Exploration

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.

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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.

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