Friday, June 24, 2005

Clash of the Titans

I have two character traits that often clash with each other.

First, I'm a person who, when he starts something, pretty much has to see it through to the end. I don't like a lot of loose projects hanging around. That is not always to say that I do a stellar job at wrapping things up, sometimes I just slap on a bit of glue and glitter, and bring closure to my little project, just so it stops bugging me.

In fact, this is why I haven't started my second book. I've got the general idea of the book pretty much nailed down. I have the first chapter all worked out and ready to be put down in electronic ink. And yet I know if I get started I'm going to be bugged until I finish it. I don't know if I have the time right now in my life to take on yet another project.

The second character trait I have is that I'm pretty lazy. Now I say that in a nice way. I'm what you call lazy like a fox. I firmly believe in the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule states (at least in my version) that you can learn 80 percent of the material in 20 percent of the time. The last 20 percent of material, takes another 80 percent of the time. It's that last pesky 20 percent that gets you in the end. It separates the amateurs from the experts.

So, lets say you want to know about the battle of Gettysburg. There are about half a million web pages refrenceing the subject, along with countless books other material out there. You could spend days reading and begin to get a good idea of what went on there, or you could check out the wiki article, watch the movie, and you would know a great deal about the topic in a fraction of the time.

So, I am at once a person who wants to see things through to the end, and one who enjoys learning about a whole bunch of things, but I don't like to go for 'depth'. How are those character traits colliding right now?

I'm half way through a Ph. D. program.

I was walking across campus the other day and heard two people (they looked like professors), arguing over the IQ of the American beaver. One put it at around 45-50, and the other thought it was higher, but wasn't prepared to actually name a firm number. The topic fascinated me, (what fascinated me most that this was a serious discussion, but I digress) but the thought of me learning enough about the activities of an American beaver so that I could carry on an intelligent discussion on the topic exhausts me. I'd rather learn the 80 percent and leave the 20 to others.

And yet if I want a doctorate degree, I've got to tie myself to one specific topic, and beat that topic to within an inch of it's life, or mine, I'm not quite clear on that point yet. I have to become the expert. I thought if I looked at video games, a topic I'm quite interested in, I would be able to become that 'expert'. But it didn't work. There is so much out there that the idea of me reading and sifting through the vast amounts of data makes the inside of my eyelids hurt.

Anyway, at some point these two character traits are going to come to a head. I will either chastise myself for being so lazy and pathetic, and tell myself to buck up and become an expert; or I will tell myself to chill out, let things go, I don't need to finish every last thing I start.

Either way, I'll likely end up in the fetal position for a few days.

1 comment:

Shelton Brett said...

The people on the beaver discussion were probably Canadian. I have a friend who's from the Great White North and for some reason he treats discussions about the beaver like we were talking about a member of his immediate family. I mean, I know it's their national animal, but c'mon.

All I can say about the doctorate discussion is that you probably don't have to worry about being an expert in anything quite as broad as "video games" or "gettysburg." Instead, be the expert on "the effect of challenge on motivation within video games" or "how geographic location effects perspective on the negative outcomes of gettysburg." You know, something specific. I think it's okay to have broad interests and be a jack-of-all-trades, while at the same time, get really good at one particular little subject. But I certainly feel your pain, you're not alone with thoughts of "lazy" vs. "finish." It plagues me still.