When I’m writing for Puttylike, in the back of my mind I carry two principles which I hope help me to share something of value to the community. First, I try not to talk about myself too much (after all, this isn’t a personal blog!) and I aim to have an answer – even an open one – to whatever question is being explored.
But then, as a multipod, there’s a certain appeal to questioning rules like these, and so last summer I broke both in order to share the process I was using to explore an upcoming life decision, in which I didn’t have a certain answer.
It reminded me that there’s value in sharing stories like these. It can be helpful to see how another person makes decisions, as we get to reflect on similarities and differences between our situations, priorities and desires.
So today, I want to update you on my life, and hopefully you’ll be able to take something useful for your own situation from my reflections.
But first: let’s talk about fourier transforms,
[WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MATH! (It’s optional, so skip it, if you like.)]
Oddly, every time I think about my current life decision, a mathematical analogy springs to mind. You might have heard of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which says, broadly, that the more precisely you measure the position of a particle, the less precisely you can measure the momentum.
(Occasionally this gets paraphrased as “you can either know where something is, or how fast it’s going, but not both.”)
This isn’t just a weird fact about our ability to measure, and it’s not even restricted to particles. It’s just that this phenomenon is much easier to notice at the particle level.
In fact, this is a fundamental reality. In mathematics, it’s related to an operation called the Fourier Transform. (Very) basically, this operation is part of the translation between position and momentum. If you have lots of precision to start with, you end up with a fuzzy result after:
Figure: The world’s least accurate graph. A precise measurement becomes fuzzy after applying the Fourier Transform (blue arrows), and vice versa.
In conclusion, you physically can’t have high precision on both position and momentum at once.
(I am very much rushing this explanation, so it is not entirely accurate, but it’s accurate enough for the purpose of this post. If you want to understand better, these two videos explain the mathematics in fantastic, intuitive detail, and without all the hand-waving inaccuracy.)
Anyway, let’s go back to my life…
The last few years
When I started writing for Puttylike, I was a couple of years into my full-time multipod phase. I’d given up full-time work, and I was writing books and articles, doing freelance programming, giving comedy talks about mental health, and doing standup comedy.
These years have been great fun… and very challenging. I’ve found a routine which – mostly – works for me. But I’ve gradually become less and less settled, and it’s been increasingly clear since I finished my latest novel.
This makes sense: I suddenly have a lot of extra time to reflect, which is always dangerous. The most natural path would be to continue as I am – perhaps start another book, find another programming contract, and book even more talks. But I didn’t want to assume that the path I chose a few years ago was automatically the right path for now.
So I’ve taken a few weeks to chew over the possibilities, doing some temporary coding work, but no new huge projects: only fun work which would teach me some new skills.
The whole time I’ve been exploring what lies beneath the unsettled feeling, and gradually I’ve realised that it’s about freedom and security.
More of one, less of the other
I love the freedom of my current life. I get to choose which projects to work on, which clients to work with, and find places to speak.
But this freedom has downsides: most obviously, I don’t have the regular income I used to. This is fine, but it has the potential to be exhausting over a long time. It feels as if I must keep putting in effort just to remain static… and if the effort stops, then I fall behind.
I think this deep unsettlement is my brain trying to tell me it would prefer a bit more security.
Easy, right? Problem solved, I can just do that, and never have any problems ever again, li-
Oh. All of the options which will bring more security entail giving up some freedom. I’ll have to take a job, or a long-term contract, or be less picky with clients, or something. And the parts of my brain which desperately want this freedom are in conflict with the parts which want security.
This is why the image of Fourier Transforms keeps resurfacing in my mind: I can have lots of freedom, or lots of security… but not both.
(Yes, okay, I admit that perhaps see-saws would have been a more accessible analogy, but if you can’t nerd out about mathematical concepts at Puttylike, then where can you?!)
There’s a middle ground
For a brief time I felt stuck, as if there were only bad options: continue with the anxious grind of complete freedom, or declare failure, give up on my dreams entirely and do something else.
You might recognize my old friend “extreme thinking” in that description of the situation. For some reason, my human brain assumes all compromise is total capitulation. Instead, I could, for example, take a part-time job, and trade some freedom away for a little more security.
Changing my approach isn’t the same as declaring failure, either. It just means I’m recalibrating the amount of freedom/security which I want at this point in my life!
Here are the reminders I’m taking forward for next time I have to recalibrate what I’m doing with my life:
- There will be a next time I have to reconsider what I’m doing
- Just because I’m already doing something, doesn’t mean I have to keep doing it.
- Sometimes I need more freedom, sometimes I need more security – I have to choose what balance I want right now
- Rebalancing isn’t the same as failure
- Math is cool, even if I’m terrible at explaining it
Thanks for listening. I hope it’s been useful to you to hear about this process, as messy and unfinished and full of catastrophic thinking as it is. At the very least, it’s hopefully good to know that not everyone has everything all figured out!
Are you happy with your balance of freedom and security at the moment? What other tradeoffs are you experiencing in your life, and how might you change them?