If you knew it would work…
© 6 Oct 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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On exploring life.


I find myself not infrequently asked how I seems so stress-free. Sometimes I just say its because I’m amazing, I gave up on false humility years ago. and other times I pull out one or another of my attitudes toward pressure that I see but rarely in others and so surmise might be of some benefit to the general public. I hope to offer several of these ideas in this blog.

During orientation activities hosted by the Computer Science department at the University of Virginia in 2008 some member of the faculty (I don’t recall who) said “‍If you knew it would work, it wouldn’t be research.‍” This stuck with me as a nice way of phrasing a much larger concept.

In life, you can undertake (at least) four kinds of goals. Intentionally missing from my list are long-term and ill-defined goals like becoming perfect. Some goals are clearly achievable. Some goals might be achievable, but it isn’t clear. Some goals are clearly impossible. And some goals are continuous rather than discrete, the “‍as much as possible‍” kind of goals.

I find that clearly achievable goals are… well, rather dull. Busywork. Tedious. The daily grind. For example, a goal like “‍I will walk to work every day this week‍” might be useful at some level, but a life filled with only this kind of goal seems rather empty.

But for every other kind of goal, I expect to fail at least sometimes. Hence, the lack of failed goals might mean I’m making only boring goals or that I seriously under-estimate my abilities and, as a consequence, think that boring goals are interesting. Either way, not a good sign.

This realization and attitude makes failure seem much nicer. When I realize I’m failing I can smile to myself and say “‍Good, I’m still making stretching goals.‍” When I’m telling people I’ve failed them I can say “‍If I knew it would work it wouldn’t have been worth attempting.‍”

There’s not fear in failure when you hope for it to come.

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