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how do you solve an unsolvable problem?

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[01 . . . . . 11]

[sunday, january 10, 2021]

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entry type . . . . . . . . . . . . . . personal log
geolocation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . laboratory
How do you solve an unsolvable problem?
You eliminate it.1
01. See also: the Gordian knot, commonly used to describe a complex or unsolvable problem, traced back to Alexander the Great. There is a lot of knowledge waiting for us in the classics, if we can just unlock it.
timestamp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . three hours ago
You are alone in your laboratory. You are often alone in your laboratory.2
This is not like those times. Sneaking in bench work at the end of a long day, telling yourself you're just trying to help the technicians when in reality you know it frustrates them to have their boss doing their job for them, but you can't help yourself because the days are very long and full of tasks you're not good at so even though you are exhausted, even though you should go home and sleep, you stay in the lab, alone, doing your employees' work for them because at least this makes you feel like you have accomplished something.3 This is not like those times.
You don't feel tired, pressured, insecure. You feel amazing. Things are moving so fast, but in all the right ways. All the right decisions are coming to you on instinct. You trust yourself, confident and peaceful with every choice.
Make things more efficient, no matter what it takes. Reorder operations until nothing is wasted. Rip open your computer and rewire it until it works how you've always wanted it to work. Do the same with all the other lab equipment, now it's perfect.4 When did you learn circuitry? This morning, from the internet.
Throw out all the prototypes. They weren't working. The investors will thank you, eventually. Sometimes progress looks like going backwards, looks like throwing out a year of work to start fresh, sparkling clean and starting over.5
You're right about all of this, you're completely correct and it feels amazing. And soon everyone will see it too.
02. Statistically, 43% of your time, or 73 hours out of a 168 hour week, figures rounded. A significant portion of this time is spent asleep.
03. Although you are familiar with several coping strategies for anxiety and burnout, this is the one you have chosen, for better or worse.
04. Two hours in, elbows deep in machine wiring, you realize what you've been building. An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test that detects electrical activity in your brain using small, metal discs (electrodes) attached to your scalp. An EEG is one of the main diagnostic tests for epilepsy. An EEG can also play a role in diagnosing other brain disorders. Do you have a brain disorder?
05. Project timeline with current prototype: 5 years to market, $4.6b valuation. Projected timeline with redeveloped prototype: 7 years to market, $12.9b valuation.
timestamp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . seven hours ago
Hit send. Feel relieved. Problem solved.
You love the way it feels to solve a problem. A compulsive fixer since birth, a would-be people pleaser, if people would have ever asked you to do more than just be the best at things.6 You'd have had so much more to give, like time or money or work or love, you almost wish somebody had asked you for that, even if they just wanted to take advantage. But no -- even your parents didn't mind what you did or where you went as long as you were the best. Perfect student. Capable athlete. Friendly, handsome, well-liked.
Just be the best and no one will worry about you. No one will ever have to think twice about you. You don't mind. You've solved their problem, removed yourself from the equation. You chase that feeling.
You have solved problems at major institutions on both coasts.7 You have a world-class mind.8 You have fixed medical conditions, invented things, saved your parents' marriage, answered math problems, solved engineering puzzles, won awards, earned fellowships, given keynotes, peer reviewed, peer counciled, peer mentored, and ended three separate relationships because you know they'll be better off with someone who can give them the time and attention they deserve.9 You removed yourself from the equation.
Or -- you used to. Just now, with the tap of the send icon, you've removed everyone else. In the end, you're sure, your staff will see how advantageous it was to be let go. They get a severance package, continued health insurance, and he chance to do something so much more meaningful with their lives.And you, you get your laboratory to yourself again.
Problem solved.
06. High school: valedictorian; class treasurer; National Merit Scholar; academic decathalon; debate team captain; varsity soccer; varsity baseball
07. Undergraduate education: Harvard University, concentration in Physics. Graduate education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PhD in Biotechnology. Postdoctoral fellowship: Stanford University, Bryant Lab, Department of Bioengineering.
08. Faculty position: Stanford University, Van Allen Lab, Department of Bioengineering. Tenure awarded. Joint appointment: School of Medicine, Stanford University.
09. Funded by: National Science Foundation; Kavli Foundation; Ford Foundation; American Association for the Advancement of Science; et al. First-author publications in: Nature. Discovery. Journal of Biotechnology. Chronically single, committment issues.
timestamp . . . . . . . . . . . . . . twelve hours ago
You wake up with a migraine.10 You are behind, bored, overwhelmed. You feel useless, up against not only the problem of running a business but also the problem of failing to help someone who needed it, who needed you to be the best at what you do, at solving problems. And now, a migraine.
Try to push yourself up out of bed. Fail. Groan. Try again. Against the dizziness keep trying until through sheer force of will, you succeed.
Wince when you open the curtains and the sunlight hits you but start your day anyway. Improve on it. The migraine doesn't lift but things seem easier now. You cut ten minutes off your commute with a new route.11 You multitask without even realizing you're doing it. You see pieces fit together faster, you're doing higher level math in your head. You learn medical device circuitry on the internet. Why? You're not sure yet. It just seems like a good idea. You might want that knowledge, later.12
You're present, fully present, in everything. You feel like you're helping people. You're solving problems again. It feels amazing.13
10. Symptoms include nausea, difficulty speaking, numbness and tingling, and sensitivity to light and sound. When was the last time you took your migraine medication?
11. You remembered there is an organization that maps traffic pattern data. You looked at their visualizations. You found an error, you adjusted the algorithm. You are early for work.
12. You were always curious about these devices, and now you know.
13. You are removing your own errors from the equation. The unsolvable problem is solving itself.