In April of 2018, my first child (Greg) was born. It took a while to sink in, but the biggest thing that immediately changed in my life was a profound sense of being out of control.
Prior to being a parent, it was easy to fool myself into thinking I could control the conditions of my life. It's not that I've ever felt supremely in control, but I honestly believed that I could exert my will over large, abstract things like my career, where I lived, and generally how I spent my time.
But when fundamental elements of life -- things like sleep, hygiene, and marital satisfaction -- are taken out of your hands by a squalling baby, it becomes hard to avoid the fact that you were never in control in the first place.
I spent the six months after his birth wallowing in an ever-deepening realization that plans and effort were futile. None of my pre-kid coping strategies worked anymore. I could't just take a walk to empty my mind because Greg was crying and I told Becca I would take care of him. I couldn't rely on a good night's sleep to rejuvenate me because Greg was waking me up every 1.5 hours to feed. I couldn't listen to music because I should be trying to make up all the lost sleep. I couldn't reduce work stress by catching up on email at home because there were bottles to be cleaned, etc, etc.
I made a list of the most important elements of my life and concluded 5 were significantly worse off after Greg was born. I stopped trying to plan anything because it seemed irrelevant. Often I couldn't focus on anything for more than a few minutes anyway. What good were plans that were whole days away? People told me it would get better as Greg got older, but I honestly couldn't believe them.
Then, late in 2018, a close friend (who also has young children) shared that he kept personal goals for himself and it got me thinking that perhaps I could regain some small vestige of control and predictability. So, in November and December of 2018, I created some goals and I started working on them in January.
H1 2019 Goals
I won't share all the goals publicly because some are quite personal, but after 4 months, I can say that they have been a huge help in regaining a small sense of control again. Here's the abridged list of goals:
Be less angry at home.
Invest in my marriage through regular action.
Read 6 books, write 1 blog post about my reading.
Get better at playing Battlefield 5.
Ship the projects I committed to for this half.
Broaden my professional network at work.
Build team culture.
Here’s a summary of how I did. I’m evaluating myself early because this week my second child is going to be born and I assume most of this is going to go by the wayside in short order once she’s around:
Exceeded My Goal
Read 6 books. I've already read 11 and this blog post satisfies the second constraint.
Get better at BF5. In January, I had a K/D ratio of about .2, now if I'm trying, I can typically hit 1.5.
Broaden my professional network at work. I originally set the goal of meeting an additional 25 people, which proved too easy and also not valuable. But by focusing on expanding my network, I made choices that exceeded the spirit of this goal.
Met My Goal
Ship my projects at work. I intentionally constrained this to be delivered before I went out on leave, and I hit it.
Did Not Meet My Goal
Be less angry at home. The way this goal was written was great, but it wasn't formed in a way that I could actually make good progress towards it. I essentially stopped trying to accomplish this in January.
Build team culture. I got to February and realized that this wasn't a goal that was worth completing. As a result, I didn't accomplish it.
Invest in my marriage through regular action. I had planned to be more intentional about spending time with Becca and for reasons discussed below, that didn't work.
So, I had mixed success at the specific goals that I set, but I had very high success at regaining a sense of small-scale control and excitement to achieve things of personal importance again.
What’s Am I Going to Change?
Shorten the goal horizon. I set myself the goal of accomplishing these items over 6 months, but then quickly realized that two of the goals weren't really actionable and/or I hadn't set myself up for success to accomplish them. But to honor the system I'd set up, I'd have to wait another 4 months to change and revise my goals. I'll be changing to quarterly goals on 6/30.
Setup a weekly tracker. I was on-track for my marital improvement goal until about 6 weeks in when I realized the format of my tracker didn't let me see whether I'd actually done something nice for Becca for the preceding 6 weeks. I thought I had, but that didn't feel satisfying or convincing and I lost steam. Next time, I'll setup a weekly tracker so that I can track my progress more closely.
Don't include work goals. I have a separate system at work for tracking my career goals, and the redundancy was more confusing than helpful.
Have fewer goals. I had 7 goals for this six month period and that was probably 2-3 too many. If I can't easily enumerate my goals while walking from my car to the office, I probably have too many.
Add a fitness goal. I avoided doing that this time because in the past, fitness goals just haven't been a good use of my time. Other people claim regular workouts make them feel good. I can honestly say that's never been true for me. But, it's become obvious that if I do nothing, I start actively feeling bad after a while, so I need to do something physical, even if it's not the typical “train for a marathon/crossfit/rock climbing” thing, so I'll be adding that in for next quarter.
3 Things I Learned From Each Book
I decided to make it easy for myself just write out three of the neatest/most impactful things I learned from each book that I read:
Almost all of the value of education is signaling, so curricula doesn't really matter. Also, there's no strong evidence that attending prestigious schools (high school + college) have any significant positive impact on opportunities and earnings.
For good to excellent students, it probably makes sense to attend a public university and get an engineering degree.
For average or below average students, college doesn't make sense and learning practical skills (like a trade) as early as high school is a good idea.
The difference between John D. Rockefeller and other less prosperous businessmen from his generation was mostly luck.
Despite contemporary reporting, Rockefeller was a virtuous person with few vices outside of his ruthlessness in business.
The antitrust breakup of Standard Oil not only failed to stem Standard Oil's control of the market, it was the major event that catapulted Rockefeller from being a wealthy industrialist to one of the wealthiest men in all of recorded history.
Humans are not built for rational thought. We evolved to impress other primates and pass on our genes. It is a modern conceit that we are capable of making rational choices.
Most rational argument is in defense of intuitive reasoning, not the other way around.
We make almost all of our choices based upon emotion and intuition. We are so dependent upon emotion and intuition that people without the capacity to emote or intuit become fundamentally incapable of making choices and functioning in society.
The transcontinental railroad was started during the American Civil War and was enabled by the US government and Abraham Lincoln in particular.
Prior to the transcontinental railroad, it took months to travel from New York to San Francisco. Travelers could cut the voyage short by as much as a month by traveling overland across Panama, but for most Americans, the odds of dying from yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, or other tropical illness during the crossing was between 20-33%.
As with most huge construction projects, there was a phenomenal amount of graft, brinksmanship, and political maneuvering required to span the continent.
John Romero and John Carmack both had troubled youths and started ID software out of Shreveport Louisiana, rather than of the current tech hotbeds.
Shareware was a largely untested publishing path before Commander Keen and Doom.
History appears to have vindicated Carmack's game-engine-first style of development.
In the early 1920s, oil was discovered in vast quantities under the Osage Indian reservation in Kansas, and made individuals in the tribe millionaires overnight.
Through a system of racism, bigotry, and greed, white landowners and politicians stealthily killed and stole the mineral rights from hundreds of Osage Indians.
The oil fields became exhausted in the 1940s and today the tribe and their reservation has largely been forgotten.
People who compulsively collect things often treat their possessions are physically part of them.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to cure hoarding behaviors.
Goat trails is a term that refers to the narrow paths through piles of hoarded belongings that hoarders create to navigate their homes.
Through numerous quirks of geography, the United States is predisposed to having a larger, more dynamic, and more stable economy than any other nation on earth.
Due to technological breakthroughs (fracking, automation, et al) and rapidly aging populations outside of the US, the US will have diminishing incentives to protect and invest in global trade in the 21st century.
The same forces that cause the US to de-prioritize participating in the economy of the world will make it more attractive to live here in the coming decades.
During the mid-1500s, Christian Europe and the Ottoman empire were fighting for supremacy of the known world in the first ever large-scale maritime battles on the Mediterranean sea.
To secure the western Mediterranean, the Turks needed to capture Malta, but Christian Knights (the order of St. John in particular) held the island despite battles of almost inhuman savagery.
The violence and disregard for human life by both empires contrasts so strongly with our current world views about human rights that certain elements are hard to believe.
Randomness in all things is the rule, not the exception, and accounting for that fact can often mean the difference between catastrophic failure and incredible success.
It is easy to be fooled into linking cause and effect in complex systems, especially over relatively short periods of time (like a market cycle).
Even what would be considered traditionally "safe" investing strategies incorporate enormous risk in the form of extremely high impact low probability events, that are actually fairly probable when compounded over a person's lifetime. (And example would be a country defaulting on their debt and ruining the currency or environmental degradation causing large areas to become rapidly depopulated.)
There is no definitive, reproducible evidence that breastfeeding improves outcomes for children apart from moderate reductions in infant rashes and diarrhea. This includes the infamous Belarus study that claims the opposite.
Sleep training is effective, can be implemented as early as 3 months of age and has no documented long-term negative effects.
Children that talk earlier test slightly higher on verbal skills in high school, but the effect size is not huge.
The Best 3 Books I Read
The Righteous Mind
Fooled by Randomness
Killers of the Flower Moon