What are you optimizing for?

What are you optimizing for?  A simple, yet often difficult question to answer.  And yet, one we should ask ourselves often, before and after making decisions. 

In business the answer is likely “profit”.  Then the question becomes what are you willing to trade off – Time or Quality?  Cost, time and quality being three main ingredients in creating most things but they have inverse relationships.  I’ll dive into that more another day, you get the gist for now.    

In our personal lives it is a more difficult question.  If you asked me what I’m optimizing my life for the answer is “I don’t know”.  I’m still working through that.  It seems like a question I need to climb a mountain in Tibet to ask a lone monk at the top who would then give me the answer “to live” or something esoteric like that. 

I do think about and apply this question in more readily comprehensible areas of my life.  One example is in fitness.  Ask yourself why you spend all of those hours in the gym each week.  Is your answer “to look good” (or unconsciously “to appear attractive to the opposite sex to increase my chances of reproducing to propagate my genes).  Is it “to feel good”, like it is for me?  Once I ask myself what am I optimizing for, my answer evolves to have a long quality of life.  I want to be able to do the activities I enjoy without physical limitations long into my old age.  Thinking through this one question can completely change how I look at fitness today.  Will being able to lift a small car over my head today help me when I’m 100?  Probably not, perhaps the opposite.  Unfortunately, I have not found clear guidance on what is best in this situation but I have received guidance on some general directions to head.  This has helped me optimize how I spend my time today. 

In financial terms I had a great example show up the other day.  My siblings are working on their plan if anything should happen to one or both of them.  They asked my wife to consider if we would be willing to drop what we are doing and move to where they live and raise their three children for at least a year.  Our immediate answer was yes, and not just out of a sense of that’s the right thing to do.  We know we are optimizing our financial lives to be financially independent so we will have the freedom from the obligation of working jobs to pay our bills.  On the next level of thought it is so we can have flexibility in our lives to pursue opportunities and interests.  While raising three children is not something we intend to do, being present and available for family and friends falls within our bucket of “interests”.  It was a morbidly encouraging topic to reinforce our decision to give up little luxuries today so we could answer that difficult question honestly and enthusiastically.  For me, the probable sense of relief my siblings will have brings more life satisfaction than the leather wrapped steering wheel would.   

What are you optimizing for?        

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