Ask HN: How do you think about life/career goals?

14 points by akor a year ago

If I am being honest I have always gone with the flow in terms of my life and had much less directed effort at any one specific goal. I've been reasonably successful but more and more I'm feeling I want "purpose". I put it in quotes mostly because I haven't defined what that means yet. Looking for inspiration / thoughts but if you were asked what you would like to accomplish from a life standpoint in the next decade what would you say? If you had to say this is what I want to put on my resume in the next decade what would it include?

In case it's helpful money has never been a driver for me except as it helps accomplish a goal. I've always liked the idea of starting a "calm company" and while there have been attempts I can't honestly say I've given 100%. I find my desire waning some for starting a business mostly because I realize how complicated it can be and how little you end up doing the thing you truly enjoy.

I'm intentionally keeping it general as I am looking less for directed advice and more anecdata to open my lens to possibilities. Thank you.

surprisetalk a year ago

I highly recommend Derek Sivers's book on entrepreneurship, Anything You Want.

This tiny book keeps me grounded to a mission of truly helping people and enjoying the process:


For mental frameworks, I personally maintain a few different lists.

My bucket list contains stuff that I think would be fun to do before I die:


My unbucket list tracks stuff that I am trying to avoid:


My now page lists my short-term projects and goals:


I think it's really important to think about the life that you want and try to work backwards from there. What do you want an average day in your life to look like in 10 years? What can you do over the next month or year to inch you closer to that lifestyle?

  • akor a year ago

    Thank you! I've read some of Derek's writing and can tell he thinks outside the box. I like the idea of the "unbucket list" and the first item resonates as I was looking yesterday at boats.

    Honestly trying to think through what I do want now so I can work backwards. I have some ideas but I am not as clear as I feel some other people are.

  • quickthrower2 a year ago

    Well I’ve been punched in the face. Never had it as a bucket item!

    • akor a year ago

      I too have been punched in the face. Adding it and checking it off today!

sherilm a year ago

This is not directly answering you question but might help.

On qualities vs outcomes: Sometimes figuring out what qualities and values you want to cultivate can help prioritize what options to exercise or go for. Often we focus on outcomes, forgetting about the person we are becoming in the process of getting there.

On purpose:

A counter-intuitive property of purpose is that you have to “manufacture” it rather than go “looking” for it. Whatever you are doing right now can be equally purposeful.

Another mistake is to look for it on the “inside”. That’s one half of the equation. The other ignored half is looking on the “outside”. And by definition there are more things on the outside that we aren’t aware of or will ever be.

I collected some useful frameworks over the years that you might find useful. You can find them here:

  • akor a year ago

    That is helpful. I feel like I've experienced the counter-intuitive property (more with "inspiration") and possibly just need to get outside my head and start doing more varied things.

    Thanks again I'll read through your frameworks today.

themodelplumber a year ago

I have coached a lot of people about this kind of stuff.

The easy answers to "goals, purpose, etc." all sound like an AI wrote them.

IMO most people asking about purpose in tech communities are already highly-experienced big-picture thinkers. They see generalized commentary as BS, because they already could have personally guessed as much.

For this reason I've found that it's more helpful to approach the topic from the more novel perspective: The little picture. (This is not the only other perspective, just the one I'm sharing here in case it helps)

Right now, today, this very hour, that's the little picture.

So imagine if your problem wasn't really big picture at all, but rather felt like it was, due to a cumulative buildup of a need for attention to daily little things. If life progress was far more tractable if approached from a little-picture POV, a series of choices that may change on an hourly, daily or weekly basis.

In that case what you'd want in order to find your purpose in life is more like a sense of every single day bringing new, specific, and maybe even preferably little, changes and discoveries.

These would then also inform your already-functional big-picture systems, and provide energy inputs for them.

To me this is really near-magical, because I, too, am a big-picture thinker and find hand-wavy comments about life in general to be pretty corny and unhelpful. But as a big-picture thinker, I also had to realize that I was naturally biased away from little-picture concerns. Even the helpful ones.

Truly helpful topics tend to include: What to read next, eat next, listen to next, surf to next, move my body to next, where and how to relax next, learn next, etc. Each one of these is now a fundamentally fungible, tractable topic at a micro-scale. These choices are also governed by right-now me, not the me who wrote my new year's resolutions.

This is just for consideration though. And, it's kind of assuming that you have the intuitive, big picture feel for how your life is going, in place and working automatically in the first place.

Running the "calm company" you mentioned, this kind of lens is also huge. Especially when it comes to becoming deft, powerful, and flexible with moment-to-moment work and tech choices for example. Yesterday's "notepad.exe deep planning session, 486, home den" can be today's "AI televangelist-directed schedule, laptop, ice cream for lunch experiment, try new blogging software". You will not likely miss much vitality or interest in your life if you are capable of taking this kind of perspective on your choices.

Hopefully that hits less directive for you, and more like anecdata. But also, I do consider this very advanced level in some ways. For one, it can be extremely hard to accept that the big picture isn't where all the focus goes, especially if it's a new concept that sounds suspiciously not like a poster on your boss's wall.

Human culture is also not currently very comfortable reconciling this thinking with the overbaked "is it stoic or hedonist" dichotomy, the "does it sound like the proper life advice I'd be interested in" self-and-self's-blindspot-protective routine, and so on.

Good luck with wherever this journey takes you.

  • akor a year ago

    I really appreciate your reply and re-framing of the situation. I need to give it more thought to internalize it.

    My first thoughts are this is close to what I've been doing. Responding to the events directly in front of me without truly taking into consideration the big picture. It's possible one difference is you're saying to be much more aware of the good (little picture items) and lean into that. I don't entirely think my lack of directed effort is a problem except where it comes to ruling out big picture items because enough of the small items passed that their isn't time for the big picture ones or where some prerequisites are needed and those would take years to master. There is some part of me that without the long term goals would feel adrift. Or possibly the stage of life I'm at just feels like needs to put higher consideration on "legacy".

    Part of me thinks that in order to level up the next steps are going to require more focused effort which both requires knowing on some level what I want but also what I shouldn't be working on.

    Anyway I really do appreciate your thoughts.

  • fuzzfactor a year ago

    I like this message a lot.

    I expect my dedication to one career niche years ago got the big picture out of the way. Must have helped me appreciate the near-term smaller things when they come along.

    I think there can be life/career "obligations", life/career "responsibilities", and life/career "goals" in many ways.

    Sometimes when it seems like "life" vs. "career" might be at odds with each other, it might be because underlying obligations, responsibilities, or goals are not well sorted to begin with.

    Things like this are not always going to be well aligned if ever, but it can be an unfair advantage if there is more harmony rather than less.

    >I realize how complicated it can be and how little you end up doing the thing you truly enjoy.

    But these things are essential to business, especially if you are going to make the most of the (profitable[0]) part you truly enjoy on a daily basis. So you need to get it under your belt early and start devising how you will overcome any compromising effect.

    >what you would like to accomplish from a life standpoint in the next decade what would you say?

    Same thing. Just doing it is an accomplishment.

    Every decade it has gotten easier in the career even though there have been major life upsets financially and operationally from repeated natural disasters.

    Now for the next ten years I'm going to take advantage of the increased opportunities.

    [0] As long as it's profitable, you don't have to pick the absolutely most profitable operation you can do. This can be a lot easier to accomplish if there is not really any greed factor, you still need a desire for a lucrative sustainable or growable opportunity, but you do not need to be obsessed when it comes to making every dollar that is somewhat within reach. Especially at other people's disadvantage. Sometimes the less aggressive business operator comes out way ahead of the shooting star. It could be like getting 250K for being on-call 24/7 vs 100K for easy office hours, either extreme may not be ideal for most so it may be best when there is some choice about how things like this balance out.

    • akor a year ago

      > But these things are essential to business, especially if you are going to make the most of the (profitable[0]) part you truly enjoy on a daily basis. So you need to get it under your belt early and start devising how you will overcome any compromising effect.

      Totally agree. I've seen or been a part of some startups (not the Silicon Valley kind) that made payroll but not much else and the effort that was required to get that (from leadership) was close to what I'd call all consuming. If I start something I want to go in eyes wide open but the more they are open the less I think what you hear about online matches most realities. By that I mean most small business offer a mediocre salary (for the owner(s)) for way more work than you'd do with an job/employer and you're still subject to outside demands that make you do the "not fun" stuff. You hear that if it's something you love then you haven't worked a day... but IME that's BS. Yes, if you work for yourself there are good parts but there may be more parts outside your control (payroll, taxes, employee issues etc) and I've seen it where they take so much effort to stay on top of that it's hard to work "on the business".

      With all that said I'm trying to separate wanting the idea of a business from the realities of owning/operating one. I added it because it's been on my list for a long time and I've put a lot of effort towards understanding the "right way" so there is some part of me that feels like I'd be regretful if I didn't try at least one time with 100% effort.

      Also the mind space I was in when I asked the question was one of "what do I want to put on my career & life resume for the next decade".

      Thank you! I appreciate your input.