Some of my happiest moments came after making really big decisions. Deciding that I was going away for college was one of them. Bailing on a Big 4 consulting gig just ten days before my start date to go full-time on startups was another. I used to think that the rush came because I made the right decision, but in hindsight I don’t think that’s the case.
At the time, those decisions were nerve-wracking , and I had no clue how they’d play out. The difference between “yes” and “no,” I thought, was the difference between happiness and depression. Despite that uncertainty, I felt overwhelmingly energized after I made each of those decisions.
Instead, the rush came from being able to make a decision at all – from feeling a sense of agency.
Over time, I’ve become less worried about making the wrong decision and more concerned with believing that I have the power to make a choice. The corollary to feeling good about making decisions is that when you feel like the decision isn’t yours, you feel like crap. Some of the most frustrating moments of the last two years have come when I felt like a decision was being made for me.
There’s the old cliche that happiness is a choice. I’d take it one step further: happiness is choice.
There’s more to it than just agency, though. There’s a level of self-belief that is required for you to feel good about making decisions. You’ve got to go out on the court and believe you can perform. You don’t need naivety – just a baseline level of confidence that you’re capable and will figure things out as you go.
Agency takes self-belief as fuel, but that stuff ain’t cheap.
It’s much easier to burn self-belief than it is to generate it. Let’s say that self-belief is created through success, reassurance, and support. Well, failure is abundant, criticism is easy to find, and you’re not always going to have people throwing you compliments while you’re in the trenches.
The only other way I’ve found to maintain and grow my self-belief reserves is to surround myself with people whose self-belief is abundant. It’s almost like everyone’s self-belief tanks are constantly leaking fuel, and if you’re close enough, you can catch some of your own.
Folks ask me all the time why I work with crypto. Between the negative “bro" stigma, the lack of legibility to friends and family, and the fact that the current market means everyone is broke, it’s hard for people to see the upside.
When my peers are asked the same question, they’ll often point to the people. The industry is relatively small, and folks are tight and have made some of their best friends working in the space. A big part of that, again, is illegibility: there aren’t many other people outside of the industry who understand what you’re working on all day. But I think there’s a much larger, underrated reason for that mutual attraction that keeps me around.
Crypto attracts people who are more likely to go play ball.
People who work in the industry fundamentally believe that the work that they’re doing can disrupt corporate structures, central banks, political decision-making – hell, they believe that they can disrupt the state. There’s a lot of talk in tech about making a difference in the world, but the pushback is largely manufactured. Everyone wants to see us go to space, everyone wants faster transportation and better communication. Disappointment in the tech industry has very little to do with the tech.
The pushback is real. Most people don’t actually believe that they can reimagine the nation-state or create a fundamentally different relationship between capital and labor in their lifetime, so they don’t try. In fact, the entire industry faces pushback from both mainstream media and traditional tech optimists. And yet, crypto people actually try.
Many of these people are absolutely insane. But it’s that insanity that keeps me around. Being around people who are high agency is infectious. You can’t help but be constantly refueling your self-belief tank.
I really do believe that a large part of happiness comes from agency, and agency comes from being around people think that are down to go play ball.
My mom always yells at me for being too judgmental toward people who don’t have hobbies or don’t go out of their way to explore new things and ideas. I’ve thought about that one a lot, because hearing that made me feel like a jerk lol. I think this essay is my answer.
It’s not that I really care about whether or not someone has a hobby or whether they write a blog – plenty of my friends don’t. But those things are indicative of a sense of agency.
If you don’t think you can act on an interest, you won’t pursue it to its fullest extent. Likewise, if you are tangibly demonstrating interest in something, it generally indicates a sense of agency.
And yeah, those are my favorite people. I want to be around friends who go play ball.