On Aaron Swartz

A few days ago, twenty-six year old Aaron Swartz committed suicide.

Described as a technology prodigy, at age 14, Swartz developed RSS--which quickly became used worldwide for Internet transactions.

Evidently, he had also struggled with depression for years.

In 2007, he delivered a conference address that included the following advice for those wanting to succeed:

  1. Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. I think a lot of what people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.


  2. Say yes to everything. I have a lot of trouble saying no, to an pathological degree -- whether to projects or to interviews or to friends. As a result, I attempt a lot and even if most of it fails, I've still done something.


  3. Assume nobody else has any idea what they're doing either. A lot of people refuse to try something because they feel they don't know enough about it or they assume other people must have already tried everything they could have thought of. Well, few people really have any idea how to do things right and even fewer are to try new things, so usually if you give your best shot at something you'll do pretty well.

Good sense advice, but I disagree with his #2.

From personal experience, learning to say "no" is essential to long-term success.

We have to learn selectivity in how our precious time is invested.

Prior to closing his conference address, Swartz described the immense stress in his life.

I can imagine always saying "yes" was a prime contributor.

 My condolences to the young man's family.



34 comments:

Momma Fargo said...

Could not agree with you more. Sounds like with all that creativity, he still suffered from depression. Suicide is something I cannot fathom but saw everyday as a cop. Wish people would have stuck things out. Of course, I didnt' miss the criminals that did it. :P

Pat Hatt said...

Surely awful to hear. I agree as well there has to be a point when you say no.

Matthew MacNish said...

I completely agree. Learning to say no is hard, but never saying no is even harder.

Miranda Hardy said...

He was so young and accomplished. Sorry to read about this.

Bob G. said...

Slamdunk:
I'm with you thetre...and I also disagree with #2...can't yes everything...because somethings are just not "yes-worthy"...

I can however uunderstand what "can" drive someone to taking their own life...and most every time, it's something (or someone) that shouldn't have been given the time of day that was devoted to it BY the victim.

Good post.

Stay safe out there.

Diane Estrella said...

Balance in all things, right???

Bossy Betty said...

I heard a news report on his yesterday. he had done so much in his short life. My thoughts are with his family too.

Lydia Kang said...

What a tragedy. I also agree with you on #2--it's unrealistic to say yes to everyone, unless you're manic. And that's not a good reason, either.

Jeanette Levellie said...

OH, that's soooo sad, and I agree with you. YES is often a four-letter word, if it ruins your life.

Lisa @ Two Bears Farm said...

That's a shame. I have to agree with you on #2

Brian Miller said...

yeah i dont agree on #2 either...that leads to a lot of disappointment...i think it is good to try things...but no is one of our greatest tools....

Stephanie D said...

Very sad when someone struggles with themselves like that. Sorry to hear.

messymimi said...

So often, we feel guilty when we say no, and it's our downfall, leading to over commitment and inability to keep up with the most important things in life.

Always say yes to your dreams, your passions, to what you say is important to you. Learn to politely say no to everything else.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

There's power in saying yes more than we naturally like to, but I agree - sometimes saying no is very important. But it's a terrible thing that he died so young. His poor family.

Janna Qualman said...

Sometimes it seems those who are most successful are the ones with the hardest struggles.

SD, thanks for your comment at my new (fledgling) hangout! I appreciate your visit very much. Best to you. :)

(I'm sorry if you received several comments from me... I've had trouble signing in.)

Carol Kilgore said...

I'm with you about your #2. Not sure how anyone could function saying yes to everything all the time. It is sad, though. He was brilliant.

Michael Offutt, Speculative Fiction Author said...

I am so saddened by this. He was so smart. I wish he could have chosen differently.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My son mentioned him yesterday but until this post, I didn't know who he was. That's terrible that he felt he had no other options.

Kell said...

I think I read about this, because he was a co-founder (or something) of Reddit. It was sad to hear about.

Beth Zimmerman said...

I agree ... learning to say no, enough, and wait are essential life skills! So sad for his family!

LD Masterson said...

Very sad. Rather than saying yes to everything, we just need to be open to all possibilities.

Sorta Southern Single Mom said...

Very sad and I agree. I take on too much and am learning to say "no," gracefully, I hope!

ladyfi said...

Such a shame! We all need to say no sometimes.

Donna K. Weaver said...

As a survivor of a spouse who committed suicide, my heart goes out to his family. Losing a loved one is hard enough, but losing one who leaves by choice carries a different kind of hell.

lisa said...

I'm with everyone else in agreeing with you on #2. I wonder if he meant to encourage people to not say no without first trying something. I think we miss out on a lot of accomplishments by just assuming we'll never be able to do it.

And it is such a shame that this young man didn't say yes to counseling to help his depression. Who knows what he would have done on to discover.

Hilary said...

Yes, this was a heartbreaker of a story. So sad to think that at the tender age of 26, you can't see your way out. May he rest in peace.

Candice said...

It is so sad when someone commits suicide, especially someone so young. Sounds like he had some heavy stuff going on in his life at the time.

Blond Duck said...

That's so sad. It's amazing how much depression/anxiety are connected to creativity.

Unknown said...

So sad a story - but obviously, he had a wonderful spirit. And I totally agree with #1 ... not so much with #2, like you. Tragic, but not that unusual unfortunately!

BobKat said...

Another good post - Aaron Schwartz's apparent suicide is a true tragedy. He was brilliant, and not just for his age. Depression unfortunately is - it seems, a common complaint with intellectual types. Especially those with a passion for life and liberty.

I also agree with Slam one needs to learn how and when to say No. We are not super-charged race cars with parachutes to stop us at the last moment. We are people, and we need to carefully chose our battles and aspirations in life.

I might add I definitely fault the government and it's prosecutor who who in my opinion made an example of Aaron in pursuing very serious charges against him, even after MIT, the alleged victim to his alleged crime chose not to press charges.

We The People has a petition with almost 30,000 signatures to remove the prosecutor permanently. The petition suggests the prosecutor was none other than a bully in this case. From what details about the case I have learned I tend to agree. The White House has yet to respond to the petition.

Luisa Doraz said...

I also agree that we must learn to say no as well as yes. They always seem to catch up with us!

terri said...

How very sad. Unfortunately, the course of this young man's life seems so common for others in similar positions. It must be incredibly difficult to maintain balance when such great success has been achieved.

Holly Lefevre said...

As usual I learned something from you today about Aaron - I had never heard of him before. I like his points, but like you disagree with #2

carma said...

you know my thoughts on this one already...but how did I miss "Assume nobody else has any idea what they're doing either." I love that - I have spent too many years intimidate because I always think everyone else is so confident and proficient in what they do and that I'll never get there.
What an absolute loss in this remarkable young man :-(