“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”– Leonard Cohen, Anthem
No one’s going to tell you when your work is ready to release to the world. That’s a judgment earned through experience, an intuition developed through practice. The practice has to come first.
In physics, I knew what good work looked like: an eye for detail, an almost endless journey of why leading finally to a story that told us something that felt true, or as true as a human can get, anyway. It was deep work — a place for purposeful camaraderie forged in the fire of hard work and a commitment to creating knowledge that had the chance to endure. I didn’t value that aspect of the work then, but boy, do I now that I’m outside of that world. My drive to do things well — to seek out evidence to challenge my own assumptions, to create work that’s robust to the endless whys — remains. It’s become a part of me — a value I seek to uphold in my life and work. And I haven’t quite figured out how to make sure this value manifests appropriately in my current work. When is this value ensuring quality? And when is it simply leading to a kind of perfectionism that keeps good work out of the light?
When I combine all this with the need to dramatically re-evaluate my world view, I am mostly left to tear through the pieces of my previous practice to see what I can salvage, and what needs to be replaced. The systems I once used to operate are no longer useful, in other words, and I’m in the odd place of needing to rebuild them while simultaneously helping others on an equivalent learning journey of their own. Each step, each piece of advice, is an experiment based on intuition forged in a very different place.
I take solace in the fact that the very different place tends to produce useful translational knowledge. Physicists are everywhere, quite frequently in leadership roles, because of our desire to ask why, to seek evidence, to keep digging when things don’t look right based on the intuition we build up about the systems we work on (and within). It’s a desire that has its roots in frictionless (fictitious) balls rolling down incline planes, the slow approach of simulating something closer to reality one careful, well-understood step at a time. As much as I sometimes hated this approach while I was studying, I see its value now.
So what does a deep appreciation for accuracy look like in a field focusing on the study of complex, messy, sometimes wicked systems, often incorporating human elements that defy logic? Only time (and experience) will tell.
Feature photo by Kevin Cheung.