Johannes' blog

Life Choices: Maximize for Options

Tl;dr Making the right life choices can be a paralyzing task when you are confronted with infinite careers and infinite paths. Trying to optimize for generating more options is a strategy to invest your time and organically converge on a purpose in life.

In today's world, you are confronted with way more opportunities than previous generations. Which is excellent overall but can be a daunting challenge. Decisions are equal to progress and speed, and you should aim to make reversible decisions as fast as possible. The following approach to maximize options is a take on how you can continuously progress in your professional career and sustainably grow in your personal life.

Your life path is basically like a streak of time investments. Your career and personal success depend on said investments. Therefore, time is really the ultimate currency as it's the only resource that is absolutely finite. Moreover, time is the ultimate measure of performance: You are what you are doing. Therefore, your abilities should always be measured in time. For example, playing the piano for 3 months and achieving to play 1 concert, will allow you to say you achieved playing one concert. Still, you would hardly identify as a pianist based on one achievement. Your skills require continuous investments. Any skill will deteriorate when you stop investing time. Thus, to really identify as a pianist, a person would invest some time every day to play the piano. Hence, time is the ultimate measure of whether you are proficient in doing something. You can compare your performance to yourself, to others, or to arbitrary benchmarks at any point in time. And by some specification, you can win or lose these comparisons. But these snapshots are no absolute measure and can at best yield you an achievement (i.e., something temporary). Therefore, how we spend our time describes us and reflects our proficiency.

How to invest your time when growing up is the ultimate question. Marketing suggests that having a goal and shooting for the stars is the best way to move forward (e.g., becoming the best basketball player). But this omits the question, what a great goal is. Don't get me wrong, if you have a dream you are striving for, that is amazing, and you should go ahead and invest all your time in achieving it. But not knowing your purpose in life is not a bad thing. Knowing that you do not know anything should inform how you invest your time. For example, you should not aim to run a marathon if you don't know whether you like to run. Therefore, thinking about whether you want to run a marathon, before you have the option (i.e., the physical ability) to run one, is not a good use of your time. Instead, try to maximize your options when you do not know your goal. Options are future ways of spending time, or if you like, you can call them opportunities. Instead of being paralyzed and trying to find out your purpose in life, try to do something that creates more opportunities for you. For example, before you decide whether you like marathons, start by going running regularly. If it sticks, a marathon can be the consequence when you have the physical capability to run one. Whether you want to solve a global problem or try to save a life should not be the question when you choose a subject for your studies. Making good decisions about spending your time is not entirely in your control. Most life decisions are too complex to really predict the expected outcomes. Maximizing options guarantees you that you will get enough opportunities to make good decisions. For example, studying a STEM subject will offer you more options going into your future versus opting for opening a DVD rental store. Arguably you will always learn something. But in the spirit of progress and continuous growth, you want to maximize opportunities.

You will find that money is a proxy for options at the very beginning of your career. Money can save you time, and it can pave the way for new careers. To some degree, money directly translates to your options because you need to sustain a minimum living standard before you can invest in self-improvement. However, only optimizing for money is not a holistic philosophy for life. You should be willing to compromise money for options. A job at a startup can be negative for your income, but can create more options for your career compared to a stable corporate job with less responsibility and learning opportunities.

Maximizing options is a more holistic rule of thumb that also holds for your personal life and health. Try to invest a sufficient amount of time for social activities and health, as it goes to increase your options in the future. Having a healthy body and exercising regularly allows you to maintain mobility and take part in physically taxing activities. Keeping and growing social relationships and exposing yourself to other people helps you to better communicate and empathize with others allowing for more stable relationships in the future.