Erik McClure

Playing On Easy Mode

Many people have difficulty understanding why I'm so upset about failing to do things that are, admittedly, things that very, very few people ever manage to accomplish. By any normal measurement of accomplishment, I should be leading a happy, fulfilling life as some hardworking, trustworthy programmer in a faceless corporation. What people don't understand is that this is the bottom of the barrel for me. Judging accomplishment based on absolute values is ridiculous and poisonous. It breeds entitlement and greed. Accomplishment is relative, because everyone is living life on a different difficulty setting. I'm a straight, white male in one of the most progressive cities in the United States. If life was a game, this would be the lowest difficulty setting.

I realized from a very early age that I was extremely privileged. It was obvious to me that I had the prerequisite talent and intelligence to be very successful if I worked hard. I was also intensely aware of the struggles that my less fortunate friends were going through. I utterly despised at how entitled the rich acted, as if they were more deserving of their money than the people who were simply less fortunate. I realized, if I could get rich, I could fight the system from the inside. Besides, with the ridiculous safety net I had access to, I could take far more risks than normal. This served as a nice dream, but my concrete goals still stayed firmly within the realm of reality.

It was when I took that fateful internship at Microsoft that things began to change. I began to realize that simply by teaching myself how to follow instructions so I could get through this ridiculously broken school system, life was starting to hand me things on a silver platter. I suddenly realized that my current goal of getting a job at Microsoft wasn't actually an accomplishment. It was too easy. Coding came naturally to me, and thanks to having a father who was also a programmer due to living 10 minutes away from Microsoft HQ in Redmond, I was able to start learning at the young age of 14. The demand for software engineers would only continue to rise as I got older, ensuring that I would never have to worry about employment ever again.

It was sickening.

People would tell me how talented I was, fawn over how I would do things that other people would find incredibly difficult with ease. By the end of my second year in college, I had stopped attending classes. I would walk in, drop off my homework, and leave. I still maintained a 3.3 GPA even though I was only trying to ensure I passed my classes. College wasn't worth my time, because it was still the path of least resistance. If I am forced to take on a normal job after graduating, I will not have succeeded, I will have failed so spectacularly that the only thing I was ever able to accomplish was the least difficult thing I was required to do.

On the other hand, a black lesbian women born into poverty in Alabama managing to get an associate's degree out of a community college would be fucking amazing. Anyone who can manage that has already accomplished far more than I ever have. Every time someone tries to compliment me on the scant few things I have managed to do, I want to scream at them to look at all the less fortunate people in the world who have managed to do incredible things, to whom no one pays attention to. I have the utmost respect for someone who can pull themselves out of poverty, because it is extremely hard to do. Those are the people that we should be admiring, not a bunch of rich white guys who don't know what it's like to not be able to pay the bills.



No, sleeper. What you are denied, is invisible to you. I have seen too many awaken, from states like yours and worse, to believe it permanent.

An ordinary programming job is not the stasis trap you fear it to be; more likely, it is a several-year detoured path out of the one you're in now. *However*, you should try to make it be one near San Francisco, New York, or Cambridge, and not one in Washington, as you are more likely to find community in these places.

If you haven't tried the common chemical interventions (modafinil, choline, adderall), you should (but the last one only after all else has failed). Pay attention to your schedule density; changing the number of conversation hours per week from 0 to 10 to 20 to 40 has non-intuitive side-effects as big as many psychoactive drugs, not localized to the times when they're happening. Pay attention to diet; fairly subtle errors can be motivationally crippling without calling attention to themselves as the cause.

Erik McClure

What the FUCK?!


I've tried to comment as a consequentialist; rereading, it does seem to have come out strangely. That post is, to a significant extent, addressed to a past version of myself who appears to my view to be similar to you, based on this post and the last few here. I followed the path of least resistance through college, then through two years of a regular programming job that didn't match my actual dreams. I was able to return to building the stuff I actually dreamed of and cared about; minor mind modifications and a bit of lifestyle engineering were, as it turns out, key. Now, maybe I've projected traits of mine onto you, and said things that were off the mark. If so, feel free to ignore them. A few of the things I said were mere guesses, based only on patterns I've seen.


Erik, you're a nutjob and I love the hell out of you. Seriously, you do make me smile for some of the strangest reasons that I can't describe.

But that aside, I can see where jim comes from (the medication comment nearly knocked me off my chair though). There's a lot to say about you that since having the general crap that is study out of the way (and what productive person doesn't find that a waste of time? On average, it's an extremely inefficient way to learn, albeit more effective than is apparent), I'm actually pretty pleased to say that you seem happier overall. Problems as above? Noted, but taking things one step at a time, the problem is that you compare yourself too pessimistically (pessimism is healthy, but there's too much as well) - the average person's goal, in terms of the more "accommodated" individuals, is to get a job, end of story. You get a job, and then you resign yourself to whatever happens from there. Plenty of people are capable of more, they just don't, and I think that's why it always feels like there's so few people doing amazing things these days. You're not like that, but pardon if I beat around the bush a bit more, because I'm pretty bad with words when it comes to these things - it's an intrinsically abstract concept to me that's hard to describe.

I wouldn't expect you to become a master of the universe within a few steps of graduating, working entirely on your own - the world isn't very conducive to that sort of way of working, and never was. It was a bit more common some years ago, but things aren't changing, and you're not going to change that yet, you're crazy!

... Yet.

There are a lot of skills that don't come from being intelligent, knowing how to deal with complicated matrix transformations, or being able to navigate the logical processes of programming. The skills that just don't come inherent are skills that I'm working on (and somewhat, trying to figure out exactly what's missing, but I can't say how much I've changed in the past year that's improved me), but I'm not entirely convinced you've perfected them yet either. jim might be onto something with the networking thing, although his specific suggestions (eg. relocating) I don't know if they really suit your needs. It might have nothing to do with that either, but you're just missing something important that you haven't correctly identified yet, and I can't really help you with that directly. Dare I say, in as few words as possible, maybe you just can't see the woods for the trees.

Erik McClure

I have to admit that getting a job probably isn't the end of the world, I'm just frustrated at my lack of progress. I feel like I should have been much, much farther along than I am, and because of that I feel like a failure. This probably isn't true, but I'm just tired. Tired of having fought against failure for years and years and years and getting beaten down over and over and having to get up again and again and again. I'm just tired.

Maybe I need a vacation.


You know, many of the incredible things that seem so trivial in the world today took so damned long to perfect when they were first developed - try not to stick your mind too far ahead of things, it would just be that you feel like something *should* be trivial when in practice it's far far harder than you'd expect - that's easy to fall into when it seems that pretty much every average person around you (or even your peers) is an idiot.

I really can't emphasise this enough, but it's highly admirable how determined you are - I kind of admire you for that, how you manage to get knocked down and keep getting up... Actually, sometimes you genuinely inspire me.

Don't burn yourself out all the time - you have a while to generate your life's work still. There's a lot of amazing things out there to experience, and it's all so inspiring.



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