A lot of people in my life seem to be at the end of a phase of great focus. They worked on a startup and sold or otherwise exited it, they built a business that's now running without them, or they left a job and are taking time off before the next thing. It's interesting to see how they deal with the loss of that focus.
I remember being a kid, and my whole life was exploration. One of my favorite things to do was to tromp around through the woods and look for worms, weird bugs, or cool rocks. Sometimes I could smash a rock and inside would be some crystals, like a geode. I had no aim in life, but I didn't need an aim to drive myself. I just went. There were always new woods and new rocks.
This sort of exploration didn't ever seem urgent, but it always seemed important. When we first moved to Austin my siblings and I went out into the woods with purpose every day. Sometimes we would find something new, sometimes we would just go over what we had already found.
That's how I felt when I first found computers, too. There was so much to learn and do, and none of it had much of a point. I'd spend hours trying to get a game to work or to make a program that didn't really do much except show some cool ASCII art and ask me questions.
Were these times in my life important? There's really no way to know for sure, but I think so. I can make up story arcs that include them, like saying that exploring computers led to me becoming a programmer and building companies, or that exploring the woods led to exploring the world and then being a nomad, but I don't know if they are true.
At the very least, I think I learned about myself as I wandered the woods and dealt with problems on the computer.
As adults we sometimes feel like these times of exploration aren't important, at least not anymore. We encourage kids to play and explore, but we don't encourage ourselves to do so. We stay on task and when that task is done we immediately find another one to take its place.
I'm not sure that's the best way to live. I think that it's important to be comfortable with intense focus and work and progress, but equally comfortable with the vacuum created when those periods end. One fuels the other, I think.
It's tempting to put a goal on the exploration phase, to say that it's to figure out what to do next or to decompress before finding the next job, but I think the whole point of it is that there is no goal. You explore and you remain open to whatever it leads to.
If you're in an exploration phase of your life, be glad that you have that luxury. Embrace it and focus only on the exploring. Don't go into it with a presupposition of what you'll get out of it, as that defeats the purpose.
I wrote this almost a year ago, but it seems doubly true during shelter-in-place. I've been getting really into CAD modeling and 3D printing, neither of which I had done before last week.
Photo is eight of the first iterations of me learning how to do CAD modeling. I'm trying to make the world's most realistic LED candle.
As I've written before, I think that one of the most important skills one can have is basic competence. It doesn't sound as appealing as programming, writing, or engineering, but it's a rarer skill, and thus more valuable.
Most skills are clearly defined and can be easily taught, which makes them easy to commoditize. Competence, like social skills, is something that's less easy to define and teach. It's more of a personal exploration.
I define competence at the ability to get an undefined task done in an efficient manner. The skills that go into that are primarily time management and ability to learn. Someone who is very competent can take a random task in a field in which he's not an expert, figure out how to get it done, and then complete it. He won't be able to do it as well or as quickly as an expert, but that's not the point. The point is to not be totally helpless when working outside of your comfort zone.
So what does it take to be competent?
I live in a small town called Brighouse in England. I love it hear with its variation; towns, cities, countryside and of course history. It was May 2013 and i received a blurry photo on my phone. I don't have it to hand but it looked like the edge of a cliff. I called the friend (Richard) who sent it me and he said it was an abandon mine and that we should explore it. it wasn't too far from where we lived. Now before i continue i will tell you that me and some friends love urban exploration. It fascinates me and gives you a glimpse into what life might be like when people disappear. That and it makes for some fantastic photo opportunities.
So one evening i drove to the location where some friends where already waiting. Geared up in cloths i don't mind destroying, several led lights, camera and a flask of coffee. I didn't really know what to expect as i was pulling up to a small makeshift car park in some woods but what i really did fear was getting lost, after all it is a mine. It was already getting dark but that didn't matter, not where we was going. We walked along a trail in the woods to the mine. Seemed forever before my friend said "here we are". Looked around. Nothing. He pointed to the side of a hill no more than 10 meters away. Thats when i saw a slumped over sign. "Danger of Explosion" it said. A gap no bigger than a small window led to what was suppose to be a mine. Well time to get dirty.I slid down the wet and slimy muck. I was in.
Must say i was surprised when i slid down into the side of this hill. It was massive, an arched size tunnel about 7foot in hight but at least 15ft width. My lights wouldn't reach anything solid when i shined my light down this tunnel, yes it was long. I waited for the group to all get in then we did a light check and went over some rules. (1. No smoking or naked flames. 2. Watch your footing and move slowly 3. Stick together.) Part 1&2 where easy but it was clear that 3 was going to be hard. As we went in the size of the cavern started to shrink and the tunnels started to split in several directions. Which way to go? i looked back and tried to remember the entrance in case i got lost then turned to proceed along one tunnel.