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Brick by Brick

October 24th, 2021

One thing role-playing games get right about life is the concept of experience points. To get better at wood chopping, you need to… chop lots of wood. Just like in life—cook a lot and you’ll probably get better at cooking. Of course, the fit isn’t perfect—lots of Runescape characters are level 99, but not many people become master chefs or elite athletes.

Feedback loops in life are, natually, much longer than in a video game that’s designed to entertain. While in a single session in most games it’s easy to level a skill several times, any single workout—or even a whole month of regular workouts—won’t create any visible results. The fundamental model is the same, though: skills tend to build on top of themselves, and it takes consistent effort over time to get better at something.

Skills also don’t stick in life the way they do in a game. I could log back in to my 15-year-old Runescape account and my character would still be whatever level it was in middle school. But my cooking ability noticably deteriorated after just a few months living with my parents during the pandemic. There’s an inherent tradeoff between skills—time spent perfecting my running technique is time I can’t spend learning how to bake.

That time pressure grows even more when you think about how much time we spend not developing skills. Despite my best efforts, I while away plenty of hours on Reddit or YouTube. Sleep takes up a more than a third of my day. I have to eat, drive to the track, be a person. That’s why I think it’s best to focus on a couple of keystone skills, while being content with mediocrity in the rest. Personally, I’m focused on fitness (sprinting in particular), and systems thinking—something that’s directly applicable to work and, I think, to life in general.

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