Being Non-Dominated

A lot of people try to be the best at something – but that’s pretty difficult, because you are competing with lots of other people, and only one of you can be the best. If your measure of self-worth is based on being the best, you’re going to have a rough time. If you’re going to make your self-worth rely on being the best, spread out the thing you are trying to be the best at over multiple axes. In multi-objective optimization, this is called being non-dominated. Being dominated means having another solution that is better along every axis. Being non-dominated is the opposite of that – having no solutions that are better along every axis. If you pick multiple things you care about, and then try to be good enough that no one is better than you in all of those fields, you’re much more likely to succeed.

For an example, here are the set of things that I think I’m non-dominated across. I think there is no one who is better than me at software engineering, writing, philosophy (specifically evolutionary game theory modeling), cooking, and sex. Because I have these five relatively uncorrelated axes to compare myself to other people on, I can usually come out on top on at least one of them. The feeling of being non-dominated is best captured by the thought they’re better at X, but at least I’m better at Y. If you only value one thing, it’s easy to feel beat up and think they’re better at X, so compared to them, I’m useless. But this is bad! Value is multifaceted – don’t let your worth be defined by one thing only.

This ties into the idea of skill stacks. It’s hard to set yourself apart in an employment market by being really good at one thing, because lots of people are good at that thing, but it’s easier to set yourself apart by being good at two things – fewer people will be good at both than good at just one.

This is also related to keeping your identity small. Or at least, small enough that you can have multiple. I identify as someone who is good at software engineering as well as cooking, so when I run into someone who is better than me at one, my self-worth doesn’t decrease. We aren’t in a stack ranking – someone being better than me at software engineering doesn’t mean they are a better person than me overall.

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