This started as a comment in reply to the sad posting on Hacker News that Linux Kernel contributor Andre Hedrick had taken his own life. I’ve seen a huge number of posts on HN during the last 2 to 3 years about depression and I worry that the Valley is an environment especially condusive to creating a very unhealthy mental state through creating unrealistic expectations and social disconnection. So here are my thoughts:
I think that many more people are at risk of falling into depression than ever before, particularly in the Valley. One of the reasons is that we are constantly exposed to the achievements of our idols and the most capable people we know via social networks and social media and we benchmark ourselves against that.
Until a decade ago your benchmark for “I’m awesome and I’m doing great” was your neighbors, your work colleagues and your friends. Now it’s the one in 100 friends or their friends who are mega-wealthy and fly to Belize for breakfast in their chartered jet and are back for lunch. If you’re not keeping up, you feel like you are somehow failing.
In the valley this is massively compounded because you are constantly surrounded by the mega-successful and are occasionally included in their jaunts. As a young 20-something you start to think you’re a loser because you aren’t vesting Google stock options or enjoying the wealth from your first $10 million exit.
If you want to be happy, do what you truly love, however humble it may be. It’s important that you’re also honest about what it is that you love. Don’t try to convince yourself that you enjoy being a “geek” and being surrounded by technology. If you enjoy the feel of cutting and shaping wood then go be a carpenter and be conformable in your own skin. If you like getting up at 3am, making bread and meeting your neighbors every morning then go be a baker and be happy.
There are in my humble opinion very few people that are actually cut out to be true geeks and to derive pleasure from long periods of solutide with nothing but the glow of a monitor and what it contains to keep you company.
Know yourself, know what makes you happy and take pleasure in the simple things in life, like the good, ordinary people who surround you every day.
Update, response to comments and some additional data:
Thanks for the comments and thanks Hacker News for taking an interest in this post. I’ve received many comments regarding clinical depression including from those with a family history of clinical depression. While it is tempting to simply answer by saying that this post is targeted at those who are simply “unhappy”, rather than suffering from a diagnosed condition of clinical depression, I find myself hesitating because I feel that often a diagnosis of a disorder leads to acceptance and complacency.
One inspiring story that comes to mind is that of John Nash who Sylvia Nasar writes about Nash’s life in great detail in “A Beautiful Mind”. [Ignore the movie, it is unrelated to the book] In her detailed biography Nasar describes how after years of drug treatment, electroshock therapy and treatment with insulin-induced comas, Nash actually found a way to succesfully treat himself by going on a “diet of the mind” as he describes it.
So if you are depressed, and even if you do suffer from clinical depression that a doctor has diagnosed and prescribed medication for, I encourage you not to give up and simply accept the prescribed treatment, but continue to look for ways to modify your behaviour, your environment, your diet and your situation to improve your prognosis.
I’d like to remind you of one final thing. Humans evolved largely during the Paleolithic era into the species that we are today. This period covered 2.6 million years of our history. We have only been “modern humans” for the last 30,000 years, which is only 1.1% of the Paleolithic. We have only been using the Internet en-masse for roughly 20 years. So when you think of creative ways to change your environment, consider which environment your species spent most of it’s time adapting to.
I wish you the very best of luck.