Jeremy Côté

Optimizing Everything

I am keenly aware that we live in a culture that likes things to be optimized. We are bombarded with messages of the finiteness of our time, which makes us seek activities that will give us the greatest return on our time. (Just that phrasing should set off alarm bells.) We aren’t supposed to “just” have hobbies. Our hobbies should boost the rest of our life in some way. Furthermore, we should engage in hobbies that we can be excellent at. Doing something just for fun is okay, but it is encouraged to participate in activities which push you to your limits.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seeking to be great at what we do. Improving ourselves is something to be lauded. However, I can’t help but worry that this sometimes gets taken to the extreme.

What’s so bad with doing an activity because you enjoy it (even if you aren’t particularly good at it)? Is it awful to do something that isn’t perfectly optimal for our lives?

When I run, the usual question people will ask me is, “When is your next race?” I know they are saying this to be nice and make conversation, but isn’t it strange that the default state of someone who runs is because they are training for a race? I know that many runners train because they are incentivized by an upcoming race, but in my view, running is reason enough. I love to run, and I don’t need to race in order to feel like running is a big part of my life.

I’m not trying to pick on running here either. My broader point is that we don’t have to optimize every single little thing we do in our lives. Yes, it’s good to reflect and take stock every once in a while on how you are spending your time and if this mirrors your values. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to optimize everything. You can read fiction instead of nonfiction books that would help you grow as a person. You aren’t being “bad” because you aren’t optimizing your life. You can just do something because you enjoy it, with no strings attached.

Optimization can help push us to new heights and accomplish our goals, but be wary of getting trapped in the loop of only chasing the next thing.