Agency at 31

20230511

When I was 16, I remember randomly grabbing my guitar and getting down to a nearby park to play. I would sometimes just get into a bus, move to a beach 45 minutes away to windsurf all day long, and then improvise a way back home. I would get into these multi-day obsessive rabbit holes on electronics, learning hanzi, games, and politics.

I had no plans, no priorities in mind. I had no reason to prioritize, time seemed like an abundant resource and I didn't have a lot of responsibilities.

When I was 23, I started building a design studio with a good friend. Setting up the whole thing (sales funnel, learning UX skills, taxes) was extremely taxing. Now I had a clear (meh) goal – profitability – so almost every waking hour was an obsession towards being able to survive solely on our work.

I was deep into efficiency, at some point non-ironically reading about people running überman style sleep schedules and experimenting on how little I could sleep to stretch my time spent solving our design studio-related issues.

Family, friends, and relationships faded into the background in my search towards what I ended up understanding now was financial stability (or really, fear of financial instability). My whole identity was wrapped around my value as a professional, everything orbited around me as an individual surviving in this (fictional) wild market. I used to windsurf for fun and be fit as a consequence, now I followed a strict gym routine and I was maximizing what I was getting from every exercise minute.
At 26, I (re) met Aleida. I remember the exhilarating feeling of really wanting to be anywhere, anytime, with her. I remember putting aside everything and obsessing about our relationship. I remember promising myself I would strive to not conform myself with anything else, at any level, that didn't feel as right as this relationship.

Little by little I started getting out of the hole I had been digging myself in – but unfortunately, the fear of instability was still very much there, so I went back to my old habits.

A few years afterward I joined Replai. The team & the project checked all the boxes that tickled my love-deprived self – the danger of running out of money in a few months, infinite responsibility, a motivated team working 70h-weeks, an exciting product, a lot of power to steer the future of the project... I crashed hard into it. I loved it.

For a year I poured my whole soul into the project. Relationships, friends, family, it all faded in the background again. I was always on the brink of something great, always doing something extremely urgent, no matter how small.

For the first time, something was happening in the background – I wasn't worrying about money. Not only because I was able to save enough to warrant the feeling of safety, but rather my role within the team was growing a feeling within me that I could do an incredible job here, or anywhere else. For the first time, I didn't doubt my skills, not only on a technical level, but rather on a human level. I saw the importance of having agency, of being awake, of listening, of understanding problems and being able to actively coordinate solutions.

In parallel to this, Aleida was getting extremely disconnected from me. In my head, our relationship was frozen in time (for an undetermined amount) because I felt I was doing something for our future. In reality, I was getting absorbed by this obsessive, toxic relationship with work that made me feel both inadequate (from a lack of constantly failing to reach my impossible standards) and validated (as the team appreciated my work).

I was seeing how the best relationship I've ever had was being destroyed, and I was feeling empowered on what I did. The product I was designing was exciting, but I wasn't morally aligned with the most profitable ways it could be used, so I went with my heart and parted ways with the founders.

I was doing an amazing job, I didn't care (so much as before) about what was doing, so suddenly I had time to reconnect with Aleida, trying therapy, and for the first time in my life I started to understand where my behavior came from.

I was going to write about agency and ended up vomiting my life... but anyway, my point was about the difference in agency from 16 to 31. At 16 I was pure impulsivity, and it was fulfilling as fuck, but ineffective. At 31 I'm pure organization, and it feels restricted but effective. I remember having ups and downs agency-wise when I was younger, but my lack of goals allowed me to be much softer on myself. Today I have much higher expectations of what I want to achieve with time, and that makes spiraling down more mentally taxing.

I wish I could recover and combine both – having some resemblance of light habits, but at the same time doing things for the sake of it. Having friends, a network, having fun, doing exercise, working hard, and caring about my relations.

We are getting somewhere here – most often I make everything about this one thing. I need to finish THIS thing today, or I need to solve THIS relationship now. I need to chill. I have no control over shit. The only thing I can control is where I focus my attention, and in this damned 24-hour limited world I need to prioritize.

Here's to hoping for a better attention diversion toward 40.