When I first started playing guitar all I wanted to do was learn barre chords. That’s it. After that I’d be able to play all of the Blink songs I wanted and then just relax or move on to something else (quite frankly I didn’t think there was music beyond Enema of the State).
But as it turns out, once I learned barre chords I wanted more. I wanted to actually sound like the recordings and not some haggard resemblance. And then, thankfully, I got into other music and wanted to solo like Duane Allman and Eddie Hazel, and then I wanted to write songs like Brad Nowell and play jazz like Wes Montgomery.
And now I have new problems, like channeling whatever talents I have into a consistent deliverable so I can play in public with or without a band.
The point is that I was never finished, I’m still not finished, and never will be finished. The finish line kept getting pushed back further and further until it disappeared altogether and then I realized, perhaps later than most, that there is no finish line.
So if you’re never finished with something how in the hell do you measure progress?
For certain endeavors there are metrics you can and should use and sometimes you can just tell.
But a helpful, basic way to measure progress – good, life progress – is by paying attention to the frequency with which you’re facing new problems.
For guitar that means getting past skill issues like developing hand strength, proper picking technique (by far the most important), and an effective vibrato and bend. Then you need to study music theory, practice scales and improvisation, learn about equipment, sound, and setup, play while singing and on and on and on. The problems – or maybe “challenges” is a better way to think about them – never end.
If that sounds like an existential nightmare then I suggest you get over it. Because that’s life – it’d be easy and boring and not worth your time if it was any different
In terms of startups you can think of it this way:
- Just linked up with a brilliant co-founder? Great. New problem.
- Comfortable that you have a market? Awesome, now here’s a new problem.
- Finished your product and ready to launch? Wonderful, now get a shit-ton of users and iterate like crazy (new problem!).
- Raised a $1.2 million in series A? Congratulations! What’s your prize you ask? (Bob Barker voice): Whhhy it’s a BRAND NEW PROBLEM!
The other day I was reading up on the biographies of guys like Jim Breyer and Mike Moritz and Yuri Milner – basically masters-of-the-universe level dudes – and it struck me: as disgustingly accomplished as these guys are they still have real problems that they face day in and day out.
What’s the best use of their immense wealth and influence? How do they keep motivated and driven and grounded in the face of massive success? How do they carve out meaningful personal lives when everyone is trying to suckle at the teet of power?
Marlo Stanfield from The Wire would call these “good problems” and I wholeheartedly agree. But they’re problems nonetheless.
Or think about Adam Sandler’s character in Funny People. Same kind’ve of thing.
My point is that new problems are generally a good thing – they mean you’re growing and stretching and improving. You’re taking risks and rising to challenges.
Consider, on the other hand, old problems. If your job, after several years, is still an issue (in the sense that you hate it) then you need to do something about it. Same goes for relationships and personal shortcomings. Old, enduring problems – in my experience at least – are surefire indicators of an atrophy in your abilities and character. And they’re constraining your potential.
So go out there a get some new goddamn problems. They’ll be better than your old ones.