Saturday, January 31, 2015

What seems like work to other people that doesn't seem like work to you?

In a recent post, Paul Graham suggests that we ask ourselves this question, and that our answers to this question, are things we are well suited for. I totally agree.

I have always wanted to do a lot of things. Ever since I assumed a semblance of adulthood, I have wanted to to do many different things, have many different occupations. I don't use the term "wanted to" very loosely. When I say "wanted to" I mean that I have actively tried to better myself at those things for at least a month, with a view to do them professionally. These have included becoming a poet, a programmer, a short story writer, a singer, an investor, a quant, a film critic, a photographer, a cartoonist. Fundamentally, I am not a subscriber of the notion that one has to become this one specific thing in life. Right from my teenage, the one thing that the popularly reinforced idea of "you have just one life" has made me a little frantic about is the desire to pack a number of different professions into this one life. To many other people, this same idea is a great motivator pushing themselves in the opposite direction, of devoting themselves entirely to one great pursuit, and making a mark in it. I admire those people, but for some reason, doing many different things holds more sway to me than being a master of any one thing, and I think this is guided by my regret minimization utility function. Would I regret it more if I couldn't be great at one thing, or would I regret it more to not try having done so many others. For me, it is the latter.

At the same time, I very much believe in the other popular notion that "if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well". And it would be foolish not to concede to the oft proven point that trying to do several things is a big impediment in developing expertise in any one thing. Therefore, for people with dispositions such as mine, it is all that much more important that they choose their targets well, because they are only going to be good at so many things.

Which brings me back to Paul Graham's question. It is a great guide.
My answers: Writing essays, Studying statistics and probability, walking. I wish debugging was also on this list. But I suppose this list will change.
It is useful to create one's own list in answer to this question, and to come back to it periodically: both as a reminder to follow it, and as a reminder to update it.

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