We have a cultural obsession with optimization. We are in a rush to learn more, do more, become more with less time, energy, and money. It’s a race not just to the best possible outcome, but the best possible outcome with maximum efficiency.
As a general philosophy, this makes sense.
Even biologically it makes sense.
But for up-and-comers, it’s a fucking death trap.
First and foremost because there’s low-quality information everywhere. Everyone has a megaphone and anyone can brand himself as an expert (or a life coach). This means we are taking in incomplete, sometimes even ineffective, advice. When we mirror those who are inexperienced, we adopt their inexperience, leading to inevitable suboptimal outcomes.
Without deep experience and a wide range of knowledge, it’s difficult to vet the quality of our teachers and their messages.
This is a fairly well documented and highly criticized phenomenon among young, hungry hustlers.
Our desperation for optimization (and the success we think it brings) blinds us from our ability to remain rational and choose the right sources of knowledge.
Hustling towards a dead-end is anything but optimal.
In essence, the pursuit of optimization too early can lead to the exact opposite.
The B-side of this problem with our optimization fixation — one I believe supersedes the question of our digital teachers’ expertise and the quality of the information we consume — is whether the timing is right. Whether what we are learning is worth learning right now.
In other words, how do you decide what information, knowledge, and teachings you consume? Is it with a conscious intention or more reactive?
Do you just listen to a series of podcasts from the top-100? Or do you pick episodes based on your interests, struggles, and goals?
Do you read the best-rated books on the business shelf? Or do you choose the best books in the areas of life you are hoping to grow in?
Do you seek out the mentors that have been where you are? Or will you work with anyone that has a pulse and a few dollars in the bank?
Furthermore, how do you avoid learning things that aren’t relevant and applicable to where you are? How do you stay ahead, but not jump too far ahead? How do you remained focus until you achieve mastery?
These are the questions any hungry student should be asking.
Because it’s up to you to seek out the right resources, people, and knowledge.
Not just for their quality, but for their relevance. To you. In this moment.
Because in today’s world, you can learn anything you want. And that’s equally as much a burden as it is a gift.
There are entire fields of study dedicated to unlocking how best to teach a particular topic or skill — from the sequence of lessons to how best to apply theory for long-term retention.
This is why there are grade levels in school. We categorize students based on generalized standards of where they should be skill-wise.
Ideally, lessons are built upon each other in a logical manner and students climb the ladder to mastery, one lesson at a time.
In other words, you wouldn’t teach multi-algebraic equations to an elementary school student who cannot even comprehend that 1+4 = 5. You start with getting her to master the basics.
On the “come up” as I’m calling it here, there’s a bit more strategy involved. Without someone else dictating the curriculum, it’s more like climbing a rock face than a ladder. There are infinite routes and varying levels of difficulty.
Over are the days where someone will spoonfeed you the right lessons at the right time.
But the core philosophy is the same…
Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Discipline your focus.
Start with building a strong foundation.
Work your way up.
Identify ways to consistently improve.
Yet — when it comes to lifestyle design, entrepreneurship, and other such “soft” subjects — we are ignoring these simple principles. We are making it way harder than it needs to be by seeking out the lessons that are too far out of reach.
Especially the optimization of our systems, businesses, and lives.
By exposing ourselves to the stories and viewpoints of those who’ve been incredibly successful, we often see opportunities to “optimize” before we’ve even really gotten started.
We are applying the lessons they’ve learned in the trappings of success to our lives before success. This may be worthwhile for the moral lessons (i.e. spend more time with family) but not so much for the tactical lessons (i.e. structure your bonus plan this way).
When it comes to optimization, we’ve forgotten that you need to start at a place that’s sub-optimal in order to have something worth optimizing. You need to have variables in play.
Here are some examples of this premature optimization phenomenon:
- Trying to develop the perfect time management system when you aren’t even busy (like at all).
- Creating a personal brand before you’ve done anything worth paying attention to.
- Tinkering for hours on end to create the perfect website for a company that has no clients, customers, or investors.
- Developing a long list of goals — from health to wealth to relationships — that look like a total 180 from where you’re at.
- Building a 2+ hour morning routine consisting of exercise, meditation, journaling, and cold water exposure to get yourself in the right state, when you don’t even consistently do any of those things.
- Formulating the perfect exercise routine on paper when you haven’t had the courage to go for a run in over three years.
This is the crazy shit that we do (myself included). And the Catch-22 of it all is that it prevents us from doing what’s needed to eventually achieve conditions that make optimization necessary.
You need to be in a position where the advice you’re taking in is actually applicable. You need to be facing the problems that you are trying not solve, not crafting solutions to problems that quite frankly don’t exist (or at the least aren’t important) for you yet.
By consuming too much “edutainment” (entertainment we’ve convinced ourselves is real education), you are creating the illusion of importance. You are making yourself feel good about working hard. But in reality, you are likely just avoiding the work that needs to be done.
Take for example: listening to Tim Ferriss talk about how you need to set up a detailed email responder and limit email consumption to one hour per week on his podcast.
This makes great sense for a high-powered exec or successful entrepreneur with a track record and a steady stream of overwhelming inbound. It’s tactical and immediately applicable.
This MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE when you have literally nothing going for you. It’s time you should be spending emailing leads instead of studying the intricate systems of Tim Ferriss.
The harsh truth of it may be that you are optimizing too early.
You are saying “no” when you should be saying “yes.”
Tim’s email system was a response to a real-life problem.
A problem that probably doesn’t exist for you yet if you’ve read this far.
So, my friend: your job right now is likely just to get the ship moving. To be proactive, sure. To get on the right course, sure. But, first and foremost, to get to sailing.
Because, captain, you can’t steer a stationary ship.
The moral: Do one thing today that scares you.
Instead of listening to another podcast. Instead of creating the perfect color-coded calendar. Instead of waiting.
Just do something that you’ve been putting off.
Because often the friction we face in life is a result of fear, not overwhelm. Existential anxiety, not suboptimal conditions.
Doing the hard, uncertain, uncomfortable things is the path to the good life.
A sub-optimal one, maybe.
But one that can be optimized when you’re ready.
And if you do it right, you soon will be.