Paul Buchheit: The two paths to success


My strategy can be reduced to two rules: 1) Find a way to make it fun and 2) If that fails, find a way to do something else.

For example, I didn’t really like school, and I especially hated homework, so I turned it into a game to see how little time and effort I could possibly waste on it while still getting «good enough» grades. I barely made it into the top 10% of my public high school class, so I probably wouldn’t be accepted into whatever college Amy Chua has picked out for her kids, but I find that I really don’t care. Instead, I went to a «good enough» college, slept through most of my classes, then got a «good enough» job after graduation. Meanwhile, I taught myself how to program and build all kinds of things, which to me was much more fun than school.

I’m not going to claim that my approach is superior to Amy Chua’s, or that it will work for everyone, but I do think it provides an interesting contrast.

Amy Chua’s approach is based on extrinsic motivation. Children must do exactly what they are told to do, and they must not be happy unless an external authority gives them praise and admiration. They must learn that their own internal motivations and judgement are worthless and not to be trusted. They are successful when an external authority, such as an Ivy League school, tells them that they are successful.

The extrinsic path to success is to focus on being the person you are told to be, and put all of your energy and drive into fitting that mold.

The approach I stumbled into is based on intrinsic motivation. To the greatest extent possible, do whatever is most fun, interesting, and personally rewarding (and not evil). External constraints, such as the need to go to school or make money are simply obstacles to be hacked. Be skeptical of external authorities, as they are often manipulating you for their own benefit, or for the benefit of the institutions they represent (often unknowingly, as they were already captured by the same systems which are attempted to ensnare you). Your identity comes from within — external recognition such as degrees and awards are only of tactical importance — don’t allow them to define who you are.

The intrinsic path to success is to focus on being the person that you are, and put all of your energy and drive into being the best possible version of yourself.

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