If you're seeking direction, look for hard problems. They don't have to be technical, but they must lie outside of your current range of abilities.
Why hard problems?
- Personal growth. The biggest reason to seek and tackle hard problems is the personal growth that accompanies it. Overcoming a problem requires ability. If you already have it, the problem isn't hard enough (more on this at the end). If you don't, you'll have to obtain it. Provided the problem is hard enough, you have no choice but to grow.
- Interesting people solve hard problems. Position yourself at the centre of a hard problem and you'll likely find yourself at the centre of a group of interesting people. Whether you realise it or not, you're disproportionately influenced by the people around you. Being surrounded by interesting people solving hard problems causes more growth, equipping you to solve harder problems and access more interesting people. It's a virtuous cycle fed by harder and harder problems.
- Moat building. The people who are the best in the world at what they do specialise at getting really good at the questions they don’t know. The people who skip the hard questions are in the majority, meaning they're not in demand. In a competitive world, adversity is your ally. The harder it gets, the better chance you have of insulating yourself from the competition.
The question: How do you find hard problems?
Hard is relative. What's hard for me as a programmer isn't hard for a programmer at Google. But what was hard for me a year ago isn't hard for me today. Hard changes with your ability and with time. It only matters that the problem you're working on is hard for you.
Here's useful gauge I use to determine whether the problems I'm working on are sufficiently hard:
You should have a slightly uneasy feeling when you wake up in the morning. If you're not worrying that the thing you're working on will come out badly, or that you won't understand something you're studying, then it isn't hard enough. Be willing to slightly overextend yourself. You generally find a way of accomplishing the things you decide to tackle.
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