For much of my life, I have “optimized” around avoiding constraints. I purposefully have “invested” my time and money in things that have afforded me freedom.

I use the term freedom broadly…as I believe that it applies not only to fundamental freedoms constituted “by law,” but also inherently human ones, like the freedom to independently think for myself.

Tactically, this means I have put myself in a position where I have limitless bounds to explore how and where I want to spend my time. 

I think this has generally been good for me: 

I choose what to work on. I choose who to spend time with. I choose what to read, watch, etc. 

We can debate the “efficacy” of true “free will” – that is not what this essay is about. Rather, I hope to explore “constraints” and how learning to operate within a box is a fundamentally different challenge than trying to think outside the box, but still very valuable. 

My claim is that constraints govern society. While I often take the naive view: the one stating that we can think and do whatever we want – I am aware of constraints. I am aware of reality. 

Acknowledging constraints is the first step. 

Recognizing boundaries and limitations is critical to creating and setting expectations. And expectation management, as I have written many many times before, is a driver of happiness, success, and, in my opinion most importantly, momentum. 

Where am I getting with this and why does it matter? 

I think learning to deal with the status quo in the most effective way possible is a very valuable skill. This not only applies to daily life, but also everywhere in the professional world. 

Idealistically, perhaps we can entirely avoid sunk costs.

Reality, though, is often not so black and white. It is not so easy to scrap work. It is not so easy to trash friends.

There are emotional and physical constraints. There are norms that govern the world – and we tacitly accept them in day to day life. 

Learning to manipulate and game the norms is rewarding. 

That thought has always been very frustrating and counterintuitive to me. It is has always seemed unfair that people could not actually do anything meaningful but instead play social politics and quickly rise to the top of circles and pyramids. 

But that is the way it is. I am not conceding to diving into these games…I still value truly independent thought and am not giving up…

I am stating, though, that acknowledging the games is important to understanding them.

Why do people play? For what reward? What incentive? 

Also published on Medium.