I am a slave to worldviews I find correct

On claiming the title of feral free agent

I think that I’ve noticed something over the last several weeks. I tend to deal with the uncertainty of the “way forward” by mentally closing off other paths that are available to me.

Like, I got really excited about doing a hard tech space x biotech x AI startup. What if I trained an AI model to identify folding patterns of proteins that make them more advantageous to synthesis in microgravity, i.e. space? Damn that’s so cool! I was inspired by the technical challenge, by the possibility of getting back into microbio and bench research, and by skilling up quickly in AI.

The trouble is that, later, in the throes of this exciting idea, I scrolled past a fintech startup ad or tweet and was like “fuck B2B SaaS who would ever want to do that. Fuck that dogwalking app bullshit.”

The funny thing is that I have had so much fun building B2B startups. But. It wasn’t enough for me to say, “I want to build a hard tech startup.” I had to say “Doing a software startup is stupid.”

It’s like, in order to continue with an action, I needed to believe that doing anything else was dumb.

Something scares me about the sheer number of possible things I am excited about, the sheer number of paths ahead of me, and there’s some fear associated with that that says, “I can’t do all of those.” So I cope with that by picking a “special interest of the week” and then retconning everything else to be garbage.

It’s like a constant bloody Reign of Terror where passion projects are decapitated every week.

Week 1: Hard tech! Fuck software! The king is dead! Long live the king!

Week 2: Design and sticker making! Fuck technology! The king is dead! Long live the king!

Week 3: Fuck design! It’s time to get real and start a business! The king is dead! Long live the king!

an image of people being guillotined in the French Revolution


This goes hand-in-hand with another observation - I am a slave to worldviews that I think are “correct.” For instance, I read Cedric Chin’s essay Career Moats and immediately was like, “fuck alright it’s time for me to completely throw away whatever I’m working on and instead focus on acquiring skills that I predict are likely to be economically defensible.”

The specific line in the essay that triggered me was: “As Cal Newport puts it, if you focus your efforts on gaining rare & valuable skills in the first part of your career, you may choose to trade it for autonomy or purpose later.”

Even now as I write that it causes a twinge of anxiety.

If I respect someone, I put an oppressive amount of stock into their opinion. “Well, this person is probably right, so that means I HAVE TO DO IT EVEN IF I DON’T WANT TO.”

This is strange.

This is a strange way to be in the world. If I can be convinced of something I have to do it. It’s almost like I think I am my mind, and I must do what my mind thinks is correct. I do not trust myself, or my feelings.

Maybe it’s important to inject a bit of epistemic learned helplessness, as Scott Alexander would put it:

“Engineering trains you to have a very black-and-white right-or-wrong view of the world… this meshes with fundamentalism better than it meshes with subtle liberal religious messages… If Osama comes up to [an engineer] with a really good argument for terrorism, he thinks ‘Oh, there’s a good argument for terrorism. I guess I should become a terrorist,’ as opposed to ‘Arguments? You can prove anything with arguments. I’ll just stay right here and not blow myself up.’”


The antidote seems to be the example of folks like Andrew Rose and Visakan Veerasamy - feral free agents. They actually defy definition. Free agentry is a label that’s really a non-label.

I seem to have so many interests.

I assume that I have little time.

I actually have so much time!

I assume that I’m doing something wrong or I am wrong, so I spend a lot of time and energy reacting to that (being sad, avoiding the feelings I’m feeling, etc.)

I assume that I won’t be able to do all the things that I want to do. Also that I have to do the things that I want to do, or I fucked up and it’s my fault.

No answers here. But I suspect my obsession with picking “the right” path also has something to with the programming of finding “a career.” I was raised pretty strongly with the importance of finding a career, something that will support myself, a family, retirement, and hedge against unknown unknowns. In the pursuit of passion, I tweaked that to seek a career that is “fulfilling,” but I’m increasingly wondering if that I haven’t actually solved anything with that approach - I’m still totalizing my identity around one particular way, and ignoring the fact that life changes.

Even if I find a job that checks “all the boxes” - good boss, good pay, mission-driven work, things will change. After a year or two my boss might leave, I’ll be asked to take on a different project, there might be a layoff.

If I put all my emotional eggs in one basket, it’s incredibly risky.

What if I can unbundle the things that this ghost of a career is bundling for me? Retirement security? A steady income?

A portfolio approach to managing the risk of life?

That gets into the realm of indie hacker stuff, maybe striking gold on a startup and retiring young, indie consulting, etc. More to consider there.

Unbundling the risk and resources that a career provides.

How do I MVP this?