When Life Calls for a Leap

To burn one’s vessels

Nicholas Teague
Mar 27 · 4 min read
The Light Inside, on display at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

One thing I’ve discovered is that life has a tendency to place you in a perfectly mis-suited environment unless you actively seek to find where it is you can thrive — the problem with ‘going with the flow.’

Lee Ann Womack — I Hope You Dance (HT Steve Spurrier)

aving been writing essays for almost three full years now, if there’s one thing that they’ve taught me is that some of my best work has come from instincts, from following my gut where it may lead even if into unexpected directions. I think evidence based decision making is important and not to be discounted, but there are some domains where the types of evidence available will rarely amount to more than impressions and expectations. In the arena of business, those paths with the least uncertainty will most often be the most crowded, and thus an entrepreneur looking for some edge or differentiation will by necessity need to venture into novel terrain. If it makes sense, don’t do it. Invest with your gut.

Playing on one’s inner agency problem can go beyond symmetry: give soldiers no options and see how antifragile they can get. On April 29, 711, the armies of the Arab commander Tarek crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco into Spain with a small army (the name Gibraltar is derived from the Arabic Jabal Tarek, meaning “mount of Tarek”). Upon landing, Tarek had his ships put to the fire. He then made a famous speech every school child memorized during my school days that I translate loosely: “Behind you is the sea, before you, the enemy. You are vastly outnumbered. All you have is sword and courage.” And Tarek and his small army took control of Spain. … Never put your enemy’s back to the wall.

Nassim Taleb — Antifragile

recently quit my job as a data scientist with an oil and gas firm. In the interest of transparency, I will briefly list here a few of the reasons that informed my decision.

  • I dislike carrying two cell phones in my pocket at the same time.
  • Given issues that I have with sleep and insomnia, I simply struggle in an environment without an allowance for flexible working hours. Picture some sleep deprivation study with the added incentive that if the subject closes his eyes, he loses his job. That’s basically my every day life. It’s untenable.
  • I like really really dislike having to compartmentalize my life by hours of the day. I’ve spent years building domain expertise and fluency. Most inventors only have one or two significant achievements in their lifetime. It scares the heck out of me that in exchange for a living wage, I might be trading away whatever major contributions I may someday achieve, simply because I came up with the idea at 4:55 pm instead of 5:05 pm.
  • I don’t want my legacy to be “he came to work on time every day for 20 years and always worked a full 8 hour shift.” I want to leave a mark, even if just a scratch.
  • There is a regret minimization framework at play. I know that I will be able to live with myself much better if I follow through with this opportunity.
  • I simply like myself better when I have full agency to direct attention and energy at problems and opportunities where I believe I will have the most impact. I want to drive.

In the end, I finally found myself in a position where I was forced to choose, in order to avoid a conflict of interest, between my day job and chasing further the opportunity for my entrepreneurial ventures. All of these reasons made the decision very easy to make, more than I would have expected. At a minimum, I am certain that I will not regret the decision.

Level 9 Height 5 baby

Books that were referenced here or otherwise inspired this post:

Antifragile — Nassim Taleb


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From the Diaries of John Henry

Essays and Explorations

Nicholas Teague

Written by

Writing for fun and because it helps me organize my thoughts. I also write software to prepare data for machine learning at automunge.com

From the Diaries of John Henry

Essays and Explorations

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