Feeling Like a Kid

July 12, 2009

While I endlessly enjoy being an adult, there are some things that I naturally miss about being a kid.  Not really having a care outside of what I was playing with at the time, no bills and creativity that was uninhibited by social concerns are just a few.  While those are difficult traits to have as adult, I know of one sure fire way to feel like a kid again.

Solve some really hard problems.  So much of what kids do is problem solving and it’s easy to see and hear their excitement when they find a solution.  That’s a reproducible feeling but it gets a bit more challenging as I get older because I’ve solved a bunch of problems already and the ones that are left (which are many) tend to be a bit more complex.  No longer is making a stack of blocks an accomplishment, so the trick is to seek out and find equally challenging problems, adjusted for age inflation.

Last Thanksgiving I started working on what is now the foundation for my startup.  At the time this was a project unlike any I’d ever started, I didn’t even know if it was possible to accomplish what I was setting out to do.  If it was technically possible, I wasn’t sure if I had the mental goods to pull it off.  Thankfully I’ve still got some hubris in me and I wasn’t going to let worries of what reality might be get in the way of finding out what reality really is.

I use the word hubris cautiously because it has a pretty negative connotation.  Its definition usually includes other wonderful words like arrogance and overconfidence.  These are characteristics that most people wouldn’t want to have applied to their general self but I’m wondering if they can be useful to your problem solving self, perhaps even necessary.

Arrogance – having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities
Overconfidence – excessively confident: mistakes were made through being overconfident

Are these really bad characteristics for problem solving?  I don’t think so.  Hard problems are relative to the individual and all hard problems tend to crush ones confidence at points.  So an exaggerated sense of what one can accomplish could be helpful in getting over self imposed barriers.  As for making mistakes, they should be embraced, not feared.  They teach you what doesn’t work, which leaves your mind free to try a new path that is more likely to succeed.

I think not knowing the path from A to B is what ties problem solving to feeling young.  I like to think of each experience in my life as forming a little path in my brain.  The more I travel down the same path the more defined and worn in that path gets.  Travel a path enough and it turns into a rut.  Seems like our brain can pretty much be on cruse control when going down these defined paths.

Don’t get me wrong, very well worn paths are useful things.  Without them performing complex tasks like playing a musical instrument would be impossible.  But simply following those paths doesn’t really stimulate your brain in the same way.  Getting out in the wilderness and doing some bushwhacking, that’s the kind of activity that your brain did all the time as a kid.  This is why you never hear a kid complaining that they are stuck in a rut, there is just so much to be explored.

As I say goodbye to my 20’s, it’s not really an accident that I’m trying to lay down a bunch of new paths in my brain and the good news is that it’s working.  The feelings that I’ve had while working on my startup have been nothing short of childhood bliss.  There has been more than one occasion where I was so excited after solving a problem that I ran out of my house in the middle of the night in uncontrollable laughter.

So the next time you’re wishing for some of your youth back, find yourself a hard problem, have a bit of hubris and start working on it.  If it’s a sufficiently hard problem it will take a while to solve it, but in the meantime at least you’ll be distracted from getting older.  While it’s not as quick as going out and buying a fast car or something like that, I will guarantee that the results will feel better, make you smarter and be a lot cheaper.

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2 Responses to “Feeling Like a Kid”

  1. Doyle Says:

    I look forward to reading about your new projects!! I’ve been feeling the ‘nearing 30’ issue too. Can’t find your email anymore. Hit me up.

  2. Topofthemountain Says:

    Children are so smart. You are right they are not stuck on paths but making new ones, pushing the limits of social constraints. We are all children so why does age have to restrict what we think and do?


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