Tradeoffs, judgment, and learning

If you’re fortunate (born in a good place, to good parents, with good genes) and work hard, life throws a lot of opportunities at you.

It starts with school. First, you get to go to a good school. Second, you get to choose what to do while there. What classes do you take? How much time do you dedicate to your classes? Who do you hang out with?

Then comes work. What sector do you work in? What role do you take in that sector? Who do you work with?

And what about your personal life? How much time do you spend with family and friends? Do you choose to build your own family (other than the one you were born into)? If so, who do you build it with?

In each of these decisions, there are tradeoffs involved. Assuming both majors are demanding, studying economics means that you can’t study computer science. And focusing on your studies means you have less time left over for extracurriculars. Working in tech means not working in pharma (unless you’re using tech to change pharma). Being a VC means not being an entrepreneur. Deciding to build a family means spending less time with friends. And saying yes to the one means saying no to the others.

These tradeoffs exist not only within domains but also across them. I once come across the following quote: “Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends. Pick 3”. I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job with 4, but 5 would be very challenging. And even if you think that you’re getting 5 done, you’re probably doing less on each dimension than someone who is only focusing on 3 or 4.

As a result of these tradeoffs, you need to not only decide what to do, but also what not to do. For example, as a VC, where do you get your information from and where don’t you get it from? Which factors about the companies you meet do you evaluate and which do you overlook? How much time do you spend trying to build deal flow, versus picking the right companies within your deal flow, versus working with the companies you’ve invested in?

Faced with these tradeoffs, each person will have a different answer depending on their personal goals and preferences. But given two individuals with identical goals and preferences (if this exists), there is an optimal way to go about building a life that’s aligned with these goals and preferences. And what you need to get there is judgment.

Judgment consists of identifying tradeoffs, setting goals, making decisions, taking action, evaluating the results, and tweaking your decisions and actions in light of the results as long as your goals remain the same. And since there’s a feedback loop, improving your judgment isn’t a destination but a journey. If you don’t choose to stop learning, it never ends.

So enjoy it.

Also published on Medium.