Lifelong investments

January 22nd, 2021
location, marriage, work
I love living in Boston, and find the benefits go up each year. The longer I've been here, the more people I know, and the more integrated I am into my local communities. Friends move here because they like the community we've built and want to be closer. The house I've slowly been renovating gets closer and closer to what I want. I get to know the area better, and now that I have kids I know lots of fun places to take them.

I love being married to Julia, and the life we've been building together continues to get richer. She's by far my favorite person to talk to: with so much conversation over the years that we have an enormous amount of shared context and I'm so easily understood. As we continue to get to know each other better, we're better at helping each other and being the kind of partner the other needs. We can divide things up, making complementary investments in skills and responsibilities for our joint life.

I love my kids, and they just keep getting better. At four and six they have such deep personalities, interests, and ways of looking at the world. I love playing with them, showing them things, teaching them things, seeing how they figure things out.

I love my friends. So many backgrounds, skills, and interests. People to visit in so many places, people to catch up with after a long time, people I see almost every day. People to play with, people to ask for advice and help, people to give advice and help to.

I love my blog. When I have an idea that builds on an earlier one, I don't have to explain the other idea, I can link to where past me wrote it up. If I notice something related to something I've been thinking about, but too small for its own post, I can catalog it as a comment on an earlier post. I can notice places where my thinking has changed, and try to figure out why past me had a different view. People read my posts, find them useful, and leave good comments. Some of those people start reading regularly, continue leaving good comments, which attracts others who leave good comments. Being in the habit of writing means that when I want to communicate the barrier is low and I have lots of practice. Some ideas I have promoted here have caught on, and now I can read other people building on them.

I love my work. I've been programming since I was in elementary school, and I can make computers do what I want. I've built deep knowledge of web browsers, web performance, and the ads ecosystem. These compound and interact, and the more I do the better I am at my job. Even incidental things, like working with unix tools on the command line, compound: each new thing I learn makes many others slightly easier. The more systems I work on, the more I have a feel for others, being able to rely on my knowledge of "I would probably build it this way, so it probably works like this." The more coworkers I've had, the better I'm able to work with new ones.

I love making music. Every tune, rhythmic idea, chord progression, they all build together. I've been playing my different instruments long enough that if there's something I want to say musically, it often just comes out. If I get frustrated with one instrument, and go play another one for months, when I come back to the first one I'm often better because of what I learned elsewhere. Time I spend learning to play teaches me new skills that I can apply for the rest of my life.

If I look at how I spend my time, what my interests are, the people I'm around, it's not that different from 10 years ago. The difference is, by investing in all of these areas over years, they're deeper and more fulfilling. Which makes me want to give the advice: pick somewhere, settle down, put down roots; marry and build a joint life; go deep on your career and hobbies. But would that actually be good advice?

An alternative explanation is that I've been lucky. I happened to grow up in Boston; it's luck that I've been sinking roots for thirty years in a city with strong opportunities in my field, close family, and multiple great communities. I met Julia when I was 20, my ~3rd relationship, and we are both very different than we were when we met; it's luck that we've grown together through early adulthood and such large changes as getting seriously into EA. It's luck that I happened to be good at programming, and then it later turned out to be a deeply interesting and lucrative career. It's luck that I happened to have such terrific kids. And so on. Perhaps if I were to give that advice to someone else they might invest in a place/relationship/career/hobby that was a poor fit, and with a little more exploration they might have found something far more fulfilling.

There are also places where I've fit things into a narrative of commitment, where perhaps they don't belong. I haven't focused on any one instrument, and even on my strongest instruments I'm nowhere near as good as people who've been playing fiddle since they were ten. I have a lot of friends, many of them acquaintances, when I could instead have focused on building deep connection with a smaller number. I blog about whatever I feel like, instead of building up expertise, reputation, readership on a coherent theme.

I don't have a solid take-away here; I don't know what in general leads to the best life, considered over a time span of decades. I suspect that people often undervalue the very long term benefits of these investments, since we all discount a bit hyperbolically, and so leaning a bit more in that direction is probably good? I'm very curious what other peoples experiences have been: deep investment that you're happy with? That you realized late in life was misplaced? A life of many different careers/places/relationships that's been a better fit than a smaller number of more thoroughly explored ones?

Referenced in: Leaving Google, Joining the Nucleic Acid Observatory

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