Man to Man Episode #6: Why Haven’t I Accomplished More?

by Brett on February 23, 2011 · 73 comments

in Man to Man

Welcome back to another episode of Man to Man. This week’s episode is in response to an email from a young man named Sebastian. Sebastian writes:

I’m 21 years old and I’m a successful student and I have a scholarship at a university. One of the things I enjoy doing is reading about people who have contributed greatly to science and math. Sometimes after reading long enough I come across a man who is in his mid 20s and made a huge contribution to what was known at that time to science. After reading such articles I feel proud of them. They were so young yet they were smart enough to formulate a thesis or invent something that changed the world. But then new thoughts pop into my mind. “Why am I not as good as they were?” “What made them so good?” “What do they have that I don’t?” And literally after a few minutes, I’m down, confused, and depressed.

So my question is this- any advice on how to deal with this? How not to compare myself to geniuses and how to overcome feelings of worthlessness and helplessness?

Watch My Response


Here is a link to the website I mention in the video that tells you what other people accomplished at your age.

What Do You Think?

Now it’s your turn. What advice do you have for Sebastian? Any suggestions on avoiding feelings of inadequacy that come from comparing yourself to great men from history?

Please keep your comments uplifting and edifying. I want Man to Man to be a forum where men can feel safe asking and answering these questions.

If you have a question you’d like answered on Man to Man, just shoot me an email via this contact form. Remember, it can be about anything!

 

{ 73 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Daniel Partain February 23, 2011 at 6:49 pm

My best bit of advice on this subject is a quote from an episode of MASH.

Listen, it’s too big a world to be in competition with everyone. The only person who I have to be better than is myself. And in your case, that’s tough enough. — Potter to Hawkeye

2 John Benton February 23, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Thanks again! I really enjoy these podcasts, very personal. Thanks for everything you do on this website.

3 Beau Robinson February 23, 2011 at 7:01 pm

comparing yourself to others is a bad thing as we are all told, but balancing that with the drive to always keep pushing means we have to learn to be happy where we are but not so satisfied that we stay there.
I feel the same as the question writer, but as much as life has surprised me in the past, out of the blue, I have no doubt more surprises are in store and if I keep my antennaes up, my honor and accountability strong, and treat people well being the best I can along the way, I have faith things will work out and I will create what I came here to create in this life.
In spite of that, some days we will still doubt ourselves, compare, feel like we are stuck etc. Its part of the process, its why the guys before us are to be admired. They went on anyway in spite of the same feelings we had.
I do not believe that those who have done miraculous things are without doubts, or comparing themselves to their own mentors and competitors. I don’t think their own drive would allow them to fee like they “made it”.

4 Daniel Bull February 23, 2011 at 7:09 pm

Sebastian,
Manliness is based on self improvement. Don’t become depressed, just try to be the best man you can be from day to day. If your desire is to add to the sum of knowledge in the physics realm, go about it in a manly way. Keep your head up, and strive to do your best each day. If you work honestly and courageously you will be fine. As a student, with the same ideas floating around, iI find it is best to keep in mind that advances in our fields are much harder these days, and take much longer. The age of your field is everything. For example to better physics you need to have done years of research and study. The IT world is still relatively new, hence the younger age of famous computer ‘geniuses’.

5 Strong Man February 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Your only measuring stick is yourself and how you’re growing. Are you setting and accomplishing goals for personal improvement?

Also–keep academic and career accomplishments in perspective: How are you doing in building the relationships that matter most in your life?

My recent post, Two Great Men, highlights two men that I feel are great, but you probably will never read about them in history books or newspapers.

6 Shawn Elliott February 23, 2011 at 7:21 pm

It might seem corny to quote Star Trek, but there are plenty of insightful moments in that franchise:

“Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history decide whether you were great.”

I seriously doubt the people who have changed our world could conceive of the vast implications of their work at the time. They just did what they knew how to do as best they could, and let things snowball from there.

Let’s say you’re a furnace repairman. Doesn’t seem like you can have much effect on history, does it? And yet, if you fix the furnace in the house owned by the physicist who someday discovers Unified Field Theory, so they don’t die in a gas explosion, then you will still have furthered the cause of humanity. And even if you fix a bunch of furnaces owned by “normal people”, you still will eventually save someone’s life in the process. That is not nothing.

Just do what you’re good at as best you can, and that will be good enough.

7 Greg February 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I have found two books to be instructive in answering this question:

1. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell – helped me to realize that genius, as measured by breakthrough, are often a partial result of timing and luck. And in the meantime it helps to realize that we all stand on the shoulders of one another in achieving breathrough results.

2. “Talent is overrated” by Geoff Colvin – a treatise on the 10,000 hour/”deliberative practice” rule. You don’t become Tiger Woods at anything without many many years of grueling practice. And, oh yeah, the potential side effect? You might end up becoming like Tiger Woods if you neglect other areas of life (like developing your moral code or your emotional intelligence).

8 Stan Duke February 23, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Sebastian: Great questions, and worthy of thinking about. That you are intrigued by great men should tell you something about yourself. Keep in mind, though, that at age 21 and still in school, you are in the prep stage for a potential launch to greatness. Caution though: schooling does NOT make a person successful. Confidence, drive, focus, and work ethic: that’s what will get you to significance. Formal education is a tool, not a runway. If you’ll take a look at the men you admire, the contributions they made were probably at an age much later than you are now, once an ample amount of wisdom and time have been added. I too am intrigued by men such as Ben Franklin, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and the like. And the one element I found that great men have in common is this: they had an attitude of “I CAN do this” vs. ” I THINK I can do this.” Here are some things I’ve done and that I believe are helpful:
1. Carry a small, pocket-sized notebook (I get the graph design from “Field Notes” on the web) and jot down EVERYTHING that interest you; sayings you hear; cool websites you learn of, books you would like to read, questions that come to mind. EVERYTHING. It’s my walking journal. From there see what boils to the top.
2. Know that success — I prefer to use the term “SIGNIFICANCE” — is a journey, not a single point in time. Enjoy the ride! All the pieces join together eventually!
3. Know that you can’t get there alone. Find a mentor, and use the lives of past great men as a sort of “mentor” as well.
4. Don’t EVER buy into the lie of what you are “gonna do”…..”someday”. The word “NOW” must be your motto.
5. Be thankful for every step of the way. As a christian, my thankfulness is directed to God, but either way….have a grateful attitude. You’ll be surprised what it can bring.
Good luck and God-speed on your journey to significance!

9 Izomiac February 23, 2011 at 7:57 pm

When it comes to historic geniuses, a lot of it comes down to the right person being in the right place at the right time, and that has only happened a hundred or so times in history. As for modern geniuses, I think Watson and Crick serve as a good example. First off, Watson was 25 and Crick was 37 when they deduced the structure of DNA. Few people know this because accomplishments matter, not age.

Secondly, everybody at the time knew that the structure of DNA was going to be a huge discovery. It’s not that those two were smarter than the prior generation of scientists, they just were in the right field at the right time. On top of that, it was actually a very political discovery. Rosalind Franklin is scarcely known for her work. What did she do? She acquired and partially interpreted the x-ray crystallography data that served as the basis of Watson & Crick’s model. Her advisor took that data, saw that it was the key to deducing the structure, and showed it to Watson and Crick before it was published. They used that data and published first.

So, I don’t place much stock in historic notoriety as a measure for the worthiness of a person. Determining the structure of DNA took the work of many people, but only two are remembered. The public prefers a good story to accurate history, and the media makes heros out of folks who might not be all that heroic. Be the judge of your own accomplishments; nobody who lives in the physical world can ever live up to the exaggerated or outright fictional accounts of others.

10 Randy Quarles February 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I am a teacher and it is incredibly rewarding when my students succeed.

I am also taking one of my passions by the reigns and sharing my experiences as a beer enthusiast at http://www.brews4life.blogspot.com. I just started, but I want to make this a side career. Accomplishment is what is inside you.

11 Danieel February 23, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Seeing the response to Sebastian’s letter really helped me out today; I just got thrashed by an organic chem II exam. My grades are good in everything else and I pride myself on my wide and varied interests, but chemistry is the hardest most anxiety causing area of study for me. I guess what I am getting at is that the encouragement and placing of our current level of knowledge in historical context makes it seem not so bad. :)

12 Larz February 23, 2011 at 10:26 pm

It’s a simple, though unpopular truth that thinking about others will make you happier. The more you can find time to serve other people, ironically, the more successful you’ll feel. Living a life for one’s self is lonely and depressing.

13 Nick February 23, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Larz, that is a perfect way to put it.

I am in a similar situation to Sebastian, at a university trying to accomplish things in life. I’ve found through my time here that the more you think about other people you want to be (or be with), the more you are lead astray from the path that YOU want to take. These people who have accomplished great things did not do it because they wanted to be great people, they did it because it’s what they wanted to do. It just so happened that the side affect of their passion and determination was becoming a great person in the eyes of society.

And also we’re very young. We have many years to do something amazing. Oh how many people there are that didn’t become famous or rich until they were well into their lives. For example there are famous actors today that didn’t become famous until they were half way through life, thinking they’d done everything they could and everything was done and gone, yet all of a sudden they’re great famous people

Just stay strong because you never know when that strength may take you somewhere amazing in your life.

14 Chris Hoffman February 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm

This brings up a peave. Even Einstein was not sure of the revolution that was relativity, published when he was very young, early 20′s, and the significance was not realized for many years.

All the success lit. I’ve read tries to inspire by all these great accomplishments of all these gifted young men. Funny how all the quoted men and stories never had success literature to draw from. Well news flash, MOST of us will never do anything revolutionary or famous. It is still good and nobel to make children and raise them with some semblance of functionality. To hold a job and serve your calling well, even if you are never quite sure of the calling. To be on a road of improvement regardless of your station. To love one woman well and stay with her until death parts… or for that to fail and to succeed trying marriage the second time. All of these things are good, nobel and rare and accomplishments we can all realistically achieve.

Few of us will play a college sport, hold elected office, manage for a fortune 500 company, discover a cure for any disease, build a magnificent bridge or building. But we can indeed succeed in everyday things that many will often choose poorly and fail.

How about letds hold a job, love a wife and family, pay most of our bills and leave the world a littel cleaner, shinier, improved in quality, expanded in knowledge all just a little bit. Micah 5:8 Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

15 Tim February 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm

People who are famous for doing great things at a young age could not have got there without hundreds or maybe thousands of people who get no credit whatsoever. If you truely love what you do then just enjoy doing it, don’t worry about becoming famous or being thought of as great, if you’re doing the best you can that is great.

16 Jeff O. February 24, 2011 at 3:22 am

I’ve had similar feelings of not accomplishing anything, but then

To put it in perspective, I’m thirty, out of work, had to move back in with my parents, and haven’t had a date in four years.

In the past three years I’ve had 4 jobs and been out out of work far longer than I’ve been in it. In 2008 after working 2 years for a small non-profit, that was experiencing financial problems, I quit because I saw that my position as IT Director could be handled far cheaper by a third party and that by quitting they could hire more fundrasing staff. Since then I’ve worked several short contract positions but have been unable to find fulltime work.

Did I want to be out of work? No.
Did I want to live at home? No.
Did I want to be dating? Hell yes!

I felt pretty sorry for myself until early last year, I decided that it was stupid to judge myself against others. So I stopped looking at what I hadn’t done, and started looking at what I had done and what I could do.

So I’ve been doing a lot of reading, I started helping out with my church’s middle school ministry, I’ve added to my cooking skills, I’ve become a proficient pistol shooter, I’ve lost 45lbs of weight in 4 1/2 months and can run a mile in 9 minutes or 5 miles in just under an hour and soon I’ll be working on my ability to do more than one stinking pull-uo.

So in short: Stop being upset about what you haven’t accomplished, look at what you have accomplished, or can accomplish. Once see what you have done, you’ll understand what you can do. Once you understand what you can do, you’ll start setting bigger goals. Success builds confidence and more success.

17 Clair February 24, 2011 at 4:38 am

Definitely start carrying around a notebook and a pen. Make lots of lists. Read books and jot down words you don’t know, and then LOOK THEM UP! I always wanted to be a writer, but never had any “original” ideas when I was you age. Now, 25 years later, I have an envelope brimming with story ideas. Write down your thoughts. Write down your questions.
The act of writing stimulates your brain in ways that just “thinking” cannot.
Start these habits now, and reap the benefits for the rest of your life.

18 Kevin Daley February 24, 2011 at 4:39 am

The good news is that you don’t have to compare yourself to anybody else. Even those men who achieved great things had a more profound influence on their families and loved ones than they ever did on history.
The other good news is, with a little elbow grease and several years you /can/ learn quite a bit, and once you have the knowledge the contribution flows more naturally.
I also want to add the advice that a science professor who actually did contribute to history wrote me once: while mathematicians (and a few theoretical physicists from what now seems like antiquity) occasionally perform their greatest feats around the ages of 18 or 19, usually scientists do have to keep learning quite a bit longer. That’s not a new thing, that dates back way before the 20th century ;).

19 John Bates February 24, 2011 at 4:42 am

When I read biographies of great men of history, I often get that same feeling – like these guys accomplished more by the age of 25 than I probably will by 50, or ever (I’m 41).

A little historical/cultural perspective is probably good here. Things have changed a lot regarding how western culture has raised men. In the day that most of the men you read about lived, there was no such thing as adolescence. A male was expected to proceed from a boy to a man (assuming many of the responsibilities associated with manhood) about when he hit puberty. Therefore, from the age of 16, men were already beginning vocations, pursuing higher education, getting married, etc.

Nowadays, young men from around 15 until into the twenties have taken on a demographic slot all to themselves and many of the expectations of manhood, productivity, etc. are suspended until later. For better or worse, most of us reading this are a product of that – the phenomenon of delayed manhood (and low societal expectations). This has delayed our growth and works against us meeting some life milestones earlier.

The important thing is, regardless of your age and what you have done up to now, are you doing the things needed to better yourself, society and your family – being a positive manly influence.

20 David February 24, 2011 at 5:05 am

It’s like dick smith and many others said, 75% hardwork and 25% luck. Just look at jk Rowling and Harry potter. I’m sure she never thought her novels would become such a success.
Or roentgen in 1895. Was experimenting with a lightbulb when he discovered x-rays. He was applied to his field but not to the creation and discovery of x rays.

21 David Russell Mosley February 24, 2011 at 6:31 am

There’s been much great advice here already, so I will simply add to the resounding echo of manly advice. When you read about the accomplishments of others, don’t let it depress, but inspire you. If these men and women were out performing you in their day, then work hard so that others who read about you in the future will feel out performed. The greatness of those who came before us is there both to humble and inspire us. We should push forward and strive to be as good as and perhaps better than they were.

22 Dan February 24, 2011 at 6:35 am

What an awesome question – something I’ve been reading about for the past few years. It made me think back to when I was ‘stuck’, and how I pushed through it to do what I do today. I came up with 3 big reasons.

I was too “comfortable” and “secure” (stuck) in the daily grind of working for somebody else and doing what I was told to do every day in exchange for standard biweekly paycheck. It was hard to do anything extraordinary when I was given my best 8-10 hours each day to somebody else’s goals.

I was terrified of failing – I need a guarantee, a 100% chance of success before I would do anything. Eventually, I stepped out and tried real-estate investing, I failed miserably somewhere to the tune of $1,000,000 – I quickly got over my fear of failure, but swore I would never fail in that particular manner again.

I was too busy doing “other stuff” than working towards the extraordinary – other people work, avoiding my own work, trying to collect ALL the information I could before I tried a new venture, drinking, playing video games, escaping – whatever I could do to avoid the gnawing sensation that I was meant to do something better. Eventually, after that beautiful failure I mentioned, and a few others, and a little bit of research, I went on to do my version of extraordinary.

So, if I can offer some advice based on what I have experienced, it is to plan your extraordinary goals – do them. Don’t be afraid to fail – failure is often a blessing if you choose to make it so. You may not invent the next artificial heart, or the worlds first airplane, or latest and greatest technology – but I bet you will have a hell of a positive impact on those people around you.

Good luck.

23 Bruno Afonso February 24, 2011 at 6:45 am

Sebastian, those are great questions.
What you feel now is something that is common to most of us some time in life.

I agree with most of what the other members here have said.
First of all, it is you who matters the most and you probably have lots of qualities that the men you look up to lacked.

Now, as for your questions, I believe that the books Greg recommended are a great way to better understand what’s going on.

Personally, I believe that when we want to compare ourselves to other successful men/women, we can’t just focus on the final results of their efforts. Most of the time we have no idea of what’s behind their accomplishments, but we tend to forget that that is, in fact, what counted most for the accomplishment.
How many hours of study, investigation, trial and error, effort, training, etc., have those great people gone through before they could attain their goals?
It is awesome that you feel inspired to read about others’ feats, and it’s a nice path to success (whichever idea of success one might have). But you must also take notice of the foundations for that success and, if you wish to get the same results, you must be willing to go through the same kind of [sometimes painful] process.
I would love to be a renowned guitarist as Mr. John Petrucci, but until I am able/willing to practice for 6 hours a day like he did, I won’t get there.

So, if you want to avoid the feeling of worthlessness and helplessness, my advice is that you take a deeper analysis into what’s behind every great man’s/woman’s success.

Good luck and keep the attitude up =)

24 Scott February 24, 2011 at 6:51 am

We each exist and affect the lives of others in ways that we cannot understand or even fully see. The fullness of understanding the consequences of our lives remains a mystery to each of us, even to those who think otherwise. It can be no other way really. Yet the simplest and least heralded of those among us can and frequently do have the most profound and meaningful effect on the world. Take stock in knowing that we each change the world when we do all that we do, the small things and the large things, with charity towards ourselves, our familes and our fellow men everywhere. To that end we can all equally excel, if we so choose. Little else has much real value.

25 Core February 24, 2011 at 8:39 am

I’ll keep it short and sweet:

Don’t compare yourself to others.

There was a lot more low hanging fruit back then, than there are today. That’s just the truth. Just like it comes to drilling for oil, your going to have to dig really deep and really long to find the goods.

Also, while back then people had the opportunity to just focus in one area, another words, they were not forced to go to school for 18 years and learn all fields. So before you could just sit and think a certain field through, on your own, for as long as you wanted. So It fudges you up today. Because we need to be “Well rounded” citizens.. hur hur.. Because obviously focusing isn’t the way to success.. (its ironic that school goes against what every successful person has ever done, and that is focus)

Entirely different political and social environments back then as well, compared to today, which is really going to change your environment your in and work flow…

That’s my perspective.

26 Waltman February 24, 2011 at 8:45 am

“All we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” – The Dhammapadda

27 Howard February 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

Sort of echoing what you say in the video, but this recent article by Jonah Lehrer in the WSJ has some specific points regarding science. http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/02/07/the-difficulty-of-making-new-discoveries/

Basically, modern science requires collaboration and pooling of resources, both brainpower and monetary, to build new tools and make discoveries. It is nigh impossible for one person do anything alone.
Additionally, now we have to learn and internalize all the other discoveries that were made before us, to build on their knowledge to create new knowledge of our own.

28 Marin February 24, 2011 at 9:11 am

Something important to remember is that “greatness” is subjective. If you consider greatness to be people that left their mark on history, well you could potentially put both Alexander the Great and Adolf Hitler on the same list. They both conquered civilizations, and both of their names are essential to world history despite the differences in motives and practices. So you really need to be clear with yourself as to what true greatness is before you set out to achieve it.

Brett’s video really does address an important point – to compare your achievements to another person’s is setting yourself up for dissapointment. I really don’t think there is anything wrong with be content with your achievements to date, but you should certainly never feel “satisfied” because that means you have no motivation to continue to more further and garner even more achievements. But to compare yourself to someone in history that you consider “great” is too uneven a playing field for you to place yourself on. These are different times and the internet has pretty much accelrrated the pace of everything from business and education to products and services. Someone that made a discovery at 28 years old 100 years ago certainly didn’t have to deal with the “here today gone today” pace of society we have to deal with today.

So don;t waste your time thinking you;ve fallen short of those that came before us. If making a discovery in your 20s instead of your 30s or 40s is what you consider to be “great”, well then establish the elements of greatness and set an achievable goal for yourself.

Some discoveries change the world, others change a single a life – but neither should be taken for granted – both are examples of greatness in my book.

29 Tom February 24, 2011 at 9:51 am

I suspect you’re equating greatness (and fame) to happiness. Great achievers are not always the happiest of individuals. But the ones who truly are happy are so because they love what they do and are really good at it. Hard work is important, yes, but it’s love for your vocation that makes the difference. I’ve never had such passion about one single thing – too many interests. So, to be great, find what you love and do that for a living. To be famous, make sure what you love is something lots of people will appreciate. Easy!

Rather than great, you may have to settle for being a decent man in a world with far too few – but don’t underestimate what decency may require. The consequences can be dire.

30 Jim February 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

Great question.

It is important to be sure you are pursuing something that you are actually good at. I teach music, and often I come across people who really want to learn music, but honestly, they aren’t going to ever be great, so they set themselves up for frustration from the very beginning. Each of us has “gifts” if you will, whether the ability was set up by our parents by starting music lessons when we were 4 or 5, or whether it is a product of your junior high basketball coach teaching basketball well. The truly great are those who spend the 10,000 hours working on something that they are already good at.

Many people neglect the area that they are actually good at, and thus fail to excel in any area.

31 Claude February 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

we ALL get these feelings from time to time. One great thing about the US is the opportunitis we have to succeed. The downside is that we sometimes feel like if we don’t reach great hights, we are failures. Its not that black and white.

I second Gregs book recommendations above. They help alot.

I’ve come to the conclusion that as long as you are constantly trying to contribute to society in a positive way and trying to better yourself, you are a success. You may impact the world in ways you dont even realize. Maybe it will be your son or granddaughter or someone else who watches your example and builds on it and accomplishes great things that truly change the world. In my case, religion helped me get there.

Hang in there. Be happy with who you are and what you have done.

32 Broklynite February 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

First, remember that we cannot all be Mozart, inventing concerto’s when we are 4 years old. Then remember that the world is always changing and in flux. Circumstances such as family, culture, education, access to food and clothing, and so on all make a big difference. Why do these great men stand out? Because they are so rare. Is it that nobody else can do what they do? No, but many of us get sidetracked by other things and other choices.

When I was in high school, I knew a kid named Larry. Larry was a concert pianist, had played around the world, carnegie hall, etc. At first I was jealous, until I realized that what he got in return was no friends, no social skills, and little life expereince which did not involve sitting in front of a piano. In college I was friends with two people who went on to win Rhodes scholarships. Both of them are jerks, by the way. Why was I friends with them? Because I’m a nice person, and the only one who was willing to deal with them. I thought the same thing “Why did they do it, but I didn’t?” I realized that it was because I hate politicking and would never be able to lie with such smoothness as is required. Not that I am incapable of it, just that I don’t like to.

What I am saying is that there is almost always a price. The question is not whether or not you can do something, but what you are willing to give up in order to do so. I am currently working on my PhD in NYC. I get paid 24,000 a year. Have you ever tried to live in New York on 24k? It’s not easy. It’s a sacrifice. You sacrifice 4-5 years of your life in order to gain opportunity and (hopefully) a better life afterward. But you don’t have to sacrifice everything. I’m married to a wonderful woman, work in a field I really enjoy, which allows me to be creative and explore new ideas to my hearts content- in fact, encourages me to do so. How many people can say that? Yea, the pay means that I have to do things to make ends meet sometimes- as I said, it’s a sacrifice. Don’t think I wasn’t tempted to just grab a Master’s and run, or get a job right out of college. But I decided not to. The decisions we make dictate the lives that we lead. There is always going to be someone better than you. Sometimes it’s because of circumstances, sometimes it’s just innate ability.

I once was dragged onto a basketball court by some friends and proceeded to spend two solid hours throwing the basketball before getting it into the hoop. Michael Jordan can do it from across the court with his eyes closed. Does that make me a bad person? Should I feel ashamed? No, it’s just how things are.

Hell, look at Bill Gates. Dropped out of college. Now the richest guy in the world. But he was in the right place at the right time. And he took a phenomenal chance- how many others do you think tried doing the same thing and failed miserably? Only a few people ever win the lottery, remember.

I’m sorry, I really never post here, but this is something I deal with quite a bit. Nowadays people are getting quarter-life crises, and you have to remember that you’re still young and starting out in the world, and haven’t had a chance to do much. Hell, just getting a job in your 20′s is an accomplishment these days. Now more and more places seem to go for the Audition For This Unpaid Internship To Eventually Get A Paid Internship So That Maybe You Might Finally Get A Job Here. Thousands of researchers are working on curing cancer. Does one researcher group finally figuring it out invalidate the work done by the rest?

33 Dan February 24, 2011 at 10:28 am

I like to read this verse when I think about what I have (or have not) accomplished given my age:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. -1 Timothy 4:12

34 Stephan February 24, 2011 at 10:42 am

Hey Sebastian, this really is an issue faced by many men. Now the thing is, don’t compare yourself with others, because everyone is made differently. No one person is the same, even identical twins. Sure they may look the same, talk the same, possibly even behave the same, but the thing that’s different is their personalities, the talents they are born with. The only reason why great men became who they are/were was because they discovered their talents and passions and worked hard at developing them. They became the best by doing their best =)
There’s a saying by a man called Collin Dye which goes like “Your occupation is the location for your true vocation”.
At the end of the day, just remember this. You are special because you were made different from everyone else, and you will in the fullness of time discover your passion and see it grow and bear much fruit =) hope this helps. Take care and God bless

35 Westicles February 24, 2011 at 10:43 am

Sebastian, you are only 20. You have a whole life to live and plenty of time to make your difference in the world. I would tell you you are an idiot for trying to compare yourself to great thinkers of the past, but I would be lying. The fact that this is such a concern shows that you have strong character. You are showing the ability to self-evaluate. Although you may not be where you want to right now, evaluate your goals and make a plan to succeed. But always take the time to re-evaluate yourself, just don’t criticise too much.

If you ever feel like your life is inadiquate in anyway, listen to these songs and pay real attention to the lyrics. If you despise country music, look up the lyrics.

Darius Rucker – “Alright”
Montgomery Gentry “Something to be proud of”

36 Brandon February 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

Wow, lots of open and thoughtful responses on here. Thanks for the video and for all the write-ins. They are helpful to all of us.

I’ve felt the same way sometimes too. One of my goals since I was a kid was to be a published author. After writing short stories for several years, I started working on a novel and felt intimidated by the task. I wanted it to be “great” but I knew that was a tall order and I was setting myself up for disappointment. I decided to do my best, and to finish it, even if I felt it was mediocre. I just KNEW I had it in me to AT LEAST write a mediocre book!

I did finish it (after a long time) and it gave me the confidence to try again and do even better. Life is about moving forward and making a positive contribution as many have said here. Letting others decide whether what you did is a “great” thing or not is also great advice.

My daily advice to myself: What if you KNEW for a fact that this was going to succeed? How would it change the way you approach this task?

37 Mike Duty February 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

I have a few pointers for this one.

1) Although I’m not Catholic, I like the idea of following patron saints. I think everyone should have some sort of role model they try to emulate. Look at people (they don’t necessarily have to be saints) who may have similar circumstances to yours. Don’t just look at their successes, but also their failures. I read somewhere George Washington was originally rejected by the British army (good for us, bad for them). Michael Jordan was told he wasn’t pro material. I once had a college professor who when was younger was told “you’re not college material” (of course, he had a PhD.) And on and on.

2) Sometimes I wonder if these young superstars will fizzle out. Several years ago, I was discussing this very subject with a former manager of mine. I had read a newspaper article about several very young CEOs. These guys were Harvard MBAs and such and no doubt very smart. Yet they were heading up companies while still in their 20′s. I believe that 28 is too young to be a CEO (unless you’re the one that started the company) because it takes time to develop leadership and certain characteristics you just can’t get in a classroom (even if it is Ivy League).

3) Finally, TR is one of my heroes. He’s been discussed here more times than I know. He was the youngest man to ever become POTUS, the ONLY man to ever win both the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Medal of Honor (although the latter posthumously) and he published 3 nonfiction books before he became President at the ripe old age of 42. A couple of differences between Theo’s time and ours–He didn’t have TV or video games or the Internet. Those infernal time wasters that I believe steal from our productivity and collude to make us dumber and weaker with each passing generation.

38 Claude February 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm

@Mike Duty
Great points. I have an article at home from Sport magazine, early 80′s. It went on about how Jordan would not make an impact in the NBA and Chris Mullen was a better choice in the draft.

Another example is Thomas Edison’s 2000 failed light bulb attempts. He didnt see them as failures but as 2000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.

39 Evan February 24, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I had a similar experience when I was 20. During my “quarter life crisis” I became upset that I had lived almost 20 years without accomplishing anything great, or having any great adventures, unlike my father who had.

My dad explained to me that his experience was different than mine, in that he wasn’t tied up in school throughout his 20′s and was free to experience the world. I on the other had chosen to frontload my education and build a foundation for even greater success later in life.

This lesson is akin to the Flywheel concept in the book Good to Great, by Jim Collins. While the book frames its message in the context of business, the lesson is the same. Before you reach your breakthrough point, you need to first build up some momentum, and that is what I believe me and you are doing right now.

So be patient, keep working hard, and if you keep at it long enough eventually you’ll find what it is that you can be great at and you’ll have a solid foundation from which to build.

40 Cucch February 24, 2011 at 1:42 pm

First of all don’t get down on yourself, at least with respect to comparing yourself to others. Most very successful people are consumed by the thing they are passionate about. That passion is the fuel to forge ahead. Skill, perseverance and hard work hone the abilities and make you able to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. As the proverb goes: “Don’t despise the day of small beginnings.”

41 Mark February 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Lots of people accomplish a lot at an early age, but it usually comes from sacrificing other things. Take TDR for example. Assemblyman, cattle ranch owner, and finally running for the Mayor of New York and all before he was 29. But what about that first wife and kid? It seems like in the few years they had together they saw each other about three times.

Success can be measured in so many different ways. The ways that are recorded in history books are usually just because someone had a good marketer.

42 Lena February 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.
Helen Keller

Also a great song by Flatfoot 56 “Courage”:
http://www.lyricsvip.com/Flatfoot-56/Courage-Lyrics.html

43 Capitol Hill Staffer February 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm

In 2006, I was in intern for U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. I had never accomplished anything of note; I was always last place on the track team, I was a mediocre student (3.17, but considering grade inflation…), and before moving to Washington, worked in a machine shop, of which my degree in political science was useless.

Each intern got to spend a day with the Senator as he did his daily routine. On my day, he told me, out of the blue, that there will always be people who are wealthier than you, better looking, etc. but to always accept yourself. It’s been five years and I can’t remember the exact words, but that was the sentiment.

I sometimes feel like a loser; D.C. has its stars whose names are in Roll Call and The Hill all the time, who get on Fox News and people pay attention to, the rest, not so much. There are the guys who are just out of college, law school, or with a Master’s, single, no kids, well dressed, handsome, etc., and end up big time lobbyists pulling in five figures a month.

But I get home at night, and Dottie, in her little two year old voice, yells “dada!” and William walks shakily to come greet me, smiling and showing me all six of his teeth, while the Mrs. is making dinner. Our culture makes it very hard to not constantly compare yourself to others in terms of wealth, status, etc., and you need to be appreciative of what you do have in life.

As I like to say, not everyone can be Malcolm X or Ronald Reagan, and not everyone needs to be.

44 CarlnNJ February 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm

My sentiments exactly.

45 Michael Jael February 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Greatness is relative. Without others to compare yourself to you can not gain an idea of just how great you are in the grand scheme of things.

Also, just because greatness requires sacrifice of happines it does not mean you will have to live a depressing life to be great. Satisfaction, if it is your thing, can more than compensate for the loss of “fun or “happiness” in ones life.

More importantly, luck is too big of a factor in how far you get. No matter how much you struggle, luck will still play a big factor on success whether or not you like it. Life is unfair. Deal with it.

46 Eric February 25, 2011 at 1:22 am

As someone who has been there, I’ll say beware of your ego hijacking your drive for achievement. Chasing fame can be disguised as wanting to do something “important”. Importance is entirely relative, and external rewards can suddenly vanish when circumstances change. Work toward your passions with integrity. Integrity includes being reasonable with yourself as a human being.

47 Maru February 25, 2011 at 4:48 am

Very interesting, and I think this is something I can learn from as well. My approach is slightly different than Brett’s, though it still puts me at risk for getting myself into trouble comparing myself to others.

For example, there’s a Japanese singer whose work I like named Yui. She’s about my age, maybe a year or so older (born somewhere in 1985 or 1986). She didn’t have any particular advantages when she got started in music. She came from an ordinary family background, and while she had always loved music and writing songs and the like, she had never done it seriously until she was 14. Sometime when she was 14, however, she suddenly grew more interested in it. She taught herself the guitar. She played and sang in parks and subway stations. She learned, hustled, and busted her ass. Eventually her hard work paid off; she got an audition with a record label, and the label hired her. It wasn’t easy getting there at all. It was about seven years of hard work, and three years of playing in subway stations after she graduated from high school that got her where she is now. She’s currently one of the better-known musical artists in Japan, and her music has appeared in television programs.

When I reflect upon the fact that Yui is about the same age as me and has already accomplished so much, it makes me a little melancholy. It makes me reflect on what I have been doing with my life. A part of me, I will admit, is still hungry for fame and acknowledgment, but more than that what I desire is the sense of accomplishment. Part of accomplishment is often being acknowledged by others — Yui is acknowledged for her hard work whenever someone buys one of her CDs or hears one of her songs on the radio — but a man could go his whole life making accomplishment after worthwhile accomplishment without ever being noticed or acknowledged by others. And ultimately, it is not the acknowledgment that matters so much as the accomplishment itself. While I am sure Yui is somewhat happier, and certainly much more comfortable, as a wealthy musician and singer, I imagine that while she was happy to reach the heights of success that she has, she would have been happy enough if she had gone through life as a hometown artist.

More to the point, when I reflect on all that she has accomplished in the same time that I have been alive, while it makes me a little sad at first, it also inspires me. I am not likely ever to become a famous guitarist or singer like she has; but I can get closer to it than most people do simply by picking up a guitar and learning how to play it and getting good at it. And if eventually I am good enough that I can play in front of a street market and walk away with $50 or $100 in my pocket, or that I and some friends will get together in a pub to make music and the owners will actually invite us back, then I will count that a success.

In summary, what this very long reply has been getting at is that, while I still often fall into the trap of comparing myself to others, at this point I tend to derive more inspiration from their example than I did before. I recognize that I am not them. I do not possess their native talents or their inclination, but there is one thing that I can control: my own will. If you push hard enough at something, you will succeed at it.

Consider: what is the point of playing a sport or of working out when statistically speaking most of us will never be able to play professionally or represent our countries in the Olympics? Why should we bother learning instruments, when few of us will actually be able to make a life out of music? What use is it to study history, or literature, or science? I will tell you. We do it for the pleasure of it; and also, because in doing it we might discover some hidden talent or love that we never expected to find, and would never have found if we hadn’t signed up for high school wrestling or football, or started lifting weights, or learned the guitar or violin or trumpet, or never read a book or conducted an experiment. We do it because it makes us whole. We do it so that when we’re sixty we can get together with some of our musically inclined friends and play together at parties. We do it so we can write and speak eloquently, and that so we may understand the past of our own culture. We do it so we can have the pleasure of sport all through our lives, and that so we may be fit and spry well into our old age. Money from specialization in this or that field or profession allows us to live, but it is these other things that make life worth living. A wise man once said “People know more about how to make big money than they do about what to do with it.” Money is only a means to an end, after all, and while having sufficient means is important, at a certain point any more might as well be old newsprint, especially if money is all that you care about.

48 Michael Jael February 25, 2011 at 9:01 am

@Eric

Yui is the japanese posterchild for a popstar that gets more listeners through her cuteness rather than actual musical technical skill or creativity. Are you really jelous of that?

49 John February 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I’ll take a page from a couple of Chinese men that I respect.

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. – Lao Tzu

There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level. – Bruce Lee

I have come to understand that life is best to be lived and not to be conceptualized. I am happy because I am growing daily and I am honestly not knowing where the limit lies. To be certain, every day there can be a revelation or a new discovery. I treasure the memory of the past misfortunes. It has added more to my bank of fortitude. – Bruce Lee

50 Chuck Armitage February 25, 2011 at 2:06 pm

While fame, fortune and accomplishment are certainly attractive, if they are attained for the wrong reasons, then they will be just as empty as failure. If I feel “less than”, no matter what I do, there will always be someone who is “more than” me. If I look at myself in the mirror, see something that I like, and build on that, any good thing that follows will have it’s own intrinsic value. At the end of the day, seeing my happy children off to bed in our decent house after a hearty dinner is an accomplishment in its own right. While my experiences in life may not be typical, the longer I suck air on this planet the more I find that a good portion of life is doing what is needed, for those who need it, when they need it. A mentor of mine says that on the days when I don’t know what to do, and it all seems beyond me, just “chop wood and carry water”. Inevitably, while doing the tasks that support life, I find that I think of something I would rather be doing. If it’s a great idea, then I do it. If it involves slacking off, I don’t (usually). I may never get into the history books, but that’s not my goal. While I wouldn’t mind having millions in the bank, a hug from my kids followed by some sort of “you’re a good daddy” statement is worth infinitely more in my man-bank. Good luck to you, brother.

51 Brian Fulton February 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I measure myself against my father and grandfather. They did much, succeeded and have lived productive lives.

While my life certainly did not turn out as I planned, at 33 I’ve had two careers, traveled the world extensively, served in a war in a support capacity, been married, seen and done many things most never will. A friend is 25 and has done very few of these things, and it gets to him. I tell him i’ve been lucky, and I’ve also made my luck through persistence and hard work. Very few things just fell into my lap. At 33 I’m also still going to college on the GI Bill and making not a great amount of money, but enough.

I don’t consider myself any sort of failure for not being a 33 year old multimillionaire (knowing two of those myself)…. I am what I am, and I am content to be so.

52 Rick Reed February 25, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Hey young friend -

There’s an old saying:
You can’t go back and have a brand new start, but anybody can start now and have a brand new end. – AA Slogan

I had a pretty rough childhood, and as a result, spent much of my 20s chasing girls and doing other non-productive stuff. I didn’t complete my undergrad studies until I was 40, having returned to school in my 30s after being kicked in the rear by my boss who told me that I’d gone as far as I was going to go with only a high school diploma.

As I write to you today, I’m 53. Thanks to the generous support of my employer, I’ve earned two masters degrees and am in the dissertation phase of my PhD studies.

What’s my point?

You’ve got two choices. (1) Spend the rest of the tie you’ve got left on this earth lamenting over how disappointed you are about how little you’ve accomplished so far; or (2) Get up off of the sofa and live your life. Love someone, make a difference – right where you’re planted today. Dream some dreams, then take the first step today toward making those dreams happen. No one is going to do it for you. Take the first step today, And then each day, try taking another baby step. Try not to let more than one day pass between steps. You can do it!

53 Mike Leigh February 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Sebastion,
What do YOU want to do with your life? What are YOUR aspirations? What are YOUR goals? If you want to feel positive and successful, it starts with defining who you are, and who you want to be.

I own a business that helps people develop their potential, and we define success as “the progressive realization of worthwhile, predetermined, personal goals”. If you set SMART goals for yourself, and take action to accomplish those goals, you are successful!

If you compare yourself to others, or try to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, or try to meet the expectations of others, you will not find success. Determine where you want to be in your career, family, relationships, health, education and spiritual life, and measure yourself to your own yardsticks. Write it down. Track your progress. Do it! You will be successful!

54 Steven C February 25, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I am in nearly the same situation. 21, senior and a hard worker; 18 credits, lax, two other extracurriculars. However, one of my biggest fears is not getting anywhere in life, more specifically becoming like my father. Most of the time I feel as though I take one step forward and two (or three) steps back. Its highly frustrating. So I started reading some philopsophy (I think there was a previous article about the Stiocs on AoM). Anyways, the stoics reasoned that bad things (or in your case, no good or extraordinary things) happen to good hard working people. There, view was that we are the ones who are tried and tested so that when our time does come (could be tomorrow, next month, or when were 40), we can stand triumphantly in the face of extreme hardship. Those who have easy lives, according to the Stoics would crumble under even the slightest hint of resistance. I remember I made a personal oath back in high school. I would not mind that the next few years of my life saw great hardship in hopes that in the long-run I would have great success (success to me is not money or power but virtue, pride and feeling of great contribution and accomplishment, and maybe even a women I can share a life with) and feel extraordinary. So while I sit here busting my balls, I know there is something great in store for me whether it is my destiny or something that I must get my self (Yo Brett, any advice on destiny and being a go getter). The question is, do I have the patients to wait for it?

55 Tom February 26, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I’ll be 24 in May, and it feels sort of the same here. I read this post when it first came up and have been thinking about it now and then through the days.

An answer came to me yesterday.

Think about the people you’re comparing yourself to, guys like Mozart, Tesla, Einstein or William Stephenson (the man who Ian Flemming based James Bond). These guys had found their interest when they were very young. Tesla fell in love with electricity as a child, Mozart took piano lessons very early, the only advice I can give is the advice Brett mentioned which is practice.

Maybe like you, I wasn’t raised to be anything other than a good man. I didn’t have a focus till about 2 years ago, if you’re in a similar boat, don’t worry about it. On the 10 year scale you’re a beginner still. If you want to be the best at something you work on it.

56 Kolby February 26, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I think the book talent is overrated would be a good read. I am in school myself and at 28 feel like I haven’t accomplished much but it is unfair to me because I am not these “accomplished” other people. Success isn’t when you arrive it’s in the doing. Oh about the above book. It basically examines the lives and reasons why some people are so successful and that it’s about practice and talent in the sense of some people are just born talented is a myth.

57 Stephen February 27, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I will be 21 next week. I, like other commenters, often feel the same way. This is all mainly due to the men who have preceded me. My dad is a wonderful father, but hardly a career man, and I think that he often laments this. My grandfather had a wonderful business but had an awful habit of spending that crippled him and my grandmother after an frivolous lawsuit against him. My other grandfather was basically was an insecure loser.

How have I sought to do this? Several ways. One is to embrace the faith of my distant ancestors more thoroughly than either of them (Christianity). The second is the early quest for what God would have me do as a vocation. So far it has worked out.

The point is, you never will be successful in your own eyes unless you have a vision to follow. That vision may be given to you by Providence, or that vision may be adopted from someone else as mine is. It may not lead to riches. I don’t believe mine will. But the pursuit of it alone is enough to inspire contentment.

Life will, no doubt, throw more things at those who seek to do something of meaning, but to quote King Henry V:

We are but warriors for the working-day;
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch’d
With rainy marching in the painful field;
There’s not a piece of feather in our host–
Good argument, I hope, we will not fly–
And time hath worn us into slovenry:
But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim;

Take heart, friend and fight the good fight.

58 NomadicNeill February 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm

As some others have pointed out it’s important to consider what ‘achievement’ and ‘accomplishment’ means to you.

I’ve done things that others may admire but that I don’t care about, and done things I’ve feel incredibly proud of that lots of people don’t think much of at all.

Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t let other people define ‘achievement’ and ‘accomplishment’ to you.

59 James February 28, 2011 at 12:41 am

Set your goals and then set out to accomplish them. I’m most likely just echoing what others have said here. Decide on some things you want to do in life, then do them. You don’t have to be 60 to start a “bucket list.” Rather than comparing yourself to the top .001% of men in history, just concentrate on being among the best 1% of men today– that should give you confidence and make you feel good. (Unfortunately, it’s not a very high bar these days). Know your values, know what’s important to you and go do those things.

60 jweaks February 28, 2011 at 11:24 am

Before doing anything else please consider and answer this question: “Why am I here?”

jw

61 James B. February 28, 2011 at 10:56 pm

“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”
-Albert Einstein

Arguably one of the smartest things that guy ever said.

62 Wesley March 1, 2011 at 10:34 am

You gentlemen who are 21 don’t realize how young you are and that you really haven’t had enough time to accomplish as much as you think you should have. Don’t be so hard on yourselves. Rather, honestly assess your abilities and make a list of your goals and aspirations, then come up with some plans for achieving them. This blog has a nearly endless supply of resources for doing that. So, my advice is to take the energy you’ve been spending beating yourselves up and redirect it onto making some plans for what you want to accomplish. That way, you at least have a direction to take and something to work towards.

63 Austin March 1, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I’ve often felt exactly the same way throughout my 20s (I’m now almost 28). Keep striving to be better, but understand that you are you, and not only are you not some other great man, but you don’t actually want to be. Be you, and try to be the best you. Stay true to your best self; that’s the only way you’ll ever accomplish and become what you want to be.

64 Matthew March 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I am 27, and have had thoughts along the lines you guys have had. I do face regret once in a while, and wonder if sometimes where I’d be if…. But that can be a waste of time, and only is good for a fantasy novel. It’s taken several years of hard knocks and many false starts (and I’m sure I’ll have many more) for me to just start doing my dreams. Instead of dreaming about the business of my dreams, I am now building the business of my dreams, and working toward the goal of financial independence. And although you could say I foolishly declined the offer of a fully paid for ticket to college some years ago, I start again to realize my dream of a college education on my terms.

The thing you must do is understand what your talents and gifts and abilities are. Who knows, maybe as you try new things you might uncover new abilities. I discovered that when I learned how to play the piano by ear, I actually had a new skill I enjoyed. But I never knew that until I tried.

Be willing to try new things. Be open to life. And when you find what you are meant to do, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise that you can’t do it.

65 Steve March 1, 2011 at 5:52 pm

There is an ancient riddle that goes like this—Q. what walks on four legs in the morning, two at mid-day and three in the evening? A. Man, he crawls as a child, walks in his youth and hobbles with a cane as an old man.
This riddle has an alternate answer…Man! As a student, you crawl around on all fours (I’m talking metaphorically here, not about last Friday night!) slurping up raw data. As an adult, you take off running into the world on your own two legs, making waves, changing the system, discovering new isotopes of Helium, whatever, and start turning that data into useful knowledge. As a mature man, you can stroll contentedly with your walking stick (or an umbrella, your choice) looking back at the wisdom you have gained and continue to make contributions to society—fewer contributions perhaps than in your younger years, but most likely of greater significance.
My point is this—we have all reached the end of our 20’s and felt small when we compare ourselves to our heroes—that’s why they are our heroes. Just remember, life is long and your time will come.

66 BK March 2, 2011 at 12:36 am

I think most young men think this way, they wonder when their dare to be great moment will come along. I thought the same thing when I was in my twenties and now that I’m in my forties I still wonder when or if that moment will come along, but I am also content in the life I lead and won’t be too upset if that time never comes along. You have to remember you are really just starting your productive life and you have another 50-70 years to do something. As other people have already said, quit comparing yourself to other people, everyone progresses at their own rate so just because your friends are professionals, have nice cars and are getting married doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong, it just means it just not your time.

Finally, try judging your self by the good you have done and the lives you have made better, you will be happier in the long run.

67 Vince March 2, 2011 at 4:48 am

Sebastian, I am also 21 and just today I was thinking the same thing.

I was sitting in a lecture and the admissions co-ordinator was detailing the achievements of some of the new students who she has admitted, from the academic to sporting fields and everything in between.

As I sat there I thought to myself, Jesus Christ, when I was in highschool all I was interested in was dealing drugs and fighting with the rivals, and I felt quite inadequate sitting in a room full of high achieving academics.

Then I thought of all the things I had achieved in the mean time, I completed an Arts degree with a double major and a distinction average, and am now completeting a Law degree with just as much success.

Now with respect to those others, perhaps I haven’t won as many awards as they have academically, but I sure as hell have had a hell of a life in the meantime, I’ve seen and done things that they could only dream about, or have only ever seen in movies, but at some point I decided to turn my life around, and now we are in exactly the same position.

My time to be remembered hasn’t yet come, and I’m sure yours hasnt yet either. Complete your degree, persue your career, secure your personal life, and be forever improving yourself as a man, and i promise you your success will follow.

Most importantly remember, you are not your idols, you may follow them so far as their ethos is concerned, but you are not and can never be them. You are your own man, and if you follow your own life’s path you shall be remembered as such, if in fact that is your wish.

68 Giablo March 2, 2011 at 7:57 am

Dear young friend

Here’s my 2 cents. Being 35 I find myself looking back and wondering wtf I did with those 35 years and not being thrilled with the answer. Here’s what I discovered from looking back:

1. Don’t measure yourself by other people’s standards. Measure yourself by your own standards. Just because the slacker friend of yours cruises through life doesn’t mean you should. Just because the smart hard working friend of yours has a 4.0 GPA doesnt mean you need that.

Looking at what other people achieved and trying to emulate that is a treadmill – you will never find an end to it and will never be fulfilled. Or even worse – if you’re in a group of people that are constantly p’d off and depressed – you’ll inherit their outlook if you’re not answering to yourself.

Ask yourself when you start something – be it an assignment, a career etc – what completion criteria would make YOU proud at the end of it, and meet those criteria. When you answer to yourself, you will be as solid as a rock mentally and spiritually, and you will inspire others around you to greatness.

Use the examples here of what others achieved at your age to inspire you, but don’t let it push you in the wrong direction for the sole purpose of ‘achievement’.

2. Fear of Failure. Learn to love failure because that is the way you learn new things. If you never fall down while learning to ride a bicycle you will always be frozen with the fear of falling, and won’t be able to enjoy the ride or go faster. Fear of failure keeps you in your comfort zone and will severely retard your growth in any area.

Deal with the fear by letting go of attachment to the outcome, and focus on the growth you get from the effort.

“The highest reward for a man’s toil is not what he gets for it but what he becomes by it.” – John Ruskin

Hope that helps.

69 Ben March 6, 2011 at 1:45 pm

I don’t necessarily buy the theory that we now need more time to acquire the base knowledge necessary to make major contributions. It assumes all great ideas are organically related.

I think it’s more about expectations — the INCREASING expectation of young people that society will provide for them and the DIMINISHING expectation older generations have on younger ones. We’ve built a cushy society for ourselves where adolescence can extend way beyond what nature intended.

70 Randy Mc March 10, 2011 at 12:29 am

Im one of those who constantly is thinking like Sebastian. At 30 im working on my second degree and about to start a family. The question of the “meter stick of accomplisment” has been on my mind for a few years now so I started to look at the difference between the prior generations and our current one. One of the observations I’ve made is that if we are not careful our time gets sucked away from us as opposed to us choosing to spend our time on something. TV and the internet are the biggest adversary to a person who wishes to accomplish much. They keep our minds busy so we think we are doing a lot but in fact its just wasting time. One of the smartest decisions I have ever made was getting rid of my cable. The time once spent flipping through the channels is now spent doing something productive. I’ve yet to cut back on the internet (as you can well see) but I think this is my primary step to becoming more productive.

I hope this helps

R Mc

71 AKeeler March 11, 2011 at 12:47 am

I’m 20 now and studying physics and philosophy in college. I’ve come to think that there are a couple reasons for why it seems that people don’t accomplish so much at a young age. First is that there is so much more material to learn in any given field, and the related difficulty of having to push further to find any unexplored ground. Once Newton formulated his laws of motion, or Kant (though to be fair, he was a pretty late bloomer himself) articulates the concept of an active intellect, then that ground is covered, and you have to push even further to find something truly novel. Perhaps there’s also some hubris as well that thinks “we already know it all, there’s really nothing new to discover,” but the other thing is that people were expected to “grow up” at a much younger age then than they are now. Instead of being a college kid who’s just starting to learn about the “real world,” these guys were already working a trade for several years, probably married, and just generally had more exposure to their field than we have by the same age. It’s really like comparing apples to oranges.

72 Rick Ackerman March 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Greetings Sebastian! Your question is a good one, it goes to the core of what life it about. Gaining wide renown is heady business…the little I made turned me into an arrogant bore, but if you have the kind of talent to add to the world’s knowledge, then you were intended to go for it. Some of these kinds of contributions last awhile, a few are remembered a very long time, most are forgotten quickly.

What about people as a work, an avocation? There is wide spread belief that there is another life after this one, and good reasons to think it’s true; people might be forever. I do all I can to ease the way for my spouse, and sometimes we take in teens awhile whose own parents reject. Boy Scouting has given me many opportunities to make a lasting contribution to many boys of 11-18 years old. As one old Scoutmaster said long ago: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different, because I was important in the life of a boy.” -Forrest Whitcraft

From Rick Ackerman… having a great time camping, pulling pranks, and weaving into the heads of goofy boys ideas like: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean & Reverent. After only 12 years, the fruit is starting to show, and funny thing happened, I’m a better man than I was before, and more satisfied with my life.

73 Jeff March 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Brett, good comments–particularly wrt the “low hanging fruit” that science of prior centuries was able to pluck. I mean, c’mon, gravity? I’m sure it seemed so hard back then… The statistic on the age of Nobel prize winners was a great fact for backing this up, too. One comment that I would make: a lot of scientific discoveries are just being able to see past the obvious. (Newton and his apple, for example, speaking of low hanging fruit…) You hear a lot of people say, “I could’ve thought of that.” Yeah. Maybe. But you didn’t think of it. I think if you want to accomplish great things, you’ve got to be able to pluck the simple out of the complex. I think for Newton and that crowd, they were able to pluck the simple out of the hazy depths of what wasn’t well understood. Gravity, bacteria, atomic structure: these discoveries all place structure on the universe. Now, we’re just expanding on that understanding.

Also, your comments about comparing your accomplishments to others were spot on. Think about it. In five more years, you’re going to be standing up against Jesus, who (according to some of us) had died to save the world. Who needs that!? What I find useful for comparison are people I know who exhibit character qualities that I’d like to develop in my life. There’s only a few people (I could pick more, but I keep it simple) and the character qualities are very specific.

As for Sebastian: I wouldn’t worry about what I’ve accomplished. I simple try and live the best life that I can right now. If history has something to judge, cool. But don’t pass up the chance to touch the life of someone around you right now in favor of “bigger” accomplishments later.

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