#007 – Worth doing well?

In the early years of my career, I wasted lots of energy on arguments that didn’t matter.

This harmful habit was born out of the healthy belief that “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” But then it hardened into unyielding pedantry as I went off on a quest to “do things right” all the time, everywhere.

Whenever I met someone who wanted to do anything that seemed to be less than perfect to me, I’d challenge them. I’d construct perfect arguments and “educate” the other person on how they were Doing It Wrong. I’d then expect them to make a correction, and if they didn’t I’d fight them to the bitter end.

I wanted to play the “Do everything right all the time” game fairly, so I’d spend countless hours studying. It wasn’t enough to quote the opinion of someone notable. I’d need to rebuild their argument from first principles, and know its tradeoffs well.

This habit persisted because it did have some real benefits. I accumulated a ton of knowledge and gained a reputation as an expert. But I was an uncontrolled force; a searing hot laser firing at full blast towards anything in my path. And that caused accidental burns as often as it generated light.

Later on in life, I learned that while a laser is a powerful tool, it is essential to also carry a lantern. Because in truth, so many challenges are systemic in nature. Economic in nature. Social in nature. These are the kinds of things you can’t observe at all unless you widen your focus well beyond a fixed point.

When you look at the big picture, a lot of things you once cared so much about will seem small by comparison.

That is a sign that you’re on the right path.