How to do what you love

More timely stating of the obvious from Paul Graham:

I think the best test is one Gino Lee taught me: to try to do things that would make your friends say wow. […]

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world. When you can ask the opinions of people whose judgement you respect, what does it add to consider the opinions of people you don’t even know?

This is easy advice to give. It’s hard to follow, especially when you’re young. Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like. […]

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.

From his essay, How To Do What You Love.

And this also makes me realize that my Internet friends count. I don’t know how I got so many obvious things so wrong in the last little while. I don’t mean my really close Internet friends like Conrad or Carrie, because I know they count. But there’s all those other people that I tend to hang out with, like deviant- and sambo and zhixel and menno and confound from #unix, or sungo and lamech and Masque from #perl, plus all of my “LiveJournal friends” and it’s like I went “Welp, maybe I don’t have as much in common with these people as I thought” without really critically examining how that might have happened.

The other day I was back on #unix talking to those guys about the whole School Problem, and the number of people who said something along the lines of “You know, I couldn’t see the fit at all…”. I bet those same people were saying the same thing on the way in, or were at least thinking it if I’d asked. Why didn’t I?

I don’t have a whole lot of local friends. Part of this is because a lot of the people I met upon moving to Ottawa, especially at e-smith — like Geoff, Peter, Mike, both Dans — moved away, and I didn’t have a whole lot in common with most of my coworkers at Mitel and it wasn’t a very social workplace to begin with. So part of it might be that I didn’t want to be That Guy Who Only Knows People Online. Although that’s not necessarily bad, and this certainly wasn’t fixing it in the right direction.

(Mike from e-smith is, if I recall correctly, now doing a Ph.D. in astrophysics in Kamloops. Dan McGarry is building Internet architecture and skills in Vanuatu. These examples might be good to work from.)

One thing’s for sure, though: now that I’m identifying all of this it all makes it a hell of a lot easier to get back on track again. It really is one extended moment of clarity for me.