What are you optimizing for?

Personal growth?

Money is power.
Money is time.
It’s access to future energy.
It’s freedom.
It is control over nature.
It takes effort to get money, but once you do, it’s addictive.
With it, you can help others.
A great many problems seem to disappear.
You architect the life you dreamt.
You advance all the noble causes your heart desires.
But… optimize for money, and it will embitter you.
Everything becomes a resource, and you normalize it for production.
The tree becomes wood.
Your personality becomes a brand.
Friends become your network.
You become paranoid of new acquaintances.
It’s harder to make new friends.
Impatience consumes you.
Few people can empathize with your problems.
And you create most of your problems yourself.
Don’t optimize for money.

Personal growth is fun.
Year after year, you set goals and achieve them.
You read books.
You learn from mistakes of others.
Your heroes show you a better life.
A more productive, effective, impactful, mindful, healthy, successful life.
Every day leads you closer to greatness.
You try new diets, and feel more powerful.
You try new routines, and feel healthier.
You change your friends.
You change your lover.
You change yourself.
You change your self.
You don’t know who you are anymore.
All this growth seems never-ending.
You never feel at peace.
You no longer pause to savor achievements.
Self-improvement feels more like convergence to a bland, saliva-polished norm.
What’s the meaning of this upwards crawl?
Who are you doing it for?
You become a dopamine-seeking missile.
There must be just another technique, just another mentor, just another step in the ladder, that will finally make you happy.
If you optimize for growth, there won’t.

Knowledge is human progress.
A end in of itself.
It’s wisdom, clarity, and understanding.
It’s facing hard truths and accepting them.
It’s battling inner demons.
Pushing your brain to the edge of its powers.
Curiosity drives you to expand your world-model.
You love math, science, games, history, business, and art.
No learning is dull if the topic is honest.
You stand in the shoulders of giants.
Your best friends are long gone, and teach through their writing.
You learn of their struggles, and make them your own.
They invite you to join the rare club of true truth-seekers.
But optimize for knowledge, and you’ll be blind.
Blind to the simple, the gentle, the transient.
To the imperfect others.
These are all contingent, and you focus on the timeless.
The struggles of mundane life bore you to death.
You grow distant to everyone, content with their limited knowledge.
The number of peers that can understand your ideas grows thinner by the year.
As your brain inflates you become like an alien.
Optimize for knowledge, my friend, and you’ll know true loneliness.

Experiences are the joy of life.
Travel, music, culture, food.
Family, friends, sports, community.
You seek the novel and revel in it.
Keep pushing the limits of what you will try.
At times it means frantic action, exciting adventure.
Other times it’s peaceful gardening and nature contemplation.
Voluntary exhaustion by helping fellow humans.
Giving your all to create worthwhile art.
Or losing yourself in the joyous ectasy of lovers.
Because there’s no true knowledge without action.
“Fortune favors the bold.”
“When in doubt, just do it.”
“The world is your oyster.”
Every person you meet is a story waiting to be discovered.
You fall for one group, grow connected, then distant.
You travel to a new country while planning your next.
Wanderlust reveals the “lust” in it.
You grow restless, depthless.
You have so many memories, but you barely remember the details.
Your story is so erratic that it’s hard to connect the dots.
It’s hard for others, and it’s hard for yourself.
You postpone loyalty, delegate responsibility, renounce stability.
Another major adventure might just be waiting around the corner.
Everywhere feels like home, but you are always gone.
If you optimize for experiences, you’ll never grow roots.

Love is the answer.
Family goes first.
It’s your original community.
Your core, your history, your genes.
You owe them life, honor and care.
You didn’t choose them, but they made you.
As a kid, your parents were Gods.
As you grow older, you see more of them in you.
You understand them better, and appreciate the role of family.
You may even start your own.
Pick a partner.
Commit and invest in your future together.
Maybe even create your own artisanal humans.
Educate, nurture, help them grow.
Note how the focus of your life shifts outwards.
Surround your family with true friends.
Because they are the family we pick.
Laughter, play, deep conversations, warm embraces.
They represent true, unconditional, chosen love.
But optimize for love, and you’ll go crazy.
Crush under the weight of duty.
Obsessive in caring for loved ones.
Your life—or theirs—becomes insufferable.
You lie awake in bed thinking of all the ways they could come to harm.
Feeling the guilt of what you could have done better.
Whatever more you could have done.
Your laser focus makes their life so high-stakes.
Try to convince them of your hard-earned knowledge, do business with them, push them to healthy habits.
If only they understood you’re doing this for love, for their own sake!
Every conversation, a dry forest ready to be kindled.
Your unmet needs make you unavoidably irksome.
Your unbreakable bonds bring you down to the ground.
Optimize for love, and you’ll live in your own fantasy world.

Peace is the ultimate currency.
Focus on calmness, equanimity, and strength.
Problems only exist in the eye of the beholder.
“If you can solve your problem, then what is the need of worrying?
If you cannot solve it, then what is the use of worrying?”
“The obstacle is the way.”
When you do chose to solve problems, use the full force of your resources—money, growth, knowledge, experience, family.
Your breath holds wisdom that no book can match.
Your confidence lets you make hard choices that lead to an easy life.
Peace is a castle you build for yourself, brick by brick.
Or is it?
No matter your context, you still seem to find new problems.
You moved out of the city to enjoy nature, and now you drive 15 minutes for groceries.
You bought that new product to make your life easier, and now you’re miserable when you don’t have it around.
You cut someone toxic out of your life, only to miss the good parts.
Increasing comfort leads to increasing dissatisfaction.
Each problem “solved” makes you weaker, not stronger.
Optimize for peace, and you’ll never find it.

So, good friend, I ask again:
What are you optimizing for?
Money, growth, knowledge, experiences, family, peace?
What are you optimizing for?
And, should you?

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geohot asking “what’s your loss function?”.
Derek Sivers’s How to Live book.
Cover photo by MidJourney

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