Ali Jafarian
Ali Jafarian

I had a recent experience where I was at my breaking point.  Here’s the insight.

I was over 5 hours into a programming challenge.  This was something new that I’ve never navigated before, which brings factors of learning pursuit and increased time investment.  In other words, these types of challenges are where I learn the most and invest the most time since they are new.

At this stage of my programming career, I’m rarely tested like this.  I’ve solved so many problems and written thousands upon thousands of lines of code.  I’ve honed my skillset to be quick and efficient when I need to do technical work.  So again… this was a rare circumstance.

After spending the entire afternoon on this specific problem I was toast.  My mind was exhausted and my willpower was depleted as well.  I was running on fumes. Ever been here before in your work?

This is when the reactive thoughts starting kicking in…

“Fuck this…”

“Why am I even doing this?”

“What’s the point?”

This is our mind’s way of winning the mental battle.  At this point curiosity and creativity are lost.  We usually lose these battles, and in past scenarios I have stepped away from the problem with the intention of starting fresh again the next day.  There is certainly a healthy argument for this approach.

But this day was different.  I wasn’t willing to lose the battle.

For some reason I decided to push forward.  I think it’s because I wasn’t willing to leave my office with the mental loss.  I know the energy required to “shut down” after intense mental problem solving like this… and the lingering distraction that it would become. The cost of having those symptoms around my family was too high. I was ready to spend quality time with them. The extra willpower kicked in. I had found my last gear!

So I paused, took a few deep breaths and asked an important question

How could this be simpler?

With a fresh perspective I realized I had overcomplicated this problem.  I was enamored by a new solution that I thought might solve the problem in a new way with added efficiency.  I ignored my normal instinct to use a simple and reliable solution… and thus found myself deep down a path of new territory with new variables. To be fair, this new solution did have some added benefit and technical advantage. I didn’t choose this simply because it was new.

This is a common trait for creative types.  We’re often willing to test and experiment with new things.  In many ways that’s what drives us to continue solving problems.  Repetition and routine can become mundane, at which point we lose interest.  That’s why I decided to try something new.

However, it took pause and awareness to realize that complexity had gotten me into this mess.  And in this case it was un-needed complexity. It was time to simplify things and resort back to basics, which is exactly what I did.  Within a few minutes I refactored some things and arrived at a solution that worked.

Problem solved.

Not only was the technical problem solved, but I felt fantastic. I could leave the office now with a win. More importantly, I could spend the rest of the evening with my family undistracted. And… I wouldn’t have to deal with this tomorrow! 😉

So what’s the real lesson here?

Most of us will have mental battles like this throughout our careers and lives. This is inevitable if you’re solving tough problems. I think there were two key lessons from this experience:

1) First, it’s finding that last gear.

Fighting these mental battles can be expensive. It’s not always worth pushing through. But when it is, we need to find motivation for the extra grit and willpower – the “last gear.”

2) Next, it’s knowing when to simplify.

There is always a cost to complexity. Always. And if something isn’t working there’s usually reason to question if you’ve created un-needed complexity. So choose your adventures into complexity wisely.

I hope this sparks something for you. If you’ve had similar experiences please share in the comments below!

Ali Jafarian

Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.

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