94. What are you optimizing for?
A thought exercise rooted in values.
It’s been a frigid and snowy year winter in the Washoe Valley, and much of our infrastructure is being tested. Trees are down all over town, the weight of heavy snow too much for delicate branches. Reno’s signature neon lights are dim and patchy, presumably due to wiring shorts. My house lost power and cell service for three days over the New Year’s weekend, leaving the dog and me to head across town and huddle next to my mother’s fireplace.
I am struck by the obvious metaphor: it is in times of extreme events where cracks— disregarded for so long—become too big to ignore. It was only in the aftermath of the power outage that support from Oregon and Idaho was brought in, despite long-standing signs of a grid too fragile to handle a heavy winter.
The timing of these storms plus the entry into a new year has pushed me into a state of reflection and repair. The extreme personal events of 2022—the release of MAY CAUSE SIDE EFFECTS, the death of a friend, discovering a genetic mutation, and the slow, torturous separation from a long-term partner—didn’t just reveal cracks, it shorted the entire system and is now forcing me to rebuild.
At the center of this restructure is the question: What am I optimizing for?
Said another way: What kind of life do I want? How do my choices support or work against that goal?
For each answer that comes to mind, I look for the core value underneath. For example, a big goal is to never send out a resume or apply for a job ever again. This means my past work feeds the flywheel that creates future work. Practically, it means I need to keep producing so the flywheel has a steady stream of energy.
But the bigger question is why it’s so important for me to never again go through a formal job search, and that comes down to how I want to live my life. I value my independence and ability to be in charge of my own schedule above all else. If I’m going through a traditional application process, it means I’d be working for someone else, therefore giving up a core value to meet external expectations. It’s just not going to work for me.
Following this train of thought, I’ve come up with the following North Star: I am optimizing to create a life where I work as much as I want and earn as much as I need.
Simplifying the goal to a single sentence will, in theory, help me make choices that support this goal. A shiny opportunity with a lot of money may come along, but if I already have as much money as I need and the new job requires me to work more than I want, why would I go down a path that works against my core values?
✈️ Upcoming Event
I will be part of a panel in Virginia Beach on January 26, 2023 to discuss society’s over reliance on psychiatric drugs. The event will be held in conjunction with the documentary Medicating Normal and the Richard Scott Fee Foundation. Details available here.
Mental Illness Is Not In Your Head by Marco Ramos at the Boston Review.
This is an excellent overview of the past seventy years of psychiatry and why the hype machine over psychedelic assisted therapy may not be the cure-all it’s being marketed to be.
🧬 What I’m Learning about:
DNA methylation regulates gene expression by recruiting proteins involved in gene repression or by inhibiting the binding of transcription factor(s) to DNA. Methylation can change the expression of a gene, making it especially relevant to people like me who carry a gene mutation that can trigger cancers. I am in the very early learning stages, so much so that I don’t even know how explain this in pre-school terms, but I know that there’s evidence that diet can positively impact methylation in a way that can stop a mutated gene from “turning on.” Apparently it involves asparagus.