How to grow in the right direction

We’re about to hit Thanksgiving, which for many of us means heading home to see family. Inevitably, that means we are going to run into little cousins, nieces and nephews we’ve not seen in a while.

They always seem to grow so fast. But that’s only true from your frame of reference. To the parents and teachers embedded in the lives of these little ones development comes at a snail’s pace.

It’s this phenomenon that reminds me to consider my own development as a person and system’s builder through a long term lens.

This post is about how to build a reference frame to determine if you’re growing and developing in the right direction.

History moves non-linearly

If I look at my own development and progress over the last ten months I can easily get frustrated with myself. I could have worked so much faster. I could have used much less money. I could have / I should have / If only…

But histories of both people and societies don’t move in nice upward sloping lines. Sometimes we go backward to go forward. Sometimes we miss modules on the cumulative test of living life.

I’ve learned an incredible amount by throwing myself into the weeds of business building with no functional idea how to make companies. I’ve learned much more just doing it first hand than I would have by jumping into an MBA program.

Yes, mistakes have been made that I would not have made in the comfort of university program or ensconced in business books exclusively.

But now after a few years of having no idea what I’m doing I’m staring to figure it all out.

I’m starting to get a sense of not just what I want to do in life, but how I want to do it. And luckily, I’m now cooking with gas at a young enough age to have real impact over time.

The road ahead is free. No debt, minimal personal responsibilities, and a huge mission to tackle with an epic roadmap. That’s really not too bad.

Every day you work down the same path you benefit from compound interest. You are able to build on what you did the day before. Deviation from the path should be no more than the occasional toe tip into unfamiliar waters.

Hindsight rationalization

We look back on history and surmise that the story of western society is one of many narrow escapes from certain death. For example, American’s could never fathom a future in which we lost the American Revolution.

But had we lost and stayed English we’d all be looking back on that war relieved that we thwarted the drunken colonists from messing up our empire.

We perform this same rationalization jiujitsu with our lives.

You’re life is building intertia towards some end point. It will do that whether you control it or not. All decisions make us a slightly different person. That is evolution, this is inevitable.

If you play a lot of basketball, you will improve. You will make friends that like basketball. You will perhaps earn a basketball scholarship. You may even be drafted.

If basketball is what you want to truly do with your life draft day will be a time for celebration. But what if you just passively opted into basketball because you were pretty good at it and your friends did it? Small choices become big life swings often without us noticing.

We always want to look back on key moments and say ‘that was the best thing that happened to me.’ Especially when we reflect on adversity. We pluck out silver linings to concoct a story that trends up and to the right.

But maybe getting drafted will be the worst thing that ever happens to you. Maybe it will be like the English winning the revolution from the reference frame of a colonist. Maybe it will be the wrong team. Maybe it will be the wrong sport. Or maybe you really should have been a nose and throat doctor in Singapore.

How can you know?

Without a reference frame nothing is good or bad, everything just is. That’s nihilism. Nihilists are not useful to others. Don’t be a nihilist.

You need to establish a baseline reference frame through which you can filter events. For me this was developed through introspection into the things I did as a kid before I was heavily influenced by the thoughts of others.

When I was a kid I was a quiet kid in the corner that sat in his room and worked on legos, model rockets, and inventions. Sometimes I would pop out of my little universe and try to sell my ideas to the world.

Today those initial natural inclinations translate into three industries I’ll probably be involved with most of my life. Education, manufacturing, and sustainable energy. Those have been threads of all the projects I ventured into out of curiosity rather than command.

You become your choices

If you don’t have confidence that your efforts are adding up to something you’ll be proud of, what are you working so hard for?

Without intrinsic vectors you’ll optimize not for interest and curiosity but rather for money and status.

Instead of being rewarded by learning something or crossing a milestone of development in the spheres of interest, you’ll fill up your life with material possessions and redundant social interactions.

Your 8 year old self already knows who you should be when you grow up.

Ask.


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