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Awe and Longevity

Commitment versus Exploration.

What's something you've used for a decade?

I think about the keyboard I've had for 8 years. I know the width of the keys by heart. I know it's digital sound.

Maybe it's an instrument, a book or a company you've grown with for decades.

I've been thinking through this question myself as I've moved on from a job, certain career plans, and identity. It's easy to be carefree and spontaneous while I'm 'young.' Things come and go.

"Experiment!" is a common refrain of advice

But I think back to that piano I know so well: every scratch, every idiosyncratic ring of the keys. Similarly, you might have memories from each area of the office; you've grown accustomed to the routine.

There is beauty in longevity. We know things (and people) better.

"While investing deeply in one person, one place, one job might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth." Mark Manson eloquently verbalizes the benefits of longevity.

How do you get the rewards of depth and duration?

Choosing Depth

This begets the question: Is depth a choice? And if so, how? When should we keep our options open, and when should we commit?

One theory that seeks a mathematical solution to the problem of exploration versus commitment is the theory of Optimal Stopping: the mathematically-defined time to take a particular action that will consequently maximize the reward.

Dating, finding a parking spot, tweaking code, or apartment hunting can use the 37% Rule, otherwise known as the Secretary Problem. The 37% Rule describes the amount of effort required to make the best decision. Simply put, reject a certain number of options to start, then choose the best of the bunch after that. With these criteria, you'll choose the best option 37% of the time.

By spending years (or decades) dating, searching for the best partner, has likely seen (a) suitable partner(s) come and go.

I like being able to draw from a breadth of experience. I might even call it a point of pride. But according to the Optimal Stopping theory or the 37% Rule, at some point, I need to choose a path to pursue depth and experience the rewards it has to offer.

I'm reminded of my experience with a blacksmith I encountered in Asheville, NC, who took a different approach. He took a blacksmith class in high school just for fun, then decided that he wanted to explore it. He apprenticed under a master blacksmith and has now spent two decades in the trade. While he didn't exactly utilize the 37% Rule to explore his options, he is happy, healthy, and committed.

Thinking about how many times this blacksmith has swung a hammer, I can only respect how he steadily hones his craft. He talked about knowing the subtleties of how his hammer bounces off his anvil, and how he still continues to learn.

"There are some experiences," Manson continues, "that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft half your lifetime." (181)

I see the benefits to longevity more and more as I approach my late twenties. And while it's great to think about it as an ethereal concept, I ask myself a few questions to ground myself and consider whether I'm pursuing breadth or depth:

  1. Is it possible the actions I'm taking be remembered in one year? Five years? Ten years?

  2. What small step will I have the energy and consistency to do repeatedly?

  3. How does this affect others?

Small changes will compound to create longevity.

Compounding is not just a financial thing. Longevity and its compounding effects apply to our finances, careers, hobbies, and relationships. They produce some of the most important returns in life. All it requires is a commitment.

I think of my relationship with the outdoors. You can see the intricacies of known land and continue to explore new areas. "The whole point with nature is to explore: to be awed, re-awed, to find grandeur, to process it, to repeat it anew," Nick Disabato writes.

Committing to a person or place creates an unmatched experience, knowing every intimate detail of the past leading up to the present and aspiring towards the future.

It's not easy though. Just ask Alex Lieberman, founder of Morning Brew.

I'm committing to commitment and hope to continue to seek the benefits of longevity.