Immersion and Perspective

I attended a memorial service recently of a very accomplished member of our industry. Listening to colleagues, family, and athletic teammates talk about this person was incredibly inspiring. One takeaway I held onto, was that there is something amazing about approaching each and every moment, regardless of context, with uniform effort, standards, and focus. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Some moments we are activated and some moments we are sleepwalking through life, but what would it look like to be activated all (or almost all) the time? The more I thought about this question, the more I found myself thinking about the concept of immersion. People talk about being present in any given moment, but I think immersion is something greater than that. It’s not just existing in a moment, it’s leaning into the moment, pushing it further and richer, and maximizing the experience of it.

Curious about what a life of full immersion in every moment looked like, I decided to run a little experiment. What if I could “show up” and “bring it” evenly, to everything I do in a day? What if I could apply the same focus and effort to bath time with my kids or a dinner after work that I do an investment decision or a long distance run? I realized quickly that I would need to hack my brain to achieve this. I observed that context switches were the best moments to hack, and committed to “actively reminding and encouraging myself” to fully immerse in whatever was on the other side of any context switch I had in a day. It worked until it didn’t. For about two days I maxed out every moment, regardless of whether it was one that naturally drained or gave me energy, but it was too hard to maintain uniformly.

While the experiment ended (and failed), I still hold onto that intent around immersion. I still activate myself during context switches when I can or remember, but I’ve accepted that the “success” outcome in this experience is “more fully immersed moments” and not “all fully immersed moments.”

Weeks later I was thinking about the pursuit of immersion, and what other running pursuits I hold and strive for. The other immediate one that came to mind is “perspective.” More than immersion, seeking perspective is native to my disposition and brain chemistry. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to see things exactly as they are. In college I connected deeply to the Stoic philosophy for this reason, and in professional pursuits it’s kind of the only thing that matters as a VC.

Interestingly, you could argue that perspective and immersion are zero sum. I think of perspective as stepping as far away from things as possible, such that you can see them from a bird’s eye view. I remember reading some stoic definition of wisdom in college that went something like “you and I are having a conversation. If there were an objective third party, watching down over us, viewing the interaction, wisdom is how close my understanding of the moment is to what that observer sees is actually happening.” I might have butchered that a bit, it’s been a minute…

In some ways, it feels like to fully immerse in anything, you need to stop trying to see it from far away simultaneously. You need to let go of that search for perspective, and live the moment right up close to your face. It’s a totally different mindset. Where I net out, is that toggling between the two feels right, as opposed to existing split or indecisive in any given moment. I guess I’d like to very intentionally be in one mode or the other, and make the toggle active and at will.

Anyway, as I scroll my twitter feed, in which fear and uncertainty have permeated the echo chamber, what I really see is people fleeing immersion. In moments like this, everyone is seeking perspective, but I find it interesting to ask, how do you fully immerse in a painful or uncomfortable moment? I think there is a way to do that. And for some reason my toggle wants to go that direction right now.