Adjusting how you make trade-offs between health, family, learning, career, and wealth.
In a world with faster change and disruptive technological shifts, how should we adjust our personal priorities? Technologies like autonomous cars, genomics or AI automation could have a significant impact on many dimensions of our lives and the trade-offs it makes sense to make. While we can’t know the future, we can try to predict the broad outlines of those changes and use them to inform how we prioritize and make decisions.
The are three areas that seem to have clear adjustments to make: health, family & friends, and learning. In this, we are (on average) missing optimal behavior by a wide margin. Career and wealth are tougher to predict, but there are some elements that can be considered around them.
Health: invest in our medium to long-term. Healthcare technology is making us live longer and with more quality, and developments like AI or genomics will only accelerate this. Science has also identified the big killers/disablers (cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer….) and what we need to do to tackle them. There is surprising consensus on a set of 6 very simple interventions: get our weight in the correct range, exercise regularly (strength, endurance, flexibility), stop smoking (alcoholism, drugs, etc…), improve our nutrition, sleep well and stay active. These 6 will improve our quality of life significantly and would probably extend our lifespans over a decade. These 6 are difficult, and many ignore them. We are programmed to be very short-term focused and this health program has its benefits in the long-term. So invest in the long-term today.
Family and friends: enjoy life in the now. Technology is also clearly damaging the quality of our attention and relationships. While we can interact in more ways than ever, many of the interactions end up being shallow and distracted. We can expect this only to increase, with AR/VR, AI and many other technologies that can dehumanize our relationships. At the same time, all evidence points to real psychological benefits and happiness coming from close and rich human relationships. The dying always wish they had spent more and better time with their loved ones rather than working or tweeting. So take every chance to enjoy life in the now with your friends and family. Even if you live longer your children’s childhoods will never come back.
Learning: growth mindset continuous development. Gone is the time in which you could master an area in your youth and be an expert all your life. Now areas of expertise grow continuously and are disrupted and superseded by others. If we believe in accelerating change, we can only expect this to increase. This requires rethinking education completely as a society, and also changing our relationship with learning. Learning shouldn’t be limited to a phase of life, it should be continuous. If we stop learning for a prolonged period of time (i.e. months) we will accumulate a large learning debt and could significantly hurt our future productivity and earnings. Millenials and Gen Z, know this instinctively, so they value learning extremely highly. So put yourself in the situation to always be learning.
Career: hedge your bets. Companies are dying quicker, and with faster technological change this will go even faster. Consequently, investments in lifetime employment relationships with companies are more dangerous to make. When you invest in a particular company a large part of the personal capital you develop is specific to the company (e.g. politics, who is who, specific ways of working). This specific personal capital is key to climbing the corporate ladder but totally useless outside it. So, if your company restructures, you might end up having to write-off a huge investment and live with productivity losses. If your job has you learning about company-specific issues only you should beware, even if it pays well and you seem poised to advancement. It might be a golden cage that suddenly turns to lead. So always be learning in your jobs, and make sure your bets are hedged.
Wealth: at least think about your priorities. Social norms push us to wealth accumulation as the key metric of success, with full visibility of the wealthiest in the world. And it is true that wealth allows you to invest in the previously discussed priorities like healthcare, learning and friends and family. However, financial innovation and asset price volatility have grown substantially and are growing even more. Technologies like the blockchain, autonomous cars, artificial intelligence, and energy could create new asset classes, wipe out existing ones and transform existing value distributions. Technology could also create abundance in which wealth ceases to be so important. This means future wealth might be less relevant or wiped out, even if relatively well diversified. So, how much time should we invest in creating and accumulating wealth? How much should we spend? Which spending really supports our priorities and which is about keeping up with the Joneses? Should we sacrifice today to be able to have in an uncertain future? Difficult questions that each of us should grapple with and consider.
Stop and think. Are you investing enough in your health and family&friends? It is a no-brainer with short-term paybacks. Are you learning enough? How could you do it? Is your career making you too company-specific, should you flee the golden cage or find the way to melt the ingots? And what is your relationship with wealth? Do you invest enough in non-tangible things like learning or healthcare? Are you investing too much in something that might disappear or be disrupted completely? Whatever your answers thinking about what is important in your life is always a great investment.