Gary Bacon

Finding What Challenges You

In an interview, Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about science boosting the economy. He goes on to say, most companies and politicians don’t have the tolerance for the long term view.

You don’t motivate a group of kids, saying “Who wants to be a mechanical engineer and help improve flight efficiency by 15% compared to the airplane your father flew?”

But instead, ask “Who wants to be an engineer and help develop airfoils to help fly in the atmosphere of Mars?” With the latter, you get the best students in the class.

Flow is the intersection of what you are good at and what challenges you— where difficulty and competency meet.

When your competency exceeds the difficulty of a task, you are bored. And when the difficulty exceeds your competency, you are anxious. That was my problem: I was bored.

— Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

There are times where the day job requires me to do the mundane. That’s fine. We can’t always have constant excitement. It’s called work for a reason.

For inspiration, this is one of the reasons that I have side projects. To keep pushing my limits. It allows me to play. To find out how to make user interfaces for VR, tinker with implementing the Acelerated Mobile Pages Project on content, create a landing page for Snapchat, write books, and so much more.

These all funnel back into the collective of who I am. When you hire me, you get a wide variety of experiences. All of which have added something to my career over the years.

My side projects are my play.

“Everyday playing is a kind of experimentation–it’s a way of experimenting with the world, getting data the way that scientists do and then using that data to draw new conclusions,” — Alison Gopnik, TED Talk

Children learn by play and experimenting, which doesn’t have to end in childhood. It’s not always about moving the bottom line. We have to be mindful of trying new things, enjoying it, and having fun. New mental pathways will form. That’s why ideas hit in the shower, during a walk, while doing an activity, and not at your desk. You can’t force it.

An accidental apprenticeship begins with listening to your life and paying attention to the ways in which you’re already being prepared for your life’s work.

— Jeff Goins, The Art of Work

It’s an investment in your personal education, which can show results much later on in life.

I’m so grateful for having learned from two art directors early on in my journey. At the time, I wondered what print design had to do with my future career in web design. However as that evolved from web design, into user interface design, and now growing into more product design, I can see where those same principles of design are carried throughout the span of my career.

Low on ideas? Find yourself grasping at straws? Read, read again, and read often.

I once had someone tell me, “Oh, I don’t read much. I use that time to do writing.” You can take a balanced approach. If your consumption is greater than the output of what you’re producing, then tone it down; consumers as we’re called. It shouldn’t be skewed in that direction.

However, as Ryan Holiday points out, Samuel Johnson once said: “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” Treat it as research. The cure for writer’s block. The spark to keep you going. Fill it with purpose.

We have to be inspired. It’s what gives us growth and that which pulls us out of apathy.