The pattern I’m going to look at today goes like this: Our culture is fixated on success to the detriment of true understanding of the work behind it. Consequently, there is pressure to abandon the craft at the first opportunity in favor of chasing success. The authors argue that you should push past that pressure, with the understanding that if you keep at it there’s no one you can’t eventually surpass.
I think the initial point about how our culture values fast, seemingly effortless results is insightful. In my experience, this is a pretty significant hurdle to get over to get good at anything. It can be difficult not to compare yourself to an imagined prodigy out there.
Broadly, I think it’s good to set your own goals, rather than chase illusory culturally-defined ones. I already have my own goals in mind that aren’t exactly things everyone wants, although I have a slightly different outlook than the authors here.
I think the authors, although probably not intentionally, frame things that everyone should expect from full time employment as either incidental and unworthy of consideration, in the case of money, or even a form of failure, in the case of retirement. If it were up to me, I would be content to do any type of work, with honing my software skills as a passion project. I unfortunately need money to live though, and the easiest path towards it is to leverage my interest in technology. The authors seem to view the need to make a living as incidental and irrelevant, but I don’t really think it’s harmful to your skills to not dedicate your whole life and career to honing them.
The authors also have a kind of competitive edge to their idea of personal development, suggesting that through devotion to honing one’s craft it becomes “realistic rather than vain to think about surpassing people like Donald Knuth or Linus Torvalds.” First of all, I don’t think realism and vanity are mutually exclusive. And furthermore, I don’t think this is really a healthy attitude to have. Why should you care about your skill relative to other people? How would you even be able to tell that you’re better than someone? Speaking from personal experience, I think the need to be better than other people has the potential to be really harmful to your own development. At least, it was for me. To “surpass” someone isn’t really a concrete, actionable goal, and I think it’s illusory in the same way as chasing success in general. I think it’s better to instead focus on what you actually want in your life, and on the people in it as much as possible.