Aggression, Competition, Ambition

Don’t Benchmark Yourself Against Normal was making rounds on HN this morning. I’ve expressed the gist of what I’m about to say in a comment, but I can’t get the damn thing out of my mind. There’s more to say.

Benchmarking against normal sets the bar way too low. Benchmark against your own potential, and against your desires. You get less “self-pats-on-the-back,” but you’ll live a much more thrilling life.

You know what? Taking the time off now and then to benchmark against normal is the only thing that keeps me sane. The only thing that reminds me I don’t have to feel like a 24 year old (turning 25 in about a month) underachieving loser.

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English: at (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Think about it, Turing published the turing machine paper when he was 24, Gauss was a prominent mathematician by 21, Feynman was laying the groundwork for important quantum physics stuff at 24, Wilde published a book at 27 – after having published things in magazines for 10 years – Gaiman‘s published his first professional fiction piece at 24 and all three of Zuckerberg, Jobs and Gates were very successful entrepreneurs by the time they hit 24. Ali was heavyweight champion of the world at 22.

Hell, even many of my friends have already published papers (plural), some are even running successful businesses. Some have founded both cool startups and awesome non-profits. Some of these friends are even my age, or at least were when they did the cool things I’m talking about.

You could say comparing yourself to others is no way to lead a happy life and is a recipe for fail.

Comparing to myself is no better. By now I should have:

  • published a novel or two
  • contributed something significant to computer science
  • successfully launched a VC-backed startup into the stratosphere
  • long since finished college

And none of this is even that crazy. I’ve certainly attempted all of those things and ultimately managed to fail at every each one of them. Every single thing.

Comparing myself to others or to my own ambitions, therefore, is no way to feel good about myself or build the confidence needed to achieve great things.

But then I take a step back and remember that:

  • a lot of people don’t even go to college
  • many who do, drop out within the first year or two and never go back
  • many people my age are already having kids – feels like a huge waste of potential when a bright person decides to take up child rearing before doing anything cool with their brains
  • most people haven’t been published in a printed magazine at ~17 (issue #3 of Steampunk Magazine, pen name von Tropp)
  • few owned some of the most downloaded plugins for a popular OSS platform at ~18 (mods for phpBB2)
  • most people haven’t both founded and face-planted a startup by 23
  • few have launched a project and gotten sales in 3 days
  • not everyone’s got a blog with monthly readership in the thirty thousands
  • not everyone can write articles on random topics that semi-reliably garner 20k+ visits in a day (my blogging for Zemanta)
  • most people couldn’t save their own lives -> Why you don’t exercise every day

This post is devolving into bragging so I’ll stop.

My point is, if you’re the average HackerNews reader, please for the love of god, compare yourself to normal people now and then. Remember that the person you are aspiring to be is in the top 0.1% of one or more fields.

Cut yourself some slack, all is not lost.

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