Paul Graham’s Determination

I just tweeted out a link to Paul Graham’s latest essay, The Anatomy of Determination.

There is a lot to like about it.

I especially like Paul’s thoughts about determination. He leads off with:

We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination. At first we thought it might be intelligence. Everyone likes to believe that’s what makes startups succeed. It makes a better story that a company won because its founders were so smart. The PR people and reporters who spread such stories probably believe them themselves. But while it certainly helps to be smart, it’s not the deciding factor. There are plenty of people as smart as Bill Gates who achieve nothing.

There is one part of the post that made me pause. Nature vs nurture’s role with determination is an uncomfortable concept for me.

A good deal of willfulness must be inborn, because it’s common to see families where one sibling has much more of it than another. Circumstances can alter it, but at the high end of the scale, nature seems to be more important than nurture. Bad circumstances can break the spirit of a strong-willed person, but I don’t think there’s much you can do to make a weak-willed person stronger-willed.

I’m not so sure I agree with that.

But Paul follows it up with one of my favorite parts. Paul talks about the need to be “hard on yourself”:

Being strong-willed is not enough, however. You also have to be hard on yourself. Someone who was strong-willed but self-indulgent would not be called determined. Determination implies your willfulness is balanced by discipline.

That’s so right. Being intellectually honest is the difference between being determined vs being delusional.

It’s a fine line that many of us are guilty of crossing from time to time.

I highly suggest reading the entire essay. Overall it’s quite excellent even if there are a few parts that don’t work for me.