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Factor in potential outcomes and the equation gets much more interesting.

We’re moving. In 4 days. It’s a topic on my mind. I’ve been moving for the past 6 months, the past 2 months almost full time. There’s a lot to do. With all of that invested time, energy, money, lost revenue, one could easily ask:

Is it all worth it?

If you’re snooping around for the quick answer, or at least my answer, it’s a resounding yes.

I’m a math guy. Wait, don’t leave! I won’t throw scary theorems your way, I promise. But in math, there are variables and there are unknowns. Let’s first do a simple math equation. This one is very relevant as it’s been the past years of my life.

I work one hour. I get paid for one hour.

That’s it. That the equation. Pretty simple, right? If we take the initial question (If you don’t know the outcome, how much effort should you put into it?) it’s not applicable as we know the outcome: work an hour, get paid an hour.

Now let’s get a little more vague. A little less math and a little more art. How does one know the outcome of the future? If it’s as simple as working an hour and getting paid an hour, you know the probable future. But what if it’s something vague like, “Are the hundreds of hours I’ve put into this move worth it?”

If we’re purely talking numbers or income or something countable, then we could probably figure it out or at least make a guess. Estimates of future income, costs, opportunities, etc.

But, frankly, I’m not interested in any of that. I’m more interested in the unknown.

Hundreds of hours of work leading up to change and the guarantee of the unknown is worth it already.

If you don’t know the outcome, how much effort should you put into it?

The “unknown” scares some people. I thrive on it. The fact that I don’t know what next year will bring excites me beyond measure. The idea that it will be radically different from this year makes me smile even as I type these words.

If that’s still too vague for you, here’s another example. My boys and I are writing books together. We’ve already put in hundreds of hours of work and will put in thousands more. Well, I wrote the word “work” but it’s not work when you love it–but that’s another topic. We have put in hundreds of hours for an unknown outcome. We might earn dozens of dollars. We might earn millions. I honestly don’t know.

Here’s my take. If you’re concerned about how much “effort” you’re putting in, then maybe you’re just putting in the effort towards something you don’t believe in. If you believe in it, if what you’re working on is what you truly would be doing independent of the outcome then the path is the outcome. Getting there is the destination. I’m not concerned about the outcome because the way there is where I already want to be.

But let’s answer the original question: “If you don’t know the outcome, how much effort should you put into it?”

Enough until you understand the outcome. Then you can decide if it’s enough.