Stop the Presses: Essay Shows That Hard Work Can Be Unpleasant

I just finished reading Paul Graham’s latest essay, Schlep Blindness. I could say many things about it, but I’ll get straight to the point. Graham talks about having the realization that creating a business involves lots of unpleasant and tedious work. He makes it sound like he just invented faster-than-light travel, even though every person who ever ran a successful business can tell you this. You don’t even need to have started a company. My grandmother burned this into my brain when I was five years old. Chores are necessary but not fun. If it were easy everyone would do it. Yawn.

 

Is it possible that Paul Graham’s audience (in his mind at least) is composed of privileged, spoiled kids who don’t know about blood, sweat and tears? I guess. No harm in telling suburban kids from Ivy League schools about the harsh reality of the entrepreneur, the unsung hero of modern society. My real issue with this piece is that it’s extremely disingenuous. Let me explain why.

 

Paul Graham is an investor. He invests in hundreds of companies. He is looking for the next Facebook or Google. Creating a company like that requires founders who won’t take an early exit. It’s easier for this to happen if those founders are a bit irrational and inexperienced. Here’s the most dangerous paragraph in the whole article:

 

How do you overcome schlep blindness? Frankly, the most valuable antidote to schlep blindness is probably ignorance. Most successful founders would probably say that if they’d known when they were starting their company about the obstacles they’d have to overcome, they might never have started it. Maybe that’s one reason the most successful startups of all so often have young founders.

 

This is pure speculation, and a rationalization to justify Paul’s preference for younger founders. Another possibility is that older founders most likely don’t align themselves with Paul’s investment objectives.

 

I’m 42 years old. I started IndexTank not that long ago, and I could say what Paul says above: if I had known how hard it was going to be, blah blah. That adage is cliché, ignorance is bliss. That doesn’t mean anything though, because I know I will do other things in life that will have similar obstacles. I may start another company some day, and hopefully I won’t face the same ones. I will face unexpected hardships and it will be rough at times, because that’s life. Nobody knows what they are getting into when they start something new, old or young. That’s just because life is unpredictable, like a motherfucking box of chocolatesDon’t be fooled, what Paul Graham is doing here is thinking like the VC that he is.

 

And Paul, please stop trying to make “schlep” happen. It’s not going to happen.

 

8 thoughts on “Stop the Presses: Essay Shows That Hard Work Can Be Unpleasant

  1. what is it about Paul Graham that gets under my skin every time I read him? I haven’t read the article you are referring to, but I am not sure I have to. Most of what I’ve ever read authored by Paul manages to annoy the living hell out of my. I wonder if it’s more than just his content or opinion. It’s more like his personality or delivery.I guess my question is – is the only thing that Paul Graham has said that annoyed or angered you? I just wonder if you find him as annoying and infuriating as much as I do. Maybe it’s not the article, perhaps it’s Paul? I just wanted to know if I was the only one. Nice post by the way.

  2. Thanks. I have the sense that he takes himself too seriously. You never find self-deprecation in his writing. Many people (including us, apparently) can find that grating. Maybe he has never been dealt a big blow by life, who knows.

  3. But it's more than being self deprecation. He just comes off as a know-it-all, and to some effect an arrogant asshole.You know what's crazy? I just read his article – it's one of his less annoying articles, at least compared to some of his other work. Still, even this article has the typical Paul Graham bullshit; "Most people don't consciously decide not to be in as good physical shape as Olympic athletes, for example. Their unconscious mind decides for them, shrinking from the work involved." I'm building my first startup and I find it very easy to get sucked into code and ignore everything else, ya know? But you can't. You need to do stuff that is not coding, i.e. marketing, talking to customers, etc. I don't know many programmers that decided to build a recipe site instead of something more challenging but then again Paul has probably met more programmers in a year than I've met in my life. So be it. He's still an ass.

  4. The reason he gets under your skin is that he comes off as a narcissist. YC’s the playground he built where he can play lord of the manor, his fanboys can worship him, and everyone can pretend he’s actually done something important or memorable. Remind me, what did he do?Also, his use of schlep isn’t Yiddish in tone, and isn’t idiomatically American as he claims. It’s what I’d call a tone-deaf usage. “Schlep” is most commonly used as a verb. As in, “Oy, you had to drop out of college and schlep all the way to California, just to listen to some meshugenah who thinks he’s a macher?” It’s true, you could say “that was a long schlep” – but other than meaning a long or difficult physical journey, (think getting home from Vegas on a Sunday), when schlep is used as a noun, it almost always refers to a person, short for schlepper, or one who schleps. This is someone at the bottom of the totem pole. As in “what kind of schlep wants to deal with this guy’s verkakte ego?”So, “schlep blindness” to me sounds more like what get if you drink Graham’s kool-aid. And you’re right, it rings false and more than a little disingenuous.-Josh Strike

  5. The vitriol of this post and thread actually makes me sick. PG is probably one of the most benevolent forces in Silicon Valley today. I know because I work with him most of the week, helping the companies with every aspect of what they’re doing. The blogging platform you’re using today wouldn’t exist if he weren’t out there trying to help entrepreneurs build their dreams.I agree with you that there are certain imperatives when it comes to investing. But if you personally knew Paul Graham, and what we’re trying to do with Y Combinator, you would realize how opposite our philosophy is to what you may have experienced elsewhere. I’m sorry you guys didn’t like his writing. Just because someone isn’t self-deprecating means that they’re an asshole? Doesn’t follow, and really doesn’t excuse how unusually hateful and trollish this entire thread has become.

  6. Hi Garry,I’m sorry that you perceive this thread as vitriol, and that it makes you sick. I don’t know Paul Graham personally, and I’m only talking about his essay. I definitely do not hate him, and I think your response is a bit of an overreaction because you know the man and I don’t.My main issue with Graham is that I believe it’s irresponsible for him to present unsubstantiated claims and pseudo-scientific assertions as fact. This is because he has a large megaphone on the internet. Of course he has every right to do it, just like everyone else has a right to respond.I love Posterous and I’m happy it exists. Nobody would deny that a ton of value has been created by YCombinator’s investments. That’s a non sequitur though. If you read my post, I’m not vilifying him. I am poking fun at his style of writing while making a point: that his “schlep blindness” concept is just unfounded speculation.I understand it’s your duty to defend YCombinator’s brand, but please do not put words in my mouth. I may find Graham’s writing pompous and sometimes holier-than-thou. If you put your writing out there (and especially if you are an investor), it’s a given that you will receive criticism. When many of your critics agree, you may want to pay some attention to them if you care about how your message is received by your audience.I have no idea if Paul Graham is an asshole or a swell guy, and that’s not interesting to me. I do think YCombinator is a great initiative. None of this has anything to do with the point of my post.

  7. I feel compelled to respond based on your comments Garry. I’m the one who started the thread, asking why is it that nearly everything that Paul writes manages to irritate me, then after listening to others I managed to narrow it down. I am not the only one who feels this way.It sounds like you know him well enough to feel like the negative commentary about Paul doesn’t represent who he is based on your interactions with him. While that may be true, I stand by what I said. It’s not that he is not self deprecating. I have read enough of Graham’s essays to get a distinct feeling of someone who is smug and arrogant, perhaps ego centric or narcissistic. And based on other responses, here and elsewhere, I know I am not the only one who feels that way.He might be a perfectly nice guy to you. But based on much of what I have read of his, Paul has a habit of stating the subjective (opinion) as objective (fact). I dislike it, so much so that it compelled me to call him an asshole. To be fair the vitriol is pretty weak by most internet forum standards.This conversation could be taking place anywhere, whether it is a Y combinator backed venture or not. He might be better than other VC firms, I’ve never experienced anything elsewhere to know one way or the other. Paul is clearly a smart individual and has valuable insight. But his delivery is so arrogant that previously I vowed to myself I would avoid reading his stuff. Clearly I failed to make good on that vow.For the record, StrikeSapphire’s critique of Paul’s use of the word is spot on. His use of the word schlep is not right, nor have I ever heard anyone use the word schlep in the way he does. It’s usually used in terms of traveling, i.e. “We had the schlep all the way out to Long Island to visit your Aunt Sophie. I hate the Long Island Expressway.” It’s one of his less egregious comments, at least compared to some of the other things he has said.

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