Your Game

Last time, I discussed that being Machiavellian is not an optimal strategy in the modern society. Today, I want to zero in on a related topic, to talk about that viewing your life a s a game, and your freedom in deciding on what the game’s goal is.

I am a big fan of many societal movements that reflect on or challenge the mainstream wisdom and commonly held beliefs, such as the FIRE movement and the increasingly-popular Mindfulness practices, and the revival of the Stoic way of life. A common theme of those movements is the departure from the societal mainstream and the rejection of consumerism. In the context of the optimization framework in this blog, this amounts to, among others, defining different objectives and constraints for your own life.

For example, in academic research and especially in a hyped field like machine learning, many people cut corners to get their names on as many papers as possible in order to maximize their career gain, sometimes sacrificing the well-being of colleagues and students. I term that the “influencer strategy” – screw the people around you and make yourself admired by only people who don’t know you well.

The perspective I propose here is to define a new game for yourself: what if my goal is to serve my fellow researchers and build trust? If so, then schmoozing and manipulating other people to do what benefits the little me is clearly not optimal. The moment we can convince ourselves that not being the only game in town, we gain agency and realize that we have a choice. This choice is to jump out of the story we inherited from others.

Ask yourself: is your goal to spend the limited time you have on this planet among friends and families you love, and other human beings that you trust and trust you? If so, are you playing the right game?

Written on October 24, 2021