What I Read 4/16/13


Hacker burnout cycles.

Hiring a guy that said he can kick your ass

Discovering what you’re passionate about requires more work than imagination.

[1313 words]

1. The Hacker LifestyleBenjamin Alexander Smith describes the four phases of his lifestyle that occur over a year. The first three phases focus on work and personal goals while the last is his burnout time, leaving him entertained by games and television until he becomes motivated again.

I can see how this happens, especially for highly motivated self-starters with a lot of ideas. You’ll leap into work and study then abandon it for something else, no matter what your progress. Since you’re always managing your own goals as well as actually executing them, the cycles can be exhausting. Here you’ll play both CEO and analyst, a mentally draining responsibility.

I follow similar cycles as him. I used to live a pretty polarized work life being engaged with a startup I believed in for 5-6 days of the week and the other day was spent in rampant hedonism of old friends, booze and 5am debauchery. My week was a micro representation of his yearly cycle by focusing on a single goal then burning out right before you start it all over again.

Once I quit the old job and took time off the cycle started expanding to weeks and months, where I was working on ideas throughout the week, burning out on the weekends and then starting back again. Then it evolved to by the month where there’d be a period of vegetation and another long streak of skill improvements.

Recently I had so many plans (poker, photography, fashion, marketing, weightlifting, nutrition, writing) I was working on I never actually took a step forward in any of them and when I reflected upon that, I went into more vegetation and despair. I just rallied all my energy to think of even more things to spark my interests. I had a pretty big army of thoughts but nothing to wage war over and definitely nothing to claim victory from.

I think playing a little too much CEO and founder in your life, by always thinking of the optimal growth and product, will burn you out, just as much as never deciding your direction in life will leave you unhappy without control because you spent all your time grinding blindly.

A better idea is to diversify your emotional investments by putting things on autopilot, or using the 80/20 rule, get something to 80% proficiency in founder mode and then let the analyst in you take over. While that’s happening you can start something else up but never forgetting to chip away at that old 80% to push it to where you eventually want it. Progress with passion always moves quickly but there’s going to be a ceiling where the grind sets in. We all know you can’t give up there but you can’t expect a joy ride.

And as you rotate both mindsets, you should always slip in a day or even week for burnout activities. Benjamin seems to be both grateful and apprehensive about his cycles on a yearly scale but he could just try to break it into weekly cycles. That way the cycles are more manageable in weekly bits instead of monthly/yearly. I too like to focus on one thing at a time, but am slowly realizing that doesn’t mean focusing on it until I’m forced to burn out. Probably better to choose to take vacations in between the productive periods. Read: force yourself to do something “un-productive”.

Don’t worry about not being productive. I’m sure if you think of it as starting up a new project called vacation, you’ll be clever enough to find a way to get out of it before too long.

2. Through the Looking Glass: Hiring Sales People. Ben Horowitz explains key differences in hiring engineers versus sales people. The main differences are intellectual traits versus personality traits and expendability of those hired.

Ben always writes fantastic stuff (with the rap lyrics and all) but this one was good because of the anecdote of an interview for a sales team. The interviewer tested personality traits through the conversation by inquiring about backstory.

I agree with Ben that it’s easy for a smooth talker to bullshit the analytical questions but quite difficult to tell the guy who could hire you that you could easily kick his ass because he’s done it before to other guys. You either say it and mean it or you don’t.

A good example of how hiring correctly can rely as much on what questions you ask as much as the type of responses you receive. The applicant can only respond in a way that you prompt them.

So it’s up to you to establish the framework for them to battle over what they truly believe in. I gotta say though, if you want to hire a guy with balls, you need to show him you rock a pair as well. It always goes both ways.

3. Max Wants to Know What to do. Marginal Revolution fields a question about a recent Ivy league grad who doesn’t know what to do in life. He’s not really sure what his passions are and wonders if he should work towards them or at least find them?

MR leaves it open for the commenters but starts off by maybe recommending consulting like a professional job, because people with high general intelligence can do well there, especially if you don’t know where you want to go.

The commenters are great here and I picked up on them recommending Cal Newport for thinking about careers and passion. The main points being that we’ll only discover what we’re passionate about by gaining proficiency and experience. More specifically, we become passionate about things we’re quite good at and have already experienced for a long time. Passion compounds with mastery.

So really the question of following your passions at such a young and inexperienced age can lead you back to square one because after a while, you may realize you didn’t like it to begin with. Better to slowly invest in activities before claiming it’s your end all fantasy career.

I think Cal Newport is onto some thoughtful discussion. I didn’t always like men’s fashion and when I first got into thinking about better clothes, it wasn’t for appreciation of the art, but for my selfish personal gain. Throughout the years I totally sucked at buying clothes and executing all the right advice in the wrong ways. After two years of off and on obsession with fashion forums/blogs, I finally started fine tuning everything into something that I knew made me happy and even better, that inspired others.

That was 5 years ago. I’d like to say the next level happened a few years ago when I first discovered my love of buying clothes for other guys. It was like equipping them with better armor in an online RPG, but this game was real life.

I knew I liked the intricacies of men’s fashion but only over a very long time did I accept I’m pretty passionate about styling others. Remember, I started off buying jeans because I thought it’d get me laid. 8 years later I’m trying to get into photography and design to write up my own magazine spreads, which is a future I’m much more passionate about than buying clothes for myself.

Again, I didn’t start off as a college sophomore thinking I’d want to create portraits and style people for a living. I wasn’t anywhere close to being proficient enough for people to value my work.

I can agree with the idea that interest may spark your direction but actual work and confidence in your abilities fosters that passion that keeps you burning the midnight oil to happy success.

Rewarding work is often the outcome of a long period of hard work. How could anything be rewarding if you had nothing to gauge it against?

Photo credit: Ysvoice