Hi! I'm Adam Gordon Bell

Passion and Focus

Published 11 months ago • 4 min read

Adam Gordon Bell

July 3rd

Passion and Focus

Hello, CoRecursive newsletter subscriber,

It's July now, and I have a new episode out here:

Amir is amazing. I identify with his early struggles – his struggles working with people who didn't care – so much. He is a little worried that his earlier self – who got frustrated at other devs – was an asshole, and, amazingly, he still was willing to share his struggles.

And he built an amazing game. It is a game that at least briefly captured global attention – Within the game world and outside of it.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Passion And Focus

So, I'm at my desk, and it's the afternoon of the Friday before a long weekend—Canada Day.

And I'm trying to wrap things up. I changed the GitHub Actions code, and want to make sure it works, then merge my pull request of code. I don't need any reviewers because it's just a proof-of-concept project, so it should be easy to wrap up.

But here's what happens:

I open a web browser to check on the GitHub action, and the browser has some article in it. It's the latest Paul Graham article, which I enjoyed reading earlier, but it was so long that I just gave up.

So I continue reading it, it has some great thoughts, but also still too long for my attention span. Then I see a Slack notification. Someone at my work posted an article about Zig dropping LLVM support, and I left a comment on that. I have opinions.

And then I forget what i was doing.

I think to myself: well I wrapped up the coding work, so maybe I should start working on some of the low priority admin stuff I put off for a Friday afternoon. Partway through that, I remember about the PR and go back to GitHub Actions. The build didn't run. WTF. I track that down to the fact I never pushed the last change. I guess, I had been waiting for a build that never started. So I push it and then decide that maybe my focus could be improve by some music.

And things cycle like this. I get three other small admin things done in the next hour, including unblocking someone else, but I only barely manage to get the PR merged before the day is done.

( And honestly, I can't tell if I'm exaggerating my distracted low productivity afternoon or if it's even worse than that, and I just can't recall how much time I lost because I was so unfocused. )

And not all days are like this. Sometimes I fly through work. But really I wonder if in all the debates about AI I'm seeing lately, one thing that is lost is how truly limited intelligent we are. I know in a broad range of tasks that GPT-4 isn't as smart as I am. But certainly, it has superhuman focus. It never has the focus issues of a friday-before-a-long-weekend Adam.

The problem, in my case, was that I couldn't keep the task "Get code tested and merged" top of mind, as various other interruptions were thrown at me. If the stakes were higher, if people were waiting on my work, this wouldn't have been an issue, but the importance of this task in my mind had to fight against the 100 other distractions the world throws at me.

But I think the even harder issue is keeping my focus on larger long-term goals. A year ago, I took some public speaking training through ultra-speaking. It's super good, and I totally recommend it, but when I started that project, I had specific goals. After the month of intensive classes ended, I attended two practice sessions a week for a while.

But then life threw things at me, more pressing the PaulG articles – things that caused me to lose track of that goal. And now I look around, and it's been a year, and I don't remember the last time I went to a practice session. My goal got bumped out by other things.

There's been a lot of criticism lately of passion. Cal Newport says, "Don't follow your passion" and I think he's mainly correct. That is mainly correct except for the most important part: if you're passionate about something, and you can hold onto the passion and keep going, then the long-term focus is never an issue.

CoRecursive takes me a lot of time. I often struggle to get an episode of the out. But I always get it done. There are parts I don't enjoy - hello fucking around with the website – but you couldn't pay me to stop working on it. I couldn't stop if I wanted to. Others find their passions in different areas. It's that side project that they keep plugging away at. They keep going, off and on, for years.

So lean into your passion - into the thing that is work for others but fun for you.

Choose your passion carefully – maybe it's drawing or teaching your kid to play golf or jujitsu or dance – but don't let go of it. Find that thing that causes you to ignore the Slack notification – the thing where hours melt away rather than being a slow slog through an afternoon.

Everything great was accomplished by somebody who couldn't not work on it. You couldn't stop them.

Or, as Paul Graham says in his essay that I still haven't finished:

What are you excessively curious about — curious to a degree that would bore most other people? That's what you're looking for.

That's the newsletter. Check out the podcast episode. Amir is amazing! He is a man overflowing with passion, which has been his challenge and super power.

Thanks, Adam

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