Armin Ronacher's Thoughts and Writings

Everybody is More Complex Than They Seem

written on Thursday, February 9, 2023

This year I decided that I want to share my most important learnings about engineering, teams and quite frankly personal mental health. My hope is that those who want to learn from me find it useful.

When I wake up in the morning I usually have something to do. That doesn't necessarily mean I will do that, but it grounds me. When I was 21 my existence was quite monochromatic. I went to bed in the evening and I continued my work in the morning where I left it off the day before. And like a good performing stock, through that I went “up and to the right”. Probably all the metrics I would have used to measure my life were trending in only one direction and life was good. Work defined me and by my own standards and enough people that I interacted with I was successful.

But this monochromatic experience eventually becomes a lot more complex because you're forced to make choices in life. When I went to conferences or interacted with other people online it was impossible not to compare myself in one way or another. My expectations and ambitions were steered by the lives of others around me. As much as I wanted to not compare myself to others, I did. Social media in particular is an awful way to do that. Everybody self censors. You will see much more of people's brightest sides of their life than all the things that go wrong.

However even armed with that knowledge, it took me a long time to figure out how to think about myself in that. In the most trivial of all comparisons you take yourself and you plot yourself against other people of similar age that you aspire to and then measure yourself against in some form and then you keep doing that over time.

There are some metrics that are somewhat obvious: your salary or income, your wealth, your debts, how much money you're able to spend without thinking about it. These are somewhat obvious and usually you're on some sort of trajectory about all of these. However there are less obvious things that are harder to measure. For instance if you are married, if you have children, what clout you have in your field or at work, if you are doing well mentally or physically.

I realized more than once that for me to be happy, I have to balance out a lot of these and sometimes they are at odds with each other, and sometimes you don't know what you have been missing until after you made a decision. I did not know I want to be a father until we decided to become parents. But the moment we made that decision, everything changed. Now that this is part of me it's part of my personality going forward. The act of being a parent does not make me a better or worse person, but it makes my life just be fundamentally different than before. These significant changes to how we live our lives, are sudden and deep. We are not ballistic objects flying along a single trajectory representing our success and life accomplishments, our lives are too nuanced for that. The graph you can plot about your income might not correlate with the graph about the state of your mental health or the graph of the quality of your relationships. It might be nice if they all go up simultaneously at once, but will they ever?

I still wake up in the morning with a purpose and goals. What has changed is that what starts me into the day is now more colorful. I make more explicit choices in the evening about what my next day comprises of. The tasks of the day feed from many different parts of my life. There is work, there is career progression, there is health, there is family, there is amusement. There are good days where all these things line up well and there are days where nothing really wants to work.

The most important lesson for me was loving myself and the path I'm on, and how utterly destructive it can be to myself to not be in balance about my true goals and desires. Finding this balance for me became significantly easier by recognizing that my goals and desires have to come from myself and not by looking outwards to others. Something that became significantly easier for me when I started picturing others as the complex and multifaceted beings they are.

This entry was tagged lessons and thoughts