Finding Balance

Date: 2023-06-27 | reflect | fulfillment |

Science (or really the Scientific Method) teaches us that we don't really know things, we just have data from which to build mental models of the world.

With enough data points (via events that hopefully control for other variables) we can typically build a case for a given pattern being true. But it's very hard (maybe impossible) to fully prove that any pattern / hypothesis / theory is actually true as there may always exist additional unknowns that break it.

Similarly balance (as in balancing aspects of your life) is hard to prove. It's hard to say that a given balance is the best you can accomplish, really only that one balance is better than another (and even that can be unclear).

There are many factors at play that make this hard:

  • Each person likely has a different optimal balance due to the number of conflating factors so just pulling from past data is likely insufficient
  • We can't really A/B test ourselves. There are too many conflating factors to effectively mock so hard to run authentic simulations and we don't currently have a good way to A/B test timelines.
  • We change and the world changes meaning that the results of one experiment may not actually apply at a different time even when other factors are held constant.

This may start to look hopeless and it kinda is if we're trying to approach an optimal solution. The good thing is that we rarely actually need an optimal balance to be reasonably happy - just a decently good one.

Now I'm not going to say I'm an expert in finding balance - I have plenty of my own vices - but I do think I'm pretty decent at balance experimentation so I want to share my experience here.

The approach I've found to work decently well for finding balance is to simply try the thing from a few mild extremes - doing more, doing less, doing different. Now the results you get often won't tell you how far off you are but they will typically be directionally consistent for where a better balance may exist.

A recent example of this is my experience with skiing. I picked it up during the pandemic to try it out, skiied about 20 days per year for a few years, and ultimately decided that it wasn't a hobby I really wanted to keep pursuing.

In many ways this embodies the "Fail Fast" mentality which I think is better described as Minimum Viable Experiments.

In order to run a good experiment you need:

  • A hypothesis
  • Control and test vars
  • A test to disprove hypothesis

For skiing my hypothesis was that I might like to do this as a hobby for the rest of my life. I tested it under mildly extreme conditions (trying several weekends a year) and once I'd gotten a feel for what it would be like decided I wanted to invest in ther hobbies.

Other examples are:

  • Dating Megna - Met in NY -> Flew to NC to see if this spark was real -> Megna moved to NY -> Moved in w each other a bit earlier than we were comfortable with -> now married
  • Entrepreneurship - Always been a side dream of mine -> decided to quit my job to be an entrepreneur full time -> after ~3 months realized that entrepreneurship has a lot of baggage I don't really enjoy -> now coming back to Software Engineering
  • Creative Technology -> ctech w code -> dropped code to focus on being an Artist -> realized I like to make art more w code so renamed to Creative Technologist -> eventually realized I like building Systems more than any of these so renamed to Technologist
  • Running - Ran in HS -> Decided I didn't want to be faster / not worth trying to be super fast -> ran recreationally -> after college needed a hobby so started running a lot of miles again -> lost purpose / enjoyment in running -> now trying to get back into it

Running these experiments often takes a good deal of investment in time / money / effort. But often the results go on to inform the next several years of investment which can often be worth it.

All that said I've been pondering this quote that goes something like this a lot:

  • A person never steps into the same river twice - for they are not the same person and it is not the same river

I think about this a lot because it 1) clearly, intuitively captures the idea of large unknown effects and 2) captures the inevitability of change.

I don't know where I'm going with this but my last thought is that experimentation is key to understanding the world and ourselves, plus it's a lot more fun than doing nothing.

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