# How I achieved exponential growth (ft. mindsets, connections, high standards, and passion) and then burned out

December 14, 2020

October was a grind month. It was my first month as a PM at StartupTree, doing lots of customer interviews, UX research, and proving myself to the team. I was working on a three-week consulting project with 45B biotech giant Illumina, learning what a consulting project even as as I did it. On top of that, I had early decision college apps to write. Then, come November, the latter two of those things wrapped up. I went from pushing myself to new heights, to having a straightforward 9-to-5 software engineering job and nothing else on my plate. Naturally, I started looking for more things to do. I resumed my AI focus and started Andrew Ng’s Deep Learning specialization on Coursera. After moving into my new office, I shot a video showing a week in my life. But those were things I was just doing for myself — I wanted to also work on something interesting and impactful. So I sent out this tweet: Fast forward to today. I have two meetings in the evening. One is for Ending Maternal Mortality, an initiative started by TKS alum Izzy Grandic in the spring that’s now working with the Nigerian Ministry of Health on post-partum hemorrhage drug distribution. I’m signed on to work on monitoring & evaluation software (for the Nigerian MoH!!). Two hours after that, I’m meeting with the co-founders of a new mental health SaaS, for whom I’m building the MVP. As I type this blog post, videos are exporting on the laptop next to me — recordings of the first round of TKS Community Talks, which I poured hours and hours into this past week to make all come together last night. Next steps for the second round are already urgently on my mind. And Illumina? They’re asking my group to build our solution, and scheduled a meeting on Monday afternoon. That’s not even to mention continued projects for StartupTree, or a WBTP project researching wireless power transmission and the vision of space solar power, or the entire social platform that I built and launched. Last month, I had one video and no articles to share in my monthly newsletter. Since mid-November, I’ve published one personal video (and 8 from TKS Community Talks), two technical articles, two personal pieces, a philosophy article, 28 THOUSAND WORDS of daily updates, countless long Slack channel and DM essays, and hours and hours of braindate conversations. As I wrote prophetically in the reflection of my November 17 daily update: In the past few weeks, I was definitely making forward progress, but I knew I wasn’t anywhere close to my capacity for it…now it feels like my time is blocking back up, and I feel like my output is soon to double or triple. I’ve hit a pace of growth and productivity previously unknown to me, one that pushes me towards the bounds of my potential and towards making a real, meaningful impact in the world. A couple of frameworks and mindsets have been key to enabling this pace of growth. I’ll share three of the most important ones in this post: a five-rule framework for getting meaningful opportunities; the power of passion; and the value of high standards. All this growth has come at a cost, though. There’s not been a single day in the past two weeks where I’ve intentionally slept more than six hours. I’ve began to slack on my commitments, and feel my grasp on my work and myself fall away from me. In this post, I’ll also talk about how I burned out by the end of this month-long stretch of exponentially growing output, and share some thoughts on prioritization and the cycle of overworking and underworking. ## The meaning of exponential growth “Exponential growth” is a word that’s thrown around a ton within TKS. I threw it around a lot myself, but I don’t think I really knew what it meant until this past month. ### Framework recap Let me bring back a framework from one of the first sessions of TKS in the Innovate program — a framework I find to be true and valuable. To rise above common degree workers into the class of smart people doing interesting things, there are five required components/conditions (ordered by importance): 1. Mindset 2. Character 3. Connections 4. Ability to figuring things out 5. Skills and knowledge It’s a contrarian ordering on first glance. On further thought, though, you’ll find that this framework makes much more sense. Mindset and intentionality shape all else that you do. High-performing teams require synchronization on the people side a lot more than the technical side; being a reliable, likeable worker is a sensible second condition. Now, if you have a hardworking, likeable person with the intention of getting a job, and that person knows someone looking to make a basic hire, say for an internship…that hardworking, likeable person will get the job, regardless of their competence or experience with it. Think of all the friends you’ve had who get internships at a family member or family friend’s company. There were probably dozens of potential applicants far more qualified for the role, but they didn’t have the connections, and didn’t get the job. In a less extreme case, even for more competitive positions with qualified, accomplished applicants, hiring managers always hire within their own network — someone they’ve interacted with, or someone who’s interacted with a colleague — before considering options beyond. These three are pre-conditions for getting opportunities. The last two components are ways to make yourself valuable, to level up the kind of opportunities you’ll be considered for. It’s notable that the ability to figure things out ranks above skills and knowledge. This is more true the more interesting or open-ended the opportunity is. ### …at play in past opportunities… The rules of this framework had been in play for me long before I learned them by name. How I got my job at StartupTree is a good illustration of this. I met my boss, Peter Cortle, at a high school entrepreneurship program I participated in over the summer. I sucked at marketing. Peter was one of my mentors, and I told him this explicitly. But I showed him that I could learn fast, do high-quality work, and was intentional about getting into entrepreneurship. After the program ended, Peter recruited me to work on marketing and infrastructure for the very program I had participtaed in. These were areas in which I had very little experience, but where Peter had faith that I could learn and contribute value in, because I had satisfied the first four conditions for capturing opportunities. A month later, he offered me a job as a Product Manager at StartupTree. Here my design and software engineering experience were certainly selling points, but again, it was being connected with Peter and showing him my mindsets and intentionality that set me apart from other, far more experienced engineers that the company was considering hiring. ### …and driving exponential growth. These rules have only been in play passively before. This past month, I was intentional about making use of this framework to seek opportunities, and man did things take off. Let’s revisit the tweet from the beginning of the post: This tweet leveraged: • Mindset — front and center is that I hold myself to high standards and go hard on things that I care about. • Connections — through Twitter, I can reach the people that I’ve connected to before: mentors, friends, people I’ve shared experiences with. The three replies to this Tweet weren’t about opportunities that perfectly aligned with my skillset; they were from the people who knew me best and had the most faith in me, i.e. a past mentor and two early TKS connections. • Skills and experience — I mention UI/UX, frontend, and product in the tweet, but only in a later tweet do I link the projects that I’ve worked on and actually try to convince anybody of my skills. At the end of the day, skills are hugely secondary to mindset and connections. From this tweet, I was recruited by Izzy Grandic to work with the Nigerian Ministry of Health to end maternal mortality, and by my former mentor Terry Xu to build the MVP for his new mental health SaaS. Over the summer, I struggled to find work. My skills didn’t improved dramatically since then, but my mindset and connections did. Accordingly, the value of the opportunities available to me multiplied in September, October, and then really took off this last month. This is the kind of exponential growth that drives you to the top of your field and potential, driven by those exact five rules I that learned in September. ## The power and value of passion Mindset, character, and connections are the means by which you achieve external excellence (see A Framework for Excellence for my definition of/thoughts about excellence). Ultimately, though, internal motivation is what really drives you to do great things and find fulfillment. Passion is a key idea for me to understand myself, my work, and my growth. I wasn’t passionate about Illumina, college apps, or StartupTree last month, or about my AI focus. I made decent progress, but nothing special, or that particularly excited me. The first TKS Accelerate session was all about the importance of building, not sitting around and figuring out what you’re going to build. I’ve received lots of compliments for my website and the projects on it. Asked how I did it, I reflected that they were almost all distractions, things I did for fun. On further reflection, I realized that almost all of my personal growth, impressive projects, and unique skills I’ve accumulated, have come from things I’ve done purely for fun. These were all the pushes I needed to charge through three other projects this month. One was Updately. I had been frustrated with writing and sharing daily updates since I started doing it. I used my own app, SZPT, to make the writing part earlier, but I still had to send the links to a dozen people a night through Slack. Keeping up with others’ updates was even worse, requiring me to dig through stacks of Slack channels and DMs each night. I knew that a simple abstraction on SZPT could solve all of these problems. Rationally, there were so many more valuable things I could be doing than building an app that would largely be an internal TKS tool. I could make significant progress on ML courses; write valuable blog posts; or even work on a different app that I could monetize and grow. But when I encounter a problem that I know I can solve, there’s no stopping me. As entrepreneur Jim Rohn said: If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse. As I said in the daily updates section above, on Monday of Thanksgiving week I couldn’t resist the urge to build any longer. By Friday Updately was launched and in use by a bunch of TKS kids. I don’t have any regrets about building Updately. I use it daily. It got me hella clout within TKS, because people respect formidability, the ability to turn meaningful ideas into reality. I solidified my software skills, and even got an unexpected job offer at a fast-growing startup. I wrote a massive personal and technical piece about the process of building Updately here. The second passion project is one that I’m planning to pursue for the rest of the year. The topic? Wireless power transmission. At first, it was a more or less pre-assigned topic for what was meant to be a small two-week TKS project. We were to find a patent related to a certain technology or problem, and give a presentation on its value and implications. The topic was wireless power transmission — transmitting electricity through the air with microwaves, and receiving it at the other end. The grand vision related to wireless power transmission is that of space solar power. You know SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation, providing internet access to the entire world? Imagine if each of those satellites had solar panels on them, and beamed down not only internet, but also electricity to the entire world. With SSP, we could power the entire world without burning fossil fuels (or generating any energy on the ground), and without long-distance power grid infrastructure. Why on earth is a software and ML kid interested in a hardware project all of a sudden? I was planning to pursue a World’s Biggest Technical Problem focus on Artificial General Intelligence. As cool as the SSP vision is, AGI is surely sexier, with a lot more hype around it and better alignment with the skills I’ve built up. Why would I ditch it for something completely unrelated? Because it’s exciting to me. SSP has been technically feasible since the 80s. WPT distance and efficiency records set in 1975 still haven’t been broken to this day. I think that this is ridiculous — and once again, when I encounter a problem that I feel like I can solve, there’s no stopping me. Rationally, an AGI project would align much better with my experience and career interests. But my passion is a force far greater than alignment with career interests, and a far rarer one at that. There’s always a nagging fear that I’ve made the wrong decision, but for now I’m resolute that this is the most valuable thing for me to pursue for the next few weeks and months. TKS Community Talks was a third passion project for me. The problem was that I knew tons of TKS students wanted to hone their speaking skills and had amazing things to share. People were very interested in being more engaged with the opportunity, too, but there was a shortage of really meaningful opportunities to do so. The vision came to me for a community speaking event, creating a training ground for future speaking opportunities that really mattered, while providing a powerful platform for community-building. It seemed a very simple idea to me, but nobody was pursuing it, and I guess it didn’t align with what TKS leadership thought it would be most impactful for them to organize. So, once again, I was confronted with a problem that I knew I could solve, and that it didn’t seem anyone else was going to. How hard I worked on TKS Community Talks was what ultimately brought me to the verge of burnout, but even then, Community Talks was what I put in the effort to ensure the success of while letting my commitments to EMM, Rally, and StartupTree slack. Passion is powerful. Passion is what leads to impact. Chase it and cherish it. ## I am a high-standards BEAST A third point beyond exponential growth and passion is that there are a variety of domains where I’ve become quite good at recognizing and working towards high standards. In other words, things that I’m really good at. • Product design and building. This was a realization that I first had over the summer, after working for Tadpole Tutoring and getting to know lots of industry engineers made me realize how exceptional my set of frontend skills — combined design and dev — really was. This point was further underscored to me this month when I built out the entirety of Updately in three days without breaking too much of a sweat, compared to multiple months for a similar project in the spring. Plus, Updately’s UI and UX impressed the CEO of a40K MMR B2C startup enough for him to basically offer me a job 😭
• Graphic design. I’m a highly competent designer, able to produce high-standards graphics when the time calls for it. When making graphics for TKS Community Talks, I sat down in front of a blank Figma document with no idea of what to do. Half an hour later, I had pulled in a gradient, picked out fonts that worked, and added a Twitter unicorn emoji, building up a robust mciro-brand for all of our promotional materials and graphics. When presenting OKRs to StartupTree, I made the entire deck in one hour before the presentation, and it ended up being hella professional and pretty.
• Presentations. I was able to give a ton of good feedback to the speakers for Community Talks, and when I prepare, I can give really good presentations. This I first realized with the Illumina pitch, but my introduction to Community Talks was highly polished too. Presenting OKRs to the StartupTree team, I wasn’t super well prepared, but my intuition for how to effectively design and use the slides, as mentioned previously, is spot-on.

My working understanding of high standards comes from Jeff Bezos: they are trainable and domain-specific. One reason why I have these high standards is just exposure. I use well-made apps; I see tons of pretty graphics; I watch a good amount of well-delivered presentations. A point that TKS co-founder Nadeem has been driving into Accelerates, though, is that just consuming content isn’t enough — anything you consume can easily go in one ear and out the other. You have to be intentional about it. Pay attention. Take notes. Get practice replicating these high standards.

These are three areas where I’ve been highly intentional. Graphic design and product design were early, passionate interests of mine. I’ve spent years listening to teachers give presentations; being a tech nerd, I also regularly watched product launch events. With the final push of TKS, mentors and peers both, I pushed myself to these high standards and discovered that I already had a lot of it down.

There are tons of things I’ve probably been unconsciously soaking in high standards for, like presentations, but I’ve acknowledged the three domains of high standards above because they align with external judgements of valuable excellency. That is, people respect and value me because I demonstrate these excellencies.

The value of excellence in product building is obvious. Products solve problems and make money. It’s why Izzy and Terry recruited me to their projects, and why the other two software founders I only talked briefly with immediately expressed interest in working with me.

Graphic design has been most valuable for personal initiatives: creating promotional materials, coming up with branding. It’s not something super high-impact on its own; rather, it enables valuable products to be marketed and stories to be told.

Presentations are a career and life skill for sure. The world is run by people. All problems are people problems on some level. Being able to impress and persuade people is key to getting anything done.

## Not sleeping and burning out

The past month hasn’t been all positive, though. All this exciting growth has come at a pretty severe cost to my health, and I ended the mid-month to mid-month cycle on the verge of burning out.

### Early excitement

I started writing daily updates in mid-November, two and a half weeks after the Illumina challenge and college apps. Those two and a half weeks were slow-moving. I made progress, but I knew that I could do more. The introduction of Global TKS Activate and writing daily updates at the urging of my first squad (shout-out to Nyla and Adeola) got me going, and I was excited. As I wrote in my first update (btw, you can read all of them here):

11/17: In the past few weeks, I was definitely making forward progress, but I knew I wasn’t anywhere close to my capacity for it, because the things I cared about weren’t clear enough in my mind to draw out my energy and make use of my time. Now it feels like my time is blocking back up, and I feel like my output is soon to double or triple.

On November 19, I sent out the Tweet I mentioned earlier asking for side projects, that would lead to me joining EMM and Rally.

11/19: I haven’t worked this hard since the PIE challenge. This is the second night I’ve stayed up until later than 2 AM, facing the prospect of less than 5 hours of sleep. It’s unhealthy and highly unsustainable, I know well from experience, but it’s notable in that for a while, I haven’t had work I cared about enough to really consider staying up until 2 AM for.

11/20: It feels good to work hard. Stayed at the office until 10 PM today getting everything together for the PR and felt so thoroughly good after wrapping up and turning everything in for the week.

11/21: IS MY LIFE PUT TOGETHER AGAIN??? I don’t know, but if I’m able to just sit down and churn out a 1000+ word blog post with some pretty complex thoughts, then it just might be together enough to be dangerous, and I’m excited about it.

This heightened productivity, though, came with the cost of sleeping a lot less. At first, I actually thought that the lack of sleep might have contributed to my productivity.

11/22: I had a thought earlier that, maybe being so productive these past few days has something to do with sleeping less. An unsustainable idea for sure, but it seemed very possible that being tired, my brain gets “too tired to be distracted” and I can work better. My conclusion was that I should make use of this heightened productivity while it existed, but never actually pursue this hypothesis of increasing productivity through sleep dep (alcohol has a similar effect sometimes 😛), as the cost would outweight the benefits in the long run. Well, I think today my tiredness has began to appreciably damage my ability to be productive. I’ll get a few days off from work and TKS next week, hopefully I’ll be able to sleep in and recover then…

I kept working hard. That night, I sent out the first interest post for TKS Community Talks.

Two days later — Monday of Thanksgiving week — I:

• Told my boss at StartupTree I would be interested in a big market expansion project in the new year, and asked for and received a 50% raise (I wasn’t getting paid much before 😅)
• Met with Izzy Grandic about EMM for the first time
• Planned to build the MVP for Updately by that Friday

I was caught in a fit of passion, coupled with the full force of tech culture’s and Accelerate’s “IT’S TIME TO BUILD” mentality. On Friday, 11/27, Updately launched to the world.

11/24: I’m so tired. My brain isn’t working…Just gotta push myself a little bit harder, be a little more disciplined – and get some rest. Then we resume our bread acquisition 🍞

11/25 at 2 AM: I’m so tired though asdfjkl;

learn learn learn build build build sleep sleep sleep

11/26: I’m so tired…One day I’ll get myself together and be well-rested, as this really is quite miserable and unsustainable. but for now I’ll just build build build build build build build build build build

At this point, the thought occurred to me that I might be trying to do too much. On Sunday, 11/29, I published a song cover with my sister, and met with Terry Xu to outline the roadmap for building the MVP for Rally.

11/29 at 2 AM: I feel like I’m doing too much…Some people can handle this many things well (i.e. de-prioritize some of them and still have a sharp focus without necessarily cutting things out), but I’m not one of them…I don’t know what to cut out. Sometimes it’s valuable to turn off your brain and just charge forwards for a week. You’re trading off thinking for raw output. This happened in school all the time…

A slightly overwhelmed, quite tired, but determined and forward-charging Samson, signing off.

11/30: Thinking still about how I’m doing too many things. Izzy does more, it seems like. Everyone in school certainly does more. But I hate it, I feel like I’m so much more effective when I can settle down and focus…In the meantime, just gotta make sure that things get through. My blog posts. Work for Terry/Rally. Steady pace on ML courses. Mini-WBTP/patent project.

I definitely have enough time to do all this. For me, energy management is a far bigger barrier. For now, just focus and grind. And sleep. Rest up, tired soul…

Davide Radaelli asked me how I dealt with burnout. I replied that I had never experienced it before — I tend to deflect responsibilities before they become too much for me. I was generally confident in my ability to get through things without compromising my well-being.

12/1: I’m in a bit of a “build at all costs” mentality right now, bricking my health and my personal relationships to just build. That’s what a gap year is for though. I’ll have plenty of time in college to chill and return to my old ways. (Assuming I don’t start unheathily grinding there…)

At this point, though, my sleep schedule was consistently awful. I was getting less than six hours of sleep a night, including on weekends. I had on my plate StartupTree, EMM, and Rally.

12/2 at 3 AM: God it’s so late again ;;

12/4: I’ll be getting 4.5 hours of sleep tonight and have to nap tomorrow

12/5: …it’s so late. Today it wasn’t because of work, but because I was talking to Sabeeh, but the end result is the same: me getting no sleep.

I just need to sleep.

a plea to myself

12/6: Still only get 6 hours of sleep 😭

12/5 and 12/6, I added yet another project to my docket: wireless power transmission. TKS Community Talks was now ramping up to full force, too, with Sabeeh and I directly dm’ing all the people who reacted to the initial post, and then handing out deadlines for the applicants would speak on Friday.

My plate now looked like this:

• StartupTree (full time, 9/5/5)
• TKS Community Talks (1-2h/day)
• EMM (~4-5h/week ideally)
• Rally (~2-4h/week)
• WBTP (???h/week)

### Burning out

This past week, started to near a breaking point. I poured hours into TKS Community Talks, and it went brilliantly, but everything else fell behind. I missed meetings for StartupTree and didn’t put in the work for EMM or Rally. My WPT project was not at all on my mind.

12/8: I feel tired right now. Davide might say burnt out but it’s from a single day so I still don’t think it’s burnout. Just lots of frustration and lack of progress.

12/10: I thought I could push myself to do more for a bit – and my output was significantly higher for a while – but at this point I know I’ve taken on too much. It’s harming me more than it’s helping…man, I’m drained. On the verge of burnout I think. Davide, I’ve done it…

12/11: I felt really alive today, briefly. Now I just feel tired.

To be sure, it was TKS Community Talks that was specifically energy-draining, with how much urgency there was at every given moment to deliver, and how many people were counting on me. After the talks, I immediately felt better, or at least not actively spiraling out of control.

12/12: I’m feeling better. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling hopeful for change. The outlook is that the week ahead looks just as tough as the week before, and I’m on just as bad of a trajectory to start.

But it’s not getting worse!!!

There’s an important and urgent need for change to ensure that I actually get better rather than getting worse. But it’s also an opportunity. As Davide Radaelli pointed out to me: “this is a HUGE opportunity to define what is important to you. On the verge of burnout is also the point where you define ‘who you are’ to your future self, and to define how you will react to future burnout situations.”

I knew exactly what Davide meant by defining who I am to my future self. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in the past few months, and that I’ve been preaching to Innovates relentlessly since, is to deeply, genuinely, and ceaselessly prioritize: to search relentlessly for what brings you fulfillment, and what doesn’t, and to act upon your findings, de-prioritizing what doesn’t matter and chasing after what does. “How do you find meaning in life? How do you find your passion?” Prioritization is my pragmatic answer to such questions.

The way to constructively move forwards from my close brush with catastrophic burnout is to prioritize, and more importantly, to de-prioritize.

### The path forward

Here’s a review of what I’m working on right now:

• StartupTree (full time, 40h/week)
• EMM (3-5h/week)
• Rally (2-4h/week)
• TKS Community Talks round 2 (not started yet, but I imagine 2-10h/week)
• WBTP (ideally 4-6h/week)

And things I really want to be working on, and am not being intentional about yet:

• Improving and growing Updately (2-4h/week)
• Content creation (2-4h/week)
• Exercise (2-4h/week)

Of these, the following are motivated by passion:

• TKS Community Talks
• WBTP
• Updately
• Content creation

The following are primarily motivated by learning or self-improvement rather than passion:

• EMM
• Rally
• Exercise

The following is primarily motivated by the salary I get paid, much less so by my learning or passion for my work:

• StartupTree

Valuing learning and passion, this list is pretty much in the order of what’s most valuable to keep working on ⇒ what’s least valuable to keep working on. The hard truth that’s now staring me in the face is that, in terms of personal growth, my full-time job at StartupTree is the least valuable thing to me right now. Considering that it also takes up 40 hours of my week — now that I’ve done it, I’ve discovered that a full-time job can be just as time- and energy-consuming as going to school — it’s far and away the prime candidate for dropping as a commitment.

Dropping StartupTree is tough for me for a few reasons. One is that it’s my only source of income right now, and it’s a pretty sizeable amount of income. With my salary, I currently rent an office downtown, and I’ve been planning to move out into an apartment with a roommate. It’ll be incredibly difficult to hit the same MMR if I were to launch my own product. I have other options for employment, but I don’t think I’ll be any more passionate about them as I was about StartupTree. For a month or two at least, I’d have a lot to learn from seeing the team operate and working with the codebase, but if it took up too much time after that I’d likely want to move on once again.

More important than the loss of income, though, is that I would have to go back on soft commitments that I made to my boss, who was one of my early mentors since the beginning of my tech/entrepreneurship career. I got really excited about taking on a greater product role at StartupTree, including a potential market expansion project in the new year, and even asked for and got a raise. I wrote myself into the OKRs as well, making up half of the second and fifth objectives. If I really tried, I could find new learning opportunities and interesting projects within StartupTree.

But at the end of the day, these are all excuses. I can figure out the money situation. Hopping between startups that can provide a month or two of learning can be extremely valuable. Ultimately, I’m not doing StartupTree or my boss justice either if I’m getting paid to struggle to find motivation to invest time and effort in it. It’ll be a hard conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one to get aligned on sooner rather than later.

Without StartupTree, I think my other projects are actually manageable. I can imagine myself crafting a schedule of working on one project one day and another the next, or in different parts of the day. The prospect of having a full day of time available to me once again is really exciting.

Of course, the path forward certainly doesn’t end there. There will continuously be new opportunities; the nature of my projects and commitments — especially my WBTP and TKS Community Talks, which operate in thick clouds of ambiguity — will change a lot too, and I’ll have to re-assess and re-adjust continually. But I think I have some first steps in mind to begin to work towards. Continuously prune, prune, prune…

## Underworking and overworking as damped harmonic oscillations

To close this reflection, I want to step back and take a look at the larger picture.

In October, I worked hard: consulting for Illumina, doing college apps, and working at StartupTree. At one point I knew that I was over capacity, and put a pause on ML learning to focus on what I needed to. This prioritization/de-prioritization worked well, and I was able to accomplish what I wanted to well that month.

After this first grind period, though, I suddenly found myself drastically under capacity. I felt like I was underworking, so I put a lot of effort into finding new opportunities or creating them for myself. The return from these efforts way overshot my capacity, and I ended up not being able to fulfill all of my commitments, not sleeping, and burning out.

Now I know that I’m overworking, or at least trying to, so I’m again trying to correct by cutting commitments and aggressively re-prioritizing. If all goes well, my workload will be significantly reduced. If I don’t reduce it enough, I’ll find myself re-prioritizing and reducing it again soon enough. On the other hand, if I reduce it too much, I’ll find myself bored and seeking out more opportunities again. If I overshoot, the whole thing starts over, and so on and so forth.

So is it a never-ending cycle? A sine wave, or perhaps a slightly messed up sine wave, like this?

It’s a good starting point for a model, but I believe that a better reflection would be a damped oscillation, where the amplitude of overworking or underworking decreases with time.

The implication of this model is that there exists some equilibrium point where you don’t feel like you’re overworking or underworking, and that you’ll reach it with time. The two things that will allow you to reach that equilibrium point:

• Accumulation of connections and opportunities. It’ll be easier to fine-tune commitments rather than blindly finding new ones altogether.
• Increased understanding of self. You’ll know what your limits are, and what brings you fulfillment or not.

I believe in the merit of a model like this because I feel like I’ve gone through these motions and even reached close to equilibrium point once already — in high school.

My big thing in high school was filmmaking. As a new student, I of course scrambled for all the filmmaking opportunities I could find. I made videos for the admissions office. I signed up to write and direct a film with the campus filmmaking club. I agreed to help with other random projects. This was fine for exploration, but once the year progressed I grew frustrated with the amount of unfulfilling work I was making myself do. After my first year, I decided to prioritize, turning down most projects and focusing on what I actually cared about.

What happened after that, of course, is that I became unsatisfied with how few projects that I was working on. I became a Video Associate for our student newspaper, and then the Executive Digital Editor afterwards, at which point I was suddenly pouring in 15-20 hours per week getting various initiatives up and running. I still took on projects from student organizations, and stacked up harder classes, too. And what happened? I stopped sleeping. I slacked on assignments and sports. Everything threatened to come crashing to the ground.

So I de-prioritized once again. I was a senior now. I now knew the people I needed to, knew where opportunities could come from. I pushed myself to and sometimes past my limits in senior fall and winter, but to a lot lesser extent than I did in my junior year. I knew that I was overworking, but I knew that once my tenure ended, I would be in exactly the place that I wanted to be. In the end of winter term our tenures ended, and I enjoyed three sweet weeks of exactly the equilibrium I had been seeking. I slept at 9 PM and got up at 5 AM to go on sunrise runs. Then the pandemic happened and college decisions came out and I bade my sweet equilibrium farewell.

This equilibrium is domain-specific, i.e. when I went from my high school community and goals to tech entrepreneurship and TKS, the graph resets and I’m back to full-amplitude oscillations. With time, I’ll continue to travel over this curve, slowly settling down towards and equilibrium. When (if) I head off to college again next year, possibly to an academics-heavy liberal arts school, my graph will be reset once again, and I expect I’ll have to again build my understanding of myself and my environment to eventually settle into a stable place.

So, in conclusion, this past month has been a wild one. I achieved exponential growth and hit wild new highs, but also crashed pretty hard and need to re-prioritize to get back on a sustainable track. There are a ton of learnings here, or re-iterations of key ideas of mine, that will provide valuable guidance for some time to come. I wrote them down here largely to solidify my own learning and understanding, but if you’re reading this, I hope that they may be valuable to you as well.

In any case, we’ll keep charging forwards, traveling over the dampened harmonic oscillations and striving for new heights along with asymptotic equilibrium.