Sunday, January 26, 2014

The right problem

Building on my last post on identity, a huge part of my identity is what problem I'm trying to solve.  The problem I get my inspiration from is trying to help as many kids as possible to grow up with a mindset and skillset that will enable them to find interesting and meaningful work, engage positively with their community, and interact effectively with the people around them.

Unfortunately, I'm not very good at it.  Part of this is because it is really hard to do.  Part of this is because I've only been trying to solve it for a few years.  Part of this is because of blind spots and imperfections in my own skills and mindset.  There are a lot of things I would probably be more successful at if I invested my efforts, such as programming, product design, or teaching in a way that was better understood and perfected over the years (I won't ever know this for sure because I have no intention of investing the requisite time/effort into these things.)  But these things are not my right problem to be solving.

What makes something the right problem?  I think, first and foremost, it has to align to your values and vision for the world.  I want to see a world where people all work together for the betterment of each other.  Second, it should (but does not have to) connect to something that you can uniquely offer.  I experienced a very hands-on, reflective, design-centric curriculum in college, and so I have a unique view on what school could look like.  Third, you have to be willing to commit.  I have been obsessed with changing education since the end of my first year of college.  Despite the title of my degree, my entire college experience and my year off in the halfway through all revolved around trying to more effectively educate kids in a way that helped them engage in what they were doing, have fun learning, and become more self-directed.  Hard problems can't be solved on short timescales.

The cool thing about working on your right problem is that you develop other worthwhile character traits in the process.  Perseverance, resilience, or grit probably top the list.  I face all kinds of failures on a daily basis trying to solve my right problem, but I know that I'm working on a hard problem, so small daily failures are just necessary steps on the way.  If I didn't have this big problem driving me, I would not put in so much effort for so little student satisfaction and academic improvement in the short term.  My successes are all rooted in the long-term.  I especially appreciate that many of my students buy into my long term vision and tolerate all of the short term failures that they get to participate in.  Big thanks to all of my Stats kids in particular who have endured all kinds of goofy stuff over the past two years.

Coming full circle, I think that the process of finding your right problem can lead to a lot of long-term joy and success in life.  I want my students to find their right problem.  I will want the kids I raise at home to find their right problems.  I wish school was better setup to help kids discover the many great problems that they could take on.  I'm not sure how to do that, but maybe I'll have to more explicitly incorporate it into my right problem and start chipping away at it!

1 comment:

  1. Side note: I tend to be a very integrated person who doesn't like to have too many unrelated things going on, but there is nothing wrong with having multiple right problems that you engage with in your life. If you have too many, there is no focus and not enough time to really solve anything, but it probably fine to have a few. I know I have other areas that I pour effort into that matter a lot to me, but they occupy less of my time than my big, central problem that I work on.