Here’s a scenario I bet you’ve encountered:
You’re on your way home. It’s a familiar route. You’ve done this trip hundreds or thousands of times.
Your mind drifts to other parts of your day. You think about the grocery list, the latest challenge with work or the kids.
The next thing you know, you’re home.
You don’t remember the commute. You don’t remember the turns, the signs, or the stops. You know they happened and you feel like you were reasonably safe, but you must admit that you were, in essence, on autopilot.
Why do we end up on autopilot? Certainly getting home safely is important to us. The last thing any of us wants is to get in a car accident or to hit a pedestrian.
Here’s my theory - subconsciously, we’re making a decision to optimize. We know we only have so many minutes in the day. We can’t avoid the commute, so we choose to optimize our time by balancing a “sufficient” amount of attention to the road with the rest on other priorities.
If we can give enough attention to driving, isn’t it the best of both worlds to be able to mentally prepare for other parts of our day as well?
Optimizing is a driving force in our day. We optimize our time. We optimize our money. We optimize our skills, our talents, and our relationships.
When Optimization Goes Wrong
But optimization has a dark side. When we let our optimization be subconscious (instead of conscious), we run the risk of optimizing for the wrong things and getting further away from the life we really want.
Optimizing your time on the road might be worth the safety tradeoff if you’re spending that time figuring out a cure to a debilitating disease. But is it worth getting into an accident because you were trying to decide whether your Instagram photo of tonight’s tacos would look better with white or orange cheddar?
You see, optimizing on autopilot is risky; especially when you’ve got celebrities, carefully curated social media profiles, and advertising telling you what you’re “supposed” to value.
When you start combining subconscious optimizing with “adopted” values from others, you can quickly find your life spinning in the wrong direction.
Modern Society’s Preferred Optimizations
So what do those celebs, influencers, and marketers tell you to optimize for?
Two big ones come to mind, both of which are recipes for failure.
First, they tell you to optimize for your “image”. You’re told to optimize for how others perceive you. Get this car and people will think X. Wear these clothes and you’ll give the appearance that you’re Y.
But if you optimize for your image, you’re optimizing on other peoples’ perceptions instead of your own. You’re inherently placing your personal value in what other people think of you, which is something you should never optimize for.
Your worth isn’t defined by what other people think. It’s not even defined by what you think. God loves you and no matter how poor your image (self or otherwise) is. God determined your worth a long time ago and no one can take that away.
Second, society will tell you to optimize for convenience.
Between fast food, internet shopping with 2-day delivery, on-demand streaming, and instant answers from your phone (or a digital assistant sitting in your living room), we’ve been trained to think that convenience is king.
But is our ultimate goal on this planet to “get things easily?” Is that what you want on your tombstone?
Here Lies Chris
Loving husband and father
Found innovative ways to avoid lifting a finger
Rest in peace
Come on! God made you for bigger and better things than finding the easiest and fastest way to satisfy your compulsions.
I had a beer with one of our readers the other week (BTW, this is something I’m highly for and would love to do with any of you that are swinging by Madison, WI) and he shared a great example of how he and his family flipped convenience on its head and found a much better thing to optimize for.
Here’s the rundown:
Their family has three kids (one college, one high school, one middle school) and two working parents. Their college-aged son is home for the summer and working a second-shift internship on the other side of town. With only 2 cars, transportation can get a little bit tricky.
The convenient solution would be to buy another car - even a junker - to help ensure that transportation is easy for everyone. But this family knows that convenient doesn’t necessarily mean best, so they came up with another approach.
Every morning, the dad drives to work. When the son needs to head to work in the afternoon, he rides his bike to his dad’s office. When he gets there, he drops off the bike and takes the car the rest of the way to his second-shift job. When the dad finishes work, he rides the bike home. When the son finishes work (late at night), he drives the whole way back.
Is this convenient? Definitely no. Biking is exercise and that’s hard work. But it’s also good for you. Rain and temperature could make for some pretty rough riding conditions. But those conditions aren’t impossible to tackle.
It’s not convenient, but it does align with this family’s values. They didn’t want to spend the extra money on a car, gas, and insurance. They didn’t want to add more pollution to the air or another set of rusted out parts in the landfill. So they got creative and found a better solution to the problem for their family.
Optimize for Your Values
I love that story - not because that situation and solution precisely matches us, but because it precisely matches them. This reader’s family thought hard about what was important to them and optimized on their values.
Over the last several years, we’ve worked to do the same in our own lives. Here’s a small example:
In our old house, we had four bedrooms. With three kids, that gave us precisely enough space to allow each child to have their own bedroom as they got older.
But as we build the little white shack, we are building with a floorplan that has just two bedrooms and two bathrooms. All three of our girls will share a single bedroom and a single bathroom.
Keep in mind, we’re going to have three teenage girls in our household in the not-so-distant future, so this definitely doesn’t sound convenient from most perspectives.
But convenient isn’t what we want here. We don’t want a situation where our daughters all shut themselves off in separate parts of the house. We don’t want our house to just be a place we all happen to live; we want to be present and supportive in one another’s days every day.
And we don’t want to let convenience drive our finances. More bedrooms and bathrooms mean a bigger mortgage, higher property taxes, and higher operating cost. That expense comes at the cost of other things we’d rather spend our money on - like charity and family travel.
Will sharing a room cause some extra sibling fighting? Maybe. Will there be times that they scream and tell us we’re ruining their lives for not giving them their own room? Probably. But will they be forced to confront issues, work through conflict, and connect as a family? Definitely.
This piece of our floorplan may sound massively inconvenient to some. But for us, it’s a reflection of the values we think are right for our family. And that’s the perfect thing to optimize for.
What are you optimizing for? How does your life reflect your values (or not)? What optimizations are you second-guessing?