What do you optimize for?

Personal development · 

A few weeks ago, someone posted a poll on LinkedIn asking entrepreneurs why they are entrepreneurs.

It presented 3 choices:

  • Money
  • Status
  • Impact

It made me think because I didn’t recognize myself in any of these propositions.

The one thing missing for me in that list was freedom. This is why I'm doing this. Why? Because time is the most valuable asset I have. What I want is not more money, but to do whatever I want to do with the time I have in my hands. We can always get more money, but we cannot get more time.

To take some factual examples, I want to be able to wake up in the morning and decide that I will not work that day. I want to be able to take two hours at lunchtime to work out or read a nice book. I want to be able to stop my day earlier so I can spend more time with my kids. The thing is, I will not necessarily do all these things on a daily basis. Most of the time, I will still work 8+ hours per day, because I'm passionate and I kinda love what I do. Nevertheless, having the possibility of allowing myself short or long breaks if and when I want to is really what it’s all about.

By choosing freedom as my most important value as an entrepreneur doesn’t mean I don’t like money, status, or impact, but I don’t optimize for these things.

Money is nice but if it was my sole goal, I know I would make much more money by moving back to San Francisco and working for the likes of Google, Apple, or Uber. I’d have a boss that tells me what to do and probably days filled with meetings though, so I know it’s not for me.

Status is also nice because it’s good for the ego to be recognized as an expert in your field, someone people look up to. But again, I’m sure most people would be much more impressed to see that I’m an employee at one of the companies mentioned earlier, than being a founder at a startup they’ve never heard of. This is the sad reality.

Having an impact is obviously great. Being able to change the world is a noble goal but if you’re an entrepreneur for that reason, you might be disappointed because very few can achieve it. And even for those who did achieve to change the world, it’s still very unclear if they made the world a better place or a worse place than before. Recruiters from big companies always use impact as an argument to work for them. “What you do will be seen by hundreds of millions of people!” Sure, but what you will do might be the advanced search feature nobody uses or the privacy settings nobody cares about. Also, you could totally work for 6 months on a thing and having it canceled two weeks before it was supposed to go live.

It took me a long time to figure this all out. I’m proud to be a balanced person, I call myself a generalist, so for a long while I naturally tried to get everything at the same time, without really thinking about it. But when you do that, the likely result is that you’ll get nothing, or at best, a half-baked version of everything. I realized I needed something I optimize for, and freedom came as the natural thing for me, for all the reasons mentioned earlier.

And don’t get me wrong, I don’t say you should do like me. What works for me doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. What I’m trying to say is that you must choose the one thing you optimize for. The north star. All your decisions must be based on whether they will improve what you optimize for. And if it also improves the other aspects, fine, but it’s a bonus.

Vincent Battaglia © 2022