matt's blog

Your most valuable resource

It’s human to overvalue short-term payoffs. Whether buying a fancy car instead of saving (have you seen the R1T?), choosing a concert over a presentation, or favoring salary over learning opportunities. Overvaluing the short-term can be pretty obvious (buying something when you should save) or tough to parse (career, family, and financial decisions).

I’m not here to preach what’s right or even say that you should value long-term decisions (hey, fun is important, too), but I am here to say there is one form of investing in your future you shouldn’t overlook: relationships.

The Short-term Trap

For most of my career, I’ve fallen victim to short-term thinking, but not in the way you might expect. I'm generally frugal, know my priorities, and tend to execute well (though I stumble, as we all do).

My errors are often on a life-scale.

See, I’ve never really taken a step back and thought about the best decision for 2030 Matt, or even 2035 Matt, for that matter. I’ve always been concerned with “next year” Matt.

I know that I enjoy work and my primary motivator is to do more of what I enjoy and less of what I don’t, while contributing to something meaningful and improving myself.

Sounds good, right?

After a recent negative career experience, I was forced to evaluate my trajectory—where I am and where I’d like to be. This exercise made me reflect on what’s important to me and what’s been beneficial thus far… What I enjoy, what I’m good at, and how I can contribute to something bigger than myself.

Through that process, one thing became glaringly obvious: I am simultaneously incredibly lucky & terribly lacking in the same department, relationships.

As part of my short-term thinking, I never prioritized building a community or staying in the same place. For years, I never went out of my way to meet people. This wasn't out of malice or solitude, but what I valued: improving myself and doing the best work possible.

I would skip social events to learn about databases, clear my nights to learn Python & SQL, and turn in early to be at the gym before work (back when every day was an office day). That drive was valuable technically, but it didn’t lead to the success I was after. Rather, it led to a very lonely existence where I constantly questioned if I was doing the right things.

Since COVID, I’ve felt an incredible drive to engage the community at large, something that’s corroborated by the results of my Big Five Personality Test.

It wasn’t until I started sharing what I learned, talking to people, and creating content that I started to see really positive signals, but more on that later.

The Best Work You’ll Do

Over the past four (five?) years, I’ve come to realize that the best work is achieved with the help of others. To me, the idea of a “solopreneur” seems boring, limiting, and lonely. I believe shared experiences transcend the self and last a lifetime.

In the past, I’ve made ostensibly selfish decisions to pursue exciting opportunities. If I hit a block, I’d quit and look elsewhere. I missed out on some friendships and perhaps some valuable opportunities to learn conflict resolution.

In my personal life, I’d move wherever I thought I had the best chance of finding "that thing," with little regard for long-term friendships or meaningful relationships. Sometimes, I’d switch up my life just to start fresh or get away from a feeling of being “trapped.”

Instead of focusing on myself, I now focus on others: where can I surround myself with the best and brightest? What does it take to become a part of a community? To give back? How can I be of service to others?

Instead of “leveling up,” I focus on learning that drives value—what can I learn to be of most use? Are there topics that would help my team? The community?

To move closer to what I’m after, I’ve taken steps that reflect my core beliefs: moving across the US to the Bay to pursue in-person opportunities, hosting data events in the South Bay, sharing what I’ve learned through courses, blog posts, and books, & rearranging my life to pursue meaningful connection and partnership.

Some things have worked and a few blew up in my face, but in the end, I’m incredibly happy with the results, because I’ve seen inklings of connection & meaning where I previously saw struggle & frustration.

The Power of Relationships

Relationships stand the test of time and function as a safety net—your reputation is far more important than your income.

If your company fails or you're laid off, faith in your abilities and a good network will see you through. There are very few things I’m certain of, but I wholeheartedly believe that good people who think critically and work hard will always be in demand.

Most things can disappear overnight: you might open your email to a termination notice or wake up to find an LLM doing something eerily similar to your job—a sight that makes me question five years of writing SQL… Far fewer things are certain and stable than we think.

Of course, meeting people isn’t about cold logic, long-term plans, or “networking”… Life becomes more enjoyable, fun, and engaging when you prioritize opportunities to collaborate and try new things.

That doesn't mean settling for a low salary or making life unnecessarily difficult, but it does mean being open to relocation, taking risks, and embracing failure.

I fell flat on my face in my last two career decisions. That can be a tough fact to embrace…. but I’ve never been more excited about the future. The choice between failure and not making an attempt is an easy one.

“Better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.”

People

We have a natural inclination to rely on those we trust—a process mirrored in relationship-building—even when it’s not the best idea. There are many, many things AI and the internet will answer better than 99% of humans, but there are also many things they will not.

When you’re looking for a new restaurant, what’s the first thing you do? Open up Google? Ask ChatGPT? Or do you ask your friend Emily, who has really good taste and knows the local food scene?

Questions like these are valuable for a night out on the town, but invaluable for career decisions. Where do I head from here? What’s the most valuable thing for me to be doing right now? What little-known industry info can give me an edge?

By nurturing a circle of trusted peers, we transcend the limitations of inaccessible information. Making the wrong career decision can set you back years, but having mentors can circumvent your (my) dumb mistakes, saving all that time and more.

How can you do that? Engaging in activities you love fosters appreciation and often leads to meaningful interactions and collaborations. Over time, these efforts can lead to serendipitous encounters with interesting individuals. You’ll notice a prerequisite is knowing what you love.

So, in that order: find what you love, do it lots, and engage with others who love it, too. While the journey can be slow & frustrating, the eventual outcome can be incredibly rewarding.

Wrap

That might be a bit long-winded, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past half-decade, it’s that there’s so much opportunity out there. I say this with full conviction—never limit yourself and always shoot higher than you think possible.

To sum it up:

Things are good in some places and bad in others. If you look hard enough, I can guarantee you’ll find something that’s a good fit. We can blame the game and decry the world as unfair or we can learn how to play it and do our best.

Compassion and empathy are important traits. There’s a lot of crazy stuff out there and stuff happens. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my career, but I’ve also worked pretty damn hard. At the end of the day, your journey is just that—yours. The best time to get started was yesterday, the second best time is right now.

#opinion