Richard recently blogged about coasting versus pursuing goals. Some of his comments reminded me of a graduation speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford last year. One test Jobs gives himself every morning is to ask whether he wants to do be doing whatever he plans to do that day. If the answer is no for too many days, he realizes there is some aspect of his life that he should change.
While not an advice book, Feynman’s The Pleasure of Finding Things Out reminds me why I spend my days as a graduate student. When I get a problem formulation in my head, I have this unhealthy obsession of trying to solve it, and mathematics often provides enough structure to play around and try to solve it. The pleasure I get when I solve it is worth the effort, and often the playing around I do in attempting to solve it is a lot of fun.
Of course, there’s usually a tension between what I should be doing and what I want to be doing. As much as I’d like to focus on hard problems that have stumped several minds before me, I recognize that I need to do research that can lead to publications. This doesn’t necessarily mean researching the relatively simpler problems has to be uninteresting, and I’ve tried to formulate questions for which I personally want to know the answer. This has led me to ask questions others before me have not, and I’m happy with the effects.
My hobbies implicitly recognize the same tension. For instance, to exercise, I’d rather hike with friends or play racquetball than lift weights. While I often succumb to the television’s glow after coming home, if an activity is fun enough, it just takes a little force to get past that couch potato inertia.