasted my night...

It's gotten so bad that I have considered it might not just be laziness and comments like yours are really encouraging. But I don't know where I'd begin. And, frankly, the idea of seeing a specialist for help or medication really scares me.

Do I just google for psychiatrists near me and give one a call? Would I need to find one that specializes in ADHD? Are there any websites that can help direct me?

I really appreciate you taking the time to write this comment by the way.

> the idea of seeing a specialist for help or medication really scares me.

Don't let it. You're seeking help voluntarily. Assuming something is actually wrong with your brain, it's worth it to address it head-on. Worst case, you wind up with a bad doctor and you have to go find a new one. Best case, you gain some tools to help you gain a much higher degree of control over your life.

> Do I just google for psychiatrists near me and give one a call? Would I need to find one that specializes in ADHD? Are there any websites that can help direct me?

What country are you in? If you're in the states, I'd start with your insurance company. Most insurance companies have directories of in-network specialists. If your insurance is shit and doesn't cover specialist visits, then yeah - I'd just Google around. Absent recommendations, look for somebody board-certified [1]. I happened to luck into a doctor who had both psychiatric and neurological specialities.

In New Zealand you must start off by asking your GP for a referral to a psychiatrist (you may need to do this in the USA if your insurance requires a referral). Explain your concerns with concentration, and that you'd like to be screened for ADHD and other related conditions. At this point if they're well-informed they'll likely ask you a few questions about it and offer some advice, but since you're asking to see a specialist they should be willing to make a referral. If they're not well-informed, they'll either skip the questions & counsel or tell you to piss off. If you get the referral, you'll go see a psychiatrist. I have no idea what the diagnosis process is like here, however - I was diagnosed in the states. However, when you are diagnosed your psych will receive a special authority number. Eventually this number will be transferred over to your GP once your treatment regimen is stabilized.

Aside: In the states it's not likely that your GP will tell you to piss off when asking for a psych/neuro referral. Also in the states GPs may offer to treat you directly w/o a specialist. This is illegal in New Zealand, as general physicians aren't typically qualified in this area. Really - go see a specialist.

The diagnosis process is nothing to be worried about, though it could take a bit of time. The process can take a few hours, or a few 1-2 hour sessions. If I recall correctly, they did an ADHD questionnaire, the MMPI [2], an IQ test, an "IQ achievement test," a few very brief visual/spatial tests which supposedly look for neurological symptoms schizophrenia, and a session or two of discussion with a psychologist about what my goals for improvement were, where I felt I was failing, etc. I think my range of testing was a bit more in depth than usual, as they were looking for a bunch of different learning disorders. After all this they discussed the results of each of the tests with me, explained my diagnosis, and set me up with the psychiatrist to begin a treatment regimen.

1: http://www.abms.org/board-certification/ 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minnesota_Multiphasic_Personali...

This sounds A LOT like myself. I've never really considered going to a psychiatrist or neurologist, I thought my experience was somewhat normal. Do you mind elaborating some about what sort of medication/condition are you talking about?

I've been editing to fill in some more details. I'd rather not discuss my experiences with medications specifically here, but feel free to shoot me an e-mail (see profile) and I'll be happy to answer any questions I can.

If you want a possibly contrasting experience, feel free to email me (see profile), I was diagnosed with ADHD-C within the past year after many years of "this is just how I work, there's nothing that can be done".

I always look for behavioral solutions first, because they are often easier to execute than quasi-philosophical changes of outlook, and IMO are often underestimated in their effectiveness.

Have you tried waking up early? I find that I will similarly veg out from 5pm onward. For the past few months I've been faithfully getting out of bed at 5:45 every morning (with the help of a clock radio). The peace hours between 6 and 9 are my favorite part of the day now.

I have 3 hours to myself to work on projects, work on a MOOC, do a self-check and orient myself to deal with the day.

I've had roughly the same issues as your main post. If you are interested in a personal conversation, send me an email (profile).

Get rid of your TV. Problem solved.

I think having the discipline to follow through with the things you have decided are important to do has a lot to do with it, actually.

  “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
  ― Chuck Close

+1. For anybody who struggles with this, I highly recommend reading Stephen Pressfield's The War Of Art.

Indeed, success is 10% vision/inspiration, 10% skill/talent and 80% discipline. You've gotta show up and do what needs to get done, regardless of your want to do that. That goes double for your own personal projects as as it does for your J.O.B.

It's harder to drive yourself to the finish line than it is to drive projects for an employer. I can't speak for everyone else, but for me at least, I have zero sense of obligation to myself - if I ditch a personal project because I lose interest or because I find a better solution or just because I don't feel like it, my reputation isn't at stake. It's easy to walk away from and leave it on a shelf gathering dust with few (if any) consequences; whereas I feel a deep sense of obligation to see paid projects through to the bitter end, however bitter that may be. You don't want to damage your reputation for delivering on your promises. This is a constant struggle in my life.

You make a great point, one that I have been thinking about, and unfortunately, I'm not sure if I can entirely agree with it.

There are something to be said about habit and discipline. Certainly, one should never pursue something they have no interest in whatsoever. But for any thing we want to accomplish in life, there are tangent, chores, and generally "schlep" that you can't avoid. An extreme reading of your comment would mean that we should give up at the first road block. How do you differentiate between lacks of internal motivation, and great motivation being thwarted by fear of unpleasant tasks? In an ideal world, that shouldn't be an issue, in the real world, it's a lot harder to know.

When you're playing an instrument, if you've practiced a piece few hundreds times, you don't think your playing is good anymore. You know when you're making mistake, but even when you're playing perfectly, your perception of the piece you're playing would be a lot more "meh" comparing to the perception of some outside listener -- after all, you've heard that piece a lot of times. Motivated or not, without discipline it's unlikely you can keep doing things over and over.

When I was younger, I've always thought that great people doing great things by just focusing on their genuine interest, ie a physicist just want to understand the nature of the universe, and not particularly care whether his work is gonna have any impact or effect. It turns out that interest might not be the full picture: people who do great work might actually be conscious in wanting to be great, too. One of the example would be Richard Hamming, mentioned in his "You and Your Research" essay (which just popped up on HN lately, actually), even Feynman's biography mentioned that he need introspection during the period when he wasn't being productive as a physicist.

> In order to get at you individually, I must talk in the first person. I have to get you to drop modesty and say to yourself, ``Yes, I would like to do first-class work.'' Our society frowns on people who set out to do really good work. You're not supposed to; luck is supposed to descend on you and you do great things by chance. Well, that's a kind of dumb thing to say. I say, why shouldn't you set out to do something significant. You don't have to tell other people, but shouldn't you say to yourself, ``Yes, I would like to do something significant.'' -- Richard Hamming, You and Your Research.

> An extreme reading of your comment

Right, there's no need to get all New Age enlightenment-ish about it. I am not even in disagreement with the Richard Hamming quote. All I'm stressing on is that it's title is "YOU and YOUR Research". It's not "YOU and WHAT-YOU-THINK-YOU-SHOULD-RESEARCH-ON Research".

I struggled with the exact same confusion about "it's supposed to be natural" vs. "real life == effort" for many years till I understood : you do what it takes when it's your vision. You put in the outer effort, but there is no inner friction. And this can happen across years of "effort".

For example, if you envision clearly that you want to provide your child with a home, and at the same time decide that you're not going to work 12 hours a day for it, and forego a Google job in preference for a more "boring" employer who pays lower but allows flexibility while still paying enough for the mortgage to be paid, why not? It will still look like dreary effort to the hotshot Stanford grad, but to you, each day, which is part of a designed self-directed life, will be lovely. So what if it involves some amount of will-power to deal with an abusive colleague, etc;? You'll live, because it's within YOUR parameters of tolerance. The same thing could work the other way round : you cannot IMAGINE working for Google, but for someone for whom it's been a lifelong dream puts in the "effort".

i fully agree with your point, and hope it's not getting lost on folks: figuring out what drives you requires a level of introspection (and revisiting-- it will likely not be static your entire life) that most people never do. introspection is hard, and not something you get taught at school. i'd argue most people dont realize how to self-reflect until they are much older.. or perhaps it requires a certain level of experiences before it is even approachable?

> Our society frowns on people who set out to do really good work. You're not supposed to; luck is supposed to descend on you and you do great things by chance.

This is so true. It's odd that we celebrate butterflies and crush caterpillars. I think it was Les Brown who said something along the lines of– if you want to achieve uncommon, unreasonable results, you have to be an uncommon, unreasonable person putting in uncommon, unreasonable amounts of effort.

Our society loves people who set out to do really good work. But only after they succeed.

The whole "luck descended upon them" is a coping strategy. The narrative of luck makes people feel less bad about their lack of fortitude.

Here's some "luck" for you:

  25% of all new businesses fail within the first year.
  36% fail before their second anniversary.
  44% fail before the end of the third year.
  46% fail due to incompetence.
  30% fail due to inexperience.
  11% fail due to lack of domain knowledge.
(stats taken from http://www.statisticbrain.com/startup-failure-by-industry/ )

As the years pass, the conditional probability that the new business will fail in the next year, given that it did not fail in the previous year, tapers off. The competence has been tested. The inexperience vanishes. The domain knowledge becomes less something you acquire from elsewhere and more something you make from within.

From the statistics, it looks like an awful lot of people are making uninformed guesses, out of their early incompetence or inexperience, and incorrect guesses destroy their business. That does not look like fortitude to me. It looks like walking your very first tightrope, never having had the benefit of even seeing another person cross one, over a pit of starving grizzly bears, as the people who have already crossed laugh at you and throw rocks at your head.

Those who already fell into the pit and managed to climb back out for another try have fortitude. But they also didn't get eaten. That's lucky.

It is unkind to say that those who never make the attempt lack fortitude. Perhaps they simply have an aversion to being chased down and eaten by ravenous bears. Or maybe they were born in the pit, and never got far enough ahead of the bears to try to climb up to the ropes.

But that does not address the question that should be on everyone's mind with respect to this analogy. Why do those people on the other side of the pit throw their rocks at the people on the ropes, instead of at the bears in the pit? Why is it necessary that starting a business be both radically unfamiliar and incredibly risky?

>>The narrative of luck makes people feel less bad about their lack of fortitude.

Contrary to whatever you think 'chance' plays a huge role in every one's success. When luck meets hard work, the returns compound. When hard work meets back luck, a person feels they were treated unfairly.But chance matters in a way far more than you realize. Heck, a Human is born out of sheer luck.

People don't realize how important luck is, until despite all their hard work they fail. A few people fail over and over again despite giving their best all in the while watching people doing way little win.

It's not a nice thing to go through. It will take nothing short of a disaster to make you believe in a miracle.

But the thing is that without hard work, you can have all the luck in the world and nothing is going to happen. And it also seems that the people who work harder have more luck for various reasons raging from having more opportunities come their way to seizing opportunities better.

Ultimately, I think, the kind of luck that matters most is the lack of bad luck. You can be the hardest working person in the world, but if you get hit by a car and spend two years recovering, that's gonna be a problem.

My point is, success compounds. At one point it starts looking like pure luck.

"But the thing is that without hard work, you can have all the luck in the world and nothing is going to happen."

Unfortunately that's not true. People will the lottery every week. In business that happens too. Look at all the well funded startups which never amount to anything, and factor in the prestige, earnings and opportunity those companies afford their participants. Plenty of people are early employees of hot startups simply via friendships and connections. Many of them leave or are fired. Many of those people become vastly wealthy.

Moreover look at all the one-hit wonders and luck is an even greater factor. If people who are smart, talented and able can reproduce their success why are they so rare? When someone never manages to get close to their initial success lack is often in play. It's not that they weren't clever, or didn't work hard, but it can be that luck picked them from a field of very similar people.

That shouldn't of course change your behavior. Luck is beyond our locus of control and planning for it, or around it, is like planning around a potential meteorite strike, or rain.

Anything you can force via effort isn't luck which is why people get confused. You can achieve against the odds via hard work alone which is why working hard is worthwhile.

You can also scale your success. The difference between making a living, making a million and being Mark Zuckerberg can all be attracted to work and wit without the need to factor luck into the equation at all.

Finally we're all focused on good-luck. Bad luck is the real enemy. To be diagnosed with a serious illness, or to be unable to take an opportunity due to factors you cannot effect will cut the legs out from underneath you however hard you work. Sometimes your good luck is invisible unless you're aware of the bad luck of those who'd otherwise take your place.

You are completely right. Now think of an exact opposite case. You can do all the hard work and yet get treated unfairly.

Not all hardworking people are successful and not all successful people are hardworking.

> You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have.

I do hope this is an extreme case of misdiagnosis: it's implying that the OP is not an achiever, and lacking ambition - just because there are a few small hurdles in the way of his getting things done!

Here's an alternative diagnosis: if you focus too much on your peers, you're poisoning your own motivation. Of course you'll spend all day on HN, if the alternative is staring at an editor with a voice in your head scolding you for not being a success. Fix that and you'll have fixed your procrastination (easier said than done, probably, but still). A reading tip: Mastery, by George Leonard.

> I do hope this is an extreme case of misdiagnosis: it's implying that the OP is not an achiever, and lacking ambition

Taking the first part of quote out of context makes it seem harsh, but the second half of the quote provides justification.

>> You will NEVER have the energy that the people whom you compare with have. Because they are being themselves, and are connected to the natural wellspring of motivation that comes from genuine interest, while you are the salmon swimming upstream, aping societal ideals and trying to be someone you are not.

The quote assumes that your peers are focusing all of their energy on being themselves. If you are spending your energy concerning yourself with the efforts of others, you arent spending _all_ of your energy focusing on being yourself and doing your best. Seems very much in line with your diagnosis.

I don't think the second part of that quote makes things any better at all. OP is basically saying "I want to be successful in my projects, please advise", and the off-the-cuff diagnosis offered is that he's "aping societal ideals and trying to be someone [he is] not", and that unlike his peers, he must be lacking "genuine interest" in his projects. Seriously?

> Seems very much in line with your diagnosis.

I think you gave the grandparent post a very charitable reading :)

Most successful businesses are not the result of passion projects. OP's problem isn't that he lacks ideas (so he claims), it's that he has the common affliction of not being able to follow through on them. Even if we all want to be Steve Jobs, most of us won't be.

But we probably do agree that constantly comparing oneself to others is not good for emotional well-being.

My advice to OP: don't focus on outcomes (ie, 'this 22 year-old did X, why haven't I?), focus on the process. Your goal should be to each day do work and spend your time in a way of which you would be proud. Avoid the hot and cold cycle of overwork / burnout and procrastination.

> Most successful businesses are not the result of passion projects.

I would argue against that statement. What makes you say that? Passion is the necessary driving force to keep someone motivated enough to follow through.

Was Rockefeller passionate about oil? Sam Walton about discount pricing? I think most successful entrepreneurs are just natural-born businessmen, and the specifics of their industry are mostly incidental.

You're probably looking at this from inside the SV bubble, but I could make a similar case there, too. Plenty of apps just ride the latest trend, and would pivot in a heart beat if it made if it makes business sense.

About 4 years ago, I thought I was done with software development. I was so burnt out and full of self doubt that I thought I was going to quit it forever. I wanted to do anything other than work with computers again. I quit my job, took up painting, and then a month later found myself banging away at a keyboard into a text editor because I had this burning idea for a program.

The problem wasn't the work, it was the environment. I had allowed myself to get into a situation where I was spending all of my creative energy on someone else: my employer.

I did a brief stint back as an employee at another place for a while, just because I had gotten desperate for cash and it was the only opportunity that came my way for a while. But I eventually went freelance and now I only work part-time for my client. The rest of the time I spend working for myself.

Moral of the story: you are correct, you do need to just cut and run sometimes, but just be careful not to confuse the impact of environment on your feelings about your activities with your actual feelings about your activities.

My condition is similar to that of OP's.

What if I am not interested in anything? I don't really want anything; I think that drive of wanting stuff has all but dried up in the past 5 years.

I'm wasting my life away counting days. What now?

I think your problem is the crisis du jour, the 'hollow men' of our times. At its heart lies multitasking and sensory overload. With the barrage of modern tech/media, it's become so easy to tune into many little bits of nothing for hours/days/years (surfing the web, watching video, fiddling with your phone, hacking the web) that time passes effortlessly and invisibly. Eventually you look up and realize you're a decade older.

One way to deal with this is similar to how people meditate: 1) focus on being aware of nothing, or 2) focus on being aware of everything (while not becoming distracted). Either way, employing single-minded attentiveness will reboot your brain and help you generate your own thoughts again. A sense of purpose can arise only after you stop being distracted by the trivial racket of the world outside.

To begin, sit and do nothing for as long as it takes, til you get antsy enough that you just have to do something. Whatever that something is, it rose to the top of your list of stuff you felt the need to do, so that alone makes it important. So act on it. If later you run out of ideas again, then sit down and return to doing nothing until the cluelessness passes.

But whatever you do, DON'T mindlessly tune in, and STOP doing ten things at once. Those paths lead nowhere.

Thanks for this. I also have this problem but haven't really recognized what the problem was until now, I think. I will have to try this.

Losing want, is good. Many people strive and yearn for this. Now that you know you don't want/expect anything out of life, you are in a position where you can serve humanity. You'd probably die tomorrow/next week/next year/next decade. You don't know. It's your duty to leave this place in a better state than you found it in. Assuming you have some skills that can help others, pass them on. Volunteer. Tutor. Plant trees. Build schools/shelters. Teach middle school math/science. Try to evoke the sense of wonder in engineering/software/physics in children, the same wonder that you saw in these fields once. Don't do it with the expectation that it would make you happy. It might not. Do it because you have to. Do it because there are millions of people who would give anything to trade places with you.

Take a break, spend some time somewhere nice and quiet– like a faraway beach, and sit for hours and see what comes to your mind. You're bound to be curious about something, interested in something. Day to day life has a way of wearing that down in people– we get so caught up in our obligations and our bills and such that we forget what we're curious about, what we're interested in.

Once you figure out what you're curious about, throw yourself into learning everything you can.

That, and serve others. Volunteer. Ask yourself– what do you wish you had when you were a kid, that you didn't? What do you know now that you wish you knew before? Then seek out people who're struggling with that problem, and help them. It feels good.

I have also experienced that death of desire.

In the tragedy of the commons, the person with the shortest time preference wins. I desire long-term goals like college funds for the children and retirement funds for the parents. The spouse always desires a house with one more room in it than the one we currently occupy, a vehicle newer than the ones we currently drive, furniture more comfortable and attractive than that which we currently own.

For a full decade, I have spent nearly nothing upon my own interests. I dare not spend even $5 for a fast-food sandwich, for fear that $5 will add to "our" debts. I find that my interests have waned, and my ambition has withered. What good is wanting that which you cannot have? Why take a risk when you can realize no benefit from the reward?

Then I realized that this is what it must be like to live in poverty. Desire begets misery. Merely existing incurs debt. The only treatment for the despair is apathy, but that is like taking heroin for a headache.

But now that I no longer care about anything, now that I have stuffed all my dreams into a sack and thrown them in the river to drown, now that I no longer feel pleasure in anything that am able to do myself, I have fallen into the trap of nihilism. Everything is pointless, including attempts to become a non-nihilist.

It's too late for us. Our only purpose now is to serve as a cautionary tale for others. The lesson to be learned is to never allow the course of your life to be directed by others, or you will lose the ability to direct it yourself.

I did, of course, tell a teensy little lie previously in this post. I have discovered a passionate desire to write fiction, and take pleasure in devising schemes by which the system of the world may be altered to become less cruel to those subjected to it.

Just force yourself to try new things until the things you do no longer seem obligatory. Just yesterday, I saw a video on YouTube where the subject, who had miniscule pedagogical talent, demonstrated the creation of a longbow in ten minutes, using less than $10 in materials that are readily available from any home improvement store. Longbows are largely obsolete. Why would anyone make one from modern materials? You can't even use something like that for historical reenactments. You can buy bows made from modern materials that work better for hunting or target shooting. Why would you make a video of yourself making one?

The answer to all those irrelevant questions is that this guy likes making bows, and he wants to share his enjoyment with others. You and I can also do that, no matter what it is we do.

How the hell did he even figure out that he liked doing that? Making bows is hardly a commonplace activity. Apparently, he just did something that he had never done before, and simply kept on doing it. Stop counting days and start doing things. Anything.

Then I realized that this is what it must be like to live in poverty.

That's also what it's like to live in depression. Everything about your comment sounds like depression to me.

It gives me some sense of satisfaction that I can write such a convincing representation of such a person. But then I get sucked into a philosophical discussion with myself about whether authors can accurately depict characters with personality traits that they do not themselves possess. And that makes me worried that I might be depressed and in self-denial about it.

The facts remain that ancestor post needs to do something not part of the ordinary routine, and that I ought to finish that first book instead of posting on HN.

Maybe what you are really interested in is counting days?

Brilliant. Thanks.

This is really easy to say and hard to do, if you've been pushed, prodded, poked into some direction or the other, by well meaning adults/role-models.

Being able to hear your inner motivations is very close to listening to your own thoughts == form of mindfulness.

Very very powerful idea, very very hard to stick to, in our present society of instant-everything, and addictive news cycles.

Very powerful thoughts. I retweeted your last sentences (if you don't mind.)


Ha ha, no I don't mind, I'm enjoying my 15 minutes of fame.

and while you are working it out, go back to work. It will likely take many years and you'll lose all your extra cash. I speak from experience.

Exactly, I quit and started a project. Found the domain had some really hard problems, got bogged down in the impl. Started wasting time, burning thru my savings. Faced the cold hard reality it wasn't happening, and went back to work.

All I have to show for it? A 9 month gap to explain in my resume.

This! Life is too short to pretend to be someone that you're not.

Simply one should make peace with being considered an utter failure by everyone and then proceed to do what they love nonetheless. All else is poor imitation.

This is the mark of genuine flow :) wow...you should start your own "do whatever you want" university. Pretty sure all the young impressionable minds around here will enjoy it.

College student here. I've read a lot into the "do your own thing" mentality, especially the "don't go to university just do stuff", such as at Thiel summits, startup events. I personally love the idea of founding a startup, so I've given it a lot of thought.

It's important for me to work on my own terms and to do something I find meaningful, and so I enjoyed riding along with the crowd that follows the above mentality. However, I'm also good at critical thinking and sometimes I ask myself about the people and what we're doing. Why are we all chasing the startup dream? Can we really all achieve great success? I think a big part of "why" is the pack mentality, ironically, that drives young people like me to this "don't join the workforce, don't listen to the man, do whatever you want", because so many people are encouraging us to chase our dreams. But I've come to the conclusion that for most people, it's simply not feasible to achieve that dream of making enough money doing your own thing. You need to be very, very good, or be lucky enough to have an excellent idea (and execution!!). Sadly, most people and ideas (and luck) are merely mediocre and not the top 5% or whatever needed, simply by definition.

Fortunately while we are young we'll fall softly and, as a software engineer, will likely able to find a job even if we meet failure. But sometimes I do worry not only for the feasibility of my own dreams, but also the other young people around me, and it's certainly something to think about before we encourage everyone to jump "into their dreams".

Great points! Yes, "critical thinking" a great phrase for it.

I agree with a lot of your points. The "don't go to university" / "dropouts are successful" meme is particularly alarming to me. Unless your achievement are stupendous, most employers, even startups, judge you based on your level of education, your Uni's ranking, etc; Why discard that data?

Furthermore, university is a great place to grow socially and find friends, girl/boyfriends, and maybe even a future co-founder! (Sometimes I think our education system should have a social education aspect too. Networking, communicating, and even brown-nosing can all be very useful.)

As someone at the very other end of the 20s spectrum:

1. My own responsibility towards myself and my life weighs a lot more heavily on me at 29 than it did at 22. At 22 I had faith that it would work out, somehow. I think that's a feeling to be taken advantage of while you still have it.

2. Conversely, I also realize now that I won't be successful at something that I don't like, and that doing something I like is worth more than money. Obviously this only works to a certain extent, I still need to live. But it seems more and more that as long as you are pursuing you believe in and enjoy, you aren't poor in spirit.

My point being: maybe don't worry so much for the feasibility of your dreams at this moment in your life.

"Do whatever you want", yes. Whatever you want can involve not starving, being able to afford health insurance and a mortgage, marry a desirable person, have children, etc;

Now, are we still in disagreement, Sven? :-)

Beautifully put, but I respectfully disagree.

It takes discipline to exercise regularly.

It takes effort to try something new that seems appealing but unfamiliar.

We are old, and I think we forget how hard it was to crawl and then walk.

Vijucat's advice is excellent. It's good to hear this before you turn 30.

On a similar vein, consider looking at these two titles from Crimethinc:

"Days of War, Nights of Love" http://www.crimethinc.com/books/days.html

"Work" http://www.crimethinc.com/books/work.html

Without thinking too deeply about it, I feel like it may be useful to point out some different ways of thinking about programming.

1. It's an interesting hobby, like crocheting, writing poetry, or solving tricky integrals.

Sometimes it's hard work, but that's enjoyable too, maybe that's when it's the most enjoyable. If it feels like drudgery, maybe you're just tired; knitting is extremely repetitive, yet kind of nice.

The degree to which you stretch yourself by attempting grander things is up to you. Some people enjoy working on intricate projects for years; some prefer to do something quick over a weekend.

If you make something useful, that's very nice, but not required. If one of your creations makes a nice Christmas gift, cool!

2. It's a way to configure computers to do things for you and your friends. This opens up interesting opportunities.

Someone who doesn't know anything about programming is limited to computer use within the parameters already provided by applications. But even that is very powerful, because what programs do—should do—is enable people to do things that they want to do.

For example, WordPress, while technically not that fascinating, has had a massive impact on the world. You don't need to be a programmer to set up WordPress—but if you can program, you can do more things with it. You can more easily make it look like you want it to look or do what you want it to do.

3. It's an arena of self-expression and demonstration of ambition.

The original poster mentions being in his mid-twenties. The significance he finds in this has to do with an idea that by that time, one "should" have accomplished lots. But maybe the real significance is that this age intensifies feelings of ambition. That's probably not a cultural universal, but it's some kind of phenomenon. It doesn't have that much to do with programming; a welder, nurse, or writer might feel the same thing. Cultural ideas of careers and individualism play into it.

The flip side of this kind of ambition (forgive the off-hand philosophizing) is the fear that deep down, I am nothing, I am a fraud, I am useless to the world. That might be a motivating fear. You mentioned J. Krish, there's also the Buddhist idea of three kinds of deceit: the idea that I am better than others, the idea that I am worse than others, and the idea that I am equal to others. That seems to leave little option. But, um, think about it.

4. A kind of synthesis. If you dial down the intensity of tractionless ambition a little bit, you may realize that a little bit of programming can go a long way. And steady, patient work is more sustainable than striving, and more fun. There is no intrinsic, cosmic reason that you must create a new JavaScript framework if you don't feel like it. An animation of a bouncing lolcat might do you more good than three years of dreaming about neural networks.

This website right here is so simple you could code it in a week. Forget about web scale; if your thing gets used by a dozen people, and they actually like it, you're a wizard already. You are not a failure for not winning the VC lottery and even AirBnB is just a forum for letting people crash on your couch. "I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind."

Awesome post. I don't usually expect to see this kind of philosophical stuff on HN. I think there's a lot of truth in what you say here. It just like, people in denial about who they are all the time. Reminds me of Emerson "Envy is ignorance, Imitation is Suicide"

I think its worth noting that 1) someone could end up doing all the exact same things, but for a different reason and be totally content that way. And 2) a lot of people go through their whole life dissatisfied and uninspired, and that isn't the end of the world.

Wow, that was well said. I'm not that often genuinely impressed by what I read on HN. Never've read anything by Jiddu Krishnamurthi, could you recommend something?

Damn. I wish I could save this comment. Beautiful advice.

I've never heard of Jiddu Krishnamurthi before today. Can you recommend a book of his?

To Be Human: long and comprehensive (not actually written by him, but a collection of his works).

Flight of the Eagle: short and comprehensive.

Freedom from the Known: short and practical.

Network of Thought is a fantastic place to start, and the text is available online: http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-tex...

Amazing. You inspired me to write a blog post.

These are very wise words.

it is 10% talent and 90% hard work. Not the other way around.

I love coding Ruby. But all the design and front end work? From HTML5 to CSS. Forget it. But if I focused on "effortless" Rails coding only -- this would get me absolutely nowhere. Not to mention unix skills, administration, making customers happy, etc.

Sure, would be easier to work for a big corp and do Rails coding only. But then there are other hard or intolerable things there (intolerable to me!). Like bosses proud they can't code with BA's in Political Science. Or lazy coworkers. Or whatever else.

Life is hard and then you die. If you can find happiness in this sentence (and I can!), if you can still find sense in all of that and be happy somehow. That's happiness. Because sh*t always happens.

And all these rich young kids. They might have problems on their own too. They might have no social live. They might have had no childhood. They may have nobody candid to them to hang out with. They may be poor as far as their people relations go or as far as their free time goes. What's so awesome about working 24/7 and all the money when you have no time to enjoy it? This is being really poor. It's exactly like not being able to afford going to vacation because of lack of money. You can't go period. No money or no time, both make you poor. As lack of social live does.

I would also mention looking at what you do to satsify your natural inclinations.

I myself am very goal oriented. I always have to feel as if I'm moving forward on something. It took me years to realize what I enjoy most about games is the feeling of accomplishment you get from finishing them and I'm actively more productive in other areas of my life when I limit my game playing time. Not because I'm "wasting time", but because emotionally I'm not satisfied and find myself constantly working and building other things.

This advice is easy to give but difficult to follow in practice. Krishnamurrthi wrote from a position of pure arrogance, because he was told his whole life that he was a special person. He's not special; he's just repeating what others have said in a watered down package. That's what makes his philosophy so dangerous.

The only thing that fits this discription for me would be sex. Now what ?


I'm 45, and have about 60 unfinished side protects in my /Dev folder. I've also just reached the feature complete milestone on my first side project that will actually ship. After working on it, or a variation of it for SEVEN YEARS.

Your question made me smile. Are you having fun? I'm having lots of fun, and have had throughout my career. There was a time in my 20's where I felt exactly the way you do.

Don't sweat it. Live life, and it will come to you. Focus instead on making memories that will make you smile when you're 80.

I'm 48. More productive in the past ten years than ever before. I used to feel the way you do, in my twenties. A lot of it was just jockeying for position among a group of high-achiever friends--trying to be the alpha in a group of alphas--and some of it was having been the big fish in the small pond of my immediate peers and finally being thrown into the big pond.

But none of that really matters. Don't plan for the next three years. Life is long, plan for that.

Many of the people I worked with in the '90s achieved a sort of fame like the fame the people you see achieve today. But when their achievements were superceded, they didn't go and do new amazing things. Instead they didn't do much at all, or did things that were completely tangential to their skill set, things they couldn't really excel at.

Part of the reason was that, having worked their way to huge XP, they couldn't start at 0 when they needed to restart the game. So they just didn't play. But we all start back at 0 when we do something new. We progress faster the second and further times around. We talk about learning from failure and doing better the second time around. These people couldn't learn from success.

So now I admire most the people who can achieve thing after thing, even if each of those things is not fame-worthy, not so much the people who have done a single thing, even if that thing gets a TechCrunch headline. The turtle, not the hare. I think the turtles do more good over their lifetimes than the hares, and that people who continue to be productive year in and year out are much, much happier.

My fears now are a different sort: do I still have time to accomplish the things I want to accomplish? Then I remind myself that I still have another 30 or 40 years of work left, as much in front of me as behind me. I encourage you to think that way: you have another 60 years of work left...what can you do over the course of 60 years? Pick a long-term goal (interstellar flight, artificial intelligence, peace on earth, whatever), break it into manageable projects, then start.

> Pick a long-term goal (interstellar flight, artificial intelligence, peace on earth, whatever), break it into manageable projects, then start.

Let's think strategically: if your first project is curing aging and achieving immortality, then every other project after that is just a matter of time. Just sayin'.

> Let's think strategically: if your first project is curing aging and achieving immortality, then every other project after that is just a matter of time. Just sayin'.

Actually, if you "cure mortality" first, you will exacerbate all the other problems related to population overshot, environmental damage, wealth distributions, etc. Then elf-style immortality will find itself cured, at gunpoint, or in more gruesome ways.

On the other hand, you can accept that both of us (along with every human alive today) will die. Once you are free of that burden, you may identify a worthy project, push it as further as possible within your lifetime, and take the time to train some younger replacements that can take over later on.

And of course, I might be wrong, so you might end up enjoying amazingly extended lifecycle. I just don't think it is a good idea to count on it.

> On the other hand, you can accept that both of us (along with every human alive today) will die. [...]

Why should I accept this? Humanity hasn't been improved by accepting that it was natural for people to die of smallpox, or be crippled by polio. The belief that such diseases could be eradicated was the first step in doing so.

Our limited lifespan is just another thing for us to defeat as a species. I like to imagine some far-off future where parents tell their children about our mortality in the same manner that we are told about diseases like smallpox.

Because curing smallpox and polio are specific, well constrained goals, while curing death is open ended and not even well understood on a fundamental level. It's like saying that because you can earn a paycheck above poverty level, you can be richer than Bill Gates, Carlos Slim and King Midas put together. In theory yes, but this reasoning fails to address important practical concerns.

Regarding immortality, you have to remember that every time a major death cause has been neutralized, the probability distribution reorganizes itself and other death causes raise to pick up the slack, even causes which used to be unknown/negligible a few decades ago. That's to say, every life that has been "saved" from smallpox, polio or whatever was not really saved - strictly speaking those people still died (or will eventually die) anyways of a different cause.

That's not to say that life expectancy cannot be extended, or that that is not a worthy goal in itself. But there is still the practical issue that the clock is ticking for every one of us. According to current data, I am expected to live another 40 years or so. During that time, the line can maybe pushed another 10 years, and combined with positive lifestyle changes, having won the genetic lottery in the form of my family having a track record of many long lived members, and a bit of luck too, I don't think it is unreasonable to think that I personally might make it to 100 years in a relatively dignified state. However, that's it, I will already be old and wasted by then, and the only hope I can think on how to extend that even further would be Deux ex Machina.

Now consider the scenario for a baby born today. Maybe those 100 years will give him plenty of time for science to progress and fix a lot of things during his own time... assuming no major threats raise caused by our increasingly industrialized lifestyles, which is doubtful. Maybe all the things considered he will live to see a time when 150 is the average, and he may be able to push it to 170 by being smart and having a lifestyle healthier than average... but that's it.

If I were extremely optimistic, which I find hard to be these days, I would say this trend will stagnate around the 300's due to the law of diminishing returns. So, our descendants might see a time when dying at mere 100 years old is a tragedy, but there is a world of difference from that and actual elf-style immortality (never age or die but by an act of violence that destroys your physical anchoring to this world).

Yes, children. No matter how many down votes, you are still all going to die. I am really sorry mommy did not explain that to you at age 8 or so.

That comment made me smile. We are so caught up in short term happiness, and excitement, that it's easy to forget what all this is about. Thank you for that last sentence :)

>> But we all start back at 0 when we do something new. We progress faster the second and further times around.

Great comment. It alludes to 'iterating on yourself'. It's difficult when you feel like you're competing with others, rather than working to satisfy your own essential self.

Ditto to Rickcusick's call out. This is one of my favorite insights on this thread.

There are so many moments in life where we have to start back at zero. I like to think about the Teddy Roosevelt "Man in the Arena" speech when I'm back at a "0":

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This is an excellent comment, and I hope more people listen to your advice. I especially agree with the XP restarting at 0. I've wondered if it's possible to get people to learn to start at 0 again and still succeed, or if it's an innate lack of motivation.

Dude you're awesome

I'm 40. I had a nice open source project that went well (it's a bit dated now) ... but my regret is not having my kids younger. The work. projects, start ups and all those dreams still live on. But having kids is a lot of fun.

Yes, definitely this! If you're in your 20's and feeling like your "whole life" is wasted/lame/you're a loser .. well, have kids. It'll change your whole outlook, hopefully before you hit 30. Kids are awesome. They teach you that, at 20-something, you're not actually that experienced. You don't actually have a lot of time on the Earth. 20-something year olds - you're still kids. There's 3 or 4 more decades ahead of you, to do stuff - real stuff, not just "my whole life" sort of thinking .. if you're in your 20's your whole life is still way, way ahead of you. Don't neglect that. Have kids, it'll help along the way as you hit 35 .. 45 .. 55 .. 65 ..

What confuses me is how every person I know with kids complains their life is over, they don't do a lot, they have no control, they have no time for themselves and their life is basically over. And this is a mid-30s guy with a lot of friends with kids.

And yet having kids is wonderful.

I joked to my friend it is like Stockholm Syndrome. You have no choice. You made your bed and must now live in it. Of course you are going to enjoy your kids, it is biologically wired into you and you also have to do it, regardless of how overwhelmed every other part of your life has become because of that one decision.

It has also become very trendy in the last decade or two to devote your entire life to your kids and to never leave them alone, to invade every aspect of their day to the detriment of a parent living their own lives. Extreme detriment. Constant parental involvement. Vicariously living life through your children. It's actually fairly distressing to see adults so subservient to their children. A very modern malaise, this was not how parents acted 20 years ago.

Never trust a parent telling you having kids is great.

I am personally undecided, but I'm deadly serious, never trust a parent saying having kids is great. It's quite literally like they're some sort of possessed zombie, everything they say is basically "HELP! HELP! This is AWFUL! All joy apart from worshipping my child has been DESTROYED!". And yet they all say "Oh, it's wonderful!" in the next breath.

Imagine your happiness as a graph of sin(x). You have ups and downs, 1 and -1, but they're relatively stable, and on the average your baseline happiness is about the same. Then you have kids. Now the graph becomes 1+3*sin(x). The highs are stupendously higher, but the lows are deeper, and the difference can be stark. On the average your life is improved, but when somebody asks you how things are going your answer can be very different depending on the day and time. It is not an easy thing to ride the parenting roller coaster, but it is personally enriching in a way I cannot properly describe.

Also, about not having control and not having any time after becoming a parent. I struggled a lot with this myself until I read a passage in a book which shifted my perspective:

"In the past I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part was for Sue, another part to help with Ana, another part for household work. The time left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walks. But now I try not to divide time into parts anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested in what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself."

I don't understand parents who feel trapped, but I am not one of those helicopter parents. I let me kids do things on their own, pick their own activities, and, within reason, do whatever they want. I have no interest in living through them.

Having kids is a totally subjective decision. There are plenty of parents who hate their children, who felt forced into having them by family or society, and end up making their kids' lives terrible (or, in some really extreme cases, murdering them). If you feel pressured into anything, it's probably a bad start.

I'm 32 and I have 3 kids, but I meant to have them. There was no accident, and certainly no regret. I had my first kid, my daughter, when I was 24.

Then again, I never had feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. I just wanted to have kids while I was young enough to roughhouse with them if they wanted. I grew up with too many friends with OLD parents (who are now dead, generally) who couldn't do anything with us because their back was out or their knees were busted. It's a sad thing to see.

it is biologically wired into you

This is one of the many incredible things I discovered when daughter was an infant, and even into her toddler years.

There were days where she was pretty awful, crying and not sleeping, and when she did sleep it wasn't more than an hour. I was upset and distressed, but not once did I ever blame her or get angry, which is a complete departure from my usual "someone has to pay for this" anger that I direct everywhere every day. I'm an incredibly selfish and somewhat unempathetic person.

I had a number of self-aware moments, where I was actively questioning why I wasn't angry at my baby, or at least tired of her, but my only answer was that looking at her, holding her, taking care her, filled me with such joy. And when I was distressed, I was distressed for her sake, concerned for her wellbeing. But never mad at her.

It's equally hard talking to non-parents for exactly the same reason. I used to spend a couple of nights a week in the pub, going surfing, doing stuff with my mates.

Now I have homework, bed time, bath kids and all the other stuff.

So when a non-parent friend says "We're going to see this amazing band for $$$ we'll be back at 3am" It is VERY tempting to say "Oh my life, my poor life, you guys are so lucky." Because you do feel a little bit like that. For a nano second. And because your mates don't want to hear "Well I HAVE KIDS AND THEY'RE AMAZING!!" so. There's that.

So you (the non-parent) hear part of the story. You are working (as I was a few years ago) on part of the information. It is a lot easier for us parents to talk 'my kids is amazing' at school drop off, or over a cup of tea at lunch time.

Re: "devote your entire life to your kids and to never leave them alone" that is a hard one, your kids NEED YOU. So you can't just drop them off at the park and go to the pub. Also, all your old friends don't want to play football with the kids, so your kids start to be your new friends. Which is weird.

> So you can't just drop them off at the park and go to the pub.

Why not? I used to play in a park with other friends all the effing time after around 2nd grade or so.

I guess though, that the US has a far lower "implicit layer of support" though -- if anyone in our community saw kids going somewhere they weren't supposed to, they wouldn't bat an eyelid at hauling us up and taking us back to our homes. In th US if it's someone's else's kid, you automatically go into "NOT MY PROBLEM" mode :)

I think people just like to complain about something. If you have kids its that. If you don't its your annoying coworker or that rude waiter or your car is making a funny noise and its brand new so WTF.

If your friends are doing nothing, and they aren't a single parent, it's their fault - because they would rather be with their kids, or doing something else. It doesn't take two people to watch/play with a kid.

I have one and it isn't so bad. I'm more productive at work because my time is more accounted for. Things are a bit hectic but it's not like I'm in some coal mine in Siberia. Life is mostly the same.

We can't do all night 5am ragers, but we can individually show up and go home around midnight. My wife still does happy hour once a week. I usually get some extra time on weekends to play some games.

A friend of ours still watches 2 movies/week in the movie theatre, because that's what she really enjoyed. Another goes to brunch every sunday, because it's a tradition with her friends.

Basically, you pick what you care about the most, and cut the things that don't matter as much to you.

I think we've reached that place where narcissism and self-preservation bump directly into humility and empathy, and have found that its not quite the pristine landscape we might have imagined. Certainly, my kids are a lot of work - but they're better than anything I've ever done, ever. That's hard to communicate to someone who doesn't live that way.

Why? I honestly don't understand this.

You stuck your penis in someone (assuming you are male). That's all you did. And then did all the exact same things that billions of other parents do, feed, burp, clothe, ship 'em off to be educated by someone else. Statistically speaking, you're probably not a fantastic parent, just another average Dad. One of literally billions of parents.

So why are your kids 'better' than anything you've done? Almost anyone can do it. It is probably one of the least impressive achievements any human can do, yet a large amount of parents list it as a major lifetime achievement, often as their only achievement. It's another one of those 'zombie' phrases, there is nothing at all, absolutely nothing, remarkable about raising a child. It is one of the most ordinary, banal things, a human can do. And yet so many people are proud of doing it.

I simply can't understand, looking from this side of the mirror, not having kids. But can you understand just how utterly unremarkable and unimpressive it is having kids? From this side of the mirror?

Why? Because it is, every day, a direct reminder of how important you are to the world. Without you, that little face doesn't get wiped, it doesn't get warm clean dry clothes to wear, it doesn't understand much beyond the reach of its own two hands. And then, feet. And eventually, when it gets big enough to be going everywhere with you, it learns more and more and takes on more of the world, itself, until its the one taking you for walks and making sure you're the one with clean, dry, warm clothes to wear. This is really one of the ways that life can kick your ass, hard: you learn empathy and humility and trust, love and respect, by doing the one thing that isn't special, because essentially everyone/anyone else can do it: raise a kid to survive in the world. Its bigger than any startup, its more revolutionary than any religion, and it makes so much more sense than getting the next iDevice upgrade - yet everyone does it, its perfectly normal and standard practice, and if nobody had been doing it none of us would be here at all.

Call your parents, folks. Go check on the kids too, if you've got them. There's pretty much no higher human activity than either of those two things. As long as they keep happening, everything will be alright. The rest is just icing on the cake ..

It's not about comparing yourself to others. He's not saying "My kids are the best thing anybody has ever done." It's kind of like training for a marathon, in a way that they aren't quite the same, but let's go with it. You train hard and often, you spend hours and hours on just preparing for it, and when the race comes you suffer, push yourself, sweat and bleed, and finish. 1000th place! But you still feel great, you still feel accomplishment, it's a heady feeling.

You can say "So what, all you did was run 26 miles, lots of people do that, some even run hundreds, or walk cross country, what you did isn't that special."

Well, yeah, it's not, but that doesn't mean it doesn't feel good to look at your accomplishments and feel awe that you completed it.

It's like that with kids. You pass off the whole raising them with "feed, burp, clothe, ship 'em off to be educated by someone else" which is just sad and insulting. You gloss over the sleep deprivation, the worry that wake you up in the middle of the night, the laughter and tears of the kids, and parents teach kids more than you give them credit for.

> But can you understand just how utterly unremarkable and unimpressive it is having kids? From this side of the mirror?

Absolutely. This is exactly how I and a whole lot of people remember feeling before having kids. This is part of the thing that makes it so remarkable: before having kids, I couldn't imagine myself being so enamored with it, and yet here I am, victim of some kind of strange brainwashing that turns out to make the incredible, incredible pain in the ass of it all worth it. And not merely worth it in a "this is tolerable" way, but worth it in a "omg I have to tell other people about this" way. It's ridiculous, I know. But it happens. I'm of the opinion that this delusion is inextricably linked to the survival of our species, because in your worst moments, it's what keeps you from letting the screaming little bastards die.

> But can you understand just how utterly unremarkable and unimpressive it is having kids? From this side of the mirror?

I can sort of understand how you might not understand it if you have no idea what's involved in being a parent.

But you do seem to be ignoring some stuff:

i) The biological imperative. Not everyone has this, and it's important not to stigmatise people who just don't want to be parents. But it's strongly there for many people, so having children seems to be important.

ii) "You stuck your penis in someone (assuming you are male). That's all you did." well, it's not that easy. For some parents it's a lot more difficult than that; and a few adopting parents don't even have the stage involving biological gloop.


> Most couples (about 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year if they have regular sex and don’t use contraception. However, women become less fertile as they get older. A recent study has found that couples having regular unprotected sex:

> aged 19-26 - 92% will conceive after one year and 98% after two years

> aged 35-39 - 82% will conceive after one year and 90% after two years

iii) For most parents it's a big step. They make a concious choice to stop contraception and to start trying for a child; or they start the adoption process. It's not like buying a car or changing job - both of which are pretty significant life changes for some people.

iv) Oxytocin

v) sleep deprivation and some form of domestic Stockholm Syndrome. You have to give up so much for a child, and your life totally changes in ways that you can't fully predict until it happens. So you kind of have to say how brilliant it is.

vi) The fresh perspective a child has will teach you about the world. You learn most when you teach someone else. Watching a child learn how to manipulate a toy or learn to read is enriching.

And so many people repeat this - that children radically change their lives, and that their children are the best thing they've ever done - that I'm surprised you haven't considered whether it might be more significant than just "You stuck your penis in someone".

(I don't know much about adoption but I do know some very kind, loving, great parents who adopted so I'm trying to be inclusive of their experiences.)

Do you remember how in school you used to complain to your dumber friends how difficult an AP class was, but really you took pride in enduring the grind? Parents complaining about their kids are doing the exact same thing.

It is not all a ruse or Stockholm Syndrome. It is simple. Most things that are worth doing IS both wonderful and awful at the same time.

Having kids is taking on a huge responsibility, I don't understand why people are so quick to suggest it as a panacea for everyones' personal problems. Feeling insecure (like OP) is a really bad reason to have kids.

Don't assume everyone is lucky enough to have someone to have children with. Kids are awesome. Having millions is awesome. Being in perfect health is awesome. Having the right citizenship is awesome. Many things are awesome. But they are mostly hard work and/or luck.

Kids aren't for everyone. Part of self actualization is not tying the value of your self worth onto the shoulders of someone else and that includes children. Have kids for your own reasons, not because you're bored or because you think its the thing that people do.

I agree with this. Being an older Dad is extra tiring! I wish I had the energy I had ten years ago.

I endorse the previous comment. I am 44 and have had the same experience.

> I'm 45, and have about 60 unfinished side protects in my /Dev folder

Random, but I think there's a correlation between "age > 30" and capitalization of folder names.

I'm not famous or "accomplished" enough that you will ever hear about me, but I'm extremely successful by the metrics/goal I have chosen. My goal was simply to be happy.

What separates us from (other) animals, is our ability to alter our environment. Use your big brain to figure our some combination of the parameters in your life (work/environment/free time/etc.) that makes you happy and change your environment to optimize for that. Have the self esteem to follow your own path. Don't feel compelled to impress others or live up to some freakishly high standard.

For what it is worth, I've been programming longer than you've been alive and if I keep doing it another 30 years I doubt I will be acclaimed for my coding skills - and that doesn't bother me a bit.

I think this and @vijucat's life lessons are huge - don't play someone else's game.

Choose your own parameters for success (suggestions: joy, self-betterment, improving humanity's situation by your own standards. Money or fame is just a means to an end - focus on the end and not the means for maximum flexibility and quickest success) and then work out how to achieve them. Here's where your critical thinking skills (the most useful thing I learned at my top-10 university) come in handy.

Recall that skillsets are supposed to be tools towards achieving an end. Choose your own adventure, sharpen the tools you care about & think will be useful, and set out. Try not to be daunted when circumstances force a detour, a tool turns out to be less useful than anticipated, or your path (goals) literally change underneath you. That is living, and that is what we all must succeed at.

> For what it is worth, I've been programming longer than you've been alive and if I keep doing it another 30 years I doubt I will be acclaimed for my coding skills - and that doesn't bother me a bit.

Thank you for writing this, it is very inspiring. I have heard so many times that good devs are young people that makes me wonder about my future even if I'm very passionated about my career. At this point in my life I think I will love programming in the next 30 years, I hope I could live from that as well.

Good piece of wisdom. I somewhat have the same opinion but could not put it into words.

right.. and it is not age that matters but finding your purpose+meaning.. call it love passion caring for something/someone.. this is the true success in life everything else is only temporary fame.. glhf

Wonderful and inspiring.

Thank you for sharing.

then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer.

There isn't a high score table.

The balm for this kind of ambition is to visit a suitable big-city graveyard or cathederal and have a look for the largest, most elaborate tomb with the longest list of achievements on. Unless this is a former world leader there's a good chance it's someone you've never heard of. On the way back, look at every house you pass. The person who lives there is almost certainly less remarkable. Ponder the size of the world for a bit.

The ambition/procrastination loop is an anxiety disorder common to people identified as "bright" from an early age. You can retrain yourself out of that in a number of ways, but the simplest one is scheduling. Put half an hour of work in every day. Possibly if you have time bracket it with daily light exercise. This is how the marathon runners do it: one step at a time, with years of repetition behind them.

I've posted this before but I feel it bears repeating:

There are two truths I try to keep in mind whenever I start feeling this way:

1. There are countless people who are so much better at programming and so much more motivated than me, that I could work my entire life and never be as good as they are right now.

2. There are countless people who are so much worse at programming than me, that they could work their entire lives and never be as good as I am right now even if they were more highly motivated.

Its a continuum, a hill. Feel for the gradient, walk uphill.

At my core, I am intensely ambitious.

Are you sure about that? There seems to be a lot of evidence to the contrary. One of the most important lessons I've learned so far is that ambition is not wanting money and recognition; it's a desire for constant challenge, pressure and responsibility. A lot of people don't want those things, they just want the cash.

It's actually possible to find niches where you can earn good money rather than 'fuck you money', but without all the stress. That's a much better prospect in my (somewhat unambitious) opinion.

In my opinion, I wouldn't call what you describe "ambition", but rather "need for self-validation". Ambition is desire and determination of achieving something, whereas challenge, pressure and responsibility just seem masochistic. Where's the end goal?

The problem here, in my opinion, is that the "default" goals one sees in the "start-up culture" (or the banking culture, that I'm better familiar with) are bland, spoon-fed and vulgar: "Hey, this guy has shitloads of money, imitate this guy! What? You still aren't rich? Then you're not doing it HARD enough." All in all, it just seems like a self-help book gone way, way wrong.

I think the reason OP can't motivate himself to do these things, is because they are only superficial, exogenous goals to him.

^Yes. You don't describe yourself as ambitious, you reveal it through your actions. How you prioritize. How you manage your limited time and resources.

It's weird to say "I am ambitious and I waste time vegging out watching TV" in the same breath– chances are the "I am ambitious" statement is really identity performance.

OP wants to be seen as ambitious (not just by his others, but by himself as well). It's a comforting narrative to hold, but it's also damaging (kinda like a cigarette addiction– you enjoy the pleasure of the cigarettes but you start noticing that your health is going downhill).

The gnawing pain that OP feels in his chest– I'm sorry that there's no nice way to put it– is the realization that he's a fraud [1]. It's the dissonance between "I am ambitious" and "I am wasting my time". One of those things have to go.

And we're all frauds to some degree, because we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves that feel good. OP is working himself up into a brilliant, painful frenzy, and in a sense it's likely that he enjoys it in a twisted sense– just like how some groups of people enjoy the drama of social relations, and keep perpetuating it.

BTW, just for fun (but seriously, too)– the most accomplished people like this tend to be writers. Balzac, Proust, Dostoeyvsky– all of them did this whole agonizing woe-is-me thing, or represented it powerfully in their work. OP, you might just make a great novelist. Write a modern day Lost Illusions with yourself as the title character, and you might just achieve the success you were hoping for!

"The pain OP feels is the realization he's a fraud"

Holy judgment, Batman! I think the gnawing pain he's experiencing is the FEAR that he's a fraud (which I think is far from a decided matter). What an awful thing to call him when all you've got to go on is a couple of paragraphs.

And honestly, I think ambition is probably a prerequisite for feeling the way he feels. Unambitious people are likely immune to feeling like they're wasting time.

Working on something original, that you're the sole creator of, that you're solely responsible for, is a TERRIFYING prospect no matter how much you love the work you put into it and no matter how ambitious you are.

Calling him a fraud because he hasn't figured out how to crack the existential barrier between what he wants to be doing and what he's doing is such an oversimplification of how people work that I'm actually a little offended FOR him.

Comments along these lines only perpetuate Great Man worldviews (which I also consider a gross oversimplification of how people operate).

I do realize that line by itself looks a little nasty, I'm sorry. I meant it to be taken together with "And we're all frauds to some degree, because we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves that feel good."

How about without using the word fraud, which can be a little more loaded than I intended, I simply stick to the line afterwards– that we feel gnawing pains, etc whenever our actions are not consistent with the beliefs we hold (or claim to hold).

IF what you're saying is the gnawing pain is awareness of the gap between who we are and who we want to be, then I agree completely.

Well, in some sense the exact opposite is true...

If he weren't ambitious, then watching TV wouldn't be a waste of time. It would just be something he enjoys doing. The fact that he has some ambition is what causes him to feel guilty when he's not being productive. No ambition, no guilt.

^That is true. So I think the reality of OP's predicament is a little more subtle. It's probably "the desire to be/become ambitious" rather than overt, naked ambition. The two aren't mutually exclusive, too.

There are also some nice Zen-sounding arguments that you can't fully realize your ambitions until you relinquish your desire to be ambitious– because you suffer from all sorts of perfectionism and performance anxieties, etc. But it's possible to argue either way– talk is cheap, actions are the differentiator.

I also find your characterization of a 26 year old as a failure irksome, but you're also confusing a novelist's subject matter with their person, which is uncorrelated. Even if it were, you'd have to somehow resolve quotes like this:

    "Above all, don't lie to yourself." --The Brothers Karamazov

Bunch of thoughts about that, which you are free to disagree with–

1. "You are failing (at what you say you want to do)" != "You are a failure."

2. I disagree (but this is a matter of intepretation) that a novelist's subject matter is entirely uncorrelated with their person. Writing is a very personal pursuit, and I think every writer puts something of themselves into their work. But would be happy to disagree about this, and to hear your counterpoint.

3. Re: the Brothers Karamzov quote, I think it's very common for writers to write about things that they can envision but not necessarily enact. They're more like directives than lived experiences. A person can live a life "full of sin" and then write a novel advocating "sainthood". Do as I say, not as I do, so as to speak. But again, would be happy to hear your thoughts.

A lot of people seem to be haunted by what they imagine people are thinking of them.

Surely everyone around me is reading these articles as well, and looking at me, and thinking "ah, he's not bad, but obviously not in that class"... right? Or old habits left over from a parent who was constantly comparing your "trajectory" in school to classmates, older siblings, whatever. It's not actually meaningful, though; that sort of thing is a manipulation intended to help you, but if it's making you miserable, work on discarding it.

To the OP -- try to look directly at what's worrying you. Write it down, if that helps. Zoom out, zoom in, ask "how do I know that", walk through actual worst-case scenarios in detail, and try to see if it's actually useful to worry about it.

Worry can be a motivator, but it's not a good one, and it drains you at the same time as it pushes.

I was in the same boat when I was 26-27. I was passionate, better than most in programming and had a better job than most. However, I was not happy. There was this constant fear that somebody would overtake me or somebody is x-years younger than me but earns y times more or he is so young but achieved so much more than me blah blah blah. This eventually led to mild depression(or at least that's what I think it was). Then I started doing meditation. I don't want to preach but trust me it works. It made me focus on what's important and what's not. It made me realize that I am externalizing my happiness, that I am comparing myself to others when such comparison is not fair,that whoever I am comparing to might have problems of their own; nobody's life is perfect. But most importantly it made me realize that all my adult life I have been preparing to be happy without actually being happy. It's like this. If I do this project and publish my web app, I will be happy. Or if I conrtibute x-lines to some OSS and get my name on the contributers list, I would be happy. It was sort of like preparing your bed but never actually sleeping in it. So the TL;DR is start with a little bit of meditation.The Art Of Living Sudarshan Kriya and mindfullness would be my humble recommendations.

Can confirm, depresses, late-20s developer, bootstrapping, and with my self-worth too closely tied to what I output.

I used to run for meditation, but with having a baby at home I've let it slip, my family bring me a lot of peace and feeling of well being, and belonging, but running for meditation desperately needs to become a part of my life again.

The note about "preparing to be happy without actually being happy" struck me too, I'm always working, growing, fighting for the next thing, and I never take time to appreciate my successes, we're meeting with some fundraisers for the company we bootstrapped later today, and if we're successful, I'm taking a week off to spend with my family, not see the internet, and appreciate that shortly before turning 30, I might have bootstrapped my own company far enough to take a serious investor round.. why at 29.5 yrs old is that important… I don't know… imposed ageism I speculate.

>If I do this project and publish my web app, I will be happy. Or if I contribute x-lines to some OSS and get my name on the contributers list, I would be happy. It was sort of like preparing your bed but never actually sleeping in it.

That realization sounds a lot like the TED talk I saw recently from Shawn Achor. He likens it to always moving the goalposts on your own happiness. (FYI - you can get the same amount of info from this TED Talk as you can from his book. Not worth $7.)


Thanks for that link, bookmarked, will definately watch. I don't exactly remember where the analogy came from so could very well be from him.

How long to you meditate for daily?

This is the facebook feed problem for software developers. You said:

> Every day, I read an article by some hot-shot young dev who has a handful of fancy projects behind his belt (not to mention a great website and design sensibility) while I have exactly zero

This is going to keep happening. The only thing you can do is find something you love and grind it. That's what most of them have done. They (or at least most of them) don't just pop out a new smash hit every night. Most of those articles still take time to put together.

I didn't even start my career until I was 28 (while I was working on my MS). My daughter was born a year later, and it took me 2 years to get my blog going. (I foolishly thought I could write a CMS. I ended up building something clean and minimal with a static site generator.) It takes me forever to get a post together, but that's ok. I work at the speed I can. I'm happy because I'm still making progress.

Not everyone gets to be a rockstar all the time, and you have to jam in the garage before you get to take the stage.

Too late because you're 26? More like too early. The way you deal with the gnawing in your chest is to correct your view of success with a healthy dose of reality. The 21 year old success is almost exclusively a lie, little more than a media fabrication; don't buy what they're selling.

Here's a nice list, and the age at which they got their big hit:

Paul Graham (31, Viaweb), Jan Koum (33, WhatsApp), Brian Acton (37, WhatsApp), Ev Williams (34, Twitter), Jack Dorsey (33, Square), Elon Musk (32, Tesla), Garrett Camp (30, Uber), Travis Kalanick (32, Uber), Brian Chesky (27, Airbnb), Reed Hastings (37, Netflix), Eric Lefkofsky (39, Groupon), Andrew Mason (29, Groupon), Reid Hoffman (36, LinkedIn), Jack Ma (35, Alibaba), Jeff Bezos (30, Amazon), Jerry Sanders (33, AMD), Marc Benioff (35, Salesforce), Peter Norton (39, Norton), Larry Ellison (33, Oracle), Mitch Kapor (32, Lotus), Leonard Bosack (32, Cisco), Sandy Lerner (29, Cisco), Gordon Moore (39, Intel), Mark Cuban (37, Broadcast.com), Scott Cook (31, Intuit), Nolan Bushnell (29, Atari), Irwin Jacobs (52, Qualcomm), David Duffield (46, PeopleSoft), Thomas Siebel (41, Siebel Systems), John McAfee (42, McAfee), Gary Hendrix (32, Symantec), Scott McNealy (28, Sun), Pierre Omidyar (28, eBay), Rich Barton (29 for Expedia, 38 for Zillow), Jim Clark (38 for SGI, and 49 for Netscape), Charles Wang (32, CA), David Packard (27, HP), John Warnock (42, Adobe), Robert Noyce (30 at Fairchild, 41 for Intel), Rod Canion (37, Compaq), Jen-Hsun Huang (30, nVidia), Eli Harari (41, SanDisk), Sanjay Mehrotra (28, SanDisk), Al Shugart (48, Seagate), Finis Conner (34, Seagate), Henry Samueli (37, Broadcom), Henry Nicholas (32, Broadcom), Charles Brewer (36, Mindspring), William Shockley (45, Shockley), John Walker (32, Autodesk), Halsey Minor (30, CNet), David Filo (28, Yahoo), Jeremy Stoppelman (27, Yelp), David Hitz (28, NetApp), Brian Lee (28, Legalzoom), Tim Westergren (35, Pandora), Martin Lorentzon (37, Spotify), Ashar Aziz (44, FireEye), Kevin O'Connor (36, DoubleClick), Steve Kirsch (38, Infoseek), Stephen Kaufer (36, TripAdvisor), Michael McNeilly (28, Applied Materials), Eugene McDermott (52, Texas Instruments), Richard Egan (43, EMC), Hasso Plattner (28, SAP), Robert Glaser (32, Real Networks), Patrick Byrne (37, Overstock.com), Marc Lore (33, Diapers.com), Tom Anderson (33, MySpace), Chris DeWolfe (37, MySpace), Caterina Fake (34, Flickr), Stewart Butterfield (31, Flickr), Pradeep Sindhu (43, Juniper), Peter Thiel (37, Palantir), Jay Walker (42, priceline.com), Pony Ma (27, Tencent), Robin Li (32, Baidu), Liu Qiangdong (29, JD.com), Lei Jun (40, Xiaomi), Ren Zhengfei (38, Huawei), Arkady Volozh (36, Yandex), Hiroshi Mikitani (34, Rakuten), Morris Chang (56, Taiwan Semi)

This list needs corrections, e.g.:


$22 million at 28

I chose Tesla for three reasons (over PayPal and Zip); first, it's what he is most famous for; it produced most of his fortune and is by a large margin his biggest success; and it's amazing what he went through to pull it off.

There are other entrepreneurs on the list with smaller successes prior to their big hits (a lot of them in fact). In my post I included the text "the age at which they got their big hit" to cover that aspect.

I understand your logic, but find the list misleading. Regardless of hard work, Tesla was founded by an experienced millionaire.

This is like something to print out and put on a wall.

At 38, most of them were still younger than I am.

Very informative, thanks.

I'm 40, started working as a programmer only about 10 years ago, so I definitely have more lost opportunities that you. But I don't care. I manage to make a good living, enjoy what I do and get the appreciation of my clients for the work I do, and that's what I wanted when I went my own way. I can understand though, and I think part of the problem is actually HN. When I started reading it I was suddenly informed of many new (to me, at least) programming languages and other technologies. I felt behind and thought I needed to learn, or at least understand, them all, but I didn't have the time -- I had much work to do during the day, and then no will power to learn anything new in the evenings after I had finished working for the day. So then I felt guilty about it -- how do other people manage to both work and learn all those things at once? I don't know. I just stopped feeling bad about it since (as stated above) I make a good living, enjoy myself doing this and get appreciated for my work, and that's what important to me.

There are two things that I do that might help you though:

1. I only read NH when I'm not working (i.e. mornings or evenings). That means I can focus on my work rather than get involved with something else.

2. When I read about a new exciting technology, unless it's relevant to what I am working on at the moment, I bookmark the page, in case it becomes relevant in the future. In the process I realised a lot of it is trends. People on HN get excited about something and a year later they're excited about something new, and then the old gets criticised. So basically, I saved myself a few hours learning something that wasn't so important to know after all.

Edit: formatting

Hahahahahah.... (sorry) I'm 44 and feel like I'm just getting started.

But ya, procrastination is another issue entirely. It's a common problem. Here is my advice... accept that you can't do everything. (This is reality and it catches up with you soon enough anyway). Find out what is important and focus on that. Just that. Don't worry about what other people are doing. It has absolutely zero impact on what you are doing. In life, people will make more money than you. Others will make less. Some will be happier, some less happy. It doesn't matter. At all. It's you that you should be concerned about. Why are you chasing tech? What is the end game? That's the question.

Do one thing, or a few things, and do them well. If you aren't going to do that, then don't do these things and accept that you aren't going to do them and don't worry about it. Don't flit. There is a cost associated with switching tasks and that makes the whole thing harder.

This is a cliche, but worth bringing up. Sanders, founder of KFC, started selling fried chicken at 40, and KFC founded when he was 62.


Those were also pretty different times. Nowadays we read almost everyday about teenagers who start and sell startups and I think this aggravates the sense of urgency in most of us who are still under 30 and are not yet on the front page of TechCrunch.

You read about these teenager because they are interesting to read about.

Who wants to read about a 50-60 yo professional CEO who just sold his Nth company doing some boring-as-ass Java enterprise thing? No one. Not in the TC crowd. There's nothing to fantasize about.

The thing to keep in mind about those stories is that Man Bites Dog is a headline, whereas Dog Bites Man doesn't see print at all.

The teens gets print because they're absurd outliers; you don't hear about the 56 year old finding big success with his startup not because it doesn't happen, but because it happens regular enough to be too boring to mention.

He's not the only late starter, check out the ages of some great composers, some of them are quite late!


"Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity" by David W. Galenson touches on the same topic: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8019.html

"But the thing that got me through that moment, and any other time that I’ve felt stuck, is to remind myself that it’s about the work. Because if you’re worrying about yourself — if you’re thinking: ‘Am I succeeding? Am I in the right position? Am I being appreciated?’ — then you’re going to end up feeling frustrated and stuck. But if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path. There’s always something to be done."

- Barack Obama

I am 28 and I am actually in a similar situation, but honesly in the last months, my mind started to chillout about getting old with the risk of stay behind. It doesn't really matter the age of a developer, but the most important thing is the curiosity about what he does. A developer without curiosity is a walking-dead-dev, you can be passionate (I don't like the word itself because means suffer in latin) and love your job, but the curiosity is what makes a developer shine. So, unless you lose this, you don't really have to worry, try to learn always as much as you can and keep going on, you will definitely find your path and the way to enjoy what you do.

This is so good. It highlights the importance of working on something bigger than myself.

I "started in earnest" at the age of 11. Now I'm 36 and have CTO in my job title (but I'm very hands on - still a small firm, headcount < 20), and I still feel behind sometimes.

When I talk to younger people about what it is to be a professional programmer, I ask them "Do you like learning? Are you prepared to learn something new every day? Are you prepared to do a job where your task is to quickly learn and apply that learning constantly?"

That is what a programmer is. We all learn from each other. From the stackoverflow copy/paste crowd to the most senior computer scientists you have ever heard of. Some of them have original thoughts, original applications, but mostly we're just this big crowd learning off each other to get things we enjoy doing or are paid to do (and ideally both), done.

Procrastination is your subconscious saying "I really don't want to do this". You either listen to it, or you start telling your subconscious why you do. It's OK to move onto another project. Maybe no projects appeal to you right now. Maybe you need to talk to somebody about anxiety and depression, as you have some of the symptoms.

> I ask them "Do you like learning? Are you prepared to lea ...

you should have been more honest and instead asked them whether they are prepared to sit in front of a computer 95% of the time - whether they like to learn new technologies in their spare time just for the sake of staying competitive no matter if it bears real practical relevance and if they are cool with earning less than their fellow key account manager ...

Compare yourself only to your past self. Don't beat yourself up over other peoples accomplishments. Instead focus on being a better version of your past self. Procrastination will make room for real work when you do.

It's almost hopeless to compete with others without a narrow playing field that, say, sports offers. Due to the fact that everyone has vastly different resources/talent/starting points.

Young people hitting it big makes news copy advertisers like. But news is news because it's out of the ordinary.

Henry Ford was 40 when he finally won. Ray Croc was 52. (Colonel) Harland Sanders was 62, Jon Hamm (Don Draper) was 36, JK Rowling was 32, Thomas Siebel (Seibel Systems) was 41, Reid Hoffman was 35, Robert Noyce (Intel) was 40, Dave Duffield (Peoplesoft) was 46, John Pemberton (Coca-cola) was 55, Henry Kaiser was 63, and Charles Darwin was 50.

You've got plenty of time.

That's a good list right there!

Dude. I didn't learn to program until I was 26. I learned HTML and CSS when I was 18 but didn't do anything with it until age 26. IF I had the same attitude as you when I was 26, I'd still be a mechanic and not the lead web developer at an award winning design studio. Now at 31, I am working on multiple startups outside of work. Why? Because I'm not old until I'm dead, or stop learning..

I'm 37. When someone says they are 26 and 'getting older' it is very irritating to me.

Not every kid is lucky enough to have a rich uncle or show up at the top of the App store. Its just the lucky or privileged or self-identified entrepeneurs few that you see in the news. And it is partially slanted towards articles about young people because that is a more interesting article.

I mentioned 'self-identified entrepeneur' because I think identity has a role to play in this. The person that you really believe you are subconsciously influences your behavior to reinforce that outcome.

So if deep down you think you are a great UI designer and an important app or open source developer, you are likely to put yourself in that position and do things that perpetuate it. For example, you might sleep the couch of a wealthy friend (accelerator) and spend all of your waking hours on your website and startup rather than working a corporate job.

Anyway I think that we create our own cages. Some of them are very easy to fall into, like taking a regular job or watching TV after coming home from work. But if you have a self-image which creates a strong subconscious belief in a different lifestyle, that can help you make choices that will move in that direction.

People accomplish things by dedicating time and effort to them. Its not easy to become famous or make a superior website or project.

Just to add my advice to the list. I'm 35, I went through a path to get to be a developer that took me long, I could call myself "software developer" round 30's, that's by the time I finish my Bachelor degree and found a job related to development. What I did in between was fixing computers, sysadmin, and netadmin .. I always got bored in those jobs as I knew I could do better.

Then I got into the devel world and I started doing the same as you do. But maybe because I became father in between, maybe something else ... I end up turnning off the media noise and add some behaviours:

1. Kill your ego, it just don't help you get better. 2. Read news about tech you find interesting, but just read them, if you feel like, just try them. 3. Start getting off the screen, walk around (meditate, sports, just walk surrounded by nature) 4. Start paying attention around you, what the people close to you struggle with, and maybe help them. 5. Don't reinvent, if you have a tech ich, just browse around, you might find a nice project you can use (open sourced) and maybe start helping there maybe not. 6. Just create a dynamic in you that gets you where you like to be.

After you get this kind of movement in you, success is a question of being in the right place at the right time.

From my side, just followed that list some time ago. Now I'm checking potential things about domotica and it might get me somewhere, might not ... but something I know, I'm moving because I have an ich. And I'm learning a lot!

The rest is just noise you can simply reduce.

I'm sympathetic with your feelings. My advice is to focus on yourself instead of comparing yourself with others. I've often found solace in Max Erhmann's "Desiderata" --- http://mwkworks.com/desiderata.html --- which says:

  If you compare yourself with others,
  you may become vain and bitter;
  for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
  Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
I recommend reading the whole thing; it's beautiful and very inspirational. Also, Richard Feynman has a great quote about disregarding what others are doing, which I guess is from "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman", but can't find his exact words (can anyone help me out?).

From https://imagineer7.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/the-most-importa...

  Feynman wrote one word, in capitals: DISREGARD on his
  notepad when he read that. This word became his motto.
  That, he said, was the whole point. That was what he had
  forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress.
  The way for thinkers like himself to make a breakthrough
  was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and
  make their own interpretations and guesses.
You can't stop time, so you better learn how to deal with getting older. I'm sure you're a great person, just find out what you want to spend your time on and focus on that, and disregard what others are doing. As Max Ehrmann said: "Strive to be happy".

I keep this Reddit post handy whenever I feel the way you do right now. I strongly recommend you read it, and would love to hear your thoughts :)


Good to see Krishnamurti mentioned here!

I warmly recommend The First and Last Freedom and Think on These Things, both books that affected me deeply and improved my life.

Here is the table of contents (from a PDF) from the latter. I recommend getting a hardcopy — it is a short book, to read once a year.

  Authors's Note                                      3
  1. The Function of Education                        4
  2. The Problem of Freedom                           12
  3. Freedom and Love                                 19
  4. Listening                                        28
  5. Creative Discontent                              35
  6. The Wholeness of Life                            42
  7. Ambition                                         49
  8. Orderly Thinking                                 56
  9. An Open Mind                                     64
  10. Inward Beauty                                   71
  11. Conformity and Revolt                           79
  12. The Confidence of Innocence                     87
  13. Equality and Freedom                            95
  14. Self Discipline                                 102
  15. Cooperation and Sharing                         109
  16. Renewing the Mind                               119
  17. The River of Life                               127
  18. The Attentive Mind                              135
  19. Knowledge and Tradition                         144
  20. To Be Religious Is to Be Sensitive to Reality   153
  21. The Purpose of Learning                         161
  22. The Simplicity of Love                          169
  23. The Need to Be Alone                            179
  24. The Energy of Life                              188
  25. To Live Effortlessly                            197
  26. The Mind Is Not Everything                      205

I fail to find the exact ancient Roman quote, but loosely: "The best racer does not seek to be the first". There is a hint of a cognitive strategy here: the person who wastes his/her cognitive resources on comparing oneself to others loses that bit from resources from his/her results. Your mind is not on the topic/goal but on other people. It is a waste of time and energy.

Sure it is useful every once in a while to check out what other people do so as not to re-invent the wheel, but that is about it. Concentrate on what YOU do. Observing other people may end up yielding you nothing.

Created a throwaway to say this since I don't want to give away my medical history..

Basically I struggled with these problems for most of my 20's. Then a year ago I started going into therapy with a psychologist, got tested for ADHD and was diagnosed. Meds changed everything when it came to procrastination. It used to be the cause of so much anguish in my life and today it's almost a non-issue.

Therapy really helped me decouple from the narcissism that had warped me into a compulsive fixation with benchmarking myself against other people. Humbling yourself is important. Spending time on non-code hobbies, with family, away from work and tech industry noise is important.

Not everyone can or should be running a software product, and that's ok. Not everyone is successful in their career at age 26. When your life is surrounded by these skewed values, all this survivor bias, it seems like not being on the frontpage of Product Hunt is a mark of failure. If you head out of the tech bubble, go somewhere with friends or family that have no association with this world, you'll realize that this value system isn't normal.

Also, keep in mind that the people who do run successful projects are often unhappy. Running a product is a lot of work and can be extremely stressful and exhausting. Success is a double-edged sword.

Edit: replaced a rant about wanting to be a successful entrepreneur. This guy just wants to be a good coder, I missed that.

My heart goes out to you, because these are issues I've dealt with my whole life, and I can now, with age, see how pointless it was to get wrapped up in them so tightly. If I could say one thing to you it would be to try and develop a little compassion and love for yourself. Really, make a conscious effort at it, maybe even check out meditation, "Metta meditation" in particular.

First, this sounds like typical ADHD behavior to me. Have you considered the possibility that you may have ADHD? If not, they research it a bit. (Right now -- Go ahead, I'll wait ;-)

Also, you seem to have a constant feeling of insecurity, of being "less than". Even though you have obviously accomplished a lot, you are still in a panic over not accomplishing enough. This is just a guess, but I'd bet it has affected your life in a a lot of ways far beyond your programming career. That's OK, you are certainly not alone, but just something else to mull over in your mind, and why I think mindfulness and metta meditation might be especially useful for you. Check out "Pragmatic Buddhism", as well as Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, Shinzen Young, and simiplar teachers.

I'm stressing meditation because I've found it to be the most effective way to deal with similar issues in my life. It's not fast, or easy, but it seems to be the most effective thing so far.

I'm 44 (and three quarters) - been working in software development for over 20 years, the last 8 or so working for my own business as an enterprise software java contractor on client sites. I've been working on side projects for the last 5 years - and feel I'm only just getting started with it.

I look at it like I'm only at the halfway point in my career - and currently trying to decide the best course for the next 20 years (and beyond, hopefully). I've tried to choose side projects that are aligned to the tech I use in the day job - use them to try out new things and get a better grounding in stuff that I don't necessarily work on full time (android, ios, AWS, etc). Aside from being interesting I've found it a great discussion point in interviews. Hopefully one of the projects might grow into something bigger, but if not - it's no biggie - I've already gained from it.

I've found that releasing stuff early and often keeps me motivated to keep things ticking along. I use JIRA as my organiser/mental notepad to put tasks in as I think of them, and try and grab half an hour every morning, and whatever time at weekends I can to just keep pushing things along. Work when I'm in the mood, and accept there will be weeks/months when I won't have the time or inclination. Over time I find it really satisfying to see things slowly take shape. I'm not too worried about getting anything finished quickly - as I've got the contracting work. If that dries up, or I get any bench time - I've got the side projects to jump into more.

Some great suggestions from somebody with actual experience doing this for decades. Thanks!

I'll second (or third etc) those that previously said you need to sit back and take some perspective. 26 y/o with what looks to be some good experience, and a CS degree at a top 10 university with an emergency fund that can carry you through that much unemployment? You have it made. Maybe I just don't get that sort of drive? Don't get me wrong, I have drive, I'm just guessing not that much. Here's some perspective (and I'm a fortunate soul too):

I'm 38. I didn't go to college out of high school, I went into the Marines. I wanted to be a Journalist, but I didn't score high enough on the ASVAB apparently and got stuck with an Audio/Video job. I was far from a Valedictorian, I scraped by with Bs and Cs. Fast forward years later, having worked many other jobs from factories/warehouses to gas stations; I grew weary and went to college. I was 27. How did you think I felt after little to no career success? I switched Majors three times. Started with the intention of doing Physical Therapy, switched to Pre-Pharmacy, then Biochemistry - struggled immensely, and finally went CS, sort of. I picked a CIS degree because it would have been another year of college to do the CS (the math would have added much of that).

I graduated at 31. I'm not a ninja programmer, and compared to much of HN I'd have to agree I'm pretty mediocre.

So there you have it, one additional perspective in this enjoyable thread. One more data point to show you that you have more than you think, and shouldn't always compare yourself to the extreme outliers.

Edit: for what it's worth, I'm relatively happy with myself as a person if not super proud of my current situation in my career (making much less than I could be).

I'm 29 and have exactly the same problem.

I think visiting sites like HN although interesting, don't help too much with this since you see everyday new projects and ideas, and it makes you feel like you are doing nothing with your time.

I'm 18 and I feel this way very frequently, except with academic credentials instead of age. I feel kind of silly knowing that people with significantly more experience than me feel the same way.

I've been a life-long procrastinator. There is no cure, but it can get better. These are the best articles you can read to help break the cycle:

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastin...

How to Beat Procrastination http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/11/how-to-beat-procrastination.ht...

A few points I haven't seen while scrolling through the comments:

1. Impact of Achievements does not relate to time as much as we think. Someone can start with 50 and make more impact than the most talented programmer made in 30 years of hard work. Maybe you need 2-3 years to get up to speed, but for longer time periods there are too many other factors involved. So if you are really as good as you think (most programmers do, but we can't all be better than all the others) taking your time and working on something that is interesting to work on might be more interesting than a comparison with a guy 10 years younger.

2. Start small. That is even more true for side projects. Do a very tiny thing. Then you can finish it. And if you have more motivation add a second small thing to it. This way even if you lose some motivation you still have something to show for it.

3. Code on something you need. I'm certainly a below average coder, but my best side project is something that started without planning because I wanted to automate a tedious task of mine. I'm working on it from time to time for years now and gradually it becomes more and more useful and nice to use. It's not on Github. It might not help anybody else. But I'm really proud of it, and it really helps me a lot on an almost daily basis.

4. That also means the code itself has no value, but what the program helps you do has value. If you don't code something that does something useful, than your project is meaningless. And by far the easiest person to please is yourself.

5. The most valuable programmers and the ones who have achieved something in the eyes of the public are not the same. Your mother might think Steve Jobs must have been a much better programmer than you. But he's not even a programmer at all. Public recognition is not what we think it is as 20 somethings.

Would you mind shedding some light on your automation tool?

This subthread reminds me of a procrastination-calibration tool and one of the finest pieces of software ever written -- EccoPro. Abandoned in its prime twenty years ago, it remains unmatched in function, has been virtually bug free, remains operational on Windows, and has been extended to support Lua scripts via binary patching. Full-text search and n-dimensional views of N dreams/projects, to surface non-obvious relationships and metastructure.

I can't talk about that tool in public, sorry. It's also not so impressive in itself. The only thing that makes it awesome is that enables me to speed up a taunting task and enables me to do something else while my program works in the background. It might not be helpful to anybody else, because they might not spend that much time on doing that task. The code is also not really designed in any fashion to be applied to even the same task with just a little detail changed.

Two points:

1) The examples you see are biased in the extreme. The most sucessful are held up to an extreme degree, so that the average of what you see is six or seven sigma ability. This is not even close to being the actual average.

By having a couple years of savings, you are probably actually 3 or 4 sigmas ahead.

2) We all wish we started earlier. The truth is that I am not who I was 5 years ago. That person was an idiot and if I had started a business then I wouldn't have been successful. The person who was me 5 years before that was a complete lunatic and I am surprised I ever had any friends then. That person fortunately hadn't moved out from home yet, or I wouldn't have gotten anything to eat.

So you see I couldn't have started earlier, because I didn't exist. Sure the person with my DNA who walked around existed and I have that persons memories, that persons scars (in some cases literally), etc but he isn't me.

Therefore wishing I had started earlier is as productive as wishing I had been born a millionare.

As someone who's 37 all I can say is don't worry. I had a few years like that. I got a renaissance love to code and an inner motivation only at age 30 (I'm coding since I'm 20, but I was a mediocre enterprise java grunt) Only now I started my master degree, open source projects, learning tons of new languages and instead of watching tv I watch MOOCS or read technical books or write in my blog or work on one of my side projects. I get unsolicited emails from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Linked-In (sadly no greencard yet but I also love my existing job too much to move) Bottom line, relax, when I was 26 I swore I will never code again, but things change when you grow up. I would kill to have all the free time I had when I was 26. (I am married wnd have two kids) but even at my old age, you can still be passionate about tech, still be more than relevant, and you don't have to compare yourself to anyone but yourself.

I had a working pal that was amazing, great family, the world was his property at 20 something. He got cancer and soon he was dead(nine months).

Thinking about death is a great thing to identify what is important in life. Also traveling. In India I saw a bus filled of kids that had been mutilated ON PURPOSE for asking money to tourist.

I mean today there are kids in India whose eyes are being burned, or bones being crushed, so someone else could profit from it. This puts all your problems in perspective.

At the end of your life if you look back what would you be proud of? Of a beautiful website?. Fancy projects? glory? money? I don't think so.

There is a reason for procastination. Your subconscious is a great BS detector.

Read or listen "the Now habit" audiobook to understand it from experts in the area.

Nobody can do everything. There are things that you hate to do and some you love, and the solution is not you forcing yourself to do what you abhor. The solution is to find someone who loves doing what you hate.

Companies naturally do mix different people so they complement each other, the sum is much bigger than its parts. This is the problem of indies, going alone could meant paralysis because you hate so much a (small) part of your journey that blocks you.

The reason you hate to do something is normally your personality type. There is a reason there are different personality types: all of them are better for different things.

People tend to rationalize their own personality as the best and undervalue all others. E.g If you are chaotic, fast problem solver you could despise perfectionist low paced problem solvers. Big error.

I bet there are things on your work that you better would love not to do. Get rid of them getting someone to do it as fast as you can. You won't need tv when your job is the best thing you can do at any given moment.

Celebrate the graveyard of side projects. Accept that not everything will be seen through to completion for one reason or another. The years will fly past and you will get to this position eventually, so you might as well do it now and have some fun on the way.

One day you will have children and you will come to realise that raising the next generation is an absolute joy and often the greatest lasting achievement many of us have. As long as you have some ability to provide for your family, then the adoring faces of your kids make for a great fallback position.

There are countless people out there who have a mundane and unremarkable working life but, in accepting that, have a lot more spare time to enjoy their life in progress.

I imagine like many of us here, you enjoy a lot about the process of working on side projects, so make sure that enjoyment is as much a part of it as any concerns about potential success.

You're comparing yourself to others and it's making you feel like shit. Honestly, the problems you're experiencing is small compared to the shit that's worth fretting about (degrading health, lost of family/friends). When you're 40 and you look back at your 20's, you will feel fortunate to have the problems you're having now.

Find ways to start enjoying life now. Don't let pride get into the way. Your ego may demand you to live up to an unrealistic identity. Compare yourself to your old self and not others. That being said, it's easier said than done. But if you habitually and intentionally change the way you view yourself (like how a recovering anorexic looks at him/herself in the mirror), your change in thoughts will change the way how you feel. It'll take time but you'll eventually get there.

I would say I'm ten times more productive at 35 than I was at 26. Seek inspiration, self-knowledge and maturity away from the computer screen. Climbing a mountain as a metaphor for making persistent progress with a project works much better when you have struggled to climb a mountain or two in the fog.

I think one of the key points would be to stop comparing yourself to others. You're you, they are not.

Set manageable goals for yourself and strive to achieve those. Over time you'll hit those goals and be able to set yourself another. They can be short term goals (wake up every morning at 6:00) and long term (learn x language), but the main thing is that you focus on them and strive to achieving them rather than comparing yourself to others.

Do this[1] to get you to love learning again and deal with procrastination/time management/life-juggling. You'll know some of this stuff already. Finish it anyway. Best value for time of anything educational that I have done - bar none, hands down, etc.

Take one of these[2] when comparing youself to other people. If you had spent time to brand yourself, you'd probably look at least twice as good as "hot-shot young dev with handful of fancy projects". Public image and developer prowess aren't necessarily related.[3]

If, like many devs, your procrastination issues were related to.. hm.. illicit substances-well, you know the answer to that: "Pan metron ariston"[4] ~= "moderation is everything".

> Mentally, I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me.

It hardly sounds like you've done that. So you didn't reach your max. potential in this "procrastination decade". Guess what: nobody does.

Don't let shit haunt you. The past is immutable. Change your present and future.

[1] https://class.coursera.org/learning-003/

[2] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Chill+Pill I sure as f- need them.

[3] If you gave yourself the mini-project: "Let's make this X bad dev look good", you'd probably succeed for most X. If you care about your public perception, make that your mini project and you'll find that when you're done, your image will be A+++ - as you're not a bad dev.

[4] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/642841-pan-metron-ariston-ev...

Hi - I just wanted to say "thanks" for the link to the coursera course. I'm going through it now and really enjoying it.

The key thing here is procrastination, not age. Remember that technical articles have the same positive bias as Facebook, except its even worse. On Facebook you only get to see only the best parts of the lives of your friends: when reading technical articles, you're competing with the best in the industry that also had the most luck and everything else fall into place a while ago - otherwise it wouldn't be newsworthy.

Don't look back at where you've been . . .

There are lots of people in their 30s and 40s working on their first startup/business idea. You're ahead of them.

Focus on where you're going.

26 is young, just make the most of your at bats, keep on top of your procrastination and 'make it happen'.

Don't look back, focus, go get it.

If you'd have started at 25 (that was a year ago), 21 you were enjoying university life, 19 you were a kid still.

26 is the perfect launching point, go get it.

Same age, used to have same mindset when I was right out of college.

I now believe, firmly, that being intensively competitive with everyone like that, constantly comparing yourself to others, will greatly increase your chances of failure. People who accomplish truly great things, technology, sports, politics, philosophy, whatever... get so invested in their vision that they pay zero attention to what others are doing except in a practical sense, and they definitely don't measure themselves by other's external standards.

I mean, if I were an investor or something, and I knew that all you really cared about was success for the sake of success, I would get out real quick.

You should do some introspecting, make some tough changes, and get rid of a stifling mindset like that.

One technical aspect you didn't consider:

The work you wish you'd done sooner (1 to 6 years ago), would have been done with that year's tech. Starting an app 6 years ago, whatever idea, would have been harder to do. Early versions of mature frameworks we enjoy now weren't as easy to deal with. In the last few years things have gotten much faster.

It's easy to see how easy work is to do today and look back and say, "If only I had those lost years!" but that's not the case, that work would have been different by it's nature, due to the tech.

If only you'd started your app 15 years ago! You could have gone through the fresh hell of flash, php, hand writing deployment and basically being a sysadmin!

> I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19 — then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer.

This theoretical regret about a progress bar to presumed "answers" assumes that the "question" was not changed by your life experience.

> Mentally, I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me.

It's only procrastination if you fail to trust your own choices and find the inevitable lessons therein.

A haunting thought: what if your subconscious was seeking something while "procrastinating"? What if you already found it?

It sounds like you might have an anxiety disorder. You should seek out a therapist or counselor to discuss this. It's unfortunate that there is such negative baggage associated with therapy -- I have found it to be immensely helpful in learning more about myself and how to manage my own anxiety and depression (key word being "manage" -- these are aspects of who you are and can't be changed, but you can learn to accept them and deal with them instead of just wishing them to go away). Best of luck.

There are tons of people who have all sorts of coding accomplishments. I don't have any in particular, but I also don't care. I do enjoy working in this field, it's never been an issue of being forced into it, but I also don't live and breathe code.

There are a ton of things I like to do outside of work, and 99% of them involve 0 coding/architecture/programming. I don't have any notion of what a programmer "should" be, and, after working at a bunch of different places, I know that there is no one definition of who a programmer is.

You're putting this pressure on yourself because you're reading sensationalized articles. This is no different than a little girl seeing a wicked skinny model and becoming anorexic in hopes of being that. The people pumping out tons of great code and projects are anomalies. The headlines you see relating to them are all to get you to click on someone's blog or website, to use their project, or to tell you why you should hire them. It's all marketing.

My advice to you would be to stop worrying about this stuff. It's completely pointless in the end. You're not going to be on your deathbed thinking "oh I should've created more open source projects." This point in your life could be something you totally forget about. You've only been working professionally for, what, 3 or 4 years?

I hate the Packers, but Aaron Rodgers had some good advice in a press conference last year: R-E-L-A-X

Great piece of advice! My only complaint is I wish I had written it :)

Listen, I'm 25. We are not old. To combat those feelings, I remember two things.

1. I'm 25. I still have like... 60 years left. That's a long time.

2. "There were never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow" - that's a line from a Gogol Bordello song that's always resonated with me and helps me put that feeling of having wasted my life so far into perspective.

(Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aZwFQbeD1k)

Come talk to me when you're almost 44 and have the same feeling.

I've probably accomplished more than some: I'm the co-author of 3 tech books on jQuery Mobile, I have a number of 1000+ star projects on GitHub, I do contract work on the side and more. Yet I still feel that I'm not doing enough.

The thing is that you have to feel okay with what you're doing. If you want to do more, then do it. If you'd rather take time and chill on the couch, then go for it. You probably work hard during the day.

Here are some random bits from my perspective:

1) Don't worry too much about what others have done because in some way you are still ahead of the curve if it matters.

2) Focus on the work you can somehow find interesting. The work does not have to be challenging to be interesting.

3) Don't work too much but when you work block your time for one or two hours sprints. Try to put some music on auto-replay.

4) Reward yourself every few hours like by taking a walk or just stepping back to reflect.

5) Remember if you have a problem there are tons of other people who would have the same problem.

6) Find a meetup that you can really find your place in and regularly go to the meetings. Focus on the quality of friendships you can make.

7) Nobody is genuinely happy in whatever condition they are in. Everyone has a story. And that's ok.

8) If we all would be genuinely happy there would not be much to live for.

9) Try not to hold grudges. We only have a limited number of our brain CPU cycles. Try not to waste them especially at peak time.

10) If you have a lot of interesting ideas to work on that's super cool. Don't get too carried away with the popular notion of being focused. It sounds good to say but nobody knows what they are talking about.

Last but not least, don't read too much especially the blogosphere. Write your own story. Get a blog up. And it's OK to be in conflict with oneself.

It sounds like you need to do a month vacation (or two weeks, whatever you can). The first half of your vacation, go off-grid completely. No cell phone, no computer, no internet - just you, your tent, and nature. Be it camping/fishing/hunting/surfing/skiing - spend at least a week explicitly not staring at a screen - just de-stressing and listening. Get an hour massage, go swimming and soak in a hot tub, take a legit vacation that would make both your younger self and will make your older self jealous.

When you're back from vacation, you can plot a new course for success, with reasonable milestones.

edit: to answer the question in the title: When you find people that are better than yourself, write to them with two simple points: 1: let them know what exactly it is that you admire in their work 2. politely ask for specific resources/advice with regard to that thing.

When you find someone that is better than yourself, it should be reassuring rather than stressful because 1) it proves that it is possible to be that good and 2) it provides you an example to learn from. You can build upon the work they've done. You don't have to start from scratch/reinvent the wheel - you are actually at the advantage.

You're 26? I'm also 26. Like me, your friends are probably also out there graduating from med/law school, getting married turning into parents. I also have that gnawing feeling from the tick-tock in my mind, and my lack of success, but I'm slowly getting there. The best way for me to complete things is to just make a list on what I need to do to reach the goals I want and to just slowly cross things off. i.e. if i do this, I'll be able to do this next, otherwise if you just look at the big picture, it'll just seem impossible. There are always people who are going to be younger and better than us, and if you ask them most of them will attribute their success to two things: extraordinary luck & timing and gut-wrenching hard work.

Coincidentally this was on the imgur fp http://imgur.com/gallery/OLB8s and the comments are mostly of people who worked hard and did what they wanted, and in their eyes, they're the success they wanted themselves to be and that they just never gave up and kept working on what they wanted to be.

Creation is passion I believe all developers share. Many are always working hard, trying to find the the next thing but forget to appreciate what we have right in front of us. Family, friends, good health.

Stop thinking about work. Start thinking about life. You're in your 20's. You have the rest of your entire life to think about work. Take your savings, grab a friend/family member, or go it solo, and go travel.

Right now. Before you get a second older. Before you start another job or think you don't have enough money. Before you have kids. Before you think about more work. Tomorrow you'll wake up and be 30 something, with kids, a fat mortgage and real life expenses and you won't have the freedom you clearly do at this point.

Take the chance of a life time and go travel. Go recharge. Go create a life altering experience. Do it with someone you love. Because when our time is at an end the things that matter are the people you love and the experiences you shared. Not what you built, not your HN posts, not your code, not your company or projects.

People remember people and maybe along the way you'll learn about yourself. This is the goal everyone shares.

Age doesn't matter. You're making up a reason to feel inferior.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ― Mark Twain


Short answer: You don't.

Do what makes you happy. Ultimately, your subconscious is going to work against you until you are aligned with your true desires. Better to wake up and realize that sooner rather than later. Ultimately, the life you think you want to lead is probably out of alignment with the life you actually want to lead.

Honestly, you sound like me. Being the best is just super hard work, and I've recognized that I'm not. I'm 38 and I've just returned to software development after a 10 year hiatus in management during which I wrote maybe two small perl programs. Now I'm happy just to be back writing code, and I don't feel like I have to change the world any more.

So you're not the best. You pick up and continue. Honestly, your anxieties look ridiculous to a 38 year old, just like my anxieties must look ridiculous to a 50 year old. You could die tomorrow. Live life in the way that brings you the most joy.

Every morning, I ask myself, "Just when do you plan on getting out of the bed?" And then I hop right out of bed.

I think vijucat is right that you probably still need to figure out what you even want out of life. Just, for every answer you come up with, then ask yourself "and then what will I have?" And if the cycle doesn't end somewhere with "happiness", then you're not on the right track.

It's important to decide on your own metrics for success and not let others dictate it to you. Who are you working for, anyway? I mean, in the most basic sense, are you working to make a life for yourself or a life for these other people? What should their opinion on your success matter?

Then get really fucking honest with yourself. If you really, truly love software development, and you're goofing off on HN all the time, yeah, you're a piece of shit. Don't hide from that fact. Get it wedged deeply into your head "I've spent the last 3 hours trawling HN for content, I am a piece of shit." And maybe you'll learn to have some respect for your time.

Speaking of respect for your time, I also find that forcing myself to not work outside of work hours makes the work hours more "real" to me, and I get a lot more done during that time. I try to guard my time: this over hear is the time I spend goofing off, this over hear is the time I work, I don't want work to encroach on my goofing off, so I don't let goofing off encroach on my work.

Part of that comes from understanding that there is effectively an infinite amount of work. The work will always be there, and I will die before it is done. There is no sense in burning my entire life away without any enjoyment on a fool's errand. Unless you're a fire-fighter or an emergency room doctor, there is no such thing as urgency to work, it is all an invented construct. So don't let other people force it on you.

As an aging developer who's on the wrong side of 41 yrs (or say 42, or 43 ..) , I am surprised by your impatience (to put it mildly).

Don't develop an ambition just because others have it. You have decades left in you. You seem to be unhappy now.

Glass half-full, or half-empty ? Upto you.

You are a top-10 CS - that pretty much means you know a lot. Shouldn't be overly reading those technical articles. You are denying, or discounting knowledge that you have in you. Have patience with yourself. Back yourself.

Whether you are ambitious or not - you will get there. As long as you don't become a veggie, or an addict. Your skills and talent will take you places without overloading your anxious psyche with fake ambition. Things will happen if you stay away from the wrong places and the wrong times. Takes time - no, I am not saying you need to wait till 41 (or 42 ..). Decades sooner.

I don't know what to tell you. I'll be 50 in less than a year, and I am learning new things on my own constantly as I have been since I started programming 35 years ago. The only difference I feel is that I am able to learn faster (and a deeper level) then when I was half my age. One thing I've really gotten good at is learning. I know how to do it.

I don't expect my behavior to change any time soon.

I think if you have have the attitude that learning is only something you do to prepare for work, but then when work starts, you don't have to learn as much as you did before, then you're going to get frustrated really soon.

What you know now will be half as useful in 5 years, and practically useless in 10 -- for the most part.

But if you embrace life-long learning, you will adjust how you live your life. You'll allocate time to do, and allocate time to learn. Give yourself goals such as, "learn a new programming language each year" -- or whatever your passion is. If you're a DBA, then learn a new Database each year.

The mistake a lot of people make is they only learn things that they believe they need for their immediate job rather than learn things for the sake of learning. The latter is when you get the "aha" moments, that bit of spark that makes you realize you've not only learned something new, but something that can be practical in your daily job.

As one example, last year I spent time learning Haskell. It has made me a better C# and JavaScript developer.

Don't beat yourself up for watching TV. Just set small achievable goals with a reasonable time-frame, and stick to it. You say you don't have a fancy web-site, well make it your goal to create the best one you can possibly create in 2015. Make the goal real. Tell yourself that you'll blog about it and talk about it at local meet-ups in 2016 -- talk about your experience creating it.. from the initial goals all the way to completion, including what you've learned from the experience. Then it becomes something real and tangible.

Forget about what other people are doing - focus on what you want to do. That is my philosophy towards software development - while I do spend a lot of time coding and contributing to open source, I don't feel like a slave to it, and am more than willing to not do it when I don't feel like it or don't want to.

I am 30 - I only started professionally coding almost 2 1/2 years ago. Compared to some of the younger hotshots out there, I'm behind, and that's ok - I accept that. The important thing is to learn new things, and from whatever you can. What other people do doesn't matter when it comes to improving yourself because all you can do is control your life.

Is it possible that the cycle of procrastination and anxious regret is an elaborate defense mechanism?

I think the reality of the situation could be that you are afraid that if you actually focused on a project and put a lot of time and your best effort into it, it would still fail.

And, to protect yourself from that potential outcome, you sabotage your efforts with procrastination and then tell yourself a convenient fiction after the fact: "If I had only focused, I, too, could be a hotshot."

Possible solutions include learning to accept mediocrity, bracing for failure and going for it anyway, and therapy.

Or maybe you just need a partner (or team) to help you stay focused and motivated? That helps me.

"Whenever I encounter a technical article, I immediately and compulsively investigate the author's age"

What technical article? About the latest js fad? About the latest "Software Craftsmanship" pointless discussion?

You went to CS, you know the fundamentals, the rest is syntactic sugar, small differences and tradeoffs.

Yeah, a lot of unfinished projects. Or maybe not, some of them I used for a certain purpose, or even some I use pretty much always.

Don't try to catch up with everybody which is what you're doing.

Meanwhile someone is doing the next billion dollar project in PHP and MySQL (or maybe node.js and MongoDb) without using a Docker container...

Having experienced similar when I was your age (I'm now 41) here's what I've found useful:

1) never ever compare yourself to others, especially based on age. do your thing. for you.

2) wanting to achieve things in life is great but how young you do them really doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does

3) wanting to achieve things in life is great but the way you treat people day-to-day trumps any achievement

4) go with where your energy is and let your goals emerge from that rather than expect the other way around. Don't set a goal of running a marathon if you hate running.

I have this problem.

I have also Youtube, 9GAG and other websites "for fun". I tried so much ways to break with "fun sitting", but I have no success with it.

So, in one day I've noticed, that only one way to stop wasting time is remove all the unuseful stuff from subscriptions and make some body exercises (really!).

I've had this trouble. Now I'm trying to resolve it.

And. One thing from me... I live in poor family. One thing that really spins my gears is terrifying future - I don't want that my kids will be living like I. So, I should take care on my future to make it better.

You shouldn't forget the impact of luck and the environment on people. For every successful band in their early 20s there are probably many thousands of better musicians out there that are just getting by. I also know a number of people who were significantly more successful than me at 26, but were unable to sustain that success as the lack of skill and experience reversed their luck in the long run.

For me, 26 was an age where I started to focus on my general productivity. My most productive time initially was in my teens, where I learned and achieved a lot from the age of 15 to 19, so much that it put me well ahead of others my age and really carried me through a comfortable career until I was 26. During those years of working I didn't have a computer at home. I went out, I was rarely at home, I partied a lot, I dated and I developed a lot of social and cultural skills at that time. I did things that didn't count as successful projects, but developed and educated me in so many ways, just like spending years on HN will let you grow a wide body of knowledge but you might end up with nothing to show for it. After 26 I also had enough work experience to land jobs where I had both the skill plus the autonomy to take on interesting and useful projects at work that I could get stuck into. It's only deep into my 30s that I developed the ability to focus and complete projects outside of my working hours.

This is something I've worried about for a while, and ultimately I've come to the conclusion that as cool as these hotshot young people are, being one of them would go against my basic personality.

Y'see, I'm a fundamentally uncreative person. I'm not the kind of person who will come up with a project idea and build an app from nothing. That's not me. On the other hand, you tell me you want me to build something for you, and I'll build you a damn good piece of software.

I've always been a more "behind-the-scenes" person. I'm the grunt whose hard work in the background enables the superstars to go out and do their thing. And I've found that I _enjoy_ that. It gives me a lot of personal pleasure to help and support people, especially people who I feel deserve my support. I've realized that I'd be much happier being the kingmaker than being the king. I guess this is why I'm more drawn to systems programming: it's behind-the-scenes supporting work, suitable for a behind-the-scenes supporting person.

I could also get into Myers-Briggs typology here. I'm fairly sure I'm an ISFJ, and what I've described is very, very ISFJ. Though I've got a bit of an INTP streak too (both types share the same cognitive functions, just in a different order, so I'd say my INTP streak is mostly a case of my weaker functions "flaring up"), and that accounts for my interest in systems architecture.


    When an archer is shooting for nothing
    He has all his skill.
    If he shoots for a brass buckle
    He is already nervous.
    If he shoots for a prize of gold
    He goes blind
    Or sees two targets—
    He is out of his mind!

    His skill has not changed. But the prize
    Divides him. He cares.
    He thinks more of winning
    Than of shooting—
    And the need to win
    Drains him of power. 
From "The Way of Chuang Tzu", as translated by Thomas Merton, © 1965.

Ask yourself why you must be so productive and ambitious in the first place. Your self worth is clearly tied into that list of accomplishments; why is that so? Maybe try writing down a list of reasons why you believe accomplishment is the greatest measure of your own worth, and see if they make logical sense to you when you think deeply about them.

At the same time, ask yourself why you procrastinate. Come up with a list of reasons for that as well. Probably a strong reason is that you're afraid of failure (since you need successful accomplishments so badly to feel self worth). Only when the anxiety of not finishing anything outweighs the anxiety of failing something do you not procrastinate. This is what happens when your primary motivator is anxiety.

Thirdly, ask yourself why in particular minimizing (age/accomplishments) is so important to you. If you live an average lifespan, you still have 2/3 of your life left to accomplish what you want. If you started from scratch now, you could still make major contributions to most fields in under 10 years time. If you're worried about declining brain health with age, do things which minimize the decline (avoiding excessive anxiety is probably a good place to start).

Consider that most people regret not spending enough time with friends and family, not fully appreciating life, and not communicating how they really feel, when they die. They don't regret not working more.

I struggle with this myself from a few angles (my educational background is in creative writing, and I've been a bit of a late-bloomer, but I also experience this with programming as well). I'll give you my best conclusion (which has to some extent helped me put this sensation in my rear-view):

In almost every field there is some type of prodigal-genius, and its bearers find a lot of success at a very young age. Society is in general enamored with these stories, because by and large most 25 year olds have accomplished little to nothing of note (these days, even accomplishing financial independence by that age is a coup). These people get an outsized amount of attention because of their precocious talent and drive. Because we talk about them so much, they loom much larger in our minds than they do in the real world. There aren't as many of them as you perceive there to be, and they can also be prone to burning brightly until they burn out (especially in the arts). Coverage of these people tends to ignore: the role luck often plays, and the costs that sometimes come with going so fast and achieving success so early (i.e., the things they've ignored, the blind spots they can only fill with maturity, and the struggles these will cause as they grow old enough that no one's willing to overlook these flaws anymore).

In almost every field there's another type of genius that is borne more like new leather; it takes a while to break in. It takes experience, maturity and much wear for its bearers to grow comfortable with and capable of showing it off in the world.

Sounds like you`re trying to peg a square peg into a round hole.

We all want to be Tony Stark. A captain of industry, successful philanthropist and daring philanderer.

The truth is, this is about as realistic an outcome as winning the lottery. Doesn`t stop hordes of people from becoming addicted to the possibility and wasting their time and money on that impossible outcome.

Stop fantasizing about becoming Tony Stark, and start living your own life. Maybe programming doesn`t really make you happy, and its just a means to an end. That`s perfectly fine. Find a position with solid work life balance that allows you to enjoy your life outside of work.

The HN crowd tends to idolize a tiny sliver of programmers who enjoy writing code for the sake of it. I know very, very few people who can`t think of anything better to do with their free time than to write code. For most of us, its just a trade that pays well and is somewhat enjoyable. It`s a means to an end.

Sure, we can fantasize about building the next PayPal, but in all honesty there`s plenty to enjoy in life without having a net worth in the billions.

Stop measuring yourself using absurd metrics. You`re falling into the trap of an internet world. It would be like comparing yourself to the King of England a few hundred years ago. Unrealistic and absurd.

The world is not meritocratic, and it sure as hell isn`t equal opportunity. You`re alive, you`re healthy, and you`re relatively smart. Enjoy that while it lasts, and fuck the rest.

Calm down, I'm 38. Your biggest critic is yourself and your surrounding influences. Age discrimination may be alive and kicking amongst the younger crowd who want to be with their own age group but there is still much out there that needs doing on projects where they value the experience of older devs - not that you come close to qualifying as "older". Take heart, you're not old until you let yourself be classified as such. Shun the label and get on with the work to be done.

Dude I'm 33. I didn't even own a computer until my late teens. You can't compare yourself to people who had a different upbringing and a different time. Even 3 years difference is a life time in terms of technological advances.

Just do what you can do and don't be so hard on yourself.

I'm 33 and am a CTO at a seed funded startup doing node and react. And I've only been 100% JS for about 4 years. (c++ before that)

Just do what you want and don't worry. Even if you just want to watch netflix now and then. :)

You need to find a new metric of success than comparing yourself to others' achievements. And at the same time, your comparison of your age to others is completely broken. No one under ~20, or over ~80 matters as points of comparison to "career age" and on that 20-80 scale, you're very young, so your obsession with your age as somehow being old and "too late" is quite simply, stupid. The bottom line is, I think you still haven't found a sufficiently interesting project that you compare yourself to yourself, rather than to others.

What you seem to care about is working on a "great project" as defined by others rather than something you think is interesting and therefore great all by itself no matter what anyone else thinks. This is classic lack of self-confidence.

And as for finding motivation to overcome procrastination, sometimes you need to merely be disciplined to overcome it. You have to recognize, and trust your assessment of the proper priority of a task, and when it's important enough you just do that task as a matter of discipline, not as a function of enjoying it. And sometimes you need to plot procrastination and just enjoy it.

When you're 80, I pretty much guarantee you you're not going to say, "fuck me man, I wish I would have worked more."

> I've been working hard on my first big project, and I expect it's going to be a great one.

It's probably not going to be a great one (especially if it's your first). Don't build things for the success, you'll always be disappointed. Build them because you want to solve a problem and enjoy the actual work. If all you enjoy is potential future rewards of success, you probably won't be able to suffer through the long, thankless work it takes to get there.

Don't be sad that you can't change the past: you weren't the person you are now 6 years ago. But be happy that you can change yourself, and get better over time. Don't let the stress of not measuring up destroy you, but definitely let it propel you forward, to keep pushing yourself to do better. Not better by someone else's metric but by your own.

Would you like to create and maintain useful projects that you love to write and people love to use? Then it's not to late at all! Edward Kmett maintains a ton of widely used haskell libraries. He had a successful career as a software developer, went back and got his master's degree in his 30's, learned haskell, and became a leading figure in the community. Not just as a hacker, but he gained a deep knowledge of the mathematics behind haskell and made numerous contributions.

Think about that. At 26, you may not even have found the thing that you'll become famous for yet. You may not even know anything about the field that it'll be found in. The only way to get better is to push yourself, and little by little you'll become more disciplined, and learn more.

Read, push yourself, code, learn. You aren't dead yet, and don't let the achievements of people younger than you make you feel like you are.

I feel your pain. I'm quite a bit older than you are. Programming is my second career and I'm competing with people who have been doing it their whole lives.

I must say, it sounds like you're being VERY hard on yourself. Having a CS degree degree from a top 10 school and enough money in the bank to freelance for a few years puts you in a really good position.

Stop constantly comparing yourself to others. Set some realistic goals for yourself. Those goals should be based on what will make you happy, not what will make you feel like you measure up to others.

When was the last time you took a vacation? You may be a bit burned out. This will definitely cause you to procrastinate. Take some time off to refresh and recharge your battery.

Also, do you suffer from depression or anxiety? If so you may want to consider doing some therapy. Do you have a social life? Do you do fun things on a regular basis? If not, start making time to improve the quality of your life. I suspect that most of your problems are not career problems but side effects of general unhappiness. When you find happiness it will solve the other problems.

One last piece of advice. Going "indie" is not for everyone. I have a feeling it's not for you. You may find that you will flourish in a staff job that you truly love.

Best of luck friend!

I was in the same boat as you, just a little older ( 27) and created a web application www.ledenboek.be (it's also in English). It was a niche, but i don't think "sportclubs" have enough money. So i just abandoned it ( i have one customer - created an emailing application to email the 50 partners (emails) that he gave me).

It was a learning experience and i'm really considering about sharing my experience with others when i'm more successfull then now ( i have my own small company now, but not enough to talk about it)... I do plan to talk about it though... ( when i earn more ).

If anyone would be interested (this seems like a nice place to put it), there is a newly subscription list on http://goo.gl/forms/Ck1kK7YuhJ - I called it "Moving away from reaching too high - when to pick a stable income".

I cancelled plans (for now) on creating a web application without knowing it has a future (= income) and i'm planning to get a more stable income (already happening and i'm only 1 year further -- i have a full time job also - so i have no pressure).

I really hope you enjoy what you do though... 99% of the mass never create a successfull web application.

I made this account to reply to you. Take or leave these ideas, it's all love to me. You sound burned out with your chosen profession. And it also sounds like there's a little fear-of-failure in your procrastination habits. Normally I try and avoid speaking for others but I only say this because it mirrors closely a lot of experiences I've had. I remember feeling the same way partially through school and basically every day after. I don't have a solution for you, but I have some suggestions. I remember at 26 feeling so old. And it's true - you are the oldest you have ever been. And you always will be. So you should probably forgo the obsessive comparison of your age with others. But 26 is a great age - it's probably the best time to be young. You have more resources, but you can still go a little wild without really alienating anyone. You still get to have adventures, you still get to make mistakes. Don't get me wrong, you can do that when you're much older too, but the stakes tend to get higher. You have money saved up for years? Take a long fantastic trip. Alone. Meet new people. See new places. Maybe it will relax you. Maybe it will give you fresh ideas. But at 26, I guarantee it will reshape you. SE Asia is so incredibly cheap yet well-trodden, The US is sprawling and gorgeously diverse, Europe is a different adventure with every train you take, Africa is... wild. Point being that you can start in your own backyard or halfway around the world, but you're at a time where you can really take advantage of the experience. Also, you're probably better looking now than you'll ever be again. Take advantage of that while you can.


What problem? You just haven't had an idea that was big enough to interrupt your life yet. In my personal judgment (after skimming your text, and deciding based on specifically you, OP), eventually you will. It's kind of a stochastic process, though, and can happen anytime. I also think it's a poisson distribution. The fact that it hasn't happened to date doesn't make it any less likely to occur this year.

I'm nearly forty years old.

I can't claim that I don't ever feel the way you do. But honestly, those feelings come to me only rarely now.

Behind the things you have written is a motivation you don't realize. You are trying to win the approval of other people.

At some point in your life you will realize there is not much point in impressing people. They are just like you. Mostly they are concerned about their own lives. No matter what you do, people will only think about you for a small moment of time, and then their own lives will be most important again. So why do you care so much about these external things that impress other people for only a short moment in time? Anyone that is famous, that writes about fame, admits its kind of a burden and not much benefit.

The primary benefit of fame and notoriety is in finding mates and collaborators. But even with modest levels of success you can cultivate those things, without the psychic burden of trying to impress people all the time.

Trying to impress everyone is an endless treadmill. Even if you get some success, there will be a little man in your head that tells you that you are successful only because of luck. You'll want to reach up for the next rung on the ladder.

1) Remember that tech news is biased towards that kind of people. They are the "ideal", young "wizkids", the ones that fit the narrative. The fact that you don't hear about 30 or 40-something entrepeneurs/engineers with great ideas that make a difference and/or make millions doesn't mean they don't exist.

2) You need to understand that there is always going to be somebody better, more talented and/or more hardworking. Remember to play the market, assess yourself objectivly, understand your strengths, understand the context, see the real problem, know where to push and get good at timing your pushes. Don't bruteforce, be sophisticated, precise and elegant. And most importantly, understand that the alternative to "The Constant Grind" is NOT being a couch potato. Remember that beating yourself accomplishes nothing. Be prepared to accept that if the procastination is too deep maybie, just maybie, you might just be lying to youself when you say you "love" what you are doing.

3) Read Patrick Mckenzie's blog: http://www.kalzumeus.com/

> I'm a 26 y.o. software dev working on going indie...Every morning, I take tally of my age.

26 is a fantastic age. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise! I would literally part with my right testicle if I could be 26 again, knowing what I know now. The chances are very, very good that you are more attractive, intelligent, and energetic than you realize. Most 20-somethings don't have the life experience to put these things in proper perspective. Just as sure that you're not as good a driver as you think, you've got a lot more going for you than you realize.

> Whenever I encounter a technical article, I immediately and compulsively investigate the author's age.

There are so many ways of being awesome, just like there are so many ways of making money. You don't have to be what other people are.

> Mentally, I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me.

That doesn't exist, except in people's minds, especially yours. Just do something now.

> But I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19

Late 40's here. I know how you feel. Take it from me: You have no business feeling like that!

Do some ops stuff in your free time. Setup an awesome VPN with a jumpbox. Setup a MySQL/LAMP cluster. Put an nginx server in front of it. Replicate the databases properly. Setup iptables properly and script the configurations so you can deploy new boxes.

I did this for a while and it really helped to motivate me because it was different type of work, but it puts you in a position where literally all you have to do is write the code. You have a production stack, a launch pad so to speak, everythings nice and pretty, now all you have to do is build a rocket. Don't try to build a fantastic one on the first iteration, just do it. I find using Python for initial versions of anything is a good idea because it's quick to code. After that find the bottlenecks and micro-service using languages that seem appropriate for the various bottlenecks.

Start small man. Don't focus on the light at the very end of the tunnel, you will think it's too far and get discouraged, especially if you're watching everyone else. Focus on the beta launch and the minimal set of features required. You'll be surprised after you see it running how inspiring it will be to start cranking out code.

Hi! I had similar situation. It was worse because the source of my professional and business envy was the my old friend and classmate. He built a successful IT business at 25, - in a country where it's very difficult to do. A self-made man. This fact made me nervous and caused a deep and long depression. I'm not ambitious in common meaning of this term but I think I'm smart enough and I always thought I'm smarter than others. And I'm also 80lvl procrastinator :) also now I'm 33.

The solution to the depression was external and not related to my 'career' (I'm self-employeed) or better self-organisation. Instead, the solution came with long-distance running, positive thinking and yoga. I healed mentally and now I'm much more stable. I use this guy and his success as a measure of how healthy I am. If I don't care - that means I'm ok. If I care about his 'success' - that means I should rest more, spend more time on open air or eat healthier food.

So I would recommend you to invest more in your mental health.

P.S. I work on several software projects but it's not a matter of amibiton, I just like what I make and want to made it better.

You are comparing yourself to others way too much. If you want to be happy, stop comparing your abilities and characteristics to those of other people.

No problem here at 44. I have listings of code I wrote when I was a teen. It was good code. Code I wrote in my twenties is very good when I look at it today. I was pretty good at a young age, and so are others who are those ages now. I'm also a tad smarter than my younger self, and that's what counts.

Someone who at 25 was smarter than my 25 year old self (whether at the same time or decades apart) will probably be smarter at 45 than my 45 year old self.

Someone who wasn't smarter than me at 25 will probably not catch my 45 year old me at 45 either.

You're driving yourself with the concurrent comparison: people who are currently younger. That is fallacious. Someone who was smarter than you at your age or younger historically also counts.

For instance, someone in 1969 could have been a brilliant hacker at age 17; better than you are now. Do you discount that person today because he or she is currently older than you?

Basically, you should compare yourself to historically good people. When you do that, you probably don't stack up. So, get over it and move on.

Future-wise, also. Someone not even born until after you die will be better than you.

There are 3 points that I hope can give you a better perspective on this

1. There is a nice startup wisdom that you really shouldn't worry about competition, you just need to be the best version of yourself. The competition has their own problems that they don't talk about, so any fancy project out there is probably not as fancy after all and has its own problems. It all looks nice and pretty on the surface, but most concepts are just not viable, same in startups as in dev projects.

2.All the other projects that others have are based on years and years of unsuccessful work. They had to work hard, so rather try learning from them than being jealous and one day, you might be successful, too.

3. There is always someone younger, prettier, faster, better, bit I think that is a very beautiful thing. How boring it would be if you were the youngest, prettiest, best one already?

At 26, you are at the BEST age to start a startup, just out of Uni and not kids yet, how awesome is that. So now you have seed funding probably over $100k from what your runway tells me and now you got around 3-4 years without major responsibilites to start a startup.

It seems you are preoccupied with the notion of age, thinking that it should somehow relate to ability. It doesn't. While we all may follow a similar curriculum while in school when outside of academia age has little to do with where you're at.

Perhaps you recognise that peer-pressure & comparison is a huge motivator for you (it's probably what got you through your CS degree) you are trying to use that stick to force you to work more. However it's having an adverse effect on you. You cease to enjoy anything.

Try and make something small, just for you, just for fun. Focus on being happy instead of perceived success. What if you just let yourself enjoy your TV show or browsing HN? You may feel freer to enjoy your work.

You are not behind or in front, you are exactly where you are at right now.

You can't run a race if you're busy looking over your shoulder.

Your mention of feeling jealous reminds me of a quote from Mary Schmich when talking about advice she would give to the younger generation.

"Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself."

I have had a similar kind of issue my whole life as well. Being ambitious at the core but actions not being representative of how I think. And though I haven't figured it all out, I have improved massively from earlier. What helped was an understanding of how subtle anxiety affects me. Initially, at the age of 26 (30 now), if someone told me it was anxiety I would have told them no, but over time (with lot's of mediation) I began to realize that it is a very subtle, subconscious anxiety that makes is significantly harder to do anything that has a result riding on it.

To test if this is your problem, look back at things that are difficult but didn't have a expectation or result riding on them. Say you created a small app or read up on a complex topic and understood it well. If you are able to do difficult things that don't have expectations but are not able to similarly difficult (or even easy things) that do have an expectation it is probably an issue of anxiety.

If this is your problem, I would recommend the book The Now Habit. Also, start mindfulness meditation if you can.

Hope this helps.

If you are convinced that you are doing what you want to be doing, then you need to respectfully disregard the inner voices that are impeding your ability to work in the present effectively.

In the creative world, these voices are sometimes referred to as "witches." Everyone has this. They are not always about procrastination and failing either. People can also get insane "visions of grandeur" voices too! You may have thoughts about being the greatest programmer that has ever lived or the best writer ever. That type of thing. These thoughts are the flotsam and jetsam of the creative process. Icky foam. (Okay, no more ocean metaphors)

The mistake is listening to them. They are not helpful and are just impediments to working in the present. Think of them as intrusive guests that will leave if they are ignored. Let them rise and fall without worrying too much about it. Worrying about them can start a vicious cycle that is also an impediment.

The only place that work happens is today, now. This is the same for everyone. Even the people that you admire have to work in the present.

I'm something more than twice your age, and have felt the same way you do now. I've spent countless hours "keeping up" - lost a marriage in part due to this - and there is always stuff I don't know and am curious about. There is always someone more knowledgable, or faster at coding, or better at interpreting requirements. That's one reason I like working with smart, capable people-there's always something to learn from them. I've lived through marathon coding sessions, death march projects, been a manager, been an employee and been a contractor.

I don't care to keep up on everything any more. I remain intensely curious and "keep up" in a general fashion, reading articles, playing with code samples etc with an eye to being able to converse with my colleagues about what they're doing, not with the idea that we're competing to be the alpha geek.

Some of the other posters here have suggested you find something you're actually interested in and spend time on that, or that you find cause you can volunteer for and to that. Those are good suggestions. Find something outside your head you can do and commit to it. Part of your anxiety is because your world is narrowing because of the concentration on what is in reality a little area and you see others doing "better", whatever that means to you. Get out of that world for a bit.

Understand that time will pass and whatever technologies you get to know well will pass out of the market sweet spot. Maybe you'll be ready for that and maybe you won't. The question is will you have enjoyed your life when you realize this? Tech is a tool. One you use to make a living, one your employers of whatever stripe will try to use to make money. It is not a reason to get up and breathe.

You might just be reading more articles or seeing more independent projects from young people, because those young people are less likely to work a full-time job (or if they do, they're not doing 12-16 hours a day in addition to open-source and articles). Plenty of people in their 30s (or even, gasp, their 40s) are still productive, high-earning professionals in the software world.

I started out quite young myself, writing software for gameboy advance at 15, and I did plenty of public-facing work: articles, coding competitions, etc. After uni I joined a big corporation, and while I was learning plenty and doing a lot of very influential work, there was much less personal credit for what I was doing.

While this is less related to age, don't be too impressed by how you see the work of others represented. I've seen plenty of fancy videos (and TED talks) for people who just had vapour. You're always going to view yourself with all your perceived shortcomings, but you'll see others as the public persona they have meticulously crafted.

OP -- thank you for having the courage to put your story out here. You've sparked an important conversation, and it's clearly resonated with so many people. There's a lot of advice here. Some conflicting. I trust you'll continue to build your mental filter and sort through the good and the bad.

Two favorite piece I like to re-read when I have these moments.

+ The Secret to Success (this one is my all time favorite): http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/5/30/secret-to-succes...

+ Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (http://www.amazon.com/Daring-Greatly-Courage-Vulnerable-Tran...)

I can already see that you have so many of the skills described in Brene Brown's book. Keep fighting the good fight.

This is not a story about programming. But it is a story about mastery, and surrendering that fear of not measuring up.

Back around 2000, I got my dream job: I started working at Spümcø, the animation studio responsible for "Ren & Stimpy". At one point I was working closely with Jim Smith, whose work is amazing - I normally don't give a shit about the big muscle dudes he loves to draw, but he does it with such grace and fluidity that these big beefchunks become beautiful.

I was in awe of his casual knowledge of every single muscle in the human body, and the ability to deploy that knowledge in his art. I would never measure up.

Then one day he brought in some old work. Kid work, teenage work. I looked at it and a lot of it was terrible - awkward posing, horrible proportions, a whole bunch of general classes of errors that I recognized from looking back at my teenage drawings.

I looked at the dates. These drawings were older than I am. And it was like a light was switched on in the back of my head: of course Jim could draw rings around me with half his brain tied behind his back; he'd started before I was even born.

Since then, I have looked at artists who are better than me at one thing or another with occasional envy in my eyes. And then it instantly dissipates, because I know I could learn to do what they do better if I want to spend a few years on it - do I want that in my toolset bad enough?

And that realization freed me. I was able to look coldly at my work and decide that, yes, I'm good enough to get hired, I'm better at cartooning than like 90% of the people out there. I had the confidence then to embark on a year-long art project (drawing a Tarot deck), and then to move on to a four-year project (drawing a graphic novel) that I'm almost done with. I can't say I've worked on the comic every day by any means. But more often than not, I make myself spend at least a half hour on it. There's always something I can do without having to load the entire story into my head to turn it over and think about the shape it should be. And if I've only spent a half hour at the end of a day, it's still a half hour closer to being done than if I'd just spent the day playing video games.

Step outside of the fear of failure, the envy of younger, more successful people. Look at them as things your brain is doing and ask yourself why; treat it as a programming problem if that metaphor works for you. And find a way to make time for your own projects, even if it's just a half hour in the morning most days.

Let go, slack off, unclench your brain.

May I suggest the following https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_(psychology)

Can you find a question (not an answer) that can help you look at things differently? Who is it who is jealous? How does it feel to be jealous? What's going on right now?

I feel the same way. I actually do the same thing too. I end up talking with people i used to work with and seeing how much they've grown and their positions. I don't feel like I am bad. I've started my own consulting company and did over $500k in revenue last year, yet I will talk with these developers who are just so much smarter than me and do better than me and i just get crazy jealous about it probably from my competitive nature. I think its just a part of life. Literally just last night I had a real bad depression of what I have done professionally and how though I have a lot in savings and I've started my own company doing consulting work I locked myself in my room all night and started working on my own side project. It's not going to be big, but just to have it done and say that I did it I think would make me happy. In the end I think you just got to find what will make you happy and just go with that.

Whenever I see the procrastination topic the auto-handicap mechanism comes to my head: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-handicapping

The way you describe yourself (ambitious; so many great ideas; big project) suggest that your self-esteem is high. However it might be unstable due to lack of evidence ("Experience-wise, I'm still a junior dev") that is convincing for you (as a result of constant comparisons with others).

In such situation (high but unstable self-esteem) auto-handicap is a common strategy to preserve the self-esteem by avoiding situations that could lower it and providing some rationalizations instead. It feels nasty but we people keep doing it.

One of many ways to cope with it is identify the sources we use to build our self-esteem and give them right proportions. Usually it comes down to rethinking the influence of other's opinions.

Breathe, I was where you were a couple of months ago literally when I was 26. It's intimidating reading hn and seeing everyone's accomplishments in summation. I read 2 books that helped place things in perspective "The Growth Mindset" and "The One Thing". They'll help you be more focused, productive, and stop beating yourself up.

I didn't start coding in earnest till 25. I don't count my cs degree. I lamented my choice to go to architecture school after graduation. I COULD have gone to CMU or MIT most likely on scholarship. I regretted my choice deeply until recently when I realized I use the thought processes learned in my design lab more than anything I learned from my cs degree.

Recently I ve been hyper productive and am slowly marching towards my first product.

Meditate a bit, take stock of what you want to work on, and come up with a reasonable plan to get there. Take the time to figure out how you best work.

It's all going to be ok.

I suppose this is pretty troll-ish, but some folks need a good dose of cold water to wake them up to reality.

You're not to old, you're too young. Too young to even realize how young and immature you are.

I have hard time distinguishing you from a teenager, and wonder why so many people are taking this post seriously.

Here's some free life advice: Sell your television.

One of my observations is that people procrastinate because it is entropically favorable, not necessarily because they want to procrastinate or because procrastination is fun. The Internet does not help with its vast potential for incessant context switching.

The obvious solution to this is to reduce entropy, and slow things down. Stay without the internet and television for a week, since these are the primary ways in which you procrastinate, think of it as rehab therapy. Eliminate all sources of deviations, and try to systematically lengthen your attention span. I would suggest meditating every day for an hour[1].

Secondly, stop reading the news. It's a complete waste of time. The set of all thought sequences you can have between time A and time B should be small. Watching the news, or reading HN greatly increases the number of irrelevant thoughts you can have. A perfect Bayesian with a utility function like "maximize knowledge gained" would not read the news at all. It is always a good idea to ponder about what a perfect Bayesian with your chosen utility function would do.

It's true that the only thing stopping yourself is you. And it's also true that you can do amazing things if you spend long enough on any particular thing[2]. I would suggest making an Excel sheet with the time spent doing productive work per day, and optimize for that.

I went from averaging around 30 minutes a week when I started measuring my productivity (I'm a college freshman .. so I'm free the entire day) to around 4 hours in the last week.


[1] Music I find helpful for meditation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPni755-Krg

[2] Einstein spent an entire decade on General Relativity. Andrew Wiles spent 7 years trying to prove Fermat's Last Theorem. Persistence is the most important trait anyone can have.

> But I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19 — then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer.

Even if you did, there is no reason why you wouldn't have felt the same. I met someone of my age who had made an excellent game and was one of the winners of Github Game-Off. I felt envious, I struggled and finally made my own game with free art [1]. When I finished, did I feel any sense of accomplishment? Yes, sort of, but few days hence, I was in the same hole feeling shitty about my game being mediocre and having done nothing significant.

I have a reason to believe, that even many accomplished people, feel that they have missed so much, things could have been better and they could have achieved more.

[1]: http://coffeecoder.net/penguin-walk/

I am exactly like you now, but I am 22. I feel like a retard when I see 18 year olds contributing to open source projects. To an extent we only tend to compare ourselves to outliers and feel like a piece of crap. So, while you have wasted some time, you still have ages to accomplish something great. Time is not your enemy.

Yes! You are not alone my friend. Try changing your perspective and delighting in the successes of your psuedo-peers as opposed to being jealous. Everyone is on their own path. Meet yourself where you are; the time is always now and you are indeed exactly where you need to be.

Lately, I have been dealing with cutting back on what I do as opposed to piling stuff on; focusing on no more than 3 things (for example), rolling off of less compelling projects, creating space. Give yourself, your days, some space and see what happens. Listen to your heart!

Think critically about what is and is not serving you and adjust accordingly. Expect nothing. You are divine! Look at all these people who want you to succeed! You are on the front page of Hacker News...certainly if there is nothing else that must be a sign that you are on the right path, especially as a tech professional

Great good wishes to you my friend

Great work is great work, regardless of age. I am 27 and still find time to work on personal projects that give me a creative buzz, but its for me and me only.

It sounds like you have developed an irrational fear around the concept of ageism. The less you worry about what others think the more productive and creative you will be.

You are probably constantly reading and hearing of those examples and you feel compelled to do impressive things. Worse yet, you assume that software projects, startups etc. are all big accomplishments. Just like becoming famous perhaps. Or amassing a lot of stuff. That's a recipe for disappointment and failure. Take a step back, breathe, analyse what it is you really want. And if you want to define your self worth with such things.

Imho, society, in my case: software development culture, (to some extent) is sick. Many of us probably believe we need all to be Mark Zuckerbergs or Elon Musks. Insanity. I suggest you take a step back and find out what you really want. Perhaps a time off for centering yourself might be a good suggestion.

Someone said: A lack of ambition is a wonderful thing. That's probably true. Please relax. ;)

Lots of other good advice in the thread already. I'm not sure how to phrase mine, but "live with it". Use your understanding of math to realize right now that statistically, you will always be worse than just about everyone at pretty much everything. You will always be behind multiple other people on just about every score you can come up with.

The fact that you read about person X or Y or Z, then feel inferior.... ugh. You don't have much imagination. Stop reading about other people - you should be able to feel inferior without reading the specifics of anyone else. But you can also feel... accomplished(?) both to your earlier self and to some others if you choose to.

Once you start to realize that, you'll hopefully have a different (and better) perspective on things.

I'm 27, I quitted my job 11 months ago to start a journey where I can finally achieve something and forget about years of procrastination and being "right" on the system. I think you're experiencing, as I do, what's called the "quarter life crisis".

PS: I know the 30-year-olds in the audience will laugh at me for feeling "old", but I imagine that applies to every stage in life. When I was 21, I certainly didn't expect I'd suddenly encounter this overwhelming fear of getting older around my mid-twenties.

I have read often that in academic settings, many people make their biggest research contributions in their mid- to late twenties. That's where you're at, you seem to know what is important to you, you are working hard; it sounds to me like you are doing all the right things. If you spend less time looking at the facades of other people's success, you'll be fine. And facades is what they are.

As for the procrastination, an unexpected learning for me recently was the insight that I really need to start my day with a clear head, free of distractions. No email, no hackernews, no twitter. Sit down and get straight to work, get in the flow, do a few hours of really good work. Protect this time, eliminate all sources of interruption. I would guess I produce 2/3 of my work output in the first 1/3 of my work day, which makes me feel happy and relaxed for the rest of the day. Recommended reading: "Daily Rituals, how Artists Work", by Mason Curry.

Finally, don't forget that you are only young once. Party, do crazy and stupid things, that's your privilege. You can always work more (and get rich/famous) later in life. You'll just replace youthful energy with experience.

I started feeling old and "missing out" at about 18. I guess it is just a personality trait or a sign of depression.

I share a similar fear. I am a 25 year old dev. I have a bachelors degree in comp sci from a large state school. I have an internship plus an additional year of experience under my belt. I am constantly aware of the age of my competitors. I constantly feel as though I am behind the curve. I am always been told that I am too young to worry about such things, but I feel as though people don't understand my industry. My fears are not substantiated by my experience. I have had no trouble finding employment. I have been coding since the age of 12 and truly love the profession. I have a strong desire to succeed. I love the industry. However, I feel as though the constant comparison is hindering me mentally.

Sigh. I'm so sorry you feel this way. My demons are different but I often feel the same intolerance for them. There is a very harsh and critical voice in you. In these cases I ask myself, whose voice is this? How did this develop?

You can't accomplish anything with a conflicted, unfocused mind. Without kindness to yourself, you can't be healthy enough to be productive. If you want to unlock the stamina and inspiration to build the life you're aspiring towards, you need to understand yourself and your mind and how you work and how to make it work. It sounds like you're trying to dictate when maybe a listening and trial/error approach with a kinder and gentler disposition would be more effective.

The only time that you have to look into the plate of another person its to see if it has enough.

    <meta>Threads like these make me with I could save comments.</meta>

Once you reach your goals you will be in exactly the same place as those who are 25, 21 and 19. Don't confuse ambition with competitiveness: if you are strictly ambitious about your life goals then it really doesn't matter if someone else reached theirs first.

Furthermore, in some ways you are ahead. Having a "normal" young life is a good thing. In some ways I pity young successes like Evan Spiegal: they never had the camaraderie and joy of e.g. scratching together some money with friends for some beer and steak for a BBQ. In a nutshell, success is about improving your life, not replacing it. One day you'll value the days when you had the ability to procrastinate.

For me I had to do science on myself. Keep a journal throughout the day on what you are actually doing, minute by minute. If hacker news is in there too much. Block it (I did this for years=). If you spend too much time polishing and not enough doing, then set alarms for yourself that say "get it working first. Do the core of it." You will find what's slowing you down and then you can take action to fix it.

Also, exercise. Put aside 3 hours a week and run/bike/do anything. It will give you energy in ways you won't expect! You probably are 100% there already, but for me it wasn't obvious and so I wanted to include it.

Happiness = Reality / Expectations.

Decrease your expectations and you will be much better off. Seriously. It sounds like you are probably in the top 1-2% in the world in wealth. Enjoy that and don't let the expectations that holds affect you.

Your 20's should be fun. There are are a whole host of things that you CAN do when you're young that will be much more difficult when you are older.

Working really, really hard is technically one of those things, but it's generally a really bad use of time. Especially if you don't have an overriding passion for it.

If you are 26 and have money in the bank...your options are wide open. My advice: Immediately quit your job and go contemplate life from an exotic beach or a remote mountain top. Meet some people, see the world.

If the only things you've done in life are school and work, it's not very surprising that you haven't found your passion yet.

Go have fun!!

You're not old. But it's easy to waste your youth sunk in the fear of getting old.

Also, it doesn't matter whether you hit it big or not. Big is something other people will call you, or not. After you have wasted your youth, and you can feel the years in you, you will feel their indifference toward other peoples' judgment. All you have are a stream of seconds that are filled with your own thoughts. That doesn't change no matter how famous you get.

You should focus on the things that enliven you, not the projects of great promise that will make you famous if someone notices. In the end, that feeling of being alive will be all you had.

I'm 33. I went back to school to do a CS masters after floundering and procrastinating for 10 years after my first degree (humanities), trying to be a professional musician whilst working my way through a succession of dead-end temp jobs.

Through this one-year degree, I made it to a one-year internship, so I'll be commencing my first full-time programming job at 34. This will also be the first time in my life I haven't lived month to month, money wise.

The fact that at the age of 26 you have savings enough to actually stop working full-time and go indie already gives you more opportunity than nearly everyone on the planet, and you are by default successful than most people will be in their life. You are normalized to the high salary of a (I presume US-based) developer and have very realistically probably already made more money than I have in 10 years.

On an 'absolute scale of success', I have accomplished precisely nothing - no money saved, no full-time job, debts to pay. By my own metric of success, I wouldn't have changed a thing except for 'choosing myself' more often (yes, read some James Altucher :P)

This is not supposed to be a "you don't know how lucky you are" admonishment - because, for over five years before going back to school, I thought about it, but agonized that I was 'too old', and so instead took the grand option of doing -nothing- instead.

Procrastinating or choosing nothing is not a choice.

Now, (almost) out the other end, I can say I was never too old. However, I was indecisive, permanently going crazy inside my mind trying to think of "what I should do next". I would, and still do, read every single thing on new technology I can find, obsessively compare and try to make the 'best choice' on what I should be spending my time doing - terrified to waste any time, and by the same token wasting the most amount of time possible.

The hardest part for you is always to actually -choose something- (be that what technology to learn next, what course to enroll in, what to work on for the next hour or year) and actually stick at it. You -will- sometimes choose wrong. But it doesn't matter -at all- later if your choice is wrong. The most important thing is that you made a choice.

Some philosopher said it's about "climbing down from the realm of infinite possibilities and immersing yourself in work".

If this is all slightly OT, it's because I'm extending this metaphor basically to my current situation of choosing the next programming language to learn! And am, in fact procrastinating by writing this.

So to try and give some practical advice on actually taming this feeling and -working-, here's some random things I've found really useful on both removing that awful feeling and also actually being more productive:

- (think this is from James Altucher again...) Keep a notepad in front of your computer. Each day, write down three small things you will get done on the computer that day. They will invariably be too big and you will never complete one. Make them smaller and smaller until you actually do one. The sense of achievement will make you do the rest.

- Read 'The Power of Now' - yes it's Oprah-recommended (and I usually pride myself on reading difficult books) but it actually has practical advice for resolving the anxiety you feel right now about your past felt mistakes. Just ignore it when 'energy' is mentioned - goddamit I was with that book until that page.

- Actually withdraw forcefully from internet-based updates as much as possible - a developer in my old job told me that the more he advanced as a developer, the less he tried to withdraw from all extraneous technology, including not owning a phone, because the information overload was just too much, and overall detrimental. At the time I thought he was actually insane.

I haven't quite gone that far, but I have taken his advice in relation to internet updates - I am now continually on the prowl for 'unsubscribe' in my emails, to try and not spend my entire time reading on my phone all day about all the things I should be learning (which reading about learning, unless it is a tutorial where I am doing practical coding, in fact does not teach me anything practical). Then just pick one thing and stick to it.

- Use the Pomodoro technique. I'm more productive in 25 minutes when I know exactly when they'll end then I am in 5 hours when I'm sitting at the computer and 'just click those few Quora links from today's email' first....now my evening, as with most of my other evenings (when I don't employ these techniques, which I need to learn over and over - discipline is training) has gone.

- RescueTime is also a great app for seeing where you're inadvertently wasting most time, and you'll find after blocking enough sites like Buzzfeed in your .hosts file that you actually start to run out of time wasting activities...

I hope maybe you get something useful out of these thoughts...!

Great comment - I can relate to a lot of what you've said - despite being in the bottom of this HN comment thread .

As you, I haven't a background in CS, but with one difference (as I understand), I don't regret it. It allowed me to experience another life. Somehow I understand why so many people strive to be an actor, in the end is not just money and fame that motivates them - being able to play a doctor today, a policeman tomorrow and a politician the day after tomorrow is a huge privilege in life.

About your practical advices, I would just add one more. For the unfocus and indecisive people - as me - GTD may change their life. Read about it, you'll not regret it. If you ever want to implementate it you can try: https://github.com/we-build-dreams/hamster-gtd

Ha, yes I used that too to manage my 100+ daily emails at my old job ;) Fortunately in my new one I receive maybe one email daily, as everything is screened by the technical lead and I can just follow tasks on Github/Jira...bliss :D

I am just a novice in the tech field, just out of college barely 2 years ago. Right out of college, i joined one of the so-called 'Big' company, earning decent amount by my own standards. But the similar feelings pushed me out of that place to where i am working as well as feeling happy.

The greatest irony of our lives is that we spend a lot of time and energy looking for that utopian place where people appear happy, thinking that if we reach there, we'll be happy. Instead we should look for the place that makes us happy and then strive to make that the best place to work for.

At the end of their life, almost nobody is worried about what projects they got done for work. They worry about how much time was spent with friends and family and what they did in their personal life. There is often regret over working too much and focusing too much on their own projects.

I think the rest of HN can give sufficient answers to your direct question, but I truly encourage you to think now about the underlying worry you mentioned of what you will have accomplished at the end of your life. Your priorities at that time are highly unlikely to be related to what you have coded.

"Does anybody else have this problem? How do you deal with it?"

Yes -- it's human nature. All you can do is focus on one thing at a time. If you are focused on what's important, then you are allowed to not feel guilty. A great man once said "take so much action your conscious brain doesn't have time to fall into its default patterns of worrying".

For help on focusing on one thing at a time, and taking so much action you don't have time to feel bad: http://focusr.co

Repeat after me: "I am a grave disappointment to myself, everyone who knows me, and most of those who do not." Keep repeating it until you have internalized it. It's remarkably liberating.

As much as some of my engineering friends hate to admit it, life is a self-graded test. If you're happy with where you are, ain't nobody can tell you you're wrong. If you're not, you are failing. And if you're not happy with what you've got, continuing to do the same thing won't help: you'll just get more of it.

It's a bit late in the thread, but I hope you read this. Maybe you should try LSD, just once. Sometimes, for some people, it allows them to reflect deeply on what actually makes them happy, and allows them to then live their life under the guidance of their own happiness, rather than focusing on comparisons to others, and what others think of them. I've seen this first-hand more than once. It's a long-lasting, deeply profound mental realization that can potentially change your life for the better.

it doesn't matter where you start, it matters what you do now. there is NOTHING you can do about the past. zero. it is impossible to change the past. You can do things today. find the sweet spot of bliss. where what you do is fun, and you are interested in doing for it's own sake, and where it is valued by other people.

talent management and business success are different problems. talent management is about pursuing what gives you juice. business is about connecting your labor to other people, in a one to many type network so your labor can be remunerative. both tasks require continuously figuring out how to do a better job.

You will stop procrastinating when you believe and when you spontaneously feel what you are doing is more important, and more fun, than your distractions. procrastination is evidence of competing values, competing interests. you'll have more success by orthogonally including these competing values in your labors than by trying to shut them out and criticizing yourself because what you think you should be interested in is different than what you are interested in. you can align your values and desires towards your goals, but only so much. you will be much more successful if you align your efforts towards your values and interests. As you want business success and have a curious mind (hence the distractions) you have to thread your own curious solution.

It's a simple fact that a lot of the stuff that exists now to do awesome things and learn skills faster, wasn't available 2, 3 even 5 years ago (never mind a decade ago).

But it's never really "late" to do anything career wise. Other's may have issues with age, but you can always learn new skills, work on projects, start businesses and more. There's no age limit on taking action.

It's easier now, more than ever, to pick up a framework to action on something and just do it.

I feel for you. Not because I think you've wasted all your opportunities, but actually because you're focusing on this failing rather than succeeding. And the whole age thing, just forget about it. We all live in the 'now', some of us just reach milestones at different points in our life.

I'm 33 (and still feel extremely young in what I do). I just read The Launch Pad and was a little disappointed that to 'succeed', you need to be mortgage free, no kids, be prepared to relocate and have a co-founder you share your entire life with; generally traits of an unattached 20 year old with close friends. I would fail all those, but would that put me off trying a startup - hell no! Do I believe I could be part of the 0.1% of those that succeed? Of course. But will I feel like a failure if I'm not. Absolutely not!

I focus on the following. Do I have more experience, wisdom and understanding than I did 2 years ago? Am I enjoying the projects that I work on? Do I have vision for where I want to get to? I also know that there will always be people who are better and smarter than me. If that bothers me, learn from them, but don't envy them. They are no more 'special' than anyone else.

If I could go back 10 years, what would I do with that abundance of time I once had? Honestly, it wouldn't matter as I know I was not 'ready' to succeed at that age. At that age I hand't found the passion for what I do and hadn't seen enough of the world's problems first hand.

The problem I have is that I find it hard to focus on a single project and I'm overcommitted in my work (I work for a startup and two organically grown businesses). I have an endless stack of side projects that need my focus. But I only stop working on one because I find more passion for another. I'm okay with this - to a point. This is my challenge which I am working on by breaking down the goals into much smaller, more manageable deliverables. Celebrate the small wins as the big win is just a collection of smaller ones.

My advice to you. Forget about age. It doesn't matter if the other person is 18 or 68. I'd say to write down on post it notes the top 10 things you want to achieve in the next 30 days. Pick the top one to start with, then throw out the other 9 post it notes - they are just a distraction.

This is going to sound cheesy, but you need to find an internal peace with yourself, and realise that you are enough.

Once you get there, what you'll actually feel is that it doesn't really matter (there are more vital/core important things in life) and then, ironically enough... you'll work better.

I felt the same way. My problem was I pressured myself so much I never finished a single thing. I guess you have to somewhat break free from yourself.

Also, life isn't about a list of accomplishments.. Make sure whatever you do it affords you the lifestyle which you want to live. Rich and famous isn't necesarry and life style business' are complete awesome even though they seem to get a bad rap in the startup world. A business that simply provides jobs and pays your salary isn't good enough.. Everyone seems to need the billion dollar exit or its "not worth it."

thx for writing this and to all the advices on the comments. can't say how much i can relate to what you feel. i'm younger than you at 24, definitely not one of these hot-shot young dev. i have no any geek creds whatsoever, empty github profile, no shiny personal website, no stackoverflow rep, nothing. countless time i've tried to spend my free time working on some side project although i know i don't actually enjoy doing it. in the end i end up doing almost nothing. every start of the week i feel very grumpy thinking about how much time i have wasted on the weekend.

i also like to compare myself to what others around my age have achieved and i would set silly target for myself ('if they achieve that at the age of x, i will surely achieve that as well when i turn x'). i know this is toxic mindset, but i just cant get rid of it. i'm currently working in a very promising startup now. i know i should be grateful with what i have right now but i can't help thinking how little i have achieved and how i can get kicked out easily once new bright young devs come in.

this couple of week, i'm starting to come to terms with myself, rethinking my life goals and cutting off the unrealistic ones. i'm still mentally exhausted though and currently contemplating of taking sabbatical break just to try to enjoy life again. hope that you too will find your solace and i wish you all the best for your new project.

ps: not sure about this, but i always assume that my problem will solve itself if i can get a girlfriend. it will be great to have someone by your side that support and acknowledge you. it also helps you to think less about yourself as you shift your focus and attention to her. i'm not so lucky to have one though...

26 is too young to have this. And it's never too late to reinvent yourself. Many people who enjoy the ride up lose it on the ride down.

It's easy to look at people who are doing great. (I went to high school with a self-made billionaire.) It's easy to forget that there are a lot of talented people who aren't doing well by external measures. Then again, who knows what is going on inside people's head?

IMO, you need to figure out what you want. Stop defining your identity around what other people are doing.

A lot of these people whom you're fixating on now are complete shitshows. You're looking at the public persona of unmitigated success and awesomeness. The reality is almost always not so rosy.

Think about what you want to do when you grow up. Turn your computer off and go cut grass, hike, swim, or whatever for a weekend.

holy moly quaterlife crisis

instead of analysing you and give you some meta advice, i will give you some hands on things to do. (my quaterlife crises lasted a whole decade, but it laid the groundwork for the awesome life i have right now)

a) stop with whatever you are doing now, just stop, don't tell yourself you can't as you have to do so much stuff, just stop.

b) and then start travelling. 9 months, a year, the longer the better. do not prepare too much, you will not need it, travel alone.

only take a kindle and a crappy underpowered smartphone with you (i.e. a firefoxOX device),

if you haven't travelled before, start with thailand, it's a safe and easy country to start travelling, take it from there.

c) do not talk to the same people as you would talk at home, if you are american, don't talk to americans, if you are european, talk to americans, .... relax this rule after some time

d) return

you will not be the same person as you have before, and you will laugh at the person you were before

the whole process is called "getting some perspective"

you can do it at home, too, but well, it's easier if you are physically away and on the road

My people, my people! We should have a (digital) support group. You've just described me perfectly, even to the point of compulsively investigate people's age. I know that feeling in the back of your head, I often describe my state as :I hate myself every single waking moment, and then some more in my sleep. I think this is not that rare of a problem for our age, and generally, I disagree with the sentiment that optimize your life for happiness will solve it (it's just a different life goal. Nothing wrong with aiming for happiness as a goal, but it's not for me personally)

This is definitely not advice, consider this a commiserating post.

Ten years ago, I started learning to play Go (the board game). At the time, I was obsessed with the game, and I was very sad that I didn't get to know/ learn the game earlier. I wanted to play Go professionally, and I thought that it was too late for me to ever be one of the top players in the world (context: I was 16 at the time, and to play Go professionally, you have to be really good. Most pro started playing when their age is in the single digit). 10 years passed by, and I'm not sure what changed, but that certainly doesn't seem to matter anymore. I still love the game, but now looking back, I don't feel dreadful that I didn't learn the game earlier. This might sound unrelated, but I'm sure that 10 years from now, we will look back and laugh at ourselves if we think this is too late to do X, Y or Z.

There are a saying (paraphrase by me) that goes along the line: when you're 20, you're mostly a product of your family, environment, upbringing, friends etc... but when you're 30, you're a product of yourself. That is to say that in our younger years, in a sense a lot of it comes down to "luck", you might stumble in something you like to do young enough that you get some success, got motivated, didn't waste time on video games (along with the usual notion of "luck" involving one's upbringing and family, obviously). Teenagers and young adults are mostly idiots, to no one fault, and only some of us were fortunate enough to skip that period. The world is choked full of distractions, and while I used to think that I have unlimited will power, I also thought that I was invulnerable, so well ...

Life is long, and one of the things I've realized is that almost no one runs full speed for their whole life. The few that do are probably thousands in a billion. I think it was Bill Gates that commented Jobs to be the rare one who has the fire his whole life. A lot of the people who are massively successful in their youth will slow down (it's stressful to be ambitious, after all). So well, if we want to catch up, I guess we already spent our shares of "relaxing time", and just have to look down and plow through things now. Just think about it as we doing things a bit backward. It's gonna work out fine (I hope!). We can't make up the last 10 years, and likely won't get to the top of the world. But I believe anything under that is still up for grab.

There are also the aspect that at least for me, it (work, ambition, success) is a really personal and emotional thing, and chance are our judgements right now are terrible (emotional == irrational) -- maybe a few years from now we would have realized that the "TV watching time" was us exhausting from work, and that we couldn't actually programming 14 hours a day anyway. Just to point out a seemingly irrational thing in your post, you're 26 now, and hoping that you would have started in earnest at ... 25 is a bit odd, isn't it? One year, while valuable, won't make that much of a difference.

Write your worry down. I don't know why, but as soon as I write things down, it feels like I'm taking it off my head. I guess now there is a reminder of my mistake on paper, and I don't have to constantly remind my self.

Also, booze helps, a bit of drunken state helps me slogging through side projects. Although extreme moderation is advised.

My email is in the profile, if you're looking for someone to commiserate from time to time ;)

> I disagree with the sentiment that optimize your life for happiness will solve it

I agree. I don't know how to say this without sounding completely pretentious, but it's kind of hard to talk about your innermost desires without any ego, so I guess here goes. All my life, in the back of my mind, I have had the ultimate goal of creating things that were better than anything else out there. Art? Games? Software? Music? It didn't — doesn't — really matter, as long as they would persist in history and influence other people. (Software is what I've chosen as my medium for the moment, but I expect it will change throughout my life.) While my day-to-day goals are obviously less lofty, this is the driving force behind my life and my career.

For me, to be happy with limited success and a more laid-back pace would be a kind of personal death.

Thank you for the long post. Some really great advice and observations, and I can relate to a lot of it for sure. "No one runs full speed for their whole life" is a great observation: many of the most prominent creators in the world only produced their best work during a fairly short span of time, and then languished shortly after. Maybe it's OK for that moment to come a little later. It can just be hard when it feels like everyone around you is hitting that peak at a younger age.

In regards to writing your worries down, I'm reminded of a recent This American Life story where they talked to a guy who created a website that would send you e-mails "from" your anxieties throughout the day[1]. Maybe it's worth a shot!

[1]: http://anxietybox.com (currently broken)

> as long as they would persist in history and influence other people.

This used to be my main motivator– the idea that you can transcend death through legacy– until I learned about the heat death of the Universe. Turns out that nothing actually persists indefinitely. The Universe itself will eventually die out.

Optimizing for legacy at the expense of living well day to day can be a miserable existence.

It's as valid a path as any other, but you'll want to really look in the mirror and say "I choose to struggle and suffer and be frustrated and anxious in pursuit of this legacy (that will eventually fade into nothingness anyway), out of all the other options available to me."

Anyway, it also sounds like you're framing the problem too tightly here– it's not like your only options are great, painful success and limited success. It's possible to work on something you care about AND sleep well at night.

Indeed I think the way to a good life and a good death can and should be broken down into living good days, weeks, months, years.

Also there's the whole thing about how... people don't create great things by TRYING to create great things, they tend to create great things by following their curiosity and then allowing an opportunity to consume them completely.

The best way to achieve greatness, in a paradoxical sense, is to stop worrying about it and focus goddamn hard on a problem you desperately want solved, over everything else.

"It can just be hard when it feels like everyone around you is hitting that peak at a younger age"

Just wanted to mention that that is simply not true. "Everyone around you" will probably not reach any sort of peak in their entire life and I bet for a lot of them, from their point of view, YOU are the one that reached that peak.

It's also curious that you say that "to be happy with limited success and a more laid-back pace would be a kind of personal death". So, even though you'd be happy that would be a personal death?. Think about that for a second and why you phrased it that way.

As for the original post, I was at some point where you are (to the point of panic attacks and worse) and I know it's not a nice place to be, but believe me it gets better, way better!. For me the answer wasn't to just try harder to "make it", it was realizing that all those ideas I had of what I wanted to be, success, etc were just wrong. I would even say now my definition of success is actually the inverse of what it was.

You have clearly stated though that what makes you happy would be to create things that "would persist in history and influence other people".

For some reason you then define something that would make you unhappy as 'happy' "For me, to be happy with limited success and a more laid-back pace would be a kind of personal death."

You mentioned you can't be happy with that, so it doesn't make sense to define that as happiness.

Optimising for happiness is going to be different for each person, and from your post, it seems it you should be optimising for creating things that will persist in history and influence people, because that is what you have mentioned will make you happy.

As others have said, don't compare yourself. Just live.

Also, I would consider having enough savings to live without work for a few years to be pretty great! I am certain there are many of us who would welcome that (me included). Perhaps you should take time out to travel and see the world to put it into perspective instead of running the rat race?

I'm just going to answer with a webcomic that fits exactly this. Stop comparing yourself. I went to a shitty cs program after dropping out of an electrical engineering program. I'm doing great.


On saving the world the world, and other delusions: http://www.moreright.net/on-saving-the-world-and-other-delus...

This is a trap - and one you need to be really careful not to fall into, or it will destroy your life.

What about teaching others - young people. You seem to have the passion for programming and I think you could find great fulfillment by sharing that craft with others- not to mention making a huge difference in someone else's life, particularly someone who never realized that programming was an option for them.

Fair warning, I'm about to punch you in the gut before I pick you up.

You're all over the place. You have no idea what you want. You're looking to everyone else to shape your vision of what success is. Your problem is not that you're getting older, its that you are unfocused and lazy.

Sorry to be so blunt but if you want to change your life you need to understand that you are doing it wrong.

The good news is that you recognize that whatever you are doing, it isn't working for you. The past is gone and the present is rapidly slipping into the past so focus on the future where anything is possible. It sucks to know that you are the problem... but its great to realize that you don't have to force or convince anyone else to change in order to solve it. You only need to force or convince yourself.

First thing, write down your goals. If you don't have goals that are so clear to you that you can just sit and write them down, you need to figure that out right away. Write on paper, with ink. Doing that changes your goal from a nebulous "maybe someday" in your mind to something that is tangible, in the real world.

Your goals should become your external motivator. You haven't identified what you really want, so you don't feel motivated. Once you know the destination, just treat it like you would any other trip... plan out the route and walk in that direction. When you feel that "gnawing in your chest", use it as a reminder to ask yourself "how is whatever I am doing right now getting me closer to where I want to go?"

And listen, turn off the television. Altogether. If you have a gun you might want to consider shooting it up. That shit is designed to make you feel like an inferior piece of crap so that you go out and buy some actual useless crap that they tell you will make you happy. You'd be better of smoking weed until your eyes are so crossed that everything looks like one of those Magic Eye posters.

I know it sounds cliche, but it is literally true that today is the first day of the rest of your life. You can constantly compare yourself to the "hot-shot young dev" and find differences, but one thing that will always be in common between you is that the future only exists in your mind. It is up to you to decide what that future will be, and if you want to make it real. So just decide who the future "you" is, and start walking like that person right away. The future "you" is depending on it.

I remember feeling same way when I was 26. I remember envy when I saw a guy who was 23, had his company with many employees, successfully built stuff for the archiving radio broadcasts (which I kind of tried to get into with "company" that we've set up with two of my friends).

To add insult to an insult he was good looking, he was surfing and his website displayed in IE chromeless window which before that I wasn't even aware to be possible. And I though of myself as knowing almost all of the tricks.

The way I removed myself from mentally competing with this guy was thinking that this guy probably had a father, rich one probably, probably entrepreneur while I was raised by single working mom and a grandfather who was a tinkerer.

That softened the blow enough to just work out an acceptance of the fact that, at no fault of mine, world is filled with a lot more awesome people than me. It is. If you are one in a million, there are thousands of people like you or better on this globe.

Now I'm 36 and I'm feeling way better now. After years of bummming around as a lone wolf I got hired by corporation few years ago. It turned out to be much more profitable and way easier than freelancing. I pumped up my self esteem and my account by showing me how high rates I can demand for my work and I stopped feeling pressure to strike gold.

Surely everybody would want to be Marcus Persson but people like him are so lucky that you can't compete with that in any capacity. It's as if you'd compare your salary with somebody's lottery win. "This guy made a 10 million dollars in a day and what I got? Few hundreds?"

If I at any point in my life get this combination of luck, opportunity, skill and time to launch me way above everything I could build myself then great. If not ... that's perfectly fine. I'm perfectly satisfied with gradually moving towards places that earn me more and bore me less and in the off time playing with whatever I find interesting without thinking whether it's profitable in any way or not.

On more practical note... Try to pick jobs that pay the most. Try to stay on those jobs only as long as you are surrounded by the people you learn from and you are forced to learn. But avoid long hours.

You'll notice that that your brain will be more awake. Instead of watching TV or reading internet you'll be prototyping new technology in your free time, just because you'll feel like it.

If you start getting bored you'll see yourself to be doing in your free time more and more mindless things. Most mindless is TV so the only way you can go from where you are is up.

I sorta remember feeling this way when I was a junior when I was 26, I'm 29 now and a senior engineer for a global brand.

As you get older you'll probably give less of a shit about people's age. That and you'll see how young, stupid and naive the people who are younger than you really are :)

> many nights I end up vegging out in front of the TV or aimlessly clicking around on the internet

An Adderall prescription works well for this. Also a standing desk. I find standing so much work I don't like browsing news sites while doing it, I just want to get my work done and take a break, lol.

Maybe watch this segment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pfwY2TNehw

In the real long run, we're all dead, and nothing we do matters. All we can do is try to live a good life while we're here.

A good article to read, Late Bloomers by Malcolm Gladwell http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/10/20/late-bloomers-2

It sounds like the problem you have is with your ego. You're portraying yourself as someone you aren't, or someone you haven't become yet.

Your ego is handicapping you from doing anything. Throw it away. Stop comparing yourself to others. And just work and be the best you can be.

You don't deal with getting older, getting older is the great part. What you have to do is deal with not getting younger.

In other words, time passes and before you know it you are 50 and you don't get those years back.

So how are you going to spend your life.

Worry about that before you worry about other people.

Hey! So I had social anxiety apparently for 23 years before I finally just said, "hey! I worry too much and it affects my motivation!"

Medication has made me 10xs the entrepreneur I was prior. I feel like I am now my fullest self.

Get to the doctor :) Modern medicine is a wonderful thing.

There is always something that you regret and a feeling that you should have done more, I wasted about 10 years drinking and taking drugs and and now I feel like it was wasted but you just gotta get on with it - set yourself some goals and go for it.

Do you exercise regularly and get enough sleep? They do wonders for my alertness and motivation in the evenings after getting home from work. I have developer friends that don't do either of those and pretty much veg out after getting home.

I read somewhere average ycombinator entrepreneur is late twenties, early thirties. Not 21.

Stop beating yourself up and start working as you have wished. Work when it is time to work but don't forget to live. You will never get that time back but are still young.

Don't be afraid to fail. Push ahead and you'll see failure is temporary.

No one procrastinates on things they enjoy doing. You may not have found your niche yet, keep looking. People grow up learning competing with each other all the time as it is theme of life. You would have to unlearn that and enjoy life.

People forget that there's a huge difference between engineers and business men. I find myself in that position often.

Do I want to push something out quickly and get feedback, or do I want to take the time to write the right code for it.

Food for thought

Quite on the contrary for me, I wish I could be older in the team so that I would have more saying in important matters like design and architecture related decisions and have more freedom in deciding what to do for myself.

Just remember that you're running a marathon, and you're feeling jealous of the people who are ahead of you after only a couple of miles because they started off sprinting. You'll catch up. :)

Same feeling here. I tend to feel underachieved a lot of time. Then I put my focus on doing some project/learning new stuffs, really enjoy it, feel empowered. Then the cycle repeats after a while.

Don't change anything, but look for silver linings. That drive is hard to find and makes you sound like an ideal person to work with - feel free to get in touch if you're interested.

I started school at 28 (after 5 years in Military and then a few years of wandering...), got my AA at 30 and am currently 35 with almost 5 years in my current job.

36 isn't to late... much less 26.

Go outside. From my perspective, you're failing to enjoy a successful life because of your fixation on other people's success. Come back and you may find your head clearer.

Let it go. Stop taking a tally of your age every morning. You're young and you're doing well! Keep up the good work, and try not to stress about things so much.

There's a somewhat famous quote from photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson — 'Your first 10000 photographs are your worst.' In that vein, everything you do can get better.

25 is not old. The industry is somewhat young-people-worshipping now, but that's because computation has gotten incredibly popular now, and that is the age of a lot of people - most of the people I've worked with are older than that, and that's fine. Experience is great. There will be a ton of older folks making awesome things long into the distant future. I find the idea (it seems a little bay-area centric) that 25 is old to be, well, insane, but perhaps that's just what people of every generation do.

I started my first startup at 33 or so, really, there's nothing magically about this (many parts of it totally suck!), and it's just as good to work for a large company. Because someone started something at an earlier age is really meaningless. Heck, just thinking about a great idea for 5 years and then finally making it into a thing is valuable, so your time isn't wasted. We are basically a culmination of all of our experiences, and how we use that information. More experience is better.

The best thing you can do is build cool things that you enjoy, but there's also no point in trying to "win" the game or be better than anyone else.

I think the general ideas about attachment or desire for greater things breeding suffering are more or less correct. Build things that you enjoy, and enjoy them for you. It's similar to "more money, more problems". Fame from past projects or accomplishments will fade too, technology gets replaced daily. You can be happy with today, but if you are always focusing on tomorrow, you really can't be. Also, if you don't enjoy building things, do something you do enjoy as well. Helping people matters. Everything else? Building a really shiny ecommerce webpage? Not so much.

I guess what I'm saying is, those things don't matter. There's no benchmark. There's only whether you are happy, and you can actually change what makes you happy. And it's also ok if you don't know what that is yet.

But yeah, if you want to do good stuff, keep doing more stuff. Better just happens. (And to bring it back to the quote -- everybody takes bad photos, the trick is to just not upload the bad ones. Everybody writes bad code too!).

Ultimately I think HN focuses on people who get lucky and make the big bugs on startup exits or big CEO salaries WAAAY too much. It messes up people's value systems. Money is not all that matters - not by a longshot. It's also true you can do really well without being one of those extremely lucky people.

Everyone must have a conceptual image of themselves - an evaluation of their self worth. Where that self worth is derived from makes a big different in a persons life. You are presently in a trap that it is very common for people to fall into. You are deriving your conception of self worth through social means - in this case comparing your accomplishments and skills with those it seems others have. People are often told to 'not care what others think,' but that is impossible to accomplish without an alternative method of evaluating yourself, and such alternatives are not usually provided.

A very beneficial approach to take is objectivity. The state of other people does not influence the objective reality of your worth. If you were a runner, for example, your ability to run a 4 minute mile remains regardless of whether other runners are faster or slower. You could either look at yourself and say 'I am slower than other runners', or you could look at yourself and say 'I can run a 4 minute mile.' One is contingent upon other people, and the other is an objective measure which can not be influenced by people.

An objective basis of self worth, an inventory of skills and accomplishments based on actual personal history, will also change your goals. Instead of setting a nebulous goal of 'I want to be faster than other runners' which you will never believe you have accomplished (as you get faster you will simply change to looking at another group of faster runners and feel you have made little or no progress), you will set goals like 'I want to run a mile in 3 minutes and 45 seconds' which is definite, testable, achievable, and which has a clear path towards accomplishing it. Concerning yourself with objective truth rather than relative measures is tremendously freeing. It builds your self worth from successes which nothing can take away from you. Chasing a goal like 'I want to be a better programmer' is fundamentally different from chasing something like 'I want to implement the LZW data compression algorithm.' The first provides no direction, and provides no sense of accomplishment because you can always be 'better'. The second is something you can work toward and accomplish and which will produce an artifact you can point to and say 'I built that.'

Make no mistake, this is not simple, especially changing your thinking after adolescence, but it is very rewarding. You would have to consciously fight against your intuition, which, rewarding though it inevitably is, some people are very uncomfortable in doing. Eventually, the tendency to judge objectively rather than relative to others or reliant upon their opinions will come naturally and make you happier.

I did the same thing when I was 26. I'm 31 now and I don't really care.

One contributor is that I feel lucky I didn't get "tracked" when I was in my 20s.

I had time to explore the world and take in a lot of experiences and learn a lot of things about being a human, instead of just being "the best" along some metrics that everyone else might have said mattered.

Now maybe I'm just making myself feel better and there's little truth to all that, tho I feel that's unlikely.

I think if you have taken the time to understand things, you will be more effective than people who haven’t.

A reason is because in order to be successful you have to keep making successful choices, a one-off doesn’t cut it. And there’s no way to do that with luck because the probabilities multiply, meaning you’re exponentially less likely to make a string of successful choices if you’re just lucky with patchy understanding, than if you’ve actually cultivated your understanding, and can reproduce it.

So taking the time to observe, learn and reflect, instead of just copying, coding and competing, is actually doing a lot more for your future trackrecord than you might have thought.

One time someone asked Picasso why they should pay him for a sketch it took him 2 seconds to complete. Picasso replied, “You’re not paying for the two seconds, you’re paying for the 40 years I spent to get here.”

You’re worried about time. Don’t be. It’s not important. The important thing is your understanding, not the time you have, or even spend coding. Most of the great products did not launch with something that would take 1000s of hours of coding to create -- mostly, they became successful because their business model, their marketing and their product market fit worked. And all these things came to exist, because of the understanding, and the resulting choices, of the product’s creators.

How did Zuck make FB so successful? Is it because he locked himself in his room and was a coding-Einstein? I don't think so. I think it's because he understood a few things about marketing and people, and could build something, and kept making choices that worked based on that understanding. That made FB what it is.

Did FB grow because it was a far superior technical product encompassing 1000s of hours of work? No. It grew because your friends were on it, so you got on it too. To get people on it, they hand crafted course timetables for each college, and worked to make it useful. They original FB didn't even have photos. Ahahaha. How lacking is that? And yet just over 10 years ago, college kids were signing up to it. So Zuck and his friends knew something from their own experience, and they put that understanding into how they built and sold their work.

So think not on the 100s of hours you wished you’d spend coding. Think instead on the time you invested developing your intuition so you could make choices (about product, marketing and life) that are going to work.

Even PageRank is not a complex algorithm -- the iteration itself is basic. It’s not likely that the biggest contributor to ROI for Larry Page’s time came from hundreds of hours A/B testing and hacking this algorithm. It’s likely that the biggest ROI came from Page and Brin’s deep understanding of the value of citations in establishing credibility and relevance, and that, a little bit tongue in cheek, they decided to make a search engine for the web on the same principle they’d observed operating in academia. And then, the understanding that they had, and kept, cultivating created that they made a string of successful choices around hiring, and around business model.

So before you can create some awesome product, you've got to create yourself and your understanding because, if you're not real, then your subsequent choices, even if the initial product is successful, will not bear out that success in the long term. So whether you become an expert in a relevant part of the world through intensive academics, or hanging around and having fun, the thing that matters is that instead of caring about what everyone else is chasing (being “tracked”) you care about what you care about, and observe and experiment and gain understanding.

And this sounds like what you’ve been doing all along. Instead of focusing on work, you’ve been focusing on yourself, and at the same time keeping one eye firmly on your great ambitions.

So even as you’ve talked like you’ve wasted your time, like time is your enemy, like procrastination is this big evil, I’m feeling like time and how you chose to spend it is actually your asset. You’ve invested that time in learning and observing which has put you ahead of the people who were too busy chasing the “dashboards in their mind” about their career and “achievements”, to really take the time to understand maybe in order to make an original contribution you have to be an original person, first.

And when you get down to building your awesome and great product, it's won’t be about the code, or the algorithms, nor is it, as we can see by looking at Amazon, Google or even, yes, FB, about the UI aesthetics. It’s about the real value you provide people (product market fit/UX), how you share that value (marketing), and how you capture value for yourself from what you create (business model).

Maybe you feel "How do those things apply? They’re business concepts.” I’d say, it works to consider if they’re irrelevant or if they’re actually they’re like thermodynamic fundamentals of how the world works.

The market is just the statistical aggregate of people’s choices on the grand scale, like temperature. A business model is how you make sure you keep doing the stuff you like, like conservation of energy. And marketing is anything that increases the probability that a significant portion of people will choose your product, like a catalyst. And real value is not something you’re likely to search your way to through A/B testing, which partly exists because people have spent so much time becoming experts at work, they’re not experts at where they want their work to have an impact, the world, so instead of being able to have convictions about the world, they choose to A/B test their way across the decision landscape, and such a search only going to leave them more likely atop a molehill than an Everest. Though in the long term, pivoting plus A/B search can be a strategy which works on average, which doesn't mean convictions and the choice to have them are without value. You choose to develop convictions, and when you deploy them in a decision, maybe they get you to Everest faster than if you had only relied on pivoting and A/B search. That's an advantage. Sometime the advantage is so great that while every AB searches over the rolling hills of planet Groupthink, you are already landing pretty close to the highest point on planet Awesome because you chose to develop and deploy your convictions.

So all that time you spent unstructured, untracked, that’s your greatest asset. Anyone can learn to code, anyone can copy your idea, but only you can keep making the choices which it has been your own unique experience’s gift to you to make. So, before you lock yourself in your room again, chasing some metric -- maybe consider that it works for you to keep observing more, and get back to what you’ve been doing so well, but feeling so unnecessarily guilty about, just hanging out and learning, because that's really the foundation of your future success, far more than any coding is. :)

What you are partly struggling with is known as Akrasia. Read "The Personal MBA" chapter 7 by Josh Kaufman.

A good therapist can help you know yourself better and better manage thoughts and behaviors that cause you distress.

Individual deeds so great they put people on pedestals do not come from existential worries forcing their will. news.ycombinator.com etc.

You're as old as you feel. The number of times you've orbited the sun is irrelevant.

One piece of advice is to try to build something awesome that you can share with the world.

Gotta wonder - why is it so many programmers (myself included) have these same problems?

You're talking about Phil Sturgeon, aren't you? That guy ticks all of us off.

(<3 you Phil)

Its seems you are suffering from Agoraphobia. I myself suffer from it (Even when I have an IQ above 135) I kept struggling most part of my life. It wasn't until I knew I suffered from this condition I could understand the problem and face it.

Go to a psychiatrist and get yourself evaluated. It would help you a lot. My 2 cents.

Here's the answer.. If you never start, you'll never catch up. The end.

The arrow of time flows in one direction. Let go of regret. Learn. Grow. Go.

Success (or failure) is just a state of mind. It's overrated.

I'm 38 and have felt similarly since I was your age. Relax.

you should attempt some introspection and root cause analysis of your underlying and deeply seated self-esteem issues

what are you trying to prove? who are you trying to prove it to?

wait till you are a few weeks away from 40 and have the some thoughts :-(

or even 30.

or even 50.

As long as you hand over total control of your happiness and mood to other people, complaining about how you feel while under their total control makes no sense because its not your responsibility, you gave it up. The other 11 steps of the 12 step programs are off topic and probably some are wrong anyway, but surely you'll never conqueror your problem until you admit you've handed over control of yourself to something (someone) that doesn't necessarily have your best interests in mind, and unsurprisingly its not going too well, at least for you. So good luck with that step, first.

Also you're not older, you're just a kid with kid moods, which is perfectly appropriate when you're a kid, so... good (edited to emphasize, good as in there's nothing wrong with you, not good you're unhappy). You'll know you're actually old "for real" when your self doubt switches entirely over to "Why did I waste my life on screen time, doing stuff I don't care about to earn extra money I don't need to buy stuff I don't want to impress people I don't know who won't care anyway, when I could have been doing something meaningful like (playing with the kids, watching that eclipse, climbing that mountain, dating that person, taking that class, learning that skill, reading that book, watching that live music event, building that thing...). All I really remember from the youthful age of 26 was the fun of dating my future wife and to my regret wasting too much time on work and business and computers, its the mood switch that's how you can tell I'm old(er), not necessarily the memory loss LOL.

There are also serious educational issues, looking at something like the greek philosophical ideal of balance being the goal and lack of balance inherently being wrong in and of it self, I can assume if you're only freaking out about financial success and fame, then your musical listening and instrument playing is going really well, you're reading some cool lit, and you're up to date with exciting recent developments in philosophy and science, eating great food, exercise is going well, and all that other "well rounded human" stuff. There are Eastern outlooks that say basically the same thing with totally different words. Seeking balance seems an almost inherent part of being human. So you didn't get a good education, even if you got excellent vocational training or on the job training. The only way to make that bad situation worse is to not work on being more well rounded.

Note the common mythological trope of some dude who focuses entirely on one thing, gets really good about it, and ends up having a really shitty life (struck down by lightning by the greek gods for hubris, chained to a boulder while vultures eat his liver for all eternity, wings melt in the sun and drown in the ocean, etc). I think the ancients might be trying to give you some life advice about the inevitable result of deciding to be a little too focused on one aspect of life.

So best of luck, you're very young and have plenty of time to figure it all out. It would be way more tragic if your post claimed you're 62 instead of 26 and you're just starting to figure out life. You'll do fine if you're already that far at this young age.

OP– I'm about your age, and I haven't completely solved this problem for myself either, but I've thought about it really hard for a really long time. Let me address your issues / statements / concerns one by one.

> I find it very hard to sit down and work on a project without an external motivator, and on many nights I end up vegging out in front of the TV or aimlessly clicking around on the internet.

This is a classic environment type problem. If you're committed to creating great work, then you have to carve out time for yourself. This means having a specific routine. Talk to people who train in sports and they'll tell you– they don't rely on any particular sort of motivation (external or internal). Rather, they have a routine where everyday at 6am they lace up their shoes and go for their run, like it or not. Read Stephen Pressfield's The War Of Art– he talks about Going Pro. You don't wait for motivation. You do the work every day. Sometimes inspiration will come, sometimes it won't.

> Every day, I read an article by some hot-shot young dev who has a handful of fancy projects behind his belt

These folks are exceptions. They're exeptionally good and they're exceptionally lucky. You'd be better off not reading any articles at all.

> It's a constant, irrepressible gnawing in my chest.

I experience this intermittently. IMHO, I experience it when I haven't been doing work. The solution is literally to sit down and do work. The gnawing is a reminder that you are working, not doing.

> even though I still end up on HN half the time

Turn off the Internet?

> I have so many great ideas, and knowing that the main obstacle between them and me is only myself keeps me in an endless state of panic

This, together with your vegging out / aimless clicking, suggests to me that you're framing the problem too broadly.

The main obstacle between you and your goals might be you, but it also might be, you know. One quant of work, followed by another, and another. Baby steps, man. Do one thing at a time.

> I've resigned to the fact that I've procrastinated away a decade of valuable time, and it just endlessly haunts me

This is the venomous, compounding problem about obsessing about sunk costs. Listen– life isn't a linear thing. Some of these folks younger than you will get into car accidents and die. Others will get distracted, end up in horrible marriages, all sorts of nasty things will happen. Life doesn't progress nearly as linearly as you think.

What you need to do is really sit down and go, "Yes. I have burnt a decade. I have some unknown amount of time in front of me. I have today." What are you going to do with today? Why do you want to spend today agonizing about yesterday?

Yikes! Me too. Exactly.

Switch professions.

You're 26. I'm 30. This is how I feel about you.

re "Does anybody else have this problem? How do you deal with it?"

I'm a 41 y.o. management consultant for tech companies. Am I successful now? Because I published my second book last month, some think I am successful. But I feel like I am only getting "warmed up" and, at best, I am at 30-50% of my potential. Do I compare myself to others and feel regret? I do. For example, I look at what Eric Ries has accomplished. I admire him a lot, and I think he deserves all the success he has achieved, but ask myself why I didn't do more in my 30s. Another person I admire is Nir Eyal. Seeing what he's accomplished, I wonder why I didn't do more in my 20s and 30s! Actually, I got to interview Nir a few months ago, and discovered he's a normal human being, not a superhuman creature.

Here's some advice. (BTW, my training and expertise is in industrial-organizational psychology. It's not clinical psychology but the psychology of: individual performance, team performance, motivation, engagement, etc.)

Plenty of successful people struggle with self-doubt, self-criticism, and anxiety. For example, I struggled with depression in my 20s. Whatever your pain, it is your cross to bear. Learn to manage your condition, and you will become a stronger person, and better able to help others who struggle like you did.

Learn to deal with setbacks and disappointments without freaking out. Learn to meet adversity and hardships with equanimity -- with an even mind. Keep driving towards your goal but be ready to change your plans as you go. When I was 34, my dad died quite suddenly. It was terrible. But from that hardship, I decided to take action toward my goal of becoming a management consultant. I started down that new path. Three years later, I got my Masters degree in industrial-organizational psychology, and was excited about starting my new career. Weeks after my graduation, our youngest child was diagnosed with a chronic condition for which there is no cure. I had to change my plans around for four years mostly because I needed to learn to care for my daughter. She's doing well today because we put her health and well-being first.

Self-compassion is important. You can be compassionate with yourself while continuing to work and get progress made each week. You may want a coach or a professional counselor to help you sort through this.

Some will tell you to "have no regrets at all" because they want to help -- ie. get you to stop worrying so much. Actually research tells us that some degree of regret can serve a useful purpose. The problem is overwhelming regret and shame. Again, the solution and antidote to all of this is self-acceptance and self-compassion.

If you want to be successful, the research points to success being determined by how many people you help to become successful, and how much talent you multiply in others in your community of peers and your network. Look at ways to keep improving your own skills but help others get more skilled and successful too. Read the book "Give and Take" by Adam Grant.

Last but not least, you can't stop your mind from comparing your achievements to others. But you can learn to observe your mind and your thinking, without "buying into it" or being a slave to that train of thought. Take a course in mindfulness meditation. You have many good years ahead of you.

There will always be someone greater or lesser than yourself. Don't worry about it. You hear about the successes but not how they got there. Half the time it was a lucky break; being in the right place at the right time. Other times they worked 100-hour weeks for a year, got divorced, and their kids hate them.

Then, next week, you never hear about them again. Well, maybe a couple of them you will, a year later, but not the others. They're forgotten.

Do what you want to do and quit relying on other people's stories to make you miserable. They aren't you and there are plenty of people, here on HN, who wish they were in your position.

Strive to be happy.

First of all, 26 is not old. It's just not.

on many nights I end up vegging out in front of the TV or aimlessly clicking around on the internet.

An hour or two per day of that is not a big deal. You need to relax. As long as you're doing well at your job and getting enough exercise, it's fine to watch an hour of TV. One warning: assume that once you start watching TV or junk internet, you probably won't do anything else for the rest of the day, so don't start until you've accomplished enough that you'd be OK with that. Also, keep a set bedtime. The problem with staying up late with TV or junk internet is that your judgment gets worse as it gets later and you're not as good a judge of "Is this really more valuable than an hour of sleep?" at 12:00 as at 10:00.

You shouldn't beat yourself up over needing an hour per day of "do nothing" time. That's completely normal.

I am crippled by the feeling that it's "too late".

As Ed Kmett says in this very good (and accessible) talk on how to learn (link: https://yow.eventer.com/yow-2014-1222/stop-treading-water-le... ) your career is going to be a lot longer than you think. It's far from too late.

Every day, I read an article by some hot-shot young dev who has a handful of fancy projects behind his belt (not to mention a great website and design sensibility) while I have exactly zero

Well... a few of those people were just single-minded and focused, but many of them were also produced. Evan Spiegel's a billionaire at 24, but he's a product. He was picked by aging venture capitalists, facing irrelevance and acting out of fear, to match their idea of what Millennials look like. Twenty years from now, these products (Lucas Duplan, Evan Spiegel) won't be relevant. Take the same attitude toward those "30 Under 30" lists. They have the same problem as the "holistic" component of college admissions: they're middle-aged C-players trying to separate the A+ from the A players among the young. (The middle-aged A/A+ players are out kicking ass and therefore too busy to give a shit about "30 Under 30".) They're just not capable of making meaningful selections, so you should view it as irrelevant celebrity noise and ignore it.

Trust me that very few people half a decade younger than you (that's 21) are producing fundamental work. Young people do get a lot more recognition for accomplishments that would be mediocre by an adult standard, and those "golden child" types get addicted to the recognition and don't improve. The people your age who will be kicking ass 20 years from now are, most likely, not even on your radar right now.

Some young people are producing fundamental work, and that's awesome, but they aren't numerous enough to represent a competitive threat. The people who are producing fundamental technology are generally not peaking in their 20s, but 40s to 50s and sometimes later. You have time to catch up. Some people have incredible focus even at 17; most of us take some time to get our shit together and that's OK. Fuck, I had a 9-year trolling habit (17 to 26, or 2000-09).

Whenever I encounter a technical article, I immediately and compulsively investigate the author's age.

Stop doing that. If you can't, see a psychiatrist. If it's an actual compulsion, then medication will help you.

For the first time in my life, my procrastination is starting to get tamed.

It will probably continue to get better. The ability to plan and project yourself into the future is sub-optimal from ages 12 to 25. In other words, it's normal to take that long to get your shit together.

But I can't help but feel that if I had started in earnest at 25, at 21, at 19 — then maybe the list of accomplishments at the end of my life will be longer.

Who knows? It's not worth fretting. You know kids who are straight-edge rule-followers in high school and go completely apeshit (and not always funny apeshit, but sometimes scary apeshit, like the guy who got to a near-fatal 0.37% BAC) with the first taste of freedom in college?That happens a lot to people who are "on the rails" in their early 20s. And the ones who get huge amounts of recognition (e.g. "30 Under 30" types) tend to fall the hardest because the recognition from "above" gets them used to looking up, and when they actually have to lead, they're not up to the challenge.

Does anybody else have this problem? How do you deal with it?

Look, everyone has these insecurities. I would be lying if I said that I didn't. It won't prevent you from doing a good job. Just get out there and build. Don't expect the insecurity to go away; just work in spite of it. From Game of Thrones:

    Bran: Can a man still be brave if he's afraid?
    Ned: That is the only time a man can be brave.

Author seems to be a "wannabe"!

Tell your parents NOT to impose their ambition and frustration on you!

You're 26, and you're not good enough.

I'm 51, and I still don't know what I'm going to do when I grow up.

When I was 26, I was writing a test tool and a test plan for MacTCP 1.2. Not long before that I was very excited at first to have saved enough money to purchase a used 700 MB - yes megabyte! - SCSI drive USED from the Usenet News, then quite a while after that, I managed to save up enough money to purchase the second megabyte of memory for my Mac Plus, thereby enabling me to run Multifinder on Mac OS System 6.

But for my next job, I was the Product Development Manager at Working Software, I had an office with a door I could shut, I had a direct report, and the very finest Mac in the entire company. A few months after I started at WSI, I shipped my very first shrinkwrap retail product, a keystroke recorder called "Last Resort". It wasn't for espionage but was a useful tool for saving valuable text in the event of power failure, system crashes &c.

So you are 26 and your life has been a complete waste.

When I was 27, I shipped my very first product that sold like hotcakes at $9.99.

You are comparing yourself to people like Mark Zuckerberg. Consider that he was paid by some upperclassmen to write The Facebook under contract; he later settled with them after they sued him for stealing their work. He went on to quite openly state - in a very public way - that one should not hire older employees. I don't clearly remember but I think he said one should never hire anyone older than 25.

In the US, it is a civil offense to discriminate for reasons of employment against anyone over the age of 40.

I write quite a lot of good, working code around the time that I was your age, but even so these days I do not regard myself as having had much of a clue at the time. For example I was completely unaware of the existence of C's assert() macro. I spent a lot of time in the MacsBug machine debugger that would have been quite unnecessary had I used assertions rather than single-stepping assembly code and looking at CPU registers.

Looking over my entire career, I regard myself as having really come into my own as a coder right around June 2000. It was then that I figured out how to write C++ code that was completely free of memory leaks or pointer errors, however it wasn't until a couple years after that that I really took automated testing seriously.

In early 2002, the head coder for my Bahamian Hedge Fund client said to me "Your code is by far the best in our codebase". That particular code went into production with no known bugs; a year later, no bugs at all had been found. When asked to implement what I later delivered myself, the original author of that 100 engineer-year Windows executable asserted that "it couldn't be done".

So I got pretty good in 2000, when I was 36 - ten years older than you are now - but awesomely good when I was twelve years older than you.

Give yourself time.

My concern these days is, for the most part, how rich I'm going to get, what product I might ship, whether I can ever vest any stock that turns out to be worth more than one square of single-ply toilet paper.


My concern these days, is what software I can write, that will still be in use ten thousand years from now.

I want to be remembered after I'm gone, you see.

My ex-wife Bonita Hatcher, a devout Shambhala Buddhist, pointed out many times that I would never know whether I had been remembered, seeing as how I was dead.

But I do know very well that when I lay on my deathbed looking back on a life well-lived, I wasn't going to wish that I had shipped more product.


This comment breaks the HN guidelines, and some of your others arguably have as well. Please familiarize yourself with the values of this site, and abide by them when commenting.



I love all the people trying to help him with wise words but seriously... You're 26 and you're worried about being "too old?"

A lot of the things we're blessed with today did not exist 10 years ago (especially in the IT world.)

There are people out there with no money, no degree and are older than you that have a better outlook on this stuff than OP likely ever will.

People change careers all the time as they want or as is needed. OP has been an 'adult' for all of 8 years and fears he's getting 'too old...'

For me personally this age-misconception is not what annoys me about this submit - I'm suffering from feeling-to-old since I'm 20 - I guess that's a modern issue.

I just am detested by this weird combination of bragging about where he worked, how much money and opportunities he has and everything - and still thinking he deserves warm words on HN ... and even worse - this is something the OP is (most likely not responsible for) that actually people upvote this yada yada

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