Why are all our heroes older than us?

When I was in high school, I decided I was going to do anything possible not to get a “real” job. I only considered this an option thanks to friend showing introducing me to some essays by a guy named Paul Graham. I obsessively read every article he wrote and continue to do so today: http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html.

It’s been over 10 years since I found those essays and I still like and reference them more than I should. He has since retired and barely writes anymore, but decently qualified partners at YC continue to carry on writing similar essays on start-up advice. It’s not the same though and I can’t quite pinpoint why.

Older people who impress us seem like they come from another place.

While he wrote and published a few technical books starting around 29, he appeared to only really push out these essays when he was about 37. When you look at the average age of founders, especially back then, this age is pretty young to start claiming you are an expert on startups. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence by age 33…

The essays were amazing. No one I knew had ever started a company. The only time I heard about about some random kid making a successful company was reading the story behind NewGrounds.com. Everyone I ever knew all said you go to college and you get a job. That’s just how it is. This essay laid out a completely alternative path.

Is it because I was young and impressionable? Kids do tend to have heroes more than adults. I think it is very deserved though. Those essays ended up completely changing my career path, income, life…you name it.

Part of it must be how distant they seem. The YC partners who took over writing the content I have talked to before.

Or maybe it’s an insecurity.

If you see and talk with someone before they are claiming to be an “expert”, you understand a bit more about where they came from. You see where someone comes from and you aren’t as impressed.

“Oh they’re fine, but I could have done much better in their shoes.”

Because if you knew them before and they managed to make more money, getting more acclaim, and win more praise than you, that means you could have taken that time to become one as well but failed to.

People your age and younger are never heroes.

I’ve read the startup essays by others like Sam Altman and Aaron Harris. Why don’t they spark that joy for me? Is it because I’ve gotten older or talked with them before they started writing? Every time a YC partner posts something on Hacker News, there are a few comments of disagreement with quotes from gospel of Paul Graham.

I found an exercise that removes the age bias.

Every time you find someone that you revere, simply look back to when their impressive work first came out. Pretend you were older then. Look back a generation at their heroes and thought leaders of the day and see what they say.

A great example is any time Ted Nelson talks about Steve Jobs and any of Apple’s products. According to him, the modern internet is a bastardized version of the original vision!

This actually goes into a better exercise for life. When you decide you really really like something, spend a lot of time looking up why maybe its not so great. Maybe it’s Universal Basic Income, maybe it’s the lectures by Jordan Peterson, maybe it’s an essay about whether you should be starting a company without cofounders. Spend time looking why other people think they are horrible ideas. Nothing is truly perfect, we shouldn’t act like it is.

Edit: After rereading this, I realized that I have generally have less “heroes” as I get older. This makes sense as I am getting older so less people are older than me to even qualify, but I do have more everyday friends and folks that inspire me. I find that the less faraway and famous they seem, the more inspire me.

Also, it is the odd that the majority of them happen to be white males as well. Is there something deep down that you relate to people who look the most like you?