Dec 28, 2017

2017 in review: narrative (sorta)

Analytic part of this year's review here. 2016 review here: Part 1, Part 2.

2017 goals

From the end of last year's review:

Goals for the next few months? I have goals; I'd prefer not to expound on them here. They can be stated simply:

  • do excellent work at my job, and grow from this.
  • date a romantic partner I'm excited about.
  • commit to a daily sitting practice, and a weekly meditation class.

In 2017, I began dating someone I'm really excited about. I meditated on average twice a week, and began regularly attending Ocean Sangha. I did good work at Wave, and learned a lot about how to do my job well.

So overall, I met my goals in 2017, though it took longer than just the first few months of the year.

On the practice of publicly discussing my life

In the narrative portion of last year's review, I described most of the important events of my year. This was enabled in part by late 2016 being a natural inflection point for me, and in part by my reckless abandon.

I won't be doing the same this year. Two reasons for this:

1) I'm growing more conscious of the long life of internet content. This is a beautiful thing, and I aspire to write things that remain salient decades from now. But it takes a lot of energy to shape stories from my life when I'm conscious of decades-worth of eyes staring over my shoulder.

2) My life is becoming more tangled up with other people's. This also is a beautiful thing, but it means I can't give accurate accounts of the important parts of my life without including parts of theirs. It requires a great deal of energy to do thoughtfully, and even then might color our future interactions (just ask Knausgaard).

This is a shame, really. Some of my favorite blogs consist of up-close stories of personal angst & glory. But this style incurs social & energetic costs; costs which I'm currently unwilling to pay.

Some stances towards 2018

In lieu of details about my 2017 experiences or 2018 goals, I'll share some stances I aspire to adopt in 2018.

Deliberate performance at work. I really liked Ben West's post on deliberate performance in people management (a). The basic idea is to adopt the theory of deliberate practice to business contexts where people can't repetitively practice the tasks they want to improve on.

Ben suggests carrying a journal at work and jotting down notes about interactions where something was surprising. I started doing this recently and found it useful. I intend to keep doing this in 2018, while not being dogmatic or pedantic about it (it feels like the sort of thing that's very easy to go into autopilot on).

Entry points for learning. In this conversation, Tyler Cowen discusses the idea of using "entry points" to learn about a topic. For example, instead of learning Indian history by reading an Indian history textbook, learn by reading about the Indian textile industy. (but only if you find it interesting!)

This approach resonates with me, and reflecting back I can think of times when I would have benefited from the entry point approach (case in point). So in 2018 I'll attempt to use the entry point method when learning new things.

Written business cases. Historically, I've gotten a lot of benefit from writing introspectively about my life. This year, I noticed that I don't write out the reasoning behind most of the decisions I make. I think writing out the case behind decisions will increase the quality of my decision-making, by revealing errors in my unwritten thinking, and by forcing me to decide less impulsively.

It would obviously be impractical to write out business cases for every decision I make, so as a rough cutoff in 2018 I plan to write cases for decisions where more than $300 or 5 hours of time is on the line.

Saying "no" and saying "yes". I was impressed with Claudia & James Altucher's The Power of No, a self-help book advising that people would be better off if they said "no" to more things in their life, only saying "yes" to things they deeply care about.

Later in 2017, I encountered the story of a Tibetan monk who described his secret to happiness: say "yes" to everything that comes into your life (told in Kamal Ravikant's Rebirth).

How to reconcile these conflicting recommendations? Dismiss them both as trivial platitudes?

They might be clich├ęs, but both resonate with me (a hard fact about the world: the truisms are true; much wisdom is simple, old, and overlooked for being so).

I think the trick is that the claims are operating on different levels. When planning, it is important to say "no" to engagements and activities that could fill up your time without really mattering. But in the present moment, it is important to say "yes" to whatever comes up. Plans go off the rails, and when they do it is good to accept life as it happens (rather than pine after life as it could have been, according to plan).

So in 2018, I aspire to say "no" to things that don't deeply matter to me when I'm thinking about how to spend my time. And simultaneously, I aspire to say "yes" to everything that arises in my life, as it occurs.