Paul Graham is an American computer scientist, essayist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author. He is best known for his work on the programming language Lisp, his former startup Viaweb, cofounding the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator, his essays, and Hacker News.
Take a moment to dive into the key points below.
The Joy of Personal Projects
Working on a project of your own is engaging, exciting, and highly productive. It's a different experience than ordinary work, with ups and downs, but it feels more authentic and fulfilling. Many children feel this excitement, but the challenge is to maintain this passion as adults and integrate it into our careers.
School vs. Personal Projects
Our society often separates "play" and "work," making it difficult for children to see the connection between their personal projects and future careers. Schools emphasize the importance of good grades and traditional learning rather than nurturing the passion for personal projects. This approach often leads students away from the joy of working on projects they're excited about and towards a more dutiful, plodding work style.
The Value of Personal Projects
In the professional world, personal projects are highly valued. Graham, as a founder of Y Combinator, found that applicants with personal projects were more attractive than those with just good grades. The excitement and engagement of working on personal projects can lead to more significant innovation and productivity.
The Balance Between Autonomy and Collaboration
There are two ways work can be considered one's own: 1) doing it voluntarily, and 2) working on it independently. The edge between voluntary work and work done because someone told you to is quite sharp. People who are passionate about their work are sensitive to this difference. On the other hand, the edge between working independently and collaborating is more subtle. Collaboration can involve sharing a single project or working on separate projects that fit together.
Startups, Open Source, and Skating
Startups and open source projects often attract people who enjoy working on personal projects, or "skaters." These skaters work best when they have a high degree of autonomy and can make decisions about the details of their work. Steve Jobs understood this when working with the team that created the original Macintosh, allowing them the freedom to be fully engaged and excited about the project.
The Power of Careless Confidence
Adults can learn from the careless confidence children have when starting new projects. This confidence is a powerful motivator that can lead to greater success in personal projects. As adults, we have more control over our work choices and can deliberately choose to work on projects that excite us while maintaining a carelessly confident attitude when starting something new.
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