Imagine a social gathering, you’re familiar with most of the people there but not all of them so you’ve been engaging with some small talk so you don’t spend the next 4 hours being that weird guy in the corner. Amongst the varying commentary about weather, local sports teams and what have you inevitably the conversation turns to what you all do for a living. Now for most people this is usually a one liner followed by a few back and forths over a few minor details and then it’s off to the other topic of conversation. There are some notable exceptions of course usually when your job is in an industry like IT, medical or (one of the more recent additions to this club) app development. If you dare mention you’re in one of these industries it’s highly likely that someone will launch into a description of their problems or start giving you ideas for their great iPhone app.
Being someone who fits into 2 of these categories (IT and a budding app developer) I get this kind of thing all the time, especially when I’m visiting a friend of a friend who I haven’t met before. Mostly it’s pretty harmless and I don’t mind taking some time out to help people as long as it doesn’t become a recurring theme. Of course IT problems don’t usually exist in isolation so more often than not I’ll be called upon again to come back at which point I usually tell people my going rate and watch the problem evaporate rather quickly. What a lot of people fail to realise is that whilst we might do something for a living we don’t necessarily enjoy doing it out of work, especially if we’ve just spent our whole day doing it.
It’s for that reason alone that I don’t bother people with questions about their professions in a social setting, kind of a common courtesy from someone who knows what they’re going through. I’ll admit it’s not easy sometimes, especially if I have an idea for a project that I want someone to work with me on, but there are much better ways to approach someone than accosting them the second you find out that they could be useful to you.
New app ideas are probably the worst out of the lot as many people are convinced their ideas are fantastic and all they need is you for a couple hours to just bang it out for them. Luckily for me I can tell them that the last app I tried to develop took about a year and barely lead anywhere but even that doesn’t deter some of the more enthusiastic punters. It’s even worse that I completely understand their motivations too as I tried hard to get other people excited about the idea but inevitably you can only talk about something for so long before people just don’t want to hear about it anymore.
It’s for that exact reason that I haven’t been talking at all about my most recent project, except in the most general terms. There’s also a multitude of other factors as well (like first mover advantage, which I believe I have in this case) but it also comes down to a the fact that talking about your goals triggers the same neurological response as actually completing them. Thus I feel those who are approaching me to develop an idea for them have already got what they needed (that feeling of completion) and attempting to follow the idea to its conclusion is usually an exercise in futility.
Even though we’re all familiar with the old adage of “Genius is: 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration” the opposite seems to hold true for commonly held opinions about ideas. The notion that all it takes is an amazing idea to realize your dreams (made worse by the fact that people think iPhone apps are just so damn easy to make) and so the second they get something they think is novel suddenly the hard part is over. Being someone who’s had 50+ of those “amazing” ideas and only been able to execute a couple of them I can tell you the easy part is getting an idea, the hard part is tuning out everything else and working solidly on that idea for months on end. So you should really ask yourself “Would I be willing to work on this day in day out in order for it to succeed?” and if you’re answer is anything but an unconditional yes then you should wonder why others would bother to work on it with you.
I’ve often seen people crushed under their own desire to achieve greatness. It would seem that when confronted with a large task or ambition instead of breaking it down into simpler and more manageable tasks we see each step we take as an exercise in futility. A great many self help books will describe such a process as making small achievable goals for yourself constantly, rather than work on what may amount to an insurmountable problem. Using this idea of small but constant achievement is something that I have used continually throughout my life and something that I more recently came to see the benefit of.
In my teenage years I was critically underweight, being around 185cms tall and weighing about 60kgs. From a BMI perspective this counts as “underweight” although that was pretty obvious if you were just to take a look at me. I didn’t suffer from any eating disorders I just didn’t put on weight no matter how much I thought I ate. When I turned 19 I started doing traditional Wu Shu and Tai Ji and after about a year I’d gained about 10 kgs. Whilst I didn’t end up gaining anymore after that (and stopping Wu Shu due to work commitments 2 years later) it did show me that as long as I kept at something and made small progress constantly I’d eventually end up where I wanted to be. More recently one of my friends (who I did Wu Shu with) put me onto CrossFit and after only about 3 weeks of regularly doing their work out of the day I’ve noticed significant improvements in my health and physique. They also encourage setting goals like beating your own personal bests and the like.
I think this idea came to me from my background in engineering. With any problem I was given whilst studying there was a heavy emphasis of breaking everything down into its most basic forms so that it would be easier to comprehend. I often found myself with assignments that looked so huge that I could never complete them, but after the first couple I got into a routine to solve them. It usually went something like:
Getting the title down always seemed to get me over that initial “its way too hard” hump and kicked me off in getting things done. We had quite a few assignments that were semester long and I wouldn’t be able to complete certain parts before we’d covered them, but having the framework down really helped keep me motivated to get it done a long time before it was due.
We all face challenges in our lives and no matter what kind of person you are there will be times when you feel like your surrounded by insurmountable tasks on all sides. The key is to identify what you can do to chip away at it because once you find that, your problem doesn’t look so big. I believe Lao-Tzu summed it up perfectly:
A journey of a thousand miles began with a single step.