If you’re stuck on a problem and looking for the right answer, there probably isn’t one. Of course, it depends on what type of problem it is, but for any type of creative endeavor, you can safely assume that there really isn’t any “right” answer.
This mentality though of there being a “right” answer is so ingrained in us though. Seth Godin talks about this ad nauseam, but it’s still difficult for us to accept. We have this industrial age mentality that’s systematically ingrained in us by society. We’re trying to get the right answer, because in an industrial society, there is a right answer. There’s a way you can tweak the gears in the car so it goes a little bit faster. That’s direct and measurable. It’s better; so it’s “right.”
This is what we’re ingrained with in school. It’s part of the reason I suck so much at accepting that there isn’t a right answer. I was good at school. I got grades and everyone in my life was happy with me for that. It was reinforced. My parents were proud, my teachers were proud, the colleges I got into were pretty decent because of my good grades.
I recently heard the quote, “Perfection is the Enemy of Good.” You don’t need to find perfect, you just need to find something good and then make it work.
I can think of a lot of times where I’ve gotten hung up looking for the “right” answer. When I first moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand, I probably spent two days looking for an apartment. I had a list of criteria of things I wanted: price, location, near a gym, near a grocery store, preferred a kitchen, etc. I created a spreadsheet. I started looking at apartment buildings’ websites and calling them trying to find the perfect one.
I never found the perfect one. I gave up picked one that looked alright and rolled with it. It worked great. It didn’t have a kitchen, but I bought an electric grill for 20 bucks that worked perfect. It wasn’t that close to a gym, so I walked and got to listen to a bunch of podcasts.
I think one of the things that attracted me to study history in college was that it had that sense of uncertainty. There isn’t a “right” answer when you’re doing history. There is no right interpretation to history. But, at least in our educational system, you still get graded on it. You’re assigned some purportedly objective number that’s supposed to correspond with the quality of the history you did. So there’s a right way of doing history. Your paper is structured in such and such a way. And if you’re crafty, you adjust your paper to fit the professor’s biases and preferences.
If you don’t fit into this, then somehow you’re doing history wrong. There always seemed to be some disdain among a lot of professional historians for amateur historians (basically anyone shoe doesn’t have a PhD in history).
I remember the first time I listend to the Hardcore History podcast and thinking, “Oh, this is such shit history. This guy is just some amateur historian.” Listening to it now, that podcast is awesome. The guy actually cares. He’s a great storyteller. It’s obvious listening to the podcast that he’s done very real history. He’s gone back into the primary sources and formulated original thoughts and interpretations about them. That’s doing history. The fact that he didn’t spend a decade in some bullshit PhD program doesn’t change that.
This point really hit home with me a couple of weeks ago. I was putting together a newsletter recently for one of the companies I’ve been working with. It was one of my main goals for Febraury. I wanted to revamp the whole thing and create this awesome process for putting out a new newsletter every month. I read every blog post on B2B EMAIL. I read whitepapers, watched slideshares, signed up for newsletters ABOUT newsletters. I watched videos. I studied case studies. I was going to find the “right” answer.
I slaved over the copy of the email. There were maybe 200 words in the email. I spent hours writing and re-writing those. I was looking up synonyms in Words that Sell. I read it out loud.
I sent the email out. The result? The worst response of any newsletter in company history. The worst open rate. The worst clickthrough rate. We didn’t make one sale off the newsletter. And it wasn’t an informational Newsletter, it was for a product launch. A product that is selling like hotcakes right now. It’s not a shit product. It’s a great product that people are buying. The same kind of people that I emailed.
What the Fuck?
I’m reading Mastery right now. One of the concepts he explores is how we’re limited by our language. There are certain things we can visualize and understand conceptually, but our langauge doesn’t allow us to express.
I noticed this when I was learning Spanish and Portuguese. In Spanish they have a word called “ganas.” You can use it with the verb “to have” as a way to express desire or interest. So, “tienes ganas de salir?” would translate as “Do you want to go out?” But that’s not really what it means. It means something different, it’s almost asking if you have a feeling of wanting to go out. But, this is my point entirely. I can’t explain what it means in English, because there isn’t a word in English. When I was hanging out with bilingual friends in Argentina, we always talked in Spanglish. Maybe it was 90% English/10% Spanish or Maybe it was 10% English/90% Spanish, but either way, no single langauge could let us describe our emotions and experiences as accurately as the two combined.
I was looking for what the perfect Newsletter would look like. Guess what? There isn’t a perfect newsletter. It doesn’t exist. There isn’t a “right” answer. You take what you know and you step into the unknown and take a stab at it. And guess what, you probably fuck it up. God knows I did. But you know what, that’s step 1. Step 1 is fucking it up. If you’re trying to figure out the “right” answer to something and you haven’t fucked it up yet, you’re number goal should be to fuck it up. After you’ve fucked it up, at least you’re in the game.
I love what I’m doing right now, but it’s not the first thing I set out to do. I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was passionate about online marketing. I tried interpreting. I wasn’t very good at it, it sucked, and it didn’t let me travel. Fuck up #1. Check.
So I traveled. I went to Brazil to teach English. I was a horrible English teacher. I don’t really like kids and I couldn’t care less about teaching people English that just want to learn it to inch their way up the corporate ladder. Fuck up #2. Check. But I learned something again. I did want to travel, but wasn’t willing to teach English.
I stumbled across the Adsense Flippers. I started building niche websites monetized by advertising. I powered through it for a few months and learned a lot. I knew how to use WordPress. I understood the basics of SEO. The term cpanel didn’t sound like something from Star Trek.
That knowledge got me an internship at an online marketing agency. Hmmm, this is interesting. I’m working on interesting projects. The people, I’m working with are interesting. I’m learning valuable skills that I don’t hate.
You do a little bit of research and take a shot at something. Much better than trying to invest a ton of time and energy looking for the right answer when there probably isn’t one.
We’re trained to look for the right answer. That’s an industrial mindset. It doesn’t work anymore. Stop looking. You’re not going to find it. Live in a world of uncertainty and ambiguity. I’ve started hanging out there some. It’s scary as hell at first, but it’s real.
I live in hazard and infinity. The cosmos stretches around me, meadow on meadow of galaxies, reach on reach of dark space, steppes of stars, oceanic darkness and light. There is no amenable god in it, no particular concern or particular mercy. Yet everywhere I see a living balance, a rippling of tension, an enormous yet mysterious simplicity, an endless breathing of light. And I comprehend that being is understanding that I must exist in hazard but that the whole is not in hazard. Seeing and knowing this is being conscious; accepting it is being human.