what matters?

Aug 09, 2022

I officially graduated from Duke exactly one week ago 3 months ago now. For most of my time at Duke, I anticipated continuing my studies by doing a Ph.D. in mathematics after undergrad, but admissions didn’t go the way I expected and now I’ll be a quant trader in the fall rather than a graduate student. After spending 3+ years anticipating on spending at least 5 more years in school after college, the 1 week that has passed since graduation has been a week of reminding myself, “Hey you’re not going back to school, you can take a break - don’t read that paper on Markov partitions right now, give it some time.” I’ve been playing piano during the hours I used to spend on math.

During the month after graduation, I felt almost overcome by the urge to just create something. Are these the death throes of undergrad? It’s impossible to not feel silly about not having taken greater advantage of being on campus; of course you only appreciate what you had when it’s gone. I tried, though. I did really try to make the most of being on campus. It’s easy to blame COVID-19, but even without COVID I get the feeling that I still would’ve felt this way. While social media is not the best sample, it seems like all recent graduates feel this way. Comisseration is one of the greatest bonding experiences, though. So have I created anything new recently? Well, I’ve spent maybe an hour learning how to make chrome extensions and now I can change the background color of a page.

From my habitual overthinking during these years in college, I found that I always arrived at the same refrain: “does this really matter?” No. It probably doesn’t. What matters then? If you want to grow a forest, you have to plant trees. Where, if, and when you plant them doesn’t really matter until it does. It’s just like with numerical methods. An epsilon of approximation error doesn’t really matter, until it does, because you’ve taken 1/epsilon steps and now your error is O(1). What are the things in life where you really don’t want to lose an epsilon? Is there even such thing?

Implicit in my behavior, I think I’ve been treating the set of people that I spend time around as one of these things. To justify my selectiveness, I argue that there is a feedback loop within the friendship system. High quality people (by whatever metric you choose) are more likely to have high quality friends, so the number of high quality potential-friends “available” to you grows exponentially until some saturation point where there are either no more people in the world. But, don’t a lot of things in life satisfy this type of relationship? So, maybe dynamics are not the right criterion. Perhaps instead we must return to the 80/20 rule.

My recent efforts have been dedicated to figuring out which quest lines are worth chasing to completion. So, really nothing matters except what you choose to matter. Whichever “quest” you choose is (hopefully) totally up to you, just don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy!

coming back, august edit

Since I apparently didn’t publish this after I wrote it I found it again in my drafts folder and feel like adding a bit to it. I previously wrote that nothing matters bla bla, but I think that’s not entirely true and not what I really believe. If one thing matters, it’s people. One of the greatest things about being alive is that we can interact with other people. Wealth and success don’t really care about who achieves them. It’s with other people that your very existence actually matters. Your relationships are first order effects of your existence. The work you do is another, and some, but not many, people earnestly follow that path. Either way, though, I think that one of these two should necessarily matter. The rest, though, meh.