I once pleaded with my wife that we hire a Task Rabbit.
I laid out a very precise plan.
She did the cooking. I did the cleaning.
But I hated it. (Especially since we had one of those tiny NYC sinks that could only fit a saucepan in it.)
I was ascending the ranks on Wall Street. I had a great W-2 salary that probably translated into $500/hour.
My plan was simple a simple one. The Task Rabbit might cost $25 an hour. And I could use that time to go read a textbook or pursue some self-improvement hack that, in turn, would make our family even more money.
(“But then we’ll have a stranger in our apartment, EVERY NIGHT,” she rebutted.)
The plan never materialized, but I’m always on the look out for ways to buy back time via outsourcing.
So I could deeply empathize with a Redditor (in /r/fatFIRE) who found themselves in a similar situation.
This person had a high-paying, yet “moderately demanding job” and was looking “to optimize time and well-being.”
I’ve always been the kind of person to do everything myself, but some of my coworkers have really leaned into paying others for almost everything so they can purely focus on their craft/job.
And while the Redditor didn’t have hire a Task Rabbit to do your dishes, they were looking at hiring:
- Personal Trainer
- Nutritionist / Meal Service
- Cleaning service
- Good Ergonomic Desk / Chair setup
- Good Vacations
Now I immediately thought that hiring drivers and chefs and mountains of childcare would jump to the top of the list of responses.
But instead, a therapist came in with an ominous warning on the perils of over-optimization.
First, I was thrilled that a therapist (let’s call them Wendy Rhodes) would pop into sub-reddit to dish out some free CBT to an Internet stranger. (Wendy Rhodes also had experience with clients who were obsessed with the pursuit of Financial Independence and Early Retirement.)
Dr. Rhodes’ first words of warning:
What I find is that those who lean too much into this logic of optimization are the ones that suffer from a (literal) maddening degree of alienation.
Rhodes goes on to explain the seductive appeal of the over-optimization trap.
It’s an easy trap to fall into as it is so very sensible: Why would you spend six hours cleaning (doing a chore you hate and doing it badly) if you could just work an additional hour and outsource that? So you hire a cleaner. And a cook, a personal shopper, an interior designer and a nanny.
After all, we’ve gotten to these points in our careers with resourcefulness, delegation and a solid understanding of the difference between $10 work and $10K Work.
But it quickly turns into a slippery slope:
But if you don’t watch out, all your little self worth eggs, so to speak, are kept in the same work basket – and, step by step, you start to live the life of a stranger. You eat the food of someone else, wear the clothes of not-you, in an apartment that might as well be a hotel room, with kids that are more attached to their nanny than to you. Your vacations are glamorous, but there’s little connection to anyone or anything in them.
What happens when we avoid the everyday-ness of life, in favor of worshipping at the altar of professional perfection?
Does life lose a bit of its flavor?
Do we keep moving the goal posts?
Or do we careen violently into into a treacherous world were one can only find self-acceptance and worthiness through achievement?
Back to Wendy Rhodes (emphasis mine):
At this point you might start to feel a little unease. You might start to wonder why you’re unfulfilled and try to treat yourself better – so you double down. You get a PA because dealing with a schedule is annoying, you get a personal trainer because mens sana in corpore sano and while you’re at it, you also start therapy, where you learn techniques that help somewhat and where you analyze childhood events.
The doubling-down is when the mid-life crisis appears. Because all this outsourcing should be done in service of asking life’s biggest questions:
- Who do I show up for?
- What is happiness? Am I happy?
- What is a life well lived?
- When will I know if I have enough?
- What hurts?
Now the original premise of FIRE is to create time to ask these questions – but it misses the point. You don’t need more time to ask these questions.
You need the intention to ask them.
And the desire (and the yearning!) to hear the answers.
Back to Dr. Rhodes:
But what somehow is kept at bay, in a fish-not-having-a-word-for-water-way, is that you identify with your job of optimizing processes to maximum efficiency to a degree that you treat yourself like any work project. What I am getting at here is: Watch out. It may be easier and more worth it to develop an interest in cooking or join a sports club or a gym that you like.
What if over-optimizing is just a form of numbing?
Like alcohol, doom scrolling, TikTok and listening to business podcasts.
Why do we keep numbing, when we have the beautiful opportunity to look within?
Lastly, Wendy says what we were all waiting for:
But also: Screw cleaning.
Note: We’ve got a lot of “reformed” over-optimizers in Supercharge Your Productivity. It’s the only course that connects the pursuit of productivity to life’s larger questions. Enroll today and get instant access to the materials plus access to our next live cohort beginning in January.