on having no focal point
how do you live so many lives in one?
yesterday i shattered one of my delusions: i realised i don’t believe the company i work for will be “transformative”. we’re a “mission-driven” company, but i believe we will fail to achieve our stated mission.
i’m not sure what to do about this.
i have always been envious of people who manage to happily organise their lives around One Big Thing. mothers centre their lives around their children, provider-fathers centre their lives around their gainful employment, startup founders centre their lives around their companies.
having a focal point gives life simplicity. got an hour to kill? may as well clear my company email, bc it will be useful to my future work-self. nothing to do on a sunday afternoon? may as well ferry the kids across town to meet friends. social interaction is good for them. the central object is locus of meaning that you can pour excess energy into.
a focal point means you have one main priority, and perhaps many secondary priorities. this lets you optimise and satisfice. a provider-father centres his life around making dough for his family, but if he is wise, he leaves enough slack in his schedule to enjoy the glutinous fruit of his labours. pg says startup ceos should work every waking hour, except for exercise and family time. that seems extreme but it’s only every waking hour: even startup founders satisfice their secondary priorities.
a focal point lets you compound your actions. you can improve the thing 0.1% every day. by 10 years you’re 38x better than when you started. with many competing goals but no focal point you drift this way and that across possibility space, never straying far from your starting point.
maybe the thing to do is to have a cluster of interrelated goals. you’re not sucked into the gravitational well of One Big Thing, but as long as those goals are far off in a similar direction, you’ll be drawn across possibility space towards them.
in practice though this feels the same as having One Big Thing. when working on your consumer saas company, you can improve CAC, LTV, conversion rate, k-factor. every subordinate goal is different but all are in service of growing the thing.
it seems like every highly self-actualised person has a focal point. usually it’s their career, often it’s their own company, sometimes it’s their ideas. i think the most interesting people though have completely discontinuous lives that defy narrative compression.
people like Rory Stewart who walked across all of great britain and most of asia, has been a civil servant, written books, spied for his country, tutored prince harry, the list goes on. or Riva Tez, who’s sold dishwashers, run a toystore, studied philosophy, failed a startup, become a vc, worked for intel, and now seems to roll in the dough as a counterculture influencer type. or Vaughn Tan who was an army boffin, edited essays at harvard, marketed for google, made furniture, phd in sociology, wrote a book, and is now making games to promulgate his theories about the uncertainty mindset.
how do you do that?
how do you live so many lives in one?
i think you just start the things and keep going and going and going and going.
i think some things you do out of necessity: Vaughn calls this “desperation by design”. you put yourself in a situation where your environment changes discontinuously and figure out a way to get comfy again. you have to do unusual things to swim, else you’ll sink. Riva sold dishwashers bc she was poor and needed money. Vaughn edited essays for the same reason.
i think having financial freedom makes some of this easier, but the biggest barrier for most people is mental not financial. Rory probably wanted for nothing as a child. but being a rich kid can lock you in a cage of parental expectation: the family belief that you should Be Successful pushes many spoilt brats into paths of dull conformity. his parents must have positively encouraged him instead of negatively dissuaded him. hence his crazy walking adventures.
one thing i think these 3 all have in common is they unhooked themselves from obligations. they let curiosity lead them somewhere, and were too uncaring of convention to realise that this was unusual.
i don’t really care about convention or orthodoxy either. i have a deep desire to live my life to my own principles, to create my own personal pantheon of idols and worship them in my own way. probably exercise is one of these idols. some kind of contemplative practice might be another. writing is a third. being useful to people i care about is a fourth.
in every situation i should work out what my task is. and simply complete it. not worry about the tasks or expectations of others.
these principles. maybe i should write them down.
Love this, good one. Nothing brings me greater joy than jumping between different avenues in life, constantly learning and exploring new things.