Being Fascinated

For the past few days I’ve had a spring in my step. Why? Because I’m writing some tax-loss-harvesting and rebalancing software, of course.

Yesterday, as I was coding, I realized how monotonous the code I was writing was, but how much I was enjoying writing it. It was a strange combination. I don’t always love coding, and the monotony does get to me at times.

I thought about why that was, and I realized it was because I had become fascinated with portfolio optimization. I was really curious about how it worked, how different strategies would affect results, and what would happen to my hypothetical portfolio once I made the changes.

On a smaller scale, I had become fascinated with how to program the algorithm. Do I sell over-proportioned positions first? Do I tax loss harvest first? If I don’t have enough cash left to buy a share of the most under-proportioned stock do I hold the cash or buy the second most?

I can tell that I’m doing a poor job of conveying the intrigue, but it was really captivating. I was fascinated with the problem, and so the actions I needed to take almost didn’t matter.

This happens a lot. Sometimes I worry that I like fixing bugs too much, and that liking it causes me to subconsciously create more. When it seems like something should work but doesn’t, I’m fascinated. What am I missing? What don’t I know? It feels similar to an escape game.

That’s great and all, but how do you become fascinated? Sometimes it just happens naturally, but that’s not necessarily something to rely on.

One thing you can do is think about the interactions between different components. Let’s say you’re trying to make bread and it keeps coming out poorly. You could be frustrated and not want to do it anymore, or you could become fascinated. How does the flour interact with the water? What does the yeast do? How does temperature affect each of the ingredients? There as an unlimited level of available fascination in these questions alone, and it only becomes amplified once you start tinkering to alter those interactions.

You can also try to imagine what you don’t know. I thought I understood tax loss harvesting, but then I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. How small of a loss is worth harvesting? How do you figure out the best securities to swap in? Should you switch back to the original one later if there’s a subsequent gain? It’s hard not to become fascinated when you’re learning.

If you’re working on a project and are finding it hard to stay motivated, take a step back and think about it. What’s interesting about it? What are the factors at play and how do they compete with or complement each other? What don’t you know about it?

You may not have to do this for everything, but I think you could. I was trying to think of an example where it was impossible, like shoveling dirt. But then I started to think about how I barely even know what dirt is, and how it’s probably a lot of different things, and actually if I’m digging dirt, maybe the dirt a few feet down hasn’t even been exposed to the surface in years. Or is it decades? I don’t really know much about dirt, it turns out. Fascinating stuff, dirt.

You will always do better work if you’re more engaged. You can be engaged just because you care so much that the work happens, or because there are some great benefits to you if you finish it, but cultivating fascination is another tool in that toolbox. If you find yourself zoning out or procrastinating on some work, try to find something fascinating within it.


Photo is San Diego, where I visited Noah Kagan last week. I’ve been to SD twice this year and both times really enjoyed it. I think it’s possibly an underrated city.

Related, Noah pointed out that it was hard to figure out how to subscribe to my blog. Turns out it was actually impossible and had been for years. Now if you’re reading this on the site you should see a box below.

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