Working upwind

Paul Graham has another beautiful essay where he gives lifelong advice:

Instead of working back from a goal, work forward from promising situations. This is what most successful people actually do anyway.

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.

That’s interesting. Notice that he is actually saying to not set long term goals. Well, I’ve given up on those a long time ago since I can’t seem to stay on one straight line for more than a year anyhow.

He is saying to just look at what is in front of you, and work on what has more potential.

Then, when people ask you what you where you want to be in 5 years, you just make up a story or do as I do: just say you have no idea!

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

5 thoughts on “Working upwind”

  1. I think that’s very wise. I spent most of 2004 trying to work out what the heck my goals are and whether or not I should even have any. Goals are stupid anyway because they involve putting things off. Oh I’ll work hard for 20 years then we’ll have some fun. All too often people are dead by the time that happens. All we have is now so it makes sense to work with what we have now. (This is Bouncing Baby Hippo by the way. I’m not sure if you kept track of my one million name changes)

  2. That’s encouraging, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing; I love my job, but I also know myself well enough to know that I’m not going to love it five years from now, and I don’t want to spend the next thirty years doing something I don’t love. My very general goal right now is to build up enough skills and experience that I can do more or less whatever I want with my life, and live comfortably. (When my contract expires in a few months, I plan to take six months or so doing pottery almost full-time. After that, well, we’ll see.)

  3. This makes sense. The stuff you remember thge most from school comes from you being interested in it and being curious about it. It feels great when you’re toying/poking stuff and you realize that you end up retaining some of that stuff.

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